The Elderwoman Newsletter
Issue #26, February, 2010

Welcome to the February 2010 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.

View from the Desk
Feature Articles 

          ~ 'Sacred Witness'
an interview with photographer/blogger Carla Royal
          ~ 'Elder Beauty'
by Christine Shahin
Reports/News/Bits & Pieces
Two Women's Gatherings
~ Elder Artists
          ~ German Photo Comp
~ Book Review - 'Birthrites'
              ~ NYT Article - How to Train the Aging 
~ Marian's New Book on Green Spirituality 
Call for Submissions
Last Laugh


The thing that is giving me most joy on these chilly February mornings is the steady increase in the amount of birdsong. And although my grandmother used to scold me that "comparisons are odious," (amazing how well we all remember the sayings of our parents and grandparents!) I must admit that to me first prize for beautiful singing just has to go to our English robin redbreast. The robin's glorious, mellow song will be all around  us now until

midsummer, never the same song twice and full of inventiveness and exuberance.
But what has been filling my days, these past few months, is the new book that I have been editing on green spirituality. And you will read more about this in the 'reports' section.
We have had a cold, wet winter here, and the garden is looking rather miserable and soggy now. I have put in my seed order, but I doubt I shall be doing much planting before April. Meanwhile, there is lots to do between now and those first, warmer days. I am trying to spend a bit less time at the computer, as I have been experiencing some eyestrain of late. The optician told me that the amount of time I spend peering at a computer screen would be likely to cause eyestrain in a 30-year old, let alone someone like me who is approaching 74. All very well for her to say. Trouble is, I am a writer!! She did provide me with a new pair of specialized computer glasses though, and that helps a lot.
Do you realize this newsletter has been going for nearly 7 years now? Some of you have been on the mailing list since Day One. Amazing!
I hope you enjoy this issue and as we all start to move out of the various kinds of extreme weather we have all been experiencing I wish you some nice, balmy days and nights in the weeks to come, no matter which side of the planet you are on.

Many blessings,

Sacred Witness
an interview with
Carla Royal  
Carla started blogging only recently. But already she is attracting the attention of many people with her beautiful pictures and the thoughtful, soulful posts that go with them. So I asked her some questions.

M. Carla, what inspired you to take up photography or is it something you have always enjoyed doing?

C. I always thought I would enjoy photography but didn’t really get around to it until about 6 years ago.  At that time I bought a nice point and shoot digital camera and fell in love with photography.  About a year later I bought my first entry level DSLR camera, which I still use.  I am not a professional, and I still use my point and shoot camera often.  I actually know very little about photography and shoot primarily from my gut. 

M. Your pictures seem to have a special quality. To me, it feels like the quality of love. As though your feelings for your subjects are coming right through into your photographs. Am I being fanciful here, or is this how you approach your work? 

C. I think you are absolutely right.  In fact, when I think of your question tears fill my eyes.  I’m not sure why…maybe because you are able to see the love in my photos or maybe because I do feel so much love.  The hummingbird is very special to me and a friend once told me that I seem to approach my subjects like a hummingbird might; that is, I get up-close and personal with my subjects.  

M. Are there any special 'close encounters' with other creatures that you would like to describe for the readers?  

C. So many!  I would love to tell you about all of them, but I will restrain myself.  I will be recounting stories in my blog over time, so keep an eye out for them there.  Since I mentioned the hummingbird, I will tell you about a particularly touching encounter.
     At the time, I was working as a psychotherapist at a residential treatment facility for adolescent boys.  I loved those boys but the job could be quite stressful.  For much of my life I tended towards anxiety and this job escalated those tendencies.  I felt anxiety much of the time.
     To relax, I would spend as much time as possible walking through the woods and sitting on my porch watching the birds.  I had many hummingbirds coming to my feeders.  One day I decided to stand on a chair with my face a few inches from the feeder, just to see what would happen.  After a few minutes, a hummingbird flew up to the feeder and began drinking.  I was ecstatic!  I stayed as still as I could and watched.  Several came!  After a few minutes, one of the hummers turned from the feeder and flew right up to my face and hovered there, looking into my eyes!  She hovered and flew gently from one eye to the other, peering into me as I peered into her.  All of my anxiety melted away.  I was deeply touched and something shifted in me at that time. I did this many times after that when I felt anxiety; the hummingbirds would always come and the anxiety would melt away.  That happened about four years ago.  Today, I rarely feel anxiety any more, and I believe the hummingbirds were a part of teaching me how to let go of it.  Hummingbird is teaching me still, and I am deeply grateful. 

M.. What qualities make a good photographer? 

C. I’m sure training is quite beneficial (and I really hope to take some classes at some point), but I think connection is most important.  I can imagine someone being able to take a technically good photo without connection, but I can’t imagine that the photo would be compelling to me.  I think people see my photos and connect to something bigger than me, or the subject, or themselves, even though I’m not a professional photographer, and they forgive me for my technical weaknesses.  Yes, it is that quality of love.  What do you love?  With what do you connect?  What connects with you?  Photograph that. 

M. What made you decide to start blogging? 

C. I’ve been winding down my psychotherapy practice for some time and trying to step into my role as Sacred Witness.  “Sacred Witness” is what someone called me awhile back because of how I pay attention to life.  But stepping into this has been a difficult process for me because this culture doesn’t seem to value a witness (one who is present to life), while a psychotherapist is seen as legitimate (of course one can be both!).  I couldn’t find deep validation so it took me a few years to be able to validate it for myself, let go of the role of ‘psychotherapist’, and embrace Sacred Witness.
     A few weeks after formerly letting go of my role as psychotherapist, the idea for a photo blog popped into my mind.  As you can read on the About page of my blog, I want to inspire people to be more present in their lives and become a sacred witness to life, thereby bringing about some healing for themselves and the world at large.  I thought a photo blog might be a really interesting way to do this, and provide me with a fun and creative outlet. 

M. What sort of blogs do you most admire/enjoy? 

C. I most enjoy blogs that are authentic and written by those who are deeply connected.  I particularly enjoy blogs about nature, animals, photography, and spirituality.  

M. How do you envision the next stage of your life? 

C. I turn 50 in a few months, and I must say that I am looking forward to what unfolds for the world and for me.  We live in tumultuous times, and something seems to be afoot.  I envision becoming more conscious and awake, more present and connected, more available to the world.  I hope to be some sort of a bridge for people who want to wake up and be more connected.  I intend to work toward the evolution of my soul and that of the world’s soul. I intend to continue my love affair with the natural world.  I intend to be open to whatever Life has in store for me. I have no idea how all of this will unfold, but a photo blog is what is before me presently. 

M. What advice would you give to someone who wants to take photos like yours? 

C. Spend time getting to know your subject.  Find a connection there.  Try a different angle, light, or focus.  Think outside the box.  Love.  Connection.  Time.  Openness.  

M.... and what advice would you give to women who would like to become 'elderbloggers'?

 C. Jump in and try it.  The water is nice!  What are you passionate about?  What do you love?  Where do you feel connection?  What have the years deeply taught you?  Write about that.  We’ll be interested.


Carla Royal
Yes, we certainly shall. And I hope that everyone who reads this will pop on over to Carla's website and take a look at her exquisite pictures and the thought-provoking words with which she accompanies them. If you like what you see - and I am sure you will - then leave a comment there for her. This is a blog that deserves wide recognition. It is called  Sacred Witness: Photography as Presence and you'll find it at

Elder Beauty

by Christine Shahin

Events in my life guided my decision to become a “natural cosmetologist” 20 years ago. This is a title I use to describe the type of cosmetology I choose to practice because there is no standard cosmetology educational system that includes 
professional “natural” modalities. 

I was independently studying herbal therapies and incorporating them into our family’s lifestyle because I realized that what we put into our bodies also came out of our bodies; antibiotics, hormones and the like mix in our water treatment facilities along with household cleaning products, industry effluent, road run off and farm chemicals to create new chemical combinations and mixes we are ignorant of. 

Then my rural upstate NY community was sited for a regional landfill and incinerator at the time a close friend cosmetologist/construction worker had an accident that took him from this earth. I believed there was a way to practice beauty more in harmony with nature and decided one day to get my cosmetology license and offer an alternative to main stream products and services. 

Understanding that the skin is the body’s largest organ and that up to 60% of what is used topically is absorbed directly into the bloodstream with in 20 seconds; body ecology is a concern as well. 

Therefore my personal mission is to live in harmony with personal and planetary ecology so I use and teach others:

  • Color hair with henna or other non toxic pigments
  • Herbs or essential oils for their appropriate skin type
  • Commercial products (hair, skin, body and make-up) that are safe for individuals and the collective.
  • Acupressure facials for building collagen and keeping skin healthy
  • General Wellness including nutrition, mediation & yoga 

Now that I am ‘sage-ing,’ I wonder what the place is for “beauty” as contemporary crones. Is it frivolous or self care? Is it compromising or empowering? There is a fine line between what we do and how we do what it is we do; with love or obsession. 

Soon I will choose to stop hennaing my hair but for now, it is what I do and use it to teach others that there are more choices than they might be aware of. Cognizant of Botox, cosmetic surgery, pursuit of a perfect image, my hope is to offer safer, healthier, and even metaphysical options to mundane physical realities. 

I look forward to hearing your personal perspectives on elder beauty! 

Bountiful beauty & blessings ~ naturally!

Christine Shahin is a licensed cosmetologist, make-up artist, henna/natural pigment hair colorist and holistic beauty practitioner.

welcomes feedback on this article and would love you to visit her website at, to meet and make friends with her on Elderwomanspace ** or email her Christine(at)

(**  if you're not a member of our Elderwomanspace online network yet, click here to find out how to join.)

Two gatherings of women in 2010
Womongathering - New Age gathering in June Crones Counsel 2010 - Albuquerque NM

Our Wonderful Elder Artists

As you know, I am a great fan of Helen Redman, whose wonderful paintings of the aging process are often mentioned in this newsletter. Now here is a video of Helen talking about her work at an exhibition last November.

And here are two more elder artists whose celebration - in both painting and sculpture -  of the aging human body greatly impressed me. I would so love to meet this inspirational couple.

German photo competition on the theme of ‘Age and Aging’
Deadline: March 12 (my apologies for the short notice!)

What circumstances and opportunities do we hope for in old age? Do we have models from today’s perspective to go by? How do we imagine our lives from 65 on? How can the potential of the “old” in society be meaningfully utilized? Submitted photos should deal with civil or personal conceptions and ideas of aging. We are looking for new images of aging that demonstrate new lifestyles with these extra years, their conditions and consequences.

  • First Prize - € 500 (winner)
  • Second - € 300
  • Third - € 200

Email photos as printable (300dpi) image files (jpg/tiff) by to .
These image files must be named as follows: Name of applicant_title of picture_year of origin.
In the case that the picture shows one or more clearly identifiable people, the written consent of all persons is required.

Official web site:

  • Artists give authorization that photographs may be used by the Academy Initiative “Aging in Germany” without royalty for non-commercial purposes related to this project. Photos may be published on the project’s website, displayed in exhibitions by the project, printed in a catalogue of the project, and used in press or advertising for the project. The photographer’s name will be credited in each publication.
  • Open to all photographers regardless of age, whether professional, amateur, artist, student, or hobbyist.
  • Free
  • 12 March 2010

Book Review

Marian reviews Jackie Singer's new book

'BIRTHRITES: Rituals and Celebrations for the Child-bearing Years' (Permanent Publications, 2010)

   As the baby’s head began to press its hardest against the last, resistant ring of cervical muscle, the obstetrician said, in a voice at once firm, gentle   
The ring of fire

and encouraging, “This, now, is the ring of fire. You have to go through it. Then, on the other side, you will meet your baby.” 

My panting, weary daughter paused and looked at him, tears in her eyes. Then she took a deep breath. And with one more steady, sustained push, it happened and my first grandchild slid towards our waiting hands and into all our hearts.

She told me later. “I saw one of those burning hoops. You know, those ones they use in circuses? I knew I had no choice. I had to jump through it. And that when I did, I would become a mother.” So she summoned all her will and launched herself through the ring of fire and into a new phase of her life. It was a powerful, ritual moment: a rite of passage. And like all rites of passage and all many other rituals, it had a very personal, private, inward aspect and also a communal one.

Ordeal of some kind is part of most traditional rites of passage and ordeal by fire is just one of many kinds of ordeals. But our modern Western culture gives scant attention to the important role of ritual in negotiating the passages, turning points and special moments in our lives. That is our loss. For these moments are many. And every one of them could be more deeply and completely experienced, moved through more easily and in some cases enjoyed more fully, when honoured by some form of ritual, no matter how private or how fleeting.

In her delicately and lovingly crafted book, ‘Birthrites,’ Jackie Singer begins what looks like becoming for her a lifelong project—raising our awareness of the importance, the usefulness and the wonder of rituals for marking some of these special and significant moments. Here, in this first volume, she concentrates on birth.

With skill and wisdom, Jackie unpacks the universal elements of ritual, each equally important to the whole. She looks at all types and sizes of ritual, from those tiny, private ones that we use, sometimes spontaneously,  to honour our own special moments to the large, public ceremonies like baby naming and funerals. (Yes, funerals. Not all pregnancies go to term. Not all babies survive birth.) She describes the shape of a ritual—its beginning, middle and end—and looks at the aspects of time and place, rhythm and sacred space, words, music, objects altars … nothing is left out of this comprehensive guidebook. She reminds us that the planning of a ceremony is just as much a part of the whole as the performance of it, for the creation of a ceremony and the intention behind it, have their inner and outer components also.

          ‘Dreaming up a ceremony, making decorations rather than buying balloons, walking             to a venue rather than driving door to door—all of these things require us to slow             down, and experience what we are doing.’   

‘Devising a ceremony,’ Jackie says, is ‘one part divine inspiration to five parts earthly practicality,’ and she provides a checklist of questions to help the planner focus.

As well as its usefulness to anyone interested in the power of ritual, what makes this book really special is its amazing and thoughtful inclusiveness. Jackie has devised rituals for everything to do with birth. Infertility, IVF treatment, adoption, termination planned or unplanned, even the conscious decision to remain childless, all these life events and situations find their rightful place here. If there are any young parents in your life, or soon-to-be parents or hoping-to-be parents, this book would make a wonderful gift for them.

ISBN: 978-1-85623-049-0
UK purchase - click here
USA purchase - click here

NYT Article
- 'How to Train the Aging Brain'
- click here to read.

Marian's New Book on Green Spirituality

This time, I am not the author, but the editor.
And as such, I feel a sense of both huge  gratitude and huge responsibility to the twenty-nine other people whose work appears in this collection of writings.

Gratitude because there is no way I could have written all that is between these covers. There is an astounding depth and breadth of wisdom here and it gives me great pleasure to be the one to midwife this book into the world.

And responsibility because I want to make sure that as many people as possible read it. This is a book the whole world needs to read.

Two years in the making, GreenSpirit is due to be published in April, 2010 by O Books. 
GreenSpirit: Path to a New Consciousness

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake describes it thus "A valuable guide to some of the deepest thinking on the connections between ecology and spirituality. Never before have so many important ideas on these subjects been assembled between the covers of a single book.”

Click here to read more about the book, including  some excerpts.

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Calling Her Up


I wanted to tell you

the Earth Mother still stirs me up.

I am longing to conjure forests

far as the eye can see.


The smell of the Earth

Makes me want

To plow hulls of grain

Into the heavy clay soil here

To plant fragrant herbs, grasses,

flowers, fruits, vegetables

to build bowers

pleach trees into living canopies

to sit beneath the grape arbor

which is not yet made

and smell the grapes

which are not yet planted

in the heat of late summer

which has not yet come.


The winds bring sickness from

environmental “accidents”

far across the world.

Still I plant and cultivate

with all my heart.


Sometimes it seems insane

To call up the Earth Spirit these days.

I wonder if she still considers

Finding a good man. Let’s see

Can he help weave the ozone layer?

He looks good, but can he put the

Je ne sais quoi

Back into the waters of the world?

I like the way he walks,

I like the way he talks

But can he sing up the forests

In a blaze of green?


Or if she is still humming as she turns in space

A good man is hard to find

I always get the other kind.

 We need wildness

The touch of lovers

Moving into the unknown darkness

Where everything is by feel



In the weird wilderness of America

with my voice of the old ones

which came out of nowhere

the coyote moves in me these days

the priestess.

Let’s unfurl the hidden banners

in the holy sky!

This is a good day to die

to everything we were before,

a good day to allow a miracle.


Listen, it’s immanent.

The sound is right there in the heartbeat.

It’s the medicine, the map.


Let’s pour it over every wounded creature

in the known universe.

We all need healing. Hey,

slap it on like a poultice.

Let it steep, let it creep

into our collective dreams

and change the world.


She will ripple and shake

awakening us with elemental dancing.

Get ready to let loose

get ready for some fancy stepping

an aeon of bracing music

as she washes up.


Gaea Yudron, from her chapbook 'Words Themselves are Medicine'


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.


Did you hear about the 83-year-old woman who talked herself out of a speeding ticket by telling the officer that she had to get there before she forgot where she was going?

A burglar broke into a house one night.

He was just shining his flashlight around, looking for valuables when a voice in the dark said,

Jesus knows you're here.”

The burglar nearly jumped out of his skin. He clicked his flashlight off, and froze.

When he heard nothing more, after a while he shook his head and continued.

Just as he pulled the stereo out so that he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard,

Jesus is watching you.”

Freaked out, he shone his light around frantically, looking for the source of the voice.

Finally, in the corner of the room, the flashlight beam came to rest on a parrot.

Did you say that?” he hissed at the parrot.

'Yep,” the parrot confessed. “I'm just trying to warn you that he’s watching you.”

The burglar relaxed. “Warn me, huh? Who in the world are you?”

Moses,” replied the bird.

Moses?” the burglar laughed. “What kind of people would name a bird Moses?”

The same kind of people who would name their Rottweiler Jesus.”

... and finally...

There are some things that you just never think of....
like Mt. Rushmore from the Canadian Side.

The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, February, 2010
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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