The Elderwoman Newsletter

Issue #23, April, 2009

On the flank of Monte San Biagio, Maratea, Italy

Welcome to the April 2009 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.


I am later than I meant to be with this newsletter and the (northern) spring is well under way. Flowers everywhere, trees coming into leaf and birds nesting. Any day now, the swallows will be back.

There are two reasons for my not preparing this issue in March as I intended to. One is that I have been working, this past few months, on a new book. Not as the author this time, but as the editor, bringing together the writings of more than two dozen people on a subject that is very close to my heart - green spirituality.
Once the manuscript was completed and handed in to the publisher, I claimed my reward, which was a brief vacation in Maratea - one of my favourite spots in southern Italy. So  the second reason this newsletter is late in reaching you is that I only just got back.
So now it is time to get busy again, for there are seeds to be sown. Not just the seeds of all those vegetables that will feed us this coming summer, but the seeds of new ideas and new projects which, having lain dormant through the winter months, are now ready to germinate in the bright April sunshine.
A lot of people have signed up to the mailing list since the previous newsletter. Welcome! Remember you can browse back issues  at
And for those who have not yet joined our social network - Elderwomanspace - I encourage you to do so. Just ask and I shall be delighted to send you an invitation.
Many blessings,



 by Christina Baldwin

Over the Spring Equinox in the northlands, author and naturalist Ann Linnea and I were offering our sweet spirited seminar that combines the love of nature and journal writing. This session, Spirit and the Pen in Nature, was held at Menucha Center, a large estate turned to use for many good purposes by the First Presbyterian Church of Portland which has owned and managed the property in the past several decades. 

Menucha is located at the entrance of the Columbia River Gorge on a high cliff overlooking miles of basalt canyons and a string of magnificent waterfalls that shoot off the ledge of the Mt. Hood drainage and into the Columbia River and from there to the sea. One of these, Multnomah Falls, is a dramatic 611 foot plunge, the fourth highest waterfall in the United States, and quite a tourist attraction, being accessible both from Interstate 84 and the scenic Columbia River Gorge Highway built in the early 1900s and only 30 miles from the city of Portland. 

So here we are in the middle of our journal writing and nature appreciating and we have designed into the center of the seminar a solo day in nature: time and space to move around in this magnificent landscape in the attitude of pilgrimage. It was Saturday, the first day of Spring – yes our landscape would be shared with other people, with a stop at the espresso stand, with getting in and out of cars–and the invitation remained: to move as a pilgrim, to practice an inner attitude of listening to the voice of nature, to the open heart, the observer’s eye, and the greening mind into the water-tracked forest. Be back at our retreat house by 5:00–everything else: you decide. 

Ann and I headed up and around Multnomah Falls, a 5.4 mile loop with 1700 foot elevation gain that would take us about four hours of walking, stopping, photo taking, marveling at the depth of green, the trees that had fallen in winter storms, the creeks and waterfalls roaring through the rock face, and the life-death-life-death cycle of the forest.

And here was our big surprise: people. This is not an easy trail. There are many switch backs getting folks up to and down from the ridge line. It was rocky and muddy and the weather switched from cool filtered sunshine to clouds to pouring rain in the course of the day. And yet, we passed at least a hundred people from babies to other 60 year olds, folks walking their dogs, children and many college-aged young people. And diversity: Hispanic, Asian, East Indian, Middle Eastern, African-American, and Caucasian folks all enjoying the same magic of nature–though each in our own ways.

 It gave me great hope: that young people want to be in the woods, not just in the computer game version of the woods, that young families are bringing their children out to take part in nature adventures, that couples where the women are in saris or scarved in Muslim attire are walking in the gorge of the American west. And we are all smiling, nodding in passing, saying hello, holding each other’s cameras for those look-where-we-are photos. Could world peace be this easy? Could nature stitch together what religion and politics have torn apart? Well, it’s the first day of spring–and anything is possible.

 In the midst of the rain, at the end of our hike, we passed a family coming down from a 2-mile loop up to the top of the falls and back. A baby in arms, and two little girls, the oldest about five. They were soaked! The little girl and I looked at each other: her hair plastered to her face, wet hoodie, wet sneakers, she was practically skipping through the storm. Here came a huge grin, and she announced to me, “Wow, isn’t this place awesome?!” Now, that’s a true child of the Pacific Northwest! I wanted to pick her up and hug her, and I want to save the natural world for her to be hiking in when she is sixty!

 Taking a hike in the natural world is a great way to savor the beauties of life without needing to spend any money! And maybe that is part of what got people out of the city and into the forest–the bounty of Nature. There is so much given us to enjoy–all we need is to discover what’s next. Here come the songbirds, and the snowdrops and then the daffodils.

 May you have a week full of new eyes.

An influential figure in the therapeutic writing movement, Christina Baldwin is the author of five books and a renowned teacher, conference presenter and co-founder of the educational company PeerSpirit. Christina has contributed two classic books to the exploration of journal writing, including the well-known classic, Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice which has sold over 100,000 copies and was recently revised and reissued by Bantam Books.  Her most recent book, Storycatcher: Making Sense of our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story (New World Library) reminds readers of the necessity of story to communicate in all areas of professional and personal life.  Baldwin lives on an island near Seattle, Washington, where she is currently at work completing The Circle: A Leader in Every Chair, to be published by Berrett-Koehler. 

My Many Mothers’ Hands

by Ginger Child


I gaze at my hands in the early morning light.  I see the age spots, the cuticles that need oil, the lines everywhere, and the rings that announce my marriage to the love of my life. Various scars that are part of my story, an IV, a knife slip.

But, here’s what I don’t see.  These hands have touched six generations of my life.

Newborn, I have learned that my Mama and I stayed with her Grandmother for my first several days.  I like to think of Great Gramma Cassie holding me, touching my tiny hands. 


Growing up next door to my Gramma Alma, our hands touched many times, receiving food, doll clothes, sitting in her lap to hear Bible stories.  Her hands were always busy with quilt piecing.


Then, my Mama’s hands.  Her name was Mary.  She taught me to cook and sew.

She curled my hair around her fingers into “pipecurls” for church. Her fingers turned pages of books she read to us, like “Kon Tiki”. Her hands soothed and nursed us through pains of all kinds. Even after I was a mother I felt her kind touch. Her hands rested from their labor in 1977.


My hands fashioned doll clothes from Kleenex and scotch tape, flew kites, helped dig a cave, climbed trees, picked up walnuts from the ground in the fall, created a wreath from thorny pyracantha, made a nativity scene complete with stars and wise men marching down the road, wrote poetry, painted pictures, carried countless books between the library and home.  They stirred Christmas fudge and helped decorate the tree.  They learned to use a sewing machine and never get stuck with the needle!  They sorted buttons by color and threaded elastic through waistbands.  My hands played the piano and an old pump organ.  They learned to make music on a trumpet, and picked fruit from our trees.  They helped prepare that fruit for canning and freezing.  They dug in the newly turned spring dirt and planted potatoes.  In the fall they dug up those potatoes.


My hands learned to touch boys’ hands, and I began to leave childhood behind.  They learned to give and receive love in a new, delightful way!  Poetry flowed out of my fingers in a torrent!


Then my hands became mother’s hands, and I tended my family and made art.  They were covered with tears many times as my life moved on, and clapped in surprise and joy as well!  These hands of mine made birthday cakes and clothes for my children.  They made toys and administered medicines.  They did the laundry, shopping and cleaning, just as my mama’s hands did for us. Then these hands signed divorce papers.


My daughter, Cynthia, learned to use her hands to cook and sew as hundreds of her mothers before her did.  Her hands wrote poems and petted kittens, made lumpy clay ornaments and put tinsel on Christmas trees. They dressed dolls and those kittens!  One summer at Vacation Bible School one of her hands was impressed in a tin of plaster, and it lives forever in my heart and hope chest.


She grew up and as I learned to let go of her hands, she walked her path and finally became mother to a daughter, Breanne.


Breanne is turning six today, and so I’m thinking of these six generations.  Breanne’s hands have wrapped around my hands and my neck and my heart for 6 years, and I am blessed!  Her hands write sentences now and have been making art since she could hold a crayon.  We’ve made clay things and painted them together.  She helps me with cooking and baking.


“Grammy, I want to MAKE something”, she exclaims to me, and out come the art and craft supplies!  Her little hands cutting, gluing, writing, coloring, painting, stamping, making art, like her Grammy loves to do. 


I gaze at my hands in the early morning light, and imagine them holding Breanne’s little baby in them some day, a tiny hand grasping my finger, seven generations.  I hope my hands will still be here then.


I love my hands and the history of the women of my family that I hold in them.

Ginger is 63, the grandmother of three, bride of four years to the love of her life, a writer since childhood, multimedia artist, liberal Crone, and curious about everything! She comes from a missionary family and spent 

her formative years in the Peruvian jungle!

              "Joy is Peace dancing, Peace is Joy resting!"
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At age 29 she was a Playboy Bunny; later on, a crusading feminist. Now times have changed, and Gloria Steinem (age 74) is thinking about age. "Fifty was more about defiance for me: 'I'm just going to go on doing everything I did before.' And it wasn't until I was about 54 that I realized that doing everything I did before was not progress. Hello? And 60 was exciting. Sixty was like the new country. And 70 does sound like mortality. And it does make you think about dying." For more on her thoughts about age, see Gloria Steinem, Doing Sixty and Seventy (Elders Academy Press, 2006).
From 'Human Values and Aging Newsletter', January 1, 2009. Thanks to Emily Kimball, aka 'The Aging Adventurer,' for passing this on. And for this bit of health advice also:

Forget the treadmill and the barbells for encouraging fitness. The latest idea in exercise is called Plyometrics, which means using your own body weight as the instrumental source. Simply put, we are encouraged to return to some childhood play. Jumping, hopping, and skipping are all forms of exercise that increase muscle power, strength, and explosiveness. A study at Loughborough University in England found that regular hopping was among the best ways for women to improve their bone density. The amount and strenuousness of the plyometric activity depends upon the condition of one's joints, so don't stress your knees or hips. The following are some ways do plyometric exercises.
  • Climbing up stairs two at a time
  • Drop jumping: Stand on a box a few inches off the ground. Drop to the ground and then jump upwards and forwards as high as you can. Repeat 10 times (or less).
  • Skipping: The U.S. National Institute of Health claims that skipping burns more calories than any other popular exercise except running. Start with a one to three ratio. For every minute skipping, rest for three.
  • Lateral hops: Place an object by your right foot. Hop over it to the left then back again. Do this 15 times, if you can. Then repeat this with your left foot.
From: Plyometrics by Peta Bee. The London Times, July 14, 2008, (as published in The Positive Aging Newsletter, December 2008).
Emily says: "This article made me want to go out and buy a jump rope and to try skipping around the block! (Be careful though.)"

Seems incredible now, but ...

I actually remember the Camel ad. It was still around right up till the early 1950s as far as I can remember. But did they really swallow tapeworms and douche with Lysol back in the 1930s? Yikes!


Toffee Tin

A square tin, so familiar 1 never really saw it;
until to-day, that is, when he is in my mind,
a soldier with a golden heart. My father, with his
special tin
locked away in the sideboard cupboard, to which
only he held the key.

A square tin, on its side a painted palm tree;
I remember those toffees,
wrapped in shiny green paper,
unyielding in the mouth, but mellifluous
on the tongue. Long after they'd all melted away,
that box held my father's treasured papers. On
special days I was allowed a glimpse:

 some sepia photos from his service in India,
there he is astride a horse, proudly wearing
a topee, his eyes squeezed against the brutal sun.
Torn scraps of an identity card, showing name,
number and battalion.

 Decades passed and "right
of the line, second to none" my father would intone
when random phrases were all his brain could frame.
Only I could crack that code, all that remained
after his stroke. A few sentences and place names
from that far country he had learned to love:
Jaipur, Bangalore, Rajastan—words with spice in
so different from English toffee.

When he died, I took the tin, I keep it on my desk.
I can leaf through all those papers now:
my exam results, their marriage lines,
some tattered letters, transparently cheerful
when times were hard. A love-letter,
written to my mother
from India in 1924. He speaks of the beauty of an
Indian sky
at night, wonders if she too scans a skyline
with him in mind.

 Their secrets all are open now to my curious gaze,
reminding me that my own may one day be seen
by strangers' eyes. I hope their memories will be
sweet as toffee on the tongue.

My friend Lis Bertolla has published several volumes of poetry and this poem, 'Toffee Tin' (as well as the one I published in the previous newsletter entitled 'Passing Seventy') is from the latest volume, Three Generations.

It is highly personal poetry and it strikes a deeply resonant chord with me. I hope it does with you also.

Lis's children, like mine, are grown up now. But here, from the back of the book, is a picture from an earlier time.


"... if a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she might have got? If she never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk or how fast she could run? "

 “I didn't fight to get women out from behind vacuum cleaners to get them onto the board of Hoover.”
                                                                                  ~ Germaine Greer

" ‘Being conscious’ is, after all, not a spooky extra kind of stuff, but just one of the many interesting things that complex organisms can do.”

                                                                                 ~ Mary Midgley


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.

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 Toward the end of Sunday service, the Minister asked, 'How many of you have forgiven your enemies?'
80% held up their hands.
The Minister then repeated his question.
All responded this time, except one small elderly lady.
'Mrs. Neely?'; 'Are you not willing to forgive your enemies?'
I don't have any.' She replied, smiling sweetly.
'Mrs. Neely, that is very unusual. How old are you?'
'Ninety-eight.' she replied.
'Oh, Mrs. Neely, would you please come down in front & tell us all how a person can live ninety-eight years & not have an enemy in the world?'
The little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation, and said:  ‘I outlived the bitches!’                 

In the dim and distant past
When life's tempo wasn't so fast,
Grandma used to rock and knit,
Crochet, tat and baby sit.

When the kids were in a jam,
They could always call on Gram.
But today she's in the gym
Exercising to keep slim.

She's checking the web or surfing the net,
Sending some e-mail or placing a bet.
Nothing seems to stop or block her,
Now that Grandma's off her rocker.
The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, April, 2009
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.
(I get quite irrationally snitchy when people spell it with an 'o.'

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