Monthly Archives: August 2017

Choosing a book title

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I have decided to write a few posts about preparing my book Celebrating Grandmothers. First, why the title?

The purpose of a book title

Book titles are supposed to catch the reader’s eye. But they are also supposed to give that reader the flavour of the book and a sense of what is inside. The underlying messages of this book are rich and complex – and hard to communicate in a catchy title.

The working title (what you call a book during the writing process, before you have thought of a good title) was Being a Grandmother, but that sounds exceedingly boring. Out come all the clichés – old, grey, dull! And very static.

So, what to do? Leslie Stahl, who subsequently published a not dissimilar but very successful book, called her book Becoming Grandma. That, rather cleverly, communicates a sense movement.

Communicating enthusiasm

I wanted something positive – but not too much so. Most grandmothers light up when you ask them about their grandchildren – they genuinely sparkle. How to communicate that fact without going over the top? I thought the word ‘celebrating’ would provide a sense of enthusiasm.

But not all grandmothers are happy with their lot. I also had to manage the complexity of family situations. Some grandmothers live far away from their families and ache with longing for their grandchildren. Some have difficulty keeping in touch because of unhappy family relationships. I didn’t want these to feel excluded from the book, as they are very much a part of it as well.

Ambiguity

Finally, I liked the ambiguity of the title. Is ‘celebrating’ a verb or an adjective? Is it the act of celebrating grandmothers or is it about grandmothers who are celebrating something? In fact, no one has ever asked.

Are you a grandmother? Read and find out.

 

For more information or to buy:  http://amzn.to/2ugEZ8t

New review

A short but excellent new Amazon review of Celebrating Grandmothers, giving 5 stars:

“Ann Richardson’s approach is direct and deceptively simple. These verbatim extracts from interviews with women about the experience of being a grandmother are revealing, insightful, sometimes funny and often moving. Great stuff.”

 

For more information or to buy:  http://amzn.to/2ugEZ8t

 

Yoga – Waking up Your Body

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Have you ever thought of trying yoga? Perhaps your daughter does it, but you think you are too old. Perhaps you feel it requires you to look like the young and supple woman in this picture.

Think again. People of all shapes, sizes and ages can do yoga. It is not a matter of donning a leotard and aiming to look beautiful. No, it is a matter of using your body to gain improved strength and flexibility. And, just as important, feeling better.

And you will probably never be asked to do anything resembling this pose. Or, if you are really enthusiastic and practise frequently, who knows, you might move in that direction. But I have never gotten there.

Yoga and exercise

Years ago, when I thought I should be doing more exercise to keep fit, several friends suggested I try yoga. When I asked what happened there, I was told you went into odd poses and held them for awhile. This seemed a rather bizarre thing to do – and certainly appeared to have little to do with exercise. I did not pursue it at that time.

Well, how wrong could I be! Some yoga does involve a lot of movement and feels very much like an exercise class. The type I eventually went for is slow and purposeful, but my goodness, you do get your muscles exercised! You need to learn to separate being visibly active from being equally – but less visibly – so.

There is no question that yoga is a form of exercise. The strange postures are there for a purpose – to use all your muscles, both external and internal. You know that if you simply stretch your arms with all your might toward the ceiling, something inside begins to say ‘hello’. Yoga takes this many steps further by working your system all over.

The wider impact

The result is both subtle and profound. You will slowly begin to feel more supple (or ‘bendy’ as one friend put it). All sorts of day-to-day movements will become easier, which is both pleasing and practical. You may find your balance is better.

Indeed, you might well find yourself healthier, less prone to colds or other diseases, as your circulation improves. The yoga postures work on all your internal systems, so that they work better. And your breathing may be easier. Some say sleep improves.

But yoga is also much more than exercise. It puts you in touch with your own body – wakes it up and gives it a good shake – making you feel more in tune with its ways. You will rediscover the joys of actively using your body, rather than seeing it as something you carry around without thinking much about it.

Yoga has the effect of being both energising and relaxing at the same time. It requires so much concentration that you forget the things that are worrying you and feel much more refreshed as a result. The challenges it offers – little hills to climb one by one – create a sense of achievement, especially important as you age. You may even like yourself more as a result.

Getting started

We all know we should be doing more exercise of any kind, but it is definitely hard to get started. My husband found the best way to ensure he exercised was to put the ball, perhaps surprisingly, in my court. He now complains if I don’t nag him enough.

I started yoga because I had back problems. I had gone to an osteopath, whose ministrations would work for awhile, but then wear off after a week or two. She encouraged me to try yoga to get my body stronger, so that any changes she produced might last longer. The result was I got so much stronger, I didn’t need the osteopath anymore!

You may need a little push – or pull ­– of some kind. Talk to friends who do it and see if their enthusiasm gives you that added spur. And make it convenient. Having local classes can be a help. If not, there are some online courses – indeed, I know of one yoga programme that is specifically tailored for older people who have not done yoga before.

Go on, have a try. What do you have to lose?

 

Downsizing dilemma: Why getting rid of books is so tough

Finally, you have reached the age when you are beginning to think about downsizing. Perhaps you have familiarised yourself with all the practical and even emotional difficulties involved and have decided you are not quite ready to take the plunge.

Is there anything you can do in preparation for the eventual day?

Downsizing Dilemma: Culling Books

Few people reach their 60s without accumulating a lot of things they know they could throw or give away without great loss.

There are the clothes that don’t quite fit, but might do so if you lost those extra pounds that you are working on. There are the gifts that you never use, but have sentimental value because of the friends who gave them to you.

And then there are the books.

Books Take Room

If you like to read, you probably have books all over your house or apartment. Perhaps you sorted through them 10 years ago (or longer) because you had moved then or simply had a fit of eagerness to clean up.

In any case, there they are, in piles here and there – in the living room, by your bedside, in odd corners, including some in the bathroom.

Whatever cataloguing system once existed has probably long lost any cogency. When you are looking for a book you know you own, you get annoyed because it is nowhere to be found.

You have long thought that books don’t take any space, but you know you are kidding yourself. Indeed, for years, you proudly collected books to make your home feel properly lived in and loved. Each addition was like another brick to a house.

Perhaps it is time to cull.

Culling Can Be Painful

Deciding to get rid of books is harder than you might think. There are the books you always meant to read and are sure you will get to one day. There are those you started, but then stopped, and you like to think you will indeed finish them.

There are some you may be keeping for the children or for when you are sick and need something not too demanding. There are a lot of reasons to keep books.

And, if you are anything like me, it is a dusty job. You keep the house generally clean, but how often do you pull out the books one by one? So not only is it an emotionally difficult business to decide to give away books, but it is also a physically unpleasant one. Every reason not to do it.

But go for it, nonetheless.

How to Start Downsizing Your Book Collection

It is possible, of course, to simply go to any shelf and pull out books you don’t really want any more. I would urge you to do it more systematically.

If you have a lot of books, mentally divide them into categories – perhaps something simple like fiction versus non-fiction, but you might have more elaborate sub-categories.

Start with just one. Search your house for all novels, say, and put them in one place. Then, to feel productive, put them in alphabetical order (and remove any duplicates of books you bought a second time, because you forgot you had them in the first place!).

Then begins the difficult part. You know how old you are, and you know how many books you tend to read in a year. You can guess that however good your intentions, there are a set of books you will never re-read or read for the first time. Put them in a separate pile. Then look again and find some more.

Continue in the same vein with other categories. Depending on the size of your collection, this may take a few days. You should find yourself with a few cartons of books at the end of the process.

Dust the shelves, and put the books back in some organised system that pleases you. Offer the discarded books to friends, family, charity shops or even to passers-by. There, you have done it.

The Gains

Believe me, there are gains. In the first place, your rooms immediately look cleaner and tidier. With luck, there are no books piled on the floor, and you may even gain space for that knick-knack you were wondering where to put. Also, you know where your books are, next time you are looking.

Best of all, you will have found many books you didn’t have any memory of buying, but would really like to read – or re-read. My high school English teacher used to say, “If a book is worth reading once, it is worth reading twice.”

Put them on your bedside in an inviting pile. Take one out and pour yourself a glass of wine.

Time well spent.

This post was first published by Sixty and Me (http://sixtyandme.com/downsizing-dilemma-why-getting-rid-of-books-is-so-tough/) and should not be re-blogged

Are you ever curious about your ancestry?

There is something about finding ourselves in our 60s that makes our heads turn to the past, in general, and, more specifically, to our ancestry. I have no idea why this fascination comes so forcefully at this time.

Perhaps as we age, our perception of time changes. The decades before we were born seem less long ago. Our ancestors therefore seem more real and present.

Searching Your Family History Seriously

There are some people who take genealogy very seriously. They sign up to all sorts of websites and check records going well into the past. This is a great pastime.

Depending on the size of your family, it can keep you busy for months and even years. You will doubtless learn a lot of interesting things.

The Accidental Route

Some of us learn about our ancestry by somewhat more accidental – or, indeed, lazy – means. Perhaps someone else in your family is pursuing such information, so that you can benefit without all the work. It is worth asking older members of your extended family to see what they might have found.

In my case, it turned out that a surprising number of my forbearers were keen on memoir-writing. So, various documents have turned up within the family from different periods, even in different languages.

To add to the fun, these are not always consistent in their description of the same events. The truth, as any historian would confirm, is difficult to establish.

You have to wonder what you would like to find. Someone famous? A connection to royalty? A murderer? We are all different in our wishes and in the ways in which we would respond.

Odd Pieces of Information

My parents were highly respectable, so my ancestors might be expected to be respectable, too – and many of them were. The problem is that they are invariably the least interesting to read about.

I have nonetheless come upon some relatives of more doubtful qualities. One distant ancestor was an explorer in the South Seas in the late nineteenth century. He was evidently selling tobacco on the side.

When he came upon one group of islanders who didn’t know what to do with this product, he set up smoking classes, thereby securing a demand for his regular return.

I should not be proud of this ancestor, but I must admit that I admire his ingenuity. And he wasn’t to know about the link with cancer, after all.

Family Ups and Downs

A much closer relative (my great-grandfather) was involved as a young man in import-export dealings on the Mexican-US border. From family memoirs and other sources, it is clear that this was not genteel territory.

Evidently, there were some careful judgements about the declaration of silver at the border. As the proceeds of import taxes were said to end up in the pockets of those collecting them, the moral issue could be said to be unclear. In any case, he ended up a very rich man.

As history often shows, the money was completely lost by his son, my grandfather, in a series of ill-judged enterprises – to his permanent shame. He ended up as a door-to-door salesman in the 1920s and ’30s.

The Significance of It All

Once you have considered your ancestors, you wonder what to do with the information. Does it help you to understand yourself better? I am not so sure. But you do end up feeling like one link in an inexorable chain – and wonder even harder where your grandchildren and their descendants will take it.

When my son was a small child of just five or six, he heard about the concept of infinity. Like many children, he was fascinated by it. He also began to realise that there were generations within families, with some coming before, like his grandparents, and some after.

One morning, he put the two thoughts together. “You know, Mum,” he said, “the people coming before us were not infinity, but the people coming after us are infinity.” His English wasn’t up to the task of expressing his thought, but the thought itself was profound, indeed.

This post was first published by Sixty and Me (http://sixtyandme.com/are-you-curious-about-your-family-history-heres-how-to-start-researching/) and should not be re-blogged

Another lovely 5 star review

This is on Amazon.com (http://amzn.to/24y7A5f) and is very pleasing because it is from a different point of view:

“This was an especially poignant read for me, as my grandmother passed away earlier this year. Through most of my adult life, I only contacted her occasionally, and of course I now regret that. However, I was blessed to have lived with her as a child and shared that part of my life with her. I am also glad I shared some of my artistic successes with her – she was an artist herself, and I wanted to ensure she knew that I continued that tradition and talent.

With that in mind, I went into reading this book girded for heartache, tears, and joy. I was not disappointed. The breadth of quotations is astounding and on point. Every person should read this book, whether they knew their grandparents at all or not, are grandparents themselves or not. It will have you in cathartic tears.”

For more information or to buy, go to my Amazon page