The Elderwoman Newsletter

Issue #16, March, 2007

Off-roadrunner, Safford AZ

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


It is Spring again, here in the Northern Hemisphere (well it will be in another couple of days). The snowdrops have been and gone and now I am surrounded by daffodils, primroses, celandines, gorse and forsythia, all in shades of yellow from the palest to the brightest. In another few weeks will come the gradual change from the 'yellow days' to the 'blue, pink and white' days, as the bluebells, campions, stitchwort and wild garlic start to take over.  Here in England we switch to daylight saving time in another week - and of course in the US, the switch has already occurred.
It is shaping up to be a busy time for me in the months ahead, with two weddings in the family, a magazine to edit, several articles due and lots of other interesting things. And of course, Spring is a busy time in the garden, too. So I thought I had better get this newsletter out now, before I get too caught up in other things.

I have become drawn into the fascinating world of blogging, these past few months, writing my own blog and reading lots of others. It's an amazing world, peopled by all sorts of interesting and inspiring characters. I am really enjoying it. There are two sub-groups of bloggers I have been particularly delighted to discover. One is the worldwide group of people who are simplifying their lives, and as you know, simple living is something I am passionate about, so the more of these I find, the more encouraged I feel.

The other is the 'elderbloggers' who range in age from 50 or so to 107. There are heaps of them, especially women, and they are a wonderful and high-spirited bunch. So I am delighted introduce you, in this issue, to Elaine Frankonis. Elaine is a veteran blogger and she will tell you more about blogging and the part it plays in her life. If it is something you haven't tried, when you read what she has to say you may just be tempted to have a go yourself.

Also, in this issue, two articles by me and a selection of links to articles in other places.

I hope you enjoy reading this issue of the newsletter as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.

Many blessings,




When I was in my forties, working full-time and living in the city, I took out membership at a local gym. I used to enjoy going there. Not only for the aerobics classes and the exercise machines, which gave me a sense of achievement and a pride in my fitness level, but also for the swimming pool, the whirlpool and the sauna. Specially the sauna.

There is something wonderfully intimate about a bunch of women of all ages working out in the same room and then sitting around naked on benches in the semi dark, steaming, sweating and chatting.

Venus of Willendorf
c. 24,000-22,000 BCE
Oolitic limestone
(Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna)
This was a predominantly Jewish area, and a lot of the women were in their fifties, sixties and seventies. They switched back and forth between English and Yiddish, they gossiped and they laughed a lot. They were great. I enjoyed their company.

I loved the fact that our bodies were all different shapes and sizes, tall and short, skinny and fat, many with bulging bellies, stretch marks, sagging boobs. Lots with wrinkles. This was no glamorous ‘health club’ where people come to strut and be seen in designer leotards. Nobody worked out while listening to an iPod because iPods hadn’t been invented yet. There was music on the loudspeakers and some of us hummed to it. That place had its own special feel. It felt sweaty and communal and totally accepting and utterly real.

I was thinking about that last month when I read this piece on the ‘Brain Reserves’ blog about how the baby boom generation is changing the shape of gyms and health clubs in the USA.

"Older Americans” the article claims, “… are transforming the landscape of physical fitness… the number of people who are 55 belonging to health clubs surged by 33% from 1999-2004 whereas the 18-34 crowd had zero growth in memberships….Mature exercise enthusiasts are not merely playing havoc with abstract fitness statistics; they are rocking the foundations of fitness facilities across the U.S. "

Well that’s great – right? It’s nice to think that a whole age cohort is putting more value on staying fit and healthy than its predecessors did. But unfortunately there’s a shadow side to all this. Two, in fact. Ten days later, I read a rather alarming story on Ronni Bennett’s ‘Time Goes By’ blog about how the boomer preoccupation with health and fitness is starting to create dissension in some retirement communities. The ‘young old’, it seems, are starting to crowd out the ‘old old’ by demanding new kinds of facilities that put the fees up beyond the reach of many long-term residents. Gyms and spas and golf courses are taking precedence over stair-lifts and hoists and other equipment needed by the very old and frail.

As one woman put it:

“The message is: Retirement ain’t what it used to be…Everybody is going to be tap dancing and jumping on trampolines. Boards and property managers are re-engineering senior communities as destination resorts and health clubs. Senior home-owners who need wheelchairs don’t fit this marketing plan.

“Boards and management companies want to upgrade the amenities…to market to the next generation of retirees. To finance improvements, they saddle current residents with huge bills they can’t pay.”

Nor is it likely that the atmosphere in these gyms and spas and health clubs is going to be anything like the laid-back one I remember from thirty years ago. These folks take their workouts seriously. And as well as redefining retirement, they seem to be trying to redefine aging itself. Aging ‘well’ has become a solemn duty. Which means not just staying as fit as you can but pretending that you are not getting old at all. Wrinkles, suggests a New York Times article last week, are becoming the new taboo. Just as you rarely see anyone with crooked teeth any more, in these days of orthodontics, soon you won’t see wrinkles and sagging skin either. Not now that we have Botox, Restylane, liposuction and all the other weapons in the endless, expensive (and of course ultimately futile) war against the body’s natural aging processes.

What pity, is all I can say.

It’s many years since I saw the inside of a gym. The Earth itself has supplied all the gym equipment I could ever need ever since I moved to the countryside. Who needs a treadmill or stationary bicycle when you can cycle the leafy lanes and walk through the woods? Who needs weights when there are logs to stack? Who needs a step-stool when you have to walk up a flight of steep stairs to go to the bathroom? Who needs a swimming pool when the ocean is just a mile away?

Mind you, I’d enjoy a sauna once in a while. Specially if it was full of those jolly women, chatting their heads off in Yiddish and English as we all sat around the stove and steamed together. Wrinkles and all.


by Elaine Frankonis

Published poet
Remember when we used to write letters, sharing our thoughts and hopes and frustrations with far away friends with whom we had much in common?

For me, my weblog is my letter to the world of the Internet, which is full of far away friends whom I’ve never met in person but who share many of my opinions… and, yes, frustrations.

A weblog is a public diary, and just like any diary, it reflects the thoughts, opinions, and experiences of the writer.  Some are funny, some are political, some are informational, and some are just for venting. The weblog writer makes it into whatever he/she wants.  Free services such as Blogger ( have made setting up and maintaining a weblog a simple and painless process.

I have a weblog because it gives me a voice, an identity – a soapbox when I want one, an friendly ear when I need one.

My current life as the caregiver for my 91 year old mother has physically isolated me from many of the activities and people I used to enjoy.  Stimulating personal interactions are rare in my life these days and relegated to the times every other month or so when I go to visit friends or offspring for a couple of days of respite.

Through the processes of writing my own weblog,  reading and leaving comments on others’, and being contacted by readers of mine, I have minimized my feelings of isolation.   I have “met” gracious and fascinating men and women I would never, ever, have run across in the physical world.  I think, for example of the 72 year old female editor of a small mid-western newspaper who emails me periodically when I have posted something that has touched her in some way.  I think of the young woman blogger in Georgia who is my daughter’s age and who continues to inspire my best writing.

When I began blogging more than five years ago, there were very few bloggers over 65.   Now, we are many, telling our stories, sharing our wonder and wisdom, asserting our well-earned identities, and getting to know each other in meaningful and companionable ways.  Over at the Ageless Project website there are bloggers listed who are in their 90s.

As we get older and reach a point where getting around physically to socialize becomes more work than fun, blogging is one way to keep mentally active and personally interactive.  It’s not just for kids anymore.

Marian looks at...


My brother-in-law just sent me these pictures and several others. I thought they might fascinate you as much as they did me.
To me, art like this -- and like the intricate sand paintings that the Tibetan monks do -- just seems especially precious, somehow.
We have this illusion of permanence about physical things. So there are paintings and sculptures that have existed for hundreds or even thousands of years. But even those deteriorate over time, even though they do it much more slowly than we do. Most of us will not exist for as long as 100 years.
As we know, a lot of people agonise about getting old, as though they believe they should last for ever. So they spend a lot of their lives in a state of contraction, trying to fight off the inevitability of their own disappearance from the world.
This artist, Guido Daniele from Milan, who was hired to create these pictures by an advertising agency, says he regrets that his creations are soon washed away. Watching his creations disappear down the drain after they have been photographed is, he says, the hardest part of his job.

The Tibetans, however, have exactly the opposite attitude.

In the smaller of these two photographs, the Dalai Lama is surrounded by the Tibetan nuns who created this sacred sand mandala in the library at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. In a historic act, the Dalai Lama participated in the destruction of the mandala--symbolizing the impermanence of life. The destruction of the mandala is part of the ceremony of the mandala. This is only the second mandala to be created by Tibetan nuns on U.S. soil and the first created by women to be viewed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The creation of sand mandalas dates back 2,500 years and was an art once reserved for monks.

Taking the trouble to create something that will only last for hours seems to me like a wonderful way of affirming and celebrating the fact that when you measure it against the immensity of historical time, our own existence is really just a brief flicker. It's a reminder that we should fully enjoy that flicker while it lasts, accepting that in the end, we too shall be washed away under the remorseless tap of time.

Academy Award winner Helen Mirren, who will be 62 in July, received a free pre-Oscars goodie bag containing vouchers for free plastic surgery and Botox injections. But she declined to use them.

'I let go of vanity a while ago, let go of trying to look younger than I was,' she says.
'It's brilliant, really, the way life organises itself because you just slowly get used to what you are, don't you?
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"You will notice that increasingly, it is the elders who are speaking out and acting boldly and authoritatively to bring understanding of what justice, kindness, generosity and compassion mean in a world weary of the endless conquest and dominance mindset of nations." - Cathy Webster, 'A Thousand Grandmothers for Peace'

In the last newsletter, I reported that charges against members of the 'Granny Peace Brigade' in Philadelphia had been dismissed.

Well it does not always work out so well. In January, a federal judge in Columbus GA sentenced Cathy Webster to two months in a Federal prison for her non-violent protest against a torture-training school. Several other 'Grandmothers for Peace' also received prison sentences
Read about it in this report from 'Common Dreams'.
(Thank to Brenda Mason from Brisbane for bringing this news item to my attention)

BERKELEY, Calif., Jan. 22 — It is not every day that tree-sitters are older than the tree, but on Monday three environmental activists with a combined age of 247 climbed into an oak tree here for an hour to protest a hotly contested building plan.


" 'Still' is a word I don't much like. Nearly everyone I talk to asks me if I am "still" writing: taxi drivers, shop assistants, members of parliament, traffic wardens, acquaintances lost for years but inevitably emerging from the past, doctors and vets and hairdressers. The phrase 'at your age' doesn't please me either, with its underlying implication that it would be better if women in their 70s were to stay indoors and pull down the blinds."   - Novelist, Ruth Rendell

Read this interview in the Melbourne 'Age', as 76- year-old Ruth talks about aging and her attitude to it.

"No matter how many times the media says otherwise, it's Hormone Replacement Therapy -- not menopause -- that's dangerous to women."

Click here for another hard-hitting article by
Margaret Morganroth Gullette about what she calls 'hormone nostalgia'

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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.


" ‘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

"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? " ~ Germaine Greer

... and again - " You're only young once, but you can be immature forever. "


In case you needed further proof that the human race is doomed through
stupidity, here are some actual label instructions on consumer goods.

On a Sears hairdryer -- Do not use while sleeping.
(That's the only time I have to work on my hair.)

On a bag of Fritos -- You could be a winner! No purchase necessary.
Details inside. (the shoplifter special?)

On a bar of Dial soap -- "Directions: Use like regular soap."
(and that would be???....)

On some Swanson frozen dinners --
"Serving Suggestion: Defrost." (but, it's just a suggestion.)

On Tesco's Tiramisu dessert (printed on bottom) --
"Do not turn upside down." (well...duh, a bit late, huh!)

On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding --
"Product will be hot after heating." (...and you thought????...)

On packaging for a Rowenta iron --
"Do not iron clothes on body." (but wouldn't this save me time?)

On Boot's Children Cough Medicine -- "Do not drive a car or operate
machinery after taking this medication."
(We could do a lot to reduce the rate of construction accidents if we
could just get those 5 year-olds with head-colds off those bulldozers.)

On Nytol Sleep Aid -- "Warning: May cause drowsiness."
(...I'm taking this because???....)

On most brands of Christmas lights --
"For indoor or outdoor use only." (as opposed to what?)

On a Japanese food processor --
"Not to be used for the other use."
(now, somebody out there, help me on this. I'm a bit curious.)

On Sainsbury's peanuts --
"Warning: contains nuts." (talk about a news flash)

On an American Airlines packet of nuts --
"Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts."

On a child's Superman costume --
"Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly."
(I don't blame the company. I blame the parents for this one.)

On a Swedish chainsaw --
"Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals."
(Oh my God..was there a lot of this happening somewhere?)

The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, December, 2006
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