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Category Archive: Aging

May 30

Decoration Day conjures up thoughts of Flanders fields and poppies .

(From my archived columns, first published on June 3, 2006, in The Examiner. The Examiner is a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)

poppy-field-wet-150x150

“Decoration Day” was what we Baby Boomers called Memorial Day when we were growing up, and it was always observed on May 30.

It is very likely that anyone born since 1971 would not know the term “Decoration Day” because Congress changed that when it created the National Holiday Act of 1971.

The three-day holiday weekends, Memorial Day and Labor Day, were born with the Act.  It made good sense for employers, gave folks two three-day national holidays per year, and created an opportunity for family time, travel, and entertainment.

However, one of the these holidays, Memorial Day, seems to have lost some of its meaning in the process.

Now, Memorial Day is more likely associated with the official beginning of summer travel, baseball games, barbecues, and trips to the lake.

And do we not love Memorial Day weekend for all those reasons!

I surely do.

Originally, however, Decoration Day was none of those things, and I can only hope its true meaning is not lost on future generations.

Decoration Day was a time to remember those who died in our nation’s service. Eventually, the holiday grew to be a time to honor all our dead as well.

In that simpler time when there was no urgent need for travel, entertainment or three-day weekends, we set out to decorate the graves of our departed relatives, honored fallen soldiers, and paid tribute to our ancestors on the same day every year, May 30.

Bouquets of iris, poppies, peonies and spirea were lovingly gathered and arranged early in the morning before we set out to visit the cemeteries.

There was no rush to discount stores to buy plastic flowers or sprays for the tombstones then. Instead, we simply went into our back yards and picked our own flowers, arranged them in coffee cans wrapped with foil, and carried them carefully in the car as we drove to the cemeteries. Usually, we visited two or three cemeteries because one would not want to neglect the departed great-grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Nevertheless, the overriding emphasis of Decoration Day was on soldiers lost in battle.

Local VFW and American Legion posts and their auxiliaries offered special programs on each May 30 to remember the servicemen who died for their country.

Churches had memorial services, and school children colored mimeographed pictures of the American flag in a special effort to remember those lost in war.

We sang “God Bless America” with never an inkling of the need for political correctness.

The National Anthem was sung at Decoration Day services, the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and no one objected.

May 30 was a reverent day that made us reflect and appreciate those who had gone before us and who had died in our service.

No one explained this better than Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian veteran of World War I, who wrote a poem in 1915 entitled “In Flanders Fields.”  His famous poem describes the bright red flowers that bloomed between the rows of white crosses that marked the graves of the war dead in Belgium. Those bright red flowers, poppies, were soon known throughout the Allied world as the “flower of the fallen”, sometimes, “the flower of remembrance”.

Colonel McCrae’s poem had a deep affect on a young French woman named Anna Guerin. She created the idea of selling artificial poppies to help orphans and others left behind in the aftermath of World War I.

By 1920, the VFW had started selling its own “Buddy Poppy”, a paper lapel flower, to celebrate the fallen and help disabled veterans.

Although I have no live poppies in my yard to gather for the graves of loved ones anymore, I will never forget the reverent and simple pleasure of picking them on Decoration Days gone by.

And no words convey the meaning of the symbolic blood-red poppy better than the Colonel’s noted poem.

Lest we forget to honor those who died for their country, here is that memorable poem of 1915 to keep the meaning of “Decoration Day” fresh in our hearts and minds.

In Flanders Fields

By Colonel John McCrae

            “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row, that marks our place; and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago. We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved, and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe; to you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders field.”

Jan 06

Living to be 100 and moving to a ‘Blue Zone’

Blue_Zones-mapPhoto Credit: www.transforminghealth.org

 From my archived columns, first published in The Examiner on January 21, 2010. The Examiner is a daily newspaper, Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.

 

“The best age is the age you are.” –Maggie Kuhn, founder of The Gray Panthers

Two friends emailed me recently on the same day with the same message, “Do you want to live to be a 100 or look and feel younger at every age?”

“OK, sure,” I thought suspiciously, “but why are you asking? Do I need to look younger?” I don’t think I want to know the answer to my own question.

“Take twenty minutes of your time and watch this video about Blue Zones,” they each continued in lock step.

Since they are friends and they were asking, I decided to check out the website and Google search Blue Zones, wondering where or what in the world they were.

I soon learned that “where in the world” was the key point. Blue Zones are indeed geographic locations; places where climate and lifestyle can help you live to be a centenarian.

If I recall my geography studies from high school correctly and that is a reach, there are temperate zones, frigid zones and torrid zones in the world. But what are Blue Zones? I am sorry to admit that I never heard of them.

I know of Red Zones, Green Zones, Orange Zones, and Purple, but not Blue.

Red Zones are easy–the area between the 20-yard line and the goal line in football. If you are on defense, better keep your opponent out of the Red Zone!

The Green Zone was in the news for years—the international area protected by coalition forces inside the City of Baghdad.

Then, there is the Orange Zone. It has something to do with making calls abroad with one’s mobile phone, but don’t hold me to that. I suspect fans of Tennessee football would not agree with this definition since they have a completely different meaning for the term Orange Zone.

The Purple Zone was a funky 2006 comedy that few people watched, and it is also refers to a football program at a small university in Texas, a newsletter, a store, a blog and who knows what else.

But, back to Blue Zones.

People who live in these zones live longer and are reportedly happier and healthier than the rest of us. They do not get sick often and can function for many years without dementia or pain.

Here are the five (and there are only five) such spots that scientists believe offer health utopia: Sardinia, Italy; Islands of Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, CA; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece.

If I have to choose one of these Blue Zones, as my two email friends recommended, then I pick Sardinia, Italy, which sounds heavenly.

However, that was just until I learned that Sardinia’s 100-year longevity principal only applies to males who live alone in mountain villages and eat goat cheese.

The other four locations weren’t much different except for perhaps Loma Linda, and I have no idea why it is on the list. Loma Linda, CA file photo

File Photo of Loma Linda, CA

 

My friends asked if I was ready to move to one of these Blue Zones because they were ready to relocate.

“No, absolutely not,” I said remembering what Abraham Lincoln once said on the subject–“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

But I might visit Loma Linda.

Jan 06

January thoughts: comfort food is more than just food.

Old Fashioned Mac 'n' Cheese

 From my archived columns, first published in The Examiner on January 1, 2009. The Examiner is a daily newspaper, Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.

 

Food is the most primitive form of comfort. –Sheila Graham, columnist and author

Last January, I wrote my column about comfort food. This January, comfort food is all I am thinking about once again. I remember foods my mother and grandmother made, and that is reason enough to want them.

Cookbook author Molly Wizenberg explains, better than I, why we want comfort foods from our past.

“When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else; who we are, who we have been and who we want to be (From “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, 2009”).

I am not the only one thinking about comfort food. Just this week in fact, some friends invited us to a “comfort food dinner”, and we jumped at the chance. What a great idea, I thought. It is miserably cold outside, the skies are gray, and we are moping around the house with S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder—lack of sunshine). What could be better than comfort food to make us feel better.

Our hosts served a dinner menu that turned out to be exactly what I used to eat when I was a child. Food from the 50s and 60s, and I was in heaven or at the very least in time warp. Our hosts said that they think food is not about impressing people but more about making them feel comfortable, and that is exactly what happened.

Their menu from the past:
Old-fashioned pork roast, just like my grandma’s. Baked apples served on the side, cooked with cinnamon and Red Hots candy, just like they served decades ago at my elementary school cafeteria. Baked macaroni and cheese, all crusty on the top and sides that tasted exactly like my aunt’s. Warm cherry pie with the crumbly top, same as Mom used to make.

What can one do after a meal like that but sit down in an easy chair and sigh.

And dream about walking home from school on Monday (bread baking day) and smelling the waft of my grandmother’s baked bread and cinnamon rolls from as far away as the street corner. I long for my mom’s hot tapioca pudding whipped fluffy with egg whites that she made for Sunday dinner, and my dad’s unique cornbread-sausage stuffing recipe he made on Thanksgiving Day.

“Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort,” said Norman Kolpas, cookbook author and editor.

In a harsh winter and in an unsure world, comfort me with food any old day.

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