Short, short story: What Valerie Did

I’ve missed a few posts lately, and I offer my apologies for not having explained myself to you. After two and a half years of posts that arrive like clockwork, you could be forgiven for expecting more consultation.

The good news is: I’m still as opinionated as ever. And I’m still committed to the opportunity to look at just about anything to do with relationships, community and world peace from a fresh point of view.

The bad news is: I seem to have misplaced my muse. I think she might have decided to abandon ship and stay behind in Noosa, where Rick and I recently had a holiday with our FLAFFing friends. She particularly liked the pool and the shady cabana nearby, and Christmas timemay just be hanging out there for a few extra weeks.

But in the vacuum created by the missing muse, I’ll post you a Christmas story I wrote a few years ago.

What Valerie did

Valerie leaned her foot on the accelerator, then jammed on the brake. The car rocked and screeched. There wasn’t much ground, or satisfaction, to be gained, but it provided a moment’s relief from the frustration of the stopped traffic in the overcrowded parking lot. For over 20 minutes she had been locked in a crawl of traffic, each car desperately and hopelessly trying to find an empty spot. She couldn’t believe her own idiocy in coming to the shopping centre two days before Christmas. She couldn’t believe the idiocy of all these other lunatics. She couldn’t believe she’d ever get a spot, or even get out of the parking lot.

And suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she caught the flash of the brakelight of the car just to her left, about to leave its spot. She was directly at the rear of the car, unable to back up because of bumper-to-bumper traffic behind her, so she flicked on her indicator and pulled ahead. The car manoeuvred out, and just as Valerie was about to back in, the vehicle to her rear accelerated into the spot. Into HER spot.

The magnitude of the offence overwhelmed Valerie. She flung open her door and looked back at the offending vehicle, a large black late-model 4-wheel-drive with opaque windows. She glared, considering the bully who was driving it.

Then she raced round to the back of her car, flicked open the boot and grabbed the tyre iron lying there. She strode over to the leering black vehicle, her little sandals tapping fiercely and her white cotton dress in full sail. She slammed the iron into the back window, glass showering everywhere!

…Well, she didn’t do that, actually. But she could taste how much she wanted to. What she did, after the steely glare, was huff back into her car, slam the door, and accelerate fiercely almost into the rear of the car stopped a few metres ahead of her.

Heart pounding, she continued the snail’s pace. And then, not three or four minutes later, the miracle finally occurred. A lady returned to her car, arms full of packages, just ahead of Valerie, and the catch was hers, all hers. Moments later she was finally in the mall.

Yes, she was in the mall, but still caught in a desperate crush of people. All her body wanted to do was run! – run! – run to Myers and run to Target and run to the butchers. But running was not an option in this crowd. A seat on a nearby bench was vacated by a large lady who lurched to her feet directly in Valerie’s path.

Valerie leaped onto the seat and shouted, “Stop! Stop, all of you!” Everyone turned toward her. “Can’t you see the insanity of this?! Can’t you see the cost of this rampant commercialism?! Go home, everyone. Go home to the people who love you!”

…Well, she didn’t, actually. What she did, after the large woman lurched in front of her, was grit her teeth almost to the breaking point and continue to force her way forward.

That was just before she saw the Santa. One glance showed him to be bored with the boy on his lap, stifling a yawn, barely even making the motions. Valerie grabbed her handbag and slammed it into the side of the Santa’s head. “Wake up!” she shouted. “Make a connection with this child, for God’s sake. He has only moments of pure belief left to him, help him make the most of them!”

…Well, she didn’t, of course. Because what happened was that her eye was caught by another child, a little girl of perhaps three years old, standing on a bench leaning Angel with trumpetagainst her tired mother. A haze of golden hair around her face, the child was transfixed by the activity around her. As Valerie watched, rooted to the spot, the little girl shifted her earnest gaze to a little silver angel with trumpet dangling just overhead. A smile of appreciation mesmerised her tiny face.

What Valerie actually did at that point was smile herself. She suddenly saw around her people committed to the season and to the others in their lives, wanting to make the most of a time that holds great meaning. A man beside her caught the smile. “Sometimes I’m not sure why we do this,” he said wryly.

“For the moments of wonder,” she replied. “For the moments of connection.” They grinned at each other and bustled on their separate ways.

A tall tale of two Heathers

In spite of all my enlightened wisdom about choosing and living with one’s choices [remember this astute post from a few months ago?], there I was a couple days ago indulging in a morsel of negative thinking. Bad Voice was nattering on about how I shouldn’t have had the ankle fusion surgery and how it might not work. And then of course Good Voice was saying, this kind of thinking is not helping; it’s going to work fine, but will just take a little time; try thinking about something else.

Of course it’s not that easy to just start thinking something else. So instead I tried injecting a touch of humour, always a favourite solution.

The following screenplay is the result.

Try not to worry too much about the physics.

Galahs2Setting: Heather is sitting on her deck. The date is March 1st 2014, some 9 months ago. She is watching a galah nearby on the bird feeder.

Heather 1 (speaking aloud to the galah): I’ve been advised to have an ankle fusion and I’m wondering if I should do it. (The galah yawns, indicating that this is a boringly familiar question).

But this time there is a sudden POPPING sound and the galah disappears. It seems there has been a break in the space-time continuum, as another very similar Heather appears on the deck. This one has an extra wrinkle or two and is riding on a knee scooter. They eye each other in astonishment.

Heather 1: Well, look at you! You must be from the future—clearly you’ve had the surgery.

Heather 2: Isn’t this amazing? I was just sitting there on my own deck when a galah started asking me questions, and suddenly here I am. Yes, I had surgery 10 weeks ago, and just had the cast removed yesterday.

Heather 1: Wow. Well, now that you’re here, you can advise me. With the benefit of hindsight, do you think I should have the surgery?

Heather 2: This might not be a good day to ask but I would have to say no. Bad idea.

Heather 1: Oh! Okay, well, that’s good advice and I’ll take it.

Heather 2: But hold on. I said this might not be the best day to ask. Here’s a thought: if you got hold of me so easily, why don’t you try getting hold of another future Heather who had surgery a full year ago? She could give you a much more informed idea about how this is going to work.

Heather 1: An excellent idea. You’re obviously a wise person. I’ll give it a try.

Heather 2: Whew. Good; less responsibility for me. At any rate, I should likely get back before we do any damage to the space-time continuum.

Heather 1: But wait on a moment. What will happen to YOU if I decide not to have the surgery?

Heather 2: I think we’ll exist in parallel universes. You’ve have the old ankle, and I’ll have the new one.

Heather 1: Hmmm. Cool. We might be able to get together and compare notes. See who was right.

Heather 2: Yeah, I’m not sure the universe works that way. But who knows?

Heather 1: Just a minute. Before you go—I like the shirt you’re wearing. Where’d you get it?

Heather 2 (laughs): I just picked it up at Costco over in Canada during the summer. Check it out in mid July.

Heather 1: Terrific; thanks for that. But I have another important question that’s been bothering me: how does it work out with Mum this summer? Are we able to find a way for her to keep staying at home?

Heather 2: Nice try but you’re on your own with that one. Anyway, I’d better get going before we cause a major time travel paradox here.

Heather 1: Okay, okay. Here I am left figuring everything out on my own yet again. Aren’t there ANY shortcuts? What’s the use of multiple universes if I still have to think and then stick with my decisions?

Heather 2: You said it, Sister. Good luck to you.

Heather 1: Yeah, you too. Maybe we’ll see you ’round the traps.

There is another POPPING sound and Heather 2 disappears. A galah pops into existence on the bird feeder, looking slightly bewildered.

Fade to black.

On finding our lost beauty

Housemate Eve went off to the hairdresser’s one day this week (you might remember a previous mention of our mate Trent from the salon in Taree) and came back looking exceptionally glam. Her stylish appearance generated some discussion at the dinner Glorious hairtable that night, among seven of us in the 55+ age bracket, about youth and beauty. We wandered into what-is-beauty and a wide-ranging analysis of how beautiful hair – and youth – fit into the scheme of things.

The conversation got me thinking about a hairdresser’s world, which is built around young and beauty. Picture the fashion magazines at each station, the product posters, the shows that salons enter into. Every salon offers up tribute to the gods of looking good, where “looking good” equals smooth faces haloed by perfect hair.

I have yet to hear anyone sit in the chair and say, “Make me look every bit my age, please, and give me an appearance that reflects my strength of character and the hard knocks I’ve been through.” To the contrary, one says, “Get rid of the grey quick, and make me look sleek and elegant even if it’s just for 15 minutes until I hit the first breath of wind.” I had a hairdresser some years ago, who, when I speculated that perhaps I should let the grey grow in, said flatly, “Well, you’ll be finding another hairdresser in that case.” It was enough to deflect me from that suicidal path and I’ve yet to wander back to such wicked notions.

On a different planet from me lives my good friend Linda, who has a thick mass of salt and pepper curls. “I don’t lay a finger on it,” she says stoutly. “And I cut it myself. Hairdressers always want to do something with it that’s impossible to keep going and doesn’t look like me.” The thing is, Linda looks great. I mean, Linda IS great. She’s a well-regarded occupational therapist; she has a spectacular garden; she’s created sculptures and pottery that make your heart sing. She is adored by her grandchildren and has one of the best voices in our choir. Her hair frames her fabulous face and she looks exactly like who she is. She’s a walking advertisement for her fabulous self.

Twinkle in her eyeThis is a face I found on Pinterest and was considering for a post a few weeks ago. She’s haunted me since, this woman. I could look at her all day. I’d been reading “What Are Old People For?” and grappling with a paradigm that repositions elders in today’s world. Youth, with its particular flavour of beauty, gets dethroned and people like this charmer on the left have room to take their rightful place. I ask you: who would you rather spend time with? – this rollicking woman with her thick accent and mischievous stories, or a skinny stick of a 16-year-old who’s, like, rolling her eyes at you while she texts on her phone. I know how even Trent would answer, though there’s not much business for him with Babba and her red scarf.

So I’ve been imagining a new world. (I’m going to lose a few of you here, but hang on as long as you can.)

I started off thinking about a universe with no hairdressers. There’d be no silken-tressed dewy-eyed models hanging about on salon walls to make us yearn and feel inadequate and unlovable. We’d all have our own version of wash-and-wear hair. We’d pull it out of our eyes into playful ponytails or perhaps give it a buzz cut every now and then. It would curl when it wanted and we wouldn’t be overly stressed about bed-head or humidity.

….But no, I can see that’s not the whole answer. I’m taking a lesson from a charming novel I read a while ago, “The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul“, written by a real-life hairdresser who set up a salon in Afghanistan to help give women a sense of freedom, fun and self-respect. There’s no doubt that that salon, and Trent’s, and all the others, do make a contribution.

But what if Trent gave away trying to outfox Father Time and camouflage all the signs of elderhood? Instead, his objective would be to have us look like who we really are. Deeply trained in psychology and philosophy, the Trents of this new world would take our measure in a different way as we came in. They might chat with us about our ideals, hobbies, kids (and great-grandkids) – all with a view to figuring out the look that brings out our own particular self. After it was over, you’d look in the mirror and smile in total recognition. “There I am!” you’d say with delight.

The essentials would still be in place. You could still sit in the chair and pick up community gossip. You could get a cup of tea and you wouldn’t miss out on your deep scalp massage. Trent would still know how to do a scissor cut and create a Marie Antoinette hairdo for weddings or other costume parties. But the whole beauty charade! – THAT would fall by the wayside. No dazzling posters, no beauty magazines, no stands full of must-have products. No struggle to be someone you weren’t, aren’t and never will be. No more addiction to Vogue and Redken.

And when you left the salon, you’d be in the arms of a different kind of beauty, not a temporary fix based on illusion. You’d be more of who you are and would head into the wind with a new spring in your step.

...Now we're just beautiful

Remember these two? They’re another pair of favourites.



Saddle up

This post is for anyone who has an ankle or foot injury, or who has had one—or who might have one in the future.

When my doctor raised the prospect of ankle surgery a few years ago, I was deterred in my enthusiasm by the spectre of clomping about on crutches for several months. You hobble awkwardly; you throw your upper body into graceless hunched positions; you wear out your arms and wrists. I remembered these things well from a number of surgeries on the ankle that I had as a young girl. When you’re on crutches, you know you’re handicapped.

Nova knee scooterAt any rate, when I finally committed to the ankle fusion several months ago, the surgeon’s assistant suggested I check out something called a knee scooter. That caught my attention. Anything called a scooter can’t be all bad. It must have a little life to it, I thought, even if isn’t motorised.

I located one at a medical supplies store not far from us. I tried it out, whizzing around the shop, much as you’d test-drive a new Porsche—flying down the aisle past walking frames and raised toilet seats, careening around corners, applying the handbrakes to screech to a stop. The scooter won me over and I ended up buying one. (For about $350. I could have rented, but as my non-weight-bearing time is so long, it worked out cheaper to buy.)

I picked it up a week before my surgery and practiced with it regularly. Within two or three days after the operation, I was using it for short journeys through the house. It’s been my partner ever since. It has great manoeuvrability: a few sweeps of the handlebar and I can wedge into or back out of anything. It’s fast and easy. On our vast hardwood floors, one sweep of the foot will take me 2 or 3 metres. In Masters hardware store the other day, with its glass-smooth concrete floors, I effortlessly travelled at twice the speed of the pedestrians accompanying me. I felt like a kid on a skateboard.

All set for Melbourne Cup

All set for Melbourne Cup

So this post is a plug for knee scooters. I wanted to share my experience, as I hadn’t realised knee scooters existed, and judging from most people’s reaction, others hadn’t either. Maybe, with your own fractured ankle still well in the future, you also haven’t heard of it. You’d want to consider renting or buying one if you damage a foot or ankle.

But to complete the picture, let me tell you a few things they didn’t mention at the shop.

My model, the Nova, is only suitable on smooth surfaces. On grass—pitiful. On gravel—you might as well put it on your back and crawl. If a front wheel hits the smallest impediment, a corner of carpet, perhaps, or a small stone, the handlebars will jack-knife and the scooter stops sharp on the spot. No problem if you’re inching carefully along, but travelling at speed, you’re in trouble. In my youth, I once flew over the head of a horse whose foot caught in a loop of tree root. A similar effect is possible on the scooter.

I’ve had two mishaps. One happened when I was spinning across a broad patio, and didn’t spot a small twig. It stopped the left wheel instantly, jack-knifed the handlebars and pitched me off. It could have been nasty but it wasn’t, leaving only my dignity damaged. The other mishap was a minor stubbing of a good-foot toe while negotiating a tricky reversal. Ironically, that one could have been nothing, but a stubbed toe on one’s only weight-bearing foot turns out to be a major impediment that sent me back to the sofa for a few days.

And here’s a hidden truth: it’s Rick who helps make it all look easy. He’s the one who hefts it into the back of the car, helps hoist it up over serious obstacles and occasionally lends a push on an uphill slope. He’s the unsung hero of the Heather-and-her-scooter story.

So the scooter is making a world of difference to my convalescent period. On the crutches, which I use outdoors or whenever there are steps, I feel awkward and disabled. On the scooter I draw admiring glances from 10-year-olds and feel tall, mobile and in control. You can’t beat that as an aid to healing.

Nine more sleeps until the cast comes off, assuming all is going well inside its fibreglass fortifications. But it may still be several months before I can be fully weight-bearing on the ankle, so I expect Scooter and I will be partnered up for some time to come.


Spring into SongThe scooter was the star of the Spring into Song weekend I just attended. It was a residential workshop, held at a venue an hour or so from here. Like many places in these wheel-chair friendly times, the venue left me with no need for crutches at all. I watched for twigs and pebbles on the pathway and kept the brakes on for the downward slopes. I used the scooter for sitting, standing, kneeling and leg-elevation. I carried music, water bottle and jacket in its nifty little basket. Attending a residential workshop with shared dorms, bunk beds and limited space might not seem an obvious thing to do in my condition, but I got to sing, with 85 other people, gob-smackingly beautiful songs written or arranged by Rachel Hore and Stephen Taberner. With my trusty scooter (and let us not forget Rick, who loved the workshop as well) I flourished all weekend.


If you’ve read this far because you’re interested in the scooter, here’s a thorough YouTube video of my model.

But before you buy, check out this all-terrain version, which appears to have handled the smooth-surface-only problem.

68 and counting

You’re not going to believe this—I’ve just had a thought that’s contrary to any shred of sanity. I’d been reflecting on the big birthday party coming up, where husband Rick and housemate Eve are celebrating their 70th. And out of the blue I said to myself, I can’t wait until I turn 70.

Wait on!—where did that come from?

The thought had nothing do with the fun of a party. I’m not someone who much likes big parties and that’s unlikely to change. But the truth is, I’ve fallen under the spell of the book that I mentioned in last week’s post, called “What are Old People For?” I had just been reading this spirited paragraph:

“We are stumbling into an era that is blessed with the largest group of (potential) elders the world has ever seen. They are well educated, materially secure, healthy, and socially engaged…The battle over the meaning and worth of our longevity will remake our world…”

That inspired me. I also thought about Eve’s recent blog post where, comingIt's time to rethink our philosophy on aging up as she is to her 70th birthday, she lays claim to the world “old”. That’s bold, I thought. Bold and accurate and inspiring.

It’s not that Eve or author William Thomas or I idealise old age. It’s not for the faint-hearted, as they say, and I’m sure we all freely admit that. But it has its rightful place, and it does have its own rewards. Perhaps I’m becoming ready to claim them.

When I turned 60

There was a maxim I learned when I was a kid that went like this: Life divides into three chunks: age 1-30—young; 30-60—middle-aged; 60-90+—old. You know how those neat bits of wisdom stick with you? Perhaps that explains why, as I was approaching my 60th birthday eight years ago, I came across a significant integrity issue. My decade change was no secret to my friends; after all, many of them were “of an age” themselves and besides, they liked me in spite of my decrepitude.

But at work was a different matter: I found I didn’t want to tell a soul. My covert calculations revealed that I was probably the eldest of the 50 or 60 of us on staff. The hair dyeing had become more frequent and I’d begun avoiding conversations about age. I was sure that if co-workers knew I was 60, I’d be marginalised. I’d be lumbered with the perception of past-her-prime, can’t-carry-a-full-load. It’s not that I wanted to carry a full load, but I didn’t want to risk being perceived as unable. I needed to stay top dog.

As I thought about this integrity issue, two voices warred in my head. Bad Voice was telling me I could get away with it; no one needed to know. But Good Voice was nattering away that I needed to be honest and matter-of-fact about it all, and put this denial behind me. Somehow Good Voice talked me into making a promise, which went like this: every time something came up at work and I had the “uh-oh-I’m-turning-60” thought, I had to somehow weave my upcoming birthday into the conversation. Clients, workmates, suppliers, whoever. It was the only way I could see of taking the edge off the irrational fear.

The very day after making this rash promise to myself, the management team went out for dinner. At one point colleague Julia, the COO, took a long breath and said, “Can you imagine this? – I’m turning 40 in a couple of weeks.”

Well, guess what thought promptly popped into my head?

Good Voice and Bad Voice debated fiercely about keeping the promise for several nano-seconds, while everyone commiserated with Julia. Good Voice prevailed. “Can you imagine this?” I said. “I’m turning sixty in a few weeks.”

And that was it. I was out of the closet. The world didn’t fall apart, and over the following weeks people began saying nice things like, “I want to be like you when I’m sixty.” Mission accomplished.

(In hindsight I’m not sure I was claiming the ground of being 60. To be honest, it was more like claiming the ground of “Who’d have guessed she’s sixty?”, which is not the same thing at all. But it was a step.)

I tell this story because William H Thomas, the author of the book that’s been energising me, would call me a product of our times: resisting age and out of touch with the inevitability, indeed the rightness, of aging—not to mention the possible benefits. He takes the view that in our obsession with glorifying youth, we have lost sight of the gifts and privileges of old age. He develops an interesting theory that adulthood, with its age-appropriate qualities of busy-busy, accomplish, achieve, acquire, do-do-do, has elbowed its way into all of childhood and all of old age. He notes that children and old people rightly have little interest in this driving, acquisitive approach. Thomas asserts that the more “being” oriented energies of childhood and old age are being drowned out by adult hyperactivity. (This goes a way toward explaining, he posits, the strong bond between grandparents and grandchildren.)


Happy Halloween

So in many ways I’m a classic adult. I have a good friend who reminds me frequently that I am very accomplished at doing. The problem is that she’s not offering it as praise. This friend is much better than I at just being with people, at meditating, at walking quietly by herself, taking time for observing, philosophising, drawing conclusions. She’ll likely step into elderhood with more grace, ease and purpose than I’ve so far been able to muster. Calling me good at doing is her way of reminding me that there’s another world I’ve been turning my back on.

So what I’ve glimpsed in today’s revelation is the relief of stepping into reality. No botox required, no resistance, no costly denial. Only a brand new way of looking at the world.

I’m ready for Thomas’ call to arms:

“Given the immutable fact of aging (yours and mine included), a new appreciation of longevity seems very likely to emerge. When it does, it will lead millions to question, challenge, and, finally, overthrow the doctrine of youth’s perfection.”…. “Such a crusade is necessary not because it can right wrongs that are visited on older people but because it is the essential precondition for a new culture committed to a better quality of life for people of all ages.”

The revolution is ON!

...Now we're just beautiful

Old soldiers never die

I’ve been feeling a bit subdued by the death this week of a favourite uncle, and, as I’m thinking rather a lot about him, I might as well make him the subject of this post.

Uncle Howard was 94 years old, and by any standards lived a full and rich life. When I had tea with him in his ocean-side apartment in Victoria BC a couple of months ago, I asked him, “How’s your life?” It was a serious question. He had stopped slogging (his 2k daily run); his knees and back had confined him to using a walker; he’d begun to need help with getting his daily provisions. I wanted to see what he felt about his quality of life. And he replied, emphatically: “My life is great.” He went on to explain how he sees his friends, and still travels the seawall on his walker. He reads the news and keeps up to date with current affairs. He enjoys his family, including his granddaughters and great-grandson. He whipped out his iPhone to display photos of his brand new great-granddaughter.

As has been the case since I was old enough to recognise wisdom when I saw it, I leaned forward and listened. It’s a habit around Howard that has served me well over a good many years.

In times gone by, Howard owned a large construction company; he was a WWII veteran; he was an equestrian; he travelled in influential circles. His wife had a ferocious intellect and added spice to all Howard & Erma in their eighties, leaving Nanaimo Harbourour lives. On retirement, they moved to Victoria to take advantage of the warmer climate, the seafood, ocean views—and waterways in which to sail their yacht Le Jacqueline, which they did unassisted until into their late eighties.

That three-sentence history doesn’t even begin to give you a taste of what Howard did with his life. But I’ll ease up on the detail; after all, he’s my uncle and you might not quite share my interest in trawling through the mementoes of his existence. You’ll have to trust me that his whole life made a contribution to the world.

At any rate, I reckon his dying was quick and easy. He lived at home until the day before he died – spending just one day in hospital before pneumonia swept him away. In a spell of consciousness, he tried to convince the staff that he’d caught a couple of salmon the day before, which everyone felt seemed unlikely. But the claim showed where his spirits were in his final moments.

I have a notion that (not unlike my own father – his brother) he felt he was losing quality of life and, not wanting to risk becoming a burden, gave permission to his body to shut itself down.

I’ve been reading a book called “What are Old People For?” and it has sensitised me to what’s on offer from the elderly. The author, William H Thomas, takes aim at what he describes as our youth-obsessed culture. He asserts that our preoccupation with staying young is so embedded that we are blind to its impact and unable to think outside the square of the assumption that young is good, aging is not. Resistance to moving away from youth, what we think of as our “prime”, goes deeper than wrinkle-cream and Botox. It’s a distortion that influences research studies, medical approaches and our thinking about longevity. “We take the constellation of traits that define our humanity for granted,” says Thomas, meaning that we don’t notice the gifts that hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have given us—all of us, from the very young to the very old.

Thomas makes the point that, as we age, we make “miraculous adaptations”. It bent my head to try to think, as he does, of the aging body as miraculous. As parts of the body are wearing out, other important bits of us, for example the critical ability to adapt and to creatively compensate, are improving. These traits, he claims, are at least as important to the human race as youthful vigour.

A twinkle in her eye“If aging is truly a catastrophic prelude to death…then it deserves the dread it currently engenders.” What if, however, this is not the case? Thomas cites evidence that “nature finds aging very useful”. For example, older people report an enhanced sense of well-being and emotional equanimity. He also reflects at length on grand-parenting. He theorises that these humans who will reach across generations to support the offspring of their offspring are an evolutionary key, developed over some 40,000 generations, which has had the human race thrive over all other mammals. Isn’t that an amazing thing to consider?

My reflections on Uncle Howard this week support all of that thinking. In his youth and mid-life he worked hard and produced big results. But as he began to age, I experienced him even more as a contribution. His sense of humour, always a hallmark, flourished. His equanimity was close to an absolute, and he projected well-being at every turn. He made getting old look good.

And on the subject of grand-parenting, I know three young women who will testify its power. Howard’s granddaughters are all much more capable women for the influence he has had in their lives, and would be the first to say so.

There is an African saying: “The death of an old person is like the loss of a library.” Many stories, jokes, morsels of family history and nuggets of profound knowledge have died with Howard this week. But the equanimity, good humour, balance and joie de vivre he role-modelled live on in all of us who knew him.

He was a fine example of how to live and how to age. Mother Nature would nod her head in approval.

Mother Nature


I’d like to leave you with a final word from Thomas: “Humans are the only creatures on Earth that specifically and energetically protect, sustain, and even nurture their elders. Although we all like to believe the best about our personal benevolence, the truth is that protecting older people has long served purposes much large than simple charity. The elder is different from the adult because elderhood offers us a distinctive way of living. It is life beyond adulthood.”

Buy experiences, not things

Rick has a birthday coming up shortly. Hmmm—what under the sun to get him?

For several years now, he’s said, “I absolutely don’t want anything.” But what turns out to be even more suitable than abstinence is if we find something interesting to DO on the day, even if it’s just a good movie and dinner at a favourite restaurant. Better yet is when we plan ahead. The anticipation enhances, and we can concoct ways to add to our adventure.

Buy experiences, not thingsSo it was with no surprise that I read an article this morning (forwarded to me, of course, by Paul the maven), which slides in nicely with what I’ve been observing about Rick, and about life generally. Titled “Buy Experiences, Not Things”, the article describes research-based studies that indicate we’re much happier making experiential purchases than material ones. I recommend reading the whole article. You won’t be saying, my God, who would have thought any of that? You will say, yes, that makes sense, and yes, I’ve figured out most of that for myself…but read it nonetheless. It will help clarify things when you’ve next got a birthday to plan for.

The article builds from the premise that 47% of the time, our minds are wandering. Imagine that. While I’ve been typing this, half the time my mind’s been flicking around to other distractions. Furthermore, say the researchers, left to its own devices the mind is likely to gravitate to “dark places”. So given my mind is going to wander anyway, the best thing I can do for it is give it something interesting to anticipate, or something interesting to reflect back on. Like: an event, a holiday, an adventure. This is good news. I’ve been thinking of my interest in experiences as sort of an indulgence, but the research is saying, to the contrary, it’s an investment in my happiness and well-being.

The article describes several salient factors. Let me illustrate with a case in point.

Port Stephens NSWSix months ago Robyn and Jim, who are friends living in Sydney, emailed Rick and me the link to a special made available by a resort in Port Stephens, a sleepy beachside town about two hours from us. The offer was for three nights in a two-bedroom suite, and had to be used within a year. “What do you think?” they suggested. “Shall we buy it and book in together sometime?” We mulled it over briefly, did a bit of research and plunked down our money (not a lot of it, as it was a very good special).

A few weeks ago, we finally booked our dates, and last weekend off we went on our adventure.

One of the key factors about an experiential purchase is that it often relates to other people, much more so than a material purchase does. And it comes as no surprise that we get greater happiness from this added “identity, connection and social behaviour”.

That was certainly true of our experience. Because Robyn and Jim live a four hour drive from us, we don’t see them nearly often enough. But our little investment gave us lots of opportunities for enhancing our relationship. There were many emails over the last six months, as we chatted about possible time frames, tightened up specific dates, and finally got down to working out who’d bring the cheese, chicken and wine. That was topped off with an excellent three days together, as we dined out, cooked in, harbour-cruised, went to the cinema, lay on the beach, and watched DVDs curled up on the sofas at the apartment.

This business of looking forward to things was cited by the article as a key benefit of an experiential purchase. Interesting, that. Since we booked in a few weeks ago, I’d been giving the holiday a fair bit of thought—with a smattering of trepidation, given my fibreglass-encased leg and ambulatory deficiency (not to mention that the mind will wander to dark places in that 47% of idle time). But mostly I was looking forward to it. In a quiet moment, I’d slip into Google and check out activities, restaurants or what’s on at the local cinema. Granted On the ferrymy life isn’t dripping with activity these days, but I can see that I always mull over an upcoming experience much more so than I do a purchase—even a purchase worth a hundred times as much, such as a new car.

The way things slide into our memory banks is another factory. There’s no doubt all four of us will think back fondly on the weekend. For me, it will be a time when I conquered no end of obstacles to my mobility, when I learned to knit, and when I had adventures, conversations and relaxing times with good friends.

Again, here’s the article. I predict it will sharpen your spending habits forever.

Speaking of knitting reminds me of something else that caught my attention this weekend. While teaching me to knit-one-pearl-one, Robyn was describing her niece’s upcoming wedding. She proceeded to dig out her iPhone to show me the wedding registry. The bridal couple have lived together for some time and say they have all the “things” they could want. So the registry, called Honeyfund, invites you to gift them contributions toward their honeymoon in the Maldives. How amazing is that?! You could donate $100 toward hotel accommodation, or $30 for cocktails at the poolside, or $50 toward a day’s snorkelling. Anything a honeymooner’s heart could desire can be registered, at any price a well-wisher wants to contribute.

HoneyfundThe researchers, I think, would support the concept of Honeyfund. Surely it’s a perfect gifting solution, backed by scientific research, providing much anticipation and guaranteeing good memories. It’s also something that’s fun to participate in for the wedding guests. If I’ve contributed toward a bungy jump, for example, I’m bound to be interested in finding out how it went and will be hanging out for the photos.

Check out the concept here.

When Rick celebrates his birthday on 1 December, we’ll be in Noosa with our FLAFF friends. No doubt there’ll be adventures and celebrations—experiences Rick will relish for a long time. With such a rich banquet of possibilities, there’s really no need to worry about a birthday gift.