Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Recently I heard of a friend in the Midwest whose parents lived in another state. It wouldn't matter if the parents lived next door. My friend was concerned because on a visit she witnessed her father angrily chasing her mother with his walker. She reported that her mother was experiencing some dementia. She wondered if it was time to move them out of their home into a care facility.

The answer would appear to be obvious, wouldn't it?

But we are not emotionally invested in this particular couple. We are invested in the busyness of our own families, the hope that our parents are doing okay with only slight lapses and minor care needs. We forget that we can all put on a good show for the duration of a visit.

So what is this allure of staying in your own home so long that when you do get moved you suffer confusion and adjusting causes delusions we didn't suffer before? How important is our stuff and do we or our parents need all this stuff? Is the homestead as important to our kids as we like to think? You can add another half dozen thoughts to the list.

When is it time to get help? When you first need to ask the question.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Guest Post from A Boomer's Guide to Eldercare by Alice Kalso
November 30 caps off National Caregiver Month.  All month long,  senior centers nationwide have offered workshops, including one I attended  November 5 at Northshore Senior Center in Bothell, Washington. "Self-Compassion for the Caregiver" explained self-compassion and offered tips to achieve it.  In my view, it's a great subject for us who care for our aging parents.

What is self-compassion?  Workshop leaders Janet Zielasko and Jeannie DeSmet cited the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, author of "Self-Compassion:  Stop Beating Yourself and Leave Insecurity Behind."  According to her, self-compassion involves viewing ourselves kindly, offering the same level of support and understanding we would give a friend.

If you care for your aging parent--either full or part-time--you can't do everything perfectly.  You're human, and you have too many things to do.  But Neff's research suggests that all of us, including caregivers of aging parents--can be healthier, if we accept our weaknesses and give ourselves a break.  Preliminary data seems to indicate that people who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety.  They're happier and more optimistic.

So how do we do it?  Zielasko and DeSmet gave three keys to self-compassion to workshop participants, who were mainly caregivers.

1.  Cultivate self-kindness.  Western culture stresses kindness to others, but not too ourselves.  When you get angry with an aging parent, your first reaction might be, "I should be more patient.  I shouldn't get angry."  But then you get angry with yourself for getting angry.  Self-compassion asks you to remind yourself that you are human and the situation is difficult.  DeSmet suggests actually comforting yourself when you don't measure up to your own standards, and giving yourself tolerance and forgiveness.  "Make a peace offering to yourself of warmth and empathy."

2.  Recognize our common humanity.  When we're in a difficult situation, it helps to be around others who, too, may be struggling in some way.  Support groups, either online or in person, are one way we can find strength to be kinder to ourselves.  So can church groups, going out to coffee with friends, and jogging with a neighbor.  One of the best benefits of being with people, in any setting, is laughing at the situations we find ourselves in.  That's a bonus all in itself.

3.  Be mindful of your situation.  Mindfulness is holding our experience in balance, neither exaggerating it or denying it, says DeSmet.  "When we're mindful there's less need to escape a painful situation.  Our motivation is to 'care,' not to 'cure.'"  Happiness stems from loving ourselves--and our lives--as they are, she adds.  One way to aid in mindfulness is to practice deep breathing, which anchors our minds.  As we do, we can stop, look and listen, observing our emotions and paying attention to them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Our Guest writer, Cheryl Ford, comes from Eliminate Chaos© More time for life.

Just Say "NO"-Vember

"No" thank you, "no", maybe next time, "no" I really don't have time, "no" we have other plans, “no”, family comes first, “no” I don't need one. If you start practicing saying no in “no”-vember you will be well versed in it when December arrives and the holidays have jumped upon you. By the time that you have devoured your holiday bird and all of its leftovers you will be a pro at saying no.

I didn’t come up with this idea of “no” on my own. Shortly after Thanksgiving last year, my 26 year-old son sent an email to family members asking that they not give him any holiday gifts. He said “no” to wanting or needing anything and did not see the purpose of everyone buying “stuff” just for the sake of giving ”stuff”.  He told everyone that if they had a hard time not buying him something or not giving him money, that would they please donate to one of several charities that he felt strongly about, or spend extra time participating in a fun family activity together.

At first I was a bit upset at the idea of not getting to buy my son a gift or gifts just because he didn’t want anything! The more I thought about it, the more I warmed up to the idea. The more I discussed it with other members of the family, including my daughter who I had already mailed gifts to, the more everyone was on board with the idea.  Hmmm….what a concept? 

The result was amazing and so stress free, that it was hard to describe the feeling as November rolled into December and I started in with my holiday routine. Suddenly there was “ More Time for Life “ instead of the dreaded shopping list. When I was out in the mall, I had the greatest feeling from saying “no “ to shopping for gifts that I could thoroughly enjoy meeting my friends for a holiday lunch or dinner instead, not to mention the financial bonus. (In my head I was secretly bragging to myself  “I’m all done with my shopping because I never had to start!”) My aging parents were delighted with the idea and very proud of their grandson. They had been telling us for years that they too didn’t want or needed anything, but I guess we just didn’t want to listen to them as we spent hours of frustration each year trying to solve the “what can we get my parents” dilemma.

I unknowingly did give my parents their gift of choice last year….A holiday meal in my home where they got excited about using my great aunt’s silverware and admiring the extra tree in the family room decorated with antique ornaments, recently passed down to me, and not out of their boxes since I was a child. To top if off, my dad was delighted even more to share stories with our last minute brunch guests when he found out that they grew up in the same area of the Midwest as he did.

The point is that all of the good things of the holidays do not need to revolve around presents and holiday party obligations. If you say “no” to TV commercials for toys, moonlight sales at the mall, and people on your Christmas card list that you haven’t seen or talked to in 10 years, it will free up lots of time and money for you to enjoy the traditions that are your favorites. If there are traditions that stress you out, or make you crazy, then they are probably not worth doing just for tradition’s sake. Maybe it is time to delete a few, edit a few, and insert a new one here and there.


I recently asked my grown children what some of their best holiday memories were and I wassurprised, yet not surprised at their answers.  The tradition of making a gingerbread house topped the list (new pajamas came in second), and house decorating is still a tradition today, with the only difference being that they don’t eat as much candy in the process.  One year we tried a glass blowing workshop together and that topped the “best memories “ list for years! Other favorite and repeated holiday traditions in our house include playing board games, assembling a jigsaw puzzle, attending a museum exhibit, and discovering silly things in our Christmas stockings.  In other words, time together, which you can’t shop for at a department store.

So if you want to get a jump on your holiday plans, here is a list of “mind set reminders” to put at the top of all of your other lists.

1.  Start new simpler traditions and give up some of the old complicated ones.

2.  Spend time and money on those you love and care about, not on those you barely know or rarely see.

3.  It is okay to re-gift

4.  It’s about the spirit of the season, not the stuff

5. Don’t be afraid to “Just say No” to the “shoulds” of December. 

We offer you Chery's essay with her permission.
Further information may be found at

Laura Leist offers classes and suggestions for organization. I have used these books:

Eliminate Chaos-The 10-Step Process to Organize Your Home & Life.  Let organizing consultant Laura Leist’s  10-step process show you how to control household clutter in every room of your home.

Business Solutions Using Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Mgr. Ideas to solve every day business challenges.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012


November is NaNoWriMo and Adagio Lyrics will be on hiatus until December.
Thank you and come back in good health.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

National Alzheimer's Project Act NAPAA

If you've watched women's college basketball you have seen the University of Tennessee's legendary coach, Pat Summitt. In 2011 she confirmed she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She later told news media that her grandmother had suffered the disease.

On January 4, 2011 President Obama signed into law the National Alzheimer's Project Act (NAPAA). This legislative action passed unanimously by both Houses of Congress. NAPAA establishes an Advisory Council on Alzheimer's research, care and services.

The Advisory Council will develop a national strategic plan to respond to the Alzheimer's crisis and coordinate Alzheimer's disease efforts across the federal government. NAPA will ensure the coordination and evaluation of all national efforts in Alzheimer's research, clinical care, institutional, and home and community-based programs.

One of the most important components of NAPA is that it allows participation in the evaluation and strategic planning process by specialists outside of the federal government including patient advocates, health care providers, state health departments, Alzheimer's researchers and health associations.


The Alzheimer's Association was the leading voice in urging Congress and the White House to pass the National Alzheimer's Project Act. With a disease that is already impacting so many Americans, the Association recognized the need for a national, coordinated effort that pools the skills of all those working on the problem. The Alzheimer's Association states the need clearly in its literature:

For too many individuals with Alzheimer's and their families, the system has failed them, and today we are unnecessarily losing the battle against this devastating disease. Alzheimer's is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and is the only cause of death among the top 10 in America without a way to prevent, cure or even slow it's progression.

Making her announcement, Coach Summitt said she had the company of her son, Tyler, during her time at the Mayo Clinic. He explained his mother's feelings after being diagnosed.  "Nobody accepts this," Tyler said. "And there was anger. 'Why me?' was a question she asked more than once. But then, once she came to terms with it, she treated it like every other challenge she ever had and is going to do everything she possibly can to keep her mind right and stay the course."

To read more go to http://www.alz.org/index.asp

Monday, October 22, 2012


Symmetry is not simple. Before beginning your study, you must choose between reflection symmetry, rotational symmetry, translational, rotoreflection, or helical symmetries, point reflection and other involutive isometries. After which you may study nonisometric, scale symmetry and fractals. At which point my eyes are spinning and definitely not symmetrical.

Random lines and shapes have no place in symmetry. Symmetry is not self-similar like fractals but a near mirror reflection.  It is correspondence in size, shape, and relative position of parts on opposite sides of a dividing line. The bell grading curve is an example. Symmetry is a desirable quality in tree pruning, butterflies, slinky toys, drilling augers and kaleidoscopes.

If you look in your bathroom mirror and draw a line down the middle of the reflection of your face, you will witness lack of symmetry however slight. Eyebrows situate at slightly different positions above eyes that fit into sockets at slightly different angles. While your nose is singular as is your nasal base and your nostrils are two, plastic surgeons can point out multiple opportunities for symmetry or lack thereof. As you transition from age six to sixty you will witness further erosion of your facial symmetry, and further evidence that we naturally lack perfection. As if we needed any proof.

All of which I found intriguing but unnecessary to appreciate the symmetry used in kaleidoscopes. A kaleidoscope utilizes reflection symmetry which is a point of intersection of two or more lines. This symmetry does not change or rotate. It is typically made of three rectangular lengthwise mirrors set at a 45-degree angle in a tube. The tube is then filled with bits of colored glass that tumble and display a symmetrical pattern as the tube is rotated. 

Our fascination with a kaleidoscope begins with the material composition of the tube and bits of color tumbling inside.  You can spend a few dollars or hundreds of dollars depending whether the tube is cardboard, wood or brass. The tube shape may vary in length and circumference thus also affecting the pattern and price.  Perfectly intriguing.

If you would like to hang a kaleidoscope image on the wall, check out Dawn La Grave’s website www.lagravedesigns.com for a unique, artistic mathematical equation.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Jackson Pollock knew how to paint realistically. Hollywood had a problem putting realism in motion. How do you show the fire and ice cascading apocalypse around futuristic characters bravely pushing ahead into unknown space, land, under the land, back to Atlantis or wherever futuristic folk must go? Fractals of course.

In 1968 at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle engineers designing experimental planes wanted to picture mountains behind the plane. A computer scientist, Lauren Carpenter took Benoit Mandlebrot’s fractals and built the same shape over and over, endless repetition until mountains and rugged structures took their place providing realistic landscape to show off the airplanes.

 “The history of fractals traces a path from chiefly theoretical studies to modern applications in computer graphics, with several notable people contributing canonical fractal forms along the way.” Wikipedia

George Lucas experienced a challenge. How to create the effect of incoming fire waves, volcanic eruptions threatening Luke Skywalker as he battled a white-encased, faceless enemy? Computer generated fractals supplied the answer and films have never been the same since.

The similarity of pattern colored shades of yellow to red to blue and our mind sees the volcano we never mastered for eighth grade science.  Today Kinect Star Wars game brings you into “iconic settings, characters and action, puts you in the Star Wars you know and love, and lets you unleash your inner Jedi.” All without measuring or rethinking a single dimension. The computer accomplishes the reiteration that has been lying in wait for us.

Here’s my point. Fractals have been in existence for millions of years without our knowledge.  Now we use them in antennae production, art, games, cancer research, map making, computer generation, and philosophy when discussing the idea of chaos. Take a look at http://www.coolmath4kids.com/fractals/index.html to see the Grand Canyon replicated in full fractal color and design.

Human beings did not create fractals, mountains, coastlines, Niagara Falls, geometry, and the list goes on. (Perhaps global warming and freezing in Iceland and Utah's Great Salt Lake could slide in here next to the Rocky Mountains.) Yet the temptation to take dictatorial ownership as if we played a causitive part is overwhelming as we discover what someone else put in motion.  And I believe that someone played around with the tools of his trade for millions of years with great enjoyment and will continue to do so for as long as he chooses.

So what else don’t we know yet?

Monday, October 8, 2012


Jackson Pollock knew how to paint realistic figures and landscapes. He studied with Thomas Hart Benton who taught at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1935 to 1941. Like Picasso who created his own view of the world, Pollock rebelled against Benton’s traditional teaching and created the abstract expressionist movement.

What may look to us as random splatters from a self-indulgent painter takes a different perspective when we study fractals. Pollack’s reward was international fame and having his art compared to zoo productions by elephants and primates.

In reality his work represents nature’s principle of self-similarity, the whole looks like the part, or a fractal. In a fractal pattern each smaller structure replicates the larger form, perhaps not identically but enough that the repetition is visible and mathematically measurable. For example, the branching of a tree repeats from the trunk to the end of the branch. (Strike the tree with lightening and all bets are off.) Or the lacy repetition within a single snowflake. Or the ferns in my garden that are turning a lovely autumn red while exhibiting the self same design.

For years we thought the patterns in nature were outside math. A straight horizon could be measured and quantified. But a coastline or the rocky up-thrusts and crevices of a mountain could not except by measuring a baseline and height, thus forming a right triangle. We then need to butt the right triangle to a right triangle to another and so on. Rather ineffective and frustrating.

Fractals allow us to rethink dimension, reconsider the natural order around us. Is it random? Or is there a logical order we can’t appreciate without reconsidering our basic assumptions?

Researchers discovered that Pollock’s paint flinging and swirls followed patterns, shapes that repeated themselves on different scales. Furthermore, when the researchers experimented with a lawn sprinkler-type set up, the single color of the moment imitated Pollock’s patterns. And the patterns were fractals.

Physicist Richard P. Taylor of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia has taken a mathematical look at Pollock’s work.

“The unique thing about Jackson Pollock was that he abandoned using the brush on canvas and actually dripped the paint. That produced trajectories of paint on the canvas that were like a (two-dimensional) map or fingerprint of his (three-dimensional) motions around the canvas.”

A creator moving around his creation drawing patterns, colors, dimensions only he could see. Interesting thought.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Welcome to our favorite senior care blogger, Alice Kalso. The following was posted on her blog, A Boomer's Guide to Eldercare. Her title question, How Can I Help My Aging Parent Build a Legacy? is appropriate for all of us Boomers while we have the time and energy to consider and choose. You can comment to Alice at akalso@hotmail.com
Alice writes:
My short baseball career began--and ended--in second grade. A fly ball smacked me in the face. Specifically in the nose. Years later, though, I found myself editing a book on teaching baseball techniques to children. How did that happen? My husband's elderly uncle decided to build a legacy. And I wanted to help.

Your aging parent is also involved in building legacy, says author David Solie of "How To Say It to Seniors." It's his or her developmental task. "Every day, every hour, whether they mention it or not, the seventy-plus age group is reviewing their lives," Solie says. Consciously and unconsciously, they ponder how and by whom they would like to remembered.

For Uncle Dale, the legacy idea was simple. He wanted to publish a book that would help children master the fundamentals of baseball. He also wanted to honor his own grandchildren's accomplishments in the sport. So he gathered together a team that would help him with the task: sportswriters, baseball players, a graphic artist and more. Like all seniors creating a legacy, Uncle Dale is doing this in his time and in his way. When the product is finished, it will have his indelible stamp on it.

Unfortunately, we adult children can miss the signs when our aging parents are trying to build a legacy. I know. My dad was a minister. After retirement he would "hint" from time to time that parishioners had suggested he publish his sermons. He suffered from Parkinsons and depression, though, and his inner voice was weak enough that we kids didn't get the message. His disparaging comments, "Probably no one will read them," didn't help the project to gather steam. Unfortunately, the sermons never were published.

As I grow older, I'm trying to listen for the sounds of legacy. For example, my friend Don, in his mid 80s, has been writing letters to his grandchildren for years. "I write about what is important in life, and I encourage them to make good decisions," he says. Another friend, Tillman, builds legacy by reviewing slides of his years as a missionary to Zimbabwe, and telling stories of God's work in that land.

When seniors create legacy, they repeat the same stories again and again in great detail, not so much for the facts as the inherent values. Solie urges us as their children to listen, really listen, and help, if we can. Even if we know more about commas than baseball.

Have you picked up on your aging parent's desire to create a legacy? How have you been able to help?


Thursday, September 20, 2012


You must admit I don’t rant much so here is my Joke for the Day.

TDAmeritrade will mail me an Amazon gift card worth $2,000 when I deposit or transfer $1,000,000 to an account. If my accountant, whose desk is next to mine in our second bedroom, ever stops laughing long enough to remember our password, I’ll be rich!

I know. I’ll pledge $50,000 to Obama’s election campaign and the Feds will send me a million from the stimulus package. Sure they will. And Romney insists that he feels my pain like a chiropractor. Sure he does.

In Washington we have a Senator, who has been flying first class to his office in DC, and an Attorney General who upped his own salary, duking it out for Governor. They both protest concern for small business. Methinks they doth protest too much. I’d rather they lost my mailing address and phone number.

Profit is a dirty word to politicians whatever their party affiliation. There must be a magnetic quality to profit that attracts taxation like the Dirty/Clean sign clings to my dishwasher.  Ah, there’s the proof that I need to give more to WA State and DC! I can afford a dishwasher. Take the President out golfing.

Do they suppose I take on risk and work 12 hours a day because I’m stupid? Let me rephrase that.

The label “wealthy” only gets pasted on people who make more money than you and I do. Suppose you and I find an extra, legitimate $50,000 in our checking account. As if we all will happily give the extra money to the Feds to waste on surly NJ Postal workers and judicial junkets to Hawaii. Okay, your taxation rate is only fourteen percent. Is that you screaming I hear? But it was profit, sweetie. Think of the people in Chicago who can’t buy vegetables because you got the money. What do you mean you need a new car, a new roof on your house, dinner in a restaurant that doesn’t brag about how often they change their French fry oil? You have a car, house, credit card; ergo you are stinking rich. You don’t deserve to spend, save or donate to the Shriners money you earned, right?

Finally we are discussing the heart of this presidential and guvernorubial election. What is fair when it involves you giving up your money? Is redistribution of your wealth what this country is all about? And is wealth defined by a $40,000 income, $250,000 or do I remain “middle class” until my fictitious million appears with all its glorious zeros?

I don’t expect help from anyone of any political persuasion with my business which may turn a profit in spite of the government. But I feel better for ranting, just this once.

P.S. I made up the word, guvernorubial, so don’t try it out on your friends. It’s an inclusive word with a, e, i, o and a u for each of us. I could have said gubernatorial which also is vowel inclusive, but there must be some freedom left in this country, and it’s my blog.


Thursday, September 13, 2012


Thoreau’s mantra was “live simply” although his explanation was wordy, clause after clause piling up against the eventual period. Walden Pond was his experimental lab for two years, after which he struggled against bankruptcy. In his century Thoreau was a curiosity. Within the context of our contemporary culture simplicity is possible but not achievable without much thought.  Listening to the sound of a different drummer is a continual challenge and a learning experience. Eventually age accomplishes simplicity for us.

…”I was present at the auction of a deacon’s effects, for his life had not been ineffectual:

     ‘The evil that men do lives after them.’

"As usual, a great proportion was trumpery which had begun to accumulate in his father’s day. Among the rest was a dried tapeworm. And now, after lying half a century in his garret and other dust holes, these things were not burned; instead of a bonfire, or purifying destruction of them, there was an auction, or increasing of them. The neighbors eagerly collected to view them, bought them all, and carefully transported them to their garrets and dust holes, to lie there till their estates are settled, when they will start again. When a man dies he kicks the dust.”
Henry David Thoreau “Walden.”

We lived in Iowa in the late 90s and one of us got bit by the auction bug. If you make the mistake of dying in Iowa, your family will empty your drawers and boxes on the front lawn. Neighbors and strangers will congregate and wonder why you kept all that stuff.  My first bidding experience awarded me a cracked bowl. I didn’t care that I overpaid. I had raised my hand and stood my ground. Jenny’s bowl graces my front step filled with sedum, and dust.

Dr. Oz says that healthy eating leads to healthy living. If I switch from butter to I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter--chemicals in a bottle, dairy farmers sell less of their cows’ production. And they sell out to mega corporations. This helps us how now, brown cow?

Two or three neighbors can share a lawnmower but there is a consequence; the hardware store sells one or two less mowers. When the sales at Home Depot decreases, the quarterly sales report is bad and investors sell the stock. And when the big box moves into a neighborhood they save the residents money, but they hold an unfair buying advantage over the neighborhood hardware store. Compromise: thank John for mowing our lawn.

So what is our response to Thoreau’s call for Simplicity? It will need to be individual and subjective, an on-going process.  I read Thoreau’s chapter, Economy, to be a judgmental and pompous affair. He denigrates those who choose to spend their lives farming and eating meat. He ridicules those who live in the village and attempt to earn their livelihood in the market place. He speaks with his chin raised and his voice a professorial pitch suitable to academic lectures. Time to bring “Walden” back to the library.

For my part, I currently practice simplicity by avoiding shopping which gives me a headache anyway. I shop infrequently and only when I have a specific purchase in mind. This is my story and I’m sticking to it. The exception is cruising art fairs. Eye candy.  Colors for the soul. I justify my careful spending by saying I am supporting local artists. Here are some of my favorite artists who have internet sources.

Frill.   facebook.com/frillstudio   Karen designs and sews incredibly beautiful handbags. She also does custom orders. I’m not a handbag person but could have taken home several. To my credit I bought only one. At this time.

four corners design.  Unique collages and montages Amy Duncan mounts on boards, glass, etc. then photographs for note cards and wall hangings. I bought “Hope.” http://fourcornersdesign.blogspot.com/

Original paintings by Janet Hamilton. I love to buy her greeting cards. www.JanetHamilton.com

BFF Snooter-Doots:  Fishee, Buggee, Foodie-Friends and more. Children of any age love the colorful, felted, ‘free-form’ knit toys. They’re light and can’t break in the mail.  www.snooter-doots.com

KaleidEscapes for those of you who share my fascination with kaleidoscopes.  www.lagravedesigns.com

And if you need a lovely gift for someone special, Sue Rena Curtis' handcrafted stained glass mobiles can be found at www.dancingglass.net   She created my Irene mobile.

And of course, Bienella skin care. www.bienella.com
Simply, wonderfully creative.

Monday, September 10, 2012


“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises?  If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”   

Henry David Thoreau. from the chapter, “Conclusion.” Walden.
I have read this quote through the years and wondered at the context. If you drop the initial question, then the appealing image of "different drummer" can be stretched to wrap around various shapes and purposes. Placing it in Thoreau's context, I suspect it is autobiographical.

Thoreau was writing before the Civil War and some 60 years following the Revolutionary War and with less than 20 years after the War of 1812. We tend to think that our federal government sprang into full-blown being with everyone on board. There was still divisive sentiment for and against England. Building in intensity was the slavery issue driving a wedge between the growing industrial north and the agricultural south. 

It was 1845 when Thoreau built a cabin on property owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau did not live isolated in his cabin near Walden Pond. He regularly hiked into town for dinner and conversation with friends. “…where I was well entertained, and after learning the kernels and very last sieveful of news, what had subsided, the prospects of war and peace, and whether the world was likely to hold together much longer….”

He stood on the stoop of the general store and watched the varied population march to the drummer of land development, mercantile expansion, and social progress. The legal system was developing and he occasionally walked on the wrong side when he refused to pay a tax or “recognize the authority of the State which buys and sells men, women and children, like cattle….” When released from the primitive jail, he returned to his woods to gather his dinner of huckleberries on Fair Haven Hill.

We loved living in New Jersey for 16 months exploring historical sites. New England states are compact enough that one can visit two or three in a day. In 2004 we passed Walden Pond, although Thoreau’s cabin is now a replica of the original. As Thoreau might have, we enjoyed coffee in a shop on a main street in Concord chatting with the proprietor. The visitor’s center provided us with a map to the North Bridge where the first confrontation of the Revolutionary War took place in 1775. On our return into town we found it curious that a group of locals were marching with signs opposing war, perhaps descendants of dissenters in 1775.

To commemorate those who challenged the British at the North Bridge, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a poem. The embattled farmers definitely fit Thoreau's description.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those spirits dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Friday, August 24, 2012


My sister and brother-in-law live in the country and have enjoyed a succession of dogs through the years. Old age took a few and the busy county road took more. Their property is separated from this road and its traffic by a deep stand of pine trees with a few deciduous supplying autumn color.

One of our first trips to visit them coincided with a Doberman occupant who smiled fearsomely and pranced up to our car with a cheerful welcome that felt decidedly threatening. We lived with a 200 pound St. Bernard but took no chances with the Doberman at our first meeting. (There are those of you who will suggest this post is going to the dogs.)

My brother-in-law would have been happier if Sandy had a mean tooth in her mouth. We witnessed her docile personality at dusk. Viewed through the family room window, the dog peacefully lay under a tree watching a doe and two fawns meander through my sister’s garden. The deer and dog raised their heads, recognized each other’s presence. Confident of no challenge the deer lowered her mouth and enjoyed her meal.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, Chapter Seven The Bean-Field, about his garden. “What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day’s work. My auxiliaries are the dews and rains which water this dry soil…. My enemies are worms, cool days, and most of all woodchucks. The last have nibbled for me a quarter of an acre clean. But what right had I to oust Johnswort, blackberries, cinquefoil and the like, and break up their ancient herb garden?” 

A few pages later he writes tongue firmly in cheek, “Why concern ourselves so much about our beans for seed, and not be concerned at all about a new generation of men?  Here comes such a subtile and ineffable quality, for instance, as truth or justice, though the slightest amount or new variety of it, along the road. Our ambassadors should be instructed to send home such seeds as these, and Congress help to distribute them over all the land. We should never cheat and insult and banish one another by our meanness, if there were present the kernel of worth and friendliness.”

Thoreau’s preferred philosophy seems to be plant a larger garden and be prepared for honest work and to share both the bounty and ourselves. Sandy had it right. Hospitality first and then we eat.

At Adagio we don’t grow beans or even green tomatoes. Our garden is privileged to grow people who have grown me by demanding patience, thought and grace.

Internet articles on Henry David Thoreau brought me the delightful poetry of Amy Belding Brown, specifically More Thoughts on Beans. She gives me permission to share it with you.

When he mentioned that he was resolved to know beans,
Henry knew it would get a good laugh,
for one thing New Englanders do with their speech
is to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
And so, as he tended bean plants by the pond,
and studied their habits and style,
it never occurred to his dexterous mind
that folks might not notice his smile.
If, when reading Thoreau, you encounter a phrase
that tempts you to find hairs to split,
just remember what Henry himself knew so well:
great philosophy favors great wit.

You can read more at her website AmyBeldingBrown.com and blog, Sifted Light.  http://amybeldingbrown.blogspot.com/
Her book, Emerson’s Wife, is available at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


There is an email being circulated quoting the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. I have friends from all over the political map so if you didn’t get this one, you won’t get it from me. But there is a story here for organizations and families. It’s called the Problem-Saturated Story.

Part of her supposed speech as reported on email and Snopes: “This is our country, our land, and our lifestyle, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about our flag, our pledge, our Christian beliefs, or our way of life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, the right to leave.”

I have read editorials that had too much fun by half declaiming the many faults of our country. We were leaving the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City and met a protester on the sidewalk. His placard encouraged us to do unmentionable things to then-President George Bush. We cheerfully disagreed but encouraged him to express his opinions. A couple were strolling past and heard our exchange. When I exclaimed, “Isn’t this a wonderful country where we can disagree,” the woman hissed and although walking away from us, continued to turn back to hiss more. (Until then I had never heard a human hiss-s-s.) What upset her I’m not sure and I wasn’t interested in asking. I suspect she was one with the editors who enjoy telling horror stories about “the Tea Party.” And there are those who enjoy telling similar tales about “the Left.”  If I join any of them, I will be participating in a Problem-Saturated Story.

We occasionally get a health care worker who takes our report of a resident and tries to turn it into a story about what a problem the resident is. Such commiseration is unprofessional and unappreciated. We cut them off. Dementia is what it is.

When you overhear someone in your congregation, book club, or family launch into a diatribe about how awful something is or how difficult, or how they just can’t understand, you are being invited to a Problem-Saturated whine fest. You might for a brief moment join them by thinking, “If you think your husband  is bad let me tell you about mine.” All of us have multiple substitutions for husbands. Mothers-in-law have been fair game since Cain and Abel (The Bible. Genesis 4).

Organizations and families may blunder into an atmosphere of problem-saturation. Emotional discharges will turn the air blue once permission is given. Transforming the tune of P-S tales becomes almost impossible short of a traumatic, public censure of the story tellers. The stories are addictive and close the book on the subject having any possible redemptive value.

I was visiting a couple and the wife informed me that she could barely sit in her pew and listen to that man. Just watching him walk you could see that he was blahblahblah.  For her, attending church had become an exciting opportunity to invent more nasty tales.

I had several choices: silence which could be seen as consent, join the party and tell a problem-saturated story of my own, or argue with her. I chose to follow Matthew 18 which instructs us to go to the sister who has ticked us off and “show her fault.” If you get no satisfaction, find a third party who can provide accountability and attempt reconciliation. I asked the wife if she had spoken to the minister about her feelings.  I was soon ushered out of their home and the wife never spoke to me again.

The difficulty with Problem-Saturated Stories is that the teller rarely desires truth or accountability. He wants to diminish and whine. P-S stories put forward as fact what is simply a narrative of oft-repeated testimony by a biased witness.  Someone needs to step outside the circle, snap their fingers, and disrupt the trance of the P-S storyteller.  Someone needs to ask accountability questions and offer to accompany the tale bearer to a meeting with her subject.

Especially if the scandal has substance. So what? Do we keep piling on stones, or stand next to the scoundrel offering a hand and the energy to pull him out of the pit? If he hisses at us he has written the final chapter of the story, and our mouths are sealed. We are free to walk to the coffee shop and share celebrative stories of humor and warmth and love with our friends.

P.S. If you are a leader and want to learn more, read Margaret Wheatley’s book Turning to One Another.  “There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about. Ask, ‘What’s possible?’ not ‘What’s wrong?’ Keep asking. . . . Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


“God made man because he loves stories.”  Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlev (as quoted by Steve Sanfield)

One summer in the ‘50s our family was traveling in Canada and touring Toronto building sites. Okay maybe it was Niagara Falls in the early 60’s. Does it matter? We were stopped at a cross street with the windows open because in those days cars had air conditioning called “can you please crank open the window.”  Especially when four children are arranged on a bench seat designed for three small adults. A pedestrian crossed in front of us and stumbled, barely catching his balance. My younger sister burst out a braying laugh that of course carried to the luckless man. We then began to laugh at her and compounded our sin toward the innocent pedestrian. (Posted with permission.)

A minister had counseled a young couple and was now walking up the side aisle of the church with the groom. The bridesmaids processed in fancy dresses. The bride’s father escorted her up the center aisle and stood on her right side while the beginning of the marriage form was read.

“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” From the way her dress fit the giving had been accomplished months before. As he turned to sit in the pew next to his wife, the father caught his foot in the bride’s train and a ripping sound suspended all breathing for a second.

Calmly, the minister encouraged the couple to step up to the altar. He commenced reading the marriage form until he heard himself producing a spoonerism of the words lawfully joined. “If there is anyone here who knows of a reason why this man and this woman may not be joyfully…..”  With barely a pause he skipped the second word and finished, “let them speak up now or forever hold their peace.”

The minister visited his parishioner in the hospital and was astounded to find the man in bed, his leg trussed up in a full cast.

“Whatever happened, man? I thought you came in for hemorrhoids?”

“Well, Reverend, I did. But I climbed up on the dresser there so I could see my stitches.”

Tell me a story....

Monday, July 30, 2012


 A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose its moorings or orientation….

Ben Okri, Bonsai Master

Once upon a time we lived in a small city--not too different from a place you've lived--where stories abounded in the social areas of a retirement village like echoes in a concrete tunnel. Parents, aunties, grandparents crossed paths and asked, “did you hear?” That of course was the problem: none of them could hear worth a fiddler’s bow so the stories twisted and convulsed like the stinging tentacles of a jelly fish. Their exciting fabrications followed visiting relatives to the coffee shops, phone lines and emails where they vibrated throughout the town.

“Why would you want to think that about them?” was considered a rudely irrelevant question and spoiled their wanton fun.

Pioneers trudging across the Nebraska prairies and Utah flats had enough troubles without conjuring imagined slights, childish rivalries and probable scandals. Their total involvement with life and death warns us to also move with deliberation while telling new stories in our present. The ruts permanently carved in the earth outlasted the small graves dug twenty paces from the wagon trail. The burials left behind were no less part of the story.

In organizations as in families, bored people simper and whisper jealousies. Story tellers without vision wander between diatribes and selfish tantrums. People without a compass bog down in “it seems to me.” Guilt turns us to finger pointing, with conjured blame hurled like sharpened fence posts in a tornado.  Opinion sucks us into sinkholes lacking the underpinning of the insoluble truth rock.

In contrast, people fully living their lives search for clarity in the present moment. Their story, like a paring knife turns readily to the subject, cutting off the brown spots of bruise and early rot. It just takes too much energy to preserve the dark tales. We don’t deny them. But as we can choose the thoughts we coddle in our brain, we can choose to tell stories of life, a story to live by.

Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Memories are the basis of our stories. Episodes from the past respond to familiar stimuli and spring into the present. They shade our past with sadness or lighten it with pleasure and joy.

Dorianne Laux begins her poem, “Family Stories”:

I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,
how an argument once ended when his father
seized a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurled it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
from Smoke. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2000

Emotion determines how we remember an episode. It explains why an aging parent and middle-aged child who experienced the same occurrence remember it differently, or not at all. The data is carried emotively in our memory banks and rearranged in our story.

Unfortunately we remember our feelings associated with criticisms and negative actions more than the positive. We harbor regrets, move them from corner to corner in the basement and mostly manage to cover them with the patchwork quilt of time. It would be nice if our stories didn’t sprout from anger and the sins of the fathers and mothers being passed down through generations. Did anyone have a parent who never lost their temper?

Flannery O’Connor is a storyteller who extracts emotion from her family and neighbors and liberally spices her characters with it.  In her writing family relationships reflect the stories of generations as they merge to create new stories. Our Adagio families tell the “good” stories first that show everyone in a good light. We nod and wait and slowly we hear the adversities, faults, health challenges that offer explanations for the behaviors that are becoming our care stories.

To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.” In our personal story we desire a happy ending. Through the years we edit the data. We tell the story as we need to remember it. Those who hear the story do so from their perspective.

Reality may wait on the resource shelf. To again quote Miss O’Connor, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.” But in time the facts are no longer the story. To demand the sun’s full exposure of reality is unreal, as the story’s conclusion trails into the clouds like pastels from a fading sunset. The covering perspective of evening allows us to laugh.

 There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. 
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose.

Tell your story while there is still time, if only to yourself.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


At Adagio we may forget that we ate breakfast but remnants of proverbs and songs from our childhood slip out between the spaces of memory.
When a spoon or fork drops onto the floor either Grace or I will repeat, “and the dish ran away with the spoon.”  Then we try to remember the nursery rhyme from the beginning. She usually gets “the little dog laughed” and I finish “to see such sport.” Now how does that nursery rhyme start? Sometimes she will remember, “Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon.”

If she doesn’t immediately remember, I give her time. Or she will hold up her thumb. “Put in his thumb and pulled out…. What was it?” Once again we finish the rhyme and try to work back to the beginning. In case you don’t remember, it is “Little Jack Horner sat in a corner eating his Christmas pie.”

One of you commented: “The other night, I was eating leftover marshmallows, and the sugar stuck to my teeth. I thought to myself, “She’ll rot her damn teeth.” then I thought ‘Now why do I say that?’ Oh yea, it’s a joke:
Teacher: Spell Rotterdam, and put the word in a sentence.
Kid: My sister ate all my candy, and I hope she’ll rot her damn teeth.

“I forget so many lovely, wonderful things. Words drift in and out of my useful vocabulary, and I remember the refrain to a ditty, ‘rot-er-dam teeth.’”

I can’t remember jokes to save my neck. But there is a joke involving people choosing between heaven or hell and they come to a swimming pool full of mud. Citizens of whatever the place--heaven? hell?--are lounging at the side of the pool. It looks good. The joke ends with our favorite and oft repeated line,
“Coffee break’s over. Back on your heads.”

Working back to the beginning is a healthy exercise as we tell ourselves the stories of our lives. The way we remember an event may not be another family member’s memory. We still have time to ask, “Do you remember….? How did that happen?”

Dementia may rob our senior of the ability to engage in meaningful conversation. But by telling their stories families can, in their laughter and smiles, reassure their parent that they were important and still are as important as ever.  

I know a boarding house not far away
Where they serve onion soup three times a day.
Oh, how those boarders yell
When they hear the dinner bell!
Oh, how those onions smell
Three times a day!

Oh, the stories we can tell!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Story tellers throughout the ages have followed the rule of three: three travelers, three dragons, three chances, etc.  Fables, fairy tales and dumb jokes always offer three wishes. If I criticize, “I wish you’d give me more time to think,” my first wish is gone and I don’t get more time.

There’s that time concept again. Downright annoying.

Aging with Dignity breaks with conventional wisdom and offers us Five Wishes®. This 10 page pamphlet was designed to offer a voice to anyone 18 or older. We just don’t know about that time thing. But I do know that I do not want to be fed sardines, smelt or any fish with bones. I have learned that I can endure unrelenting pain for just so long without fighting back. I know that I fiercely love life and have enough interests to fill another several decades.

I never was going to oil paint or climb any object higher than a two-step ladder. But there are books to read or books-on-tape if I can’t see or hold it.  There are memories of people and places to waft through my mind as I sit in the sun. And now the sun is setting below clouds reflecting unreal colors as I know it will for days and days on end. Suffice it to say that life is precious and I want more.

So it’s important that I choose who will make my health care decisions for me when I can’t make them for myself.

Wish 2 is for the kind of medical treatment I want or don’t want. Here is an opportunity to evaluate what I am willing to endure to see another sunset. CPR breaks ribs; is it worth it? Rehab from strokes is exhausting with no promises.

Wish 3 is for how comfortable I want to be. If I dislike certain music my spouse loves, here is where I speak up. I’m saying now that Verde’s Requiem at rafter-shaking volume is not soothing to my soul.

Wish 4 is for how I want people to treat me. Do I want others by my side praying for me when possible? Do I want to remain home if possible? With our current health care we need someone actively involved. Are they willing?

Wish 5 is for what I want my loved ones to know. “I wish to be forgiven for the times I have hurt my family, friends, and others.” If there is someone I don’t want to see, I’d best either spell it out or make amends while I have time.

A friend who is bedbound enjoyed a week talking and remembering with her 18 year old son, each filling out the Five Wishes so he would know what she wanted. One year later her son was killed in a motorcycle accident. She knew what he wanted.

Printable copies are available at www.agingwithdignity.org  
Whatever your age I wish you would.