Yoga – Waking up Your Body

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Have you ever thought of trying yoga? Perhaps your daughter does it, but you think you are too old. Perhaps you feel it requires you to look like the young and supple woman in this picture.

Think again. People of all shapes, sizes and ages can do yoga. It is not a matter of donning a leotard and aiming to look beautiful. No, it is a matter of using your body to gain improved strength and flexibility. And, just as important, feeling better.

And you will probably never be asked to do anything resembling this pose. Or, if you are really enthusiastic and practise frequently, who knows, you might move in that direction. But I have never gotten there.

Yoga and exercise

Years ago, when I thought I should be doing more exercise to keep fit, several friends suggested I try yoga. When I asked what happened there, I was told you went into odd poses and held them for awhile. This seemed a rather bizarre thing to do – and certainly appeared to have little to do with exercise. I did not pursue it at that time.

Well, how wrong could I be! Some yoga does involve a lot of movement and feels very much like an exercise class. The type I eventually went for is slow and purposeful, but my goodness, you do get your muscles exercised! You need to learn to separate being visibly active from being equally – but less visibly – so.

There is no question that yoga is a form of exercise. The strange postures are there for a purpose – to use all your muscles, both external and internal. You know that if you simply stretch your arms with all your might toward the ceiling, something inside begins to say ‘hello’. Yoga takes this many steps further by working your system all over.

The wider impact

The result is both subtle and profound. You will slowly begin to feel more supple (or ‘bendy’ as one friend put it). All sorts of day-to-day movements will become easier, which is both pleasing and practical. You may find your balance is better.

Indeed, you might well find yourself healthier, less prone to colds or other diseases, as your circulation improves. The yoga postures work on all your internal systems, so that they work better. And your breathing may be easier. Some say sleep improves.

But yoga is also much more than exercise. It puts you in touch with your own body – wakes it up and gives it a good shake – making you feel more in tune with its ways. You will rediscover the joys of actively using your body, rather than seeing it as something you carry around without thinking much about it.

Yoga has the effect of being both energising and relaxing at the same time. It requires so much concentration that you forget the things that are worrying you and feel much more refreshed as a result. The challenges it offers – little hills to climb one by one – create a sense of achievement, especially important as you age. You may even like yourself more as a result.

Getting started

We all know we should be doing more exercise of any kind, but it is definitely hard to get started. My husband found the best way to ensure he exercised was to put the ball, perhaps surprisingly, in my court. He now complains if I don’t nag him enough.

I started yoga because I had back problems. I had gone to an osteopath, whose ministrations would work for awhile, but then wear off after a week or two. She encouraged me to try yoga to get my body stronger, so that any changes she produced might last longer. The result was I got so much stronger, I didn’t need the osteopath anymore!

You may need a little push – or pull ­– of some kind. Talk to friends who do it and see if their enthusiasm gives you that added spur. And make it convenient. Having local classes can be a help. If not, there are some online courses – indeed, I know of one yoga programme that is specifically tailored for older people who have not done yoga before.

Go on, have a try. What do you have to lose?

 

Downsizing dilemma: Why getting rid of books is so tough

Finally, you have reached the age when you are beginning to think about downsizing. Perhaps you have familiarised yourself with all the practical and even emotional difficulties involved and have decided you are not quite ready to take the plunge.

Is there anything you can do in preparation for the eventual day?

Downsizing Dilemma: Culling Books

Few people reach their 60s without accumulating a lot of things they know they could throw or give away without great loss.

There are the clothes that don’t quite fit, but might do so if you lost those extra pounds that you are working on. There are the gifts that you never use, but have sentimental value because of the friends who gave them to you.

And then there are the books.

Books Take Room

If you like to read, you probably have books all over your house or apartment. Perhaps you sorted through them 10 years ago (or longer) because you had moved then or simply had a fit of eagerness to clean up.

In any case, there they are, in piles here and there – in the living room, by your bedside, in odd corners, including some in the bathroom.

Whatever cataloguing system once existed has probably long lost any cogency. When you are looking for a book you know you own, you get annoyed because it is nowhere to be found.

You have long thought that books don’t take any space, but you know you are kidding yourself. Indeed, for years, you proudly collected books to make your home feel properly lived in and loved. Each addition was like another brick to a house.

Perhaps it is time to cull.

Culling Can Be Painful

Deciding to get rid of books is harder than you might think. There are the books you always meant to read and are sure you will get to one day. There are those you started, but then stopped, and you like to think you will indeed finish them.

There are some you may be keeping for the children or for when you are sick and need something not too demanding. There are a lot of reasons to keep books.

And, if you are anything like me, it is a dusty job. You keep the house generally clean, but how often do you pull out the books one by one? So not only is it an emotionally difficult business to decide to give away books, but it is also a physically unpleasant one. Every reason not to do it.

But go for it, nonetheless.

How to Start Downsizing Your Book Collection

It is possible, of course, to simply go to any shelf and pull out books you don’t really want any more. I would urge you to do it more systematically.

If you have a lot of books, mentally divide them into categories – perhaps something simple like fiction versus non-fiction, but you might have more elaborate sub-categories.

Start with just one. Search your house for all novels, say, and put them in one place. Then, to feel productive, put them in alphabetical order (and remove any duplicates of books you bought a second time, because you forgot you had them in the first place!).

Then begins the difficult part. You know how old you are, and you know how many books you tend to read in a year. You can guess that however good your intentions, there are a set of books you will never re-read or read for the first time. Put them in a separate pile. Then look again and find some more.

Continue in the same vein with other categories. Depending on the size of your collection, this may take a few days. You should find yourself with a few cartons of books at the end of the process.

Dust the shelves, and put the books back in some organised system that pleases you. Offer the discarded books to friends, family, charity shops or even to passers-by. There, you have done it.

The Gains

Believe me, there are gains. In the first place, your rooms immediately look cleaner and tidier. With luck, there are no books piled on the floor, and you may even gain space for that knick-knack you were wondering where to put. Also, you know where your books are, next time you are looking.

Best of all, you will have found many books you didn’t have any memory of buying, but would really like to read – or re-read. My high school English teacher used to say, “If a book is worth reading once, it is worth reading twice.”

Put them on your bedside in an inviting pile. Take one out and pour yourself a glass of wine.

Time well spent.

first published by Sixty and Me (http://sixtyandme.com/downsizing-dilemma-why-getting-rid-of-books-is-so-tough/)

Are you ever curious about your ancestry?

There is something about finding ourselves in our 60s that makes our heads turn to the past, in general, and, more specifically, to our ancestry. I have no idea why this fascination comes so forcefully at this time.

Perhaps as we age, our perception of time changes. The decades before we were born seem less long ago. Our ancestors therefore seem more real and present.

Searching Your Family History Seriously

There are some people who take genealogy very seriously. They sign up to all sorts of websites and check records going well into the past. This is a great pastime.

Depending on the size of your family, it can keep you busy for months and even years. You will doubtless learn a lot of interesting things.

The Accidental Route

Some of us learn about our ancestry by somewhat more accidental – or, indeed, lazy – means. Perhaps someone else in your family is pursuing such information, so that you can benefit without all the work. It is worth asking older members of your extended family to see what they might have found.

In my case, it turned out that a surprising number of my forbearers were keen on memoir-writing. So, various documents have turned up within the family from different periods, even in different languages.

To add to the fun, these are not always consistent in their description of the same events. The truth, as any historian would confirm, is difficult to establish.

You have to wonder what you would like to find. Someone famous? A connection to royalty? A murderer? We are all different in our wishes and in the ways in which we would respond.

Odd Pieces of Information

My parents were highly respectable, so my ancestors might be expected to be respectable, too – and many of them were. The problem is that they are invariably the least interesting to read about.

I have nonetheless come upon some relatives of more doubtful qualities. One distant ancestor was an explorer in the South Seas in the late nineteenth century. He was evidently selling tobacco on the side.

When he came upon one group of islanders who didn’t know what to do with this product, he set up smoking classes, thereby securing a demand for his regular return.

I should not be proud of this ancestor, but I must admit that I admire his ingenuity. And he wasn’t to know about the link with cancer, after all.

Family Ups and Downs

A much closer relative (my great-grandfather) was involved as a young man in import-export dealings on the Mexican-US border. From family memoirs and other sources, it is clear that this was not genteel territory.

Evidently, there were some careful judgements about the declaration of silver at the border. As the proceeds of import taxes were said to end up in the pockets of those collecting them, the moral issue could be said to be unclear. In any case, he ended up a very rich man.

As history often shows, the money was completely lost by his son, my grandfather, in a series of ill-judged enterprises – to his permanent shame. He ended up as a door-to-door salesman in the 1920s and ’30s.

The Significance of It All

Once you have considered your ancestors, you wonder what to do with the information. Does it help you to understand yourself better? I am not so sure. But you do end up feeling like one link in an inexorable chain – and wonder even harder where your grandchildren and their descendants will take it.

When my son was a small child of just five or six, he heard about the concept of infinity. Like many children, he was fascinated by it. He also began to realise that there were generations within families, with some coming before, like his grandparents, and some after.

One morning, he put the two thoughts together. “You know, Mum,” he said, “the people coming before us were not infinity, but the people coming after us are infinity.” His English wasn’t up to the task of expressing his thought, but the thought itself was profound, indeed.

First published by Sixty and Me (http://sixtyandme.com/are-you-curious-about-your-family-history-heres-how-to-start-researching/)

Another lovely 5 star review

This is on Amazon.com (http://amzn.to/24y7A5f) and is very pleasing because it is from a different point of view:

“This was an especially poignant read for me, as my grandmother passed away earlier this year. Through most of my adult life, I only contacted her occasionally, and of course I now regret that. However, I was blessed to have lived with her as a child and shared that part of my life with her. I am also glad I shared some of my artistic successes with her – she was an artist herself, and I wanted to ensure she knew that I continued that tradition and talent.

With that in mind, I went into reading this book girded for heartache, tears, and joy. I was not disappointed. The breadth of quotations is astounding and on point. Every person should read this book, whether they knew their grandparents at all or not, are grandparents themselves or not. It will have you in cathartic tears.”

 

Reviews

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I think it is time to give some reviews an outing.  I will be doing so from time to time. Here are three reviews of Celebrating Grandmothers from Amazon, all five stars:

from Allison P Coudert:

This is a wonderful book, yes, for grandmothers but not exclusively for them. It shows how important family bonds and the bonds between generations can be and thankfully often are. One of the problems of modernity is the that it places so many conflicting demands on individuals while offering so many distractions that we often forget where our true values lie. Ann Richardson’s book allows us to slow down a bit and take stock of how important nurturing relationships are for ourselves, our families, and the world at large.

from an anonymous reviewer:

Beautiful, touching testimonies from grandmothers. The recordings are unedited and spontaneous. They can be read in any order. An enjoyable read for all, whether a grandma, a mom or a daughter!

And another:

Perfect Mother’s gift for all moms! Ms. Richardson writes beautifully about the importance of taking time to value grandmothers and moms. Each story shares a moment in time to be treasured. Rarely do grandmothers get that special nod for all of their love, dedication and wisdom. Well worth the read!

 

What sort of grandmother are you?

People often have set ideas about what a grandmother should be like. However, grandmothers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – as well as in attitudes to that role. This became very clear to me when I wrote a book based on interviews conducted with 27 very different grandmothers.

Living Close or at a Distance

A big issue is whether you live nearby or far away. This is generally not something you have a lot of choice about, unless you decide to move to be near your children and grandchildren. Some women love the fact that their family are all within easy distance and make a real effort to see them frequently.

And some families live together in three- or even four-generation households. This can bring a great bond between grandparents and grandchildren if family relationships are good. Not all are, and such living arrangements can also exacerbate family friction.

Yet others welcome the freedom that being geographically distant provides. They are happy to see their grandchildren from time to time, but want to lead their own lives.

Indeed, one woman recently told me cheerfully that the best way to be a grandmother was to have your daughter living abroad, as were her case.

Being Very Involved in Childcare or Not

Related to physical proximity, but not the same, is the matter of how closely involved you are in your grandchildren’s care. Some grandmothers – out of choice or necessity – undertake a lot of childcare themselves.

They may have an allotted day when they take a toddler out or meet children after school. Some do much more.

Indeed, there are some grandparents who are full-time babysitters (caregivers), taking on the role of parents because the parents themselves are incapacitated for one reason or another. This can be very hard work and is yet another story.

But there are plenty of grandmothers who do not want full responsibility for grandchildren at any time. They make it clear, often from the outset, that they are not built-in babysitters and want to continue with their own work or other activities. They may help on occasion, but want to do so on their own terms.

Grandmother Roles

Another key difference between grandmothers lies in what they do with their grandchildren – and at what point in their lives. Some love to cuddle and play with small babies, but become less keen as children grow older. Some are the reverse and look forward to when they can have proper conversations with the next generation.

There is so much to be discussed, but I would just note one key role here – namely, teaching grandchildren. This may be about the little things that the parents do not have time for, such as how to knit or to cook or to know the names of plants in their garden.

Or it may be teaching deeper matters, perhaps old-fashioned values, religious beliefs or just a love of learning. Many people say that they gained such values from their own grandparents. And it can be a great pleasure to see your own views take root in the next generation.

The Impact of Grandchildren on You

I talk to a lot of grandmothers and often ask them about the relationships they have with their grandchildren. Some tell me their names and ages, but do not impart a great sense of joy. Others light up at the very mention of them. One woman who was interviewed for my book often had her grandchildren to stay and noted that when they were there “the house is smiling.”

This was originally published by SixtyandMe (Sixtyandme.com/what-sort-of-grandmother-are-you-does-it-matter/)

 

 

Celebrating the simple things in life

I want to tell you about my day today. No, it wasn’t a bad day, the sort of day that we often want to talk about, when everything goes wrong. It was a good day, of the sort we much too often take for granted.

Here are a few tips for celebrating the simple things in life.

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

This good day started with a good night’s sleep – not something I am able to achieve very often. We older women tend to complain to each other about our difficulties in getting to sleep – or the long hours in the early morning when we were awake. But a good night’s sleep, as we all know, is wonderful. You feel so completely refreshed.

Enjoying a Glorious Day

But the special thing was that it was a glorious day – sunny, blue skies, warm, but not too hot, with a gentle breeze.

It was the sort of day that makes people smile as they walk down the street. I went out for some errands and chatted to a neighbour, in part about the day and in part about the good things in our lives. She told me how she loved being retired, doing nothing, whereas I talked about how I love writing my books . We smiled together about how everybody is different!

I mentioned that I felt we took the good things a bit too much for granted.

Sharing with Grandchildren

But my ruminations on this issue had started two days ago. I had been walking down the street with my seven-year-old grandson, taking him to a doctor’s appointment. We had crossed a busy street and had held hands for the purpose, but he didn’t let go.

We walked for ages with his little hand in my bigger one, talking about whatever was on his mind. And I suddenly thought what a wonderful simple pleasure that is. That trusting child, feeling safe in your hands. What more can you ask?

And there are, of course, so many more joys associated with children. Watching an active toddler finally sleeping, watching a child of any age begin to understand something they had not understood before. We, as adults, can only sit back and marvel.

Eating Simple Food

And then there was lunch – for me, some tomatoes, cheese, good bread and a bit of yogurt flavoured with turmeric. Nothing fancy, but nonetheless fresh, healthy and delicious. And I then made some brownies, as my husband had asked for them. Now, there is a combination of ingredients that can hardly be bettered. And they came out well.

Appreciating Timeless Pleasures

The simple pleasures of a beautiful day, a trusting child, even food, have been the subject of many a poem, essay or other form of commentary, probably from the year dot.

But does it take getting older to really appreciate these pleasures? When you are younger, you are much more likely to rush. Yes, you say, it is a lovely day and then you rush on to your appointment or to collect your child from school or whatever it is that fills your time. You don’t really stop and just feel the moment.

You know you should, but on the whole, you don’t.

We can.

Visiting a Friend

And toward the end of the afternoon, I went to visit a friend in hospital. Like me, she does her best to keep herself fit, but she had the bad luck to have fallen and broken her femur. She had had surgery, loads of pain, pain killers, side effects from the medication and so forth. She smiled bravely, but it was clear she was not certain when she would get back to normal.

I walked back from the hospital, as the sun was low but still bright and buildings were glowing – my son calls this “the golden hour,” a new phrase to me – and realised I had missed the most important thing of all.

Simply being able to walk.

I sometimes think we need a wake-up call to appreciate the ordinary things in life.

 

This was originally published by SixtyandMe: http://sixtyandme.com/6-ways-to-celebrate-the-simple-things-in-life/

 

Talking about how I came to write and re-launch Life in a Hospice: AlzAuthors website

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Some years ago, I was taken to a hospice by a friend, who happened to be doing an errand. I immediately felt that this was the kind of tranquil place where I wanted to spend time. Soon after, I began to volunteer at a local hospice every Saturday afternoon. I did so for four years.

This experience had a strong impact on me, lasting even to the present day. Death – as with birth – is a very special time and I felt privileged to help people, even in small ways, in their last days.

As I was a writer, I thought the views and experiences of hospice staff would make a fascinating book. I had developed a technique, based on the kind of research I did for a living, of creating books formed around the direct views of people acquired by long and intimate interviews. Like a television documentary, it allows people to talk directly to the reader.

I undertook 31 interviews in two hospices with a whole range of staff – nurses, doctors, chaplains, managers and even a very reflective cook. They talked about the many ways in which they tried to make patients’ last days peaceful and meaningful, about the impact of such work on their own lives and, most importantly, about what they gained personally from such work. Like myself, they often used the word ‘privileged’ for being with people at the end of their lives.

The resulting book, Life in a Hospice, was, in my humble view, the best I had ever written – and I anticipated that many people would be keen to read it. It was very well reviewed, there was an article in the Times newspaper about it and it was even Highly Commended by the British Medical Association, despite not being a ‘medical’ book at all. All this was hugely pleasing.

But, alas, the breadth of the readership was very disappointing. The book was bought by many hospices and others working in end of life care, but it never took off with the general public. I quickly realized there were two reasons. First, most people do not have my fascination with end-of-life care and, indeed, avoid thinking about anything to do with death. And, second, the book was much too expensive, the price having been set by its medical publisher

I couldn’t do anything to overcome the first problem, but I took back the rights to the book and re-launched it as a very inexpensive e-book ($3.75), so that anyone who wants to read it will not be deterred by the price. It is again receiving some good reviews on Amazon. I must admit I have never heard anyone say they were not deeply moved by it. A paperback version is in the works and will be published soon.

My one caveat for this website is that the hospices in my book did not cater for people with Alzheimer’s. I can only say that the attention to the very individual needs of patients would go far when it comes to people with dementia of any kind.

This was originally published on the Alzheimers Authors website:  https://alzauthors.com/2017/06/14/welcome-ann-richardson-author-of-life-in-a-hospice/

 

Kind Cooking: the art of preparing food for sick people

Are you one of the many people who are looking after someone who is very ill? Perhaps a spouse, sibling, parent or friend? As you well know, it is a highly tiring and difficult task, however much it is undertaken with love.

You may be overloaded with advice, but I’d like to add a few thoughts about food.

Ill People Don’t Feel Like Eating

People who are ill rarely want to eat. Nothing looks good or tastes good and they just pick at whatever you put in front of them. And then they feel tired, have no energy and little chance to enjoy the days, months or, perhaps, years they have remaining

In the course of writing a book about end-of-life care, I interviewed a hospice cook who was devoted to encouraging ill people to eat. If they eat even a little, he said, they will have a much better quality of life.

Instead of sleeping all the time, he noted, they will be able to talk to family and friends – and, when needed, say their goodbyes. There may be unresolved issues and talking is important for laying these to rest. This is altogether better for the ill person and better for those looking after him or her.

Cooking from the Ill Person’s Point of View

The cook, with long experience, had many pointers to suggest. Give the ill person some choice wherever possible, as they will have so few areas in which they can exercise any sense of control.

Don’t overwhelm them with too much food; use small plates and small bowls so that what is offered looks an amount they could cope with. One small piece of meat, one small potato, something green or a small carrot for colour and it can look much more inviting. Herbs can add valuable taste for jaundiced appetites and can offset the effects of medication.

If possible, keep the preparation at a distance, as the smell of cooking can be very off-putting. See if you could borrow a neighbour’s kitchen if you want to cook something that takes time or has a powerful smell. People are often very eager to help.

Eating as a Social Occasion

Finally, the cook stressed the importance of making eating a social occasion. Talking and even laughing over food provides a welcome sense of life and normality. Sit down together and discuss the news of the day or something else of interest. Sometimes, a small amount of alcohol would not go amiss, depending on the drugs the person is on.

He was also keen to get people out of bed wherever possible. A table nearby, even with a tablecloth, can look much more inviting than the tiresome sick bed.

It’s Not Easy

Cooking for people who are very sick is not easy at the best of times. But these ideas provide some ways to make it more palatable for the patient and more satisfying for the cook.

This was originally published by SixtyandMe (see http://sixtyandme.com/kind-cooking-the-art-of-preparing-food-for-sick-people/)

How Hospice Care Can Help Meet a Patient’s End of Life Wishes

Have you ever spent time with someone in their last days? Was it intimate, peaceful and special – or was it full of intrusive hospital equipment, harried nurses, physical pain and no chance to talk?

We are all affected when someone we love is close to death. I am sure we all hope for a time of tranquility and the chance to say a meaningful goodbye. And, it goes without saying, a time that is pain-free. The concept of a “good death” is not an empty one. The question is how to achieve it. Can hospice care help?

Life in Hospice Care

It was my privilege some years ago to interview a number of nurses, doctors and other staff working in two hospices in England. From what they told me, outside of the family home, I could not imagine a better place for one’s last days. Everyone seemed full of compassion, but also thoughtfulness about the needs of the people there, both those who were dying and their relatives and friends.

 Attention to Needs

It is difficult to do justice in a few words to the breadth of attentiveness in a hospice. As described in much more detail on my website, it is not the big things that one remembers, but the little touches that make all the difference.

In my book, I introduce different patients, like the woman who didn’t want a bath at the normal time and was allowed to bathe at the time of her choosing. Or the family member who needed a sandwich to enable her to stay at the bedside and how it was provided. Or the patient who simply needed a cuddle.

I met a hospice cook who spent considerable time thinking about how to encourage people to eat. He said if they ate, they would be alert enough to say goodbye to their friends and family. He studied the impact of drugs on the taste of food and learned how to counteract this.

A choice of food was always offered. He encouraged people to get out of bed to eat, if at all possible, so they could have a sense of occasion with their friends or family.

Each person – whether a nursing assistant or chaplain or doctor – looked out for patients’ needs in all sorts of ways. This might be the need to talk about the past or simply to sit in silence with someone holding their hand.

Sometimes, some action was called for, such as an elderly woman who wanted to write to her grandchild, but needed a slight reminder to do so sooner rather than later. The stories go on and on.

Hospice Care Offers a Choice in Death

No one chooses to die, of course, but hospices do what they can to allow people to die in the way they want. Perhaps most memorable for me was the man who asked to die under a tree and was duly taken outside to do so when his time had come.

Some people wanted music and others wanted family with them. Some appeared to want to be alone. A Muslim man asked that his bed be turned so that his head was facing east. Every effort was made to respond to these wishes.

We don’t like thinking about these things, but we all know we should. Many people want to die at home, but end up in a busy hospital. There is a need to think about what you – or your family – would want, so it can be planned for.

 

This was originally published by Sixtyandme (see http://sixtyandme.com/how-hospice-care-can-help-meet-a-patients-end-of-life-wishes/)