Benefits and Liabilities of Aging

Sunfloer bowed downWhen I was little my grandmother used to take me with her to visit her friends. Among them were two sisters who had never married but lived together in a pretty home with a nice porch. They used to give me cookies and cambric tea–milk, sugar and a wisp of tea in a delicate china cup. My own mother was physically strong and after my father passed on lived alone and drove herself between Florida and Maine even in her eighties.

These and many elders of my early years presented an image of healthy, hearty behavior. My grandmother used to do fancy dives into the swimming pool of the beach club she occasionally took me to. My great aunt played golf and tennis and had silver cups to show for it. I had teachers with white hair who were wise and good natured. My life has brought me many examples of vital elders who carried on their lives energetically.

Just recently I attended a small reunion for my high school classmates. I was impressed with their fortitude and vigor. As we visited together I enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with theses women with whom in our teens I had shared time, space, and teachers. It was quite special to be with my contemporaries. I found that even after all these years we still had much in common besides our age and the school we had attended.

The life paths we had taken had varied widely, yet we all shared a dedication to improving the world and being of help when needed. Born when we were, we had grown up with different mores and rules of behavior than those of today. As a result we have had to make many adjustments. When people do not grow with the changes that accumulate around them, they become bitter and crabby. It seemed to me that none of us had.

No doubt we all had our share of aches, pains and limitations. At our age some of that is to be expected. However I didn’t hear anyone complain about their health even though one of us used a walker and another had both vision and auditory issues of a serious nature. One of the blessings of age can be the ability to deal creatively with one’s limitations. Patience can come more easily when one has lived a long time.

The benefits of accumulated years are a kind of grace that can make up for the increasing changes that as we age limit activities, not to mention movement. Speaking for myself, I would say that patience tops the list of these benefits—not only patience with others but also patience with myself. In addition, being able to wait out a difficulty, the knowledge that time helps heal as well as facilitate, and the ability to listen to and soothe those who live with greater immediacy and impatience are some of the benefits I cherish as I grow on in years.

The Mystical, Delicious Peach

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The peach has wonderful mythic associations. It is a Chinese symbol of immortality, and it is often prominently displayed in depictions of the sage Lao Tzu. There is also a legend that a famous Chinese heroine Ho Hsien-Ku who lived in 7th century BC was transformed into a fairy by eating a supernatural peach. They said ever after that she lived on a diet of moonbeams and powdered mother-of-pearl.

According to Paul Beyerl in A Compendium of Herbal Magick, in Shinto legend, Iznagi, a primary male deity, visits the Underworld where he defeats demons pursuing him by throwing peaches from the land of Light and the Land of Darkness at them. Beyerl adds that the peach is considered by the Taoists to be a sacred food.

I have a lovely amethyst carved pendant from China termed a “peach stone.” According to The Magic in Food, by Scott Cunningham carved peach pits are given to Chinese children as amulets against death. Sprays of peach-blossoms are placed over the front door during the Chinese New Year to guard Chinese homes against negativity. Symbolically they bring the blessings of longevity or perhaps confer immortality. He also suggests that as they have been in China for centuries, with appropriate visualization, peaches may be eaten to induce health, happiness and wisdom.

Every Summer I buy my peaches from a nearby farm stand. The owner always has local ones, ripened on the tree in the sun. They taste like heaven to me, and I understand why they might be considered the fruit of immortality. When I feel ambitious, I buy more than I can eat right away, peel and cut them, add a few drops of lemon juice or a sprinkle or two of sugar, and put them in bags in the freezer so we can enjoy them during the winter.

Versatile peaches can be eaten raw or cooked, as a condiment with meat or chicken or as a sauce over muffins or plain cake. Peaches in cobblers or pies, jams, muffins or even peach shortcake are all wonderful ways to enjoy this delicious fruit. Personally I like them best ripe and unadorned with anything more than the sunlight that warms their lovely plumpness.

I can remember my mother putting them up in canning jars. She would pour sugar syrup over them, then lower them into a big kettle of boiling water. Stored in the basement pantry closet, how good those peaches tasted during the long winters of my childhood. They were such a treat, especially when they were served for Sunday dinner over vanilla ice cream

Try this simple peach sorbet. Fill a plastic baggie or pint container with peeled chunked peaches sprinkled with lemon juice or a bit of sugar. Freeze them until solidly frozen. Have ready a simple syrup using two cups of sugar to one cup of water, stirred until melted, cooled and refrigerated. To serve two combine 2 cups frozen peaches with ¼ cup simple syrup, and 1 Tbs lemon juice. Process until you have soft serve ice cream and serve right away.

Being of a Saving Nature

Kathy's Kitchen BasketsYankee thrift originated long before the pilgrims arrived on these shores. Being of a saving nature is a key to survival in tough times no matter when or where they occur. In today’s opulent, throwaway society times thrifty behavior isn’t very fashionable, however, I am happy to practice my version of it. My mother, though not a Yankee, certainly was a great example of that kind of behavior. I try to emulate her, though I do not go to the extremes she did.

For example, the presence of my mother’s linen sheets from her wedding trousseau, still tied with their original pink satin ribbons was an intriguing mystery, first in her cedar trunk and then later when the house got added onto, the hallway linen closet. They had never been used and apparently were not supposed to be. My father used to say jokingly that she was saving them for her next husband. I never got an explanation about them from her.

In the same cedar chest in her bedroom at the foot of her bed she also kept a costume she had worn for some classes in Spanish dance. The exotic, colorful skirt and top, sprinkled with bangles, fascinated me. In one of her dressing table drawers she kept a wonderful collection of small, decorative evening purses she seldom used. I loved looking at them. My father would tease her about the several little cardboard bureaus in which she kept an assortment of things. She seldom if ever threw anything away.

My mother trod a fine line between saving and hoarding. I once was helping her tidy up the contents of a closet in their summer home. As we emptied it I teased her about the number of toasters and irons she had stowed away there. She informed me rather sternly that she had bought them at yard sales and was keeping them in case the one she was using failed to work. Her behavior may have been a result of her World War I childhood in Germany.

If you define hoarding as holding onto useless items for some reason that seems logical to the hoarder, she might be said to be one. When I visited her in Florida, after my dad had passed on she had a plethora of small shampoo and conditioner bottles from her travels with him lining her washbasin, along with empty cardboard toilet paper rolls stacked by the toilet. She never explained why she kept them.

I did inherit some of her saving nature. However my version of it is tied to what will prove useful in the future. I save leftovers and seldom have to throw them away because they combine nicely to make new meals. Small boxes that are good to hold gifts, padded envelopes that can be used again, tissue and wrapping paper, and more jostle one another for room in my hallway. When Christmas comes, or the birthdays of dear ones I don’t need to go to the store for packaging. However, I differ from my mother in one significant way: When my collections impede progress in the hall, I recycle to our local thrift store.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Pay attention to the Message

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I well remember trips as a young child to the A&P. The smells of the small supermarket in our town intrigued me. The fresh food in bins from which my mother would carefully select her vegetables and fruits gleamed with an allure that reflected my curiosity. In addition, the workings of the body have always interested me. As a child I used to mix up the medicines in my parents’ bathroom cabinet and feed them to my teddy bears. Beginning with my childhood I have had a lifelong fascination with food in general, our needs for it, and how we nourish ourselves or don’t, depending on what we eat and how.

So many of the ads I see on TV are for medicine, both prescription and over the counter. It makes me wonder if we are all really that ill or in need of fixing? Perhaps we are, yet I wonder too whether if instead of trying to alleviate symptoms with medicine, we might do better were we to pay more attention to how and why the symptoms have arisen we might do better were we to pay more attention to how and why they have arisen. I am speaking about digestive issues in particular, though others are equally as important.

Of course there are serious illnesses that require intervention and the use of various prescribed medicines. However there are other conditions that will respond well to changes in lifestyle and most especially to changes in dietary habits. I well remember how when I was only in my forties, someone a decade older told me how important it had been for her to reduce food intake as she aged. She told me she got by on two meals a day. Different people will do better with different plans, however reducing intake is key to helping us be healthier.

The symptoms of the acid reflux so many experience are often a result of overeating, eating foods we do not digest well, or eating poor food combinations. As we age, the production of our digestive enzymes diminishes. Many comfort foods we once enjoyed become at best indigestible or at worst dangerous to our health. Yet many of us continue to eat as though we were in our twenties and still growing. While trends in eating come and go, for instance (carbohydrates good, fats bad now reversed), one truth remains: what and how we eat are irrevocably connected to our physical, mental and emotional health and well-being, not to mention our weight.

What can we do? Chewing is vital. Busy with our lives and impatient of meals perceived as mere interruptions in our busy lives, many of us swallow food half chewed, washing it down with liquid. This does not allow for the incorporation of digestive enzymes, not to mention roiling the stomach with acid from feelings of haste. Instead we could slow down and taste the food as we chew. TV ads counsel taking this or that medicine. By so doing we are effectively killing the messenger: the symptoms that tell us we are doing something harmful to ourselves. When we pay attention to the message we can learn how better to treat our bodies and prolong our good health.

Keeping the Peace without Sacrifice

toys, 2 lambs It was the custom in my family when I was growing up to invite a non family member to the holiday dinners held at the home of my grandmother or my Great Aunt Alice, so that there wouldn’t be any “rows” as they were called…what could be termed family arguments. People were more likely to be on their best behavior with a relative stranger or at least a distant relative in their midst. The family I grew up in was rather vociferous.

My parents tended to discuss their differences at the top of their lungs. Their shouting made me cringe. They must have grown up doing this. My father and his mother my grandmother, used to have loud disagreements. My mother once told me they would telephone each other, call and then hurry to be the first to bang down the phone. My mother also talked about the “fights” she had with her sister; she too grew up in the habit of loud disagreement. Disliking my discomfort, I resolved when I grew up there would be no fighting in my family.

When neighborhood children played in my yard, they knew if they provoked conflict they would be sent home. If my children were to begin fighting I would separate them and send them to their rooms. In addition, if I strongly disagreed with something their father wanted or said, I would wait until they were out of earshot before I discussed it with him. I had determined there would only be peace throughout my entire household. No one was permitted to fight.

There is one problem with doing away with conflict entirely: any resentment or unhappiness can linger and come out in sneaky ways, like cutting or sarcastic remarks or other hurtful behavior. Even today I have to watch myself if I haven’t expressed my personal upset. I am liable to say something mean or unkind and call it a joke when it really is not.

However, in those days I didn’t know how conflict could be resolved while taking people’s feelings into account. I have since learned about conflict resolution and about ways to carry on discussions in a reasonable fashion. The “talking stick” method means one person gets to speak without interruption while holding a talking talisman. When he or she is done, the next person holds it and has his or her say. Even young children can learn to abide by this method.

Keeping the peace does not mean keeping silent, it does mean expressing oneself without being judgmental or vindictive. Feelings can be expressed and people can agree to disagree. What is important is to learn how to express negative feelings responsibly. I can say, “I feel,” not “you make me feel.” When I take responsibility for how I feel, others can do the same. When I speak my truth with kindness, I evoke the same response. When everyone listens, resolutions can be arrived at and peace can be made without anger, resentment or the sacrifice of anyone’s well being.

Lose Weight Gently the Three Bite Way

Orange squash 2When my children were small I used to insist they eat at least three bites of anything they thought they didn’t want to eat at all. My theory was that by my having them do that, they would grow up to eat a broad variety of foods. I was even bold enough to insist that any visiting friends do the same. No one ever seemed to make too much of a fuss over this, nor did I get any bad feedback from my children for doing that either. They did grow up to be adventurous eaters and to enjoy trying new foods.

Some children use food as a kind of bargaining chip or power play. Mine didn’t thank goodness. Nor did I tell them what my mother used to say to me: Eat your (beans, eggs, etc.) there are little children starving in China who would love to have what you have on your plate. I wasn’t allowed to get up from the table until I had finished whatever it was I was supposed to eat. No three bite rule for me! When it was liver, which I hated with a passion, I cut it up in small pieces and swallowed them whole with my milk.

Working with a limited budget, my well-intentioned mother tried her best to make nourishing meals. I did grow up to be healthy, so it must have worked. However when I was eight I became chubby and stayed that way. Like many I have tried a number of different ways to slim down, slenderize, or otherwise lose weight. Some methods were more successful than others. However in my opinion calories in, calories out is the key. Less consumed equals more taken from what is stored in the body:portion control works.

In my search for dietary strategy I came across another very good suggestion. It’s called the Three Bite Rule. You can have three bites of anything highly caloric you want to eat, and you can eat anything highly caloric you wish to as long as those three bites are all you eat. It’s also true that after three bites you really do not get the same taste experience as you do from your first three. This is especially true of anything cold like ice cream, but also of sweet things. The real test though is to be able to put down your fork or spoon after the third bite and count yourself satisfied. When you do this, you’re creating a habit that allow for both pleasure and discipline, an excellent combination.

To be successful with this strategy it is important to allow yourself to really taste whatever you are eating. You can roll it around in your mouth and take your time chewing it slowly and thoroughly. Even liquids can be “chewed.” It is also true that when you eat anything slowly and chew it thoroughly you are satisfied sooner, and that applies to meat, vegetables and grains as well as anything on your three bite list. Taste buds get “tired.” The appetite, however keeps us munching away even when we are not getting the most out of what we are eating. Portion control, as well as the three bite strategy is much more successful if you eat what you put on you plate slowly and with attention.

A Simple Meal for a Hot Day

Daisies (shasta) Hi resI remember my mother on a hot summer day wiping the sweat from her brow as she prepared the vegetables and fruit she canned for us to eat in the Winter. We lived on the property of my great aunt Alice whose gardener grew planted, harvested and shared lots of good food from her extensive garden. My mother was frugal and to her mind saving money in the winter was worth her efforts in the summer. In her mind nothing was ever to be wasted. While I feel the same way, I don’t have a garden to draw upon, however I do have a wonderful local farm stand that supplies me with fine food.

I tend to lose my appetite in the heat, thus I don’t much like cooking in the summer. Autumn is my favorite season because when the weather cools I feel much more like cooking as well as like eating. However it’s not then now, so I need to be in the present moment in the kitchen. Simple recipes are my go to solution for eating healthy food in this hot weather. I find it’s easier to motivate myself to cook when I don’t have to spend a lot of time doing it.

Salads are all very well in hot weather, however I do get tired of them and I actually prefer a hot meal even when it is warm outside. One of my favorite easy summer recipes combines freshly available local greens and pasta. It really doesn’t matter what greens you use. Personally I like the combination of spinach and Swiss chard, however, kale with spinach or chard is good too, and so are collard greens, broccoli rabe, or other potential ingredients you can use singly or in combination.

I prefer using my food processor to mix the greens together, adding good olive oil and some fresh garlic as well. Using a blender, while doable would be tedious however lacking a food processor you could use a food mill to grind and blend the cooked greens. My food processor is a very useful tool and one that even though I like to cut my vegetables by hand, I have come to rely on for certain kinds of food preparation. I treasure my kitchen tools. Some of them date back more years than I prefer to count. I have a wooden cutting board I received at a shower for my first child; she is now a grandmother too.

The recipe itself is very simple. Ingredients are: a pound or so of spinach, the same of Swiss chard, or use other greens as suggested above. Cook them separately in as little water as possible. Drain well and turn together into the food processor bowl. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons good olive oil, 2 medium cloves chopped or sliced garlic or 1 large one, and a pinch or two of salt. Process until everything is nicely blended. Meanwhile, cook pasta of your choice to serve your diners. When done, drain, put in a serving bowl and pour the mingled greens over it. Stir well and serve with freshly grated Parmesan. Simple, tasty, and good for you as well! Finish the meal with some fresh watermelon and enjoy.