May 31st, 2017
I’m Inspired By An Awesome Octogenarian
When I grow up, I want to be just like my friend Janet.
Janet is 84 years old, which I believe makes her officially grown up.
A few things you should know about Janet: She has more energy than anyone I know. She is more generous with her time than anyone I know. She holds more world records (in swimming) than anyone I know. (Besides her, I know zero). Janet laughs with more gusto – and volume – than anyone I know, too.
My friend Janet is a retired systems engineer and IT specialist who spent most of her career as the only woman in male-dominated industry (she can personally relate to the gender discrimination experienced by the female NASA experts in Hidden Figures). She’s an essential member of our annual Thanksgiving gathering who loves turkey drumsticks and cutthroat games of Pictionary (I have evidence that drawing is one of the few things Janet doesn’t uh, excel at). When I called her to chat the other day, I caught Janet in the middle of a pedicure.
“I’ve got a swim meet next weekend,” she told me. “I get so embarrassed when I show up with polish on three toes on one foot and two on the other.” She laughed, loudly, and I thought, I’ll bet it takes a lot more than chipped nail polish to embarrass this gal.
Let’s be clear: Janet’s upcoming “swim meet” is actually the Senior Olympic Games. She competes in the breaststroke and long distance events including the mile. “I’ve got a strategy,” Janet tells me, trying to stifle a giggle during the ticklish part of the pedicure. “I pick the less popular strokes because I’m swimming against babies. Babies!” Translation: Janet currently competes at the top of 80-84-year-old bracket, so the “babies” might be 83 or 84. In the fall, when she turns 85, she’ll be the youngster in the lane, surrounded by 85-89-year-olds. She can’t wait.
(By the way, when Janet was 80, her relay team set a new world record, which still stands today. “And I didn’t even know I was competitive!”)
Janet will be on land, not under water, for her birthday this year, since she’ll be in the middle of an action-packed trip to Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Estonia and St. Petersburg. The overseas adventure means taking a short break from some of her many commitments at home. The residents at a local retirement community, for example, will miss their regular visits with Janet and her Miniature Pinscher, Rosie. Janet trained Rosie (like Freddy before her) to be a therapy dog. “Rosie sits on people’s lap and everyone gives her a treat. It doesn’t take much for the residents to get excited,” she says. (Forgive me for stating the obvious here: Janet is older – in some cases, significantly so – than some of the elderly folks she and Rosie entertain each week.)
Janet also hangs out with members of a very different age group. A trained docent at the Botanical Gardens (and, formerly, at the Academy of Sciences), she leads groups of students, from kindergartners to 5th graders, on guided tours through the gardens talking about flowers, pollination, native plants and more. “I can’t keep the names of all the plants straight,” Janet confesses, “but I love being out in nature with the kids and seeing worms and squirrels. It’s so much fun.”
When she’s ready to relax, Janet curls up on the couch with Rosie and knits. Perhaps you’re picturing a hat for a toddler or maybe a pretty scarf for a friend. Think again. Janet knits spectacular jackets, coats and sweaters that would take most of us forever to create. The pussycat hats I’m proud to make at a rate of one every two weeks? Janet could crank one out in two hours flat. Her latest creation is a full-size blanket for a friend’s daughter to take to college.
When she knits, Janet usually watches the news. She tells me the abuse of power that’s happening scares and saddens her. (“I get into bed at night feeling very depressed,” she admits.) I get the feeling wielding two semi-sharp needles as she catches up on the day’s events is more than a little therapeutic.
Janet’s pedicure is nearly dry. Before she leaves to take Rosie to the dog park, I ask if she has a motto or a mantra to share. “I guess my motto is to just get up and go each morning,” she says without hesitation. “You know, I don’t have a lot of money to give, but I have the energy and the time to donate to welfare of others. I feel blessed. A lot of my friends are falling apart, but when I look in the mirror, I don’t see an old lady. Sure, I’ve got a few aches and pains, but if I want to go somewhere or try something new, I don’t let anything get in my way.”
She sure doesn’t. Which is just one of many reasons I hope that one day, I’ll grow up and be just like Janet.
Eat Clean Vinaigrette
A few years ago, I did something I’ve never done before: I watched what I ate. I dedicated two weeks to eating “clean,” which included cutting out dairy, sugar, gluten, soy, alcohol and a variety of other things. (One of the lasting results of that dietary experiment was my now-daily breakfast smoothie).
My inspiration for this food challenge was my friend Eris Cushner. Eris is a certified nutrition consultant and cofounder of Eat Clean Marin, which offers personalized nutrition and lifestyle programs to help clients “reset” their relationship with food. Eris believes in the power of nutrient-dense whole foods for bolstering total wellness. Her commitment to, and passion for, healthful eating was tested a few years back when her then-six-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer (said daughter is now an awesome 8th grader).
You can find out more about Eris’ nutrition services here. In the meantime, check out her recipe for a homemade salad dressing packed with immune-boosting, digestion-friendly properties. In Eris’ family, it’s a go-to favorite.
Eat Clean Vinaigrette
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove of garlic
1 tablespoon raw honey
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a glass Mason jar, then seal the lid and shake until the honey dissolves and the ingredients are well combined. Adjust flavor to taste, if necessary. For best flavor, allow the dressing to marinate for at least 30 minutes before serving over your favorite greens. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week and shake well before serving each time. Option: Blend the dressing to make it more creamy.
Tip: Take dressing out of fridge 1/2 hour before serving or place jar in a bowl of warm water as ingredients tend to congeal when refrigerated. Shake before using.
Chemistry by Weike Wang
I’ve been on a frustrating reading jag lately, starting and abandoning at least six books in a row. Not to say any of them are “bad.” It’s just that none has been what I’ve been in the mood to read. Just as I was about to turn to a tried-and-true favorite – maybe a little Jane Austen, some Steinbeck or just about anything by Anne Patchett – I picked up Chemistry by Weike Wang. I liked it. In fact, I liked it so much I raced through it in a weekend. I enjoyed spending a few hours with an emotionally complex protagonist with a wry, dry sense of humor, a deep knowledge of science – and a rather silly dog.
Chemistry follows an unnamed Asian narrator, a young woman slogging miserably through her Ph.D. in chemistry. Although her traditional Chinese parents are putting intense pressure on her to finish her degree and therefore “succeed,” the narrator struggles in the lab. In fact, her issues are less about chemistry experiments and much more about a burgeoning existential crisis. Sure, the narrator is questioning her desire and ability to meet academic expectations. More complicated, however, is her utter confusion and conflict in the face of a marriage proposal by a man who is, at least in theory, her perfect match. To figure out what she thinks, feels and truly believes, the narrator quits both her life in the lab and her life with her lover. Tossing aside scientific theorems, the narrator begins a painful search for honest insight and understanding about her childhood, her parents and her own values as an adult. Fundamentally, this quest is a journey to replace hypotheses and conjecture with facts that are unquestionably true to the narrator herself.
A quick, unrelated aside: Bay Area peeps, this weekend is the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley. The two-day program features interviews, presentations, panel discussions and readings by 200 authors on topics ranging from how to publish your first book and the intersection of writing and activism to diversity in children’s literature and a showcase of emerging writers. All details here.