Compartmentalizing the Process of Aging

This Facebook meme made me giggle:

It seemed particularly appropriate because I marked a milestone birthday this month. Years ago upon reaching 65 I declared myself ‘officially old’ because it was society’s perceived age of retirement and  I finally qualified for Canada’s OAP. Now, having reached ‘Lvl 80’, I’m not sure what I am. Maybe ‘officially ancient’? 

There are lots of clichés about aging… about only being as old as you feel, or about age being an issue of mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. An elderly woman in our church was once asked how she was feeling and cheerfully replied, “Oh, I’m feeling just fine, thanks, but my body is wearing out.” Another elderly woman of a similar age, while receiving some physical assistance, complained bitterly about her limitations and said, “I wish you could just shoot me.” Granted, their home situations differed, but their attitudes affected both how they viewed their conditions and how their friends related to them.

A writing friend recently reviewed a story about a woman with total amnesia who looked in the mirror and was distraught when she didn’t recognize the woman she saw. She considered herself much younger than the wrinkled, grey-haired reflection. When I look in the mirror, I’m not upset, but sometimes I’m surprised by who is looking back at me. Surely that’s my grandmother! But no, she died back in 1967 when she was 70. Yikes! I’m already ten years older than she was. Definitely ancient!

Aging is a fascinating process. Looking back, I view my life as a series of videos, each covering a block of approximately twenty years…

  • Block  I — Childhood, School
  • Block 2 — Marriage, Family
  • Block 3 — Empty Nest, Second Career
  • Block 4 — Retirement

In retrospect, each block was a fulfilling, growing experience as it built on the previous one. I have no idea what this fifth block is going to look like; it’s a video still in the recording process. I know I’m more accepting/forgiving of my shortcomings now, and I have different goals from those of twenty, forty or sixty years ago. But I do still have goals, and I look at them now with a greater sense of urgency since the years ahead don’t stretch out with the same sense of indefiniteness that they once did.

When I think of the two women mentioned above (who were in their late-90s at the time), I hope my attitudes will more often resemble those of the first one when it comes to accepting the challenges my latter years may bring. Then with a continuation of some of the blessings God has granted me in the past plus a bit of good ol’ Irish luck as the future unfolds, perhaps at the end I’ll be able to entitle the final video Block 5 — Goals Reached.

Whatever the case, I’m content to be celebrating the achievement of ‘Lvl 80‘ in this game of Life!

~  ~  ~

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Killing our dogs with misdirected good intentions

 

I’m passionate about my canine companions. I’ve owned, bred, trained, exhibited and adored Shelties (and now also Labradors) for over forty years. I try to keep a sane perspective — after all, “they’re just dogs” — but it doesn’t work. They’re an integral part of our family and, just as is the case with the rest of the family, I’m committed to doing my best for them. That’s especially true when it comes to meal planning.

Given that dogs get much less variety in their daily diets, choosing the one food that meets all their nutritional needs is particularly important. Years ago the options weren’t as abundant as they are now. The only decision was between a premium formula to support higher physical performance and an everyday, adequate formula at a lower price.

Now? It’s almost like perusing the cereal aisle in a grocery store. Walk down the aisles of any pet food store and you’ll find shelf upon shelf displaying a confusing choice of dog foods.

There are extensive marketing campaigns trying to appeal to our emotions and convince us that dogs evolved from wolves and therefore need the same kind of food wolves eat. It says wolves don’t eat grains and dogs shouldn’t either. It promotes tasty-sounding, meaty options with an emotional appeal to those of us who want the very best for our furry friends.

The problem is, the advertising isn’t based on valid research. Wolves do indirectly eat grains; today’s dogs do not have the same dietary needs that wolves do; in fact, our dogs are omnivores.

Over the past couple years, the increased trend towards those mouth-watering (to us, anyway) grain-free, meat-vegetable-fruit-based foods has paralleled a radical increase in a particular heart disease that’s killing dogs — Nutritionally-mediated Dilated Cardiomyopathy (N-DCM). Symptoms don’t show up until the disease has advanced to the critical stage and diagnosis is only achieved by expensive echocardiograms. Without symptoms, many veterinarians have been reluctant to recommend the echos until it’s too late.

However, as suspicions have risen, some veterinarians and dog owners have been reporting their cases of DCM to the Food and Drug Administration. Between 2014-2017 there were a total of seven reported cases of DCM. In 2018 alone the number rose dramatically to 320. To date in 2019 there have been 586 reported cases, including 121 deaths. The FDA has studied the cases in detail and determined that the majority of affected dogs were eating grain-free dry dog foods that contained legumes, potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, ‘exotic’ ingredients, and/or were foods produced by small ’boutique’ companies that didn’t have veterinarians or qualified nutritionists on staff and didn’t do long-term testing of their foods. In an unprecedented move, the studies went as far as naming the brands of food most often reported as being eaten by the affected dogs.

While there isn’t proven scientific data available yet, concerns have risen to the extent that the FDA is recommending dog owners take the precautionary move of immediately switching away from any of the grain-free, exotic ingredients, boutique company foods. In many identified cases of N-DCM, switching foods initiated a measurable reversal of the damage done to the heart.

So what foods are being recommended? Surprising to many, it’s food manufactured by the large, well-established companies whose practices follow the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines. Right now the only ones are: grain-inclusive formulas produced by Royal Canin, Purina, Hill’s (Science Diet), Eukanuba, and IAMs.

I apologize if your eyes are beginning to glaze over, but people who are losing their beloved companions to this dreadful disease are trying desperately to get the word out to other owners. Hopefully the FDA’s investigation into diet-related DCM will soon result in irrefutable scientific data. But in the meantime, don’t be suckered into the desperate marketing campaigns designed to appeal to your emotions rather than meet your dog’s dietary requirements, because you could be killing your canines with well-meaning albeit deadly choices.

~

RESOURCES:

Facebook group of 95,600+ concerned veterinarians, canine nutritionalists and dog owners (this is a closed group but if you would like an invitation to join, let me know):
https://www.facebook.com/groups/TaurineDCM/

It’s Not Just Grain-Free: An Update on Diet-Associated Dilated Cardiomyopathy

~  ~  ~

 

Inspiration in Unlikely Places – II

From my 2011 archives…

 

An idea eludes my pen … skips sullenly into shadowy places where I cannot go, and refuses to be teased back into the light.  Some days it’s like that. I sigh, resigned, and move on to hunt down a fresh one.

In the newness of my exploration I bemoan the continued barrenness. Where to go from here? Eyes closed, mind emptied, I search among the rough, undefined thoughts, until in the most unlikely of places, a tiny idea blooms.

Wild Strawberry

How it arrived and survived without nourishment or nurture is a mystery but I focus on it with thanksgiving, and begin writing again.

*

Sometimes we look in the wrong places for inspiration. Do you always find your ideas in emotionally rich surroundings? Or do they also reveal themselves in bleak landscapes?

***

 

 

Home is Where?

You’ve heard the cliches: “Home is where your heart is” and “Home is where you hang your hat.” How many homes have you had? Were any of them memorable? This morning the authors of the Jungle Red Writers blog were reminiscing about their first apartments and that got me to thinking back to ours.

We were married in the Fall of 1959 (yes, I know, that makes us ancient). Our first home was a basement suite in Vancouver that was so damp my nylon stockings hung on a towel rack overnight wouldn’t dry. After the first couple months we moved into a third floor apartment of an old converted house. It wasn’t fancy, but at least it was dry. Its most memorable aspect was that one of the tenants was rebuilding a huge pipe organ in the basement.

Once my hubby had finished his last year at UBC, we moved to Toronto so he could pursue his theological studies at Knox College. Arrangements had been made for us to live in one of two apartments on the top level of the College’s western tower.

(Look up; waaaay up! Our apartment is at the top.)

Knox College has existed since the mid-1800s but the current building was dedicated in 1915. “Its perpendicular Gothic style modelled on the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, England is considered one of the finest examples of this architecture in Canada.” Living there was definitely memorable.

(The inner courtyard)

(Corridor through courtyard)

For starters, seventy-six stairs led to our apartment. At the end of our three years there my hubby was fit enough to run up them. I never could. I was pregnant when we moved in and pregnant again when we moved out. I lumbered up, counting off every one as I climbed. There was one additional flight of thirteen stairs that accessed the flat roof where our rudimentary clothesline was hidden from public view by the turrets. We were given permission to use the staff washing machines in the basement but seldom did because it meant hauling the laundry basket the extra distance.

Instead, we hand washed our clothes in our bathtub. I wish I had a photo of that tub. At one time the apartment had formed part of an infirmary and this bathtub-on-wheels would be filled from the wall-mounted spout, rolled out to the patient’s bedside, then returned to the bathroom to be emptied via a valve drain into the floor. I washed a lot of diapers in that tub!

During those three years, we spent one summer in a student mission charge in Coleville, SK. Our accommodation there was a three-room apartment in the back of the little rural church. We had an outhouse in the backyard and hauled our water from the town’s well. After a windstorm there was silty dust in every nook and cranny until I learned to put folded towels along all the windowsills to block the draft.

After graduation, we went to our first pastoral charge in Creston, BC. When we arrived, the congregation was in the midst of tearing apart the manse, so we had to live temporarily in a small rented house. It had an ornery sawdust-burning stove and a leaky roof. Whenever it rained, water would drip from inside door frames and assorted ceiling locations. We placed buckets and bowls in about a dozen strategic places and hoped the shower would soon be over. We were relieved to move into the rebuilt manse a few months later!

We’ve moved several more times through the years, and have always been blessed with homes that have been more than adequate and very comfortable. None of them can compete with the earliest ones for unique and memorable experiences, but each in its time was special because it was ‘home’.

 

Some Things are Beyond My Control

The above title is a cliche. I know it and I’m sorry, but the statement is true. Too often the phrase is used as an excuse to explain why we’re unable to fulfil a commitment. In my case, this week it came to mind because of an advertisement that insists on popping up in this space, not once but in several spots, and it reappears in multiples almost every day. I finally complained to WordPress when one visitor told me it “grossed her out;” it looked like worms protruding from an ear or a rectum! Yuck!

The WP gurus explained the ads are generated automatically and said, “We do block a lot of ad types in categories like violence, sex, and drugs, among others, but some do slip through the cracks and sometimes it’s quite beyond our control.” This particular ad doesn’t fit into any of those categories, so I doubt they’ll do anything about it. Therefore, its appearance here is beyond my control as well.

Then again, that’s only partly true, because I have the option of switching to a paid version of WP without ads instead of using this free one. If and when the day comes that my writing becomes a commercial endeavour, I will do that. Then a professional website will be desirable. But for now my blogging is only a writing-related hobby so I’m resigned to the ads. If only they weren’t so tasteless!

Thinking about control reminds me that there are many things in our lives that we can’t control. For instance, there isn’t much we can do about certain kinds of violence or accidents caused by other people, even when we may be severely affected by them. We do our part — use common sense, avoid potentially dangerous situations, drive defensively — but despite that, sometimes “bad things happen to good people.” (Another cliche.)

We don’t have much control when it comes to some aspects of our writing, either. We control what we put onto the page, but we have no say in how those words will be received by those who read them. If we send off manuscripts to agents or publisher, we have no power to elicit positive responses from them (or to elicit any response at all).

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” said Charles R. Swindoll.*

And that’s the answer. Attitude is everything…and the only thing we can control. In any difficult situation we do what we can, then get on with living, whether it be with resignation or hopefulness. If you are a person of faith as I am, you add prayer to the mix. In any case, we have to move on.

When it comes to disgusting ads, I will continue to report them, hoping to make a difference. In accident, illness or limitations, I would hope to continue with activities within my level of ability. In the submission process, I’ll continue to write new words as I wait. After all, no matter what it brings, stepping into tomorrow is a wondrous adventure.

It’s all about attitude.

~  ~  ~

 

*Christian pastor, author, educator, and founder of Insight for Living

May Pole, May, May Not…

I’m old enough to recall dancing around a maypole on May Day. Dressed in our best, with an art-class-created crown of flowers and ribbons, my Grade Two classmates and I did our best to skip in and out, around each other, guiding the long streamers from the top of the pole. Rehearsals must have given our teachers grey hair. Time after time we giggled our way through the pattern, only to have at least one of us mis-step and end up with the streamers tangled instead of neatly braided.

There’s a special post-Easter  joie de vie that wends its way into May. The dreary, colourless winter is subtly overtaken by springtime blooms, and I become impatient for my pre-Mother’s Day treat which entails a trip to the local nursery for bedding plants to begin filling deck tubs and hanging baskets.

This year the impatience hit me on April 2nd while in Costco. Multiple shoppers passed me with beautiful baskets of bright flowers in their carts. When I discovered their source (and the ridiculously low price) in the garden section, I squelched the little voice that told me it was wa-a-a-y too early in the season, and I picked up two hanging baskets. My usual choice of colours would be pastel, but these screamed with bright red, deep pink and sunny yellow. My inner self apparently craved colour!

Of course, once home, I had to pamper and protect them against the still-frosty nights. They spent three weeks nestled under the eaves, against the patio doors where I could slip out every night and wrap plastic bags around them. But now it’s May. They’ve been hung where I can admire them from our family room windows, which is where I sit when I’m writing.

The trouble is, now that I have something lovely to stare at, I’m doing more staring than writing, and that’s not terribly productive. I sent a manuscript off in early February, then occupied myself developing another work I had in progress. Writing went relatively smoothly through March and part way into April. Then I turned my attention to Easter projects I had committed to doing for my church.

And after Easter? Mmm … my hanging planters are so pretty.

To be honest, I have to admit as I stare at those flowers, the same little voice that cautioned me about buying them has been whispering other discouraging ideas, ideas that make me question if I’m waiting to hear about the submitted manuscript before finishing another novel; and if I am, why.

I will always write, because I love creating stories. But — I resist saying this — I may not always write with the goal of publication. I’ve received considerable encouragement from agents and editors, but without the validation of the next step, the little voice suggests that continuing in the current direction is futile. I want to ignore this unsettling whisper — after all, it was wrong about the flowers — and I’ve never been a quitter.

It’s a time for thinking, for contemplating my options, and, while I’m at it, I can also draw up the list of bedding plants I plan to buy on Mother’s Day weekend.

~

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens”

(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

~  ~  ~

I am reminded of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne…

This afternoon I discovered the garden’s chilly white blanket has been receding just enough to reveal spring flowers I thought might not have survived the frigid month just passed. There they were: a bedraggled patch or two of sweet nodding snowdrops and two golden crocuses. They’ve fired a hope that there are more just waiting to be uncovered.

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

This is one of those days.

~

My reading project for the month of March is the collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ books. I fear I’m never going to finish all of them because I’m dawdling through their delights.

Anne Shirley’s ecstatic but sometimes relentless descriptions evoke memories of Marilla’s impatience, but at the same time they provide a vision of the wonders we grown ups too often miss. Montgomery gives us a second chance, writing a view of life through Anne’s eyes. It reminds me that my goal as a writer is to do the same — to transport readers into the world of my unique characters. If only I could do that as well as Lucy Maud!

“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more… though I know that IS the noblest ambition… but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me… to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

You have, Anne; you have.

~

(Anne’s ‘gift of gab’ also prompts me to wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.)