Escapism

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Marathon

From time immemorial humans have turned to adventure, music, stories, and art for a break from their daily lives. Whether your day-to-day is a whirlwind of activity or unbelievably routine, blissfully happy or terribly sad, I guarantee you need a break. And we all deserve a respite from the drumbeat of bad news, fear, and anxiety that is so prevalent today.

Unfortunately, in the time of a pandemic, it is hard to change your physical surroundings. Travel of any sort is challenging at best. Camping is one of the safest options (your own car, your own gear, your own cooking). But it isn’t for everyone. As much as I love nature, the prospect packing all that gear – let alone sleeping on the ground with bugs - just gives me the heebee jeebies.

However, if we can’t go on vacation to change our physical surroundings, we can still give our emotional and mental selves a break from reality. Call it vacation or call it escapism, it’s all about finding that happy place when we need it.

I’ve loosely sorted the escapism options into three categories:

  • Active. Walking, swimming, dancing and all manner of physical activity that we do for the fun of it, not because it’s work-related, physical therapy, or is a chore.
  • Reactive. My loose definition is anything you can enjoy without participating in its creation. This includes watching movies, reading books, listening to music, looking at art, following sports teams.
  • Interactive. A combination of the first two. It takes physical and mental activity to write a book, paint a picture, craft a model airplane, cook an elaborate meal, even dress up for a costume party. And after you have engaged in the creation process, you can enjoy what you have created. Or give it to someone else and spread the joy.

I recommend mixing and matching activities from all three categories as the best way to go. I love to dance (active), I’ve been a fan of movies and books my whole life (reactive), and among my hobbies are cooking, photography, and writing (interactive). I’m not sure what category collecting, sorting, polishing, and wearing jewelry falls into, but that’s another happy place for me.

Think about what you do, and what you’d like to do, and do it! Do what gives you peace, what gives you energy, and what makes you happy.

Whether it is watching a James Bond movie, martini in hand (shaken, not stirred, thank you!), sweating up a storm running a 5K, or crocheting endless baby blankets, go for it! Escape! When your respite is over and you face the “real” world again, you may find yourself a little better able to get through the day with confidence and hope.

BBB Scam Alert: Don’t Pick Up for Fake Medicare Calls

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by International Association of Better Business Bureaus

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BBB Scam Tracker has received thousands of reports about scam calls claiming to be from Medicare representatives. Protect yourself and your loved ones from this unfortunately common scam by understanding what to watch out for.

How the Scam Works

All these scams start with a call that appears on your caller ID as Medicare or Social Security Administration, but they have many variationss. Regardless of the method, the scammer’s goal is to steal your personal information for their personal benefit. Some of the most popular versions reported to BBB Scam Tracker are below:  

Bottom’s Up!

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Marathon

Are you drinking enough? It’s a well know fact that most people don’t drink as much as they should – of water. Did you know that it is recommended that for each pound of your weight you should drink 1/2 to 1 ounce of water each day? Yikes! If you weigh 120 lbs, you should be drinking 10 twelve-ounce glasses (or 12 ten-ounce glasses, take your pick) of water every day. The fitness-minded of you are nodding right now. Of course you drink that much, you take hydration seriously! However, most of the rest of us need to be persuaded. Here are some tips:

Flavor your water. Add a bit of excitement to one of your ten daily glasses. I enjoy the taste of lemon, so I freeze fresh lemon juice in small ice cube trays , and Voila! Ice, vitamin C, and flavor all in one little cube you pop into your glass of water or iced tea.

You can also get fancy. Just keep a carafe of water in the fridge, and experiment with adding cucumber slices, orange wedges, cinnamon sticks, various herbs such as rosemary, thyme, or lemon balm. Many lovely restaurants serve their table water this way, so you can pretend you’re at a favorite eatery.

Or go for the bubbly stuff; Perrier for example (that’s Perrier sparking water, not Perrier Jouet Champagne; which is celebratory but won’t help hydrate you). Yes, you can drink Perrier straight out of the can or bottle, but where’s the fun in that? Be creative! Tall crystal goblets, vintage juice glasses, your favorite plastic take-to-the-beach cup, that special souvenir Luke Skywalker mug you got when you first saw Star Wars in 1977. It all adds to the drinking pleasure.

And remember that plain sparkling water loves dressing up. Orange, apple, and even prune juice added to the glass is a healthy option to soda and still gives you carbonation when you crave it. But full disclosure – you will need to find another source for caffeine if you relied on Diet Coke to wake you up in the morning.

Another flavor option I use was born out of my love of neat little bottles and artisan products: bitters. Bitters are basically alcohol, sugar, and botanicals (fruit, herbs, spices) distilled down into strong essence. Just a few drops adds real flavor and is a fantastic addition to your boring glass of water, sparkling or still. The old standby, Angostura Bitters, has been touted as a digestive aid, as well as being ubiquitous in cocktails (“add a dash of bitters”). With the fairly recent cocktail renaissance, artisan bitters became more widely available. Yes, they are expensive, but as they are only used a few drops at a time, a small bottle will last for ages. There are bitters for every taste and mood: cucumber, cherry, honey and hyssop, citrus, and even chocolate.

Go for it! Start drinking!

It’s A Marathon

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Marathon

Remember when we all thought we’d be done with this by the end of April? Sure, I thought, I can hold my breath that long. I can make do with the equivalent of duct tape and twist-ties to get through a month or so of working from home and not going anywhere. Heck, it will be fun to write a blog for a few weeks; maybe I’ll even continue doing it when we’re back to normal in May. Seems a quaint thought now.

When the one month of sheltering at home became two months, I realized that I needed to give in and learn how to use Zoom. When two months became three months, I realized I needed a decent chair at my desk if I was going to be sitting at it 8 hours a day. Now that three months have come and gone and we’re about to end month four, I realize it isn’t just my work-at-home life that needs adjusting; I need to re-set my whole outlook (and I don’t mean the email app). In sports terms, this isn’t the sprint we thought it was, it’s a marathon.

I’m not a runner myself, but I know that the training and mindset of a sprinter preparing to run 50 meters in seven seconds is different from that of a marathoner who strategizes how to keep up energy, focus, and optimism over 26 miles and several hours.

So, how does a person keep up their spirit and be healthy over the long haul? I looked up “endurance sports” on Google and this is what came up, “The main limiting factor in endurance sport is fatigue.” I think that pretty much sums up Coronavirus Life. Fatigue is a huge part of what limits me, limits all of us. Not so much physical fatigue, but mental and emotional fatigue.

Which is why I decided I needed a re-boot. Being depressed over what I can’t do and can’t have has never been useful; dwelling on it now (when everything seems off-limits) is downright harmful. Time to focus on new projects and hobbies, new ways of experiencing things. If I can’t dance ballroom because I can’t get within 6 ft of a partner, maybe it’s time to try tap dancing. Am I getting fat from starch and dairy in the comfort food I’m preparing every day? How about exploring Vegetarian or Vegan cooking for a month; not as a diet, but as an opportunity?

I’m not going to pretend that an attitude change is a cure-all, or even that it is completely possible. I know I’ll still have bouts of hopelessness (don’t we all?!). However, changing my outlook just a little bit may give me that needed boost to get me through the next many months with some feeling of accomplishment and even joy. And I bet I find something (like writing a weekly blog) that I’ll carry with me into the post-COVID future, whenever it may come.

It’s A Zoom World

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Zoom

How many of you participated in a Zoom event before March 16, 2020? Come on, raise your virtual hands! What, no one? Oh, there’s one!

I was vaguely aware of Zoom before the pandemic isolation forced it front and center. After all, most of my jobs and my hobbies are (were?!) all about bringing people together for a shared in-person experience: travel, theatre, walking tours, dancing, and now hosting parties and lectures. Why would I bother with a virtual event, when I have so many actual things to do all around me?

Today, in the strange way the world works, I find myself now participating in seven or eight Zoom events each week. There are classes, parties, meetings, and socials; sometimes one right after the other, sometimes all at the same time. On a recent Sunday, I was invited to a 4:00pm party, a 4:30pm rehearsal of a PSC program, and a 5:00pm lecture (I managed to do two out of three).

And now I’m tasked as Events Director with creating and hosting these things. Me, a techno-phobe! I was forced to face the truth; that it will likely be a very long time before it will be safe to hold live, in-person-at-the-Senior-Center dance parties, luncheons, concerts or lectures. I had no choice but to buck up and tackle Zoom. After all, the show (and the parties) must go on!

Zoom is not a replacement for in-person events. It isn’t really even a substitute since an online experience is so different from one face-to-face. However, it’s one of the few ways left for organizations to connect with their communities, and for friends to connect with each other. What did they do during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic without Zoom?! Eek!

Zoom is now almost unavoidable for anyone with internet access. For those of you who have resisted the lure of technology, and have not yet plunged into the Zoom ocean, the water is fine – come on in! Join an online class or lecture. Or join my weekly Social Hour (shameless plug: Social Hour is Tuesdays at 10:30am, sign up at https://www.pasadenaseniorcenter.org/social-hour). And for all its drawbacks, there is one overriding reason to do Zoom: we can. Not only do you get to see your friends and enjoy your interests, you don’t have to drive to get there!

Now for a few quick tips about Zoom. Remember these few things: 1) People can see you (or they can if you have your video enabled). Dress for the event – or at least comb your hair. 2) People WANT to see you. Position yourself with lamps and windows in front of you, not behind you. That way we’ll see your face, not just a shadowed blob. 3) People can hear you. Know how to Mute your microphone! Not only is background noise distracting for others but remember that open mikes pick up comments you might not have wanted to make public (ask any politician).

Are you ready? On your mark, get set, Zoom!

In Defense of Banana Bread

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

My Dad

It’s the new definition of “stir crazy.” According to a bunch of newspaper articles (and my own experience at the supermarket), when the safer-at-home order was announced months ago, quarantined people everywhere grabbed their wooden spoons and began to stir up cookies, cakes, and breads like crazy. In those first few weeks of panic buying back in March and April, the shelves at my local market was consistently out of three things: toilet paper, sanitizing wipes, and…flour.

I readily admit I am one of those people who turned to the kitchen for entertainment when my other hobbies were squashed by the coronavirus. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking (especially baking), and not being able to leave my house gave me a chance to delve into recipe books I haven’t looked at for ages. But I’m not a dedicated chef: I like my recipes short, simple, and with common ingredients I regularly have on hand. In other words: Banana Bread.

First of all, what else are you going to do with those too-soft-to-eat-but-too-good-to-throw-away bananas? Unless you puree them into a smoothie, the choice is pretty limited. That spotted, over-ripe, fruit is begging to be made into a bread or a cake.

Secondly, it’s easy. It needs only a few common ingredients and can take just minutes to mix up. It is delicious in its most basic, bananas-only form. And yet there is a world of possibilities in a loaf of Banana Bread. Bake it in a round pan and you have cake. Use a loaf pan and you have bread. Use muffin tins and it cooks in half the time. Add spices, flavoring, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, even strawberry jam for a creative touch.

Now multiply those variations times the gazillion recipes out there. I did a brief survey of my small collection of cookbooks and found at least eighteen distinct and different recipes for Banana Bread. If I make one a week, it’ll be November before I‘d run through all the recipes immediately on hand.

To make use of this week’s half-dead bananas, I turned to a pamphlet published by the Fruit Dispatch Company of New York, circa 1960, entitled “Serve Bananas in Latest Style.” The cover features a dancing banana with big eyes and eyelashes, surrounded by confetti, waving a handkerchief. I had found it years ago tucked inside a first edition (1960) of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook that I rescued from the curb when a neighbor was throwing away books.

The only recipe I’d ever made from this pamphlet was ‘Ham Banana Rolls in Cheese Sauce’ (but that’s a story for another day). I can now say that the Banana Tea Bread recipe, with the suggested variation of adding nuts and dates, is a mid-century classic. No spices, no flavoring (not even vanilla), and completely delightful. An old-fashioned, delicate loaf; biting into it conjures up perfectly coiffed ladies in hats and pearls socializing after a bridge game. A charming taste of the past as I bake my way into the future, solace in these tough times.

Keep Going

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

My Dad

Walking in my neighborhood back in April – remember April? – I went past a children’s game chalked on the sidewalk. It was a race course, or maybe just a running game, that went around the block. Various directions told participants the rules of the game along the way: “Run,” “Skip”, “Walk,” “Keep Going.”

I found “Keep Going,” a particularly apt instruction during the pandemic isolation, so I took a photo of it. And that was April 3, when we naively thought we might get back to normal by the end of the month, or at least by the middle of May.

Now that June is here (and will be gone sooner than we think), the sentiment of “Keep Going” takes on even more importance. I know for myself it becomes harder and harder to get motivated to do anything, since each day just melts into the one before, with no discernable difference.

I’ve found myself struggling with the monotony of sitting at my home office desk for eight hours: Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, sending emails, watching content online. No matter how interesting, informative, and useful it is, I am still just sitting at my desk, using only my eyes (and maybe my hands for typing). No wonder I get cranky and demoralized. Then I remember what some child scrawled on the sidewalk back in April: “Keep Going!”

I remind myself to get up and away from the computer. I make a lot of phone calls during the day for work. With the technology of cell phones and ear pieces, I can make that phone call out in the sunshine, walking around the block. When I am sitting at my computer, I often play the jazz station, and when a danceable tune comes on (which is VERY frequently!) I get up and do a few steps of a cha cha or foxtrot. I look forward to the Senior Center’s online BollyX class on Friday afternoons, where we all get to exercise by dancing to Bollywood music.

But most of all, I “Keep Going” by intentionally breaking my routine and not letting the monotony take over. This can sometimes feel not only impossible, but pointless when you are still stuck at home. But give yourself that kick in the pants and “Keep Going.” Challenge yourself to do something different every day (ok, how about 3 times a week?). Cook something you’ve never cooked before (Kohlrabi soup is very tasty). Take your walk at a different time of the day than usual. If you usually watch television at night, read a book instead (or vice-versa). Tired of talking on the phone or on Zoom? Write a postcard to a friend. If you’re like me, you have a drawer full of postcards collected on travels and never sent. Now is the time to get them in the mail! Here’s my promise – if you send a postcard to me at the Senior Center and include your address, I’ll send you one back! It’s a great way to “Keep Going.”

My Dad

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

This coming Sunday, June 21, is Father’s Day, so it seems only fitting that I dedicate today’s blog post to my Dad, Tom. Thomas Southard Laskey, Jr. was born on January 6, 1928, which puts him in his 93rd year. And, boy, is he irritated at COVID19.

Up until March 16, he was out most days and many nights, singing with a Barbershop Harmony chorus and his church choir, taking acting and theatre appreciation classes, going to movies and theater, eating out, attending parties, and still finding time for a bit of travel. None of that now! But he gamely tries to make the best of it, doing classes and socializing on Zoom, practicing his singing, staying active with daily walks around the neighborhood, and watching lots of movies.

Dad and I have been amicable housemates for decades. Before we were all quarantined at home, I really didn’t see him that often, even though we lived in the same house. I was at work all day, he was out at his singing or theatre activities most evenings. We’d practically have to make appointments to have a meal together. Now, we are together all the time and have to work out ways to NOT see each other! I have a desk in my room where I work on my laptop, and he has the front room where the PC is set up, along with an armchair by the window for reading. I take long walks; he goes out to the backyard and sits in the sun. On Saturdays, I go to the Senior Center to work in my office with no one else around, giving us a whole day apart!

We do, however, still make appointments for meals. Monday through Friday, I stop work about 5pm and fix dinner (Dad’s job is to set the table). Then we “dress for dinner.” Dad puts on a dress shirt and tie, I pick out my best jewelry and nice shoes, and then we take a selfie. The weekends are a little different. Since I’m in Pasadena most Saturdays, we don’t have dinner together, but we do take a photo. Sunday is always a fancy champagne brunch.

Dressing for Dinner gives punctuation to the day: one more COVID day successfully navigated! We talk over dinner about what we did (or didn’t do) during the day. Talk about what we will do (or won’t do) the next day. Champagne on Sundays means yet another week has passed (yep, it also means a bottle of champagne a week, but it’s all in the name of sanity)!

This surreal time has brought much tragedy, chaos, and anger. But although COVID19 has locked us down and put the activities we love on hiatus, it is precisely because of the pandemic that I now have 85 (and counting!) photos of my dad and I that would never have been taken under “normal” circumstances. Every day, another photo. Dressed up, smiling, and toasting the past, present, and future.

Smiling

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Song Books

We’ve been told to wear masks in public for quite a while now. However, working from home, I don’t leave the house very often, and live in a quiet neighborhood where I can walk for an hour and not pass anyone by very closely. I got used to wearing my mask down around my chin and would only pull it up when I saw someone heading towards me. I walk a lot in my neighborhood, often two or three times a day. It’s my main exercise to vainly try to avoid the weight gain from all those extra loaves of banana bread I’m baking.  As someone cleverly remarked, that’s where COVID19 got its name – from the 19 extra pounds we’ve each put on from staying at home and eating our way through the lockdown.

Back to masks. With stay-at-home restrictions eased a little bit, people are out and about more. When I go walking in the neighborhood now, I’m far more likely to encounter other walkers; so on goes the mask. The discomfort of covering my nose and mouth is balanced by how nice it is to see other human beings. “Hello,” “How are you?” “Nice Day,” are some of the pleasantries we exchange, accompanied by a smile.  The smile is an instinct, so much a part of the act of greeting we hardly even know we do it. That is, until you realize you’ve got a mask on and the other person can’t see your smile.

The other day I was out walking and came to an intersection at the same time as a car.  The driver stopped and waved for me to proceed, and I waved and smiled in thanks as I crossed. A totally ordinary, everyday experience. But it was then that I realized - really, really, realized - how wearing a mask obscures your face.  The driver couldn’t see me smile!  There was something strangely disconcerting about that, silly as it may sound. Yet another human response changed by the pandemic.

But has it changed? With my mask pulled up and my hat pulled down, my face is totally obscured. But just because my smile can’t be seen, doesn’t mean I’ll stop smiling.  I smile when I’m alone.  I’m smiling now as I write this, and it doesn’t matter that no one can see me. Just like the old saying about the tree falling in the forest… 

There were jokes making the circuit early on in the pandemic about a returning to bowing and curtsying to replace hugs and handshakes as common greeting practice.  Curtsying may be a bit too 18th century for most people but bowing is still important in many cultures and does remain a nice acknowledgement. Maybe not a deep, sweeping gesture like in a Shakespearean play, but an inclination of the head with a small bow. A way of expressing greetings and respect that can be seen despite face coverings.  Accompanied, of course, by that hidden smile.

Looking at the Sky

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Song BooksFor ten weeks, it’s been a delightful challenge to think of topics for my weekly blog. I look for inspiration in the odd trials and small joys found during social isolation and the upheaval of my life as I knew it. I find ideas through an offhand remark or a story I read in the paper or something I see on my daily walk. Week to week I pick a subject, sometimes right at deadline.

But this week? How do I pick a lighthearted topic when our region has exploded with anger and rage and violence? When the noise of sirens is a constant in the background as I write? When the fragile hope of some return to normalcy with reopening of businesses has been destroyed by looting and vandalism? Is now the time to write about flowers and music and books and friends?

It’s Monday night, already past deadline to turn in my blog. As I stand in the kitchen, doing the dishes, I’m still puzzling this out. What to say, what to write? Impossible to address these extraordinary days, but impossible to ignore them. I hope that by the time this is posted, the city won’t be burning and the sirens will have stopped, and the healing will start in earnest. But that takes a long time. Coronavirus won’t go away by Thursday, nor will broken buildings and people heal overnight. By nature, I’m a hopeful and happy person, and like to look on the bright side of things. Heck, I throw parties for a living. But it is hard to find a bright side in this very dark moment.

I opened the back door to let some cool air into the kitchen. There was an odd light in the sky, glowing on the horizon. Swirling grey clouds had darkened the sky to make it appear like night had already fallen, but the sun found a way through and lit up some of the clouds fiery red and gold while others remained gray and stormy. I went out to the street to stare at the sky, mesmerized by the tumult and chaos and absolute beauty of the sight. I was all alone. No cars. Everyone inside due to the curfew. Just me, alone with the sky that seemed to mirror all the anguish and emotions of the moment. The sky burned brighter and brighter, gorgeous with color, then faded into night.

I remember a handful of spectacular sunsets through my life: rowing to shore from a sailboat at Half Moon Bay in 1978, watching the sun set over the Nile when I visited Egypt in 2006, catching the perfect summer sunset from the top of Tarzan’s Tree House at Disneyland last year. Tonight’s sunset is one I believe I will long remember; for its drama and emotion, and for the reminder that indeed there can be beauty in the midst of distress, and it is when the clouds gather that the silver linings (or gold ones, in this case) appear.

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Pasadena Senior Center
85 East Holly Street
Pasadena, CA 91103