Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite Reads of 2015

Photo by Raoul Luour.
I read 62 books during the last year on a variety of topics. 

* aging--both fiction and nonfiction
* historical fiction
* memoirs
* young adult fiction
* contemporary fiction, particularly family dramas
* nonfiction, particularly neuroscience, health, and dying

I write reviews for everything at Goodreads. However, I write more extensive reviews for books about aging here. 

Many books with themes about midlife and late life did make my list of favorite reads for 2015.  

What follows is a list, organized by year of publication.  I had too much trouble ranking them because I like them all for different reasons. 

1. Berry, Wendell. The Memory of Old Jack (1974) because it's a beautiful tribute to the type of life my grandfather Webb led, but one that he couldn't articulate for himself. GR Review.  Blog Review.

2. Lehrer, Jonah. Proust Was A Neuroscientist (2007) because it's a great interdisciplinary read. GR Review.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015 Top Ten Posts

Photo by Tom Magliery.
2015 is winding down, so it's time to take a backwards glance.

I'm completing my fourth year of blogging.

This year I wrote on topics ranging from biomarkers of aging, through films and novels with late life protagonists, to books about death and the death industry.

I wrote over 70 posts this year.

These are the Top 10 most viewed posts written in 2015.

In ascending order . . . .

#10 French Films about Aging 

#9  Biomarkers for Aging

#8  Mr. Holmes: Movie Review  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Drivers 50-69 Weigh in on Car Technologies

Photo by Bradak.
Decades ago, cars had very few safety features.

People driving the earliest models did not have the benefit of rear-view mirrors, electric windshield wipers, seat belts, shatter-proof glass, back-up lights, anti-lock brakes, and air bags.

Driving a car without these standard features seems foolhardy to us today.

I predict that within a decade, it will seem foolhardy to drive a car without some of these emerging new safety technologies:

  1. Reverse back-up cameras
  2. Blind-spot warning systems
  3. Collision avoidance systems
  4. Lane departure warning systems 
  5. Smart headlights
In November of 2015, The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence produced a guide to vehicle safety technology.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Sense of an Ending: Book Review

Published 4 August 2011
Our minds can play tricks on us.

When we are trying to recall events from decades prior, our version of events often conflicts with others' versions.

Add emotion to the mix, and the memories contrast more sharply.

Honestly, I don't think it's possible to create an objective version of the past. Everyone brings their bias to the retelling.

The protagonist in The Sense of an Ending (2011) by Julian Barnes spends much of the novel trying to recall a series of events from his youth, only to become less and less sure of himself.

The first time I tried to read The Sense of an Ending, I recoiled from the characters I first met: a group of pretentious college boys.

Initially, I didn't get past the first chapter.

Once I learned that the first part primarily functions as an object to be examined and disputed in the second part, I was much more willing to pay attention to this group of self-important young men.

Subsequently, I read the novel in two sittings. (It's 163 pages in the paperback version I read, pictured above.)

The first part describes a series of events that occurred in the 1960s, as told by Tony Webster--one of the arrogant and immature college students.

The second part describes Tony Webster some forty years later. He has received a letter about one of his college friends.  This motivates Tony to contact people from his past.  In part through conversation, in part through self-reflection, Tony tries to piece together what happened then and how everyone's lives played out.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Baklava: Recipe

I've been making baklava since 1982. 
The first time I made baklava--three decades ago--it was a disaster.

Having recently returned from six months studying in Jerusalem (Jan-June 1982), I decided to tackle this Mediterranean treat.

As a novice, I accidentally added the syrup before baking the butter-layered pastry filled with nuts and spices.


I assembled it at my apartment but baked it at a reunion--held at one of our teacher's home, David K. Ogden aka DKO.

When others asked me about the progress of this dessert, I remember looking in the oven and then shouting back over my shoulder, "It's swimming in so much butter and syrup that it's doing the backstroke!"

I've had three more decades to practice making baklava.  May you benefit from my slow learning curve!

Gathering ingredients. 

1 pound of nuts* (4 cups of halves)
1 teaspoon cinnamon and/or nutmeg

3/4 cup of melted butter
1 pkg (16 oz) phyllo dough aka fillo, thawed

2/3 cup of water
1 cup of granulated sugar

3/4 cup of honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

*I prefer pecans, but others use pistachios, walnuts or even mixed nuts.  If they are already chopped, you only need 3.5 cups.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Books about the Death Care Industry

Photo by Tim Green.
Over the last year, I have been reading books about the death care industry: the goods and services that people use after a person dies.

Goods include coffins, headstones, cremation jars, and so forth.  I haven't read much about death care industry goods.

Mainly, I have read about services.

These range from body removers, organ donation surgeons, coroners, medical examiner, funeral home directors, cremation employees, and researchers.

I realize that this is a grim topic.

In an attempt to face my fears about dying and death, I choose to read.   I hope that by learning more about the fate of bodies postmortem, I can have greater courage when the time comes.

Fortunately, no one close to me has died who required me to make final arrangements.  However, the older I get, the more likely I will be working with employees in the death care industry.

Here are the books that I have read on this topic so far, arranged by reverse chronology.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Measure of Maturity: Quote

Click to enlarge photo by Kelley Boone modified by KDA.
Currently, I'm experiencing a lot of conflict and change in my life.

My previous responses to similar situations have been to rant, complain, throw things, or feed addictions such as shopping and eating.

I've had enough experience now that I can see that these responses will just expend a lot of energy and produce no results.

Or even worst, these responses will just create additional problems.

Consequently, I am adopting self-soothing practices that are more productive: moderate exercise, devotional reading, meditation, deep cleaning, and even just losing myself in my day-to-day responsibilities.

While looking through my cache of age-related quotes, I found the following served me at this time:

"Maturity is the ability to think, speak and act your feelings within the bounds of dignity. The measure of your maturity is how spiritual you become during the midst of your frustrations."

Samuel Ullman (1840-1924), American businessman, poet, and humanitarian.

I currently live in Kansas, so I'm using this image: I hope to survive like a country church endures on a stormy prairie.


Books on Aging and Spiritual Growth
Quantifying Wisdom
Am I Old or Am I Young? Quote

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Medicare Plan Finder

Photo by nirbhao.
Did you know that every year those who are enrolled in a Medicare Drug Plan (Part D) can compare costs for the upcoming year and SWITCH during Open Enrollment?

Open enrollment takes place every year from October 15th through December 7th.

During this time, smart consumers look at their plan's cost projections for the next calendar year and compare those costs with other plans.

$$$ Switching often saves people hundreds of dollars over a year. $$$

I have witnessed this first hand. I helped beneficiaries during three Open Enrollment periods (2011, 2012, and 2013).  I learned a great deal about Part D when I was a volunteer counselor working with SHICK (Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas, Sedgwick County EO location).

Even if you are not on Medicare Part D at this time, learn a little about the program so that you can help an aging parent and so that you can be better informed of the process before you eventually enroll.

If you have never compared plans, you can get help in a couple of ways.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

November: National Diabetes Month 2015

Participate on November 17th
Visit for more info. 
National Diabetes Month's theme for 2015 is


Join the American Diabetes Association's campaign on November 17th by taking a photo of a healthy lunch and using the above hashtag.

If you search on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with #EatWellAmerica or #MyHealthyLunch or #HealthyLunchDay you can see some early bird examples.

Go to this link to sign up ahead of time for a Thunderclap--a coordinated social media event. 

Although diabetes affects people of all ages, the prevalence of diabetes among older adults is 25.9% or 1 in 4. 

Some older adults have been living with Type 1 for decades, but the overwhelming majority are Type 2.

[Note: This post does not offer medical advice. It's purpose is to raise awareness. If you are concerned about your body's ability to produce insulin or process glucose, please see a licensed medical professional.]

The risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include the following:

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train: Book Review

Published 16 October 2012.
The novel Mrs. Queen Takes the Train (2012) offers a great mix of humor, adventure, romance and social commentary.

The title and jacket flap let the readers know they will be following Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) on an unscheduled trip to Scotland.

This expectation of a humorous adventure tale is a bit misleading.

Yes, we get to see the Queen travel in disguise among common British subjects as she journeys from the palace to Scotland. However, the majority of the book focuses on the six palace affiliates who are trying to locate her.

The novel has an "ensemble cast" of seven characters.

Because four of these characters are 50 plus (and the author is in midlife himself), I found this book has some interesting explorations of age-related concerns.

In an interview, Kuhn explains that part of interest was to imagine Elizabeth working through age-related concerns. The author's own father was born the same year as the Queen, which led Kuhn to draw parallels. Watching his father manage age-related concerns made him wonder how the Queen might be doing the same.

In the novel, the Queen is in her mid 80s and reviewing her life events and life meaning. Her lady in waiting Anne Bevil is in her 70s and wondering how long she can keep working. The same is true for the queen's dresser, Shirley McDonald. And the senior Butler, William de Morgan, is at midlife and wondering if his major identity should be so strongly tied to his career.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Iris (Apfel): Film Review

Released 28 April 2015.
Director Albert Maysles aims his camera at that rare bird of fashion, Iris Apfel and the result is the documentary Iris (2015).

Born in 1921, Iris received an education in art history and then went on to work in interior decorating with her husband Carl Apfel. They traveled the world to design fabrics and to purchase unique items for their clientele.

Over the decades and often while traveling, Iris purchased many unique clothing items and pieces of costume jewelry.

Because she had well-healed clients and attended socialized with the rich and famous, word got out to museums about her sense of style. Her outfits were featured in museums, and she has been a model for MAC cosmetics.

She's in high demand these days, which is a bit tricky for a nonagenarian.

Thankfully, we have access to Iris through this documentary, which runs 1 hour and 23 minute.  We get a close look at her clothes, jewelry, home furnishings, work, marriage, and travels.

While it would be impractical for most women to imitate Iris--given people's limitations of money and space--I found her inspiring. She encourages me to embrace color, to accessorize, and to exhibit confidence.


Advanced Style: Film Review

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Religion and Spirituality Influences Geriatric Medicine

Photo by Phil Warren.
I was interested to read a scholarly article on the influence of religion and spirituality on aging.

The academic journal Gerontologist published this an article in 2013 by a team of researchers from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University.

These researchers reviewed several articles that explained the implications to a broad range of professions and academic disciplines: geriatric medicine, geriatric psychiatry, psychology in gerontology, sociology, theology and religious community practices,

Their entire article interests me, but it's too much to discuss in one post.

Consequently, I chose the most practical findings, the benefits of religion and spirituality to physical health or the section on geriatric medicine. 

The researchers looked at the effects of religion and spirituality on 1) mental health 2) health behaviors and lifestyle choices, and 3) attitudes towards illness.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Death Comes to All: An Elder Tale

Image by Arallyn.
Halloween is almost upon us, so I'm choosing to tell an eerie elder tale.

This post is part of a series on elder tales.  The main character in an elder tale is an older adult who is the hero or focus of the story. Often the conflict is resolved because of their hard-won wisdom instead of some magical intervention--even if that wisdom is symbolized by a fantastical event or object. 

Death Comes to All 

Once upon a time, there was an older woman who lived far north among people who hunted in order to survive the long winters.

For decades, she helped her family and her tribe survive. However, she lived so many winters that she could do very little but eat small portions, observe others, and sleep on her pallet in the corner of the family lodge.

As the village moved deeper through a long, cold winter, she noticed that she was receiving fewer and fewer visitors as well as less and less food. She grew thinner and weaker. She observed that fewer fish were found in the freezing rivers, fewer caribou were found in the snowy woods, and fewer seals were found near the shores of the sea.

Friday, October 23, 2015

How We Age: Book Review

Published 1 February 2011.
I very much enjoyed reading How We Age: A Doctor's Journey into the Heart of Growing Old. (2011).

Dr. Marc E. Agronin graduated from Harvard and then Yale Medical school before becoming a psychiatrist at the Miami Jewish Health Systems.

Agronin possess a great blend of intellect, spirit and emotion as he moves from describing very specific incidents with patients to describing very general observations about the process of aging.

He combines viewpoints from the sciences, social sciences and the humanities while working with people in their 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s.

Agronin does focus a great deal on what he labels "The Four Horsemen of Old Age": depression, dementia, delirium, and destitution.

But his book is not all gloom and doom. He also describes older adults experiencing laughter, healing, restoration, intimacy, legacy, and insight in their final chapter of life.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Flu + You - October 2015

Learn more at
The National Council on Aging and Sanofi Pasteur have teamed up to create the Flu + You campaign.

The purpose is to educate older adults and their caregivers about the following:

- The seriousness of influenza

- The importance of prevention

- The available vaccine options

Is influenza really a problem?


[Note: This post does not offer medical advice. Its purpose is to raise awareness.  Consult a licensed medical professional to learn more about safeguarding your health against flu.]

Last year (the 2014-2015 flu season) recorded the highest hospitalization rates among people 65 + in recent history. (Flu + You Fact Sheet)

Award-winning actress Judith Light (b. 1949) briefly explains some of the key points:

Flu + You has collected a number of facts to help illustrate the importance of influenza vaccination.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

World Thrombosis Day - October 2015

Search or Use #ThinkVTE on Social Media.
Because of my interest in healthy aging, I have seen a proliferation of campaigns that raise awareness.
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Hypertension
  • Cancer, particularly breast and prostate forms
As I move into the second half of my life, I am working to control risk factors.

I'm also learning about symptoms so that I can seek medical attention at the sign of any of the above diseases. 

[Note: Please see a licensed medical professional if you have any concerns about your health. This post does not give medical advice; its aim is to raise awareness only.]

However, I just recently learned about a lesser-known, yet prevalent health problem: 

VTE is a condition where clots form in the vein, usually in the leg (DVT) and increase the possibility of traveling to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE), which can be fatal. 

In preparation for participating in World Thrombosis Day 2015 as an influencer, I received training from Dr. Gary Raskob, a world expert on the topic, included this statement in his presentation materials:
"Worldwide, 1 in 4 people die from causes related to thrombosis; it is a common underlying cause of the world's three leading cardiovascular killers:
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke (ischemic kind not hemorrhagic kind)
  • Venous thromboembolism"
In the following 6 minute video, Dr. Raskob delivers a brief-yet-comprehensive portrait of VTE, created for last year's inaugural World Thrombosis Day, which was October 13, 2014. 

Watching this may help save a life.

To watch more videos on the topic, see 2015's WTD set of videos

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Caring for a Husband with Dementia: Book Review

Published 17 March 2015.
Every disease makes life more difficult. However, dementia presents a number of challenges that alter health, identity and relationships.

Angela G. Gentile, MSW, RSW, brings over 25 years experience to the pages of her new book, Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide (2015).

(I have received a free copy of her book in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

Not only does she loan her professional experience, she includes knowledge gleaned from working closely with eight women whose husbands received a diagnosis of dementia (Alzheimer's Disease and vascular dementia being the most prevalent forms).

The result is a guide book that has very practical helps while also conveying a tone of compassion.

It's evident that she is strongly visualizing the reader as she writes. For example, most chapters contain space for exploring feelings, conceptualizing the journey and making goals for how to best respond.

Gentile's book is organized into the following sections and chapters:

Friday, October 2, 2015

VO2 Max: Biomarker of Health

Photo by Charlyn Wee.
As a Baby Boomer, I have heard chatter about the value of cardiovascular fitness since Jane Fonda first marketed her aerobics videos.

However, I just investigated the assessment tools for VO2 and VO2 Max in my efforts to better understand biomarkers of health and longevity.

This post is part of a series on Biomarkers for Health

By looking at the tools used by researchers to measure fitness and pace of aging, I'm trying to better understand lab results that doctors might order for me or for my Greatest Generation parents.

I am also trying to use midlife as a time to prepare for higher quality of life during my 70s, 80s and beyond.  

For this reason, I decided to read a bit about various VO2 tests and VO2 Max tests as measures of cardiorespiratory fitness.

Note: This post is to raise awareness only. It does not offer medical advice. If you have concerns about your cardiovascular system, please see a licensed medical professional. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

I'll Be Me: Film Review

Released 24 October 2014.
After experiencing some difficulty with his memory for several years, Glen Campbell received a formal diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease in 2011 at age 75.

About the same time as this diagnosis, Glen Campbell and his wife, Kim Campbell, invited a camera crew to film "behind the scenes."

The resulting documentary--Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (2014)--is a tribute to this musical legend and an honest-yet-dignified view of the challenges of living with Alzheimer's Disease.

The documentary is filmed over about a year and a half; however, clips of performances over several decades are included as well.

The resulting documentary is a blend between a celebration Campbell's career and an exploration of how Alzheimer's affects a person's day-to-day life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Pedestriennes: Book Review

Published  26 June 2014.
I love reading about athletes.  They inspire me to persevere through my present life challenges.

As a gerontologist, I most often follow news stories about mature athletes.

However, when I heard about the pedestriennes, I decided to talk a walk down memory lane.

But not my memory.

In order to help memorialize this fascinating group of female athletes, I eagerly read Harry Hall's 2014 book, The Pedestriennes: America's Forgotten Superstars.

I have accepted a review copy of Hall's book in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Thanks to Hall's tireless research, I learned a great deal about the pedestriennes, who captured the nation's attention for about five years in the late 1870s.

In a quest for fortune and fame, they would walk for days on end with little sleep.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

HbA1c: Biomarker of Health

Photo by Sam Azgor.
This post is part of a series on 

Because I have have several members in my extended family who are diabetic (both Type I and Type II), I tend to read more about diabetes for someone without a diagnosis. 

I want to offer diabetic family members support.

I also want to understand the risks that my children and I might face because of the history of diabetes on my side of the family.

Most recently, I have been interested in learning more about the HbA1c test, also called the A1c test.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Full Life: Book Review

Published 7 July 2015.
Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, has a breadth of experience spanning 90 years.

Carter has written more than two dozen books over the last four decades, but A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety (2015) has the broadest scope.

Even though much of the subject matter of this memoir has been covered in more detail in previous book, this telling stitches together an entire life's worth of memories.

It's the perfect book to read first for readers unfamiliar with Carter. It covers his life before, during and after serving in the White House.

Readers can then choose which of his other books to read for great detail and analysis.

Here are the chapter titles for A Full Life:

  • Introduction
  • Archery and the Race Issue
  • Navy Years
  • Back to Georgia
  • Atlanta to Washington
  • Life in the White House
  • Issues Mostly Resolved
  • Problems Still Pending
  • Back Home
  • Acknowledgments / Index

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Field: Film Review

Released 20 December 1990.
Richard Harris gives an outstanding performance in this play-turned-film The Field (1990).

Harris plays Bull McCabe, and Irish farmer, who has worked in the same field for decades. Unfortunately, the field belongs to a widow. McCabe hopes to purchase "his" field when the widow makes the decision to sell.

Supporting cast members include Sean Bean (McCabe's son), Brenda Fricker, (McCabe's wife), John Hurt (McCabe's not-too-bright sidekick), and Tom Berenger (a wealthy Irish-American who wants to buy and develop some real estate in Ireland).

For 107 minutes, I watched Bull McCabe beg, borrow, steal and more in order to get what he really wants.

McCabe explains a number of times and in a number of ways why his late life should unfold in the way he desires. He has his logic.

To avoid overt spoilers, I will remain vague, but if you read any further, the concepts discussed will color your viewing. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Olive Kitteridge: Book Review

Published 25 March 2008.
Olive Kitteridge is greater than the sum of its parts.

For this reason, I struggle to fully explain my response to this intriguing novel, presented as a collection of 13 interconnected short stories.

I can gesture to some of the novel's strengths: the structure is ornate yet easy to read, the setting of Crosby, Maine well supports many of the themes, the characters are at once odd and recognizable, and the treatment of aging is complex.

Notably, Olive Kitteridge (2008) by Elizabeth Strout was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Also, HBO aired its award-winning mini-series, Olive Kitteridge, based on the novel and starring Frances McDormand as the title character.

It took me seven years to finally pick up a copy of the book so that I could answer the question "Why all the fuss?" for myself. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Waist-Hip Ratio: Biomarker of Health

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.
Some biomarkers of longevity and general health require a doctor, some lab work, and some technical analysis.

Waiste-Hip Ratio (WHR) is one of the most straightforward biomarkers.

Basically, if you are shaped like a pear, you're OK. But if you are shaped like an apple, you're in trouble. 

[This post is part of a series on biomarkers of health and longevity.

Watching your waistline alone does have some value.

According to a Harvard Medical School post summarizing the research on WHR, women have an increased risk of serious health problems if their waist is 40 inches or more.  

Men have an increased risk if their waist is 35 inches or more.

Dr. Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico cites research that lowers the threshold or risk by several inches:
"A waist circumference >35 inches (88 cm) in women and >40 inches (102 cm) in men is associated with higher cardiometabolic risk (Ness-Abramof and Apovian, 2008)."

Arguing over a few inches is probably not worth the time spent away from the gym.

BMI or waist circumference alone is not as accurate a marker as the ratio between the waist circumference and the hips. Belly fat is far more accurate predictor of health problems than having substantial hips and/or thighs.

Note: This post is to raise awareness only. It does not offer medical advice. If you have concerns about your weight, please see a licensed medical professional. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

O'Horten: Film Review

Released 27 December 2007
in Norway
I have seen O'Horten (2007) on several "films about aging" lists, but just didn't get around to viewing it until now.  It's a film from Norway available with English subtitles.

Directed by Bent Hamer, this film offers viewers of all ages some great insights into the tensions between following a routine and deviating from routine.  

O'Horten is pensive and alternates between being sad, touching and amusing. 

The story starts with the title character, Odd Horten, wrapping up 40 years of employment as a railway engineer.  Horten is a 67-year-old man of habit.  

Quite literally, Horten has stayed on the same path for decades. Conducting a train makes symbolizes his pronounced character trait. 

We observe Horten being understated, reserved, and methodical in the days leading to his retirement.  Once he is done working, things take a dramatic turn.  One could say that his life falls off the rails. 

The bulk of the film is filled with vignettes of what happens to Horten when he doesn't have a work routine to organize his life.  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Films about Aging G-N

Photo of Jim Broadbent
by Beacon via CC.
This is Part II of a three-part series. 

Films about Aging A-F
Films about Aging O-Z

Gerhard Richter (2011). This documentary shows German painter Richard Richter in action. Born in 1923, Richter is still prolific in late life.

(#75) Get Low (2010). Robert Duvall plays a hermit who arranges to have his own funeral prior to his death.  In the process, he reconnects with friends from decades ago and seeks to uncover long-buried truths.

The Gin Game (2003). Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke star in this play-turned-television-movie about two people who meet in a nursing home.  As they sit down to play several games of gin, you learn more about their histories, their dreams, and their losses. It's got moments of comedy, but it's primarily dark.

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me (2014).  This documentary was filmed from the time Campbell received his diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease through his farewell tour.  His family and entourage show him a great deal of support, and he shows great skill as a musician despite his memory troubles.  Full Review

Gotta Dance (2008).  The Brooklyn Nets basketball team decided to develop a team of senior dancers or half-time entertainment, and the NETsentional Seniors team was born. This documentary shows 13 seniors from try outs through their entire first season.

Gran Torino (2008). Clint Eastwood stars as an older man, recently widowed, who finds his neighborhood being ruled by members of minority gangs.  He catches a young man trying to steal his classic car. Through a strange turn of events, he ends up mentoring the young man and challenging the local gang members.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Prayers for Sale: Book Review

14 April 2009.
Living in a mining town in the Rocky Mountains above Denver isn't easy for the men combing through dirt and mud in an effort to get rich.

Life isn't much better for the women who join them.

By mixing historical facts with her imagination, Sandra Dallas builds something that is simultaneously hearty and beautiful in her 2009 novel Prayers for Sale.

I very much enjoyed getting to learn more about the people who lived in the area of Breckenridge, Colorado between the Civil War and the Great Depression.

This novel, however, is much more than a history lesson about Colorado mining towns. It's a celebration of resilience by learning how to live off the land, develop personal character, maintain female friendship and tap into the power of storytelling. 

Dallas shows us decades of rough living through the eyes of 86-year-old Hennie Comfort.  The value of Hennie's know how is immediately apparent when 17-year-old Nit Spindle arrives from the South with her husband in Middle Swan.  Nit knows very little about running a household at a high elevation and without the resources available in a conventional town. Hennie quickly takes Nit under her wing, teacher her how to prepare for the harsh winters.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Alexandra: Film Review

Released 25 May 2007.
Alexandra (2007) is a Russian film (with English subtitles) about a Russian grandmother traveling to see her grandson Denis while he is working as a senior lieutenant on a military base.  The setting is the Second Chechen War.

Usually, war movies have an abundance of male energy: action scenes, violence, chest beating, domination of women and so forth.

This film departs dramatically from these common tropes.

In Alexandra, the camera's viewpoint is that of a mature woman. She walks through the camp and evaluates the men, their weapons, the camp and their cause.

From her generational perspective and her gendered perspective, the men are suffering horrible conditions and fighting for unclear reasons. She worries that her grandson and his fellow soldiers will end up more damaged by the war than rewarded for their efforts.

But the men are loathe to accept her critique.  Their reaction to her varies from finding her irritating, humorous or endearing.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Need Help with Your Bag?

Photo by Canadian Pacific.
"Ma'am, can I help you with your bag?"

I'm hearing this more and more lately from ever-so-helpful twentysomethings.

And each time I'm incredulous.

Really, do I look frail?

I often deny that Father Time has been messing with me.

However, this time, I really believe that young adults addressing me this way have a perception problem.  A short, small-framed woman can be physically strong in midlife.

I am not the little old lady who needs help from do gooders, and I've decided to re-educate the masses one misinformed person at a time by performing feats of strength (such as they are) as evidence.

I always use humor to put people at ease. I always start by politely expressing, "Thanks, but no thanks." 

I do fancy myself as a performance artist of sorts. I embrace the idea that I should overtly dramatize my approach to aging for others to witness. If I make a spectacle of myself, I can spark conversations about active aging.

Here's a highlight reel of some of the performance acts, which are designed to complicate people's perception of "little old ladies":

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Theft of Memory: Book Review

Published 2 June 2015.
Jonathan Kozol, teacher, writer and activist for education reform, writes a compelling memoir about the years he and his father, Dr. Harry Kozol, spent together from 1994 to 2008.

The Theft of Memory: Losing My Father, One Day at a Time (2015) starts with the onset of Dr. Kozol's symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease and continue until his death at 102.

This dementia memoir distinguishes itself by being very academic in its approach.  

Both father and son are nationally recognized in their fields. Because this memoir reflects their professions, I suspect that readers will either love it or find it a bit too cerebral.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Memory of Old Jack: Book Review

Published 1 January 1974.
The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry is one work of fiction of many set in the same town with recurring characters.
Even though Berry was only 39 years old at the time that he published The Memory of Old Jack in 1974,  the author does a remarkable job depicting the challenges and opportunities of advanced age.

(Note: It's Wendell Berry's 81st birthday today!) 

The novel features the life and perspective of Jack Beecham as it unfolds in a single day in 1952.

Born in 1860, Jack has a lot of memories at 92 of Port William, Kentucky, a place he's lived his entire life.  At his age, he's experiencing a little dementia, but I believe this is more a literary device for Berry than a valid medial diagnosis.

Jack's advanced age and his tendency to be easily confused means that almost every person, place or thing sends him into a reverie.  This is how one dawn-to-dusk day can trigger a life time of memories to fill an entire novel.

Berry's work is grounded in a love and appreciation of nature and family farming, so it's no wonder than much of the book is a love letter to the land.  Old Jack spends the bulk of his outdoors, so his memories are filled with images of working the land and observing nature in great detail.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Love & Mercy: Film Review

Released broadly in the US
June 2015.
Even though I listened to the Beach Boys obsessively during my teens, I have not read anything (until this week) about their lives--which I find incredulous.

But watching Love & Mercy (2015) last Friday was a crash course on the life of Brian Wilson, the primary composer for the group.

Based on Wilson's life Love & Mercy focuses on two time periods: the years surrounding his studio work on Pet Sounds and the years he received treatment under the direction of Dr. Eugene Landy. 

Paul Dano plays the younger Brian Wilson, who at a very young age is caught trying to manage a lot of unmanageable forces.

Wilson composes critically acclaimed music while facing a controlling father, crushing fame, pressure from fellow band members, escalating symptoms of undiagnosed mental illness, starting a family when both he and his first wife were very young, and excessive use of drugs and alcohol.

Any one of these pressures would push me to a breaking point. It's no wonder Wilson had trouble coping.

The film doesn't fast forward to the 1980s; it alternates between the early years and later years.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Wise Merchant: An Elder Tale

Photo by Chrissy H.
This story with Jewish roots is part of a series about elder tales.

In an elder tale, an older adult serves as the protagonist of the story rather than a minor character.

Elder tales give older adults the focus or the "starring roles," making these characters more rich, complex and nuanced than the stock character "little old man/lady" allows.

The source for this tale comes from Allan B. Chinen's collection In the Ever After: Fairy Tales and the Second Half of Life. Willmette, IL: Chiron Publications, 1989. Chinen cites his source as G. Friedlander's The Jewish Fairy Book. New York: Stokes, 1920.   I could not find a separate source for this tale.

Here is my retelling of "The Wise Merchant":

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mr. Holmes: Film Review

Released 17 July 2015.
Ian McKellen gives an outstanding performance in Mr. Holmes (2015).   Nevertheless, it's not just a master's class in acting. The film provides a great meditation on late-life issues that offers insights to viewers of all ages.

DVD Release Date: November 10, 2015.

As a born-and-bred Anglophile, a recent Sherlock Holmes' fan, a long-time McKellen fan, and a recently minted gerontologist, I was exhilarated by Bill Condon's film (based on Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind). 

The film depicts the famous detective wrestling with mysteries in three settings:

[I will keep this review vague enough to prevent spoilers until towards the end; then I will clearly indicate where to stop reading if you have not yet seen this film.]

Setting #1. The film's present year is 1947; Holmes has been retired for 30 years.  He occupies his time by solving problems with his bees and his failing memory.

With his partnership with Watson dissolved decades prior, Holmes finds an assistant in Roger, a boy about 10 years old. Roger (played by Milo Parker) is the only child of the recently widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (played by Laura Linney).  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Films about Aging in French or France

Photo by Peter Mello
Because it's Bastille Day today, I started thinking about all the age-related films I've seen with some kind of French connection.

So I went through my big list of films and selected films based on these criteria:

* Films entirely in French

* Films with significant French dialogue

* Films set entirely in France

* Films partially set in France

I didn't realize how many films fit these criteria until I started looking. Viva La France!

I'm listing them in reverse chronology, with the more recent films listed first.

This post made the Top 10 posts of 2015. Click HERE to see the other 9!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Old Partner: Film Review

Released 30 December 2009.
Some viewers will love this this documentary. Others will find it too slow.  I prefer to see the slow pace as a chance to meditate and to see the sparsity as poetry.

After viewing it, I found out that  Old Partner (2009) won a host of awards and was the highest grossing independently released film from South Korea.   

So what is this documentary about ? 

The documentary shows a year in the life of farmer Choi Won-kyun and his wife Lee Sam-sun.  Even though the film was shot in the 21st century, this couple are still farming without modern equipment. This mature couple do many tasks by hand or with crude equipment

Most notably, Choi Won-kyun uses an ox to help him do his work. But this ox is not just a beast of burden. She's his best friend, his soul mate, and his doppelganger.  His "old partner." 

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Brain's Way of Healing: Book Review

Published 27 January 2015.
I enjoy reading about neuroplasticity for a variety of reasons:

1.  I am very interested in learning more about cognitive development through the rest of the life span after spending decades focused on teaching critical thinking to first-year college students.

2. Neuroplasticity offers positive views of aging and hope for people who have age-correlated problems.

3. I enjoy looking at the birth of a new scientific discipline.

For these reasons and others, I was eager to read Norman Doidge's new book on neuroplasticity.  The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, pubished in January of 2015.

I find it contains some very intriguing case studies.  The book discusses well over a dozen cases in detail, but here are a few to serve as a quick preview:

We meet a midlife man who improved his walking despite a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, a midlife woman who recovers from Traumatic Brain Injury,  a boy diagnosed with ADHD who becomes more focused, and a toddler girl who overcomes a sensory processing disorder.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Our Souls at Night: Book Review

Published 26 May 2015
I want to say something smart about this book, but I'm probably going to be emotional instead.

Kent Haruf's last book, Our Souls at Night (2015) conveys a lot of depth and complexity with a stylistically light touch.  I'm in awe.  His prose is sparse, yet it conveys a lot of heft.

This 179 page novella is set in the fictional town Holt, Colorado--well outside of Denver on the eastern plains area of the state.  All of his works of fiction are set in the same town.

However, I was absolutely entranced by this quiet romance novel--if that's what you call it. It's unclear because the two main characters participate in a relationship that's a bit unconventional.

The novel opens with widow Addie Moore walking over to visit Louis Waters in order to make a proposition. They are both older adults who have lost a spouse.

They've known each other for  years but haven't really spoken directly except perhaps to exchange pleasantries. Nevertheless, Addie is full sick of the empty spot in the bed next to her, and she has selected Louis as the man to solve that problem: "I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk."

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Biomarkers for Longevity and Health

Photo by Martin Sharman.
Everybody dies. If you're lucky, you get to grow old first.

However, aging is correlated with an increasing number of bodily complaints.

Yet people don't all age at the same rate.

Genetics, environmental factors, access to affordable healthcare (provided by benefits, income and proximity), and lifestyle choices affect our aging process.

Well, and we can never completely outrun Father Time.

This week, I read a The Guardian's summary of a recent study that illustrates this variation:

At 38 years old, participants of the Dunedin Study Birth Cohort were found to demonstrate biological "ages" ranging from 28 to 61.

Why did the nearly thousand participants age at different rates?

Here are the 18 biomarkers used in the Dunedin Birth Cohort study. I'm using the labels from Figure 3 of the research publication itself.
  1. HbA1c
  2. Cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2Max)
  3. Waist:Hip Ratio
  4. FEV1/FVC
  5. FEV1
  6. Mean arterial pressure
  7. BMI
  8. Leukocyte telomere length
  9. Creatinine clearance
  10. Urea Nitrogen
  11. Lipoprotein(a)
  12. Triglycerides
  13. Gum Health
  14. Total cholesterol 
  15. White blood cell count
  16. hs CRP
  17. HDL cholesterol
  18. ApoB100/ApoA1

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Showering with Nana: Book Review

Published 30 April 2015.
Caregiving can push people to the edge of sanity.

Elder law attorney and family caregiver Cathy Sikorski takes a pro-active stance by pointing out the absurd things that happen in the life of a caregiver.

In her book Showering with Nana: Confessions of a Serial (killer) Caregiver, Sikorski documents what happened when her grandmother "Nana" stays for the six months that the author's mother was wintering in Florida.

[I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.]

Because of various age-related challenges (memory changes, role loss and physical changes), Nana required constant attention--much as a toddler would.

Caregivers, despite some uncanny similarities, absolutely must treat older adults differently than they would a child.  Trying to do anything different not only is unethical, it's ineffective.

Or as Nana says, "You don't have to get testy, honey girl." 

The salient issue during the six months time frame of the memoir was the way Sikorski's 92-year-old Nana and two-year-old daughter, Rachel, combined forces to thwart the best laid plans for caregiving.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cyber-Seniors: Film Review

Released 9 May 2014.
I know, "So many movies, so little time.

This movie was exhilarating. Watch it!  I am so happy that it finally made its way to the top of my queue.

Cyber-Seniors (2014) is a documentary about a group of teenagers who mentor a group of older adults on how to use computers.

The documentary shows the older adults gaining skills in using the mouse, using menus and then using programs such as browsers, social media sites and video viewing sites.

But this partnership isn't limited to a one-way transfer of information. No way. 

The older adults also get an opportunity to talk to the teens about their extended families, their work experience, their military experience, and their present challenges and opportunities.  I was moved to tears while watching the older participants use technology to express their feelings, to share their interests, to connect with their extended families and to offer their perspective on life.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Caregiving for Three Weeks

Photo by MTSOfan.
I rarely blog about my teens. They prefer that I don't. However, I'm going to make an exception here. Let me apologize in advance for being a bit vague.

One of my kids broke a bone on June 11th while traveling down a water slide.  It was the collar bone, which will require about 3 to 5 weeks to heal.

When I mentioned this on my Facebook page, more than a dozen midlife friends reported having broken a collar bone that now healed.  I'm happy to hear all of these reports.

A few reported that decades later, they do have some issues.  Some have a little trouble sleeping on that side and reported feeling a little cold-weather-related pain.  These long-term affects seem very manageable.

Nevertheless, I find myself hovering. It's been a week since the fracture, and I'm still functioning as an extra pair of hands. The doctor's orders were "Keep that left side immobile."  OK!

I've read a great deal about caregiving, but I'm living it for the first time.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

TV or Not TV: Images of Older Adults

Photo by John Atherton
Because I review so many movies featuring older adults, people sometimes recommend that I watch specific series or episodes that depict older characters.

I might start reviewing television shows. I might not.

My first impulse is to stick with movies and books. I find greater character development and a broader spectrum of depictions in films.

I feel as though feature films and documentaries offer greater insights and epiphanies than television series.

Many characters on television shows are flat, unchanging and based on stereotypes.

This is more true of comedies, in my opinion, than television dramas or investigative journalism programs.

But I can't think of one television drama that focuses on age-related challenges.  I have, however,  viewed / reviewed several episodes of age-specific episodes of Frontline.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Final Exam: Book Review

Published 9 Jan 2007 hardback
(paperback 2008 cover pictured)
For the past three years, I have been reading books written by physicians.  Some might predict that this would lead me to reach a point of saturation.

Not true.

I found Chen's account extremely engaging.  In Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality (2007), Chen explains in rich detail how she responds to the realities of death inherent in medicine -- and in life.

Chen is a very well-respected surgeon, noted for her excellent technical skill.

However, she also has a background in anthropology, which makes her very attentive to the social, emotional, cultural and ethical dimensions of medicine.

Chen reveals great vulnerability by pulling back the curtain of her profession and her own internal processes, showing her constantly evolving stance towards those at risk for dying--which ends up being everybody.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Poems

Photo by Beverly & Pack.
As a way to better understand the meaning of Memorial Day, I looked into the history and the meaning intended by those who established the holiday.  It's all too easy to slide off the original purpose.

I could just take this as a day off work and make it a Saturday-on-a-Monday.  That's probably the most errant approach.

I could visit a cemetery and honor all dead, no matter their vocation or their manner of death. That's not such a bad way to spend the day. That's a great way to hold people in our memories, but it doesn't speak to the heart of the holiday.

I could honor living soldiers / veterans.  That's a lot closer to the purpose of the holiday, and I will probably call my veteran father today (retired navy, active duty stationed in Japan when I was born states side).

However, if I honored those who died while serving in the armed forces by decorating his or her grave, then I am in complete harmony with the purpose of this holiday. 

As a retired English teacher, I find poetry a great invitation to meditate about a particular topic.  Here are three poems focused on Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Long Hello: Book Review

2nd Edition
Published 6 January 2015
All books are greater than the sum of their parts, but Cathie Borrie's The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother and Me really exceeds its boundaries in the most provoking ways.

I'm including her book in my list of memoirs about giving care to a family member with dementia.

However, the topics she covers and the genre she creates really differs from most books labeled "dementia memoirs."

Yes, Borrie details her relationship with her mother, Jo, over those seven years of caregiving.

Yes, like many other caregivers, she also reaches back to share memories from her mother's past, her own past and their shared experience.

Borrie is one of two children, and she's a child of divorce. Then her brother dies while still a teen. Borrie and her mother have sought for decades to survive these difficulties--even to thrive despite the sorrow, anger and pain inherent in these and other losses.

But Borrie writes a memoir in a way that does much, much more than preserve the past that she and her mother share.  Her mother's dementia sets the stage for Borrie to create a new relationship with her mother in the present. And while doing so, she creates a new person in herself.