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Dear Tracey,

 I have a terrible situation. My mother is 84 and housebound. A woman comes in three times a week for basic care. I do everything else. (I’m divorced and retired, living on a fixed income.) She gets Social Security and a small pension. We’ve been living like this for the last ten years. The problem? My mother has run through all of her savings. She’s been doing her own money forever and led me to believe she had enough to get by. I feel so stupid that I didn’t check into her finances years ago.

She’ll sell her house. It’s all paid for, so that’s good. But she says the only solution is to move in with me and that’s a big problem for me. We’ve never gotten along very well. She’s controlling, demanding, hard to please and critical. I already feel the strain of taking care of her. We can’t possibly live together. Bless my younger sister.

She knows how things are and wants Mom move in with her. Mom absolutely refused. She said she won’t leave her hometown and then laid on the guilt, asking me how could I make her move far away and leave behind everything she knows?

How do I get her to accept that she has to move in with my sister? I know my mother, she’ll never go for it. Or maybe you think I should be a good daughter and have her move in with me?

— Signed, Desperate Daughter.

Dear Reader,

In spite of how dire all of this may feel to you, let’s begin with the positives. Two things in this situation are hopeful: 1) Your mother has a significant asset she can sell and, 2) she has a place to live. 

Now, for the regrettable negatives, starting with the difficult relationship you two have. I’m sorry about this. Sadly, from your description of your mother, would it be safe for me to assume she’s also a bit stubborn? All of these are difficult to interact with, especially under these circumstances. Yet, you’ve managed to care for her for the last ten years.

Don’t worry about being a good daughter, you already are. I think it’s time you consider what is best for yourself. Clearly, that means having your mother move in with your sister. This is an appropriate goal.

With this perspective in mind, please drop any expectations that your mother will accept this move. Quite honestly, given her personality, she probably can’t. This decision flies in the face of everything that defines her. Accepting it would violate her basic belief system and trust me, most people will do anything in their power to hang onto their beliefs!

Your sister has made a wonderful, and quite practical, offer. It makes the most sense for two out of the three people in question. I recognize why your mother wants to stay put. This move will be difficult for her, especially at 84. I am sorry for this. Perhaps if you two had been able to work out a healthier relationship years ago, it wouldn’t have to be this way.

It’s going to take a few months to complete this move, so fortify yourself for the long haul. Begin with a conversation with your mother about why this move makes the best sense for all of you. Acknowledge the differences between the two of you and explain why living together would be difficult for both of you. Stress that her other daughter has made a wonderful offer. Let your mother know that this decision is non-negotiable.

Respectfully listen to her responses and reactions but don’t argue. She may try all kinds of tactics to get you to change your mind. Stay calm, loving and firm. When your mother brings this up, listen, acknowledge her feelings and move on to something else. Be consistent and hopefully, over time she will gradually accept what has to happen here.

And if she doesn’t? Remind yourself that you are not a bad daughter any more that she is a bad mother. Sometimes parents and children simply do not get along with one another.

Best of luck and let me know how it goes for you.

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Dear Tracey,

It’s finally happened. My mother, who is 84 and mentally quite sharp, had her driver’s license taken away. Between my mother’s poor vision, slow reaction time, and inability to fully turn her head, her doctor said she needed to put the safety of herself and others first. I’m relieved.

But my mother is sad and irritated. She says driving was her lifeline and now feels like she’ll just ‘shrivel up and die.’ She’s always been independent. I also know she’s heartbroken about selling her car. (It was my dad’s car and she’s been driving it ever since he passed.)

I’ve been trying to reassure her that she can stay busy and see her friends but she says she doesn’t want to talk about it, that I can’t possibly understand how awful she feels.

I am happy, and able, to drive her anywhere she wants but what else can I do to make her feel better?

Signed,

Concerned Daughter

Dear Reader,

The first thing you can do for your mother would be to sit down, close your eyes, and try very hard to imagine your life without the independence a car gives all of us who drive. 

How many times do you hop into your car to go get groceries, a prescription, or the dry cleaning? How often do you use it to visit a friend, help them because their car was in the shop, or take them to the airport?  Have you ever just gone for a drive because it was a beautiful day or, conversely, because you were having a terrible day?

Hopefully this exercise will help you empathize with your mother. By honestly understanding her reactions you will be better equipped to help her adjust to this huge life transition.

Recognize that your “mentally quite sharp” mother is mourning the loss of a very significant part of herself. Give or take a few years, she has probably been behind the wheel of a car for roughly 60 years? That car was her identity, her lifeline, her freedom. All of that has been snatched away from her. No wonder she feels like she will just “shrivel up and die.” 

For the time being, let your mother feel whatever she wants to feel. Of course she’s sad and irritated. Listen to what she has to say, even if it feels like useless complaining. She needs to get these feelings out. 

While you may be inclined to offer up solutions, now is not the time. Your mother’s not ready and solutions may just be another source of irritation. Nor should you whitewash her new reality with empty reassurances or bad jokes, like “hey, no more looking for a parking place!”

As for selling her car? That is the last thing that you should be considering right now. Since it was your father’s car first, your mother has one more emotional connection to it and driving. Let the car sit in the garage, for months if need be. The decision to sell the car will be your mother’s to make. In the meantime, you can, if she prefers, use it when you take her on errands or to visit friends.

It’s wonderful you are available to drive her over the next few months. Do you know your mother’s regular schedule very well? If so, offer to drive her before she has to ask. (Many people in your mother’s situation are reluctant to ask for rides for leisure activities.)

Realistically, your mother may not ever fully accept this limitation to her freedom. But when you see that she is a bit more resigned to her reality, ask her if you could explain what alternative modes of transportation are available to her. When she is ready to try them, go with her the first few times so she can feel more confident.

Finally, if your mother has computer skills, encourage her to use them. Show her all of the online services that are available. She can regain some of her independence by using online banking, bill paying, and shopping. 

This is a tough one, that’s for sure! Good luck to both of you.

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Over the last twenty-five years I’ve had the pleasure, the FUN, of performing in a number of different musicals. It’s an activity that nourishes me on many different levels.

It also exhausts me. So, having wrapped up our Boomer Troupe’s performance of The Music in Our Lives  last weekend, I am all about taking it easy this week. It’s a luxury I didn’t have when I was in my forties. No, in those hectic days I had kids to raise and a career to manage. Now, I fully embrace my downtime — it’s a joy!

Such freedom led me to some reading I haven’t had time to do, exploring the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi or “imperfect beauty.” It is the acceptance of transience and imperfection and acknowledges that beauty is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

The concept is rooted in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. A well-loved teacup, crafted by an artist’s hands, can be cracked or chipped by use. Is it tossed? No, instead you’ll sometimes see Japanese pottery repaired with gold, its imperfections honored. It is these exact imperfections that remind us that nothing is perfect nor permanent.

The word wabi-sabi is traditionally used to reflect the world around us. Robyn Griggs Lawrence, who authored Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House writes: “Wabi-sabi is a different kind of looking, a different kind of mindset … it’s the true acceptance of finding beauty in things as they are.” (Emphasis is mine.)

Yet wabi-sabi is far more complex than just a way of looking at things. Writer Richard Powell expands the concept by acknowledging three simple realities “Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

All of this reading got me to thinking about how wabi-sabi might be applied to the aging process we all face. Why? Because aging in our American culture is to be denied for as long as humanly, and financially, possible. Many people engage in the billion dollar industries of anti-aging creams, elixirs, tonics, injections, lifts and tucks. The message is hammered into us at every turn, look younger, no matter what it takes to achieve the superficial outcome.

Historically, it makes some sense that we westerners would fall victim to this way of thinking. Our definition of perfection actually descends from Greek aesthetics. Consider the sculptures from that era — they are smooth and polished. The only wrinkles we observe are those in cloth clothing and drapes. Smooth and flawless, they are expertly chiseled out of marble

Obviously, the American approach to aging flies in the face of wabi-sabi, which prizes authenticity and actually embraces the natural cycle of growth and decay. Griggs Lawrence writes that wabi-sabi is “the true acceptance of finding beauty in things as they are.”

Compared to the American approach to aging, wabi-sabi offers us the opportunity to perceive ourselves, and others,  through a far more generous lens. By shifting our perceptions in this way, we can focus on matters of true importance, like our physical, mental and emotional health, a purpose driven life, and equally important, the pursuit of gratifying interests and activities.

Of course, the question begs to be asked: “how can little old me go up against the tide of a billion dollar, anti-aging industry?” Obviously, I can’t. Instead, I think I’ll try to simply incorporate a wabi-sabi attitude into my daily life practices … like every time I look in the mirror and see all of those wrinkles! Instead of hearing my inner voice pipe up with some useless, negative message, I’ll acknowledge and appreciate that my wrinkles are a reflection a life well lived. Who knows, it just may work!

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What are you doing for your brain health?

I have to admit that pondering this topic makes me want to crawl under a rock. One more thing I have to do to keep healthy? Maybe it’s this wet, gray, winter day but it sounds exhausting … until I consider exactly how important it to keep my brain engaged, challenged and exercised.

For me, the secret is to approach brain health through activities I enjoy, like cooking. But after 54 years preparing meals (I started cooking for my brother and myself when I was 12) I can feel pretty burned out around meal prep. And while I am the first one to admit we’ve been known  to have pancakes for dinner, I’ve discovered that new recipes and ingredients help me prepare nutritious and balanced meals while eliminating the boredom of being in the kitchen one more time.

There’s also the very practical matter of keeping our precious gray matter safe from injury. (I’m always aghast when we’re riding our bikes and I see someone cycling without a helmet. Yikes!) But what we older folks often fail to keep in mind is that one fall and the resulting brain injury could be catastrophic or even fatal. Be honest … are you a fall risk? If so, there are simple exercises you can do to strengthen your muscles and improve your balance. Minor changes to your yard and home can also minimize your risk of falling.

Regular physical exercise also stimulates the brain. Get moving! While I belong to a gym, I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of machines. I do much better in a group class.  So find an activity that works for you. However, depending on where you live and the weather, this can be downright impossible. The gym offers me a helpful alternative. Check out the Silver Sneakers program that covers many gym memberships. It is often included in Medicare Advantage plans. For me, the best exercise of all is when I can be out in nature! 

It’s also important to stimulate our brains through different activities, like reading, Sudoku, card games, or crosswords. But you’ll truly ramp up the benefits if you branch out from what you usually do. Try learning a new language or building a simple piece of some furniture. Experiment with anything that is less routine for you. Learn a new word or fact daily or try a mastering new skill set or subject annually to keep your brain engaged and healthy.

We can also hit the books — education is a sure fire way to give your brain a full workout. There are so many different educational opportunities available these days: adult education programs, community and four year learning institutions that often offer  Over Sixty and OLLI programs. There are also free, online college courses offered by some of the most well known and respected universities. (www.openculture.com)

Our mental health plays a big part in over all brain health. Are you sad? Anxious? Maybe you find yourself carrying around a negative attitude? If so, seek friendly, supportive friends and family and share your concerns. If you don’t get relief from this, consider seeking professional health. Isolated? Reach out and get involved with others. Whether that’s at a senior lunch center, volunteering for your favorite organization, or hosting a neighborhood potluck, being social is good for your brain.

In my current, semi-retirement phase of life, I feel like I have hit the Mother Lode of brain health through my involvement with Humboldt Light Opera Company’s Boomer Troupe. We just wrapped up our third  production, The Music of Our Lives. Rehearsals were challenging and full of fun. Interacting with our talented cast was stimulating … and rewarding. While memorizing dialog, songs, and dance steps felt overwhelming at times, I knew my brain was getting a great workout. I think it’s safe to say that our audiences had their own neurological boost from this production.

Whatever positive approach to brain health you engage in, know that your quality of life may improve significantly and isn’t that worth a little effort?

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And … we’re off! The cross-country road trip we have been planning for the last six months has officially begun. 
The last time we did this we were in our late twenties. My husband built a simple camper shell for our little Datsun truck, we threw in our very basic camping gear and headed for the Florida Keys. It was a wonderful opportunity to explore this fascinating country of ours. 
That trip never lost its charm. In fact, it was such a memorable experience that some 38 years later, we decided to embark on a similar adventure, this time heading north, passing through parts of Canada and finally ending up in Prince Edward Island. 
But a few things are different some 38 years later. (Aging does that, doesn’t it?) This time around we’ve changed more than the route for our road ramblings. 
For starters, our accommodations are far more comfortable than that tiny Datsun. At first we considered buying a teardrop trailer. But after looking at one inside and out, we realized that the likelihood of two people, both six feet tall, being even remotely comfortable in a space that small was zero to none.  
Instead, my husband, master builder/wood worker that he is, crafted a delightful little travel trailer for us. While we won’t rival any RV on the road, the “Prairie Schooner,” as we call her, as everything we need. The entire space, all 9’x5’x5’ of it, actually reminds me of our boat’s pilot house. Sporting mahogany double doors on the back, the interior is finished off with beautiful wood. Every inch of space is utilized. It even has room for two essentials — and the dog and a port potty. My husband also built a useful storage box for the truck which provides secure space for a few more crucial items.
I know this kind of trip doesn’t appeal to everyone. (I told one woman we’d be camping for the next six weeks and she looked at me as though we’d lost our minds!) But after a decade of boating, paring down to the basics is something we discovered we enjoy. Simplicity truly has its merits. It is a nice way to regroup, to think about possessions and how they may or may not be adding to our happiness. 
Another major difference from our first cross country road trip is our budget. Where we pull in for the night probably won’t be determined by the fee. We can also easily snag a motel during bad weather … or a burning desire for a king size bed! Meals in restaurants won’t be the exception either. 
Best of all? We now have our lifetime National Parks Golden Access Pass Senior Pass. The benefits of this little card are amazing. It offers us free access to any of the National Parks and other federally managed recreation areas that have entrance fees. We’ll also get 50 percent off the regular price at federal government-operated campgrounds. (If we were traveling with others in our vehicle, they would  also receive free entrance to the parks.) 
We’ve found this pass to be worth its weight in gold. Regretfully, the price was recently raised to $80 but if you can afford it, it will save you money in the long run. Go to  www.store.usgs.gov  for more information. 
The last difference between these two road trips? This time around, we have a larger house, a cat, and a garden that all need tending. Fortunately, that problem was solved when a dear friend was interested in house-sitting for us. With that arrangement finalized, we were good to go.
You may or may not hear much from me over the next six weeks. There’s a part of me that thinks camping, hiking, exploring, reading, painting, and needle work might be all my brain wants to do. (Oh, I am enjoying this whole semi-retirement phase!)  Then again, I think about the places we’ll see and the people we’ll meet and I just may be inspired! 
Finally? If you see a dark gray Chevy truck, carrying two happy geezers and a Golden Doodle, pulling a teal blue ‘tiny house’ trailer, please honk. It’s always a pleasure to have positive connections with people, wherever we might be!
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A few years ago, a friend told me about a family gathering she had attended where three generations had the best time together. She said there was endless laughter and good cheer throughout the entire group. 

But one little constellation of humanity really grabbed her attention. Four cousins, between the ages of twelve and fourteen, sat at the feet of one of the grandfathers. Spellbound by his story, she said they were “hanging on to his every word.”

I was fascinated. What in the world was he talking about? (Really now, how often do adolescents put down their smart phones and offer up their undivided attention to old (!) people?)

Apparently, my friend had the same question and admitted she had moved closer to eavesdrop. Grandpa’s topic? He was simply telling them about what high school had been like back in the early 1950s. But as my friend listened, she realized that the way he was presenting his experience was the key to capturing his young audience’s rapt attention.

With some stage experience under her belt, she recognized that both the content of his story and his delivery was flat out entertaining. The plot moved right along at a pleasant clip. His description was lively. He utilized short, well crafted sentences, unlike, as my friend noted, “Some geezers I know, who meander all over the planet and back again before ever reaching their point.”

She also noticed he used his body to tell the story. His gestures and facial expressions were animated, while his voice brought color into his story to build tension or add surprise.

This man knew how to tell a story! Those young girls learned a little history that day but more importantly, through his storytelling, they experienced and appreciated this grandfather’s life experience. What a wonderful experience for all four of them!

Storytelling has been around since the beginning of time. It has its place in every culture in the world. We humans connect, learn, and entertain through our stories. Yet many people feel they don’t have what it takes to be a good storyteller. With respect in my heart, I say that’s a bunch of hooey!

Your memories, and the stories you tell about them, can light up a child’s life, create positive connections with family and friends, be a bright spot at social gatherings, or even … entertain our community. (More on that in a minute.)

Vivid memories can be crafted into valuable life stories by simply learning some basic writing and delivery skills. Curious about how to polish your own stories? Please join me for my next OLLI class, Music … and the Stories of Our Lives. (It will run for three sessions, beginning October 26.)

We’ll use music and writing prompts to explore why certain memories make the best stories to share. Why music? Because melodies often lock experiences into our brains, weaving memories into a tapestry of people, places, things, and emotions. (To inspire ideas for your stories, writing prompts will be emailed to students a few weeks prior to the class.) We’ll also cover other elements of storytelling, including characters, setting, plot, pace, and voice.

Now, about sharing your stories with  the community … that’s where Humboldt Light Opera Company’s Boomer + Troupe comes in!  Co-founded by Carol Ryder (Artistic Director of HLOC) and I, the Troupe is a group of fun loving community members, each with varying degrees of performance experience. We range in age from 54 to 79! Partnering with OLLI, for two years running, our original productions about the Fifties and the Sixties have been enthusiastically received by sold out audiences.

And now, drum roll … it gives me great pleasure to announce that the Boomer+ Troupe’s next production (February 2018.) is already in its beginning phases.

This time we’re shifting course to explore the powerful part music plays in our lives and memories. The show promises to be an another lively, thoughtful, memory making production that resonates with both audience and cast members alike. (Please note that attending my OLLI class, Music … and the Stories of our Lives, is strongly recommended, though not required, for those interested in auditioning for The Music of Our Lives, November 11. Information on auditions will follow at a later date.)

So, whether you simply want to polish your writing skills, liven up your stories for your family’s next reunion, dazzle your grandkids, or find a community forum for your stories (hint, hint) join me for Music … and the Stories of Our Lives. You’ll learn the writing basics, meet some new people, and have some fun!

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Dear Tracey,

I love my children but they’re driving me nuts. I finally moved to be closer to them, which meant giving up my life that I had been happily crafting for the last fifty years. It seemed easier for them if I lived closer.   

I’m 79, single, and a retired librarian. I’m healthy, have my own apartment, passed my driver’s test again, and don’t require any outside help. My main focus now is  building community, which isn’t very easy at my age.

But my kids are constantly dropping by. They say it’s to visit. It feels like they’re always looking around, checking up on me. Phone calls feel like I’m being evaluated. They over-react to simply mistake I may make. I end up feeling criticized and then I just clam up.

Everything I read is about how difficult it is on children when they caretake their elderly parents. Why doesn’t anyone ever thing about the challenges elderly parents have with their well meaning, but controlling offspring?

I’m not a cranky old lady, truly. I have the best children and I do appreciate their concern. I just wish they would treat me like the adult I am.

Signed,

On my own

Dear Reader,

You raise an excellent point. I don’t think your perspective is addressed often enough.

Like you, countless parents find themselves in this difficult situation. They want their children’s concern but they don’t want to be controlled. Longing for connection, they demand autonomy. Most are fiercely independent but hope their children will come through if they need help. It’s little wonder these can be challenging years.

I’m hopeful you can smooth out your relationship by doing a few things.

First of all, take some time to identify how you may be playing into this discord. (Every relationship is a two-way street.) For this to work, you need to be brutally honest with yourself!

Begin by identifying your own emotional, mental, and physical limitations. I’m sure you know what they are. When do you actually need help from your children? Get clear on these issues so you can help your children have a better understanding of how they can best support you.

Next, recognize what your particular ‘buttons’ are while owning up to the fact that you have some natural sensitivities around aging. (Who doesn’t?)

Consider how you react to their suggestions or their looks. (You don’t really know what they are thinking or feeling from a look. People are often surprised when they ask what is behind a facial expression.) Recognize that by getting defensive and shutting down, you deny yourself and your children an honest and respectful relationship. 

For example, I’ve had frustrated parents tell me that they have resisted their children’s very logical and caring suggestions for no other reason than they were fed up with being told what . When does choosing to be stubborn rather than practical do anyone any good?

Finally, clamming up is no way to cope. Your children can’t begin to know what your’e feeling if you don’t tell them. Remaining silent will only make the situation worse.

Once you have completed this review of your accountability, formulate a plan that reflects what you want and need. (Make sure you address your need for healthy boundaries.) Then call a family meeting. Sit those kids down and have a respectful and  honest conversation. Be forthright and accountable and ask them to do the same.

When everyone has said his/her piece, thank them for their love and concern, then ask if all of you can develop a plan about this next chapter in your lives. 

It won’t be an easy conversation, nor will it be the last one you ever have on this topic. Parents and children will always have differences. It comes with the territory. But by introducing this type of communication into your relationships, you’ll all have a much better chance of avoiding some of the landmines you have described.

Hopefully, all of this will free you up to create a more satisfying life. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s  rough to start over after fifty years of living in one location.

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Dear Tracey,

I’ve been a widow for four years. Last year, I went to my 50th high school reunion. I couldn’t believe it but my old boyfriend was there and we had the best time. (He’s been divorced for ages.) It was as if no time had passed. We had such fun. It was so easy.

We kept in touch all year. He wanted to visit but I was nervous and said no until this summer. I finally invited him to spend a couple of weeks with me. He’s never been here before so I thought all of the sightseeing and day trips would be a good way to see if we really are well suited for one another after all these years.

After our two weeks together, it was obvious we want to pursue something serious.

But everything went wrong at the end. Before work my daughter came over and like all of my kids do, just walked in. She found us in the kitchen, still in our robes, having coffee. He turned three shades of red, me too. She blurted out “I’m glad I don’t have any of your grandchildren with me” and bolted for the door. 

It’s all my fault, I know. I hadn’t told her he was visiting. I didn’t want to upset her. (She was very close to her father and still misses him terribly.)

How do I explain everything to her? I want her to be happy for me, not  mad and disappointed in me.

Signed,

Better the Second Time Around

Dear Reader,

I know you are feeling terrible right now so I don’t want to begin my response by being  insensitive. But I have to say I am very happy for you. I think it’s absolutely wonderful the two of you to have reconnected after all of these many years. Your future must be feeling brighter than it has these last four years.

Regarding your daughter, I agree with you. It probably was a mistake to not keep her in the loop. (Isn’t it sad, and frustrating, when our good intentions fall s short?) I understand you were trying to protect her feelings. She still misses her father. Naturally,  any thought that you were moving on without him would be difficult for her.

Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible. While it was unfortunate for her to burst in on your morning, she is an adult. I sincerely hope that she has not held on to some misguided belief that your life would be forever suspended because your husband died?

Call your daughter and ask her when you two can talk this over. (Please don’t try this difficult conversation on the phone!) When you meet, apologize for not including her in this personal, yet private part of your life. Let her know you did it out of feelings for her and that, in hind site, you were wrong. Acknowledge how difficult it has been for your entire family to lose their beloved patriarch. Tell her you respect her feelings and never meant to hurt her.

Next, explain the obvious to her. This man makes you feel wonderful. You are slowly and carefully exploring all possibilities with him. Remind her that you are still an active woman who is interested in being involved the world and that this may include a relationship wth someone other than her father. Finally, clarify that while you regret the shock she experienced that fateful morning, trying to make you feel guilty won’t work. Remember, by pursuing a relationship you aren’t doing anything wrong.

It’s your daughter’s job to come to terms with the reality that you are more than her mother and her children’s grandmother. This may be a struggle for her, especially since she is still missing her father so much. Give her plenty of time to work through her feelings. From here on out, keep her apprised of your relationship, to whatever degree she wants.

Finally, by all means, tell your other children what is going on in your life. Second-hand information from their hurt sister won’t do any of you any good.

Best of luck to you.

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Dear Tracey,

My friend and I are having a cordial little disagreement and maybe you can help us sort it out.

We always hear about the importance of “exercising” our brains. (We are 75 and 76 years old.) She’s enrolled in a foreign language class, saying that’s the best kind of brain exercise and that my crossword puzzles won’t do the trick. She tells me I need to be learning something far more difficult.

Well, if I do need to be doing something more taxing, I guess I’ll take the risk. I’m too old to make my brain work that hard.

I’ve been doing my crosswords for years. I enjoy them and I absolutely believe they make my brain work. What do you say? Are my crossword puzzles enough to keep my brain fit? — Signed, Baffled

Dear Reader,

I believe both of you are correct. Crossword puzzles and learning a foreign language are challenging activities that will stimulate your brains.

By how much, however, is a different question. Honestly, perhaps two good friends don’t need to be concerned about the part of your question but, since you asked …

Numerous research studies have established that a brain healthy lifestyle definitely contributes to an improved quality of life. There is some research that also suggests learning something new and complex, over a long period of time is quite beneficial for our aging brains. I have to admit that your friend’s foreign language studies fits this requirement perfectly.

However, there are so many other ways to stimulate our neurological activity, including crossword puzzles, that I believe a mixture of challenging and fun activities all make positive contributions to our brain health.

Here are activities that will kelp keep your brain healthy:

• Do math in your head, without benefit of paper and pencil.

• Test your recall. Make a list of items, memorize it and in an hour, see how many you recall.

• Draw a map from memory.

• Take any class you might enjoy. Let’s say cooking appeals to you. In that setting, all of your senses will be engaged, you’ll be challenged to learn new things and remember many aspects of any given recipe.

• Games of most any kind, including some video games, spark our neuropathways.

• Create word pictures in your head. Think of a word, then, using the beginning and ending letters of that word, see how many other words you can list.

• Learn a new small motor activity, like knitting, painting or drawing.

• Put music into your life — join a choir or learn an instrument.

In other words, your brain will benefit by simply engaging in new and different activities. The point is to explore things that appeal to your particular interests.

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In high school my brother had a basketball coach who insisted that success was all about ‘attitude.’ But behind that poor man’s back, we teenagers mocked him, believing he was full of hooey. Oh, we thought we were so smart.

But in hindsight, that man was ahead of his time. I’ve come to believe that a positive attitude can really be a great source of strength, comfort and, yes, success. I also believe it can help with our physical and mental health and simply make living day in, day out, much more satisfying. (The neuroscience research being done on the differences between positive and negative attitudes is downright fascinating.)

With this in mind, I had to share with you a letter I received from a woman I find inspirational … not to mention wonderfully funny:

Dear Mrs. Priestley,

I just want to tell you how much I enjoy “The Second Half.” I especially liked your article about being told what to do, wear, think or believe.

I hate it when I get told that I can’t do anything — and all of the rest of the can’ts. So I do what I darned well please, say what I please, wear my choice — T-shirts, jeans, gaudy socks and any place my feet will take me. DMV took my license 10 years ago.

I’ve had a lot of practice. I am 93 years young. I exercise every morning, before my cup of tea. I do 80 counter push-ups, feet 43 inches back, 80 toe-heel touches, 20 side kicks, each side, three times and five, one minute planks.

Now tell me what I can or cannot do!

I make sock monkey dolls for my hobby.

When someone says I can’t do something — I just laugh!

Signed,

Name withheld

***

I so want to be this way when I am 93. What an accomplishment. Thank you, dear reader, for sharing your thoughts with all of us. Keep up the good work and that incredibly positive attitude. It seems to be working for you!

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