IN CELEBRATION OF BIRTHDAYS

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IN CELEBRATION OF BIRTHDAYS

When we were kids, our parents always celebrated our birthdays.  Up until at least age 18 while we lived at home, Mom would be sure to make a cake of our choice, a special meal—again, our choice, and at least one small gift.

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When we turned ten, each of us got to have a full-on party, complete with gift-bearing friends invited.  Just one big party, and it was enough.  We anticipated the big decade mark for the party we would get to have in our honor.

Our younger brother was born on Christmas Eve.  Mom always made sure to observe his birthday that day, but she would sometimes plan a celebration later in the year–I remember one in July–so that his birthday would not be overshadowed by the holiday.

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I’m going to put it right out there:  I am having a birthday this week, and I am so excited.  I always get excited about my birthday.  I know it’s because our parents celebrated the day we arrived on the earth, into our family.  As an adult, Mom would call me at 4:15 p.m. on my birthday, the exact minute I was born.

This year, I am completing my 53rd trip around the sun, and I am not one bit ashamed to admit that.  Then, the day after my birthday, I will embark on my 54th sojourn, as time will not stand still to ask me if, perhaps, I’d like to take a little respite.   I embrace and welcome the opportunity to keep traveling.

Gail and Suzanne are on the same page with me.  We all agree birthdays are to be proclaimed, noticed and celebrated.  They do it for theirs, so I am taking pride in telling the world IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!img_20180414_151600003.jpg

Here I go again.  I’ve been up on this soapbox several times before, and I am getting back up on this perch again to tell you yet one more time:

AGE IS A GIFT.  Which is why I celebrate.  The old joke about how it’s better than the alternative is trite, but true, at least for those we celebrate with on earth.  Last week, however, I wrote about what lies beyond this plane, and all three of us agree it is something way better than this. So, technically, we don’t really believe birthdays are better than the alternative.  Again, as the country song says, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to go right now…”

Age is a gift to be unwrapped and enjoyed, just like any other gift.  Just as it would be an insult to the giver to complain about a material gift, it is an insult to the Giver to complain about being given another year.

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This board was posted on the wall in the employee area of one of the long-term care facilities I travel to, with anyone welcome to comment.  

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I meet some incredible people in my work as a speech therapist in health care.  I have honored some of them in the past by printing their wisdom, and, just in time for my birthday post, I met another one last week.  She will soon be 90 years old.  She lives alone, independently, as she has for years.

“I can’t wait to be 90.  I know some incredible people who are already there, and I can’t wait to join them,” she said.

If I feel it is appropriate, I often ask these elders what their secrets are to aging successfully.  Clearly, it was appropriate to ask her this question.

I’m continuing to be me.  I’m not allowing age to change me.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been discouraged.  I don’t let things get me down.  I can’t change getting old.  What am I gonna do?  Sit in a chair and rock away?”

As final words of wisdom, she offered this: “If you haven’t done what you want to do, do it now.  As soon as you can.”

We’ll call her “Ruby.”  She is a gem indeed.  I could tell you about the unique and interesting hobbies she still engages in, but that may very well be a HIPPA violation, as they may identify her due to her uniqueness.

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I decided several years ago that the best gift I get each year is from Mother Nature.   Just in time for my birthday, she typically gets the verdant green on the ground, and the leaves hung on the trees.  All for me.

Several years ago, she didn’t quite make it in time. My gift arrived a little late.  This year, however, it appears she is going to deliver in time.

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The Bradford Pear trees are in full bloom in our neighbor’s yard.

Mother Nature and Father Time have become my allies; I no longer try to fight them.  It’s pointless.  I have struggled more with Mother Nature lately; perhaps I need—yet again—to try to take Gail’s advice from last week about savoring whatever weather she brings.  Western Kansas got a spring blizzard last week; Gail’s small town shut down school and some other community operations.  The next day, the snow was gone.

Father Time, on the other hand, is now my friend.  I used to despise him for bringing another hash mark on my birthday tally, but I am old and wise enough to now know that every year, every month and week, every moment of every day is a gift.

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I always have, and still do—for the most part—think that women need to embrace the lines and wrinkles that age brings.  They are typically hard-earned and well deserved.  Surgery and expensive cosmetic treatments and procedures are a form of denial, and simply embracing the change is the healthiest and most natural thing to do.

That is, of course, until it is my face showing the age.

Last week, I looked in the mirror, and just like that, seemingly overnight, I had jowls.  I wasn’t even sure that was the right word; I hadn’t paid much attention because I really hadn’t cared until now.  I looked it up—being the word nerd I am—and sure enough, indeed they were jowls, arriving just in time for my 53rd birthday.

This rude awakening coincided with my haircut appointment.  I had a few minutes to read her magazines before it was my turn, and I picked up a popular magazine from a few months ago that highlighted the fads of 2018.

I’m not one to jump on any bandwagon, so I had never even heard of a jade roller.  There it was, being debated as useful vs. useless to tighten and shape skin on one’s face.

This interested me more than a little bit.  Some of the work I do—including some I did just yesterday—involves exercising and tightening facial muscles after a stroke.  The gentleman I saw had a recent stroke, and his left side was weak, including his lips and facial muscles.  He was losing liquid out of the corner of his mouth, and this becomes a functional problem that I treat.

So I did.

Knowing the value of stimulating facial muscles, I continued to research the jade roller.  Apparently, jade has been used for centuries for its seemingly magical healing qualities.  The jury appears to be out, but from my professional experience, this type of stimulation may be worth considering.

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I don’t need a party or widespread attention on my birthday.  I’m still getting a lot of mileage from the 50th birthday party three years ago.  It’s not too early to begin planning for Gail’s 60th, which will be in just ten short months.  Suzanne will have a big one in 16 months, and we will certainly blow the roof off for both of those.

I do have one request for a gift from you:  Please celebrate your own birthday.  If you don’t think it’s important, then you have some work to do.  Start by figuring out where that crazy idea came from, and work to change that.  Observing the day you arrived on earth is not ever to be dismissed as unimportant.

If “Ruby” is going to celebrate her 90th birthday, you’d better celebrate yours, too, no matter how old you are.

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I don’t have grand plans for my birthday, but I do plan to do what I please—for the most part.  Perhaps a dinner with my family, perhaps soaking up some rays that Mother Nature is predicted to deliver that day, reading, napping and even a little work—if I have to.

These freedoms to do my thing are the best gifts of all—along with Mother’s Nature’s touch outdoors.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I haven’t treated myself to a few goodies as well.  I don’t really need anything, but I indulged a few small wants.

The wants include the jade roller.  I don’t need it, but I am curious.  Plus, it was only 12.97 on Amazon…I will give you my product review in time.  Until then, I will do my best to embrace the jowls, and all the other gifts that age brings.

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Happy Birthday to my birthday buddies:  Charlie— a college friend born on the same day in the same year; Lois—a former co-worker, my new friend Glenda, and Libby—one day before me, a former co-worker as well.  My cousin Theresa celebrates one day before as well.  Happy Birthday today–Sunday– to Tammy.  Happy Birthday to my sister-in-law Melissa; she celebrates on tax day.  Happy Birthday too to Nesha; she lives in my small city now, having been born one day after me in the same hospital.  We were buddies in the hospital nursery.  My niece celebrates two days later, and so does my friend Nicole.

Whenever your birthday happens to be, Happy Birthday to you, too.

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AGE IS A GIFT

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AGE IS A GIFT

This post is dedicated to those women and men who struggle every day to age with relative ease due to illness, injury, chronic and disabling pain, physical and/or mental struggles, and the myriad other reasons why aging is difficult. Keep on fighting the fight, and may you find peaceful, pain-free independence to live your life as you desire.   For anyone who doesn’t fit that group—and we all know which group we fit in, this post is meant to make you think twice before you complain about your age…

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Discover a newfound sense of youth!

Feel younger than you did yesterday!

Gain a greater appreciation for your amazing human body!

Embrace your age, no matter what it is!

**Ask me how—I have the easiest way to achieve all this, and more!**

Here’s how:  Spend the afternoon visiting a nursing home, or perhaps the rehabilitation unit of a large hospital.  You will most likely see residents/patients there younger than you.  If these are not options, simply sit in a neurologist’s waiting room for a few hours.  Or, perhaps, visit a children’s hospital.

Guaranteed to deliver, or your money back.  Give it a try!

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I will give you exactly one reprieve if you have no reason to do so, yet I hear you complaining about your age, because I used to complain about mine, too.  That is, until shortly after my 40th birthday.  I was working in a larger regional hospital, and I was lamenting this new decade I had just entered into.  Then, I received an order to see a new patient.  She had had a stroke.  At age 39.  Shortly after she delivered her fifth child.  She lost most of the function on her right side.  She was right handed.

I never complained again after that.

Shortly after my 50th birthday, while I fully embraced it—complete with a big party–and did not complain even once, I was sent a reminder:  a man just a few months younger that me with ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease—became my patient.  He died a few months later.  I was not able to help him much, if at all.

My heart still breaks for his family.  He was only 50 years old.

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”The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.”  –Frank Lloyd Wright

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I met a woman this week who is struggling with yet another physical setback.  She already had a long medical history.  She became my patient when she went home from the hospital, trying to return to some semblance of her former life.  She has a young child.  She was independent, working; able to take care of herself and her child.  She may no longer be able to live without help and support.  She is not yet 50 years old.  She laughed and made jokes, and she spoke of the power of positive thinking.

She gave me more than I gave her.  This sometimes happens with my work.

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“Don’t try to be young.  Just open your mind.  Stay interested in stuff.  There are so many things I won’t live long enough to find out about, but I’m still curious about them.”  –Betty White, age 96.

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Our mom would have been 82 years old last week.  I had grand intentions of celebrating her birthday with a shopping trip—just like we used to do with her when she was here—but duty called, so I didn’t plan anything.  Duty was superseded by the weather on Tuesday, and I ended up not going anywhere.  In time, I will find a fitting way to observe her day.

Gail will celebrate her birthday next month.  She will be 59 this year, and she is already anticipating an even bigger celebration next year for her 60th.  She had a grand celebration for her 50th, but Suzanne and I weren’t able to join her because of a snowstorm.

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Suzanne will turn 50 next year, so it will be a year of celebrations.

I had a grand celebration almost three years ago for my 50th.  Along with my stepson and  Amy (Stars and Stripes and Sisters Forever, July 6th), my husband feted us with a 30-40-50 party.  In just 7 more years, we will be preparing for a 40-50-60 party.

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Birthdays are important observations of the day you arrived on this earth.  They should always be celebrated–never feared or ignored.

In my work as a speech therapist, I see many strokes.  In the most severe, there are sometimes no words, no ability to speak.  The ability to formulate words or phrases is attempted, but unsuccessful.  In order to get speech flowing in any manner at all, I often engage the patient in a singing exercise, as singing is often relatively preserved.  The song I always start with, because everyone is familiar with it, is “Happy Birthday to You!”

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Aging in an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.”  –David Bowie, who died three years ago at age 69.

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In “The Magnificent Seven” (November 11th, 2018), I wrote about six incredible sisters who take incredible annual trips together.  The youngest sister Shari will turn 50 in a few weeks.  She is enjoying a grand birthday celebration on the grand, beautiful island of Grenada.

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Happy Birthday Shari—life begins at 50, or whatever age you decide to live life to the fullest.  Coincidentally, her oldest sister is celebrating her birthday today, Sunday, January 27th.  Happy Birthday Joyce!

Four other people I know are also celebrating a birthday today:  Happy Birthday to our neighbor Dan, and his daughter Ariana, our friend Lonnie, and our brother-in-law Jerry.

A former patient of mine will be celebrating a Big Birthday next month.  She is a world traveler, and in honor of this big day, she and her family are taking a trip to another beautiful island. She struggles to make it all work after her stroke, but she keeps on trying, and she keeps getting better every day.

May all of you enjoy a grand birthday celebration, and if you weren’t already, I hope you are living life to the fullest.

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“Do not regret growing older.  It is a privilege denied to many.”  –Author unknown.

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Every year brings 365 sunrises and sunsets, just like the ones I captured close to my home this weekend.  The more of these you get to see, the luckier you are.

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Kansas is known for our beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  And speaking of our home state, it will celebrate its 158th birthday on Tuesday, January 29th.  So, if you see me wearing my gaudy sunflower pin this Tuesday, you will be expected to recall that it is in honor of Kansas’s birthday.

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Happy Birthday Kansas!

We quietly observed Mom’s birthday last week, and we will observe Gail’s next month with–hopefully–a lot of noise.

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May we all embrace aging as gracefully as Gail does, and may we all age with as much wisdom, love and peace as Mom did.

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“He who dies with the most birthdays wins.”  —My friend Kelly, who turned 57 last week.

 

 

THE SISTER’S GUIDE TO MIDDLE-AGING

 

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THE SISTER’S GUIDE TO MIDDLE-AGING

“Do not regret growing older.  It is a privilege denied to many.”    Anonymous

The irony is that apparently, I had a really good memory in college.  At least, that’s what my former roommate Denise says.  I don’t remember having a good memory.

So, when I called her Friday to wish her a happy birthday, I didn’t realize it until she answered:  “Dang!  I did it again!” I realized as she said hello.  “It’s NOT today!  It’s, its…tomorrow?”   I asked her.

“It’s Sunday, you silly girl!” she replied.  I always think it’s the 16th, but it’s the 18th.   Every year.  Has been since I met her in 1984.  That’s 34 years ago, 34 years to practice remembering that her birthday is March 18th, not March 16th.  But I keep forgetting.

She claims I used to have a stellar memory.  You could remember everything!”   I like to think she remembers accurately.  Her own memory, she tells me after the birthday greeting on the phone, suffers too.

“I have to write everything down,” she says.   People are so impressed with what appears to be my good memory now. ‘You have such a good memory,’ they say.  But I tell them it’s all here on these sticky notes.  That’s the only way I can remember.”

We lamented that, initially, the actual process of having children seems to drain a woman’s brain, then the day-to-day process through the years of having children continues the slow, but sure drain.  We both gave birth twice, both were the busy mothers, and now, as we both turn 52 just a month apart, we like to think we’ve got the upper hand again:  we simply realize the secret to a good memory–we have to write it down.

If only all other aspects of aging could be hacked so easily.

Denise was kind enough to dig up some old pictures of us from our college days, the days of youth and invincibility.  The days when our hair was still one color.  For me, the days of the gap teeth.  Age has many benefits.  It worked my teeth together.  This one was taken at a formal we both attended in 1986.

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Because I have not yet figured out a shorter way, I take pictures from a text, copy them privately to Facebook, copy them to my desktop, then copy them over to my blog.

Interestingly, when I posted this to Facebook, even though it tried with the boxes around our faces, Facebook couldn’t identify us.  Apparently we have changed.

About 12 years ago, we ran into each other at a water park. We lived about 100 miles apart, and both of us decided to take our kids here to this park that was right between our homes.

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It is fitting that I can’t remember where this next picture came from, but it was taken with Suzanne, and it was within the last several years.  It popped up in the series of pictures we had texted to each other on my phone.

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When I was preparing to turn 40, I was whiny and full of dread.  Ugh.  40.  It was a dark, empty place that loomed straight ahead; no detour.

Then, I got the kick in the pants I needed:  I was called to see a 39 year-old woman  for speech therapy.  She had just had her 6th child, had a massive stroke and lost function on her dominant side.   She did regain some function, and was able to return home with her family.

Since I met her, I have never complained about my age again.  Every time I even consider it, I remember her, and I remember my good health.

Apparently, I needed yet another reminder that, as a healthy human being, I have absolutely zero room to complain about age.  Shortly after I turned 50 almost two years ago—and I don’t remember complaining about it, I was called to see a man just a few months younger than me with a diagnosis of ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease.  He passed away shortly after his 50th birthday.   My heart still breaks for his family.

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I never shy away from giving my age.  I am proud to be whatever age I am, which is currently 51.

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One of my favorite coffee cups; a birthday gift from a dear friend. Life is good.

I have a friend who wasn’t entirely honest with me about her age when she first told me.  She claims she didn’t lie about it, I say she did.  She says she simply didn’t state the truth completely.  She didn’t give me a number, she said something vague like “I’m your age.”  She is almost exactly one year older.  I recently asked her why she did that; I can ask her honest questions and expect honest answers.  “Because I didn’t look my age,” she replied.  I have done what I can to convince her that age is truly a gift, and we should never hide it.

Another friend, whom I’ve known for over ten years, refuses to tell me—and likely many other people—exactly how old she is.  Even though her birthday is just two days after mine, and some years we actually have a birthday lunch together, I am not privy to this information.  I recently asked her why she refuses to state her age.

“Because everyone pays too much attention to a number.  We assign certain things to people based only upon their age, and that’s just not right,” she replied.

I cannot fully disagree.  I recall in my Introduction to Sociology class at age 18, the instructor—who has since become my favorite professor, teaching my favorite subject, pointed out this fact:  “Most of us, when we scan the obits, look for the age.  It tells us if it’s okay if they died.” For many years, I have scanned the obits in my daily paper first to see if any of my former patients are there—many times they are, and then I look at ages.  I must acknowledge that I consider that a factor in the level of attention I pay to their particular obit.

But what is that magic age when it becomes okay to pass away?  I know for me, it used to be a whole lot younger than what it is now.  As I age, that number keeps getting bigger.

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Since this is the Sister’s Guide to Middle-aging, I went to Gail and Suzanne for their advice.

Suzanne, who is 47, may not have quite as many years of wisdom Gail and I have, but she has life experience beyond Gail’s and mine:  she is a cancer survivor.  When I asked her for her advice, she gave me two pieces, and they are golden:

“Never dread or regret another birthday.  Be glad you are still having them.”

“Don’t worry.  Worry steals your time.”

Words of wisdom from an expert.

She adds:  “Worrying is actually praying for what you don’t want.  So don’t do it!”

Thank you, Suzanne.

Now, to Gail, at age 58.  Given that she never has been a worrier, she gave advice that is more practical, and its importance became crystal-clear to her just this week:

“Slow down. Your body is slowing down, so slow down with it.”

Gail, the multi-tasking workhorse, took a spill on her back step last week.  She was carrying in eight bags of groceries, moving along at a fast clip.  She likely had somewhere she needed to be in order to get some work done, so she decided to do it all in one trip, and what a trip it was:  the eight bags spilled all over the floor as she was halfway in the house, but that’s not the worst of it:  she twisted her ankle like never before, hurt her leg and hip, and ended up in considerable pain, bruised, battered and in need of her boss’s care (the chiropractor).

She is bouncing back; she always does.  I asked her (in jest) if she thought ahead to take a picture of the mess on the kitchen floor for this week’s post, but she said she didn’t.  She was willing to stage one, but you get the idea…

Gail, in my estimation, may try to slow down, but will have greater difficulty doing so than, say, me. I move fast because I have overscheduled myself, and I hate it.  She, however, loves it.  Having a lot to do is her normal mode.

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I do, however, use the slow down advice with my patients.  About half of the work I do as a speech therapist with the adult population is to address swallowing problems.   Many people are sent to me because they are coughing and choking more when they swallow for no apparent reason.  Often this problem is caused by a stroke, head injury, Parkinson’s disease or some other attributable cause, but often, it’s not.

I have “cured” many swallow problems first observing a patient eating and drinking, and diagnosing them with “you’re eating too fast.”  Most people, myself included, eat quicker than what we should.  We don’t take small bites, chew them thoroughly, savoring the taste and the texture before we swallow them.  We gulp, we wolf; scarf our food.  And most of us can get away with it.   Until we can’t.

As the body slows down with age, the swallow process slows down, too.  Simply increasing one’s awareness of this quick intake, then taking conscious steps to slow it down can be the difference between coughing and choking, and a quiet swallow.  Everyone knows what it means to clog the drain, and I use this analogy.  Our drains don’t drain as fast, and we must respect that slowdown.

It would behoove all of us to start taking this advice now, even if you are not having any problems.  Given that about 95% of us eat too fast, just slow down.  There’s your free advice from me, a licensed, certified and experienced swallow therapist.   I am confident I will cause no harm to any reader with this professional recommendation.

I try to follow Gail’s advice in all physical movements as well.  Seeing many people with physical therapy in my work settings because of falls has made me keenly aware that falls are far too common, and much too heart—and body—breaking.  Because I am a trivia nerd, I looked it up:  32,000 people die each year in the United States alone as a result of a fall.  If they had just paid attention and had been more careful.  If they had just slowed down.

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Perhaps it was around the time of my 40th birthday when I started to notice.  I now look very closely at those people I meet who appear to be aging gracefully, effortlessly; smoothly.  I have met perhaps a thousand people as my patients who are older than me since then, and in our interactions, I am not afraid to ask those who stand out:  “What is your secret to aging well?” 

Most of them are flattered, and are not shy about answering.  There are many variations on two central themes:  1:  keep moving your body, and 2:  do the things you like to do.

As I write this on Saturday afternoon before Sunday evening’s post, I was inspired by the first answer to take a break and get up to walk the 2/10 of a mile to the mailbox and back.  And, since it was such a nice afternoon, I walked the loop around our neighbor’s driveway, and back to the mailbox again.   I try to keep that motivation close at all times.

A 90 year-young woman recently told me precisely those two answers.  She loves music, plays several instruments, and played in bands with her husband.  She still plays for him.  Music moves her.  It keeps her young.

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Gail also gave advice not just on the physical part of aging, but in how we think, feel and react to life and all it hands us:

Life is too short to worry about things you cannot change.  The longer we are alive, the more loved ones we will lose.  Don’t let death rule your life.  Instead, live your life with them to the fullest.  There are so many other things in life we have zero control over.  Some diseases just happen.  I know this with my daughter.  Just do what you can to live with it.”

Good advice about the heavy stuff from Gail.  Now, on a lighter note from Gail:

“Don’t let other people control your thoughts.  That’s letting them live rent-free in your head.  And don’t subscribe to their issues.  Cancel your subscription if you have to.   Again, don’t be bothered by the things you cannot change.  Like the wind.”

Good stuff from Gail.

And from the three of us, we like to illustrate a very important point by our travels, and all our interactions:  Have fun.  Life is simply too short to deny yourself this.  Whatever fun looks like to you, simply have it.

In summary, we are leaving you with eight words:

Slow down.  Have fun.  Don’t worry.  Keep moving.

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As soon as I finish writing this post, I am going straight to my all-purpose notebook and I am going to write down Denise’s birthday:  March 18THJust like she does, and just like I tell my patients who are working on memory, writing it down is the best way to remember.  I sent this to Gail and Suzanne several hours before posting, as I always do.  Suzanne, in her wisdom, came up with another way to remember Denise’s birthday:  I met her when I was 18.  Brilliant.  Thank you, Suzanne.

Happy Birthday Denise.  You make 52 look effortless, and I look forward to getting there.

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Denise, circa 1986.  She and another roommate were in an 80’s air band, and she was getting ready for a gig.

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Denise and her husband, present day.  Happy Birthday today,  March 18th.

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Gail, Suzanne and I through the ages, mostly middle age.

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2010:  Our first Colorado Labor Day trip.  Like age, these trips just keep getting better too.