Today is the day. Ninety years ago today my mother, Iris Virginia Muir Chambers (as the D.A.R. addresses her mail) was born in the Northern Neck of Virginia. Soon she and her family moved to Washington DC where Mom grew up. The streets around the Capitol and the Mall were her playground and she and her two sisters, brother and parents made a great life there.
The world was a different place then, as we can all imagine, but it is amazing to note just how different. This was the world before the Great Depression and Washington DC was a prosperous and exciting place to be. For fun, people bought sheet music and gathered around the piano to make their own sound track. Soon radios became the standard in every living room and Mom eagerly awaited her favorite shows-Inner Sanctum and The Shadow. Baseball games began to be broadcast by Arch MacDonald and Babe Ruth dominated the game.
This was the decade when Charles Lindbergh made his solo flight across the Atlantic. He had to take a boat home as fighting the jet stream for a west to east flight was too taxing for airplanes of the day. Commercial flights were far in the future.
Mom was born before prohibition made the liquor flow freely in the speakeasies and back rooms all over the nation. Before refrigerators were a common household appliance and even before most families had indoor plumbing-which, I am assured, mom's home did have.
King Tut's tomb was discovered and became a sensation in 1922, the year before mom was born. The Hollywood (land) sign went up in LA. Talkies were the sensation in movies, replacing the silent films. Rudolph Valentino was out and Clark Gable was in.
Mom's future boss-J Edgar Hoover was busy founding the FBI where Mom would become part of the first team of women fingerprint experts during wartime.
And for you kids out there-think of this-no TV, no computers, no Internet, no cell phones. We had a big black phone with a dial, tethered to the wall and shared with a neighbor on a party line. If you had to make a call, it was carefully timed with the egg timer so the long distance charges did not break the budget. And-naturally, no texting and no Facebook.
The world is a different place today, but one thing is certain-it is a far better place for having our Mom-Iris Virginia Muir Chambers in it. (Without her I would not be here, so really important to me) We love you Mom! We love you for all the love and care, the cookies and concern, the happy childhood memories and the hours and hours of your time you have spent working to make all our lives richer, happier, and more full of love. Happy Birthday Mom!
Now that July is here we finally have some hot summer days to enjoy swimming, boating, biking, hiking and walking. Let's not forget to stay cool and hydrated while we are out and about on these hot, humid, sultry days.
I call my father, now 88, frequently and grill him…something like this: "Have you been drinking enough water? How much have you had today?" or I say "Did you ahve breakfast? What did you have?" He has always been health conscious so he always replies with a big "oh, yes."
Then I have to make sure he has his air conditioners turned on because he turns them off and on all the time so the heat in the house can rise quickly and then he gets overheated. Again, I ask him. "Did you drink enough water today?" Ending the converstaion with "stay cool!"
Having been through one episode with him three summers ago where he got dehydrated and then malnourished because he was developing a cellulitis (or which came first?) I do not want to repeat that again. Even though sometimes he asks me "Why do you ask?" Dare I answer "because you're old!"
But then I remember the statistics: people over the age of 65 are commonly in trouble with dehydration, not just those in their 80's.
If you want to read more info from our book about this go to our 'Bits of the Book' page here.
So drink up, stay cool, enjoy the balmy evenings and cool mornings of summertime!
Out for a morning walk is usually a time for reflection, observation, and quiet thoughts. These last few weeks of late spring and early summer have been full of growth and change in the natural world. The weather was cool, clear, crisp, now it is hot, sultry and unpredictable, rain comes daily and the sun beats down when it peaks out. These changes are reflected back to my inner world and have helped my mind, heart, and body change and heal as well.
Working hard at trying to be strong again after major spinal surgery has proven to be one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Starting with a week of rest (thank you sister for taking care of me while I wallowed in self pity and drug induced hallucinations) followed by a week of walking around the block-just barely, then weeks with a ten pound weight lifting restriction, then weeks of a thirty pound weight limit and walking only one mile. After eight weeks I am finally able to walk as much as I want and lift whatever I want.
Plus, I am back to stand up paddle boarding, SUP as it is known in the outdoor water world, after a year away from this new sport. It brings me such pleasure to be out on the water and pulling is what my physical therapist wants me to do as opposed to lifting. She also insists that I have a regular program of muscle strengthening, not building, just strength training. She advised me to stop stretching so much as that is stressing my joints since the muscles aren’t big enough to stretch to their fullest. She claims it is a common problem in older people. You stretch because you are sore, and then you get sore, so you stretch some more and then you are sore so you stretch more and all you are doing is injuring, or tearing, muscles and stressing joints. Makes sense to me because that is what I have been doing all year as I was fighting chronic, severe neck pain. And found my body more sore and uncomfortable. Now I do actually feel less sore after only two weeks of muscle strengthening exercises.
Back to my daily walks outside where I am out in the natural world seeing the plants and animals, reptiles, amphibians and insect world surviving despite all the odds.
I have rescued a few turtles from the middle of the road sent them on their way to the side where they were headed. Yesterday I rescued a long earthworm, it seemed to be struggling to get to the woods, who knows if I made it happy or not, or helped it at all. Do worms need my help? A silly thought to contemplate.
Walking on a wooded trail I came upon a large bull frog happily sitting in the middle of the path. It sat still while I took pictures and did not mind me getting quite close. I decided to touch it to see what it would do and get it off the path because there were kids, bikes, and dogs coming in the distance. Sure enough it was free to do a long jump away from me safely off the trail.
Encountering two legged species (humans) on my walks is rare up here in NH but yesterday I met a new neighbor and we walked and talked together for while. She introduced herself exclaiming how much she loves my book, [Hope I Don't Die Before I Get Old] has bought a second copy for a friend, and uses it as a reference, marking the pages with notes and a highlighter. Finding the advise on long term care insurance invaluable, she has even copied a page or two to send to friends planning surgery for their recovery.
Her parents are now in their 80's and luckily they bought LTC insurance in their 60's because now her father has Alzheimer disease and they will surely need full time help sooner or later.
This is why we wrote our book, to help others in their journey along this path of life that has so many twists and turns you never know what the road ahead will bring your way or what will cross your path. Caring for your elders and growing old is a complex adventure in humility and grace.
Back to my daily walk, I have to get out there and move…
Friends, I have created an adventure - a cross country drive to see some parts of our country I have not seen before. First heading south for a little visit with my family in Virginia, eventually winding up in Portland Oregon for a little grammy time with my West coast boys.
Each evening, the TV news tells me about the horrors that await me out there on the road. Hail-the size of soccer balls, forest fires, landslides, tornadoes, and now even the roads I drive might pitch me to my death by dropping into a sinkhole. Don’t even get me started on the one in nine bridges that are in serious danger of collapse. I like a little excitement, makes for a better story, but actual fatal incidents? Not really, no thanks, I’ll pass on that.
Staying home has it’s challenges too, watching the grass grow in the rain, day after day, anticipating the moment when the sun returns and I get to mow a four inch swath at a time through tall weeds. The boredom alone might do me in so I’ll take my chances, brave the rising gas prices, pack up the dog and drive off into the sunrise on a new adventure.
Along the way I’ll be visiting all the independent bookstores I can, tour some of the 6,500 wineries now established across the country and explore the burgeoning hand crafted, fair trade and organic chocolate making scene. I’ll need some coffee to fuel this adventure, so I will also be stopping at independent coffee shops. Contrary to popular belief, the success of Starbucks has sparked a gaggle of small roasters and I aim to check them out wherever I go.
Check out my route and follow my progress as I drive, taste, learn and savor-all the while working on the edit of my next book-”Radical Indulgence, The Health Benefits of Coffee, Chocolate and Wine”. I’ll be taking names and numbers for the index and in the end there will be a clever interactive map to share so all my readers can plan their own tasting travel adventures.
There should be time to muse and dream along the way and I expect a steady stream of connections, concepts, images, visions and dreams to emerge as I go.
Wish me luck-I’m hitting the road!
Yours, Mary Boone Wellington
Tracey and I have been out there in bookstores and businesses, meeting with people concerned about loved ones and hoping to get clues on how to manage their own future. I have been impressed with the degree of diligence this community brings to the issues that face us all and delighted by the new ideas bubbling up. Ideas like cooperatives of elderly folks pooling resources for services that make their lives easier and extend the good years in their own homes.
One woman introduced us to the three categories of aging-the Go Go Years, The Slow Go Years and the No Go Years. She noted that making good preparations for these stages is essential to a serene and joyful life. While many of us still believe that it will be “Go Go” till we drop off the perch, it seems wise to plan ahead.
I have been surprised by the age range of the women -(for it is mostly women who attend our talks.) Women in their eighties-and looking great might I add, who are living engaged and vibrant lives and Gen-Xers already caring for their parents-all come looking to join in a conversation about the future of old age.
In a world where 14% of the population will be elderly in 2014, it is more than time to re-vision this later stage of life or there will soon be a rather large bunch of grumpy old folks cluttering up the planet, querulously demanding all the services they need. The cruise ship style retirement community with wine bars, pool rooms and hot and cold running attendants might be fine for some, but many will be able to afford only a rowboat. The current vision for “housing” the elderly, however posh, can be isolating, as many such facilities are literally behind high walls, cut off from the community, as though old age were contagious.
Couldn’t young families use a helping hand, just like our seniors? With resources like meal preparation, transportation and skill sharing, (such as knitting and carpentry)-why wouldn’t it be a good idea to join forces? I like the idea of combining all ages-as Tracey points out, a two year old walks at the same pace as a ninety year old! Best friends in the making, I’d say.
Entrepreneurs, take note-there is a market out there for new ways to serve the community, both the aging one and the emerging one. It’s time to rethink old age and invent a new wave of possibilities.
One of the most popular holidays at my Mom’s elderly residence is Easter, where the families of all the employees and residents come on over to share a meal and a photo with the easter bunny. Kids of all ages, dressed in their best, play games, hunt eggs and share a meal with the elderly residents. Everyone enjoys the mix of ages as wisdom meets energy. What if the vacant apartments in the building were made available to families who needed a great place to live. Think of the fun! Some lucky two year old might just get that walk with a ninety year old new best friend.
Just as the weather has turned blindingly beautiful and I am eager to run all over the mountain roads of the North Country-in this brief season after the frost is out of the ground and the mud has receded and before the arrival of the black flies, I carelessly dropped a sofabed on my foot.
It was, as all sofabeds tend to be, heavy, and I dropped it from a good height, so it had time to get a good velocity going before it landed smack on top of my rather delicate little foot. Luckily the Arnica was within arms reach and as I pulled off my sock with one hand, I grabbed the tube in the other. I would love to do an experiment to find out if this is really effective or just a comforting belief in the herbal ways, but cannot resist doing what I can to stave off damage.
My day on the porch with my foot propped up and iced was not so bad, I found. Warm sun, cool breeze and the tea kettle just a few hops away in the kitchen, my computer on my lap (sorry cats, you had to settle for the guest chair), I got a surprising amount of work done.
This morning, the foot looks pretty good-nothing appeared to be broken though it was a very nice color of violet blue. I look forward with relief to the being up and about again, if not ready to run a 5K, at least managing a putter in the garden and to get the laundry put away.
I thought then of my Mom, who at age 89 has peripheral neuropathy which weakens her legs and makes it increasingly hard to get around. I wondered if Arnica would help and realized it is a very different thing to be down for a day or two from facing ever decreasing mobility.
The neuropathy, in which the messages to and from the brain are distorted by irregularities in the myelin sheath around the nerves, is genetic, caused by a glitch in a gene. It might well be something I face in the long distant future, should I be lucky enough to get old. I have the hope that some scientist is working on a gene upgrade, so I will be OK, but that is by no means a sure thing. I am optimistic though and for now, so is Mom. She does her exercises and walks as much as she can to keep fit and take advantage of the strengths she still has.
So I push the envelope and go the extra mile (literally) while I can and am grateful for every step, and for the strong will, courage and determination I also inherited from my mom. Thanks Mom for a genetic and spiritual legacy that is proving to be a pretty good deal, Happy Mother’s Day!
April 22, 2013 Earth Day
OK, this is a day late…”a day late and a dollar short,” another thing my mother said to me more than once!
My mother started celebrating Earth Day the first time it ever happened by planting flowers and becoming a recycling fanatic. That was in 1970 and I was a freshman in high school having come of age in the 1960’s, a tumultuous time for my family, friends and the world. Her commitment to recycling finally had a home and purpose other than being perpetually frugal, a remnant of the Great Depression. She insisted on recycling everything and being very upset, almost indignant, when she found things that could not be recycled anywhere. She was equally disappointed when she saw others not recycling or throwing away things that were “perfectly usable.”
When she could no longer drive herself around, her ‘helpers’ and anyone else who stopped by to visit was called upon to “just take this to the recycling center for me when you go.” She instilled in my children and me a sense of responsibility for the earth, for our communities, for others. All of which has served to make us feel guilty when we find ourselves not recycling that one thing that we know we should.
It is poignant; warming and chilling at the same time to have these feelings wash over me whenever I am looking at something deciding if it can be recycled or not! As we approach Mother’s Day in May and her birthday in June the memories of her life, my life with her, and the impressions that she gave to me roll around my mind, heart and soul reminding me to enjoy the present, let the past go to a warm corner of my heart and look forward to the future. I am calling this recycling memories!
Happy recycling! And love your Mother-Earth!
Today I am writing a little personal story because I feel I have been through “the wringer” as they say and want to explain my distance from writing, socializing and generally being ‘no fun’ for the past eight months.
Mary and I wrote our stories about caregiving in our book with all its glory, joy, pain and suffering because we learned a lot about ourselves, our families and navigating old age while dealing with the, ahem, messed up health care system.
Last July we finished the second draft (or was it the twentieth?) and the book was back from the editor and off to press. We were excited and relieved.
Sometimes things get thrown at you for a reason; usually it is a reason you weren’t expecting nor particularly like. A week after the book was done, it happened, I ruptured a disc in my neck at work, it took a while to get a proper diagnosis and even longer to get good care. Another lesson in our, ahem, messed up medical system.
A Goddess smack, a gift, a luxury…all of these I have heard from caring people. Even had people praying for me with laying on of hands. I whine and complain, I spent a lot of time this winter on my hands and knees crying. I have learned what chronic pain is first hand and it really does make you crazy! I breathe, I meditate on positive affirmations, I contemplate words from one of my mentors, Jeanine Parvati, “How does it serve?”
Friends, acquaintances, family, doctors, therapists-everyone- has something to tell me about what I should and shouldn’t be doing to heal myself or get healed. I get annoyed at their thoughtful advice and even more annoyed when they say “I know how you feel.” I finally said to someone, “no you don’t!” Unless you have had a ruptured disc with the resultant nerve and muscle pain from the constricted nerve root you cannot imagine it. I never did, even though my dad and son have both had disc problems from injuries, it is worse than I imagined. This is my neck! It is hard to hold my head up!
This injury has made it impossible for me to do the work I love and have been doing for over thirty-five years. Being a midwife is more than a job, it is my identity, it is who I am. As if the physical discomforts aren’t enough, having my self-identity taken away so unceremoniously has been emotionally distressing as well. (in this I am not alone and more fortunate than others; a nod and curtsey to veterans and those with degenerative diseases.) Starting any new writing projects has become difficult; it was hard enough before this happened, but now I am distracted by pain and all the ‘what to do’ about my life, work, and making health care decisions that my ability to concentrate and think clearly is also compromised.
For the last three months I have been able to do a little more, meaning I can vacuum for longer than two minutes, gentle yoga and dance, and short walks without ending up on the floor for two days. Some days the pain is mild until 1 or 2 in the afternoon, then I have to lie on my back on the floor, but lately it is all day, all night pain and I am seriously considering surgery, something I have never wanted. It certainly is outside my lifelong belief of diet, exercise, natural remedies and curing myself.
One dear friend and colleague said, “Well, maybe this is what holistic medicine really means.” I am trying to see it as a whole part of my life and healing process on every level.
All this is my way of saying thank you to the universe for giving me what I need even though I still do not see why I need this now! And I offer my gratitude and apologies for those who care for me and put up with me when I am at my worst.
Off to see a new neurosurgeon tomorrow and I’m bound to hear once again “you need surgery.” This time I may just schedule it.
Mom lives 584 miles away from me and while she is settled nicely in her elder community, active and busy, I still worry about her from afar. The road from New Hampshire to Virginia is challenged by weather and traffic and I do not get to visit as much as I would like. I know I am not alone in my long distance care adventure as many of my friends have begun this dance with parents, cousins and distant aunts.
Lately, Mom and I have discovered a few new ways to stay close while the miles keep us apart. As a beginner Mac user, mom was daunted by all the possibilities. She got her first little laptop a few years ago and has made friends with it. I swapped it out for a newer model recently and though there was a learning curve-Mom is back!
I have explained many times that no one knows how to do it all on the computer, (with the possible exception of my Grandson Jack-4 years old now, who mastered all devices that came near his fat little fists seemingly from the moment he was born.) As both of us were born before computer was more than science fiction, Mom and I have found that the challenge bonds us in our battle to master the latest and greatest gadget.
I wonder why more older folks do not embrace the computer for communication. Skype makes it possible to visit with great grandchildren for a spell without having to roll out the sofa bed and stow the fragile tea set and it is perfect for a daily look around mom’s place for the long distance relative who cares.
When I offered to get the Skype app on Mom’s new tablet, she said, no-wait till I can get back to Facebook-one thing at a time. Good idea, I respect her dance with technology and now I’m happy to report that Mom is calling me up wanting to know when my daughter and son cut their hair, having seen the current pics on Facebook. Thumbs up on both “new “ styles by the way–Mom is back on Facebook and as curious as ever about what she sees there.
Netflix is a source of great fun for Mom, who has access through her complicated array of TV remotes-I could not begin to sort out her thousands of channels and options, but she is master of all she surveys from her recliner chair in the living room corner. She still enjoys the quaint practice of mailing the DVD’s back and forth. Mom could write reviews, for she is a keen observer and I think she has seen almost every movie ever made.
Reading is a great pleasure for Mom and now she gets her books on her Kindle, where the type can be resized for her reading pleasure. It is also lighter than the big print books which can sometimes be of a daunting dimension and weight.
A nephew and granddaughter who live near her are charmed by Mom’s mission to master her little machines and swoop in to help frequently–an added bonus for all as she draws in assistance and visits when needed.
While nothing can take the place of a real time, in person visit, these interim measures plus a daily phone call fill in nicely. It is fun to be there and fine to leave as I never really feel too far away. As mom tackles Skype I am sorting out the intricacies of the video blog–watch for that here soon! I am imagining a Mom YouTube channel-you never know. All in all, I think technology has served mom and me very well. I promise to post a little clip of the two of us later this month!
Spring is here, but as usual, you could not prove that by a quick look out the window. Yes, the days are longer. Yes, the deep freeze has released a bit of it’s grip on night time temperatures. True– I have not seen the minus sign on the thermometer for a few weeks now, but it is still snowing, even if it melts more quickly. The real reason I hesitate about rejoicing for Spring’s arrival is that I have not yet seen a bear. The big black Mommas and Papas are still snoozing in their dens up here in the North Country. I can be sure of this because the trash is still in the can out on the porch. That’s right, in Northern New Hampshire, the real harbinger of spring is not the crocus or even the black flies, it is the sight of the remnants of my garbage strewn across the lawn.
I love winter and enjoy hunkering down before the fire or striding out for a forest walk over deep crisp snow, but Spring-you can have Spring. Black flies, black bears and mud are what we face and many of us hearty souls who laugh when the thermometer reads -30 and the snow tops our windowsills just give up and leave for the duration if we can. This year, as I have for the last four years, I will join family and friends for a week long camping trip to an ocean campground in Virginia that gives us a needed jump start on Summer. We relax, cook massive meals, and enjoy the 20+ year long tradition and blissfully warm weather. Yes, the natives think us nuts for strolling around in shorts and T-shirts in weather they believe hostile to their summer wardrobes, but we bask and inhale the scent of flowers and buds that will not yet arrive for us back home for many long weeks.
Spring is not here yet, but as I zip myself into a waterproof parka for my daily walk, I put my bear bells in the pocket, just in case. If you chance to be up here and out on the country roads and trails in Spring or Summer, and I do recommend that you visit, take along something to make some noise as you go. This warns the bears and gives them a chance to back away before a surprise confrontation. Here is a tip-you don’t really want to surprise any big, wild thing-moose, bear, whatever.
If you do-here is some advice to tuck away in the back of your brain. If it is a bear, back slowly away. Do not make sudden moves or noise and do not turn your back and run. OK, this may prove difficult, which is why I recommend the bear bells. If you surprise a moose however-do the opposite-run! Moose are not all that bright, so duck behind a tree. They may charge the tree, but won’t think to come around the other side to get you. Trees don’t work for bears-bears climb trees. So remember; bears-back away, moose-run and duck behind a tree. OK, you are now qualified for Spring in the North Country, sorry I missed you, I’m heading to Virginia for the duration.