Issue #11, November, 2005


View from the Desk
- Peace Alliance
Elderwoman Book
California Crones Tour
Discussion Group
Feature Article - Feeling Old and Ugly? Look Again
Interesting News Items
Call for Submissions
Last Laugh





In the last newsletter I told you all about my decision to take a 'sabbatical' and how I planned to send out the Elderwoman Newsletter at random times, when I felt like it, instead of keeping to a rigid, four-times-a-year schedule. I also wrote " feels as though I am clearing a space in my life and it will be very interesting to see what comes in, as a result. I have always found that whenever you clear a space, something new happens."

Well several new things have happened, one of which is that I have started writing a novel. I never thought I would want to do that, and was quite surprised when the impulse came. But so far, I am really enjoying the process.

I also find that I am reading fiction again, after several decades of not being interested in it at all.

Isn't it marvellous how these changes can happen, no matter how old you are? There's part of me that sits here, fascinated, watching to see what the other parts of me will dream up next!!

I hope you enjoy this newsletter. Feedback is always welcome, either direct to me or (if you are a member) via the Discussion Group. 







Despite the machinations of presidents and governments, the majority of the world's people -- and certainly the majority of the world's women -- want to live in peace.

There is an international campaign to persuade every government to establish a Department of Peace. I encourage you to find out more about this campaign, and lend it your support. Go to:



The original printing has sold out and the second printing, with the new cover, is now on sale pretty much everywhere.

The publishers were of the opinion that the original cover was putting people off (the wrinkles scared them!) so the new cover was especially designed to appeal to the 'Baby Boom' generation.

I am crossing my fingers that this 'new look' version will sell well, for I know that if it doesn't, the publisher is likely to take it out of print. That would break my heart as the book means so much to me.

So if you know any 'Baby Boomers' who haven't yet read the book, please consider introducing them to it.

You can also help hugely by:

- asking bookstores and libraries to stock it

- mentioning it to other women

- maybe even including it in a 'sig file' on your e-mail

If you want any leaflets, bookmarks etc. to give out, I'd be happy to send you some. Just let me know (and give me your snail mail address).



I am delighted to announce that the tour was a huge success.

Just to recap: I had so much enjoyed the two Crones Counsel gatherings I had been to that I thought it would be great to introduce some more overseas women to them. That was how the idea began.

As well as Crones Counsel, I belong to a similar organization here in UK (called 'Growing Old Disgracefully'), so I put an ad in the G.O.D. newsletter, inviting women to come with me to Crones Counsel in San Diego. And since it is an awfully long way to go from here to southern California just for a four-day gathering, I decided to offer it as a two-week guided tour, starting in San Francisco. The per capita cost, when I worked it out, seemed to compare favourably with other Californian vacations, especially since I planned for us to spend the first three nights at the Fort Mason youth hostel at $20 per night each, instead of at a hotel.

Sky, my wonderful partner, agreed to help by doing all the driving. We set a limit of four people for the trip after he looked at the dimensions of 7-seater minivans and decided that six bodies and accompanying luggage, plus a box of snacks and picnic lunches, would take up all the room such a vehicle afforded. (We were right!) Eight women wanted to go, so we chose the first four to apply. One dropped out early and another from the waiting-list quickly took her place. Within weeks, they had bought their plane tickets.


So October 4th found Sky and me at San Francisco airport, with our rented minivan waiting in the parking garage, to welcome four adventurous elderwomen from England and whisk them off to the Fort Mason Youth Hostel.

I had warned them that at the hostel all five of us would be squashed into a tiny room, but I was still a little afraid they would find the accommodation there too basic, since they were all over 70 and possibly not all that good at scrambling into top bunks. In fact, they loved it and saw it as a great adventure. It helped that the bunks were wide and comfortable. We were as excited and giggly as teenagers at a sleepover, and certainly got to know each other quickly!

Basic, the hostel might be, but it's the best bargain in town, with a location to die for (It's part of the Golden Gate Recreation area and is up on a hill with parkland and trees surrounding it, the water of San Francisco Bay sparkling below, and an awesome view in all directions, including the Golden Gate and Alcatraz).

For the next two days, I took them all around the usual San Francisco sights - Fisherman's Wharf, Maritime Museum, Pier 39, a ride on the cable cars, Chinatown, Japantown (one of them bought a gorgeous kimono), downtown etc. Took them to the largest thrift store(charity shop/opp shop) I knew, and they went on a bargain-hunting spree. I had quite a job getting them out of there! And of course I took them to Whole Foods Market and they were suitably impressed by the size and scope of it as there's nothing remotely like it in UK.

We went around on public transport, as it is really hard to use a car in the city and parking is impossible.


On the third day I took them across on the ferry to Sausalito and we came back over the Golden Gate Bridge. After three days of perfect sunshine, the fog was just starting to roll in, so I was glad they were able to experience that also. (It's such an atmospheric feature of San Francisco, and especially of the famous bridge).

Anya, one of the Crones Counsel Board members lives in the SF Bay area, and she met us for dinner that night at a Chinese restaurant and warmly welcomed our four to the USA on behalf of Crones Counsel.

Early next morning we packed up the van and set off for Yosemite National Park, stopping on the way for breakfast at an IHOP. (International House of Pancakes). Not a place we would normally frequent, but we wanted to give our guests as many uniquely American experiences as we could!

After Yosemite, we drove back to Santa Cruz, on the coast, where we stayed two nights.

From there, we visited Big Basin, where the old-growth coast redwoods are (sequoia sempervirens) and also went to the grove where the monarch butterflies were clustering, in their thousands, in the eucalyptus trees.


From Santa Cruz, we drove south, around Monterey Bay to Monterey, which is not very far. In the morning, we took our guests to Cannery Row (made famous by the novelist John Steinbeck but now an up-market shopping and restaurant area). All four of the women turned out to be inveterate shoppers, so they loved pottering round all the gift shops and sipping coffee in the cafes.

After a picnic in the sunshine overlooking the Bay, we boarded a whale-watching boat and set off out to sea. The weather was picture-perfect, but there was a huge swell. We sat on deck, right in the bows, so it was like riding a roller-coaster and very exhilarating. Once we got out into the deep waters of the Bay we found two humpback whales, and tracked them for a while. They performed beautifully for us, and although they didn't actually breach, they did some wonderful dives and we got to see those giant tail flukes flipping right up into the air. On the last sighting, we were really close - just twenty feet or so behind them - and we could see all the barnacles clinging to the flukes of one of them and the beautiful, white-on-navy-blue patterns on the other. That was truly magic. We also saw sea otters and thousands of sea lions.

The next treat in store was to drive south from Monterey along the spectacular Big Sur coast - in my opinion one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world. Unfortunately, it was early in the day and the sea fog which moves in and out each day was still blanketing many stretches of the route, so we only saw tantalising glimpses of the glorious landscape. But at the two places we stopped, the fog had thinned, so our guests were still able to get a good sense of what the area is like, and were duly impressed.


Morro Bay, a fishing village much further down the coast which was our next stop, turned out to be fairly fog-bound also. But the hotel we stayed in was one of the most beautiful, comfortable and luxurious (though amazingly inexpensive) of the whole trip, and that made up for it.

When we reached Los Angeles, we handed our guests into the loving care of that lively group of women called the Angel City Crones, who put on a special potluck for them, took them sightseeing and African drumming, and gave them a marvellous time. One of the group members then accompanied them by train to San Diego, where we all met up again at the Bahia Resort for the highlight of the trip - Crones Counsel XIII which, as always, was just wonderful.

Altogether, in that two weeks, I took 186 photographs, and I made the best ones into a souvenir CD. (That's the cover I made for it, at the top of this newsletter).

Next year's Crones Counsel will be held in Boulder, Colorado, from September 27 to October 1. And in case you are wondering, no, I don't have any plans to stage a 'Colorado Crones Tour'. Well, not so far, anyway!



I reported in the last newsletter that our Discussion Group had gone very quiet. But it suddenly sprang into life, round about September, and there have been some wonderful discussions happening since then.

One of the group members (Kay) posted a photograph of herself on the Group's Yahoo page and urged others to do the same. I thought that was a great idea. It is so nice to see the faces of the other women you are 'talking' to on e-mail.

Since quite a few of the members are not registered with Yahoo, and therefore don't have access to the Yahoo site, I decided to make up our own photo page and share it. So far, the page has six portraits on it and I am eagerly awaiting more. When I have the first dozen, or so, I'll upload it so that all the Group members (but only the Group members) can access it.

Only a fraction of the Newsletter's readers have joined the Discussion Group so far, but it is open to everyone on the mailing list - and it's free. So if you would like to join, just send me an e-mail with OKEM in the subject line and say "add me to discussion list."





Feeling Old and Ugly? Look Again

By Margaret M. Gullette

In my youth, there was scarcely a part of my body I could look at without critique.

But over time I made peace with a few parts I had disliked for decades. My feet, for one. Those broad peasant feet began to look sturdy, smooth-skinned, touchable, with attractive outlines. The toes were charming.

Like many other women touched by the magic wand of feminism, over the last few decades I began to overcome the self-hatred that comes of having a young female body in patriarchal, capitalist America. Thank the goddess I'm no longer so young.

And then -- perhaps as a consequence -- in the shower one morning I was twisting to look back and down my side. In the shower you can never see your whole self, only parts. Suddenly the curves of my hip, buttock, thigh, calf and ankle came into view -- startlingly elegant, powerful and voluptuous.

It was an angle of myself I had never before observed, at least consciously.

I was so impressed that I took a longer glance the next time I thought of it. The view was definitely one a painter might love. But had I ever seen an image created from the point of view of a woman looking down at her own body from above?

Never. Nor could any mirror show it. Certainly no TV or magazine ad had ever captured those satisfying curves. The assumption of our culture is not just ageist but middle-ageist, that bodily decline starts not in old age but ever younger. Even as early as 30.


Rare Pleasure for Older Woman

I haven't yet gotten my face to seem startlingly lovelier, but every time I look down at that arrangement of hip and leg I am rewarded by a jolt of pleasure. Since I am a woman in my 60s in a culture increasingly obsessed with youth, this experience is rare.

Excuse me for being the one to say so, but I think my discovery may be important and not just for me.

The reason that I can admire these parts of the "aging" corpus is precisely because no TV ad or magazine article has ever focused on them. I hadn't learned to hate them as signs of decline. In the shower I saw them fresh.

Ad campaigns exist only to get us to want their products badly. By giving us views of younger models they create a critical comparative eye. That eye is rapt in delight only by the tall anorexic body. It is ready to frown contemptuously at the average American woman, 5 foot 4 inches tall and 140 pounds.

Of the whole body, the eye of the perfection industries obsessively focuses only on the parts they can make seem improvable. Because of cosmetics and plastic surgery, the face receives the most critique. (It might be the hardest part for any woman to reclaim).

My Own Point of View

Fortunately for my graceful lower extremities, no corporation has yet devised a product that could improve that view. No youthful model owns it. It is my point of view. You could say I have the copyright.

Having rescued a subjective view of myself from advertising's mean scrutiny, I freely offer you the same pleasure. Try it. There is nothing wrong with a little healthy narcissism once a day, in a steamy bathroom filled with the heady aromas of shampoo and olive oil soap.

I see no reason why women aging past youth can't enjoy such a sight for decades. It's safe from the angry glare of decline.

Suppose that every single day, for just two minutes, every single woman in America loved that much of her body. What a different attitude toward ourselves and other women we would carry out of the bathroom and into the world.

My discovery in the shower also suggests a new way to respond when our friends complain about their "aging." On cue, women -- even surprisingly young women, these days, and even long-time feminists -- are liable to drop into a sorry list of what they don't like about the skin, their weight, their hair color, their muscle tone.

"I don't look the same," they assert, as though that were prima facie bad. And what am I supposed to say at this juncture?

This is the obligatory Scene of Confession, and it is supposed to elicit a similar depressing Confession, in which I too complain about my skin or my weight -- or, if I can't, some other body part publicly identified as "aging."

Let's Safeguard Our Friendships

But my new insight is this: We don't need masochistic empathy here. Let's not reinforce women's supposed ugliness in the guise of friendship. If friendship really exists, one of the women needs to stop right there and ask judiciously, "Isn't that product placement speaking?" Or, "Isn't 'I'm not the same' just what a plastic surgeon wants to hear you say? If the perfection industries didn't make billions on your misery, would you be worrying so much about your hair, your abs, your waist?"

End the lamentations. Let's not allow ourselves to be walking commercials for the commerce in aging. Let's deny the bosses another excuse to downsize our jobs. Could we focus instead on the parts we have learned to love? (Did I tell you already that my shoulder looks strong and silky from above? No? Well, it's another hot-shower effect.) And then you would have to say something similar about a once-unloved body part that you have taught yourself to find pleasing.

Maybe, in time, what we praise could be the whole integrated body-mind, with its spirit, character, charm and responsiveness. Confession of a new kind is in order. This is not a boast to each other but a taunt to decline culture. It feels good.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette is the author of 2004's Aged by Culture, chosen as a noteworthy book of the year by the Christian Science Monitor.





 I found this on the newswire:

'Raging Granny' Gets Marine Recruitment Letter

The Associated Press, Friday, October 21, 2005 

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico - Sally-Alice Thompson had to laugh when she got a letter from the Marine Corps' commanding general, telling her the military "is in need of your service" and inviting her to find out more by sending in an enclosed card.

"What else could I do? I mean, I'm 82 years old," Thompson said.

Not only that, Thompson is a well-known local peace activist who is a charter member of the Center for Peace & Justice in Albuquerque and belongs to Veterans for Peace and Raging Grannies.

So instead of sending in the card, she plans to visit the Marine recruiting center with other Raging Grannies, which Thompson describes as "a group of women unhappy about wars of aggression and about nuclear armaments."

"I don't know what kind of reception we'll get," said Thompson, who served in the Navy in World War II.

She began questioning government actions when the United States went to war in Vietnam. She's since taken part in the Great Peace March of 1986 across the United States, participated in a similar march from Leningrad to Moscow the following year. She's been in more than a dozen marches since President Bush took office and went to Crawford, Texas, in August in support of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan when Sheehan tried to talk with the president on his vacation to Texas.

The letter from Brig. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin told Thompson that "now is the time to put your unique language skills to the test as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. Your command of the Arabic language will be invaluable among the elite few."

Thompson, who said she knows two words of Arabic, said she has no idea why she got the letter.

But she's heard similar stories.

"A number of older women have been getting these letters," she said. "So I think someone is pulling the Marines' leg."  





.. and Brenda Mason (from 'Waverley Elderwomen', Brisbane, Australia) sent this:

Grannies arrested in US peace protest

October 18, 2005 - 3:14PM 

Eighteen US anti-war grandmothers were arrested and face disorderly conduct charges after they showed up at a military recruiting centre in New York's Times Square and said they wanted to enlist, a protest group says.

Police arrested the women, ranging in age from 49 to 90, after they sat down today in front of the recruiting station to protest the war in Iraq, police said.

When the women, including Marie Runyon, who is 90 and blind, tried to enter the station, they found it locked, said Joan Wile, 74, director of Grandmothers against the War.

"We tried to ring the bell at the booth, but no-one answered," Wile said. "I saw a head poke up from behind the counter every once in a while and then duck back down. I don't know what they were afraid of. Maybe they don't know how to deal with a bunch of grannies."

Grandmothers against the War joined the New York City Raging Grannies and the Grey Panthers to form a coalition called the Anti-War Grandmothers, which organised the protest. The group said about 100 people attended. -AP




To My Son Who Asks How I Can
Pray to the Powers of Air

By Claudia Van Gerven

It's not about air, it's about
breathing, how air
enters me the gentlest

of lovers, hovers above the small
of my back, penetrates
the most obscure air sacs. 

And I am ungracious, simply expect
such pure streams
of faithfulness. 

And the powers of earth, to invoke them
is to understand
at last how they hold up even this 

city of glass, how dirt is still the level
above which vertebra
foolishly stack themselves. 

We forget that we are simply given
water, each cell
a small sea. We are innumerable shorelines 

from which foreign swimmers--
other creatures going
about their business-- happily

thrive in the minutest corners
of what we are. And no,
I do not believe that the powers of fire  

will come if I call them, they are here
already, they burn
in the sugar peas, the early lettuces. 

They burn in me. I am
simply calling
my errant spirit home,  

back to this bed of ice stars,
to this universe slowly
exploding, to my own cells

dying more rapidly than they unfold.
I am saying
I am here, where the winds pound 

against the Flatirons, where sidewalks
buckle to the earth's
slow breath, where daffodils will flame 

for an instant beneath the flood
of late spring snow.
I am not asking for anything 

I have more than I can bear. 



© Claudia Van Gerven


 Girl Just Jumping

By Stephen Rix

Watching from my ancient age, a crone of time,

I see myself, a little girl,




on the sand.


My hand stretches forward to the memory,

brittle fingers aching to reach the



body, blonde and


with no view to winning or to building,

to filling her world with victories, just

jumping up

and down,

pouncing on the sands,

feeling gently squeezing grains between her toes


and smiling happy to do just that,

without reward, without another,

glowing with a joy of life

not needing to conquer or to vanquish.


Rather, wishing to submit and to capitulate,

to give and grow with

the drift of sand and the flow of water,

the force of life,

moving to her future, my past,

our presence.


© Stephen Rix


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 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.



"It's going to take the most selfless kind of love to do right by
what we cherish and give it the protection to flourish
outside our possessive embrace
- Barbara Kingsolver

"Set aside the learned ways of perceiving the world as dead matter for your use and see if you can recover again your actual perception of the world as a
community of beings to whom you are meaningfully related
- Erazim Kohak


I shall probably not send out another newsletter until some time in the first quarter of next year. So I wish all my readers a happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa or whatever it is you celebrate at this festive time of the year. And may 2006 be a great year for you. Go well, be peaceful, namasté.









The Elderwoman Newsletter by Marian Van Eyk McCain, November, 2005
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