Archive for August, 2009

Trends for Grown-ups

Thursday, August 27th, 2009 © by Susan Swartz

Despite Boomer evidence to the contrary, some people, mostly marketing specialists, still contend that after youth, people become stuck. They cling to the familiar. They don’t change toothpastes or cereal. They avoid anything new. But that is so last century, back before the likes of Facebook, iPhones, Twitter and …let me add, Zumba.

Earlier this year came the report that women age 55 and over make up the fastest growing user population on Facebook which made people like me want to give a high-five for being so “in.” Or did our joining mean Facebook was fading? Oh no. Boomers on board. Trend over. But, Facebook still thrives, as a homey blend of young people and aging groupies, kind of like a Bruce Springsteen audience.

It took me a while to sign up. Posting about your everyday life and aimless thoughts seemed so self-absorbed. But who was I kidding. I’m a columnist and a blogger. I’m already self-absorbed. Okay, but I am holding the line at Tweeting although I just read that Twitter, too, is being taken over by grown-ups.

For me joining Facebook was like going to a high school reunion, hooking up with old friends and getting to see what they look like after all these years. I’ve reconnected now with friends from high school and college days but my big score is finding a grade school friend from Hamden, Conn. who remembers stories about my family and the name of my first dog. She and I have now moved off Facebook into regular email so we can have more privacy. And we’ve even advanced to talking on the telephone.

Facebook is also a way of staying connected to popular culture. Not everyone thinks that is vital. Leave these new devices to the young, they say. But even if you don’t invest time and money in the latest trend or social networking gadget, don’t you want to be aware of them? At least enough to get the references in New Yorker cartoons.

One thing we’ve happily proven in all this is that technology is our world too. You don’t have to have a young brain or know how to type with your thumbs to play. If you can figure out how to reserve a library book online, you can Facebook.

And if you ever did Jazzercise you can Zumba. I know that’s a leap but trying out new moves is another way of keeping up.

We don’t want to be rhythmically challenged anymore than we want to be technically locked out.

Just as with Facebook, I came late to Zumba, the workout craze that combines Latin and African dance steps with good old aerobic moves. But I like the idea of mambo in the morning and the music alone makes you sweat. All body types and ages are welcome, at least at my gym, although there are definite differences in skill level.

The enthusiastic bodies in the front row are so sleek and agile they could be dancing on a table top in Rio with roses in their teeth. The rest of us are happy just to know our shimmy still works.

Don’t Mess with the Grandmas

Thursday, August 20th, 2009 © by Susan Swartz

I’d like to speak for the grandma camp, the people some fear will be doomed if the president and health reformers have their way. Which grandmas are they trying to scare? Are the fear-mongers so out of the loop they don’t know anything about today’s grandmothers? Grandmas have come a long way since the old Saturday Evening Post Norman Rockwell image, although despite their sweet smiles and homey aprons, I doubt even they would have let anyone push them around.

The modern day grandmas I know, including myself, do not scare easily. President Obama understands the value of grandmas. In dispelling this notion about death panels he spoke of his own grandmother who helped raise him. Does anyone really think that he became president so he could pull the plug on grandmas?

Remember too, that he’s got a grandmother at home right now, his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, who put her career on hold to help run the household so Barack and Michelle can do their jobs. You think this man is going to mess with grandmas?

The grandmothers I know are much more into living than dying. They tango dance, move to Mexico to teach English, go sea kayaking and run marathons, not to mention their own businesses. And, like grandmas always have, they find time to help raise their kids’ kids.

They have lived their lives as independent take-charge women, but they are also realists and know they won’t live forever. They’re not squeamish about discussing end-of-life decisions. They don’t worry about someone pulling the plug. Rather, they worry about someone some day putting in the plug when there’s no earthly reason to keep them going.

As for advance health directives or living wills, which some have twisted into a death panel, many grandmas are already doing it for themselves.

We realized long before the cruel circus that gathered around Terry Schiavo back in the George W. years that you don’t want religion, politics or family grandstanding their beliefs if you become a long-gone human in a vegetative body. You want your desires written down.

Our family doctor talked to my husband and me about filling out a durable power of attorney for health care the same time she urged us to get a colonoscopy. She didn’t insist on either but suggested that after age 50, both are unwise to ignore.

I am grateful for the part in my directive that says I intend to control my own medical care and if I can’t, it will be up to those who love me most and who understand my wishes. It states that I prefer to die at home and please spare me any futile medical treatment.

Some people would choose a different way. But for me having an end of life understanding feels empowering, like signing the organ donation form so that if I get hit by a bus and there’s anything left the hospital can give my cornea or kidneys to someone who can use them.

I was relieved when the president finally talked back to the ghouls and said their death panel scare tactic was “simply dishonest.” If that’s the best argument they have they’re pitching to the wrong crowd. You can’t pull the pashmina over our eyes.

Grandmas are too tough to be victimized and too busy to be targets. Do you think we spend every morning at the gym and popping fish oil to let someone off us at their convenience? Besides, trying to scare a population of aging boomers, on the cusp of Medicare, who will remain the loudest and most powerful generation for years to come, is not only insulting but politically stupid.

And one more bit of grandmotherly advice. If you look ugly and tell lies and keep interrupting with your tantrums you’re going to end up on YouTube and your face will freeze like that.

Learning to Love the Brown

Thursday, August 6th, 2009 © by Susan Swartz

We hear it every summer from visitors. “Why is it so brown here?” they ask, especially the ones who come from green summer places. They ask it almost accusingly, like there’s been a mistake. They point to the California hills as if we hadn’t noticed that they are not the standard color for the season.

The answer is that brown is our summer color. Our summers are dry. Nobody’s walking through our hills with a watering can. It doesn’t rain here like it does in the green summer places. If they want a green California they should come back in late winter or early spring, when their home ground is still hard and frozen and we are so green we squeak.

I sympathize. I grew up in places with humid green summers and for a long time the California brown looked alien. Wild west and untamed. Naked and brazen. And I can still get a longing for a leafy dripping landscape and extravagant rolling lawns. I came across a newspaper photo of a summer scene of upstate New York that was so drenched and verdant I wanted to do a scratch and sniff.

But I’m a Californian. This is my chosen turf. And in summer I accept that brown is our green.

My California daughter tells her frowning New York friends to think of the summer color as golden if brown turns them off. Golden sounds more lively and cheerful but there are ways to spin brown. The hills of summer look like a nice baguette. They are the shade of a rich café au lait. How about, the color of a used saddle? Or an old rumpled corduroy jacket?

I once described the California summer hills as looking like teddy bear tummies. Fuzzy brown and soft. Of course, they appear more soft than they actually are. Get up close and those grasses are prickly. Alive with slithery creatures. Dogs run through and come home full of foxtails. And there’s always a worry about fire because they look like they’re already half-scorched.

In summer, brown is our green

Last week I drove with friends through the dry back country to a party at a sheep farm in Petaluma. That all-beige backdrop makes it so much better to see stands of black cows and wild turkeys and the neon bright jerseys from a steady stream of bicyclists.

The party, a fundraiser for the upcoming Sonoma County Book Festival which happens on Sept. 19, was one of many summer celebrations of the good stuff that grows up and over and all around these hills. Author Jonah Raskin read from his new book “Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California.” We got dust in our sandals and ate all-local ratatouille and goat cheese pizza with syrupy sun-gold tomatoes.

As we drove home the fog started to come in. Visitors often don’t appreciate our fog either. How comes the nights are so cold, they grumble. The fog is our natural misting machine. And sometimes when the sun is dropping away and the fog is sliding in, those hills don’t look all that brown. They look kind of, well… some might call them mauve.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Pereira