Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The "A" Word

INGRID THOFT

I was recently searching for a birthday card for my college best friend and one of my sisters.  I found one I thought would work for both (hope you’re not reading this, Kirsten!) and it features card producers’ favorite topic: aging.


A huge percentage of birthday cards focus on aging and the physical failures that come with it, but outside of the card aisle and the beauty aisle, there doesn’t seem to be much discussion about a process we will all experience (hopefully).

We all know that we’ll age and die eventually, but I’ve found over the past couple of years that knowing and knowing are two different things.  My own back surgery and chronic back issues, and the recent major surgery of a loved one, has forced aging to the forefront of my brain.  There’s no shortage of advice for staying and looking young, but what about best practices for accepting the aging process?

A friend suggested I read “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, M.D., a book that takes an unfiltered look at aging.  According to Gawande, the average life expectancy during the Roman Empire was thirty-years-old, a far cry from the 81.6 years now predicted for American women by the World Health Organization. Gawande argues that the medical community fails elderly patients because doctors are trained to fix problems, and there’s no fix for aging.  Instead, he thinks that the medical community, and the rest of us, should reframe aging as a natural process to be managed, not ignored or discounted.


In our age- and appearance-obsessed society, who do we look to for lessons in aging?

Before her death in 2014, Maya Angelou was a stellar example of someone embracing aging and celebrating the wisdom that comes with a long life.  She was a woman who seemed to get better with age!



Helen Mirren seems to embrace her current age and continue to blaze her own trail, whether in the roles she plays or her choice to rock a bikini at aged sixty-two.

And the queen of aging well? That would be the Queen, herself, in my estimation.   Queen Elizabeth II is 91-years-old and has held a most demanding job for 65 years.  Yes, she has lots of help (someone has to shop for those matching hats and outfits,) but she maintains a tough schedule and has to be “on” more than most people.


So, what are your thoughts on aging? How do you deal with the inevitable? Who do you think is aging well?


85 comments:

  1. I'm sticking my head back in the sand on this. I can tell my body isn't quite what it used to be, but I'm holding on as long as I can. And the fact that I gain weight easier than I used to certainly isn't helping.

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    1. LOL, Mark! Let us know how the head in the sand approach pans out!

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    2. Hmmm. So that's one solution to the aging process. ;)

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    3. It is my pleasure that I meet here smart and sassy crime fiction writers and read some different thought on writing and life. You choose very important topic “aging” and also shared your opinion on it very well. Since I am a statistics assignment writer - http://www.assignmenthelpfolks.com/statistics/ working at Assignment Help Folks which is one of the best place to get solution of all academic worries and I want to say something here about aging that some physical problem occur with growing ageing and some of them problem are fix problems, and there’s no fix for aging because sometimes the medical community fails for giving require treatment to elderly patients.

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  2. Mostly, I don’t even think about it.
    I agree with your choices . . . Queen Elizabeth does make it all look quite easy, doesn’t she??

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    1. Yes, the Queen is quite something. I suspect in her case it's a function of physical state and personality. Wasn't her sister, Margaret, more fragile?

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  3. I think about it a lot. I don't fight it - my silver hair attests to that - but I also don't want to end up decrepit, so my brisk daily walk means a lot, as do two weekly movement classes. Some of my role models are local local - my friend Patience Wales comes to mind. She's 82 and more limber than I am, because she does strenuous yoga three times/week. She's active in Democratic politics, volunteers with the cat shelter weekly, and is a lively conversationalist. That's who I want to be in twenty years.

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    1. I think your hair looks great, Edith! I also think it's great to have a role model that you know personally; you can actually see the things she's doing to maintain an active and satisfying life.

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    2. Thanks, Ingrid. I really have never even considered coloring it.

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  4. I'm a Helen Mirren fan, myself. I particularly like the way she recommends young women learn to say "f-off" much more often. Not particularly polite advice, but highly practical.

    As for aging, I try to take it one day at a time, and challenge myself to hop out of my rut whenever possible. Last year's birthday was a significant decade for me, and I had the choice of staying home and working or treating myself to an adventure. With all due respect to the amazing men and women who auditioned for our open horn and piccolo chairs, I decided I didn't want to spend that weekend standing around a high school band hall, listening to them warm up. Instead, I spent the weekend in Santa Fe, wandering through art galleries and enjoying the view from my private balcony at La Fonda. This year I'll be treating myself to a road trip to North Carolina, where I'll visit friends and pick up a leaded glass piece they designed to replace my front door sidelight. Even when you start to think "I'm too old for this," it shouldn't be a sweeping declaration of surrender. It might be "I'm too old to stay out drinking with the stage crew," but that doesn't have to mean "I'm too old to drive myself to Asheville."

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    1. I think the "f-off" advice is important; women, in particular, spend a lot of their time and energy pleasing other people.

      I love hearing about your adventures, Gigi, and the way you take responsibility for your own happiness. It's easy to fall into ruts, and it takes work to climb out of them, but the payoff can be huge.

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    2. Hell I've been saying F-Off and other various curse words for years. I'm fluent in two languages. English and profanity. :D

      I have George Carlin to thank for the latter.

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    3. Gigi, I love the way you're adapting, not surrendering. It's a delicate balance--to push ourselves a little so as not to retreat, but also not hurting ourselves!

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  5. The tough part for me is the decline in physical abilities mostly due to that damned joint infection 7-8 years ago. I've now had eight corrective surgeries and doubt I'll ever again be Walker-free. On the other hand, my mind still is operative, more or less. I see a very nimble friend daily. She can barely remember what we spoke about the day before. So it could be worse

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    1. I suppose that's why reading is such a gift. It doesn't make up for a loss in physical capabilities, but at least it provides some outlet for being transported to other places, if only in one's imagination.

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  6. I admire Helen Mirren and the Queen but what I want is book on aging that tells me exactly what to expect and when! I'm 54. When did my skin start looking crepey and what is with my tendons? LOL. Seriously, an informative book would be helpful.

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    1. Yes, Cathy! I have been wishing for the same thing. I remember the pamphlets that told us we were "a young lady now" and "what to expect when we are expecting" but where is our manual for growing older? What is normal and what is just weird? No one ever mentioned to me some of the things that are happening.

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    2. We need an owner's manual for aging!

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    3. There is one! It's called Woman's Body: An Owner's Manual, first published in 1977.

      I had a copy, but must have gotten rid of it in the Big Book Purge a few years ago. Naturally, just when I need it most!

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    4. Thanks, I'll check that out. Is it really about the aging body?

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    5. It's about women's bodies at every age.

      There's also one for men: Man's Body: An Owner's Manual.

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    6. And then there's the Boston Women's Health Book Collective's (yes, it still lives) Our Bodies, Growing Older.

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  7. For a long time I'd have said only British actresses are allowed to age AND work (Mirren, Judi Dench...) but lately we've had some wonderful *old* actresses taking the spotlight without looking completely plasticized ... Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, Emma Thompson, and more. Sadly their older faces are the only ones I recognize if I should happen to pick up a copy of PEOPLE.

    And how great to see Margaret Atwood at 77 taking the stage at the Emmy's. I resist aging, but I also resist erasing its signs.

    And speaking of older actresses how exciting to hear that Brenda Blethyn who plays VERA will be a guest of honor at Malice! Now I wish I were going.

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    1. Hallie, I barely recognize half the people in "People," and I pride myself on my pop culture knowledge! There's a whole slew of reality TV and YouTube stars that have huge followings whose faces are meaningless to me.

      And yes, Brenda Blethyn is fantastic. Thanks to Ann Cleeves for writing such a captivating character that Brenda brings to life!

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    2. Ingrid, if their descriptor is Reality TV or Youtube stars, their faces are just the tip of how meaningless they are.

      For me, actors/actresses, REAL musicians and authors are the people I consider worthy of pop culture consideration.

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    3. I just found out this week that Ruth of Three Pines is really Margaret Atwood. Well, at least the poetry is Atwood's

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  8. I'm a big fan of Being Mortal--I think his points about how the elderly and dying are badly served are spot on. My wife and I did our own little "group read" of it last year, reading and discussing a chapter every few days, and we're trying to make sure that we've made the preparations that we'll need to have in place when the time comes, even though we hope it won't be for a while. If you don't have a will, health POA, all that stuff in place, do it now! And think about what you will and won't want in different circumstances. It's not a lot of fun, but it's much worse to get into a situation where your wishes are ignored.

    And you know, guys get old too, although we don't face the scrutiny and devaluing that women do. Some of the examples we're given of aging well are mutants like George Clooney; I think a more admirable example is President Carter, still hammering nails on Habitat houses and speaking up.

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    1. This is such a great idea, Jim. I'd like to do the same with my husband, but he's very reluctant to have some of those conversations, despite knowing intellectually that they need to happen. I think "Being Mortal" is a great conversation starter at the very least. And you're right about the men that are held up as examples. George Clooney is an outlier, I suspect. Jimmy Carter is definitely someone who exemplifies living a full life even as he ages.

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    2. George Clooney's dad was a TV anchorman here in Cincinnati for decades. Nick (younger brother of Rosemary) still looks good, but his lovely wife is where George gets the youth gene. She's very beautiful.

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  9. Yeah. Every morning after my shower, I dry my feet and legs by lifting one leg and setting my foot on the counter. (I know it sounds weird.) But every time I think "OK, I can still do this. I wonder how long I'll be able to do this."
    So that is my metric for aging.
    I worry, also, about how much I don't remember. Today Jonathan and I were driving to work, and I said we've been together for 22 years, I made dinner all those times? He said yes. I said what did I cook 22 years ago? At least he didn't remember either, and I choose to think that is reassuring. But even though I am doing new things and trying new things and challenging myself all the time, I do not think I am getting smarter, and that worries me.
    I think my brain used to be faster. But I am not sure. See? I am not sure.
    But I do think that worrying about it is not helpful.

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    1. Did you have some dance training? I'm trying to imagine getting my foot on the counter! I have trouble remembering what I made for dinner a few days ago, so I think you two get a pass on 22 years ago!

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    2. Hank, I can definitely identify on the memory angle. I used to be able to keep many balls in the air mentally and not lose track of them; lately I find myself picking them up off the floor pretty often.

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    3. I had to try for myself and see if I could do that. I can! I was afraid I might topple over but I didn't. Very proud of myself!

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    4. It's a good test! And thank you, pals. Very reassuring.

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  10. Although I do have pretty high standards. :-)

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  11. I think about it from time to time. My hair has definitely gone to pure salt and pepper (according to my stylist) and I'm not ready for that at 44. So mix up that color, baby! There are times I look back at my younger self and wish I could do all those things again. Then I remember if I were 20 again, I'd have to live the intervening 20 years all over again, so...no, thanks.

    I'm looking forward to the day when I can hang up the day job and not get up at 5:45 every morning, so I guess I'm looking forward to aging.

    And yes, Queen Elizabeth II has aged wonderfully.

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    1. I agree, Mary. I wouldn't want to be younger again, but I'm not sold on the whole aging thing!

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    2. If my gray had come in solid, like Edith or Emmylou Harris, I'd have left it. But what I have is just...bad (at least to me). I need a few more years to even it out. LOL

      Mary/Liz

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    3. I'm in the same boat. Until then, I'm washing that gray right out of my hair!

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    4. I did the same thing Mary, starting in my forties. However, it is an annoying treadmill and expensive. But on the other hand, some people look great gray. And others look...old:)

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    5. Beloved granddaughter on my gray hair, frizzed by salt spray at the beach: "You've got really funny hair. Why?"

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    6. THat's like my nieces telling my mom they loved her wrinkly hands!

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  12. We have definitely struggled with the concept of aging in our society. Plastic surgery, which tends to make everyone look less like a more youthful version of themselves and more like cookie cutter aliens. To me, I'd rather get wrinkled and saggy than look that scary.

    Also, I feel that I owe it to my three daughters to let them see what aging will look like for them. They all look like me to some degree, and I think it would be unfair to make them feel as though they can't simply and gracefully grow older. Like Edith, I'm sticking with a natural hair color, and so far I like it a lot. However, that does not preclude turning it violet at some point.

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    1. I love the idea of being a model for your daughters, Karen. They're lucky to have such a great example of aging gracefully!

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    2. Thank you.

      It helps a great deal, though, that we are aging far more slowly than our grandmothers and great grandmothers did. I have a photo of both my grandmothers and a great grandmother with my sister on the day she made her First Communion (making it easy to date). The grandmothers were in their fifties, and my great grandmother was in her late 70's. I'm 66 right now, and look way, way younger than my grands did then.

      It is partly because we have better nutrition available, but also cleaner air, better healthcare, and we--especially women--are much more likely to stay physically active now. We dress more youthfully, too. No lace-up orthopedic shoes for me!

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    3. Sometimes I see photos of myself--and I completely see my mother. It's--so fascinating.

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    4. Everyone sees me now and sees my mother!

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  13. Generally I don't think about my age. When I do, I tend to say "oh *#!8*!" As in how the hell did that happen. I don't think of myself as older, but then again my only child will be 40 in November. Oh crap! I guess what bugs me is that I recognize that I simply cannot do some physical things I once could. Like run without staggering and falling on my face. I will have to work on that. I might need to run away from zombies. I know I need more physical exercise. Knowing and doing are two different things though. I am blessed with good genes, so my face is not caving in although my once auburn hair is looking pretty faded. For the most part I just live my life, ignoring my age, unless some incident throws my number in my face. Then I mutter something unbecoming and carry on.

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    1. It's definitely smart to plan for the zombie apocalypse, Pat! Well done!

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    2. Please remember that in the zombie apocalypse, you don't need to be the fastest person, just faster than the person in back of you. :D

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    3. Pat D, going to add that "mutter something unbecoming" to my carrying on next time THE NUMBER jumps out at me. Thanks for the :-) and the laugh.

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  14. I'm definitely the weirdo when it comes to aging - I love it! I love the gray that's coming in in chunks (thanks, Hooligans), I love that I have more laugh lines than worry creases (although my WTF? line is pretty deep), I love that I still ride my skateboard and play volleyball with my friends, but mostly what I love about my age is that I am more patient about outcomes, more empathetic about the troubles of others, more passionate about what I believe, more confident in my own abilities, less concerned with what other's think, more fierce about living every moment to the fullest, and more mindful of finding joy in the smallest things. Every decade of my life has been better than the previous, even while going through some very dark days, I have no reason to think the future will be any different. At least, I hope it goes that way.

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    1. And with that wisdom, I think we should call it a day, Jenn! As always, you have something witty and thought-provoking to offer!

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    2. Very true. I am much more comfortable in my own skin as I age.

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  15. Ingrid, this is actually one of my "hot button" topics. I feel as though we women are too hard on ourselves and expect too much of ourselves, and sometimes too much of our fellow women.

    When I posted something on FB several days ago I think my point was not taken as I meant it.

    The push and efforts for women in our society to stay young looking way past the normal "dew of youth" makes me sad. That does not mean, however, that I think we need to just let ourselves go, which is what some seemed to think I was saying. Make-up is good - FOR ME. It may not be good for someone else. BUT, it's certainly not going to make anyone look younger. Make-up ain't gonna hide those wrinkles. I stopped coloring my hair years ago. I love my silver hair. BUT, it if had evolved into an "ugly" silver/grey, then I'd probably still be coloring it - who knows? As far as those wrinkles? It's always a surprise to look in the mirror and see a face that is not the face of who I once was. But. It's the face of who I now am. At age 68. I'll take it. And try to be graceful and gracious with who I now am. It's not only my face and body that have changed. I care more about different things than I once did. I will fight more for things that matter to me now than I once did. It's only right that my face shows the warrior woman I've evolved into, I think.

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  16. When I hit 30, it was horrible - not helped by the fact that my friends brought my gifts in a coffin box. Then at 31, my mindset seemed to change. Now, past my mid-forties, I enjoy every day and remind myself how lucky I am. Age is just a number!

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    1. I can't decide if your friends are hilarious, cruel or both, Kristopher!

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    2. A bit of both! They did it in a light-hearted way, trying to make me feel better about it all. It didn't work that year.

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  17. I'm just finishing Diane Rehm's book, "On My Own," about the death of her husband and her own new chapters. The book is making me think hard about choices -- where to live, what to hold on to, and how to face each day. My mother and her husband are both 92 -- living independently (with two helpers, but not 24 hour care). That life doesn't appeal to me, but I am not sure how accepting I could be of an institutional life either. And, damn -- my back.

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    1. I'm not familiar with "On My Own," Denise. It sounds like an interesting read. It's not fun thinking about some of this stuff, but I'd rather think about it now than wish I had down the road.

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    2. I heard her speak at the National Book Festival last year, Denise. An amazing and resilient (and gorgeous) woman.

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  18. So, I tried to reply to a couple of comments above and dear blogger wouldn't let me.

    Hallie, I'm with you on not recognizing younger actors. That's why I draw a blank on "Who would play your protagonist in the movie/series?" No idea!

    Mary - you just compared my hair to one of my all-time favorite singers. A life first, to be spoken of in the same breath at Emmy Lou! I owe you a drink...

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  19. Not to bring a melancholic mood to the discussion, but with the death of my beautiful 43-year-old sister-in-law the end of June, I am still affected by thoughts of how she would have cherished reaching my current age of 63. And, I feel some guilty pangs that I may not be making the most of life, life denied to her. So, even though I may occasionally lament the limitations that my body at this age are experiencing, I am striving (not always successfully) to be grateful for being my age and getting to be with my grandchildren and travel and read and just everything I can still do. I don't really think of myself on the old side, as my father lived to 96.

    Now, having said that I'm trying to be grateful, I will say that I do have my hair colored. I just don't think I'd like gray hair on me, although I love how it looks on so many others (many beautiful gray-haired ladies here). I was reading make-up advice for older women in an article written by a model, who is in her 60s or is 70. She was saying that we older women shouldn't wear much, if any, eye makeup. Since I don't, I was happy to read that. I can't remember her reasoning, but it made sense. I do know that there are some older women I know in my own life whose use of eye liner seems to be unusually heavy, and I wonder why they are doing that. Of course, there are other older women who seem to do a great job with effective eye and other make-up. I've never been especially skilled in that area.

    The one thing that I need to address most at this stage in my life is my weight and exercise. I know that if I want to have a more pleasant and active life in the years to come, I have got to start taking better care of myself. It's a responsibility that only I can take on.

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    1. It would be curious if you weren't considering your sister-in-law's young death in relation to conversations on aging, Kathy. Life is cruel sometimes, but I think you're right that it can be a reminder to value what we have, aching backs, gray hairs, and all.

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  20. I don't think of myself as old, however.. I remember the Truman administration. My hair began to go gray when I was in my early 20's, and I never wore much make up. I stayed fat for a while joking that the fat filled in the wrinkles. Once I learned to manage my Depression, I began to think 'younger'. I believe that age is much more about attitude, and life circumstance. Some are worn out at 45, others are young in outlook no matter what age. As long as I can continue to listen, learn and grow, I don't feel old.

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    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head, Coralee. Occasionally, I'll meet someone younger than I am who is rigid or inflexible (in their attitude, I'm inflexible physically!) and I think those qualities can age one prematurely.

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  21. Who's aging well? In all honesty I don't really pay that much attention to that type of question. I mean I know who looks good to me, regardless of their chronological number, but I don't sit around and think about who is aging the best.

    I'm not old YET, but I'm definitely square in the midst of what would charitably be referred to as middle age. Just yesterday I ran into one of my former basketball players. While I'm always happy to see her because she's one of the few I don't have to worry about reading about in the police blotter, it did reinforce that "I'm getting old" feeling when I realized that as a newly minted kindergarten teacher, she has gone from me referring to her as Ms. Fitzgerald in a sarcastic manner when she didn't play attention to instructions from her coach to Ms. Fitzgerald, the molder of young and impressionable 5 & 6 year old minds.

    How am I dealing with the inevitable? Basically I ignore that which I can, which means ignoring my doctor's advice to exercise and lose weight, eat vegetables and basically do everything that would make me bored out of my skull. I don't care that Mother Nature is giving me her version of a haircut. I've always been cranky or grumpy so that isn't a sign of me getting/being old.

    Of course, there are some things I do that the doctor would like. I take the pills (just two a day thus far) that I need to function at what passes for peak performance for me. I eat fruit and I even eat yogurt.

    My thoughts on aging are pretty easy. I can't avoid it, so I don't try to. As Popeye says, "I yam what I yam". I see no reason to pretend otherwise and deny reality. Of course, folk singer John Gorka sang a song that sums up my sarcastic side reaction to aging. It's called "People My Age Have Started Looking Gross".

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    1. My hubby recently noted that he could be the father of one of his football teammates. That was sobering!

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  22. Two more people I'd like to add as role models: Judy Woodruff the lead anchor on the PBS newshour. And our own Rhys, who is busier and more successful than ever!

    I think one of the secrets is continuing to exercise. I have a friend who saw Helen Mirren working out hard in his local gym while THE AUDIENCE was on Broadway in NY. And Rhys hikes and swims and god knows what else!

    in the weirdo aging affronts department...I had my dermatology check yesterday, which was all good. I said, could you check this spot on my back please that is always itchy.

    She said: oh that's Notalgia Parasthetica. It's a pinched nerve in the neck that shows up as itching on your back.

    The only treatment is hot pepper cream:). Good lord!

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    1. I want to know about the hot pepper cream, too. It sounds awful!

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  23. Whoa. Hot pepper cream?

    And how about Judy Collins? Still on tour, great voice, funny and wise, and gorgeous.

    Did you see the article today on how Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, etc, are being categorized as The New Old? it's a good thing: Meaning--strong, confident, healthy, active, powerful, beautiful.

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  24. And FYI: My sister Nancy tells people she's older than she is. Then they say: wow, you look amazing!

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  25. Even though it's late in the day, I have to add my two cents. I'm surprised more people haven't mentioned family members as aging well. I lost my mom two years ago, just a month shy of her 91st birthday. The last four years or so were difficult, but prior to that she was a model of graceful aging. My son was born when she was about 70, and all through his childhood she was able get down on the floor to play games with him and bounce back up resiliently. She remained limber and strong well into her 80's.

    I have often shared the thought of needing a guidebook, kind of like the ones we all read about adolescence. I may have to check out Being Mortal!

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    1. Susan, there are days I can barely get off the floor; your mom sounds like she was a wonder. How nice for your son that he got to enjoy time with his grandmother that way!

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    2. Susan, my mother in law was a wonderful example. She lived to 102 and was a pip the whole ride!

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  26. Helen Mirin and Judy Dench (and I probably misspelled both names, but you get the idea). Great ladies both. The Queen of course. Rhys (I think she and I are of an age-any secrets, Rhys?) Oh so many more I can think of when not asked.

    I come from one of those live forever families - why do I feel like I just jinxed myself? I knew my great grandparents, my parents lived to their late 90s and they died young for the family, so one day, I asked my Dad about it. He actually gave it some thought--and finally he said, "I feel like I'm 35. Sometimes, when I'm not expecting it, and I catch my reflection in a storefront, I wonder who that old guy is. When I recognize myself, I figure that old so and so is still pretty spry, so I'm still okay." He got quiet and then he said, "When I stop feeling 35, I'll be done, until then, I'm 35 and that's all there is to it."

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  27. I think Helen Mirin and I are the same age. I don't feel old but like others I sometimes look in the mirror and wonder what my mother is doing there! And I have always chased my grandchildren over the play equipment!

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