Looking back at my life, the constants are easy to see. Label me a perpetual student.

There is always something new to learn or re discover evidence of an event, or scientific research to fit into our belief systems. When teaching “reluctant learners” in my first job, all I wanted them to do was develop a love of learning and solving their own problems through that learning. Knowing human history and recognizing patterns can do that for an individual. Teaching people to know their own power through learning was my goal and is still.

When motivated to study aging, because I was in the middle of it and wanted a better understanding for myself and family and friends, my first stop was the a dictionary and then Google. Things found:

  1. Old is not a 4 letter word.
  2. Old is simple in its definition.
  3. The word worn would be a good substitute.
  4. The Web is full of advice about aging, yet it is not in a scholarly approach. (duh)
  5. There are few opportunities for wisdom to be spoken and/or heard.

The vast majority of people HATE to call themselves old. That is denial as mentioned numerous times in my conversations. If you are 70 years old, you are not going to live to be 140, thus you are not middle-aged. Get over it and get on with the repurposing of your life.

Your body may be worn, but it is still useful. Your brain may be slower, but it is still useful. The culture of “old” is nothing more of a set of shared values…..the ones of us who are old, most likely have different values and goals and activities than those who are young. Unfortunately, the younger generation in most countries do not want to know our old culture and wisdom sharing is a challenge, but it is possible, as seen by older candidates for the office of President of the United States.

“Everybody’s day-to-day life is ordinary.”  Barbara Sher 

As an elder, if you want to be extraordinary, you don’t want to waste your limited energy on being angry about your situation. No one ever benefits from that, but as a person worn by life, you know instinctual that you will need both patience and Plan A and B and maybe C to get to your extraordinary self. You have time to reach a dream you have had for ever or create a new one better fit to your situation at this point. Don’t settle, but be realistic.

Watching video of Loretta Lynn, age 83, who performed on the Tonight Show, made me think about how the dream she had as a young girl could still play out because she knows herself,  she still has energy to be herself and she knew that to appear in that venue she  needed colored hair, a red sequined dress and SPANX.

My personal dreams always must include learning or my life is miserable. While reading novels is a kick, non fiction and learning that stretches my limits is the meat and potatoes (as they used to say) of my soul.

May you find your meat and potatoes and move on.


Please visit http:/ to see how my friend Susan portrays all her lovely old women. She is so talented!






Prune Brain or Monkey Mind

My brain required my total attention after a driver hit me broadside and my head hit the roof of the car. It was the type of concussion that takes months to repair. Seeing my brain out of the corner of my eye on a science fiction type of display the doctor was looking at was amazing. Hearing him say there was a blood clot they were watching was less thrilling. This all happened over forty years ago, but, like other blows to your heart or body, it left an imprint, along with stuttering and headaches for a couple of years.

As a second grader on the playground, I turned quickly and walked into a tennis net pole and after seeing stars and throwing up in the classroom and the doctor’s office, officially had my first concussion. Since I remember it well, including the common, ” Don’t let her sleep”, of the movies, my interest in my brain and the brains of all of my students  seems to have always been with me.

One of the benefits of aging is that we have seen the progress of scientists and psychologists in understanding the brain and what and how some things actually work. Finally the public understands that teen age brains, especially the frontal lobe are not complete at the magic age of 18 and high school graduation. In working with first offender criminals for over a decade, the 20- year-old who acts as if he is 12 is a common occurence. Learning impulse control can be a long and windy road and starts and ends in the brain.

For us to gain any mastery of aging, and make it more than a relentless decline, we must take control of bringing out our brain for exercise…not just physical, but mental. Several of my friends have apps on their phones and play games— or games with other across the country on their I Pads. Others do a good old- fashioned, hands on, picture puzzle. There is always one going in my library branch and you can sit down for a bit and test your spacial acuity. Paint, draw, color, write, read, play cards, have intelligent conversations with people, so something will hydrate your prune brain. Learning something totally new, or a different approach, or even a new way to make brownies is plumping up the prune. Illness and medications start drying it out, so be diligent about the mental exercise even if the physical is out for a bit.

In teaching a class to divine the traits of an extraordinary elder,  big questions are asked about recognizing your gifts, passions, and the purpose of your life. Just the ability to answer those questions will help neurons snap! Deep thinking and introspection should be a requirement for people who make it to 55 years old. Without the deep thinking and introspection there is no wisdom.

For the yogis who have tried to help us calm our monkey minds, flitting all over and never sitting still, thank you. Many of us use the excuse of fast processing speed in our brain, or that we are sooooo busy that there is no time to train, are obviously afraid of being wordless in stillness and slowing our body so we can feel the blood in our veins.

Old people have time now to get a balance between prune and monkey and use the brain we have left for something bigger than ourselves. I would hope that you would build  time in your day to be mindful and pay attention to the big picture for the huge numbers of aging folks and how we can (and already do) impact our world.

When we were dealing with Alzheimer’s and my Mother, I kept seeing her brain as a chunk of swiss cheese. This was no disrespect, but I could imagine that the memory that had been there on a Tuesday morning and was gone by Wednesday afternoon, had slipped into a hole that was growing in the cheese.

How about we get rid of prune brain, monkey mind and swiss cheese any way we can?








One Trait

If you begin to categorize the personal traits or the character of someone you might call an exceptional elder,  I would hope you would include speaking the truth to power. Included in that trait is being a responsible person in the system of government in which you reside. Since we reside in a democracy, that means participating in the decision making process of leadership in the democracy….from the homeowner’s association , city council and county commissioners to the presidency.

After thinking and talking with people about the issue of role models in our lives, I began to wonder how many of us had some one other that a ninth grade civics teacher ( I once was one) tell us why we should vote. My youngest granddaughter Lauren turns 18 today and this former teacher and present grandmother is now going to be a vocal role model and tell her why she needs to vote this November.


Dear Lauren,

By this point of your life you know a number of my values. I want to tell you why I feel that we all have an obligation to vote.

In 1976 one of the volunteer jobs I took on was as a poll judge at the recreation center in our neighborhood. A number of voters would train with the election commission and run a precinct so that all election rules and regulations were followed and a fair election was held. We had a dozen volunteers who checked people in with the official rolls from the county, helped people open and close the machines, keep the lines moving and made sure the supporters of any of the candidates kept the 100 yard rule from the doors leading into the polling place. Having been a teacher for a while, I wanted to experience the elections first hand to tell students about the atmosphere, how long people waited in line, and list all of the results on a sample ballot (yellow paper if I remember) the next day at school. The polls opened at 7 am to allow for the before work crowd and closed at 7 pm to get the after work crowd. It was a long volunteer day if you were busy, and even longer if not many people were taking advantage of the right to vote. That day, about 10 am a family consisting of a young man and his two parents came into my line to check that they were officially registered. The books are long and black and heavy and you can see the names and dates that where people signed in, had chosen a party affiliation or not and placed their signature. At that time, with growth, the county was having to change precincts frequently and we often had to tell people to leave our long line and go over to the school or the church where the correct precinct was for their address. Voting in a presidential election year could become a complicated journey if you had not planned ahead.


The family that came in had limited English skills and the young man translated the majority of our conversations from English to Spanish and back again. In those days we did not have huge numbers of languages other than English in our community. This family had come as refugees to Colorado from Cuba just as Fidel Castro had come to power in the 1960’s and two years earlier had become citizens of the United States.It was their first election in a democracy. Just writing that still makes me smile. We found their names, showed them how to use the machines and listened to the mother tell us through tears that her greatest surprise was that we were happy to see her and there were not men with machine guns at the door.

You can imagine how thrilled we were to help someone vote who was new to our country. Later in the day the Mother from Cuba, now from Aurora, Co. brought the workers a cake to thank us again.

You and I have talked frequently about my Mother being born the year women gained suffrage in the United States. And, here we are, less than 100 years later and you will be able to vote. You may even have a woman candidate for president, to make it even more meaningful for this old social studies teacher.

The one thing I hope you take away from my polling place story, not counting the years it took for all people to get a vote in this democracy, is that in my heart there is an obligation to vote. Not everyone in our world has that franchise, and if you want to keep a democracy vital, you and everyone else who is entitled in this county needs to be responsible.  As a newly minted adult, it is a privilege and responsibility that you now enjoy.

I love you baby girl and young woman,

Nana Joanna




Who was your teacher?

When my father turned 80 years old he told me that he never believed he would live to be so old. None of his family had and he said plaintively that, “No one taught me how to be old.” He died 10 years later after pain and suffering and the knowledge that he was leaving his beloved wife with worsening Alzheimer’s.

So, who has taught you how to live and thrive as an older person? How many role models have you had that were willing to share the highs and lows of an aging body with aches and pains? Who has taught you how to live with the losses of old age? And, who has been a positive role model to show you the joys of aging?

As the class, How to Become an Exceptional Elder, began to come together in my mind, these questions hung in the air. There is not ONE teacher for all of that, but many. The list of notables as my personal teachers include his Holiness the Dalai Lama, President Jimmy Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbara Jordon, Betty Friedan, Mohandas Gandhi, Black Elk and Will Rogers. We could get into the list of saints and sinners that have taught me, but not in this public forum.

People not on my list are insincere, cowards or full of hubris….young or old. So, now that I have figured out that how we need many role models for this aging gig and each of them may teach us one way to survive with joy and some of them may teach us how NOT to survive with joy we need a list.

The students in my class will be asked to think carefully about the people around them and who is modeling the best actions and behaviors as they age. Just like magazines tell us to get rid of the toxic people in our life, I would suggest we get rid of the role models who pull us down into negative thinking about this last phase. Life is difficult enough without negative energy around you. My gut tells me that we have people on our list we have watched struggle with aging and have come out on the other side with an attitude of positive acceptance.

Asking the correct question of people to get a full answer is important in teaching. Please leave a comment about what you would ask or what type of model is important to you.