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Elders Mellow As They Age

category_bug_journal2.gif For as long as science has studied the human brain, experts believed intellectual power peaked at age 40. But in the past year or two, there has been a steady stream of new research showing that we not only maintain our cognitive skills as we get older, they actually improve.

Back in January we reported on studies done in California showing that

“Far from slowly powering down, the brain as it ages begins bringing new cognitive systems on line and cross-indexing existing ones in ways it never did before….you manage information and parse meanings that were entirely beyond you when you were younger.”
Time, 16 January 2006

Now comes additional proof, from Sydney University in Australia, to combat the belief that brain function declines with age.

“A brain imaging study in individuals 12 to 79 found that emotional stability continues to improve, even into the seventh decade.

“And older people were found to be less neurotic than teenagers…A total of 242 healthy men and women were assessed for the study using emotional well-being questionnaires.

“Neurotic traits were found to decrease with advancing age – with the 12 to 19 year age group being the most neurotic and the 50 to 79 year age group being the least neurotic.”

BBC News, 16 June 2006

The researchers say that these results indicate elders have better control over brain responses to negative emotions than young people, and they believe these new findings will help them develop treatments for age-related cognitive decline.

Two things are surprising about these recent studies. One is that they don’t receive wider publicity. Each bit of new research, so far, demolishes the myths and stereotypes about elders that have been believed too widely for too long. But if I didn’t have a deep personal interest in what it’s really like to get older and seek out such news stories, I’d never hear or read of them.

However, there is no doubt that if the research proved people lost 50 percent of their brain cells by age 50, it would be headline news and there would be Senate hearings on whether elders should be allowed to vote or hold office or even work at all.

Could this lack of attention be the result of an ageist media maybe? Huh? D’ya think?

The second surprise is that the findings seem to be a surprise to the researchers and reporters. I think elders have always known this stuff about ourselves. We’ve always continued to learn new things into old age. We’ve always known that we mellow iwth age, react with greater calm and control when things go wrong or make us angry.

It is a good that science is finding ways to prove what is otherwise common-sense knowledge, but wouldn’t it be a better thing and a more enlightening thing if the studies were reported with a lead-in such as this:

“Researchers at Sydney University confirmed today what our parents and grandparents have been showing and telling us all along – that they have become much more emotionally stable in their later years and they don’t spout off at the drop of hat when someone disagrees with them as they did when they were young. ‘I haven’t been in a bar fight since I was 45,” said John Doe.

“The reason, say the University scientists, is that the medial prefrontal area of the brain…”

The why is interesting to know and in a culture that values only “expert” observation, the studies will help negative and ageist attitudes to gradually change. But a whole lot of this stuff was obvious to anyone who just looked around now and again.

Good Morning, Milt Rebmann

Yesterday, goldenlucy left this important message among the comments on feminism:

“This is Milt’s grand daughter, Amber. I am sure that you are all worried about my grandpa, we are too. Unfortunately, he is not doing so well and has moved in with my Aunt and Uncle. Some days are better then others for him, but he tries to play it down.

“Thank you guys so much for loving and caring for my grandpa and I will make sure to let him know that his friends are thinking of him. I'll stop by again and try to keep you updated (with his blessing of course) on what is going on. Thanks again for thinking of him. ~AMBER”

Lucy, I hope you’ll stop back here and give us the URL where Amber posted this so we can leave messages there for her to deliver to Milt. Alternatively, we can leave them on Milt’s Muse.

Since I first discovered Milt, I’ve admired the courage first revealed in the cutline of his blog:

“Existing with incurable cancer and the depression that inevitably results.... A chronicle of my thoughts, feelings, things I tried, things that worked and, if you look close, things that didn't.... This is a DIY thing, I can't afford a shrink.”

Sometime during my 65 years of life, we switched from a culture of self-reliance to one of dependence on so-called experts. It has become almost a crime – most particularly with children, but for the rest of us too – to let anyone sort out their troubles without “expert” intervention and advice, as though humans have not been living and dying and suffering varieties of pain in the process for millennia without Oprah or Dr. Phil.

Even so, in a society that honestly believed what it preached, no one who wanted a shrink on the final leg of his life journey would go without one. But our society is not like that, so for the past year, Milt has been stuck with his blog and us.

His humor, courage and honesty is an inspiration to me and damn, I’ve been missing Milt’s morning report of the weather in Idaho Falls. I like his just-the-facts-ma’am delivery of his condition too - the daily ups and downs of his psyche due to his medications or just mood, and his coping with it all.

Although we can’t visit him in person, Milt and the rest of us are all a part of inventing this new way of being close and helpful and caring with one another. Even if Milt can’t post to his blog right now, we can keep him informed through Amber of what’s going on with us and be sure he knows he is an important part of our elder blog community.

More on Elder Feminist Bloggers

Yesterday’s post generated such rich and thoughtful conversation, I'm reluctant to let it go too soon. Herewith some short takes on some of the comments you left:

The first is in the order of housekeeping: Alexandra Grabbe “has decided” I should use the word “senior” and not “elder” because I’m 65, not 92. As I have explained in the past, senior and senior citizen have become pejorative phrases dismissive of old people.

We use “elder” on Time Goes By in an attempt to resurrect a fine, old world that has fallen into disuse except to identify tribal leaders of native cultures, although it is also commonly used in discussion of violence against old people – “elder abuse.”

“Elderly,” by anyone’s definition, refers to frail which elders may or may not be.

And so, Time Goes By will continue to use and promote the word elder to describe people older than mid-years. As joared pointed out in her comment, language is important. Those who read the repeated use of respectful, accurate language will follow suit and in time, attitude and action will begin to match the language.

Women Supporting Women
I must disagree with Rain who says, “If a woman isn't elected president, it's because women aren't voting for her as women are in the majority.”

Eventually, a woman will be elected president, but I hope with all my heart that it will not be only because she is a woman. I suspect Hillary Clinton will be re-elected to the Senate this year on that theory. But if I were still a New York resident, she wouldn’t get my vote based on her craven political record – which is all that counts in voting, not gender.

To Rain’s broader point however, sometimes women don’t support one another when they could and should. Or, sometimes, they actively oppose women. I once worked for a woman who promoted only attractive, young men (and not women of any age) whether they were capable and prepared or not with, occasionally, disastrous results. It was so obvious over several years that we laughed about it – between our rage and tears.

Career Choice
Chancy left a note to be sure I wasn’t disrespecting women who choose to be full-time mothers. Of course not. The whole point is the choice. But it’s clear that some young women still don’t respect others who aren’t aiming to be masters of the universe.

Last week, in a “My Turn” column in Newsweek, a woman named Linda Hirshman contended that without paying jobs, women cannot "…influence, honor, compensation, a way of being political and a hand in shaping the world." It’s obvious Ms. Hirschman needs an attitude adjustment and Newsweek readers made that abundantly clear in their responses this week. [Scroll down to the header, “The Mommy Wars Rage On.” May require a Newsweek subscription; I’m not sure.]

The Difficulty of Change
Regarding Alan G’s point about women who rejected feminism in its early stages 40-odd years ago, we humans are stubborn in our beliefs and opinions. It takes a long time to let go of the ones that no longer serve us, even when it’s obviously time to do so. That’s why, as noted yesterday, social movements take so long to catch hold.

But I don't want us to criticize the women of the 1960s who clung to the long-prevailing zeitgeist that “a woman’s place is in the home.” Most obviously, many had already raised their children, had no career skills or any role models for working outside the home. It just wasn’t done by their generation of women.

Others, who were younger, also didn’t have the skills for even simple clerical jobs. Before the women’s movement changed the economics of family so that today it takes two incomes to raise children and put them through college, women rarely attended college. The attitude toward the few who did was that they were taking a place at school that a man more rightly deserved.

My point is that if you weren’t there, or if you memory has slipped a bit, it wasn’t easy for women then to just go to work if they wanted or even to get an education to prepare them for it. So let’s go easy on those women many of whom quietly, even silently, supported the movement but had no means to become an active part of it.

Finally, to duz7’s point, ongoing vigilance is necessary. Forty years does not social acceptance make and it is continuous conversations such as the excellent one yesterday that keeps an issue active and growing.

But, dus7 – we part company on shoes. Those strappy, three-inch, spike-heeled shoes thrill me. They’re gorgeous and I’m only sorry that at my age, I’m no longer willing to suffer the pain of wearing them that I did until ten years ago. I don’t just like those sexy, impractical shoes, I love, as you can read in this post from 18 months ago.

Elder Feminist Bloggers

In the weeks surrounding my move to Portland, a number of women who are apparently unconnected with one another, have emailed about feminists, older women and the blogosphere.

So when Laurie Toby Edison of Body Impolitic contacted me a few days ago, I took it as a sign from the topic gods that Time Goes By should think about these things. Because I haven't done much of that, what follows is a rather untidy rumination.

In her post titled, “On the Internet Nobody Knows You’re a Dog”, Laurie quotes at length a young woman named Rachel S who, on a blog titled Alas, wonders how many “second wave feminists” are active in the blogosphere. The point both women are making, it appears, is that there aren’t enough older women blogging - particularly older feminists - or, at any rate, they can't find many.

Before I go any further, it is important to make this distinction: feminism is a social theory, a philosophy, a political movement and a moral position that can be (and is) supported by men as well as women. So when Laurie states that we have no idea how many “older, feminist bloggers” there are, I would like to think we are speaking about people of both genders.

Whether or not that’s so, I don’t believe the number of feminist bloggers is important to the general community of elderbloggers. I am much more concerned with the marginalization of elders by the culture at large and with the pressure on elders from the youth and beauty police to spend small fortunes attempting to hide the inevitable physical changes aging brings.

It is also important to address age discrimination in the workplace and insist that corporate America obey employment laws. The medical community needs an overhaul too, to treat elders’ diseases and conditions as aggressively as they do young people’s.

And I care a lot about promoting the positive differences blogging can make the lives of elders.

Rachel S, whom Laurie references in her post, has this to say about elder women:

“Then, I wondered about the women one generation older than second wave feminists. I asked myself, how many of them are active in the blogosphere. I know these women are out there, but it seems to me that their views and experiences are marginalized on most feminist blogs.”

I’m not sure what constitutes a “feminist blog” and I certainly don’t know how old a second wave feminist is, but I suspect Rachel S means people who are as old as I am – 65 – or Millie Garfield who will be 81 in a couple of months, or Golden Lucy who is 84. And so on.

We’re here, Rachel and Laurie, hundreds and most probably thousands of us, blogging and/or reading blogs every day about the issues you raise and many more.

If, as you say, young feminist bloggers are marginalizing their elders, they aren’t behaving any differently than the culture does generally. But too much, I think, is being made of looking for aging feminist bloggers?

I have considered myself a feminist since reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique for the first time in 1963. I did my share of marching, petitioning, lobbying with millions of others, and I produced a lot of radio and television programs promoting feminism. Our activism waned as it become less necessary.

In recent years too, I have found it less necessary to wave the flag of my feminism in public, particularly since starting Time Goes By two years ago.

Here’s what I find really interesting in thinking this over: all elderbloggers and elder blog readers I’ve gotten to know appear - in the attitudes, beliefs, interests and passions revealed in their blogs, comments and email to me - to be moral and philosophical feminists. Among elders (or those who have arrived on the shores of TGB) equity among all people is a given - as a goal if not yet a reality.

Yet, I have never heard any of them refer to themselves as a feminist. Two reasons come to mind. One, because we are old enough to know that we won. Sure, there are still some inequities between men and women, but to the extent that it is possible to be fair to everyone, those remaining wrongs will be corrected in time.

The second reason is more radical: I propose that elders are natural feminists. As we age, the external differences between men and women become less evident. Hormone production declines allowing men and women to bypass some of the sexual tension of youth which, in age, makes real friendship possible. Men become less competitive. Elder women often find strengths they hadn’t, in youth, been aware they had.

Could it be that these, along with other changes and attributes, put men and women on a more equal emotional and intellectual footing than they’ve ever been in life, closer to the ideals of feminism?

Maybe, maybe not. And that brings me full circle to an earlier point. It is disturbing to read young feminists who assume that only women can be part of the “sisterhood.” Had men not embraced feminism in its mid-20th-century incarnation, all the young women who today are doctors, lawyers and CEOs would be home cooking dinner and having babies one after another like the women of my mother’s generation.

The world doesn’t need any more divisiveness than it’s got. Let us please give men their due on this issue.

Update: The Corner Bordello

category_bug_journal2.gif I have been taken to task by someone named Chris who objects to my lighthearted slant on the corner bordello story.

Normally, I ignore anonymous comments (Chris left no email address or URL) for all the obvious reasons, but Chris, who appears to be a resident of my new neighborhood, makes some interesting points, so I’ll reprint the comment here in full, although I’ve paragraphed it for easier reading:

“um...those photos are not of the not the right building. Also, you might want to consider ratcheting down the objectification [and prurience] a notch or two: it's not a legend...nor even an "oooohh, so exciting blog-worthy bordello!" anecdote.

“Rather, it was a sad situation where a poor and opportunistic ("poor," as in impoverished, and if you haven't noticed, there's a lot of poverty here in Portland--even on the same street where you've shelled out more to live than most families in the neighborhood will ever, ever be able to...on a dwelling that would house a family of 5) woman, who oversaw a few stringy pathetic young women in their late teens who came and went, looking pretty desperate, most likely on meth or crack (ohhhh! how lively and colorful these *interesting* locals are!), and who plied their trade on filthy mattresses on the floors, in a run-down building.

“The building was up for sale and some of us in our neighborhood took a look at it - and no, not to gawk and feverishly report the findings in our blogs. Now, I know it must be fun for you and your cronies that you wax amusing about the "quaintnesses" of your newly assumed non-New York address, but frankly it's less so for others of us.”

Chris is right. I made some assumptions and had a little fun at the expense of some people I don’t and will never know; people who were undoubtedly, at the time, desperate. Also, I ignored the impact such illicit activity can have on an area and its residents.

I know from first-hand experience that having meth and crack addicts in the neighborhood is much worse than “pathetic”; it’s scary as hell. I’ve seen them beat and stab one another and any passersby who got in the way over one, tiny rock. And I’ve watched helplessly when they have died of overdoses.

There have been too many of such situations for them to be "colorful" or "quaint" to me. Nor are they "amusing". Illegal prostitution and the drugs that are frequently attendant to that occupation can not only destroy the people involved, they can and do destroy families, acquaintances and entire neighborhoods. So I’ll take the hit for having been superficially glib about the corner bordello.

But I won’t apologize for being able to afford my new apartment. Since 1958, nearly half a century, I’ve worked hard and would still be working if corporate America didn’t discriminate against old people. I supported myself through bad times and good, earning this home with the sweat of my brow. There is no shame in that.

As to identifying the wrong house as the former bordello – hey, I’m new here and can only go by what a long-time resident tells me.

Silver Threads - 6/25/06

Sunday Silver Threads has been neglected since mid-April when, because of preparations for and then moving to Portland, Maine, I ran out of time to see what elders are doing online. Life is settling almost into a routine and so, Silver Threads returns today.

Controversy surrounding The DaVinci Code has raised interest in the art museum here in my new home town. It seems they own a Mona Lisa that may have been painted by the master himself. The Portland Giaconda has been dated to the 16th century when Leonardo was painting, but experts are not sure if he painted it or it is a copy by a contemporary.

Naomi Dagen Bloom of A Little Red Hen blog has been visiting the other Portland in my life, the one in Oregon where I was born. She has posted two sets of nice photographs here and here.

AEplaque3_small She says she missed the annual Rose Festival, but that give me an opportunity to tell you that 82 years ago, my great Aunt Edith was Queen of the Rose Festival. Last year, honorary elderblogger, Laura of Kyrielle, was kind enough to send a photo of Aunt Edith’s plaque in the rose gardens in Portland.

Don’t miss Edifice Rex, a beautifully told, bittersweet story by Mick Brady of The Blog Brothers, about how then-governor Nelson Rockefeller spent a king’s ransom to destroy the heart of the city of Albany, New York, displacing thousands of people from their homes for a sterile, kingly mall. It’s a timely story to keep in mind since the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision last year; your home could be next.

janinsanfran of Happening-Here recently returned from a couple of weeks in the Middle East speaking with Iraqis who have been forced by the war or fear for their lives flee their homes in Iraq. Her reports here, here, here and more are eye-openers you won’t see from mainstream press on television or in newspapers.

According to Time magazine, older Americans are healthier than they’ve ever been – so much so that 20 percent of the runners who finished last year’s Boston Marathon were older than 50. It’s a good reminder to get off your duff. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to gain the benefits of lower cholesterol and blood pressure, weight reduction and less risk of dementia that even light exercise can produce.

On the other hand, if you are older than 50, losing your job can be hazardous to your health – being fired at that age can double your chances of stroke and heart attack, according to a new study from Yale University.

I heard from honorary elderblogger Jeanne of Cooksister! this week and since I was on my way to the store anyway, I picked up the ingredients for her Chocolate Sauce recipe which I can endorse with enthusiasm.

However, if you follow my lead on this, it’ll cost more than the chocolate and ice cream on which to put it. You’ll need one of these new digital cameras that have an automatic slimming effect – up to 10 pounds. What will the youth and beauty police think of next… [Hat tip to Body Impolitic.]

Anyone who follows Milt’s Muse blog knows that Milt, of Idaho Falls, lives with cancer and has been fighting depression. No matter how much pain he's suffering or how badly he feels, Milt has managed to post – including his signature, lead-in, local weather report – almost every day. But now, there has been nothing from him since 30 May. Has anyone heard from him?

There hasn’t been time for me to check into it thoroughly yet, but Tamarika seems to have forsaken that blog for her new one, Mining Nuggets. There is some excellent stuff there - and gorgeous photos - about her recent trip to the Meditteranean island of Rhodes.

Oh, no! Mr. Limerick Savant, who comments on the political and social scene of our day entirely in rhyming limerick is doubting his ability to continue. Please stop over there and let him know that the blogosphere needs him. Maybe give him some inspiration with a suggestion or two for a limerick topic.

Just so you know I didn't invent the story of a moose trotting down my street last Monday, here is a local report of the moose – two of them – loose in Portland, Maine, complete with photographs. The sad ending is that one was hit by a truck and had to be destroyed.

The Corner Bordello Legend

category_bug_journal2.gif Having a real, live moose trot down the street in front of one’s new home is a good enough story for one’s first month in a new city, but equally entertaining is another told to me on the day of my arrival in Portland, Maine, by a neighbor: only recently, he said, had the bordello on the corner been closed.

Earlier this week, when I posted a little stroll through my part of my new neighborhood, Alan G, who blogs at Some Final Thoughts, left this comment:

“Being one of your ‘male’ readers I am extremely disappointed that in your brief photographic tour you neglected to neither photograph nor point out the ‘corner bordello’.”

How right he is, so today I’m correcting that omission. This is the front entrance to the building that may or may not have held a bordello on the top floor. It looks like any other well-maintained, middle class apartment house of a style common in Portland.


Then you walk around to the side. What you can’t see well in this photograph is that this is, obviously, the more usual entrance where the doorbells and mailboxes for three apartments are mounted.


It lends credence to the bordello story that there is a small parking lot behind the house. Nevertheless, there is nothing about the building that signals its possible past notoriety. But isn’t it always that way. I know of two townhouses in Greenwich Village that are well-known as bordellos, but there is nothing about them that would reveal the business behind their ordinary façades.

It’s in my nature to hope the bordello story is true; such tales give shape and color to neighborhoods. But until I get enough detail to convince me, I’ll consign this one to the category of legend or (which would be a good story too) to the natives pulling the newcomer’s leg.”

[See Update.]

Happiness Redux

There were some excellent musings from readers about happiness a few days ago. A thread that runs through all of them is that our level of happiness is our responsibility and not the result of external sources or events. Jeanne of Cooksister!, one of the Honorary Elderbloggers listed in the right column, quoted U.S. president Abraham Lincoln in this regard:

“…people are generally about as happy as they make up their minds to be…”

And that is a mark of maturity, isn’t it, that comes for most of us only with the passage of time. Learning to appreciate the small things helps with one’s happiness quotient too. Ruthe of Fat Old Artist say birds singing in the morning are enough to make her happy and Peter Tibbles of Melbourne says he has

“…learned to accept the good things in life (fine wine, good books, great music, writing blathering emails). Oh, and standing on the south coast of Victoria looking out at the Southern Ocean. That’s good too.”

Terri of Writing Away on Cedar Key believes our ability to adapt is important to happiness. Quite a number, including Wendy at I Want to Be Sixty and Francesca Gray of Pushing an Elephant Up the Stairs attribute some measure of happiness to finally knowing oneself better in later years.

Wally, The Resident Curmudgeon, points out that it can often be hard to know in advance what will make us happy:

"[In the book], Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert…” writes Curmudgeon, “[what] I was most impressed by was his assertion that the things we think will make us happy in the future leave us dissatisfied once we achieve them, and the worst experiences of our lives (at the time) turn out to be the best things that ever happened to us.”

That last is certainly true for me. There is no doubt that a parent’s death is one of our most painful rites of passage. But to this day, 14 years later, caring for my mother during her final months remains the most profound experience of my life.

In the past couple of weeks, a lot of people have asked how I like Portland and my new home. I’ve been poking around inside my emotional cauldron looking for – oh, maybe some sadness at leaving New York or some trepidation, perhaps, at becoming part of my new community, maybe some all-out, kid-like excitement at starting something new.

It’s all of those things and none of those things together with relief. Above all else – for the moment, anyway - relief in big, bold letters at finally, after five or six years of extreme personal, professional and financial unsettledness, smoothing out those wrinkles in my life.

As to my new life here, I chose my location well. Without being able to explain why, I’m comfortable in the space, the general feel, the weather, the atmosphere of Portland, Maine. I’m eager to know the nooks and crannies and history of the city and surrounding area as well as I know that of Greenwich Village and that will come in time.

And, I like my new apartment – light, airy and much bigger than what I had in New York although I wish the process of buying new furniture were done; I’m not much of a shopping maven. Still, it’s fun to start in a new place with new stuff.

So is this happiness? I’m not sure and I’m also not sure happiness is a goal. I think I agree with what Cop Car of Cop Car’s Beat said in a comment the other day:

Happiness is highly over-rated. Nearly half a life-time ago, I was happier; but, I was also unhappier. Life was more exciting - good and bad. Today, I am more content. There is much to be said for contentment!!”

Contentment more than happiness better describes the excellent place I’m in right now. It almost feels like I might be heading toward the important place DellaB of Turning Sixty identified in her comment on the happiness post:

“Now, Peace Of Mind - that's different, more permanent.”

Getting My Blog Groove Back

During months of preparations for moving to Portland, Maine, two weeks of limbo when I lived with a friend (well, former husband), then in a hotel for a few days, and in the two weeks since moving into my new home, blogging has taken a backseat to everything else.

I’ve managed to post something on most days, but I’ve not had time to do my usual amount of homework for stories, nor to visit sites on the elderbloggers list for many weeks. I’ve neglected the Sunday “Silver Threads” since mid-April, I’m way behind on reading that’s been on my to-do list and, most disturbingly, I feel removed from the Time Goes By community – like I’ve just returned from a long trip and need to catch up – which, actually, is close to what’s happened.

And you, Time Goes By readers, have been here throughout this lengthy distraction. Your many messages of good luck and good wishes have helped me feel attached here even when I could find time to only skim your comments. Thank you all for your care and concern.

Just to prove again that no one has complete control of the blog he or she publishes, something has changed at TGB during my distraction: there are a bunch of new people joining in, leaving comments and shifting the tone of Time Goes By a bit. This is a good thing - new ideas, new points of view.

For those newcomers who have blogs: I look forward, now that I'll have the time again, to visiting them soon, checking out your space in the blogosphere. Meanwhile, welcome to the Time Goes By community. You’ll find an amazing group of smart, thoughtful people here who have a wide variety of interests and points of view who will give you a lot to think about and a reason to laugh now and again too.

A couple of new readers mentioned learning of Time Goes By in AARP The Magazine. In the July/August issue on page 15, there is a story about elderbloggers which, unfortunately, is little more that a blurb and, astonishingly for a story about an online activity, is not available on their website.

I spent a couple of hours talking with the writer, making her aware of the substantial advantages to elders of blogging and of many other elderbloggers sites. I wish the magazine editors had made room for more of that information.

But there will be other media stories about elders and blogging and that's not nearly as important at the moment as getting my blog groove back which is beginning to happen now. It’s good to be settling into it again.

A Walk on the Wild Side of Munjoy Hill

Munjoy Hill, my neighborhood in Portland, Maine, is less than 300 miles northeast, as the crow flies, from Greenwich Village in New York City, and although it is far less densely populated with humans, there are more wild things of note including one, appearing yesterday on my street, so odd and wonderful that it already feels like a dream. But first…


This bird may not look like much in this photo taken from my window across the street, but when they’re on the electric lines outside my window, they are the biggest, baddest, black birds I ever saw – or heard. Shrieking bluejays are pikers by comparison. I don’t know yet if these guys are blackbirds, ravens or crows, but I admire their unassailable command of their air space.


Two blocks from my house is the Eastern Prom – a walkway that runs for two or three miles along Casco Bay on the eastern end of the Portland peninsula. I frequently pass this giant, gingerbread Victorian with all those curves and corners and peaks and windows. It doesn’t matter to me what it costs to heat – if someone’s handing it out for free, I’ll take it. It is a magnificent, wild thing in its own way, don’t you think.


This one isn’t so massively spectacular as the Victorian except for that amazing widow’s walk stuck on top like a cake decoration. It doesn't seem to belong, but there it is and I’d like to be invited up there one day.


This Victorian, just a few doors down from the other one, reminds me more of a storybook castle that should be on the edge of a deep forest in 19th century Germany. Even in its pristine whiteness, it could be the setting for a Grimm fairy tale, as though there is a dark secret in the attic.


This white pigeon accompanied me one morning on my walk keeping just this distance between us. When I stepped forward, so did he. When I stepped back, so he changed direction too. After a bit of experimentaqtion to be sure I wasn't fooling myself about his pacing me, I continued my walk for about mile while he led the way.


I see this scruffy black cat every day. I don’t know if he has a family or if he lives by his wits, but you can tell from his world-weary demeanor that he's seen it all and one new resident with a camera and a kitchykoo howdy-do doesn't mean a thing in his world. It's obvious too that if Ollie weren’t such a fancy-pants cat and could go outside, he wouldn’t have a chance against Blackie.


If you don’t see an animal in this photo, you’re not blind. There is none, but how I wish there were. Yesterday, mid-morning, I was at my desk in the bay windows when a moose – yes, a moose – came into view camera right.

I know, I know – it’s hard to believe. I hardly believe it now, a day later, myself. My only proof is that man in the lower left of the photo. He was shouting to anyone who could hear, “Moose! Moose! Look at the moose!”

The moose wasn’t running scared, nor was he sauntering. He trotted along as though he had a destination, went up a driveway across the street almost as though he lived there, returned to the street and continued along the block until he turned right at the corner – while I was scrambling to focus the camera.

A moose, folks. A great big, wild moose, like nothing I’ve seen since Northern Exposure, just walking along my street. Many strange things happened to me during my 37 years in New York City, but I never saw a moose there. I had to move to Portland, Maine for that to happen.

Have Some Liposuction With Your Massage

Most of the marketing email that arrives in the Time Goes By inbox amuses Crabby Old Lady. The writers like to dress up their form letters with a little chumminess – first name in the salutation - and then structure the letter so the blog name can be dropped in halfway through the sales pitch. They often end with an overly familiar closing, as though the flack and Crabby have been best friends for a decade or so.

These “personalizations,” intended to flatter readers into thinking they have been singled out as important trend setters, are dead giveaways of second-rate PR tactics and Crabby usually dumps them straight into trash.

But two days ago in a PR email suggesting that retirement lacks "glamour," a sentence caught Crabby’s eye just as her finger headed for the delete key:

“How about getting pampered with a massage, a facial, or perhaps a tummy tuck?”

Say what? Crabby’s double-take was so swift it nearly spun her head off her neck. Certainly, she’d read that wrong. But no.

The friendly flack continued:

“My client, a Los Angeles-based surgical and wellness center not only offers breast augmentation/reduction, tummy tucks, and liposuction, but also aromatherapy treatments, foot reflexology, face-lift massages, and much more.

“All spa services can be paired with cosmetic surgery to assist the body in its natural healing abilities.”

Oh, yeah, Crabby will have a little liposuction with the manicure.

When, Crabby wants to know, did surgery – you know, that procedure for which they put you under anesthesia which can be administered only by trained physicians and then cut open your body so you bleed and if the surgeon doesn’t know what he’s doing you die – become synonymous with harmless, feel-good, relaxation techniques?

This is dangerous territory, equating surgical procedures – which are always life-threatening – with hippie-dippie, so-called “natural healing abilities” induced by the aroma of ylang-ylang. This is how far American culture’s hatred of the outward signs of aging has gone and Crabby Old Lady is not the first one to notice:

“Still, Dr. Rothman worries that these tiny procedures may create a demand for serial liposuction in which patients come to view surgery as a maintenance technique, like fitness.

"’We already have a model for this with Botox and Restylane, where people go to their doctors every few months to get another shot whenever they feel like it,’ Dr. Rothman said. ‘Maybe liposuction will become like a gym membership where you pay a doctor $10,000 for the year and you can have as much surgery as you want.’"

- The New York Times, 15 June 2006

Until this email arrived, Crabby Old Lady would have thought stopping by the spa after work for a massage and tummy tuck was a TV comedian’s joke about Hollywood lifestyles. But she also would not have believed, until last week, that the U.S. Supreme Court would uphold no-knock police intrusions into private homes.

Both are abhorrent developments and each in its own way has the potential to kill.

How Happy Are You?

Are you happier now than when you were 20 or 30 or even 40 years old? I believe I am, but according to a new study from the University of Michigan and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System, I am an exception:

“Older people ‘mis-remember’ how happy they were as youths, just as youths ‘mis-predict’ how happy (or unhappy) they will be as they age.”
- University of Michigan Health System, 13 June 2006

It is one of the enduring myths about elders we have discussed here at Time Goes By - that they are less happy than young people - and the stereotype infects old and young alike, even in this new study:

“Overall, people got it wrong, believing that most people become less happy as they age, when in fact this study and others have shown that people tend to become happier over time,” says lead author Heather Lacey, Ph.D., a VA postdoctoral fellow and member of the U-M Medical School’s Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine.

“Not only do younger people believe that older people are less happy, but older people believe they and others must have been happier ‘back then’. Neither belief is accurate.”

- University of Michigan Health System, 13 June 2006

This is the first study focusing on people’s memories and predictions of happiness over their lives and included 540 people who were either age 21 to 40 or older than 60. Most other studies of happiness in old age have concentrated on people who are chronically ill, disabled or have other age-related impairments.

Those earlier studies, according to Dr. Peter Ubel who conducted some of them, show that sick people are adaptable to their circumstances and are often just as happy as elders who are healthy:

“People often believe that happiness is a matter of circumstance, that if something good happens, they will experience long-lasting happiness, or if something bad happens, they will experience long-term misery,” he says.

“But instead, people’s happiness results more from their underlying emotional resources — resources that appear to grow with age. People get better at managing life’s ups and downs, and the result is that as they age, they become happier — even though their objective circumstances, such as their health, decline.”
- University of Michigan Health System, 13 June 2006

Haven’t we said something similar just recently? Why, yes we did – only last Friday:

“In fact, it is arguable that because elders have more opportunities to cope with big, often sudden life changes – retirement (forced or planned), widowhood, reduced economic circumstances, chronic illness, leaving their homes are a few examples – they are better at adapting than younger people. Survival requires that they be so.”

Adaptability was more on my mind than happiness when I wrote that, but certainly the first contributes to our sense of contentment.

Like the children of Lake Wobegon, most people in the study believed they were above average and would therefore be happier in old age than most other people. Overall, the study participants, young and old, believed the average person would be less happy at age 70 than at age 30. But at 65, that’s just not true for me. What about you?

[Hat tip to Melinda Applegate and to M. Sinclair Stevens of Words Into Bytes and Zanthan Gardens for forwarding the happiness study.]

Almost Home

category_bug_journal2.gif There are people like Claude of Blogging in Paris and others I know who do excellent photos. And then there’s me. After you see what’s below, you won’t have a lot of trouble agreeing with the first comment from yesterday. So think of these as documentary – a record of a point in time at a certain place - because they are a long way from art or, even, artful.

To place us in context, here is the apartment on Bedford Street in New York City in the early morning hours of 25 May when the movers were due any minute.


Fifteen days later on 9 June, again in the early morning, a mover carried the first box into the library of our new home in Portland, Maine.


Although a wall of bookshelves to the right of those windows must be built and installed before I can unpack the 50-odd boxes of books, by Friday 16 June, the library was usable.


It is the library and not the living room because I have always wanted a separate library and I have plenty of other space for visitors to sit or dine or hang out and talk – which doesn’t mean they can’t spill over into the library too.

Besides the shelving, I also need two deliciously comfy, overstuffed reading chairs. Which can’t be done with online shopping. Reading chairs, the kind that are meant for falling asleep in late at night, must be sat in, perhaps at some length, to be certain they are just the right fit and coziness.


The sideboard, the origin of which I’ve written about here, is on the library wall opposite the bay windows. Since yesterday, Ollie has mastered the art of opening the cupboard doors and has found within an excellent snoozing nest. He likes the second door, which is the one at the far left in this photo.


The kitchen has so much fancy equipment that I can almost believe the stove and refrigerator operate as on Star Trek: The Next Generation. All I need do is hold a glass in an opening in the refrigerator door for ice, crushed ice or cold, filtered water. The only thing missing is voice activation.

My treasured, round, oak dining table, which seemed enormous in the cramped New York dining area, is dwarfed now, but there is a lot of extra space between it and the library doors to create another sitting area.


This is the view through the sliding glass door in my bedroom onto the back deck. That wrought iron table and chairs, like the dining table, seem like miniatures now, but I’ll find other ways to fill the space.

Meanwhile Ollie, who hardly ever used the sofa when we lived in New York, now thinks it’s a lovely place for an afternoon snooze.


Little is in its right place yet, but at least all the boxes (not counting books) are emptied and the rest of settling in must await the purchase and delivery of new beds, dressers, dining chairs, library chairs and sitting room chairs along with sundry lamps and tables.

Old Cats Do Learn New Tricks

category_bug_oliver Well, Ollie isn’t really old yet; his second birthday is not until August. But he has his little habits and now they are changing in our new home.

All cats dislike closed doors, but there weren’t many in our New York apartment for Ollie to complain about. Now he’s got plenty of them. A couple of days ago, I investigated a new sound – thump, thump, thump. It was Ollie trying to open the coat closet door.

The same thing happened at different times with the closet doors in the two bedrooms. But then I heard a different kind of thump, more of a deep rattle, rattle, rattle in the study. A fact-finding mission disclosed a cat with his tail wrapped neatly around his front toes looking as big-eyed innocent as a newborn babe. No source of the sound was evident.

A day or two later, I was already in the study when the same, deep rattle, rattle, rattle occurred. Turning around from the desk to check it out, I spied Ollie trying to open a door on the sideboard and these, unlike closet doors, don’t latch so he was having better luck.

So far, he’s got the knack of pulling the sideboard door toward him, but his little, walnut-sized brain hasn’t figured the next step of sticking his head in to wedge it open and get the rest of his body into the cupboard. He's been practicing, for the past couple of nights, at 3AM which makes the deep rattle sound more like booming thunder. Fortunately Ollie's attention, like that of most cats, can be easily redirected.

Sometimes there is no explaining the wonder of cats. In the past, I’ve used paper toweling under Ollie’s food and water bowls to make cleanup of stray food easier. But the towel looks particularly messy in the new kitchen, so I had a little chat with Ollie who gazed into my eyes with what appeared to be real understanding as I spoke:

“I’d rather skip the paper towels,” I said, “so perhaps you could make an effort to be tidier at mealtime than you have before. I don’t think it would be hard to do. Why don’t you give it a try…”

In the four or five days since our talk, I’ve picked up one crunchie from the floor. Go figure…

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I know, I know. As several of you have pointed out, photos are in order. It wasn't just the cable I didn't have during the move; it was also the camera software which I hadn't loaded onto this new computer before I packed the disc with the rest of the computer peripherals. It's now unpacked and soon photographs will be flowing forth.]

Old Dogs Do Learn New Tricks

category_bug_journal2.gif It is a myth that old people are set in the ways. As has been discussed here before, it is experience and discernment that are sometimes misunderstood by younger people as refusal by elders to try something new. I tasted dozens of blends of coffee in my life to find the one I like; I’m done with that experimentation now – until or unless my tastes change.

In fact, it is arguable that because elders have more opportunities to cope with big, often sudden life changes – retirement (forced or planned), widowhood, reduced economic circumstances, chronic illness, leaving their homes are a few examples – they are better at adapting than younger people. Survival requires that they be so.

Now, a week into my new digs in Portland, Maine, I’ve discovered not a need to adapt to anything but instead, an unexpected desire to change how I live.

One is a small item regarding that coffee I mentioned. For half a century, it has been my habit to drink about three cups of coffee over the course of the morning. It not only gives me an energy boost, I love the taste and aroma of coffee (not to mention that particular blend it took me years to find) and I don’t give a hoot about the “experts” who periodically warn that coffee will kill us or, at least, do serious damage.

Nevertheless, for the past few mornings, coffee has tasted acidic and heavy to me and I’m ready to experiment with tea perhaps, or maybe just juice. Too bad I bought six pounds of my favorite coffee blend when I left New York City.

I have always risen earlier than most people and although I haven’t worked nine-to-five in an office for two years, I’ve still waked at 4:30AM or 5AM each day and relished those early morning hours of alone time before the world comes alive.

Now, suddenly, during this first week in my new home, I’ve still wakened at the same time, but savored pulling up the covers and snoozing for another hour in that delicious mind-state of half-dream, half awake. It’s a pleasurable way ease rather than leap into each day, and I think I’ll give it a shot as a possible new habit.

Another potential new habit is developing, also without conscious effort: I’ve taken to walking in the morning or evening along the Eastern Prom at the edge of water, which is just a block and a half from my apartment. Walks for exercise, relaxation, thought or just idleness are a centuries-old, human tradition, but not mine. I walked a lot in New York City, but only with a destination and purpose. Now, something outside myself urges me toward a walk once or twice a day and I’ve found I don’t need a purpose anymore.

Sometimes, it is hard to know, when new practices and habits appear, how they came about. I could go all Freudian here about fulfilling unconscious needs and desires, but I don’t have much patience with that stuff, finding it enough to just observe and note changes.

What does interest me, however, is that so much of who we are – young and old - is defined by our daily habits and it appears, if I am an example, that a major life change (moving to another city) provokes alterations in behavior that will create new melodies and different rhythms to the pace of daily life. And, these changes come about whatever your age.

Ollie the Cat in Maine

category_bug_oliver As a species, cats prefer to stay in one place. Hard as it is for humans to accept, most cats are happier with a change of people than a change of home. Routine is a cat’s friend; disruption his foe.

And so for Ollie the cat, the past year has been a kitty nightmare. Being dragged out of the New York house every other day or so during individual showings and open houses displeased him for more than six months. Imagine if someone put you in a box several times a week and carried you off to another place for an unknown period of time. Not a day at the beach, ya know.

After the moving company drove off with all our belongings, we lived with my former husband for three weeks. Ollie has been a shy cat from day one, but he’s met “uncle Alex” many times and is only a little skitterish with him. At home or elsewhere, however, unexpected noises of any volume – soft or loud – send Ollie looking for cover, and every home has noises you’ve never heard before. Ollie did a lot of hiding at uncle Alex’s.

When he had just about settled in, comfortable enough to play with his toys and demand some attention, one day a little orange pill sent him into a woozy, snoozy headspin all day. He wasn’t even interested in looking out the window for the six hours of the car trip.

But he recovered quickly in the hotel in Portland and in less than 24 hours behaved as though that one room was home - chasing toys and, from the window sill, supervising a roof replacement across the street. By all appearances, Ollie was as comfortable as he’d ever been on Bedford Street in New York City.

Then, three days later, he was dragged off again to another address, an apartment much larger than the hotel room and twice as big as where he lived in New York. It freaked him. Or maybe the noise of the movers in and out of the apartment all morning were that one, last straw. Ollie went on strike for the next two days.

He wouldn’t eat; he wouldn’t let me pet him; he wouldn’t play. Mostly, he hid behind stacked cartons. Lured out with treats, he immediately threw up in the library. And kept throwing up. Until yesterday – Sunday.

Now he’s almost comfortable – snoozing as I write – on the sofa near the desk after a long morning romp around the maze of boxes and “stuff”.

Best of all, (if you’re a cat) are the number of windows here (14) to watch people and birds and shadows and rain and trees blowing in the breeze. Once we’re settled and the cartons are gone Ollie, I suspect, will be happy here and I’ve promised him that I won’t stuff him in the dreaded cat carrier for an entire year.

The Time To Make a New Home

category_bug_journal2.gif Due to a slight technical glitch – no ISP connection the first morning in my new digs – there was no post here at TGB yesterday. By the time my computer was hooked up in the early afternoon, there were too many things to do and too many places to go to write about getting old.

And old is what I feel. There is a significant difference between moving at age 42 (which I was last time) and age 65. Somewhere in the intervening 23 years, I lost the knack of being on my feet for 14 hours straight. Or of carrying heavy objects up a flight of stairs more than three times in quick succession.

The upside is that I haven’t slept so soundly or for as long – a full eight hours – in a year or more and I haven’t felt this much energy after waking in a long time either.

But here’s the best part: when you have been separated from your “stuff” for three weeks, opening cartons is like the biggest birthday you never had. “Oh, wow. I’d forgotten about that sweater.” “What a terrific-looking bowl.” “Why haven’t I been using that quilt in the past couple of years.”

At the packing end of a move, the point is to throw out what you don’t want and get the cartons filled as quickly as possible.

But at the unpacking end of the move, there is time – nay, necessity – to slow down, ponder where each item goes, polish it up a bit before putting it in its new place and then to change your mind once or twice about where it should go.

All that standing and walking, bending and stretching for a long day at age 65 is more wearying than I had anticipated. But the excitement of a new home, new city, new experiences makes up for it. It’s a huge pleasure filling an empty living space; turning it into a home. It just takes longer this time than it did before.

Give me another week of hasty or skipped posts while I settle in and then I’ll get back to what really matters about getting older.

Home Sweet Home

category_bug_journal2.gif The closing on the new apartment took place yesterday afternoon without a hitch. Ollie the cat and I will leave the hotel shortly to be there when the moving van is scheduled to arrive at 8AM. And then we will – after a year of planning and waiting - be at home with all our “stuff” in our new place.

During the past week or so, several people commented here that they’ve moved so frequently that they have no emotional attachment to their homes. This is my 43rd move and I agree; most of them were not important. But Bedford Street in New York City was different - leaving it after 23 years was a painful decision. And choosing a new place that suits me well enough to be my home, I hope, for the rest of my life was an emotional decision too.

Some people, the nomadic sort, don’t even need a fixed address to be comfortable. But not me; I need my little nest. Home, whatever or wherever it is, is such a universal concept that most cultures have rituals for blessing new homes. Yesterday, Claude at Blogging in Paris posted one kind for me.


Be sure to read her explanation that goes with it.

Chancy of driftwoodinspiration posted an Irish blessing which I’m repeating here too. You never know when you might have need of it for yourself or others:

Touch the lintel and touch the wall,
Nothing but blessing here befall.
Bless the candle that stands by itself,
Bless the books on the mantelshelf,
Bless the hearth and the light it sheds,
Bless the pillow for tired heads.
Those who tarry here, let them know
A threefold blessing before they go:

Sleep for weariness, peace for sorrow,
Faith in yesterday and tomorrow.
Those who go from here, let them bear
The blessing of hope wherever they fare.
Lintel and window, sill and wall,
Nothing but good, this place befall.

Anna of Self Winding sent this most perfect ecard with her good wishes for Ollie’s and my new home. [I hope the link works.] I especially like the piano version of “The Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker Suite that goes with the image – a piece of music I’ve known every note of since childhood when I listened to it every day of my then young life.

I thank every one of you for so many wonderful, good wishes on this new adventure of mine. You have made me weepy in the best way possible.

[Pictures of the new place will be forthcoming whenever I locate the box with the cable for transferring images from the camera. What was I thinking when I packed it separately from the laptop.]

Like a Kid Waiting For Santa

category_bug_journal2.gif Every step of this move to Portland, Maine has been defined by delay and wait over the period of a year and the Fates, apparently, see no reason to let up on this long-term test of my patience, even at the last moment:

The closing on the new apartment is not until 4PM today.

It’s still raining here and will continue until Sunday. There’s nothing much to do while waiting except watch the seagulls. I’ve always liked them. I know, I know. Seagulls are just rats with wings, but they are so perfectly proportioned, wing to body, and so pleasing in their command of the air. Surely it must have been seagulls the ancients were watching when they first dreamed of human flight.

As to the Mainer/Maineiac discussion yesterday, Mainer works for me. The other smacks too much of self-satisfaction which lifelong Mainers may be entitled to for reasons I haven’t discovered yet, but couldn’t apply to me. And, not to step on local toes on my second day in town, but Maineiac is amusing the first time you hear it; after that, it becomes cloying, don’t you think?

The real estate agent and I walked through the new digs yesterday for a final look before the formal purchase today. The living room is smaller than I remembered, the deck is larger and there is still no more wall space for bookshelves than there was when I made the decision to buy.

As with all the other questions of what goes where, it will be fun to decide what to do with the all the books, and I’m ready to get started.

Portland, Maine - Day One

category_bug_journal2.gif Thank you all for your good wishes to Ollie the cat and me on our travel day to Portland, Maine. The trip was easy, uneventful and the weather was glorious.

It had been several weeks since I’d seen my new home, so I walked from the hotel to there yesterday afternoon. The apartment won’t be mine until tomorrow, so I couldn’t go in, but I could look from the sidewalk and check out surroundings.

I introduced myself to a neighbor who was hanging out in the sunny weather on his porch across the street. “The block has been abuzz,” he said, “about your arrival.” I didn’t press him on what that means - I’m sure it will become evident in time. But obviously, like Bedford Street in Greenwich Village, there aren’t a lot of secrets in my new neighborhood.

The neighbor also told me that the bordello on the top floor of a building at the corner had only recently been shut down. Too bad – it would make such colorful conversation. Or, perhaps my neighbor was pulling my leg. That too will be revealed in time.

It appears from television newscasts this morning that, as Nancy implied in her comment yesterday, there are four days of rain ahead in Portland. But rain doesn’t bother an old Portland, Oregon native like me, and cannot dampen my pleasure at finally being here.