Thursday, September 27, 2018

Fighting Ageism on a Hiking Trail

At Great Basin National Park, a couple discovers possibilities are as important as goals

Credit: Compliments of Donna Trump
By Donna Trump for Next Avenue

This is a story about me, a woman of a certain age, gray-haired and a little thick through the middle who, a few summers ago, asked a much younger, positively lithe national park guide …well, I asked her a question I didn’t really want answered. At least not the way the guide answered it.

The park was Great Basin National Park in far eastern Nevada, just over the Utah line. I was nearly overwhelmed with the remarkably remote beauty of the region. It is located in a huge geographic basin — spanning from the Wasatch Mountains in Utah to the Sierra Nevada in California, which, according to the National Park Service, is a “200,000 square mile area that drains internally. All precipitation in the region evaporates, sinks underground or flows into lakes (mostly saline). Creeks, streams, or rivers find no outlet to either the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean.”

Anyway, the question I asked was this: “Do you think I can do the Wheeler Peak hike?” And the answer I got was, without hesitation, “No.”

“Is it technical? Is that why? Is it very long?” I asked.

“No, it’s not technical or very long, but there’s the altitude. It’s 3,000 feet of elevation gained in four miles — most of the gain at the end,” she said. “No, I just don’t think you could.”

Wheeler Peak summits at something over 13,000 feet. The only reason I even considered it possible ws that my husband and I would drive up to the trailhead at 10,000 feet.

“Did you tell her you bike 50 to 60 miles a week?” my husband asked, firmly in my camp. But by now I was miffed, feeling subject to ageism and determined to prove the guide wrong.


A Scheme for Summiting Success

The next morning, after picking up lunch and driving up to the start of the hike, my husband and I imagined coming back to the ranger station later in the day with tales of summiting the great Wheeler Peak.

The trail started out in a slight descent, which when you think of it is not a good thing: a “minus” in the “elevation gained” column. Then for two miles, it climbed pretty gradually, through alpine meadows and past pristine lakes.

Because my husband is a wonderful man, we followed a scheme for summiting success: 10 minutes hike, five minutes rest, even when the hiking was easy. What couldn’t be accomplished with 10 minutes of walking and five minutes of resting? Although when we rested, flies buzzed about and their drone reminded me we forgot the EpiPen my husband uses for bee stings.

We also forgot the map.


Negotiating a Rocky Trail

As we approached the tree line, we encountered our first patch of rock trail — pretty big stones making up the whole pathway.

“Scree!” I shouted with glee. (I have a thing for certain words, and this one means loose rocks covering a trail.) By contrast, on the way down, when it seemed we’d never return to a trail that was not pure, continuous rock underfoot, we’d navigated yet another switchback corner when my husband, somewhat uncharacteristically, muttered, “More damn rocks.”

In fact, on several occasions on the way up, I considered how this was all going to go coming down. The last time I descended such a steep, rocky trail I’d made good use of some hiking sticks. Which I hadn’t brought along. But we were still going up, right?

At one point, I swore I heard a rattlesnake.

A few hikers passed us, coming down as we ascended — one before the trees disappeared, telling us we had completed just short of half of the hike, and another when the trail had turned entirely to rock and the summit was intermittently visible.

“All you’ve got left is this bunch of rocks here — oh, and the next one too, but then there’s only one more hump to the top,” said the last hiker.


A Kind of Epiphany

We went a couple more feet — in my case, literally on hands and knees, and now resting every five minutes because, good Lord, it was hard to breathe — before I came to a kind of epiphany.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I said.

It absolutely surprised me: at a certain point in time that day, I really thought I could.

“Last 15 minutes kind of rough?” my husband asked, more than kindly. In truth, he was breathing hard, too.

“Try hour,” I said. An hour in which I more or less constantly imagined precipitous falls, sprained ankles and heart attacks. Emergency rescues. Pain. It was actually a variety of pure terror, overall.

“How about lunch?” said the fine man who is my husband. “Good idea,” I said. So we sat, and stared up for a while. But then, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we looked down, and around.


Imagining the Possibilities

It’s not always necessary, is it, to reach the imagined goal? Doesn’t failure, in some respects, increase possibility?

After lunch, I patted the rocks in acquiescent defeat and my husband and I started down. It took nearly as long to descend as ascend. When we got back to the ranch and looked over the map, my husband proclaimed we’d made it to within about a half-mile of the summit — only an eighth of the distance of the whole hike — but a distance in which we’d have to have ascended perhaps a quarter of the mountain’s elevation gain.

And, no, we didn’t go back and tell the park guide she’d been correct. Instead, we had dinner and sat in the hot tub, imagining a next time. A next time we were quite certain would never happen. A next time that, even so, was forever and irrefutably possible.



Donna Trump’s work has been published in december magazine (forthcoming in November 2018), Ploughshares and Mid-American Review, among others. She has received several Pushcart Prize nominations. Honors include a Loft Mentorship, mentorship with Benjamin Percy, a MN Emerging Writer grant and the selection of her story “Portage” by judge Anne Tyler for first prize in a 2018 contest sponsored by December.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

I Crashed My Mother’s Red Hat Society Group

Credit: Kevyn Burger
Joy, celebration and camaraderie are always on the agenda

By Kevyn Burger for Next Avenue

As she turned 83, my mother, Jill Burger, declared that every birthday is worth marking in a big way. I jumped on a plane to be with her for her most recent special day when she was the star of a family party featuring cake, presents and three generations of loved ones.

A few days later, Mom invited me to tag along to another birthday observation, this time with a group of friends whom she calls “my Red Hat ladies.”

“No matter how old you are, it’s good to be with women your own age,” Mom told me as I zipped up her purple tunic studded with metallic bangles. “This is such a fun bunch, they’re stylish and peppy. You’ll see.”

She popped a red hat with dyed-to-match ostrich feathers on her head and loaned me her other red hat, the one with a purple veil, and we were off.

Red Hat Society: Looking for Friends and Fun

Credit: Kevyn Burger
For the past decade or so, I’ve been hearing tales from my mother’s Red Hat Society chapter, whose members circulate among the most elegant restaurants in St. Augustine, Fla. (The Red Hat Society is a 20-year-old international social organization for women.) The majority of members in mom’s chapter, in their 80s and 90s, are relative newcomers to Florida, having settled in the historic coastal community after retiring. They arrived looking for friends and fun and found each other.

On the day I accompanied my mother to an Italian restaurant on the beach road, I met Jean, 82, who arrived only slightly winded after her tennis match. Carolyn, 84, was glad she felt well enough to attend after a bout with the flu. And Katie, 92, brought a new joke to share.
“Everything I got is old except my hearing aids!” she chuckled.

Resplendent in red hats festooned with flowers, jewels and veils, the 20 women greeted each other with shrieks of delight and hugs. They “dress to kill,” in Mom’s description, choosing glamorous sequined tops, purple ponchos and lots of jewelry.

“We’re not subtle when we’re all together,” said Jean, who chose a red fedora with a large purple tulle bow from her collection of eight red hats. “We love the camaraderie. We’re all young at heart; I say we’re the oldies but goodies.”

“We lie to each other about how good we look,” added Carolyn, wearing a sparkly red baseball cap. “I don’t know how we got this old, but at least we don’t act it.”

There’s something in the conspicuous donning of their finery for one another that sets the table for them to cut loose.

Red Hat Ladies as Role Models

The youngest club member is Amy Robinson, 51, who began attending the monthly luncheons when she moved south to be near her retired mother several years ago. In accordance with the rules of the Red Hat Society, Robinson wore a pink hat until her 50th birthday, when she was officially welcomed into the club.

“These ladies are role models for where I’m heading,” Robinson said. “I love the way they care for each other. They show their elegance and sophistication; they have beautiful manners and respect for each other. We have such a grand time.”

The Red Hat Society originally started with a tea party among a few California girlfriends and has since expanded to 20,000 chapters in the U.S. and 30 other countries. Initially restricted to women 50 and older, but now open to women of all ages, it takes a playful approach to encouraging female empowerment.

Celebrating Each Other

There’s little formal structure in the monthly get-togethers of my mother’s group, known as the Feisty Femmes. Each gathering honors the women celebrating birthdays that month, so there was a chorus of Happy Birthday as the plates arrived.

According to tradition, each Red Hat brings a greeting card with a $1 bill tucked inside for the birthday girls, and the cards, which ranged from irreverent to mushy, are passed around the table while the women visit. (Only one featured a scantily clad man, which brought on a few snorts of laughter.)

Their chatter included updates about who has met a new great-grandchild, who has taken on a volunteer gig and, this being Florida, who has gotten their roof back after the most recent hurricane.

“We all have our aches and pains, but no one wants to drag down the group talking too much about that stuff,” my mother said.

A Group of Caring Friends to the End

I see the pleasure these women take in the confidences shared in their monthly meetups and in the ways they look out for one another beyond their luncheons. When my mother was at a rehab center after knee surgery, a number of her Red Hats stopped by to visit and others called or sent cheerful get-well cards.

They encourage and keep track of one another, right to the end. Since joining her group, Mom has attended two members’ funerals; she donned her red hat and sat with her similarly attired club sisters as they paid their final respects.

Observing their girlfriend bond gave me a peek into my own future and showed me how important it is to make regular dates to spend time with kindred spirits.

My mother’s Red Hat ladies demonstrated how, when you possess companions who help you keep your sass and sense of humor, life continues to be rich, varied and full of laughter.


Kevyn Burger is a freelance feature writer and radio producer. Her background is in broadcasting. Kevyn worked as a television reporter and investigative journalist and a radio talk show host. A Minneapolis resident, Kevyn is the mother of three and a breast cancer survivor.
 


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How I Found My Joy

by Lisa Kanemoto, resident at Wesley Palms Retirement Community

I used to live in a state of inarticulate mourning. Except for my children, I had little to show. My life felt empty and without further meaning. I was a stranger to myself.


Good fortune led me to discover photography as a medium. Morrie Camhi, a photography instructor, became my mentor. His profound sense of empathy, his training and sensitive guidance, provided the trust by which I could reveal myself in a series of self-portraits. Photography became the way to explore and transform, to give face to memory, to turmoil.

Born in Germany, I grew up inhibited by the shadow of Hitler, Nazi indoctrination, terror, persecution, destruction and death. The father I cherished died in battle while in Russia.

My embittered mother and a hysterical aunt, also a war widow, raised me. A hidden Jewish background was our secret. Living in a small town, our lives enchained by deception and lies, we witnessed with horror the persecution and disappearance of our Jewish friends. To this day, wherever I go, gnawed by introspection and held back by shyness - I remain an outsider, the product of a terrible war. 
A war bride to an American of Japanese ancestry I immigrated to the United States in l 958. The complexity of an East-West marriage, attending to a promising son tragically disabled by mental illness, my struggle with cancer and the acceptance of my own mortality have remained my deepest challenges.

Photography opened a path for unusual and precious friendships and has allowed me to transform the sorrows of history and present.




Lisa Kanemoto has spent her career documenting stigmatized groups such as the mentally ill, drug addicts, ethnic minorities, the gay community and the homeless. Her work has been exhibited and collected internationally www.lisakanemoto.com





 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Creative Art of Quilting

Quilts by Marijke Vroomen Durning
This art form is good for your health, helps you stay connected and provides purpose


By
Marijke Vroomen Durning

If you’re among the 7 to 10 million quilters in the United States, you likely already know how quilting can have a positive impact on your life. Studies have shown crafting can have a healing effect on the mind, but did you know the art of quilting may help restore or maintain your health?

Quilting Offers a Sense of Belonging 

With families and friends spread out across the country, it’s easy to feel disconnected. Unlike many other crafts, quilting can provide the sense of community that has been lost. A few generations ago, women held quilting bees to gather and work on quilts. Today’s equivalent is the quilting guild, where quilters gather to learn about quilting, share creations, work on community projects and reach out to other quilters who need support.

Bonnie Wright, a retired occupational therapy assistant, found this support when quilting helped her adapt to her new home. After moving to Mount Cobb, Pa., following her husband’s death, Wright sought out and joined a guild, so she could meet people. There she met a woman who held smaller meetings in her home. “It’s what I needed,” Wright said. “With this group, I feel like I made the friendships I needed so badly.”

Dana Howell, program director of the occupational therapy department at Eastern Kentucky University, had a similar experience after moving to Seattle and then going through a bad break-up. “I was in a really rough spot, so I started taking a quilting class through a local community college in 1996. To this day, that was one of the most supportive groups of women I have ever been involved with,” she said.

Howell went on to write a paper about the restorative qualities of quilting, which was published in the Journal of Occupational Science in 2000.

Restoring Health

Ricky Tims, a world-renowned quilter, quilt teacher, and designer who lives in La Veta, Colo., underwent quadruple bypass surgery 18 years ago. While he doesn’t credit quilting for his overall recovery, it did play a role. A week after Tims returned home, he was bored, but his activities were limited.


Credit: Compliments of Marijke Vroomen Durning
“I couldn’t lift anything heavier than a 5-pound sack of sugar,” he explained. “I wanted to do what I loved, and that was quilting.” Tims began making a quilt to commemorate his surgery. “I just wanted to get back into the game. It allowed me to stay active and motivated, and that is good mental medicine,” he noted.

Quilting can help patients regain mobility, particularly if they have had a neurological deficit from a stroke or brain injury, said Howell. “There are multiple studies to show that actually performing a task is much better than simulating it,” she added. You can have a patient picking fabric and reaching for it with her or his dominant arm, she explained. “Even if they don’t have the motor control to actually quilt at that moment, we can do lots of things to engage them in the quilting process.”

Tims adds that quilting can help people get through difficult or trying times. For example, when his father was ill, his quilt work helped him get through those days. “Sometimes quilting is a way to manage a crisis situation that may not be one’s own health, but someone close, and this includes the loss of a loved one,” said Tims.

Wright experienced this as well when her husband was undergoing treatment for cancer. “The only way I got through that was with quilting. I would sit with him in the hospital, or when he was having chemotherapy, and I would always have some quilting with me. It would give me something to focus on so I wouldn’t see he was miserable,” she said.

Howell’s paper explains why quilting can have this effect. The personal meaning behind a quilt’s creation, the rituals, the repetitive actions involved in the sewing and the attention the quilt assembly requires all result in a meditative quality, and this can make time pass quickly.

“Each aspect of quilting is unique and novel, and requires efficient attention and other cognitive abilities,” Howell wrote. “This challenge of performing each unique aspect of the project is characterized by focus, intention, and precision, and is praised as restorative by some quilters.”

Improving Mental Health and Decreasing Isolation


Credit: Compliments of Marijke Vroomen
Twelve years ago, Michelle Napoli, an art therapist and mental health counselor in Massachusetts, founded the Survivor Quilt Project. Napoli is a trauma specialist who uses quilting to help incest survivors. Trauma overwhelms the normal processing system, she explained, so survivors may be unable to talk about what happened. However, art therapy can help them identify things when words can’t. “You symbolize how you understand something before you can find the words,” she said.

In projects such as Napoli’s, community quilting projects allow quilters to interact with others while they create. “It’s with the support of other people and when you make the quilt, the conversations can decrease the isolation and confusion you may feel,” she explained.


Wright experienced this in her work, too. “There was one psychiatric facility where the patients and I made several quilts and hung them in the gym,” she said. “It was very satisfying for them to see their work there.” In another program, the women in Wright’s group were tired of the traditional arts and crafts programs, but many wanted to learn how to sew. It was a good problem-solving activity for them as they learned how to pick fabric, decide on the colors, use a sewing machine and work as a group, she said.

“A lot of them had low self-esteem and no hobbies,” Wright said. “Why teach them something in the hospital if they can’t carry it over when they go home?”

Quilting as We Age

Quilting is a physical activity, and as our bodies change, so do our abilities. But crafters are often motivated to stay as healthy as possible so they can continue their art for as long as possible.

“A lot of us have had cataracts removed so we can see and quilt more,” Wright said. “I told my eye doctor, ‘I can’t see the thread and needle, you have to fix this.’ So he said that it was because I had cataracts and I needed new lenses.”

Getting older doesn’t mean quilters can’t learn new tricks. Arthritic fingers can make it hard to hand quilt, but then it’s time to learn how to machine quilt or even to use a long-arm machine, like Wright did.

Learning new skills is a fun way to keep the mind and body sharp. You can take up more complex patterns or different skills as you want or as your body dictates.

“Quilting gives you the opportunity to learn something at your own pace,” Wright said. “It’s not something you have to learn all at once.”


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