The Elderwoman Newsletter

Issue #17, June, 2007

Julia Pfeiffer-Burns SP, Big Sur, CA

Welcome to the June 2007 issue of the Elderwoman Newsletter
- an e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness.


Summer is in full swing here now. The trees are heavy with leaf and the hedgerows are a riot of wildflowers. The scent of honeysuckle is everywhere. This is Devon at its most glorious. As I said in a recent blog post, I always find it hard to leave this lovely place and travel elsewhere. But sometimes it just has to be done. Like this year, with two family weddings just three months apart.
I am pleased to report, however, that the first of the two went off really well. The second one is just over four weeks away now. So it will soon be time to pack my suitcase again.

On the way back up the California cost from the first wedding, we stopped off, as we always do when we take that road, to walk along the overlook at Julia Pfeiffer-Burns State Park and gaze at the waterfall that tumbles from the cliff on to the beach below. I must have photographed that scene a dozen times or more by now, yet I couldn't resist doing so again. For me, it is magical. Which is why I chose it for this June Newsletter. (The waterfall, which was not running very full that day, is just visible, towards the left of the picture.)

As usual, the newsletter brings you a miscellany of stuff, all related in some way or another to getting older. Except the plug for a new writers' book that has an essay of mine in it  (that's just a bit of what is known as 'shameless self-promotion') and except for the final item which I couldn't resist including because it made me - and everyone else I've shown it to - giggle and I thought you would probably find it wickedly amusing too.

I wish all my readers in the Northern Hemisphere a wonderful summer. And for those of you on the other side of the world, I wish you a plentiful supply of winter rain - but delivered in a gentler way than via storms like the ones that just battered NSW.

Many blessings,



A New Year - by Lisa Barstow


The older I become the more I have come to understand that “a new year” can begin at anytime during a calendar year.  I am trying, not too successfully, to shift my sense of clock or date time to the moment, “the power of now,” a feeling of timelessness and that TIME is but a human construct that has helped give humanity a structure to become more efficient and orderly.  As we began to multiply and our collective mind became more evolved we have indeed needed calendars and clocks, however I am not sure that Scarlett O’Hara’s idea of living for tomorrow has done us any good.


Of course we must make plans - set our hopeful vision to a future of promise. However, I have found that when those hopes do not become realities I am thrust right back into the now to begin again.  But I am not exactly where I was when I began the first (or thirtieth) time.  Something more has been added, call it experience; that cannot be recorded in the same way that time is.  And the paradox is that experience takes time! 

So, if the truth be made known, I really began this piece feeling a bit vulnerable as far as time is concerned (could you guess?).  I do not want to dwell on how fast it is flying, or that in 6 weeks I’ll be literally flying to Hawaii for an adventure that is yet to be determined time wise (stay in the moment Lisa).  Seven years ago my husband Bill and I moved to Maine full time with a future plan to spend part of the year on Kauai - now the “time” has arrived, but until fairly recently we didn’t know when it would happen.  And so much has happened in between.  Wonderful things.  Friendships, walks on the beach, writing a book and other pieces, a renewed faith in my Christian upbringing, the opportunity to live on a marsh with the ocean behind, a beautiful new grand daughter, becoming healthier, a lovely new home built by my husband, a stronger marriage, more trust, more faith that the difficult times will pass, feeling my heart open and not being afraid.  I could go on and on.  None of these things happened because it was a New Year, they just happened in their own time- maybe during lunar cycles or around the solstice?  It doesn’t matter.  What I know matter’s is that they happened and seven years later I am better for them.  They have filled me, and they can never be taken away.  I am in my early 60’s and I finally understand that a life is a composite of experiences and that they become stories that may or may not make a difference in others lives, but they will certainly make a difference in mine. 


Earlier in 2006 I felt confused and frightened about the changes coming.  I prayed a lot and had some wonderful support.  The changes felt like a lot of New Years stuffed in a bag that was too small.  I couldn’t sort things out, only time could do that, and it has.  I know that change does not mean “goodbye,” but instead “thank you” for every opportunity, every friendship, every experience.  Nothing can ever take those away.  Especially time. 


 About the author


Freelance writer Lisa Barstow holds a BA in Creative Writing from Vermont College and received writer's group leadership training in Massachusetts from Amherst Writers & Artists.  Dividing her time between homes in Maine and Hawaii, Lisa has facilitated writer's workshops in Maine for the past seven years and is currently at work on a personal memoir from her home in Hawaii.  Lisa's work is featured in the anthology Mid-Life Clarity: Ephiphanies from Grown-up Girls (Beyond Words Publishing).     

Burgundy Blotches  
By Marian Van Eyk McCain
Yes, burgundy blotches. I always seem to have them somewhere these days, usually on my arms and the backs of my hands. All different shapes. Some as big as a 50p coin, others as small as a currant.

The skin on my limbs is so thin nowadays that the slightest encounter with a projecting twig or the sharp corner of a table will mark me instantly, often piercing the surface. If I spend a morning pulling brambles, by lunchtime I look as though I've returned from a war zone. Even through a layer of fabric, my skin gives way at the slightest intrusion, so my old gardening pants are permanently bloodstained in several places.

Whenever I carry my backpack – especially if it is heavy – I have to be really careful sliding my arms through the straps. For if the strap rubs hard against my skin it leaves a pattern of serrated blotches as though someone had scraped me hard with a curry comb.

Now I know why Nature removes old women's body hair. Removing it oneself would become far too hazardous. Shaving would probably make me bleed and waxing might rip off skin and all. Ouch!!

At seventy-one, I seem to have become an extremely thin-skinned person.

I ask myself: have I become thin-skinned in other ways too?

The answer is both no and yes. I deal much better with criticism now than I ever did when I was younger. It matters to me far less than it used to what others think of me. So in one sense, my skin has become tougher in old age.

But at the same time, damage to the natural world – the razing of rainforests, the exploitation of animals, oil spills, overfishing, the ruination of coral reefs – these pierce the skin of my heart  much more easily now than they ever did before.

The older I become, the closer to the Earth I feel and the more keenly I feel the pain that humans have inflicted – and are still inflicting – on Her.

Pondering on this as I gaze at the latest crop of blotches on my arm, I start to understand what was in the mind of St Francis when he prayed for the stigmata. Now, as I make the connection between the thinness of my skin and the deepening of my ecological awareness, these burgundy blotches have suddenly taken on a new significance.

BIRTHING THE CRONE              - an invitation

 Artist Helen Redman, whose glorious depictions of aging never fail to thrill me has completely redesigned her Website and invites us all to drop by.
Please do - it is stunning.
Here's what Helen has to say....
This is an invitation to visit my redesigned/updated Birthing the Crone: Aging into Full Creativity website:
                                                                                                                                 I have been revising the site for over a year now to include new art and writing in a user-friendly, visual format.  When I first went online (November, 1995) my aim was to give artistic and holistic attention to the passage of menopause-- to help others see how the fear of aging permeates every aspect of our lives, robbing us of the real gifts of age. Those of us speaking out then were pioneering a field that would mushroom as baby boomers aged. Now there are a plethora of books and websites on the subject, but mine still emanates uniquely from my viewpoint as a woman artist.

Originally formatted by my son-in-law, Kevin Frank (a data-base expert who taught me how to use a computer), the site was not visually set up like other artist's galleries. As Internet usage and digital advances burgeoned, we saw the potential of the media through all the hits (about 300,000 to date) and personal responses. When it became clear that the site needed a remodel, we created new galleries for the ongoing artwork that has progressed way beyond menopause.

I have retained the text relationship to each image in the newly redesigned Menopause Paintings Gallery and the Birthing the Crone Gallery. Click to enlarge the individual images and you will see the revised text and higher quality jpgs.

New galleries of recent artwork have been added and others are under construction:
Hands & Leaves:
Sole to Soul:

New pages have been posted on the Beauty of Old, Workshops, Upcoming Events and Exhibition Options. Navigation buttons on all the pages help you travel all over a site that is big and takes time to visit. It's my on-line version of the coffee table art book every artist dreams about having.

Birthing the Crone is an ongoing project as my art, writing and workshops continually bring new ideas to the fore. I love the fluidity of the Internet--always fertile ground for an artist/seeker to keep on learning. Somewhere in this process, I realized my desire to create a legacy site for my Aging Into Full Creativity work. I currently find myself drawn to this media as a way to express and communicate my art, especially with series that have taken a long time to unfold. Having created so much physical art over the past 48 years, I realize a larger digital world now helps me to shape and share the progression of my artwork in revolutionary ways.

It's been a sharp learning curve for me and without the help of my son, daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and husband; the site would not exist (it takes a village to put an elder in cyber space). My son, Paul Barchilon is now my Webmaster and co-designer (when he gets the time). Visit Paul's stunning ceramic art website, and you will see how his sense of color, pattern and design enhances both our sites.

I hope you will visit and recommend it to others. My thanks to so many of you who have been on this journey with me.

(Ginger Child, from San Diego, sent this around, saying "Maybe we should add this to our Crone Songs!")
To commemorate her 69th birthday on October 1, actress/vocalist, Julie Andrews made a special appearance at Manhattan 's Radio City Music Hall for the benefit of the AARP.

One of the musical numbers she performed was "My Favorite Things" from the legendary movie, "Sound Of Music".  Here are the lyrics she used:

Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,

Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,

Bundles of magazines tied up in string,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Cadillac's and cataracts, and hearing aids and glasses,
Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,
Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the pipes leak,
When the bones creak,
When the knees go bad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,
Bathrobes and heating pads and hot meals they bring,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Back pains, confused brains, and no need for sinnin',
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin',
And we won't mention our short shrunken frames,
When we remember our favorite things.

When the joints ache,
When the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,
Then I remember the great life I've had,
And then I don't feel so bad.

(Ms. Andrews received a standing ovation from the crowd that lasted over four minutes, and repeated encores.)


The Mature Mind by Gene Cohen

Here's a book review that might interest you.
I got it from Emily Kimball, who found it in
The Positive Aging Newsletter

The assumption that the biology of aging is inherently a biology of decline is widespread and indeed is the basis for much research. It is thus enormously refreshing to discover a broad based account of aging that takes the opposite perspective. To be sure abundant research does suggest a general though relatively minor decline in rapid information processing. However, as Gene Cohen proposes in The Mature Mind, such research misses a very important process of positive development. Namely, the biology of aging favors the development of a talent we might well call wisdom.

He cites the abundant research demonstrating that the brain remains quite flexible with age, and new neural connections are always being made. In addition, however, he finds research indicating that with advancing age people can increasingly rely on both sides of the brain to do various cognitive tasks. This sets them apart from the young. With this increased balance, argues Cohen, the aging are more capable than the young in their capacities for 1. Relativistic thinking (accepting uncertainty, suspending judgments), 2. Dualistic thinking (holding a view and its opposite possibility), and 3. Systematic thinking (seeing the bigger picture, the forest as well as the trees). These are major characteristics of mature thought.

For Cohen, aging is a period that can usher in greater engagement, more satisfying relationships, new intellectual growth, and more fun. Retirement is not over the hill, but a time of climbing new hills. Yet positive transitions are not guaranteed by biology. If one doesn’t use one’s capacities they may be lost. Among his recommendations for positive aging:

Forming active links with surrounding community Balance group activities with solo ones, energetic action with relaxation Increasing levels of activity over time, add to one’s activities rather than subtract Locate long duration activities, and not simply short term or one-time adventures Nourish close friendships Consider learning a life-long activity

(From Mary and Ken Gergen’s Positive Aging Newsletter, Sept-Oct 2006)

"For the first time in history, enormous numbers of women are traveling through the gate of menopause and looking forward to a life span of some 30 more years. And we women have a certain hard-won wisdom, gleaned through consciously processing the experiences of our long and fruitful lives. What are we going to do with this wisdom? Play golf? Get our hair done? We begin to glimpse the opportunity, and the responsibility."
Ann Kreilkamp, Founder, Crone Chronicles

Remember 'Crone Chronicles' ?
As the first magazine created specifically for elderwomen, it was one of my favourites, and I was sad when it ceased publication.
But – guess what?!! …….

Crone is about to launch herself into the world again through a new magazine at the Spring Equinox, 2008. 'CRONE: Women Coming of Age' will be published by Anne Niven, of BBI Media and 'SageWoman' magazine. Ann Kreilkamp, founding editor of 'Crone Chronicles: A Journal of Conscious Aging', will serve as Elder Editor of CRONE, with Anne Niven as Junior Editor. The magazine will be substantial in size, perfect bound (like a book), and published twice per year at the equinoxes.

There has also been an evolution in the mission of the magazine. Whereas 'Crone Chronicles' (1989–2001) served to activate the archetype of the Crone, encouraging us to uncover our voice and heart with a soul rooted in wisdom wrestled from long experience, CRONE will assume that this archetype is alive and well within us and let the world know who we are, both in terms of Crone awareness, and how this awareness projects and manifests in the world.

Each issue of CRONE will feature two major interviews, one with a crone working primarily in the outer world, the other with a crone focused primarily on her inner world. There will be eight departments, staffed by a circle of editors, and numerous columnists, including special columnist Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., Jungian Analyst and author of many books, including Crones Don’t Whine.

For the launch issue, Ann will interview Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist who has just published a new book, The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom, and Jean Mountaingrove, of WomanSpirit magazine (1974–1984), now 80 years old, and living in retirement at a wooded, women-only sanctuary in southern Oregon.
We welcome submissions to the new CRONE magazine. Please contact editor(at) for more information. Thank you!

and watch out for my column 'Eco Crone' in this new magazine. I am so excited to be a part of this wonderful new venture.    - Marian

And Another Announcement...

If there are any writers among you - or if you have any writer friends or relatives for whom you would like to purchase a gift - a new book in the ever-popular 'Cup of Comfort' series is due for publication soon, entitled A Cup of Comfort for Writers.

It has an essay of mine in it, entitled 'The Baptism', which is the story of how I first realized I was a writer.

Watch my blog for publication details


'The Madwoman' by Théodore Géricault 1823

Author and scholar Peggy Payne, who is writing a biography of artist Elisabeth Chant (1865-1947) asks:

Do you remember from your growing-up days any odd  woman in your town with a
 reputation for special powers, often an older woman  who lived alone, "that
 crazy lady down the street."

If so, did she affect  you and others who knew or knew  of her? Did she in any way stir your imagination?  I'm looking for such women  who had some impact prior to 1965. Do you remember  or know of anyone like  this? I'm particularly interested in women who  weren't famous.
If you have a story for Peggy, send it to me and I will pass it along to her.


'Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal'
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi is a Palestinian poet. If you haven't already read this somewhere, click here to read it. I won't say any more, except to guarantee it will warm your heart.


ELDERWOMEN!!  Got stories to share?   Want to see them in print?

I am working on a new book which is (provisionally) entitled:
'PURPLE WITH PANACHE: How to be a wonderful old woman (not a sweet little old lady)'

This book is going to be full of stories that will not only inspire people but also make them laugh. It will – I hope – help women to stop being so scared about getting old.

It will help them to give themselves permission to be daring, outrageous, ‘disgraceful’, bold, feisty, passionate, adventurous, eccentric … you know, all the things we are.

It will do that, mainly, by a whole lot of us sharing our own experiences and showing how it’s done. Everyone learns best by example. That’s why I need lots of women’s stories.

Your story can be of any length and you can send as many as you like. But these must be personal, original stories. Things that have happened to you or to someone you know. I want examples of things you have said and/or done that made people realise you were not a ‘sweet little old lady’ but a woman to be reckoned with. Things you have felt or experienced which may amuse or inspire others.

For example, you could write about:

Things that were daring, fun adventurous, bold or unusual – like rafting the rapids
Things that made other people do double-takes – like your clever responses to ‘ageist’ remarks
Things that felt really good – like pleasing yourself instead of your family for once
Things that felt deeply satisfying – like completing a difficult task or planting trees
Things that were dangerous – like getting arrested on a demo or encountering a rattlesnake
Things that made someone say “Gosh, at your age !…”
Things that made you feel like a happy child again
Doing something you had always wanted to do and never had time till you ‘retired’
Trying something totally new, like the salsa, or flying lessons, drumming, hot air ballooning 
Going somewhere you had never been, learning a new language, a new skill
Finding a new lover
Feelings of fearlessness
Feelings of deep engagement with life
The fun of dressing up, playing the fool, being ‘outrageous’
Being an unconventional granny
Things that have given your life new meaning, moments of enlightenment
Funny things that have happened to you in your later years
Embarrassing moments
… and so on.  


I may only use part of your story, but I’ll try and include something from everyone.

I can’t offer you payment yet, but you will of course get a free copy of the book and if it is a success I certainly will share the proceeds with you.

Please include a mini-biography of yourself. (100 words max).

If you can e-mail your submission, that would be wonderful, as it will save me having to re-type it. Send it to marian(at) and put the word PURPLE in the subject line..

I look forward to hearing from you.

And as always ....
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.


Twenty-one things that elders have learned...

1. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.
2. Don't worry about what people think; they don't do it very often.
3. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car.
4. Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.
5. If you must choose between two evils, pick the one you've never tried before.
6. A person, who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.
7. For every action, there is an equal and opposite government program.
8. If you look like your passport picture, you probably need the trip.
9. Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of checks.
10. A conscience is what hurts when all of your other parts feel so good.
11. Eat well, stay fit, die anyway.
12. Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it.
13. A balanced diet is a muffin in each hand.
14. Junk is something you've kept for years and throw away three weeks before you need it.
15. Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
16. Thou shalt not weigh more than thy refrigerator.
17. People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.
18. You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time.
19. Never lick a steak knife.
20. You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging
from her at that moment.
21. The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that deep down inside
we ALL believe we are above average drivers.

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Edge Designs is an all-women run company that designs interior office space. They had a recent opportunity to do an office project in New York City.

The client allowed the women of this company a free hand in all design aspects. The client was a company that was also run by all women execs.............The result.........
             ... well we all know that men never talk, never look at each other....and never laugh much in the restroom. The men's room is a serious and quiet place.

But now...with the addition of one mural on the wall......lets just say the men's restroom is a place of laughter and smiles.

The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, June, 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