Senior Living: Not For the Faint of Heart

Photo JC Birthday

She’s double booked herself again. Tomorrow’s day trip was her idea, so she shouldn’t miss it, but her hair appointment got rescheduled for the same day. She promised The Knockouts – her boxing partners – she wouldn’t skip a class, but now water aerobics is at the same time.

When you’re 92 years young with a busy schedule, it’s hard to fit everything into a day – especially when Happy Hours start at 4 p.m.! My mom is a wonder and a force to be reckoned with. Moving into a new senior residence has given her even more pep and vitality, something we didn’t even think was possible.

According to the International Council on Active Aging, in 2020 the number of people age 60 years and over passed the 1 billion mark for the first time ever. That relates to one in every seven people with a higher average disposable income and more time to enjoy life than previous generations.

Seniors are trending as the fastest growing demographic and sparking excitement as marketers rush to cater to this lucrative untapped market. There was a time when old age meant declining into inactivity. Now, these new customers don’t let age hold them back. Young at heart and in good physical health, their zest for life leads them to look for challenging experiences and embrace life to the fullest.

Mom recently returned from a trip to New York, St. Pete Beach and Disneyworld with my sister. October is already on the calendar for a family trip to Puerto Rico. Now, she’s focused on 2023 travel plans. She’s been in contact with a younger friend, while also helping a new friend train to be free of her walker. My guess is she’s grooming her to be her next cruise partner.

Every year on her birthday, we convince her to wear her birthday outfit: white dress, silver jewelry and, of course, silver birthday crown. She’s always said “When you’ve got it, flaunt it” and now is definitely no time to stop!

As the population matures around us, seniors bring with them a newfound determination to practice Carpe Diem – Latin for “seize the day.” They’ve demonstrated that older is now synonymous with wiser, optimism can benefit you as a lifestyle choice, and seizing the day can be accomplished with style, grace and swagger.

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Ask…and You Just May Receive

Photo Never Hurts to AskI I I can hear it now; the collective gasp from the Millennial population that live in JC’s* swanky building if they ever found out that JC has not had a rent increase since she moved there in 2016!

How, why, you ask? It involves just a five-word mantra that anyone can adopt:” It never hurts to ask!” Sure, you’re putting yourself “out there,” each time you take a chance and ask for something, but think of it as gambling with nothing to lose.

First, let’s concentrate on your demeanor and take a lesson from JC’s playbook. You need to dress for success. Looking your best will boost your confidence. Take a minute to take a deep breath and rationalize that your request is a fair and equitable one.

With a smile on your face and with your head tilted ever so slightly to either the left or right, look directly into the person’s eyes and ask your question. Then- and this is most important- do not say a word. At this point, silence is golden and is a game changer. It will seem like hours and you will want to blurt out a long explanation, but that minute or two will usually turn the awkward silence into a win for you.

This can also be adapted to phone conversations. Dress for success is still applicable. PJs just don’t give you the same performance level. Try standing up and smiling when you begin to speak and remember to stop talking.

Mr. Wiz,*a shining example of poise and self-assurance, has been preaching this refrain to me since we met. I’ve watched aghast as he negotiated a discount in a department store on a high-ticket item (I didn’t know that was even possible) and with a brief explanation, offered, what I thought to be, an insultingly low bid on our dream condo which was immediately accepted.

Shy at first, I began my training slowly:

  • In the grocery store, I asked if I could switch to an available brand of soup and still receive the sale price; it worked!

  • Now with a spring in my step, I walked into Dunkin’ Donuts and said since the gift card I had purchased for my boss had not been validated, I embarrassingly had to retrieve it and return to the store. The least they could do was treat Mr. Wiz and me to a complimentary breakfast. Five minutes later, we were enjoying their ham, egg and cheese sandwiches.

  • It was time to conquer the ultimate challenge. After some yoga deep breathing, I gathered myself together and called my credit card company. The concierge that had booked our high-speed train tickets had neglected to email the tickets to me at our hotel. We had no choice, but to go to the train station and pick them up, resulting in us missing out on a whole day of sightseeing. I felt we were justified to receive the expensive European train tickets at no charge; they agreed.

Practice makes perfect. With a little fortitude and a lot of moxie, you can change the course of your life, one simple question at a time. It never hurts to ask!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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Here’s to Life; All 190 Years of it!

Photo 190 Years

I would like to introduce you to two of my friends. At 95 years of age, they are each so full of energy and have such a zest for life, that I thought you would enjoy meeting them.

When she closes her eyes, she can still see herself singing with her sister, while her father accompanied them on the mandolin. She attributes her love of opera to her father, who would close his shoemaker business early on Saturdays to listen to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio.

After befriending the nuns at her local parish, she decided to enter the convent. She trained as a nurse and received her BSN and Masters in Nursing Administration. Tireless and fun loving, everyone knew her in the large hospital. She worked as a surgical nurse, pediatric nurse and in nursing administration, but her heart was always with the children.

Small in stature, but with a big personality, it is no wonder that when a travel agent friend of one of the nuns was looking for two sisters to accompany groups on pilgrimages to pray on the buses as they traveled from city to city, off she went to see the world.

With missions in Brooklyn, California, Chicago, Montreal and Seattle, she now makes her home in New York City where she lives with 24 other nuns in a senior residence that is near to her family. One of her favorite pastimes is sending weekly emails filled with jokes, interesting photos and stories to her large mailing list. Each time we speak on the phone I marvel at how she corrects me at least once, with details I had forgotten. She always makes me laugh.

He is one good storyteller. He had me on the edge of my seat as he regaled me with his naval adventures from World War II, recalling every detail as if it were yesterday. Stationed in Honolulu and Saipan, it was where he wasn’t sent that he still remembers all these years later. Drawing straws to see who would be headed to Iwo Jima was the only way his medical group could come to a decision. That he wasn’t chosen and lived to mourn his fellow corpsmen, who were all killed instantly as they approached the island, had a lasting effect on him.

After the war he attended college, proud of the 1937 Ford he had purchased that finally replaced his bicycle. He was content with his job as a high school teacher, but with a wife and a growing family, he couldn’t resist an offer from the Atomic Energy Commission that doubled his salary. Only when he remembered to use laymen’s terms was I able to follow his career from there to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Still trim and standing tall and straight, he attributes his independence and positive attitude (he’s survived three wives and two of his four children) to his naval career and does not let the fact that he has some vision issues deter him. Lately, he’s been thinking of becoming a motivational speaker in schools and connecting with the children.

If 85 is the new 95 and 70 is the new 80, etc., etc., then do the math and follow my friends’ advice: get out there and make the best of the time you have!

 

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Sweet (and Savory) Dreams

Photo Sweet and Savory Dreams Small

A little biscuit humor from Hot Box Biscuit Club

The story stuck in my head. Our new friends suggested that a group of us head over to Dahlia Café in Liberty Hill, Texas one Saturday night. Sitting out on the patio, drinking cold beer and listening to the live music, they told of how this restaurant came to be.

Whenever Debby Johnston passed the vacant building that once housed a florist shop, she’d wonder why someone hadn’t bought it, never thinking it would be her. One morning, she awoke and told her husband she had a dream that they bought it and became restauranteurs. The feeling was so strong that she convinced her husband to take a chance. As it turned out, the combination of their country cooking and a relaxed, downhome atmosphere was a success.

While in Fort Worth, Texas a few weeks ago, a visit to Taco Heads for lunch brought that story back to mind. Back home and not sure where her corporate background would lead her, it was a dream one night that motivated Sarah Castillo to develop the perfect tacqueria that would inspire a cult following.

Two jobs and two years later, she had saved enough to buy not just a food truck, but a unique custom trailer. Her mother provided the recipes and a friend introduced her to area bar owners, who agreed on the need for late night dining. Six years later, had her Uber driver not struck up a conversation with her, he may not have become her business partner and their two restaurants (with a third on the drawing board) may not have come to fruition.

With visions of tacos still dancing in my head from this incredible story, brunch the next day at Hot Box Biscuit Club had me taken aback. After dreaming about biscuits one night, you can guess what Sarah Houten had to do.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, the prestigious cooking school, she set out to create the perfect biscuit, then called her old friend, Matt Mobley. They had met years ago when he taught at Le Cordon Blue, the elite cooking school in Dallas, and she knew he was the one that could provide just the right accompaniments to take her biscuits to the next level. They collaborated on their favorite Southern recipes and soon their food truck gave way to a restaurant with lines out the door.

From pipe dream to reality; these women entrepreneurs were hungry to find their path in life. They listened to their inner voice, put their trust in their gut feeling and let intuition guide them. They dared to dream, but kept their eyes open and followed their destiny.

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Cowgirl Fascination: Annie Oakley

Photo Annie Oakley 1

Just under the wire, on the last day of 2019, I was able to squeeze in my goal of visiting the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas. There, I was introduced to Annie Oakley.

Born Phoebe Ann Moses in Ohio in 1860, Oakley’s father died when she was 6-years old. She was sent to live at the city poor house, but returned home as a teenager. She helped feed her family and eventually paid off their farm’s mortgage with her hunting skills, selling the excess to a local hotelier. When the hotelier set up a shooting contest between the fifteen-year old, five-foot tall Oakley and well-known marksman, Frank Butler, Oakley won, scoring 25 out of 25 shots. Smitten with her moxie, the two courted and eventually married, traveling together as a shooting act. When Butler realized it was Oakley the crowds wanted to see, he took a step back and became her manager. It is said the stage name Oakley came from the Cincinnati neighborhood they lived in.

They soon set their sights on becoming a part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. William F. Cody was a soldier, hunter and showman who turned his real life adventures into the first outdoor western show. Known for his foresight and business acumen, he was soon celebrated as one of the most famous Americans in the world. His use of press agents and poster advertising was innovative for the times. Realizing how essential Indians were to the shows, he paid them the same wages as the other performers. Their families traveled along with them and were encouraged to retain their language and rituals.

In 1885, Oakley auditioned and was hired on the spot. That year, she performed in 40 cities and then made a grand three year tour of Europe. In 1893 alone, the show performed for 6 million people and made a profit of $1 million. Patrons were fascinated with the ingenuity and efficiency behind the scenes as they were the show itself. Every night, the cast and staff of over 500 plus horses and buffaloes (along with grandstands and acres of canvas cover for the 20 thousand ticket holders) moved to the next town. Depending on the destination, they were housed in either walled tents or railroad sleeping cars. Three hot meals a day were served and their entourage even included its own fire department.

In a male dominated profession, Oakley was able to retain her femininity and become the most famous sharp shooter in American history. She was known for her ability to hit small size objects, such as a dime at 90 feet or the ash from a cigarette, once held in the lips of the Crown Prince of Germany. She headlined with the show for almost 20 years, retiring after a car accident. She still kept shooting even with the brace she wore due to a fractured hip and ankle, giving exhibitions, holding charity events and teaching women to shoot. The celebrity cowgirl died at age 66 and it is said that Frank died of a broken heart a few weeks later.

Photo Annie Oakley 2

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Heide Pitre: The Wink of an Artist’s Eye

Photo Pitre One Green Dot

“One Green Dot”: If you look closely, you’ll see it on her shirt

When Heidi Pitre’s Uncle Willy Willy Lump Lump suggested she draw freehand rather than trace pictures from the cover of a Charlie Brown book, the artist had no idea that his 5-year-old niece had such talent. All these years later, she can’t help but smile and wonder what he would think of her painting “One Green Dot” currently appearing on billboards across Austin. A winner of the latest Austin Art Boards Competition, her latest collection “Southern Peculiar” colorfully depicts heartwarming scenes of the South, presented with a lighthearted twist.

Pitre calls herself a narrative painter. She invents a story, creates a scene and then entices you to scrutinize it until you find your own ending. Her style is bold and realistic without being surreal, captivating you into taking yet another look to see if there was something you might have missed.

There’s no place better than New Orleans for a budding artist to grow up. Its eclectic music, cuisine, architecture and celebrations combined with the city’s freewheeling, creative spirit reassured her that a little bit of quirkiness and eccentricity was always welcome. At the University of New Orleans, she changed her major to Fine Arts, not sure how she would make a living, but determined to do so.

Once her daughters were on their own, Pitre decided it was finally time to dedicate herself to taking her career a step further. Utilizing her organizational skills and business acumen, she set out to learn the art business, established goals and never looked back. When fellow artists touted Austin for its opportunities, camaraderie and generous spirit, she packed up her moxie and made it her home.

While attending an art residency, her love of libraries and reading led her to inquire whether she could remove the old library cards from their books. Given the OK, her stack grew until one day she began to sketch artwork on the card. As Pitre explains “Each repurposed card is unique, with the artwork added to represent a pivotal moment or theme from the book or a play on words of the title. Retired from their first career, these once forgotten pieces of paper have started new lives as ambassadors for the books they once lived in” Now these new cards, complete with artwork, live around the world with private collectors or hang in galleries and exhibitions. Reproducing them has made them available to a wider audience and a book entitled “A Permanent Record” recounts their story.

EPSON MFP image

Always in search of the bizarre, she had no choice but to purchase some vintage flash cards she came across one day. In her newest collection, she sketches on the cards, her play on words mingling childhood innocence with adult humor.

Heidi Pitre has successfully honed her curiosity, sense of humor and artistic talents into a one- woman, avant-garde show of everything that will tickle you, inspire you and remind you to celebrate the long forgotten. See what she’s up to at heidipitre.com.

 

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M.O.M.: Mind Over Matter

Photo MOM

“…Ay, Juanita, Are you sure you want to use those scissors on your wedding dress?..” The year was 1950 and JC’s* new Latina mother-in-law couldn’t seem to convince her to change her mind. She was dead set on creating the perfect hostess robe. Back then, you dreamed of greeting guests as the movie stars did; in a cross between an evening formal and a bathrobe (realizing that the tent like sleeves were a fire hazard in the kitchen, this creation soon met its demise). A few crooked cuts later, the plan was scrapped in favor of an ice skating outfit and then a handkerchief. After a good laugh together, JC immediately let go of her disappointment and moved on.

Her resiliency, determination and independent spirit came at an early age. Her parents’ divorce had prepared her well. The independent little girl would cheerfully bloom wherever she was planted, whether it was with her eccentric aunt or her doting grandmother.

As a young woman, she would head to the top Manhattan dance clubs, sometimes alone. She had inherited her moxie from her mom, whose advice she would remember when heading home back to New Jersey late at night: always walk near the street, not the buildings. On her 21stbirthday, she met the handsome Latin from Manhattan (my dad) who swept her off her feet, even though her mom did not approve. She rode the ups and downs of all his dreams and schemes as if on a bucking bronco, holding on and never willing to let go.

To this day, JC does not like to be told what to do. When a physical therapist recently suggested a certain exercise three times a day, she nodded attentively and then decided that once was sufficient. When we scold her for not drinking enough water, she listens politely and then continues to hydrate with a few sips from a water fountain. Now it seems that even her doctor has acquiesced and stated that if she has made it so healthy and happy thus far, she should just continue to do whatever she’s been doing.

But, this does not stop the perfectionist in me from trying to bring her over to the dark side and share my passion for organization. She probably does not refer to the Excel spreadsheet I made for her entitled “Travel Checklist” and encased in plastic, but I feel better just knowing it lurks somewhere in her bottom drawer. The last time we traveled together, I asked her where the  blow up travel neck pillow and eye mask I bought her were. Surprised by the question, she answered “…Home…,” as if it was the most logical answer. Both in travel and in life, she prefers the lighter approach.

In honor of Mother’s Day this year, I am going to try to limit my strong desire to rearrange her drawers when I visit (spice and desk will be the hardest). I will not straighten one picture on the wall or strongly suggest anything. In order to keep myself in check, I will institute a homemade  internal warning system (a hard pinch should work). What better gift than the one that keeps on giving?

The mother/daughter relationship can sometimes be a wobbly balance. Keeping in mind the yin and yang of it all, I realize that I need to let her stand on her own two feet and get out of her way, just as she did for me.

Arm in arm with curiosity and spunk, JC confidently continues to go her merry way, skipping through life and reminding me every day how important it is to follow your own path and to dance to your own music.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Love, Malia Rae, Heartist

Photo Malia 2

“The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” WB Yeates

Discovering hearts all-around her; it’s not the thread that Malia Rae intentionally set out to weave through her life, but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. A formally educated photographer, she was led on a different course than her original plan.

For years, Rae called Chicago, Illinois, her home. The cold weather never ruined her sunny disposition until it intermingled with a love lost. She sought refuge in Austin, Texas, when friends opened their arms to her.

Perhaps her transformation could have happened in any city, but there is that vibe in Austin that seems to make it distinctive from other places; it’s so welcoming, approachable, artsy and cool (even when the temperature spikes). This weird, wonderful city seemed like a different country altogether to her and she blossomed there.

This was the point where that one decision would impact her for years to come. Head held high, would she let her spirit soar, follow that inner voice, explore the unknown and start anew? Resilience won out over complacency and she buoyantly embarked on a mission to heal herself.

What you look for in life, you find; Rae says she remembers the concept struck a deep cord within her and she set out on a search as if her life depended on it. Drawn to nature, she would spend hours exploring. Three months later, she was still waking at sunrise, exploring beaches and walking in the woods. Then it happened; a rock, a leaf, a cloud – all in the shape of a heart. For a moment she wondered; had they always been in plain sight or were they figments of her imagination? Luckily, her ever present companion, her camera, was there to serve as her witness.

As she so poignantly explains it: “…Eventually, nature responded to my desperate calls with an abundance of love, manifesting itself in the symbolic shape of a heart. I find it fascinating that the obstacles in our path can be fuel for the gift that we give back to the world. In this work, I am learning to turn betrayal into trust, mold heartbreak into love, and transmute depression into passion and purpose. In my quest, I have also found that I am not alone. In my art, and in my life, I want to create a connection with other hearts and share the love…”

Cultivated from the depths of her soul-searching journey, it’s easy to see why her company, My SoulTribe, resonates with anyone that it touches; a tear, a smile, a sigh being the ultimate compliment. Was Mother Nature waiting for her all along? Or, did those hearts magically appear as a reminder of the power of tenderness, affection and devotion? No two are alike, yet they share the ability in making you feel as if someone is wrapping their arms around you.

You will still find Rae up at sunrise, searching nature for more signs of abounding love. Her journey continues as each message revitalizes her. During a recent trip to Michigan, she couldn’t help but smile when she happened to glance at the hearts on the Virginia license plate of her rental car plate that read “…Virginia is for Lovers…”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photo Malia 1

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Mom, Moxie and Mother’s Day

Photo My Moxie Mom

When she was just 9 years old, she would awaken on her own, early Sunday mornings, dress in her best dress, grab the coins off the kitchen table that her mother had left for her and set out. Sometimes she would hop on 1 foot, hopscotch or skip all the way there. She’d attend church on her own and then stop at the local bakery to buy some buns for the family. The wonderful smell would propel her home and she’d run all the way, hoping to arrive while they were still warm and looking forward to the first bite and the jelly oozing down her chin.

One of the things that I love about JC* is her independent spirit. All her life, she’s never let the fact that she might have to venture out into the world solo stop her. It’s that sparkle in her eyes and that spring in her step that you first notice. This is probably the reason why the Austin bus drivers greet her by name as she boards and why she was selected out of the audience to be a part of the show at a Blue Man Group performance. When traveling alone on a group tour, she will tell you that at meal time, she first peruses the dining room and chooses the table with the most people laughing. This has led to wonderful friendships with women as far away as Australia.

Arm in arm with curiosity and spunk, she confidently heads into the unknown, the more unfamiliar, the better. She’s fun to be with and whether we are shopping for just the right earrings or exploring someplace new that she has discovered, she has the uncanny ability to make even the smallest experience exciting.

Her energy amazes me. It always makes me laugh when I ask her what she did on days that we aren’t together. She’ll start out by saying “…Not much…,” then rattle off a schedule that would warrant wheels being added to your daily planner. In recent years, thanks to her, I have mastered the flamenco, the Texas Two Step and line dancing. And just as I arrive home and am putting my dance shoes away, I can look forward to a text asking me if I want to join her on another adventure.

Her next foray is into the animal kingdom. She is now officially a volunteer at Austin Pets Alive. And while she is exerting her never-ending zest for life, there may be just enough time for me to take a nap before we’re off again together.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Made in Manhattan

Photo Made Manhattan

Every Monday morning, she would greet us, walking fast and out of breath, her soft, Gucci leather carry-on swinging from her shoulder, her long, perfect hair swaying back and forth, her designer outfits perfectly accessorized. As she gracefully moved past us and flashed her “million dollar” smile, we would all take a deep breath in unison and inhale her expensive perfume.

We were fresh out of high school, still carrying the baby fat that once made us cute, and now akwardly settling in as college freshmen in New York City, hanging on to the promise that one day we would be career women.

It was rumored that she would jet in on her older boyfriend’s plane each Monday. She was an ex Ford model (then again, are you ever really an ex Ford model?) who was hired to mold us into confident, well-dressed, women of the world. I wondered if she realized just what a challenge she had in front of her.

We were given an appointment time and one by one, would meet with her for private consultations. Before my first meeting, I was taken aback when the door burst open and Callie, a beautiful blonde student from Texas, dramatically announced to us all in her Southern drawl that she had to call her Daddy immediately to tell him that an allowance increase was necessary, now having to trade in her white mink coat, knee socks and plaid skirts for a whole new business wardrobe.

My stomach churned (as it always did when I was nervous) as I shut the door, smiled faintly and sat across from her. She greeted me and started right in, suggesting make up products that were soon to be introduced (what other undercover information were ex Ford models privy to?) and what styles and colors to wear. She showed me how to pull back my long hair into a bun and suggested that I buy a braid and wrap it around the bun for a more polished look. She stifled a laugh when she tactfully suggested some exercises for me to do and I naively replied “…Do them now?..” Yes, I was her style starved puppet and would have dropped down and “given her 50” in a heartbeat.

One by one, we were all transfixed by her and happily settled into our new existences, leaving telltale signs all-around us. To the dismay of the posh deli owner down the street, we said goodbye to his famous roast beef sandwiches for lunch and instead “feasted” on her favorite brand of yogurt. We all ate with demitasse spoons and cocktail forks (hers were sterling silver), her secret for eating slower. We stayed up late to re polish our nails, so we were perfectly color coordinated the next day. We took extra time to dress and make up. We learned how to walk and carry ourselves properly. We were invited to attend social functions in order to practice the art of small talk and learn how to be a good listener. We were taught the social graces and how important manners were.

As it turned out that finishing school instruction was just as important as our formal education. When do you get the opportunity to just stand there and be constructively critiqued from head to toe? Just as in the military, it was a form of breaking us down and rebuilding us from the bottom up, in order to make us the best we could be.

I still think about her. I wonder if she knew just how important she was to the lives of us young girls. She taught us that if you look the part, you are the part. She transformed us from insecure, plain janes to confident, chic women. She was my first role model and all these years later, after I carefully dress and check my nail polish, I raise my cocktail fork to her and say a silent “thank you” from the bottom of my style conscious heart.