Friday, 25 July 2014

#374: Forever Dorothy

I am about to start downloading some holiday pictures and adding some text to the Swiss/French edition of The Reluctant Retiree Abroad.  But before I do, and before I forget, I want to acknowledge that my dearly- departed mother-in-law Dorothy has a clone who lives in Switzerland and rides the buses with her sister.

***
Bruce and I were on the bus from Lenk going up, up up a winding mountain road to the alpine meadow where we would begin a hike, and opposite us sat two white haired grandmotherly women who looked like sisters. I stared and stared at the older of the two.  I swear that it was my beautiful mother in law, Dorothy, on a Swiss hiking holiday.  A little plumper, a little taller, but  Swiss Dorothy (Dotty Swiss) had the same lovely complexion, great smile, and the same beautiful eyes.  I poked Bruce --"your mother, your mother" I mouthed.

Fortunately, the French-speaking Swiss sisters seemed not to notice my extreme interest in the two of them. And it wasn't just that they looked like my in-laws.  They had both worked a cool, outdoorsy "look" with panache. I admired the white, spiked hair on Dot' s sister, but Dotty, with the amazing Ryan hair,  had coordinated her entire outfit.

Even at 85, my mother-in law was a fashion plate.  Dorothy knew how to dress!  She would not have taken the same liberties with her appearance, but she would have admired her Swiss doppelganger, as did I.  Dotty wore hiking pants, and the necessary boots, but she also sported a smart blue t-shirt, red camisole, tiny red necklace and red earrings...... and she had two judiciously placed streaks of cherry red in her curly white hair.  

My hair is not white, not yet anyway, and it is not something I have ever aspired to.  But these ladies could make me reconsider.   Dotty and her sister were clearly embracing their age and their appearance, and having fun too.  Dorothy would have approved.

It is just as well that at the early stages of our holiday, I had no confidence in my ability to express myself in French.  Because I was twitching with the impulse to lean across to Dotty and her sister and say " J'adore vos cheveux!" And if they hadn't looked at me in horror, I would have followed this up with "Avez-vous un tattoo?"  I could just imagine Dotty rolling down her red hiking sock to reveal the butterfly on her ankle.
          

Sunday, 22 June 2014

#373; En Vacances

Our bags are clunking down the stairs as I write. We are off to the airport!

I'll be back-to-the-blog with travel notes:  Switzerland and France.

Spoiler alert:  there will be ugly clothes and mountains.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

#372: Growing Older, Reading Bolder

If you are of a certain age and on Facebook, you will recognize the logo and the content that identify Growing Bolder, a media enterprise out of Florida that pitches to us old folks.  Old by GB's definition begins at 45, by the way.  Just in case you are wondering at what point you need to make a real effort to start aging positively.

I've never seen or heard Growing Bolder on TV or radio in Canada, but those relentlessly heartwarming and positive Facebook SHAREs from GB are everywhere.  So I get the idea.  Age is something you can defy: You just need to have the right attitude.

Like Growing Bolder on Facebook!
Everyday, an uplifting affirmation!
 
And it is not that I don't buy into the concept of Bolder, not Older.  It sure beats the heck out of Dying, not Trying.

But let's get real. As we age, there comes a point where running a half marathon after two life-threatening cancers is just not possible.  The best attitude in the world will not get us up Kilimanjaro if our knees are shot.  No wonder the GB people are giving 45 year-olds a shove.  The kids need to work on that bucket list while they have the energy.

Becoming "bolder", however, isn't just about overcoming physical challenges or even aspiring to emulate elderly athletes, phenoms like 91 year-old Canadian Olga Kotelko.  Olga is undoubtedly inspirational, but she is also atypical; my 91-year old friends at the retirement home where I am a "library volunteer" are not like Olga!  They use canes and walkers and wheel-chairs. They are tethered to oxygen tanks.  But Boldness is still within their reach.  Their bodies may look old but their brains are just as sharp as Olga's.  Their minds are young and fit, and their attitudes are positive.

Within limitation, they all attempt some sort of exercise.  Even Kay, who is on oxygen and wheelchair-bound, does seated exercises with weights.  But mostly, they read.  They turn pages and they listen to books on CD.    

And they do not necessarily read what you imagine! 

As a librarian, I am not a book snob. Reading anything is acceptable, at any age.  Nurse and Doctor Romances? Fine.  A diet of Westerns, one after the other after the other?  Better than looking out the window, I say.  But some older readers are willing to push the envelope a little bit.  They take reading risks. They Read Bold. Sometimes they have no choice -- they are dependent on me for their books, and I am willing to take chances on their behalf.  I have been known to hand over a book with the warning that this is "a bit of an experiment, but give it a try.  If you don't like it, don't finish it."  After all, a book will not break a bone, cause a fall, or make anyone ill.  It will only shake up a bunch of neurons, and that is a very good thing.

Fortunately, my edgy book-choices are rarely rejected.  Even doubtful readers usually tell me, "I wasn't sure about the story, but after I got into it, I enjoyed it.  It was really interesting and it made me think". Sometimes the enthusiasm it is effusive. "That was the best book I have read this year!  I am going to get my daughter to read it!"  

So what Bold Books have my library clients been enjoying, and what brain-boosting challenges have these stories presented?  Here is a tiny recent sample:

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. This story is violent.  In 17 century Canada, Iroquois + Huron + Jesuits = Massacre.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter.   A hermaphrodite as protagonist?  Wayne, who identifies as female, comes of age in a (macho) rural Labrador village .

Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese.  Drunks and drug addicts all -- four homeless people get together, watch movies and make friends. They also swear. A lot.

Middlemarch by George Eliot.  The language is archaic, the plot is complex, and this book is looong. 880 pages long.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.   Mantel gives a sympathetic portrayal of Thomas Cromwell's early years. Now if only all the men in her story were not called Thomas.....

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty.  Three intertwined, somewhat chick-litty plots hinge on sex, infidelity and murder.  And not to forget... there are two Australian settings, Melbourne and Sydney.

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I have not read all of these books myself.  But on the strength of feedback from my Bold Readers, I will confidently make recommendations to my own book group. And if my long-time friends, who are in their 60s and 70s, question the violence in The Orenda, for example, I will repeat what Jessie told me.  I'll explain that in the context of the time and culture, such bloodthirsty behaviour is completely understandable.

And I will add, of course, that Jessie is 92.        

 

          

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

#371: Millenial Mums Vs. Boomer Grannies

Before I leave ooey-gooey grand-mothering alone for awhile, I need to give some time to the other side.

Yes, the other side-- the Grudging Grandmas. 

As one of the converted, it had not actually occurred to me that there was another side when it came to grandchildren.  But apparently not every grandma is quite as willing to be involved as I am.  At least that is what Globe and Mail columnist Leah Mclaren says about Boomer Grandmas.  She observes that they are simply too busy to do the right thing by their grandchildren. They have packed schedules. They love their grandkids, but they are unwilling to be constantly on call.  Her own mother, Cecily Ross, is a prime example. Cecily, consumed by travel, writing and other commitments, is rarely available to visit England and help with child care.

But aside from her mother's failure to act like a proper grandma, what prompted Leah's lament was a news item: the announcement of a very public pregnancy.  Chelsea Clinton is expecting.

Yikes!  Consider the implications.

Hillary and Bill. Grandparents.

Leah feels very sorry for Chelsea because Hillary will definitely NOT be dropping everything to look after the baby. With any luck she will be completely absorbed by her Presidential campaign.  Though in truth, I can't imagine that Chelsea and child will ever be too desperate.  And if they were, I think Bill would ride to the rescue. 

Admittedly, a sample of two (even if one is a potential President) is really not much of a sample, but Leah does have a point. Boomers are certainly busy people, and some are much busier than others.  And the kids don't make it easy.  Grandchildren do not necessarily live in the same town. Or the same country. Grand parenting in 2014 is complicated even if you are not running for public office.

So you do what you can, when you can.  And if you are not at your children's (and grand children's) beck and call, you bring other gifts to the party.  Chelsea's child will know the love, if not the constant presence, of an extraordinary grandma.  And lest you feel too sorry for Leah,  a  recent G & M column reveals Cecily as a perfectly satisfactory, even doting, mother and loving grandma.  Just not willing jump on a plane at a moment's notice.

Of course, the "perfectly satisfactory" compromise will register as unsatisfactory with Millennial Mums like Leah if what they want is The Full Grandma.

But there is a solution.  There is something they can do before a grandchild arrives that will guarantee increased grandmother buy-in.  

Shortly after reading Leah's "boomers-make-grudging-grannies" column, I had a conversation about grand-mothering with a former colleague.  Still working and in her 60's, my friend is a boomer if there ever was one.  But she has thirty-ish daughters, daughters who are giving no thought to child-bearing. None.  And she is getting concerned.  She confessed that on Mother's Day she actually exhorted her girls to get cracking!  The longer they abstain, the more desperate she becomes.  She is ready to be a grandma.  But she needs their cooperation. 

And suddenly it came to me: the perfect strategy for young parents and parents-to-be who want to ensure Grandma's hands-on support.   Don't be too quick to reproduce.  Make your mother wait and wait and wait some more until she thinks she will never, ever get to join the Grandmother Club. Then when you finally have a child, she will be so ecstatic you won't be able to keep her away. 

Just don't wait too long.
   

Friday, 25 April 2014

#370: Granny Nan and Great-Aunt Toni

It must be admitted that I was not completely on my own with Erik while in Saskatoon.  I was sooo very lucky that my sister-in-law Toni came from Edmonton for several days.  She stayed in a nearby B and B and became a member of the Erik Appreciation Society.

And the feeling was mutual.  Erik loved Toni!  She is a natural with babies.  She has no anxiety about them whatsoever, unlike her sister-in-law.

Toni is also very patient and practical.  I would have spent much longer in the dark with a fridge full of melting food if she had not pried open the breaker box, the one that refused to budge for me after the bulb-changing fiasco.

She was also quick to figure out the stroller, and was responsible for my only successful entry into Christie's Bakery.    

And together we had some problem-solving adventures that involved her rental car and our visits to the Roxy Theatre. Who knew that a theatre so close to Jenny's would be so darned hard to find in the dark?  Toni and I are pretty sure that if we had gone to a third movie, we would have nailed the to-ing and fro-ing without cursing unreadable Saskatoon street signs (definitely smaller than in Edmonton or Guelph!), or confusing all those Avenues that go both North and South. At least we know that our brains are now much improved after the challenge of being lost.

I am counting on her to join me and Bruce in Saskatoon in July.  This time we will drive straight to the Roxy.  And the three of us will certainly be able to wrestle the stroller into Christie's!





#369: Toddler Time

This April I was in Saskatoon being Grandma.

Actually, I was more than Grandma.  I was the substitute caregiver for Erik my 16 month-old grandson, the same child who would have called Children's Aid in Guelph last November if only he had known the telephone number.  And they would have come, too, had they heard him screaming. The entire neighbourhood knew I was giving him a bath.

So I was a bit worried. Terrified actually.  His 36-year-old mother had been my last toddler.

Trudy, the usual caregiver, was in Singapore.  His parents were at work.  So it was just Grandma and Erik for good or ill:  breakfast, naps, Raffi, snacks, playtime, diaper changes, walks, lunches.....two weeks worth of toddler busyness. I even got to give him a bath and put him to bed for the night, a very big deal.

And I was, amazingly, OK.  I was even competent.  It was a miracle.  It was especially miraculous because, in addition to toddler wrangling I somehow managed to buy groceries, prepare meals, and keep the house tidy. 

At the end of the first week, talking to Bruce (Grandpa), I recounted the million things I had been up to. Then I asked him to tell me what he had been doing.  Reading. Getting groceries. Putting out the garbage. Reading.  Dining with friends. Watching movies. And not all on the same day either.  He said he was fine, but I felt sorry for him. I was clearly having way more fun.

It was then I realized that by stepping temporarily into the role of caregiver/housekeeper I was fulfilling some of the requirements I consider essential for a stimulating retirement.  No wonder I felt so good.  I had unintentionally taken on activities that were intellectually, physically, and socially challenging.  And all I had to do was spend 2 weeks in Saskatoon in an old house with a busy baby. 

So...... how stimulating was the visit?

How much intellectual challenge, for example, could I really claim?   I was not, after all, taking a two week Spanish Immersion course.  But I was definitely learning a new language.  Arm flapping and head bobbing = "This is delicious.  Is there more?"  "Ooof!, Ooof!" meant "By all means let's go for a walk and find dogs!"  And though I was not engaged in Sudoku puzzling or Bridge playing, I was certainly solving plenty of new problems.  Some had to do with the baby.  How, for example, to lure Erik from his bath (which he now loves) without protest?  Answer: Let's put all the coloured duckies to bed, one by one.  Thank goodness toddlers are so delightfully distractable.

The house proved a bigger problem. On the last day I was still figuring out the fancy gas stove when, while making lunch, I overheated the frying pan. The outside temperature was near freezing, but I put Erik in an extra sweater, opened the doors, and prayed that when the grown-ups returned no-one would notice the oily, burnt smell of my failed pancakes or ask why the house was so cold.  At least I hadn't overloaded the electrical panel. Again. That happened the first day when I changed a light bulb and lost power to the living room, dining room and kitchen.

Although I had not foreseen the numerous ways in which the Saskatoon house would outfox me, I did at least anticipate that my time with Erik would require a degree of physicality.  Mostly, I saw myself pushing the stroller on dry Westmount sidewalks.  I did not reckon on forcing said stroller through snowy slush and puddles the size of small lakes, or having to heave the bulky contraption over curbs and up and down steps. And some steps defeated me: I never did successfully navigate the way into Christie's Mayfair Bakery without help.

Then there was the lifting, carrying and kneeling.  Little boys (even the light ones) are heavy. Imagine (for comparison purposes) hefting around a 25 pound turkey several times a day, and jollying it into a stroller or highchair or bathtub.  Or soothing a miserable, teething toddler by dancing him back and forth through the kitchen to the living room again and again and again.  Or, realizing on Day One that you are sprawled on the carpet making the first of several hundred daily block towers,  and you will eventually have to get up.  Then down. And up. And down......

And the social advantages of hanging out with a grandchild?  It was the reason I made the trip in the first place -- so I could get to know dear little Erik who is so sweet, cheerful and funny.  In other words, pretty much like every other grandchild in the history of the universe.

But I hadn't quite appreciated that Two Weeks With a Toddler would have such a profound, wondrous impact.  A 16-month-old greets the day ready to embrace every aspect of life with such unbridled enthusiasm.  It is a golden time.  What grandparent wouldn't want to immerse themselves in all that joy?  I now completely understand why my friend Margaret makes frequent trips to her daughter's house in order to help with her two grandsons. I haven't asked her, but I suspect that regular contact with these delightful little guys is probably as necessary as a cup of breakfast coffee.  A grandchild endorphin fix.

One hour of Erik in the morning would certainly set me up for the day.

So as the two weeks in Saskatoon came to an end, I began to worry about toddler withdrawal. How would I manage without my sunny little Erik?  Then Jenny uttered the magic words:  "Trudy takes a week off in July, Mum.  Maybe you could come back?"

Oh boy, could I!  Erik will be almost 20 months by then. So busy! So much fun!

But next time in Saskatoon, some help would be nice.  It would be good to have someone to assist with the stroller.  Someone with block-tower experience, and good knees.  Someone who needs to rev up his retirement.

It is time to hook Bruce on Toddler Time. 
 


           
  

     

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

#368: Knit Wits

For three years my mother lived in the Dementia Unit of the very retirement home where I volunteer. That floor is now known as Memory Care, but I am not fooled by the softer overtones of this more benign term.  Memory loss, whatever you call it, terrifies me.  I started to read Still Alice and couldn't finish it; I will probably never see the movie Away From Her.

But that doesn't mean that I wasn't interested yesterday when 84-year old Hetty, one of my dear, spunky retirement home readers, told me that she had been tested for Alzheimer's.

What? 

I asked her about it and she proceeded to describe the battery of tasks and questions used to detect the disease:  draw a clock face that shows 10 minutes to 11; give today's date, month and year; give your age and birth date; count back from 100 by 7s; recall the three items named earlier....

Surely someone who can itemize the details of a test for Alzheimer's passed it.  I wondered why they bothered to test Hetty in the first place.  We speculated that every resident was being tested.  I had just come from another part of the building where everyone who used a scooter was being given a driver's test.  Perhaps it is the "screening season".

However, thanks to Hetty, if I ever get screened I will know what to expect and I will be prepared. I can start right now practicing subtraction by 7's.  Math was never my best subject.

But it might be more to the point if I just kept on with a new knitting project. 

It appears that knitting  (or any kind of crafting or creative pursuit) is faaabulous for the brain. A recent item from CNN Health  enthuses about its extraordinary benefits. It is relaxing, it stimulates neural activity, and releases dopamine. The zen state that accompanies a period of intense concentration while we figure out a tricky pattern is as good as meditation.  Don't knock us knitting grannies.  We are doing more than making mittens. We are engaged in dementia prevention and enjoying a perfectly legal knitter's high.

Hetty has always been a knitter.  Last winter she made so many frilly scarves that she got sick of them. 


Lacy Layered Fashion Scarf, Knitted Lacy Scarf, Frilly Knitted Fashion Scarf
One frilly scarf = lots of new neurons + great satisfaction


She passed the Alzheimer's test, of course. "With flying colours!" she assured me.

I never doubted it.  I'm sure all that knitting gave her an edge.