Here’s my confession: I’m such a Dr. Ruth fan. A couple of decades ago, when I was scheduling an interview with her, she left a message on my phone mail that I kept for weeks, delighting in that throaty signature voice.
Here is Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s prescription for Covid positivity, published in the AARP newsletter. Memo to freelancers: she pitched her own story. It wasn’t the editors’ idea but they bought it. Memo to photographers and stylists: This is how to make an elder look good!
Wassail – the drink and the song – evokes pungent memories. At Christmas my Senior Girl Scout troop went caroling to the Baltimore County jail. Singing our way, “Here we come a wassailing.. Love and joy come to you…” through the cell blocks, we tried not to be daunted by what we didn’t want to see.
Yet wassail, as a festive drink, is a jubilant memory. My parents made it by the gallon jugs for our four-hour Christmas open house. Creating the base required simmering spices and sugar; later they added squeezed-by-hand juice and cider. I still have my father’s aluminum citrus squeezer.
Our house was small, so the nearly 100 guests came in waves – medical school colleagues from 1 to 3, friends of my sister and me from 2 to 4, and everybody else from 3 to 5.
Because the hot wassail was such a spicily unusual drink, the teen boys judged it “spiked” and claimed the bowl, ignoring the (delicately flavored with very good whisky) eggnog. Everyone looked forward to our Smithfield ham (an annual gift from a former med student) and cocktail shrimp (in the early ‘50s shrimp was not yet standard party fare).
At these parties I learned to love to entertain.
When my parents brought wassail to me at college, I learned how much parents will do to help their children. They brought not just one jug of wassail, but enough for more than a hundred people. With the modern dance group at Duke University, I had produced the first-ever multi-art Yule Fest. We danced to Christmas carols, accompanied by a medieval combo plus recitations by drama students. After the applause, dancers came down the aisles of the ‘theater in the round’ with glass cups of hot wassail for all.
Here is the Figge family wassail recipe in the small quantity (with medium and largest quantities in parentheses). My father’s notes say the largest quantity will be enough for 50 people (if you also have 3 gallons of eggnog!)
Boil 2 cups sugar (8 cups or 5 lbs.) in 2-cups water (8 cups or about 1½ gallons water) for 10 minutes. Add
6 cloves (24 or48)
1 stick cinnamon (4 or 8)
6 allspice or ¼ t ground (or 24- 48 allspice
1 T grated lemon rind (or 4 or 8 T)
1 T grated orange rind (or 4 or-8 T)
1 T chopped ginger (use your judgment for larger amounts)
Cover, stand 2 hours. Put in gallon jug, preferably glass. (At this point you can store the base, outside if it’s cold).
On the day of the party, strain it into a large kettle and add
1 1/2 cups orange juice (6 or 12 c) preferably fresh squeezed
3/4 cups lemon juice (3 or 6) preferably fresh squeezed
2 cups sweet cider (or 8 or 16)
Before you reheat and serve this, dilute with 2 quarts cider or water, by taste.
Charles Montreuil, SVP of Human Resources at Best Buy, was interviewed by Alexandra Drane, co-founder and CEO of Rebel Health and ARCHANGELS, a national movement that recognizes and honors caregivers.
Montreuil broke new ground in ways for a corporation to care for its workers who are caregivers, and as both a recipient of care and a caregiver myself, his ‘corporatized empathy’ has special meaning for me.
At minute 23 came my AHA moment about why my church’s new arrangements for “taking care” are so meaningful. Montreuil says that having a caregiving system in place will reduce stress — not only for the employee caregiver — but also for everyone who works with or who knows that person. Stress for one person affects those around her. When the employee’s friends – her team – know that she can get help if she needs it — they can relax too.
I tend to carry a lot of that kind of stress. As an empath and a diagnosed worrywart, I am prone to worrying about who isn’t being taken care of. Ten years ago I helped manage an informal team to look after a beloved church member who lived alone but had dementia and other health problems. Refusing to move from her fourth floor walk-up Palmer Square apartment, she charmed everyone in sight, inspiring them to help her. But it took 10 of us to manage all aspects of her care.
What org”>Princeton United Methodist Churchlacked then was an organized system of tracking who else needed care. We did have had other formal systems in place. In addition to the pastors, they included:
Stephen Ministry, which I knew pretty well since my late husband worked, as the lay leader, with then -pastors Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash and Rev. Catherine Williams and the lay team of Stephen Ministers — caring Christians trained to walk alongside those in need for as long as necessary to provide emotional and spiritual care.
From Stephen Ministry grew a caring group for widows and widowers, called Love Lives On.
The Prayer Chain, for as long as I can remember, offers solace to many. To be able to say “our prayer warriors will pray for your loved one” seems to help even those (perhaps especially those) without a firm faith.
Until Covid, several 12-stepgroups had, for decades, found a warm and welcoming meeting home in the church’s building on the town’s main drag. (After Covid, they will return).
Then. last year, Pastor Ginny Cetuk and an experienced lay member, Laverna Albury, put together a program,Circle of Care, to try to ensure that no one in our flock would “fall through the cracks.” This 12-member team “provides services and support to individuals or families who find themselves in acute distress due to illness, injury or family stress. ” When Covid came along, Circle of Care was in place and ramped up its efforts.
My AHA moment: When Best Buy’s HR guy, Montreuil, acknowledged that help for a stressed out caregiver could reduce the stress among that worker’s associates. “When you take care of one employee you are influencing the rest of the store. ‘Look at how this store takes care of us.'” Just knowing that respite care is available for the co-worker makes everyone breathe easier.
Yes! I realized. With the Circle of Care in place I can put that particular worry, that particular reason to be anxious, on a shelf. Other folks are in charge!
Full disclosure: I found this video on the website of my daughter, Susannah Fox. She bills herself as an “internet geologist” who helps people navigate healthcare and technology. At the end of her post she gave a link to Best Buy’s caregiver handbook.
The photograph below shows the elder in the fourth floor walkup, barely able to walk herself, charming a 10-yea-old stilt walker.
Sometimes “chance” happenings are just too grace-filled to be chance. On August 2, Rebekah Anderson’s sermon text and a chance-read book “happened” to coincide with (shh) my colonoscopy prep. A former church member gave me a book her group had read, “Liturgy of the Ordinary: sacred practices in everyday life,” by Tish Harrison Warren. I perused the first chapter. It was about making your bed in the morning and it helped me to enjoy doing that.
This morning, with creaky bones and foreboding spirit, facing a 36 hour fast for my colonoscopy, I happened to pick it up again. The next chapter is about “living in a body” and it was so perfect that I feel impelled to share this passage.
Jewish faith, the soil from which Christianity sprang, is delightfully, at times shockingly, earthly and embodied. Observant Jews use a prayer called the Asher Yatzar, which they recite after using the bathroom.
Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollows. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if even one of them ruptures, or if even one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for a short period). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.
It’s embarrassing and perhaps a bit uncomfortably graphic, but there is a baldness and beauty in this Jewish blessing. it dares us to believe that the God who holds the planets in orbit deigns to be involved with even the most mundane, pedestrian, and scatological parts of human embodiment. It calls us to gratitude and worship in the most undignified parts of our day.
Then the author, who began the chapter by pondering on the act of brushing teeth, continues ..these small tasks of caring for our bodies, as quotidian as they are, act as an embodied confession that our Creator…who mysteriously became flesh … has made our bodies well and deserves worship in and through our very cells, muscles, and teeth.
Oh yes, the text for that Sermon “An Invitation to New Life,” available on video here.(at minute 35, and at minute 25 is an amazing handbell solo). The text was Isaiah 58:
I’m dependent for my health and strength on Pilates, as taught in the Anthony Rabara studio, and I’m learning new strengthening moves at Princeton Fitness and Wellness, but nothing beats actual DANCE.
Dancing (modern dance) used to be my life. I danced a lot, in college. Some, in my 30s. Less, in my 50s. (The image* is of my 50th birthday party, led by my then dance teacher,Esther Arnhold Seligmann. Even less in my ’60s, though with Alma Concepcion I did try to learn flamenco, until I realized what it was doing to my knees.
Absolutely no dance in my 70s.
Now, on the cusp of 80, I have rediscovered the joy of moving through space.
You don’t get it in Pilates, you don’t get to move through space in a gym, you can move through space only in a dance studio, and dance studios are notoriously unfriendly to old bones.
So I am beyond thrilled to find a dance class geared for seniors, one that satisfies my desire (yea, my need) to move through space but honors my arthritis. Mary Pat Robertson,who had extensive experience in Merce Cunningham technique as well as being a master teacher of ballet, has begun a class for mature dancers of 50 plus years (that’s me), ranging from beginners to former professionals (I’m in between), to”retain flexibility, balance, and core strength.”
I had studied Humphrey/Weidman technique and ‘experienced’ Graham technique, and I’m finding that Cunningham technique is kinder to old bones. Robertson merges what she learned at the Cunningham studio with what she experienced at a special “over 50” class in London.
It’s good for me. It’s fun. It has me moving (safely) through space.
Intrigued? Come and see! Robertson teaches the “over 50” class on Mondays and Thursdays, 11 AM to 12:30 p.m. at the Martin Center for Dance, 11 Princess Road, Suite 5. What used to be a warehouse is now a stylish space for two dance studios and a black box theater.
*Recognizable faces in the 50th birthday picture: top row, Mary Hultse, Sandy Goettinger, Barbara Palfy, ?, Ann Yasuhara, ?, Pat Hatton, Joan Crespi. First row, Esther Seligmann, ?, ?, Barbara Figge Fox, Anna Rosa Kohn, Brenda Fallon, Nicole Plett. (Additional IDs welcome. With little provocation I will show you the video. It reflects Esther’s amazingly free spirit.)
In your column today, “Not Interested” kvetches about his mother, “obsessed with family history and preserving attachments to relatives…her house is stuffed with furniture, books, legal documents, photos, and the like. Each has a story that goes with it.”
Instantly I identify with both of them, the young person who yearns to accomplish goals in the future, and the old person who wants to pass down her heritage (memories, objects, collections, pick one) to her descendants. I was that young person, dealing with a memory-preserving mother, and at age 79 I still share the lofty goal of :making a difference’ with the time I have left to me. I am that old person, yearning rather desperately to leave ‘something of me’ behind.
Abby, your advice was practical but insufficient. You tell the son to find other relatives who might want the collection. You tell him not to make any promises he does not intend to keep.
As a former print journalist, I honor your word limitation. But you failed to acknowledge the deep almost desperate desire of elders to preserve their heritage. Perhaps later you can suggest ways for young people to help us do that. Videotape us telling our stories. Photograph our objects and make a book for us to keep. Set up storytelling sessions with our grandchildren. At the very least, be lovingly polite about our desperate need – as we face the end of our lives — to pass along a bit of ourselves.
And on the other side, we elders need someone to help us face the River Styx. Someone to remind us that, regardless of the objects that anyone keeps or does not keep, whatever we said or did in the past is what they will remember.
PS. Here’s a shout out to my sister, RosalieAnn Figge Beasley, and family genealogists everywhere. Those of us who don’t want to do that work now — we are likely to be grateful later.
At the time, I didn’t notice it, how hard it was. In the ’60s and ’70s, we moms didn’t even think of having it “all” or “leaning in.” We thought we were lucky to have a smidgen. We were swimming ‘in the water.”
You may have my copy of the latter. It was put out by Catalyst, founded in 1961 to make workplaces better for women. That was the year I graduated from college and — newly married and out of the workforce — I had NO idea how hard things were for women.
Watson’s book is a good read. But if somebody like Watson had published his autobiography in the ’70s, I might have recognized how badly the deck was stacked against women. Everywhere where you might think Watson would refer to “they,” “employees,” “managers,” whatever term — he uses the pronoun MEN. There simply weren’t any women in his ken. All men.
That was the way it was, then. It was ordinary. When my husband went to a summer training program at IBM, the class picture had two women and 30 men. It was in the water.
Vainly I looked in online files to find one of my 20 minute driving tours, titled “Gossips’ Guide to Princeton,” but I did find this “Einstein Tour,” written in 2005. It’s longer than 20 minutes if you get out at each stop. I’ve updated it a little. It begins:
Einstein has always been Princeton’s most sought-after celebrity. Visitors from Europe who are visibly unimpressed by “old” buildings like Nassau Hall, and those from other continents who turn a deaf ear to stories of the town’s role in the Revolutionary War – they all know about Albert Einstein and are eager to view any signs of the great man’s legacy.
I probably won’t get around to answering your cards this year, again. Sometimes I have sent New Year’s cards. Or Valentines. Or St. Patrick’s Day cards.
Instead, here is a list of resources that are helping me face 2019.
At Princeton United Methodist Church, we have embarked on a series called Relationships and Faith, based in part on materials from the Arbinger Institute. to learn the difference between an Inward Mindset and an Outward Mindset. Pastor Jenny Smith Walz is undertaking the important and difficult task — to talk about difficult questions of gender and race within the church. Her challenging sermon series, titled “The Beloved Community,” begins this month, focusing on “What God wants for God’s people.” The ongoing study has workbooks available in the church office. Also here is a link to one of the Arbinger books,
I am also led to discover, and embrace, the work of Julia Cameron. Known for founding The Artist’s Way, Cameron recommends — nay, requires — those pursuing creativity to write “Morning Pages,” three pages written in the morning, first thing, to clear the addlement from one’s brain. I found my first Cameron book in one of those “free libraries” on the street in DC in October, and it has taken me this long to convince myself it might work.
For the evening, I am trying to use a journaling system called Vertellis Chapters, This “mix of mindfulness and stoicism practices” is a Netherlands-based journaling system (the Dutch are so smart!) and I found it at my favorite shopping spot – online.
Then, my old favorite, is the Upper Room Disciplines. a book of daily devotions based on the lectionary — the Bible passages read throughout the Christian church. So often, that commentary, that scripture, speaks to a current sadness or gladness of the day. My small group at PrincetonUMC, the Monday Morning Group, uses these readings for informal study.
Am I reading these, writing these, studying these consistently every day? No.
George was a habit-driven person and I am the exact opposite. He did exercises daily without fail. When it comes to doing exercises daily, I mostly fail.
But I am trying to create these habits. And I feel led to share them with whoever is out there, just as Jenny, Ginny, Gerri, Aimee, Anthony, Ineke, Judi, Mary Lib, Pat, Deborah, Susannah and so so many more have shared their inspirations with me.