Issue #39, December 2015

Welcome to the December 2015 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.


I seem to have been dashing about a lot over the last few months. First a five-week overland trip to Sicily and Sardinia. Then less than two weeks at home before it was time to attend the GreenSpirit annual gathering and onwards from there to visit the family in Boston. No sooner was I back from there than I had to spend another weekend away, attending meetings.
So I suppose it is little wonder that I am late getting this newsletter completed, even though it was still November when I started it.

This sort of dashing about is getting harder to do nowadays and I find myself getting exhausted a lot faster than I used to. Which maybe is not all that surprising, given that I shall be turning 80 next birthday. I know I am not the only one who lags behind when it comes to regularly updating our ideas about what we can and should do and readjusting our lifestyles to fit our age and life stage. In talking to other elderwomen about this--and eldermen also--I have formed the opinion that most of us are guilty of this failure to re-calibrate on a regular basis.

It is not necessarily that we are in denial about the aging process. I think it is simply that we have expectations based on our own past performance and we simply forget to adjust them. It is as though we are travelling around the world so intent on our journeys that we completely forget to adjust our watches in accordance with the time zones we in which we find ourselves.

Does this strike a chord with you, too?

If so, take time out to make yourself something nice to drink and find somewhere comfy to sit... and enjoy this newsletter.

Love and blessings to all,




I referred, in the last newsletter, to Bill Plotkin's book 'Nature and the Human Soul' and what he had to say about the last two stages of our lives. The first of these is his Stage Seven, which he calls 'The Master in the Grove of Elders' and that is the long and potentially creative and fertile stretch between menopause and 'late old age.' The final one, his Stage Eight, is the one in which we have mostly moved from 'doing' to simply 'being.' We shall still be—one hopes—a force for good and a powerful and important presence in our families and communities, but in a more subtle and spiritual way rather than a 'hands-on' way. Even though we might eventually become too feeble even to help them wash the dishes, our loved ones feel bathed and blessed by our love and our wisdom manifests in small and subtle signs. This stage, Plotkin calls 'The Sage in the Mountain Cave.' 

Long-time newsletter reader Ginger Child now writes to tell us of how it feels to her to be standing at the entrance to that 'mountain cave.'

The Mouth of the Cave 

by Ginger Child

I, also, have the issues about going into the cave. I am 70, now. When my husband died, I was 65. I walked into grief and body pain that had been unattended for years. I moved to live with my sisters, had both knees replaced, and spent the next several years recovering. In this place, I could do nothing and it was distressing. My older sister would remind me that my only job is to be a loving presence in the world. 

So, I am now, more than ever, at the mouth of the cave and I love it here. When the "shoulds" come up, as they do, they are with less force than they were. YAY! 

There is only so much I can do, and I am becoming more accepting of everything. I have only a few friends here, which is fine with me. The house isn't as neat as I would like it to be…oh well! Living with my sisters, it's not all my own choice, and I am no longer mad all the time! Now, this is a great relief. 

I have recently realized that signing every petition that came to me made me constantly focused on what is "wrong". I decided to breathe out the truth of loving kindness and justice and peace. I am ready to become a spiritual activist, I guess! 

I am appalled at the horrors of the world, but I also rejoice at the incredible greatness of people and nature. I believe there is more good than bad, and I am ready to live here! 

I am cleansing my political email and Facebook lists. Art, astronomy, inventions, good deeds, jokes and friends are becoming my focus. The internet is a wondrous place for seeing things I would never see without it! And learning anything is possible! My mind, heart and spirit are stretched, which I love. 

I can finally say, as of this week, that I love my body. It's a new thing for me; I have been mouthing the words for many years, but didn't believe it. Suddenly, this week, it fell into place, and I got it! My body has been through a lot of life, including 50 years of dieting. I now thank it for being an Awesome Healing Machine! All my parts continue to work as they should and I appreciate it. I finally started feeling the love that is NOT connected to how I look, or wish I looked! What a burden lifted off my shoulders. I am so grateful today. 

I still have shoulds, I still wonder if I should be more social, etc, etc, etc. When I feel contented in the moment, I am where I want to be.

Seeing With New Eyes

by Marian Van Eyk McCain

My partner Sky recently came across the following quote by Albert Camus in an essay entitled 'Love of Life' that was posthumously published in a book called Lyrical and Critical Essays:
"…what gives value to travel is fear. It breaks down a kind of inner structure we have. One can no longer cheat — hide behind the hours spent at the office or at the plant (those hours we protest so loudly, which protect us so well from the pain of being alone). I have always wanted to write novels in which my heroes would say: 'What would I do without the office?' or again: 'My wife has died, but fortunately I have all these orders to fill for tomorrow.' Travel robs us of such refuge. "

For Sky this rang a huge bell. As he remarked, in a posting on Facebook: "I relate strongly to these insights. As I grow older, I realise how attached I am becoming to my routines; they become habits that I cling to and begin to cherish. They tend to cement me to the familiar where I wallow in a trough of certainty and complacency. Why is this a problem? Seeing only the familiar often results in not seeing or hearing at all what’s actually there. We live in concept, we see what we know is there and hear what we know is being spoken or brought forth. As this article says, we build walls and encase ourselves in a 'self-Imposed prison.' "

This rings true for me also. Although the two of us still travel a lot, I am finding myself more and more reluctant to expend the energy it takes to break with routine and venture forth into newness, into uncertainly, into the unknown future that awaits us when we step out of our own front door with our suitcases and our passports. Yet I know that it is important to keep making that effort, for without it we would end up clinging even more closely to hearth and home, and to the unchallenging sameness of our daily routines. I am increasingly conscious of just how seductive that option is.

And yet, as Camus goes on to say, it seems that only by stepping out into the unknown can we experience the amazingness of being fully alive.
"…we restore to every being and every object its miraculous value. A woman dancing without a thought in her head, a bottle on a table, glimpsed behind a curtain: each image becomes a symbol. The whole of life seems reflected in it"

I have this experience whenever I travel. The vignettes glimpsed from a train window, slices of life observed from one's seat in the coffee shop, other people's ordinary moments transformed into a movie…through these, suddenly I find myself experiencing everything so much more keenly, as though my senses have enlarged and expanded and I am seeing the world through totally new eyes. It is what draws me back, again and again, forcing me to overcome my inertia and leave the safe haven of home.

I know, of course, that I shall not always be able to do this. Already, with my 80th birthday only half a year away I can feel a stiffening in my joints, a decrease in my daily allowance of energy, a lessening of my ability to deal with stress, with noise and with the discomfort of a chair that doesn't fit my oft-complaining spine.

So what to do? How to maintain the experience of full aliveness from within one's daily routines? How to live one's life in such a way that even without leaving home we can break free of the prison of not-seeing that tends to result from too much familiarity?

Well, I think that when the time comes that I can no longer venture far from here, it will become more important than ever to practise the spiritual discipline of mindfulness. And to practise it more and more. The way to go on experiencing that fullness and amazingness of life is surely to open one's eyes and ears and mind and heart ever more widely to whatever is right there, whether it be a leaf moving in the wind, the wing of a moth, dust motes in a sunbeam, the song of a robin outside the window or the  pattern of light on the bedroom ceiling. I believe this is how the world can once again become new in every moment and every moment can reveal a miracle. I hope so, anyway. Just as, when we travel to other places other people's ordinary becomes fascinating,  if we can learn to gaze so deeply and fully into our own ordinary shall we not begin to see that with new eyes?

Maybe we should spend more time practising that sort of mindfulness now, and get good at it. That way, by the time we can no longer travel to new places we shall no longer need to leave home to feel that same measure of delight that travelling once gave us.

This, I believe, is the way that we can keep feeling fully, consciously and gloriously alive right up to our last breath.


"The big mental shift you have to make is to realize that increased longevity is not an extension of old age. It is a new developmental stage inserted between adulthood and old age anywhere between age 50 and 80, and, for some people, age 90. People go back to school, they form new marriages, they take up new avocations, and they are inventing new ways of growing old..."

The speaker is Mary Catherine Bateson, daughter of the couple who are probably the best known anthropologists of all time, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. Mary herself is a cultural anthropologist and in this interview she presents her thoughts on the phase of life that all of us elderwomen are currently in: the one she likes to refer to as 'Adulthood 2'

Many thanks to Newsletter reader Ishe Boge for sending the link to this interesting piece.

...and this one is for some special women in my life (you know who you are!!)

Wildlife Matriarchs

Elephants, orcas, lemurs... you might be surprised to discover how many of our fellow creatures on this Earth live in matriarchal societies, in which the leaders are the elderwomen. A fascinating article from the National Wildlife Federation about the importance of elderwomanhood among some of our wild cousins.

Emily Kimball's New Book 

'The Aging Adventurer' Emily Kimball has just published her second book.

Adventurer Emily Kimball's new memoir is an inspiring account of her fascinating life, focused on the transitions she undertook over the last four decades, from ages 45 through 84.
The entertaining and insightful memoir traces Emily's transitions from when she resigned a well-paying but unsatisfying job, arranged for her children to live with their father for a year, and headed off on her own to train and search for a new career in environmental education. Along the way she faced many challenges--hiking alone to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, paddling a canoe for over 200 miles on Florida's Suwannee River, and attending a 10-day survival trip in Utah with only a knife, a toothbrush, an extra pair of socks, and the clothes she wore.

In pursuing a job hunt across the country, Emily interviewed with 60 environmental agencies. Traveling in search of work on a very limited budget, she camped out and cooked meals, enduring anxiety about her future and that of her children. After arriving home empty handed, she worked 10 part-time jobs over 12 months before securing a permanent job in her new field.
Other transitions covered in A COTTON RAT FOR BREAKFAST: ADVENTURES IN MIDLIFE AND BEYOND include Emily's early attempts at becoming a professional speaker and a writer-often amusing--and her bike tour across America and her Appalachian Trail hike in retirement.

This collection of stories is a must-read for anyone who has ever pondered stepping out of their comfort zone. It is a source of inspiration for people in midlife and beyond, helping them to take risks, explore new directions, and move ahead after failures.

Emily says: "The cost of the book is $16 plus postage: presently book rate is $2.75 If you'd like a copy, please send me a check: Make It Happen! 4907 Beaver Lane #104 Richmond, VA 23228-4034. Questions:
I look forward to hearing from you - and getting your feedback on this new work."

Carol Orsborn's New Book

Here is a video of Carol and her co-author Robert Weber talking about the book...



Fabric painting and poem by Etta Johnson

Our family tree is widely branched

Extending East to west,

Jewish, Christian, Muslim roots

Grow supportive at their best.


A family tree’s a living thing

That may bend in the wind,

Branches could even crack,

While others firmly stand.


New leaves on twigs will appear,

Part of the cluster broad;

And seeds are scattered far and wide

Around our shrinking globe.


A new shoot on our family tree,

The infant Daren looks at me.

The loving twigs which nurture him

Will help him grow in grace and strength;

Green leaves enfold the lovely boy

He brings this family tree great joy!

Dancing in the Dark

by Nancy Henderson Coker

While the moon is lit waxing and waning

I step into the moonlight to a waltz in my head

I allow the moon burn on my body without “mpf”

The coyotes howl and carry on in

Disruptive song

The common nighthawk wheels and

Vibrates in harmony with the waltz

Dancing in the moonlight is charging

Building energy to my spirit

Creating new thoughts, let pain out

But filling always filling always filling

What melody is this

What duration

What calm

It is a marvelous night for moondancing

The branches of trees silhouetted again the light

The faces and character of the surface

How beautiful this light

I found it in the moonlight

I found it in myself

My wishes come true

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. You do NOT have to be a professional writer, artist or photographer to send pictures or pieces of your writing to this newsletter. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Yesterday I was at my local supermarket buying a large bag of My Dog dog food for my loyal pet and was in the checkout queue when a woman behind me asked if I had a dog. What did she think I had an elephant? 

So, since I'm retired and have little to do, on impulse I told her that no, I didn't have a dog, I was starting the Dog Diet again. I added that I probably shouldn’t, because I ended up in hospital last time, but I'd lost 10 kilograms before I woke up in intensive care with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms. I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and that the way that it works is to load your pockets with My Dog nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete so it works well and I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in queue was now enthralled with my story.) 

Horrified, she asked me if I ended up in intensive care because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I stepped off the kerb to sniff an Irish Setter's arse and a car hit me. I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard. 

Better watch what you ask retired people. They have all the time in the world to think of daft things to say.

The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, December, 2015

The Elderwoman website:
Marian's e-mail: marian(at) 
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 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 with an 'A' (the same as Robin Hood's girlfriend) 

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