Issue #20, April, 2008

Welcome to the April 2008 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.


It is almost bluebell time again, here in Devon. The first ones are already out and soon there will be carpets of them all through the woods near where we live. I blogged about that today, as a matter of fact, as those of you who follow my blog may already have seen. Not just about bluebells but about woods and how lucky I am to live near one. Especially at this time of year, when the leaves are beginning to burst and the air is alive with birdsong. 

Last week, ever the optimist, I planted lots and lots of seeds, in expectation of warmer Spring weather to come. Meanwhile, those of you in the Southern Hemisphere are beginning to feel the first chill of autumn in the air.

But wherever you are and whoever you are, I hope you find this twentieth issue of The Elderwoman Newsletter interesting and enjoyable. And I extend a special welcome to all the new subscribers who have signed up since the last issue. Please feel free to pass the Newsletter on to your ‘third age’ friends and encourage them to sign up also. The Newsletter usually comes out four times a year and subscription is absolutely free. (And by the way, I don’t share my mailing list with anybody, ever, so you need have no worries on that score).

Many blessings,


Old, Gray, and Proud of It: bucking the trend towards age-denial

 By Marian Van Eyk McCain

It was the summer of 1980. 

I came back from town with my new reading glasses and put them on the table in their plastic case. "My first pair," I said to my partner. "I'm getting old, aren't I?" 

"Don't worry about it" he replied. "You still look young to me. Anyway it's no good being upset about  getting old. We all get old eventually." He gave me a big bear hug.

"I know," I sniffed, burying my nose in his warm shoulder. "But it's just that I don't want to get old while I'm still young." That was undoubtedly one of the most nonsensical statements I ever made (and I still get teased about it, thirty years later) but he knew what I meant. 

I bought a pretty chain for that first pair of specs and adjusted to my new self-image. After all, some of my work colleagues had them too. We joked about them, just as we joked about our failing memories and our 'middle-age spread.' Just as, a few years later, we would joke about our hot flashes (the wonderful term 'power surges' had not been invented back then. Or if it had, I hadn’t yet heard it.) 

The problem with distance vision crept up on me so slowly that I was only vaguely aware of it  - until the day I missed a bus stop through my inability to read a street sign. This time, the optician prescribed variable focus lenses. 

The day I collected them, I went home on the bus. Glancing at people's reflections in the bus window, I noticed an elderly woman with gray hair and spectacles and quite a few wrinkles. My vision sharpened with the new lenses, I stared at her, only to recoil in horror when I realized who she was. Me. 

I realized something else in that split second, too. Which was that like so many other women in our culture, I’d acquired the 'eek!freak!squeak!' reaction to aging.

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Like those early electric wall clocks whose big hand used to lurch judderingly forward every sixty seconds, we often become aware of our own aging process in separate, jerky moments, rather than feeling it as a smooth, continuous  movement through time. The first gray hair; the first pair of glasses; the first discovery of age spots or wrinkles. 

Suddenly, I saw two visions in my mind at once, as on a split screen, like watching two different movies at the same time. The movie on the left featured me as a young teenager, surrounded by my friends, as we huddled around the school radiators, talking about periods and brassieres and boys and wishing we could outgrow our acne, grow bigger breasts, grow up, leave school, drink alcohol legally, stay out all night, be movie stars..... 

The movie on the right was replaying all those rueful comments about reading glasses and distance glasses, failing memories, hot flashes and the backwards yearning for a flat tummy and perky breasts. 

Somewhere, I thought, there must a point where those two scenarios meet in the middle. But what is it? Try as I would, I couldn’t remember the moment when it felt absolutely perfect to be exactly the age I was. How dumb is that? 

It dawned on me, then, that part of the spiritual task of accepting ourselves as we are is to accept ourselves as the age we are. Wishing we were younger – or older – is not only ridiculous, since there’s nothing we can do to change our age, it’s also a total waste of time. The past is gone, the future hasn’t happened and the only true reality is the present moment. Living fully in each moment is, as all the sages from every wisdom tradition, including Christianity, agree, the only key to happiness and contentment. 

Now, that the baby boomers start into their sixties, I notice a lot of 'eek!freak!squeak!’ going on. A lot of denial, too. Plug the phrase 'anti-aging' into Google and you get an unbelievable 2,670,000 entries. Cosmetic surgery, Botox, thousands of dollars being spent every day by women trying to look younger than they are, while half the world’s children starve. What’s wrong with this picture? 

But I must try not to judge my sisters harshly. I mustn’t forget how I felt, that day I saw myself in the bus window. Since we live in a culture that is fixated on youth, all of us, to some degree, have absorbed the (erroneous) message that young is beautiful and old is ugly, even though, deep down, we know that the only true beauty comes from within. 

I believe instead of pandering to it we owe it to ourselves and to our daughters and granddaughters to change this stupid, outdated conditioning. We owe it to ourselves to strip away the shallow standards of 'beauty' that the fashion industry, the cosmetics industry and most of all the advertising industry all feed on. We’re being exploited, and it is time we stood up and said a huge "NO!" The most radical thing we can do – and the most beneficial – is to dare to be ourselves, as we are, old, gray and proud of it. 

I jolly well earned every one of these wrinkles I see in the mirror. I earned every one of those age spots on my skin and I earned my gray hair. It is starting to turn white now. I love it. It actually suits me better than brown ever did and the whiter it gets, the better I look in my favorite black dress. And I like wearing glasses. They really suit me – and they disguise the fact that I really have no eyebrows worth speaking of. 

At seventy-one, I’m fit and trim, happy and full of vitality. I love being old. I’m having the time of my life. So are lots of the other, 'natural' elderwomen I know, in their sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, even beyond. We are being ourselves. And we are beautiful, each in our own way, just the way we are, wrinkles, white hair, cellulite, glasses and all.

Marian Van Eyk McCain 2007

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Culture Change in Long-Term Care

by Steph Kilen


There are lots of common fears, but one that sneaks up on folks as they get a little older is the fear of having to live in a nursing home – that is if they let themselves think about it at all. Never mind the thought of indefinitely residing in a place that looks and smells like a hospital and spending your days in a wheelchair parked in the hallway around the nurses’ station. Just try to wrap your brain around the idea of giving up the power to make the myriad of daily decisions and choices you’ve been making your whole adult life. I bet your mind tries to change the subject on you before you even get to the end of that sentence. 

Luckily, there are some people and organizations who have spent a lot of time thinking about this situation. Since it took off in the late 90s, the goal of the “culture change” movement has been to put frail elders in long-term care back in control of their lives in an environment that is more like home than institution. This requires deep change in physical environment, organizational structure and the way individuals live and work in the nursing home. Changing the culture of a nursing home is an involved process that can take years. However, here I will share just a few of the most powerful and pivotal changes a facility and the people who live and work there can make. 

The facility is broken down into smaller units to which staff is permanently assigned so that the same staff works with the same residents. 

It may start off simply by breaking up the nursing home by hallways. At its ideal, the nursing home is renovated or reconstructed to the Household Model in which 16-24 residents share a household that has its own living room, dining room, kitchen, outdoor space and entrance. As residents and permanently assigned staff get to know each other, staff can better care for elders because they build trust between them and know their preferences, dislikes, habits and moods. This is individualized care. Something else quite special happens too. In these relationships, elders have opportunities to give the way they have their whole lives. It gives meaning and purpose to their lives in a place where formally they had only been on the receiving end of care. As the people in hallways or households get to know each other, it starts to feel more like home and less like an assembly line warehouse.

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Elders have choice

In a traditional nursing home elders are told when to get up, when to eat, what to eat, when and how to bathe, when to go to bed and all sorts of other elements about how we structure our days. By breaking down the nursing home into smaller units it is possible to give elders choice in how they live. Permanently assigned, self-led work teams have the power to make and carry out decisions with the elders about all the things that make up their days, just like they did in their own homes. It’s hard to believe that this wasn’t the way things were done from the start.

Residents relaxing in the homey living room of their household at Bigfork Valley Communities in Bigfork, MN. (USA)

Physical environment is renovated

A big part of culture change is the change of physical environment. It’s not updating a nursing homes decor to look more like a nice hotel than a hospital, it’s updating the decor so it looks like home. Residents are encouraged to bring their own furniture. They choose the paint color for their rooms and have their own treasures hung on the walls. The living spaces are cozy and inviting. The bathing room is relaxing like a spa – big fluffy towels, music, decorations and wallpaper on the walls. The gigantic nurses’ station is replaced by a small residential desk tucked into the living space (not at the center of it). And with the kitchen at the heart of the household, inviting cooking smells replace the smells of institution (which is hard to define, but you certainly know what it is.)


 We are not just talking about elite or expensive facilities here. The majority of culture change homes are non-for-profit. The people and organizations who are doing this are doing so because it is the right thing to do. And, it is really the future of nursing homes. Baby Boomers will expect more and not put up with the things their depression era parents did. This article just scratches the surface of all the wonderful changes happening in long-term care. For more information about the culture change movement visit


Steph Kilen is a writer for Action Pact, a culture change education and consulting firm and can be reached at

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Sheree Zielke

Today I taught my grandchildren how to build a snow wall. Complete with a doorway. It was quite a feat for a chubby 50-something Nana, especially in light of three rather disinterested, somewhat sluggish, grandkids that had been earlier dragged away from their Nintendos, to spend a few hours outside.

We pulled into one of our city parks; it was hosting the annual speed skating festival. Bright sunshine cast magical rays upon the snow conjuring up a field of flashing diamonds; people of all ages were skating round and round; some folks were hard at work molding snow sculptures; others were boarding the back of a hay wagon pulled by a pair of massive and sweaty Percheron draft horses. A heady feeling of old-fashioned fun permeated the cool wind.


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... and if you enjoyed Sheree's story, here's another one from her collection:


"What do you think of this, Nana?"

We both maintained our practiced aloof composure, my 7-year old understudy and me, as she handed me a small card filled with miniature buttons and zippers, all in their original packaging. The little scamp had found a vintage pack of Barbie and Midge sewing notions dated to the early 60s. I knew this garage sale gem would do well on eBay.

"Hmm," I said (same aloofness). "I might be able to do something with that."

We paid the pittance asked and scurried away to our car, my granddaughter infected with my excitement but not completely comprehending that we had a good thing, a very good thing...


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Women growing old with joy and zest, wit and wisdom


I am delighted to report that now, four months from the day it went first went online, Elderwomanspace is fast approaching the two-hundred-member mark.

There are mature women of all ages taking part, from mid-thirties to late eighties, with the majority being in their fifties and sixties and we are all learning from each other. I am thrilled to bits with the way it is turning out, with friendships being formed, a lot of ideas being exchanged and a really wonderful 'vibe' of love and support which seemed to develop naturally and which continues to pervade the site.

A number of groups have formed. So far, we have groups that focus on writing, on art, on healing, on simplifying your life and living more 'greenly', on 'the Paranormal and all things unusual and unexplained', on gardening and on the norms and etiquette of social networking. There are more than thirty discussions taking place on a whole bunch of topics, from books to rituals to funerals, and blogs on a wide range of topics from pole-dancing to knitting to the meaning of life and everything in between.

So if you haven't signed up yet, don't be shy. We'd love to welcome you. And if you have lost your invitation or the link no longer works, just email me and I'll send you another straight away. Remember it is a private network with membership by invitation only, so there is no danger of 'trolls'. And because it is password-protected, your privacy is not under threat. Nobody can get into the site but us.

The Aging Adventurer


I continue to be inspired by Emily Kimball, 'The Aging Adventurer', who divides her time between her outdoor adventures - hiking and cycling in all sorts of interesting places - and encouraging others to live their own 'third age' to the full, as she does. 

In her first 2008 newsletter, she reported - among other things - on what she calls
'A Woodstock for Positive Aging'. She wrote:
My mind is still spinning from the first ever Positive Aging Conference held in St. Petersburg, Florida, in December 2007. I followed the Life Planning Track, which held a full day pre-conference along with a series of sessions during the next two days. I have never met so many life coaches focused on older adults, or so many retired women actively involved in setting up transition groups for new retirees. It was awe-inspiring. There is a revolution happening. Retirees are not sitting around waiting to be served; they are starting new programs on their own and gathering other souls into the movement to get involved in life in myriad ways. Professionals in the field are coming together to share expertise and maximize the opportunity for a vital, fulfilling, and contributing third age...

If you haven't visited Emily's website, I encourage you to do so. You can sign up for her newsletter there.

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The Living Spiritual Elders Project!
an eight-week discovery and discussion series 

Psychotherapist, spiritual director and author Meredith Jordan will again offer an inspiring opportunity in 2008 to participate in The Living Spiritual Elders Project, an eight-week discovery and discussion series. 

The series runs from May 6-June 24, 2008 and will be held in Kennebunkport, Maine at The Community House, South Congregational Church.  (Former Elders Project participants please note that each series continues our study of the elders and does not repeat previous series.)
The Living Spiritual Elders Project uses rare DVD films and audio CDs to explore the teachings of revered spiritual elders from diverse faith and spiritual traditions. In this eight-week series, we will plumb the wisdom of the elders of our human family: wisdom that assists us in renewing our personal lives and shaping our common destiny.

For more information, call Meredith Jordan at 207-283-0752 or email 

... and here's another message from Meredith:

I hope  you are aware of an  organization formed by some of the world's most influential living spiritual elders (

The Elders, a group of twelve leaders from throughout the world, were convened by Nelson Mandela in July 2007 on the occasion of his 89th birthday, to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. The Elders’ first mission was to Sudan in September and October 2007.

Please take time to visit The Elders' website, where you can read and sign their "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Your attention to their efforts and your signature on this declaration is a gift each of us can give this year to the entire family of humanity. It stands you in good company with some of the wisest of teachers and leaders among us.

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'Crone' Launch Rescheduled

The debut of our new ‘Crone’ Magazine, which was due to have happened round about now,  has been rescheduled for September.

It was a bit of a disappointment for those of us on the staff, as we are so excited and so eager to see our new baby born. But it is also good news. Because the magazine will now be launched at Crones Counsel – a perfect setting – and that means there's a good chance  many of you will now be able to witness this important birth and join in the celebrations.

I would so love to be there. Unfortunately, a trip from here to Seattle is just not possible for me this year. I was on the West coast last year for a family wedding and I simply cannot justify another flight all the way over there at the moment, for all the reasons I set out in the July 2005 Newsletter (see Air Travel Angst ). But I heard a whisper that next year’s gathering will be in Atlanta, and if it is I shall probably be able to attend. I enjoy those gatherings so much.

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Margaret Morganroth Gullette  
alerts us to an important new book due to be published in September:

 I am writing on behalf of my dear friend Alix Kates Shulman. Her new book, To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed (Ferrar Straus Giroux August 2008) is about caring for her beloved husband, Scott York, who suffered brain damage when he fell out of their Maine loft in 2004 at the age of 75, and was discovered to have Alzheimer's. This is a wonderful book: warm, honest, funny, tender, touching, tough and realistic too, and both Alix and Scott are real people, real characters. Oliver Sacks says it is "a remarkable and important book, beautifully organized and written." It will probably be the best book of the year on the topic of care, or Alzheimer’s, or long-term love.  

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About Alix

She is a famous second-wave feminist, novelist, and memoirist. This is the bio from Ferrar, Straus, Giroux.

Alix Kates Shulman has been hailed by The N.Y. Times as "the voice that has for three decades provided a lyrical narrative of the changing position of women in American society."

Her best-selling novel Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, first published in 1972, sold over a million copies. This ground-breaking portrait of the sexual and social predicament faced by young women in the 1950s is now a classic. Almost continuously in print since 1972, it was reissued in a new edition by FSG.

Her acclaimed 1995 memoir, Drinking the Rain, describes a decade-long midlife voyage of discovery that she embarked upon at the age of fifty, alone on a coastal island in Maine. A finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and winner of the Body Mind Spirit Award of Excellence, it too has been continuously in print.

Having eloquently explored the trials and challenges of youth and midlife, now, in her newest memoir, To Love What Is, she will probe the next stage in the ongoing drama of her generation of women, taking on the terrors, challenges, insights, and rewards she experienced caring for a beloved, brain-impaired husband.

Note from Marian:

This is certainly a book I shall be looking forward to reading. Thank you, Margaret, for the heads-up.

While pottering around on Alix's website, I found a link to the July 2003 issue of the Women's Review of Books, which was a special issue on the topic of women and ageing. Five years old it may be but there is a lot of excellent writing here. Some stories never go out of date!  Click here to read it.

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NEWSFLASH! - An Honour for Marsha!

Marsha Scarbrough's book MEDICINE DANCE which as you may remember I reviewed back in October, has been named a Finalist in USA Book News 2007 National  “Best Books” Awards (New Age Non-Fiction Category)

Published by O Books, John Hunt Publishing Ltd. on August 31, 2007, Medicine Dance rose to #11 on Amazon’s bestseller list in the category of Health, Mind & Body-Alternative Medicine-Native Healing in less than four weeks after publication and has since risen as high as #8. 

Scarbrough takes readers on a fast-paced adventure of inner exploration. Prompted by a bad mammogram, she seeks healing from Native American medicine man Joseph Rael, also known as Beautiful Painted Arrow. The amazing result of his treatment inspires this contemporary woman to follow an unlikely path that eventually leads to her to experience ancient mind-body healing techniques. She shares the wisdom she gained by participating in shamanic rituals and illustrates the relevance of these teachings to modern life. 

Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and Mother-Daughter Wisdom says, Medicine Dance is just fabulous. I couldn’t put it down. Rarely have I read anything that gets as close to the whole truth about health, disease and relationships.” 

In its 2007 Indian Market issue, the Santa Fean writes, “. . . Scarbrough’s unflinching inner dialogue, combined with Rael’s approach—adapted for ‘contemporary society and people of many cultures’—helps avoid the high-mindedness that plagues similar tales.  Scarbrough is careful to present her story as the journey of one individual, consistently focusing on her own struggles with family, cancer, mortality, and a sometimes horrifyingly impersonal healthcare system.” 

Marsha Scarbrough is a widely-published journalist with experiential training in dance therapy, Buddhism, and martial arts as well as Native American and West African spirituality. She worked in film production for major feature films and prime time television for almost 20 years. Marsha currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 ... and she's a member of Elderwomanspace. So if you are a member too, you might want to wander over to her page and offer her your congratulations.

My Sister, At Her Dressing Table

You still wear

that squabble over dishes,

just there, next to your eyebrow,

where he tossed

the sieve at you.

Lucky you, to see him every morning in this mirror,

the brother we loved and lost.

Lost, too, your teeth, to the difficult days,

those low-wage, scrimp-and-save days

of post-war poverty.

You wear dentures now.

They're OK you say, as you smile

that little, corners-down smile you learned to do

as a child, to hide the cavities. Now it's a part of you.

Look, there, see that funny smile?

Look, there are Dad's eyes, Mum's nose, our history. Your history.

Three marriages, five kids – a book is in that face.

Not just a book, an entire library.

A dusty one, you say.

Old fashioned.

Somewhat the worse for wear.

Wrong. That's a good face you have there

and you must honour it. Honour the thrusting bones

of age, the wrinkles and the thinning skin.

Moisturise it now. Your nose, your chin.

Caress with love those cheeks, that brow,

your neck as well. And ears.

It needs to last at least another twenty years.

Marian Van Eyk McCain, 2007

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The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.
~ Dorothy Sayers

We turn not older with years, but newer with every day.”
~ Emily Dickinson 

When I was twenty-seven, I felt like a pebble on the beach. Now I feel like the whole beach.
~ Shirley MacLaine

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Contributions for this newsletter are eagerly sought. Please send in your writings, your thoughts, your poetry, a book or website you have found, an announcement or news item that you think would be interesting to others, a comment on one of these articles, a subject you'd like to see, an anecdote, something that moved you - whatever snippet you want to share. Don't be shy.


Murphy's Lesser Known Laws 

1.  Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak. 

2.  Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine. 

3.  Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't. 

4.  Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool. 

5.  The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong. 

6.  If you lined up all the cars in the world end to end, someone would be stupid enough to try to pass them, five or six at a time, on a hill, in the fog. 

7.  The things that come to those who wait will be the scraggly junk left by those who got there first. 

8.  The shin bone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room. 

9.  A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well. 

10.  When you go into court, you are putting yourself into the hands of 12 people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

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The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, October, 2007
The Elderwoman website:
Marian's e-mail: marian(at) 

NB: replace 'at' with the @ sign, and please remember to insert OKEM in the subject line to make sure you get through my three layers of spam filtering!
Unfortunately, the filters are a necessity to stop my in-box flooding with spam.
 - oh and when you write to me, please remember that my name is spelt MARIAN

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