Saturday, February 28, 2009

Exercise At Any Age

cycling, exercise, grandparents, men, women, handball, boomers
Eugene, Oregon is the birthplace of runners, joggers, Nike and bicyclists. The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials were held in Eugene in June 2008 because of the outstanding track at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. 

No, I am not tooting our green and yellow horn. But those of us who have experienced the tightening joints of the years gone by or the aftermath of knee and hip surgeries, do not have to watch these bygone days of physical aptitude from our recliners. 

Granted, Oregonians have the webbed feet for this pursuit, but statistics show that swimmers have a lower mortality rate than those huffing and puffing out on the track. The new study from the Journal of Aquatic Education and Research  conducted by Dr Steven Blair of the University of South Carolina, concludes that swimming cuts men's risk of dying by about 50 percent compared to runners. The findings are based on medical and physical activity data using ages 20 - 90 year old men.

This weekend I had the opportunity to witness a handball tournament for the first time. I watched as 2 - 4 sweaty men ran up and down in a small room with a wood floor, bouncing a small blue ball off the walls. My friend, Doug Thompson is an Economic Developer, Strategist and Consultant based in the Northwest. He came from Boise, ID to play in the tournament. He is 58 years old and describes himself as a fat, bald white guy. He loves this game and plays it on a regular basis. He is not at the end of his game playing days by any means. He tells me about guys in their 70's playing this game on the Boise handball courts. 

Joe Cox, one of Seattle's finest and in his 60's, is one of handball's greats. He is playing in the tournament this weekend. He is well known for beating players half his age. Handball stands out from other sports because it is accessible to people of all ages and strategy is often more important than physical ability. 

Doug not only loves handball but he is also a bicyclist. He has registered to ride in Cycle Oregon in the Fall of 2009 and once again finds age to be no obstacle to his enthusiasm. With 2,000 plus riders traveling 70 miles a day for a week through the beautiful landscape of Oregon, this is truly an endeavor for even the best of cyclists. I have also had the opportunity to witness this wonderful event, although I must admit, my idea of riding a bike is getting from point A to point B, not pedaling up mountains. But again, you will find all ages participating in this event with median ages over 40 years old. 

It seems if we are to stay young at heart, we must work the heart as it was intended. Instead of offering it cholesterol laced fast food and junk food, we should be treating it to a workout of swimming, playing handball, or cycling. The old saying use it or lose it definitely applies here, so although I will be shooting pictures of my dear old (referring only to the length of time I have had the pleasure of his company) friend sweating on the handball court or pumping the pedals through the Cascades, I have every respect for his sweating for survival. As for me, I prefer the more gentile approach such as yoga, pilates, and walking. 

Whatever gets your heart racing, just do it! Live long enough to take your greatest revenge - beating your kids at their own game - staying young! That's what a wise grandma would do.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Old Wife Tells Tale

Is it starve a cold, feed a fever or the other way around? Everyone has experienced their mother's remedy of chicken soup to cure the common cold. With drug counters filled with dozens of pharmaceuticals to make you feel better, sleep better and generally continue to run yourself ragged, is it any wonder that antibiotics are becoming less effective and we find ourselves sick for longer periods of time?

Perhaps there is something to the old wives tales. Good food and plenty of rest may be the cure for the common cold and oddly enough it doesn't cost much other than common sense. WebMD advocates eating good food to help the body fight infection and develop a stronger immune system making us more resistant to the infection in the first place. 

Their top recommendation for feeding the cold is to eat foods high in antioxidants. Unlike OTC medications, antioxidants are designed to help the body fight free radicals which ultimately tear down cells and deplete the immune system. Nothing tasty about an antioxidant pill but grab a bright orange carrot or juicy orange and feel the burn of those nasty free radicals. 

Foods rich in beta carotene rank high in antioxidants, so look for yellow vegetables and fruits to fill your pantry instead of the medicine cabinet. The problem with feeling sick is, you have no energy to cook for yourself and little appetite or strength to gnaw on a carrot or peel an orange. Unless you are into a macrobiotic diet, you probably aren't going to munch on raw broccoli or asparagus. And for the most part, colds are a product of the winter weather, meaning your choices for fresh peaches, nectarines, melons or apricots is probably slim to none. Here is where Mom's chicken soup comes in.

Soup is the most simple of all comfort foods. It nourishes the body and the soul. It provides nutrition and sustenance and it is simple to make. My advice is make soup all year round and freeze it. Then when the cold and flu season hit, you are armed and dangerous!

This is one of my favorite soup recipes. It is filled with nutrients that will scare off even the most radical of radicals and like the apple, might even keep the doctor at bay as well. Give it a try. All you have to lose is your cold. That's What A Wise Grandma Would Do.

Thai Butternut Squash Soup

1 large butternut squash
2T vegie oil
1 shallot diced or 1T diced onion
2 cloves of garlic pressed
1tsp freshly grated ginger
1tsp freshly grated lime zest
1tsp paprika, ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayene (optional but sure helps clear the sinuses)
1 1/2 sea salt
1T sugar
3c chicken broth
1 14 oz can coconut milk
1 - 2 T lime juice
splash of soy sauce
coarsely chopped cilantro (optional but why?)

Cut squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Place on greased cookie sheet, cut side down. Bake in 400 degree oven until tender. Scoop out the roasted flesh and set aside for the soup.
Meanwhile heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add shallot, ginger, garlice, lime zest, coriander, paprika and cayene. Stir briskly until sizzling and fragrant.
Add salt sugar, broth, coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Add squash and simmer for 15 minutes. Puree the soup with a hand blender or food processor. Add 1c of water if soup is too thick, then stir in lime juice, splash of soy sauce. Taste. 

This soup is bursting with a mix of salty, sweet and tart. Add more lime juice, salt or sugar if needed. Garnish with cilantro and be prepared to indulge your senses!

Sunday, February 15, 2009


My mom just celebrated her 80th birthday in January. My dad, who hates anything to do with surprises, decided to throw her a surprise birthday bash. He enlisted as many friends and of course, family as he could to pull off this coup. The grandchildren and I, along with my brother, were enlisted to distract her for the day, while he ran around incognito preparing for the fete.

We took my mom out to lunch and tried to convince her to come out to the llama farm. But it was cold and foggy and my mom is not exactly the earthy type. When we came back later, she was fuming. My dad had not been home all day and she was fit to be tied. She was frustrated that on her birthday, she was not getting the attention she so truly deserved. He had told my brother to bring her downtown but she wanted him to come home and made no bones about it.

Surprisingly the grandkids, especially my precocious five year old granddaughter, kept mum about great-grandpa's secret plans. We tried calming her down but as we made our goodbyes and headed over to the party, her Latin roots were on fire.

The party went off without a hitch. My granddaughter played Happy Birthday for the crowd of 40 plus people as my mom entered the darkened room and we yelled surprise! She was upset with me for letting her come down there without her lipstick. But she was in heaven, surrounded by loved ones who congratulated her on the milestone and patted my dad on the back for pulling it off.

My mother is not one to be out done. So the story does not end there. Mom decides to "get even" though I have questioned the sentiment here, since my dad was really doing a nice thing. She enlisted a friend to hold a sweetheart luncheon for a few close friends. This was the plausible ruse to get my father out of the house and to his Valentine surprise or "revenge is a dish best served cold" party.

She was a bit disappointed because she couldn't find some of the old songs from their courtship days. I told her to give me the names and I would download them in itunes. She was at once shocked and delighted. Because, Always, I'm in the Mood For Love were a few of the favored selections, which I found quickly and decided that Perry Como and old Blue Eyes were probably the best crooners. I also found a great Nat King Cole tune, The Very Thought Of You. But the selection would not be complete, I told her, without the Marine Corps Hymn.

My father a retired Marine, plays the song every time he walks by a piano. He has insisted that all his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren learn the piece as standard repertoire (a fancy word for music). It seemed appropriate to close this timeless musical love affair with a stand at attention semper fi.

My dad was duly surprised and he, too, thought it best to blame me for his lack of awareness in the planning stages. The role of the oldest daughter, I suppose. But for all their protests, this is a testimony to true love. There are no fonder memories for me than my dad coming home from work and whirling my mom around the kitchen floor in an awkward attempt at the waltz. Trust me, if there is one thing my father and I have in common - we can't dance! But his endearing way of taking her into his arms and my mom gracefully making him look good doing so, are moments from my childhood that I truly treasure.

Valentines Day may be scoffed as a day for florists and chocolate makers to sell their wares, but for me it is a time to honor those who have stood the test of time, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, through kids, diapers, runny noses, fender benders, lost jobs, new jobs, moving, empty nests and aging bodies. That is what it means to be in love and young people got nothing on my Fred Astaire Dad and my Ginger Rogers Mom.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Loves to Play In the Dirt

It is no secret that I love to play in the dirt. From the moment I made my first mud pie, complete with strips of grass and little pebbles - I am all about texture, I have been engaged in a love affair with the earth. 

Living in Oregon, I am often frustrated with Mother Nature conspiring to block my muse. Muddy days leave a dirt afficionado longing for dirty fingernails and the cool earth crumbling between them. But I have found the answer to dirty hands and Mother Nature working in harmony. 

Kiko Denzer, the author of Dig Your Hands In The Dirt! A Manual For Making Art Out Of Earth, says he re-discovered mud about ten years ago. This 2nd edition shows the range of earth-work by artist-builders, but its true value is in letting mud pie makers like myself expand our horizons and pursue more earthly pleasures with no regrets. 

"...just about anything works, and if it doesn't, it lets you know so you can try something else." Kiko says. The book is filled with colorful photographs of work done by students at Woodburn High School in Portland, OR and in communities around the world. Artful pieces that display the energy and creativity that happens when you mix clay and water - the essence of mud.

With the addition of a few other earthly materials, straw, baling twine, leaves ad twigs, designs can be created for mosaic tiles, columns and even bird houses. The book show details for large and small scale projects, all within the grasp of mud makers and dirt players. From a mud village in Germany, the book chronicles the work of teachers, activists, gardeners, artists, and folks wanting a better life. Art becomes a practical activity.

Along with the how to process, Kiko outlines design and patterns, mud recipes, tips and tricks for creating mud masterpieces that stand the test of time. Although some projects, like the Clay Village Project in Berlin's Britzer Garden, may be out of reach for your backyard, there are many projects that are well within your muddy grasp. 

Remember stomping through mud puddles in absolute bliss, only to have your mom burst your puddle with talk of how would she ever get your clothes clean? This book celebrates the squishing of mud between the toes as the human Sunbeam mixer for making the perfect mud batter. Clear instructions on preparing as well as clean-up would make any mama proud, and probably a willing participant. 

I can't wait to make some mud tiles for the walk way by the pond. My granddaughter is a perfect accomplice, since our Easy Bake Oven disaster. Even though we can't eat it, we have decided we are much better at playing in the dirt and making artful recipes to enjoy for a lifetime. Sharpening up my popsicle stick to write "That's What A Wise Grandma Would Do" on my tile.  

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pay It Forward

The heart is physically nothing more than a big muscle, often times thicker than our heads. It never ceases to amaze me how cruel people can be to each other. On the other hand I can be just as amazed at their generosity, too.

Emily Douglas, now a 26 year old grad student, started a charity called "Grandma's Gifts" when she was 11 years old. Her charity has grown to donations of goods and services to the tune of $12 million for families in Appalachia. Although she has drawn a paycheck she says, "In school, in work, in everything I do, it's helped me."

Staci Wright, age 16 of Eugene, OR and Brandi Berger, age 15 of Albany, OR designed athletic shoes as part of a Nike event to raise money for Doernbechers Children's Hospital, in Portland, OR. Both girls were former patients and wanted to give back to the hospital that took care of them while they battled life threatening illness. "It's for my friends and family. Through all the hard times, they were there for me." said Staci.  

Early giving can make altruism a regular part of life, says Jan Cady, director of philanthropy at Children's Hospital of Boston. "It is like building muscle memory in school age kids that will last a lifetime," she says.

Parents, grandparents, teachers, ministers are on the front lines of seeing the need within the community and have the resources to connect children with the service. Psychology professor, Wendy Grolncik at Clark University, MA, suggests talking with your children about what would be meaningful rather than jumping to the conclusion they want to be involved. The more involved a child is choosing the type of giving, the more they'll learn from the experience. 

Involve your grandchildren and start a random act of kindness of your own, pay it forward to someone in your neighborhood and lend a helping hand. Need more inspiration? Go to,, or any local food bank, Red Cross. Helping can be as simple as getting a haircut at

That's what a wise Grandma would do.