Saturday, December 4, 2010

Old lady in Delhi

This old lady went to Delhi for 11 days in November. I attended the 12th Annual Conference of the Society for Technical Communication India Chapter, went to Pune for one day on business, and to Agra as a tourist.

Oh dear. I feel a niggling urge to defend myself against my own inner critic.

Rachel critic: You didn't have a Delhi experience. You had a conference-in-the-Sheraton experience.
Rachel defendant: It was excellent, and an ideal plan for a business trip, my first in India.

Rachel critic: You spent a lot of money for the privilege, didn't you?
Rachel defendant: Oh get over it. Staying in the Sheraton sure made my professional activities run smoothly, and that's what I was there for.

Rachel critic: You only saw five beggars the whole time you were there! Don't tell me you saw the Real Delhi.
Rachel defendant: So at least part of Delhi had been upgraded and sterilized for the Commonwealth Games and the Obamas' visit. Is that my fault? Anyway I didn't go there to see Delhi. I went to introduce our wonderful Contented online courses to India and to explore the potential of this fascinating new market.

Rachel critic: OK I give up. Tell it your way.
My way: I enjoyed the conference, the people, the presentations. It was very well run and I learned heaps about the technical communication industry in India. Doors opened a chink. has already benefited.

I also learned a personal lesson: one inspiring presentation is worth 21 educational or marketing presentations. Wow! That was such a surprise. Because I had to give two presentations, I quite frivolously called one Knowledge, Wisdom, and the Joy of Writing. It was such fun to express my feelings on this topic, and I spoke with joy and saw joy reflected in delegates' faces.

What a lesson for me: be less earnest, join the dance, let yourself go, and enjoy the consequences.

The annual holiday letter: prickles and problems

2010 is far from over—27 precious days remain—but I've already received one Happy holidays! letter. Email makes it so easy to review the year for friends.

Or is it for ourselves? I feel ambivalent about these annual letters. I enjoy receiving them but have usually refrained from sending them. Why? Well, my writerly professionalism kicks in with editorial challenges. I find it's very hard to get the tone "right". I don't even know what tone I should attempt to strike.

Purpose paralysis: Seems simple enough at first sight: to review the year as lived by me. Or is it the year as lived by my family?

Audience ambiguities: This is a chance to maintain contact with friends and family that I don't keep in touch with during the year. So, first problem, would I send also this letter to close friends and family, who know perfectly well what I've been doing all year?

And those not-so-close friends: what would interest them, honestly?

The holiday letter audience is an unusual audience, non-specific yet personally known to me: a bunch of friends, family and acquaintances. They're special to me in their individual ways.

No wonder the holiday letter is difficult to write. It's not a personal letter. It's not an open letter. It's not an article. It's not a blog post like this, which is primarily for me, but which anyone can read. Maybe it's more like giving a speech at your own party.

Content quandaries: what to say, how much to say, how little to say? Are big adventures more interesting than little everyday realities? To whom? Should social events figure more than my professional interests? Does what interests me interest my correspondees?

Tone torture: How to prevent my letter from seeming like one big boast. You know what I mean.

I am so happy that my children, grandchildren and sisters are all living their own lovely, healthy lives. All grandparents ooze with excitement about the triumphs of their grandchildren. But if I write about that to a non-specific but known audience, how does that affect a friend whose beloved grandson died this year, or all those friends with tiny disfunctional families?

I'm tickled pink by my own adventures in developing the business of and this has dominated my year. But to most of my friends and family, that's either a big yawn or yet another irritating boast.

This year, 2010, has indeed been truly wonderful for me. My main discovery is that for me personally, 70 is a marvellous age. Everything is ticking over nicely right now and I expect that to continue for another 10 years at least. And all the fun has an extra veneer of glee, just because I'm 70.

Maybe this is a cop-out, maybe a wise editorial decision: I'm thinking I shall just email everyone (well, not everyone) a link to this blog. The entries are pretty random but they mention at least some of the highlights of the year, and are more like a conversation than an executive summary. They don't mention my family much if at all. Yes. That's what I'll do.

To all my friends and acquaintances, and anyone else who happens to read this blog:
Happy holidays!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Diary of a senior Paris tourist

I've just spent a week in Paris, alone.

It's always felt kind of weird, being a tourist.
I'm not against tourism, but prefer having some sort of mission or role or work when travelling.

Being a tourist makes you almost automatically a skimmer and scanner and dilettante. In general, I have never liked that state of mind. Hard to believe, but I prefer focusing, going deep rather than wide.

My only mission, such as it was, was to examine the workings of my own brain in this unusual-for-me situation.

So this time around, aged 70, how bad was my tourist-brain? If bad, how much was ditzimush brain due to age, tourism, internet habits and other factors respectively?

Answer: Despite being a tourist and despite 15 years as an internet junkie, I'm satisfied with the way my brain has behaved. It's been in calm control most of the time.

Are you familiar with that mildly frantic feeling when you confuse something — was that Monet or Manet — north or south — left or right — L'Orangerie or Orsay?*##! This week, I haven't experienced any of that mild but awkward tourist panic.

Firstly, I reckon I'm reaping the rewards of meditating twice a day. This I began last January to counteract high blood pressure. At the time, a friend explained that meditating twice a day has an effect much more profound than meditating once a day. And it's true, I find my state of mind is exponentially different, as if I can hold on to the benchmark of a still, clear mind for 24 hours. So I'm calmer, hard to fluster than I was even last year.

Secondly, I believe my age has been an advantage. I am who I am. Will I ever improve (as in become a more efficient tourist)? Unlikely! And every now and then I think about being dead. Sure puts things in perspective.

Physically, being older meant one day one of my hips protested. Then it stopped. I walked everywhere. Heaps. I've got incipient cataracts which probably mean I don't see Paris quite as brilliantly as other people do — but how would I know? It still looks great to me. Perhaps with better hearing my understanding of French would improve, but I'm more than satisfied with my progress.

Overall, I've enjoyed being a senior tourist just as much as being a junior tourist. Maybe more.

Boring diary follows
Do not read the following. It's boring. But if I don't write this down, will I remember? Regardless, does it matter if I don't remember?

Monday. Arrived Gare de Lyon on the fast train from Geneva. Did not lug my serious suitcase up stairs to Le train bleu restaurant. Ate downstairs and got oriented. Bought redundant carnet of metro tickets. Took taxi to the Villa Mazarin: 5.6 euro, tres simple. Walked the quays. Icecream, spicy hot chocolate.

Museums shut: wandered around churches. Notre Dame, S. Germain des Pres, S. Severin, S. Etienne du Mont... Many dark pictures of people in agony rolling their eyes. Devout woman prostrate on the floor. Brain teeming, need not share. Ate at Les Deux Magots, did not eat snails but watched rich people. Bought silly gifts for family. Wandered happily through Jardins du Palais Luxembourg. Stumbled across free concert of Spanish choral music by Spanish (Madruda?) university choir in S. Nicholas church: such a treat.

Wednesday. Serious day at the Louvre. Slept in but still got there by 10. Skipped queue by entering through the Lion gate. Guiltily acknowledge my naive preference for portraits and simplicity and mediaeval paintings. Enjoyed the other tourists. Strolled through Tuileries gardens. Think I'm starting to understand the Paris garden philosophy. L'Orangerie for the big Monet garden paintings. Great lunch place, a tea and coffee specialist, #24 in The Book (Pauline Frommer's Paris.) Dinner l'As au Falafel, great, cheap falafels. Sore hip! Did clam exercise assiduously and took a pill.

Thursday. Decided to forgo camera for the day. Went to Carcaret Museum: shut for the day, 'technical reason'. Picasso Museum: shut for August. Much strolling. For lunch, I ordered 3 os a moelle - three marrow bones. Literally: no meat, no veg, just 3 bones. Never had marrow as a meal before. Soooo rich and fatty! No veges. One bone had no marrow and patron replaced it with very good will. Went to Centre Pompidou. Full of young people, yay!! Exhibition of femmes @ pompidou, plenty to inspire and remind me of the wild women of the 70s and 80s. (I was one too.) Bought buttons "La Corbusier" and "Annie Warhol". Totally enjoyed the modern art (up to 1960: they rotate the exhibitions) but in my mind cannot separate the works from those in the Musee d'Orsay. Dinner at tiny eccentric mom-and-pop Felteu not far away. Patron is boss, one must obey! Chatted with French couple. Am getting fat I think. Oh well, sort it later.

Friday. Hip feels fine again now: Louvre day was just too much for the senior bones. Camera-free day. Walked to Musee d'Orsay, Orsum. Lunch, La Palette, arty area, just fine. Then what did I do? I have no idea. Oh yes I do: the Cluny museum (national museum of middle ages). Easy to see why it's everyone's favourite. There I found the perfect souvenirs, but I wasn't allowed to take one away. What I really wanted was almost any small mediaeval statue of Mary.

Later I bought a compromise Paris souvenir: a ridiculous pair of shoes. Dinner, La Tartine, salad. Evening, went looking for Paris Danse en Seine. Couldn't find these freewheeling groups of dancers. Probably didn't walk far enough. Or they stop in August. Or a little rain cancelled. Did see a crazy poet-performer singing his heart out on one of the bridges, and a student band on the banks of the Seine. Plenty going on.

Saturday. Camera free day. Morning, did some work in hotel. Finally checked out the theatres, too late for cheap tickets though. Tons going on: if I'd got my act together I could have gone to a play every night. Tant pis. Walked to Grand Mosque, further than I expected. 1920s, tiles, arches, brass tables in the restaurant. Ate lamb tagine with olives and pickled lemons: must do this with lamb necks! Sweet mint tea.

Then hammam: lounging around in the fabulous old steam baths, a labyrinth of room after room, women being massaged on marble tables, taps and buckets same as Japanese baths, shared a marble cubicle with a pyramid-shaped old lady who was doing a very thorough job on every part of her amazing anatomy. Woman exfoliated her at one stage. Then ate a sweet almond and coconut cookie in the special waiting room, and viewed the mosque itself. It's lovely, not too severe. Walked to Rue des Ecoles area, took another look at St Etienne, a joyous, sunny, extravagant church near the Pantheon, had coffee. 5.30, 26-yr-old star musician Timothee who? played Bach cello suites 1, 3 and 4 in the tiny, quaint Syrian church S. Ephre (?) on Rue des Carmes. Great!

Hurried to Cafe de la Gare in Rue du Temple, very near my hotel. Signs said clearly house full, no tickets for that night's performance of Un Tour de Monde en 80 Jours. But the boss gave me one anyway: being alone can be an advantage. Back to hotel, dumped bags, put on glad rags just for fun including new shoes, and joined the queue for the play. It was great fun and I understood enough to laugh plenty.

Sunday. Gregorian mass at Notre Dame. Amazingly undisturbed by tourists, very smooth and swift. Four young women's voices filled this enormous space (with mikes I presume but didn't see any) and we joined in, following the Gregorian musical annotation: kind of pixillated, sequence sometimes vertical. Horrible silly expensive lunch at the wrong place. Strolled around some more, the last time. Ever? Gave my metro tickets to a young deaf-mute girl working a petition outside Pompidou Centre.

Now it's 4 pm and I'm writing this diary in the hotel courtyard. It was already hard to recall what I did this week, so good job Rachel. Gotta go. Planes to catch, home is calling. Goodbye Paris and thanks for all the fish.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Walkers in the night

Actual water in actual Lac Leman.

Oldladylaughing is not a tourist blog. But exotic Lavigny is where I happen to be, and there's a lot of laughing.

The countryside here (just inland from Morges, near Lausanne) is laced with excellent paths that meander from village to village through vineyards, sunflowers, orchards, woods and meadows. It's hugely friendly for walkers and cyclists.

Last night three of us pushed it some by walking all the way to the lake. It only took an hour each way, but I felt quite bold because it was dark and a tad rainy, and we had no idea what route to take, no map no money no torch. But how hard could it be, we figured, if you just wander downhill towards the lake?

It's true. We really did it. Don't believe me? Check the indisputable archival evidence. Top photo: actual water in actual Lac Leman. Photo below: the three intrepid midnight walkers. Not?

Young food, new food

Goats' cheese quiche.

Several wonderful cooks compete for first place in our bellies here at Lavigny. Every meal so far has been delicious -- including raclette one night -- but on Sunday I was moved to photograph a couple of these masterpieces.

Missed the entree: it got scoffed before I could focus. Sliced smoked salmon with toast, butter, lemon, pepper and capers. Mmmm.

Every mouthful of quiche was a Eureka! for me. Short version: sliced goats' cheese (melting, creamy), courgettes (crunchy) and tomatoes (juicy, sharp, yummy) with herbs.

Then what? Chestnut vermicelli with cream and icecream. Champion gourmande on this occasion, I was the only one who could finish this rich and royal dessert.

I've been in training for this all my life.

Marron vermicelli dessert.

Aubonne streets: where front is back

Street in Aubonne

We walked over to Aubonne the other day. This part of Switzerland seems virtually unchanged since 1964. A sweeping statement, I know, but compared with almost any other place I'm familiar with, the villages around here seem set in aspic. Chunky streets with historic authenticity present a rather stolid face to visitors. And so incredibly quiet! But around the back, or in the next street, real life happens after all. Kids chattering. Allotments. People making pots or sunning themselves in the garden.

Some old people are like these old streets. Formally dressed and ultra-conservative at first sight. But if you can just get into the back yard of their mind, you might discover a very human being, pulling out weeds and enjoying the sunshine.

Garden allotments in Aubonne.

Uche drinks from a fountain.

A privilege of age eludes me

I forgot to state my age in my Chateau de Lavigny application form. I wasn't being coy, but perhaps I just didn't see the question.

Now, if the committee had known of my advanced age, I would be sleeping in a formidable four-poster bed. It's the privilege of the oldest woman writer in each group, it seems.

Instead I was given a delightful room with a more modest sized bed. My room has the same old chintzy fabric on the walls, doors, chairs, and curtains. It's like sleeping in a doll's house. I imagine each night a giant security officer lifts off the ceiling and checks that I'm safely sleeping.

Swaddled as I am, I feel secure and coddled. I'm glad the usual hierarchy broke, because I've got comfort instead of opulence, domesticity instead of grandeur.

Self portrait in bedroom mirror.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chateau Lavigny: perfect writers' residence

Read all about the Chateau de Lavigny in the village of Lavigny, near Morges, in Suisse Romande. The Fondation Ledig-Rowohlt is a memorial to the extraordinary German publisher Heinrich Maria Ledig-Rohwohlt, established by his equally extraordinary wife Jane. Since 1996, their home has been a writers' residence each summer.

The reality? I'm in bliss as a guest writer in this idyllic spot right now. 'Idyllic' hints, I hope, at the fact that this is almost too good (pretty, congenial, tranquil) to be true. I certainly haven't been saintly enough in this life to deserve it. Must have had a previous life as a goddess.

Classic writers-around-the-table photo, 7 pm get-together. Meet Paul La Farge, Uche Umezurike, Maud Casey, Sunny Singh, and Tatania, Sophie Kandaouroff and Martin Eriksen. Sophie, actor and film director, is also our on-the-spot manager and hostess. (I'm there too, honestly.)

View from the garden, across the Lac Leman to France, Mont Blanc, and Geneva.

Speaking of goddesses, the Goddess of Books is secreted in a mirrored cubby-hole along with LP records, romantic blurred and fading pictures of the great Jane Ledig-Rohwohlt, and a state-of-the-art 1960s record player. The external aesthetic serenity of the chateau and the entire village is one thing. Inside, extreme artefacts erupt, reflecting imagination and feverish fertility. Figures, for the man who published Albert Camus, Henry Miller, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Gunther Grass, Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, Harold Pinter, Jean-Paul Sartre and the rest.

Since the theme of this blog is growing older, I hope you deduce that writers never stop writing. Perhaps we never die.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The quality of the end of life

Two weeks ago, a young family member survived her second heart attack. While we hope and believe she will live many years longer, she is arranging an enduring power of attorney, and exploring living wills and advance directives for doctors.

I discussed the latter two options with my son. He says (as a GP), the EPOA is crucial, but frank discussions with close family about various death-bed scenarios are worth far more than any written instructions. When healthy, we cannot predict which of 1,000 situations will be ours at the end of life. He said, just think about which faculties are indispensible, and which ones you could bear to live without.

My own attitudes have changed over time. I've gone from the "Put me down! I don't want to be a burden!" to realising that this request would itself be an unbearable burden for my children. That what seems unbearable to a 20-year-old may be tolerable to a 90-year-old.

Above all, I'd like my children's wishes to play a major part in making end-of-life decisions.

When my mother-in-law was young, she repeatedly said that death would be better than losing her mind. But when she lost her mind, she appeared to be as happy as Larry. Always a sweet-natured woman, she stayed that way.

If by bad luck someone must decide when to "pull the plug" on my life, I hope I will be completely unaware of the fact. If I'm aware, I hope that includes a certainty that my children must do what is right for them. They'll have my blessing.

Talk of "what Mum would have wanted" is ultimately sheer speculation, living will or no living will. I expect to adjust my opinion frequently, at times every day or every hour. I trust my children's empathy and communal common sense. And they don't have to be perfect! Nothing can negate our past happiness and shared experiences.

This morning, these thoughts came back into my mind, because dementia and Alzheimers were the topic of a moving documentary on Radio New Zealand.

A living will

When do I want to die?
When my body tells me to.

If I lose my words,
feed me music and birdsong.

If I lose my balance,
feed me videos of dancing.

If I lose my self,
show me children and the sea.

Feed me life until
I lose my appetite.

When do I want to die?
Let me go

before my crippled life
begins to cripple yours.

I have lived in joy.
Let me leave this life

before I lose
the memory of joy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

To be a poet in Switzerland

On May Day I got one of those dream emails, offering me a place as a Writer in Residence at the lovely Chateau de Lavigny, in Morges, near Lausanne in Switzerland. Look at it!

I am overjoyed for three reasons.

1. It's an honour and a privilege.

2. It's in Suisse Romande area, where I lived for four years in my youth. I went with my husband to Geneva nearly 50 years ago, where we popped out of our provincial bubble. We worked, played, ate, drank, skied, and sightsaw for all we were worth. We also had our first baby (Geoff) in Geneva. So this is a nostalgia trip for me, revisiting gorgeous places with strong emotional connections.

3. Bliss: 3 weeks in which to focus on writing. 3 weeks to live inside my own head and write, write, write... and think, think, think. 3 weeks without housework.

4. It's only 3 weeks, which suits me perfectly. I've enjoyed living in other countries (Switzerland, Australia and Japan) and I love short exotic holidays. But months in a writers' residence would not suit me at all.

5. Four other writers will be in residence at the same time so there'll be interesting talk with people who will seem both alien (all from different countries) and familiar (all writers).

So that's the news, folks! Good, ay? Now, 2 months to polish up my French.

Le Chateau de Lavigny

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

10 ways dancing keeps you young

The birthday of fabulous Jo fell on a Wednesday (Crows' rehearsal day) this year, and Sally baked a delicious cake. We raised our glasses after rehearsal to yet another triumphant year ahead.

Jo and Sally aren't old, but they are dancing in the direction of the much documented "young old".

Let me count the ways that Crows Feet dancing—and probably any regular dancing—keeps you young.

1. It strengthens your bones.
2. Improves your posture and therefore your figure.
3. Raises fitness and muscle tone.
4. Makes extra demands on your brain.
5. Improves your spatial sense and physical memory.
6. Charges you with adrenalin at performance time.
7. Raises expectations: the team depends on you.
8. Gives structure to your week, if you work and live alone.
9. Makes you wear outrageous costumes at least three times a year.
10. Provides a warm, supportive, fun social group.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Coffin put to good use: memento mori

Why spend money on a coffin that you'll never see, never knowingly use?

The owner of Hyde Central Hotel uses hers as a jolly green display stand.

Brilliant, and totally zen.

Otago Rail Trail bike ride: perfect

So, our bicycle tour of the Otago Rail Trail was perfectly wonderful. No surprise, as that's what everyone says.
~ Great big scenery all the way.
~ Four days of not-too-hot sunshine, half a day of wind gusts and rain sprinkles to remind us how lucky we'd been.
~ Very happy group of family and friends who enjoy one another's company.
~ Fun places to stay, lots of stops along the way.
~ All planning, bookings, decisions, management and bikes provided by the excellent Brian Farrant of New Zealand Bicycle Tours.
~ Just hard enough to make me feel proud, but so easy that children and many people my age and older were doing it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Packing for the Otago Rail Trail bike ride

So, I've been packing for the great 70th birthday celebration with family and friends: the Otago Rail Trail bicycle tour.

I love packing. I love thinking about it, laying things out, choosing, rejecting, last minute panic because all my merino sweaters are dirty, dithering over shoes and jackets and t-shirts. I love almost forgetting something vital, like the camera, then remembering in the nick of time.

I love writing down the times when I have to get up, call the shuttle, and arrive at the airport. I love leaving things until it's almost too late. I love the last minute dash to a friend's house with a vase of water lilies that I can't bear to throw out.

How boring it would be to have employees to do all those chores. Preparing for travel is half the pleasure.

Now it's time to set the alarm and leap into bed.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Headlines I like

1. Man, 70, in tree fall
I'm sorry he fell. But so glad he was up a tree. He's in Nelson, hotbed of maverick getting-old people.

2. Still chasing balloons at 82
This wonderful woman is part of a family hot-air crew, hauling heavy bags and ropes, and loving it all.

3. At 102, he'll still be up early to recall his mates.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blogging is good for the health (I think)

Yet another convert! My friend Anon is going into hospital for an operation, and will be out of action for quite some time. This was a shock cancer diagnosis, though her prospects are excellent.

Already changes are rippling through her psyche, and (being a writer) she wants to document events over the next year.

She's never had a blog, despite being a 50-year-old writer.

Anon wanted to know, what's different about a blog? Why not just write on the computer?

So I demonstrated with this entry just how simple and smooth a blogspot is.

And how secure: it can be private.

How searchable, if she adds labels.

How aesthetically pleasing the process is as well as the product.

How editable.

How safe, preserved by Google.

Seeing is believing. I don't have a mission here, I just thought it might help her.

And sure enough, she's started one. Right now it'll be the last thing on her mind, as she's all bandaged up and groggy in a neat white hospital bed. But next week, she'll get to love her blog, I'm sure.

Photo by Labnol.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Good morning, world

I woke late (6.40 a.m.) after a gorgeous sleep, and a thought floated into my mind. I suspect it was prompted by a comment from a philosophical taxi driver yesterday.

"What a wonderful day. I'm alive, I'm here, I'm now, I'm me."

A positive thought but what a self-centred one. Still, it's true: lucky lucky me.

I went to do tai chi on my deck — which I associate with another, far superior thought. Not my own thought, but I own it nevertheless.

"Good morning world. I am still with you!"

How sly. How delicious.

These were the first words every day of the elderly, eccentric hero of Noel Virtue's novel, The Redemption of Elsdon Bird.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Teaching Granny to do cartwheels

So, here we are at WOMAD, World Music 2010 at beautiful Pukekura Park in New Plymouth.

My granddaughter loved it all, 8 hours of music in a single day. Here she is teaching me how to do cartwheels, as they do.

Age is not an issue at WOMAD. All the generations are gloriously jumbled up, on stage and off. Feral New Zealand is there, gentle, timeless hippies in their patchwork skirts and orange trousers, teens in self-protective clumps, suit types like me having fun in our own way, parents wheeling prams -- the lot. It was a lovely, colourful, rich experience in slow motion.

It's nice being slimmer

I just want to note that I'm enjoying being lighter and slimmer. I plan to be that way forever more after realising the impact on my blood pressure.

After two months on my new regime, I went back for a BP check. The nurse's jaw literally dropped, just like my numbers: down from 160/70 to 125/70. "Like an 18-year-old," she lied. But it's good, easily good enough.

Seems the first 5-10 kilo weight loss can reduce blood pressure significantly, regardless of how large you are to begin with. I think I can see why: the heart has much less work to do.

For the record, I weigh around 7 kilos less than I did in my orange bathing togs, when nobody perceived me as fat. Nor did I. But standards have changed, and the switch from stone to kilos has camouflaged the change.

I'm now around 56 kilo, which sounds quite light. But hey, 57 kilo is 9 stone, which sounds heavy to me! That was my weight as a 16-year-old and I was hefty compared with my friends. OK, hour-glass figure, but no sylph.

Anyway I'm getting accustomed to a new improved me. It's been absurdly easy to lose weight: two weeks on the Atkins diet followed by a normal eating. I just swallow less (especially white carbs, wine and coffee). When I'm out I enjoy anything from passionfruit pavlova to bacon and egg butties.

Mind you, I never wanted to be skinny: scraggy neck, I thought — brittle bones — wrinkles.

But to my surprise I'm really enjoying the difference.
  • At dance warm-ups I can bend further forward on the floor: no spare (tractor) tyre.
  • I feel more supple and bouncy.
  • My morning walks up Mt Victoria are a bit easier.
  • Clothes look much much much much better now. It's cool.
All round I feel heaps better and calmer.

Anyway, no need for beta blockers. (I've got nothing against beta blockers, just preferably not yet thanks.)

Some oddities: even my watch strap and shoes are looser.

And most people don't even notice I've lost weight, which is fine by me.

Enough of this boring talk! What on earth brought that on? Be well.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

2 bikes in the bedroom

What a day yesterday was! My friend Jenny had lent me her son's mountain bike, so I could train more realistically for the Otago Rail Trail bike ride next month. About 9a.m. I set off and rode from Oriental Bay to Hataitai, around the harbour front.

Beautiful blue harbour, with a sliver of sun on the far shore. Happy walkers and riders. It's great whizzing along in the fresh air. I was an instant convert. All my previous reservations were swept away in one short hour. I came home glowing and went to Onyerbike to buy a new bicycle for my very own.

1. Dare I ride in traffic? Sure, it's flat riding all the way around the bays, mainly on the footpath.

2. Weather: given Wellington's notorious wild weather, how many days a year could I use a bike without being blown off? Answer: who cares if I bike only 6 days a year? Multiply that by 10 or 15 years and it's worth the expense.

3. Storage: getting a bike into the back shed is painful. Move wheelie bin, unlock shed, jostle with 2 other bikes. Wrestle bike on to a ceiling hook. Answer: carry it upstairs to my apartment and stick it in the walk-in linen cupboard.

4. But won't a bike be too heavy to carry up the stairs? Answer: na! I can handle that, especially on the new SUB (Sarah Ullmer Bike) bike, which is only 12.2 kilos.

Both bikes are now inside, until Jenny takes her Giant mountain bike home. My new bike is a SUB Lime, step through, hybrid, upright position. I can cycle with my head upright, looking at people and scenery and street signs. Perfect!

All my SUB Lime needs is a basket on the front and it will look almost like a genuine old fashioned old-lady bicycle with modern engineering. Old ladies biking want to sit upright, not double over the handlebars with our heads down.

Around Christchurch we used to see old ladies on their bikes all their long lives. My Great Aunt Bim, for example. It was part of their life, and there was no reason to get off their bikes just because they hit 60 or 70 or 80.

Biking doesn't have to be hell for leather up and down mountains or around a race track, delightful as those are for some. For old ladies, it's about going somewhere and enjoying the ride.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Birthday gifts for a 70-year-old

What do you give a woman on her 70th birthday? Why, lipstick and a pedicure, of course.

My clever sisters sent me luxury gifts of immediate usefulness. I wore the bright pink lipstick on stage for the Crows Feet show. And all that dancing left me in dire need of a delicious pedicure. Thanks, Penny, Prue and Lesley!

Friday, February 26, 2010

70 years old at last

Last Wednesday I finally turned 70. It did seem like a significant birthday, more so than almost any other. Even turning 21 was not a big deal, because by then I was married and travelling in a train across (then) Yugoslavia: I felt frightfully mature. As you do!

But 70... the age my mother died, having programmed herself to do so at "three score years and ten". Some years back I observed that in their seventies, people often became fragile, their skin transparent, their gait uncertain, their vision restricted to a narrow circle. That was rather frightening.

Key phrase: "some years back". Looking at today's septuagenarians, I wouldn't dream of making any such generalisation. Nowadays, this is what 70 looks like!

The photo is me on my birthday, in costume for the current show by Crows Feet Dance Collective: "How to be a Domestic Goddess -- La Revue de Cuisine". After rehearsal I was seriously surprised by a little party. (I mean we're all focused on the show, who would remember a birthday?) Champagne and chocolate cake and flowers from the women who are my inspiration.

Back to the philosophical musings: in my case, the real difference between 70 and 69 is a deep and daily appreciation of how lucky I am to live now, here, with these people in my life, with these opportunities at my fingertips. I intend to relish every minute.

Photo: Elizabeth Isaac

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Launching Scarlet Heels: 26 Stories About Sex

Hooray! It's Valentine's Day, the official date for launching my new book:

Scarlet Heels: 26 Stories About Sex

Frankly, I wrote this book by accident, and yet of all the books I've written it's my favourite.

OK, favourites change over time, but I feel strangely fond of this one. When I think about Scarlet Heels, I feel affectionate, amused and carefree. I've got nothing to lose. This book is... like a member of my family.

Some of the stories are fictional versions of secrets whispered to me by women aged from 16 to 84. They were so excited, so alive as they talked about a sexual event that was significant to them in some particular way. Other stories are based on memories and hunches about women I've known.

And I kind of love all these women, from Anna, Beryl and Caroline to Xianthe the geeky schoolgirl, Yvette who finds Mr Available, and Zoe, who revives her lost libido to please her husband.

At 3pm this afternoon, six friends and I will quietly — or noisily — raise a glass of champagne in a beautiful garden. We'll eat apple cake and strawberries, I might read a few love poems, and we'll relish the moment.

I had no idea what people would think of this book, but they seem to be enjoying it heaps. So far, critics have called it a darling little book, great, great fun, and happy. They find two or three of the 26 stories steamy, which is about what I hoped. Trust me, this is popular fiction, not erotica.

Now, here's a reward for reading this far.

To celebrate the launch I'm giving away five copies of Scarlet Heels.

To enter the competition, just comment on this blog post.

Give me a reason why you of all people deserve a free copy. The five people with the most convincing reasons will be the winners.

Deadline: Saturday 20 February 2010, 10am New Zealand time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The 5-Minute Meditator

I'm a born again meditator, for health reasons. My first port of call is this book:
The 5-minute meditator by Eric Harrison

This is a favourite book with a refreshing approach. Eric Harrison has heavy duty credentials as a lifelong practitioner and ex-Buddhist monk, but his mission is to make meditation possible where it's needed most: not in a solitary wilderness, but in the city, in the office, in marriage, in hospital. His teaching is jargon free and not allied to any one tradition.

He explains practical, highly specific ways to relax your mind and body any time, any place, just for a few seconds or minutes. I'm trying to do this. While it's not easy, it sure is heaps easier than conforming to waffly advice like being in the moment.

One of his tips: Do what you're doing. If you're washing the dishes, just do that — without simultaneously planning your day or tackling a problem in your head. Just look at what you're doing, feel the water, admire the plates, notice your hand movements, and so on.

I'm keen to make headway on calming my busy brain, because I'm starting to understand that an older body cannot handle stress as well as a young one. This is a brand new thought, for me. After all, I'm strong and healthy, I love my work, I've got heaps of energy. And yet small things bring me more stress than seems logical. It's a change.

I'm not surprised when I get stressed by tasks like reorganising web files. Naturally I'm stressed when changing php and css files because that's downright dangerous— especially when I'm just winging it.

On the other hand, sometimes I notice myself feeling pressured when doing an easy Code Cracker puzzle! Now that's ridiculous.

All the more reason to meditate.

I buy 10 copies of this lovely book at a time and give them away to friends in need.

My first old-lady ailment

So. It's official. I've got an actual medical problem that is plain and simple the result of my age. What took you so long?

After years of low or normal blood pressure, about a month ago I discovered it's gone up rather too much. I need medication, but my doctor agreed to wait 6 months while I try and tease the BP downwards by other methods.

1. Lose weight. I started by losing 5 kilos through two weeks on the Atkins diet. That's the first time I've ever dieted in my entire life, which probably made it easy. Now I've changed my eating habits in sensible but not neurotic ways. Seems to be working fine. Luckily I love my veges.

2. Exercise more. I upped to 30-40 minutes every day, regardless of the weather. An exercycle is the extra factor besides dancing and walking.

3. Meditate religiously twice a day for 20 minutes.

4. Reduce workload and stress factors. This is surprisingly hard, because I love doing what I'm doing and I've got a ton of energy. Guess I should just do less.

I'd hate to start banging on about my little tiny ailments, because that's what (notoriously) old people do: compare symptoms and treatments.

Still, the blog is about growing older, that's the deal.

Friday, January 29, 2010

How to look young at 70

How to look young in our 70s
 I've now published this post on my Wordpress blog, which is taking over from Old Lady Laughing.