Dry way or the highway: version 2

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On a big scale, a dry hill path is a worry. Fire risk. Global warming. All that.

But it’s easier to walk down a dry path than a wet path. In the wet, you’re constantly grabbing branches to stop yourself slipping and falling. It’s a bit tricky.

In dry conditions, one hazard remains: you must not plant your foot unthinkingly on those small gravel patches. They can act like ball bearings and hurl you off your feet and on to your back. Hasn’t happened to me, but to a friend. Ambulance, specialty ambulance, stretcher, hoist, topped by six weeks before her torn tissues healed.

So I trod with care down Mt Victoria today.

I think … about metaphors… about ageing.

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To audit one’s elderly eating habits: sensible or obsessive?

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(Edited excerpt from Boot Camp for the Bonus Years, November 2015.) In which I scrutinise my almost perfect diet for ways in which I should improve it, if any.

Auditing my eating habits was one of the official challenges of my Boot Camp for the Bonus Years. But truthfully, I couldn’t imagine why this one was on the list, because (as Smugilla said) my eating habits were superb.

According to any checklist of a healthy diet, I passed with flying colours. I was a walking talking role model of the ideal elderly eater.

For example, I ate masses of vegetables and fruit every day, not for scientific reasons but hedonistic ones. I cooked for myself from scratch every day. I drank enough water, I think. I took no supplements (or medication).

So stick my old face on a banner, said Smugilla. Erect a statue of perfectly nourished moi in Civic Square or outside Macdonald’s for all to worship.

Pretend I never said that

Let’s start again.

No, I haven’t audited my eating habits formally but I have been thinking about them. So have you, because we can’t avoid it. Almost daily we’re told about some new research with implications for our personal diet. Do eat salmon, don’t eat salmon. Do/don’t drink coffee. Do/don’t consume dairy products, red wine, gluten, black tea, bread, chocolate, pasta, potatoes, tuna, sauerkraut. Almost any food item may be cited as a magical cure for every disease known to mammals, or a lethal package of toxins, or an endangered species or all three.

Think think think about what you eat day after day, week after week? This is no fun, and anyway, you can’t win.

Maybe I tweaked my nutrition a tiny bit in that year of being old. Maybe I didn’t. Must I really give up chocolate brownie? Am I really supposed to have two alcohol-free days a week? Must I eat sardines twice a week?

Well, bugger that. Very very good is good enough.

Pleasure good. Evangelism bad.

People get religion over nutrition. They preach, they proselytise, they pooh pooh, and it’s not pretty. I hear myself doing this from time to time. ‘You should eat Brazil nuts for the selenium,’ I hear myself say—yep, I can turn into an evangelist at the drop of a hat, and yet what you eat is none of my business.

This realisation hit me with a wallop many years ago. On the one hand, my vegetarian friends used to pressure me to eat a horrible, coarse, prickly leafy vegetable called comfrey, for some daft egg-related reason. On the other hand, a dear friend’s son (living in a commune at the time) suddenly died of liver damage as a direct result of eating comfrey.

That’s probably why I have resisted auditing my own eating habits. Because then what?

You do your thing. I’ll do mine.

I eat what I love. I love what I eat.

That is healthy and positive and excellent advice for all and sundry.  I’m not about to dish up a plate of advice: if you eat the food you love and love the food you eat, then you might be eating very differently from me. Enjoyment is the key.

Thank you, Celia and David

I deserve no credit for my healthy diet: I just do pretty much what my parents did. Lifetime habits are hard to overcome, thank goodness. Just as my mother did, I cook every meal without fuss but with great speed and enthusiasm.

Speed is part of the fun. At lunch time I run down the stairs and on the second-to-bottom stair I decide what to eat. The menu depends on the contents of the fridge, the weather, the day’s plan, and a whim.  In the evening, I enact another old-fashioned habit. As Celia did, every day I make a main meal of meat-(or fish or eggs or cheese or tofu or lentils or some other protein)-and-3-veg.

Our Dad did his part, growing veggies, milking Daisy the cow, feeding the chooks. As kids we used to sing or say grace with every meal: we were formally, loudly, and quite musically thankful for our food. That’s healthy too. I don’t do that now but I do make embarrassing appreciative noises — whether over a simple mushroom omelette and salad, a lazy ploughman’s lunch, a tagine of chicken, olives and preserved lemons, a Japanese assemblage, a weird Bhutanese chilli-and-blue-cheese vegetable stew, a toasted sandwich—whatever.

A hierarchy of food habits

So there will be no audit of my eating habits. I’m not going to start a nitty-gritty food diary and I will continue to take the food-of-the-day with a grain of salt.

Instead I’ll just keep my priorities straight.

  • Food as fun.
  • Variation in colour, taste, and texture.
  • Joy in the making (or arranging) and eating and sharing.

Beyond that (granted that I’m a veggie-lover), the vitamins will look after themselves.

Disclaimer

If or when I get sick, I’ll be the first to use nutrition as a first line of defence and to take advice from experts.

Image: from “Larkin housewives’ cook book; good things to eat and how to prepare them” (1915) Larkin Co.

Lessons in ageing, from mother to daughter

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The New Dance Group: early modern dance in New Zealand 

“I was lucky. My mother taught me about growing old,” said my friend.

“That’s interesting,” I said, thinking about my friend’s mother, now deceased: a brilliant, determined woman with a clear vision, years ahead of her time in the causes she fronted. She introduced modern dance to New Zealand. She fought for peace and workers’ rights. She was part of a small group that alerted New Zealand to the very existence of our nation’s founding document, The Treaty of Waitangi, not to mention its content and significance. In other words, an extraordinary woman with seemingly infinite energy and strength.

Ageing must have come hard to such a dynamo!

“What do you mean, she taught you?”

“She would sit me down and make me listen: ‘This is what it’s like to grow old.’ I was young, I was sure it would be different for me, but she would insist that I listen.”

“So what did she teach you?” I asked, curious. Here’s what my friend replied.

  • “You learn what you can and can’t do.
  • “You can push yourself as far as possible, but that’s not necessarily the best thing. If you keep on pushing yourself past your limit, you end up annoying everyone.
  • “You have to slowly learn to give way and give up. It’s a loss, but if you don’t, you’re pissing everyone off, and also doing yourself no good.
  • “I became far more aware of my body, and of what I did and didn’t want to do. I’m old enough not to have to oblige. I just make a quick decision — otherwise I just mull and mull, and that is bad for you.”

Different teachers, different truths. I think this advice is valuable for me right now.

It’s so puzzling to notice your previous interests, energy, activities, and focus have begun to change of their own accord.  This wise woman took charge of those changes simply by acknowledging their reality, and choosing how to respond. Thus she maintained her dignity, self-respect and grace. I’d like to do this too.