Game On!

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02Staying active is important. It is undeniable that physical exercise is good for your body and helps keep you healthy. But there is another reason to keep moving: exercise is famously good as a mood lifter because activity can give you a boost of endorphins. Feeling cranky? That PSC Zumba class will cheer you up! Depressed? Go for a walk!

As these long, dull, isolated days drag on, the need for activity – and the emotional shot in the arm it can give you – is more important than ever. But it can be hard to force yourself to do jumping jacks every morning. Competition (aka Sports) can be a great motivator because the more you train, the better you get, and the more likely you are to win (or at least get a personal best). But I’ve never played sports and looking to start during a pandemic is odd timing, to say the least.

My job as Director of Events includes managing the Pasadena Senior Games, part of a nationwide network of competitions for athletes age 50+. It can be intoxicating just watching these wonderful athletes compete, so for the past several years I’ve been promising myself that I would take up a sport. This year I’d decided I’d enter the swim competition, but our Pasadena Senior Games were canceled due to COVID, and I never even got to the pool to start training.

Last year, the National Senior Games Association announced they were adding Cornhole to the list of sports contested at Nationals. Yes, that carnival game of throwing a beanbag into a hole. I laughed when I heard, thinking, “that’s no sport, that’s a game!” Of course, I had never played it. A few months ago, Carolyn Zorn, a longtime PSC Volunteer as well as the Center’s mail-lady and now a dear friend, lent me her Cornhole Toss set. It seemed like a good diversion for Dad and I during lockdown. I finally got it set up last week, and now I’m hooked.

Physical, oh yes. Lobbing those heavy beanbags (I’m not joking here! They weigh 1lb each!) is good for the arms. Walking back and forth from one end of the court to the other on the way to a 21 point victory can take a lot of steps (a regulation court is 27 feet). Bending over to pick up all those bean bags makes up for not doing toe touches in morning calisthenics.

And then there is the incentive of competition. It turns out my 92 year-old dad is much more adept at pitching bags than I am. He beat me easily in three straight sets the first time we played. Guess there is more skill involved than I thought! So now when I am tired and cranky from sitting at the computer for too long, I have an instant antidote: just run outside and play. I can get a workout, hone my skills, and lift my mood all at once. Game on!

Just a Trifle

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02In these times, when the news seems to get worse every day and it becomes harder and harder to keep your spirits up, it is often the small things that bring the smile to your face. A mere trifle, indeed, can make bring sunshine from darkness.

Webster’s New International Dictionary Second Edition (1934) defines Trifle as [verb] “To act without seriousness or in a frivolous fashion,” and [noun] “a thing of very little value or importance, specifically a small jewel, poem, musical composition, etc. of no great or enduring value.” Definition #5 under [noun] is “Originally, a dish of clotted cream; now usually a dessert made of sponge cake soaked in wine or liqueur, with macaroons, jam and whipped cream.” Sign me up!

As an Anglophile raised on Jane Austen and Dickens and the Renaissance Faire, I’ve always had a penchant for English-style foods and celebrations. I made my first trifle in the 1980s for a Regency-era costume dinner to celebrate Michaelmas, an English quarter holiday celebrated on September 29, referenced in British novels. Over the intervening thirty or so years, I’ve made trifle maybe a dozen times, usually tied to Michaelmas dinner. It’s fun dressing the part too (they call is ‘cosplay’ now; when I was growing up, it was simply ‘dressing up’).

If there was ever a time to “act without seriousness” (keeping social distancing, of course), enjoy “a small jewel or poem,” and eat a dessert of “sponge cake soaked in wine,” that time was (is?) now. I decided to revive the Michaelmas tradition of my youth and throw a dress-up dinner party for Dad and I my college friend Laura, now living in Michigan, who started the trifle tradition with us way back when. She joined us for drinks, via Zoom, adding a modern element to our old-fashioned party.

For this Michaelmas, I made an Elizabethean-style cauliflower soup flavored with dates and nutmeg. I set the table with lace tablecloth, polished silver, crystal, and china. Dad donned his tux, and I my Recency dress from a past English Dance ball, we lit the candles, and had our fancy dinner. The crowning glory was, of course, the trifle. Beautiful, delicious, and bringing back memories of friends and parties (and great novels) enjoyed. And for one evening, at least, the challenges of COVID, politics, isolation, uncertainty, and depression were forgotten in a carefree world of food and friends.

Need a little trifle in your life? Here’s how: in a glass bowl, layer sponge/angel cake (about ½ inch thick) spread with jam, add another layer of cake and douse with sherry. On top of the cake, add a layer of juicy berries (defrosted frozen berries are ideal) and a generous layer of custard or pudding; sprinkle with sliced almonds. Refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Just before serving, top with lots of fluffy whipped cream and decorate with sliced almonds and fruit. Let the deliciously decadent flavor whisk you away to another place and time. Regency attire optional.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02I love the ocean. Always have. Some people prefer mountains or desert, but I’ve always been a water person. I’ve had jobs in Malibu, Santa Monica, San Pedro, and Long Beach, all within a lunchtime walk to the water. I even worked for a sailing program in the 1990s; break time often meant playing frisbee in a parking lot where an errant throw would send the disk into the water and we had to launch a row boat to retrieve it. And yet during six months of pandemic, it took me until last week to finally take a drive to the beach.

I am a big proponent of feeding your soul and finding your happy place during tough times. I’ve blogged about it, and it’s a recurring subject on the Social Hour that I host for the Center on Tuesdays. I always advise friends to make sure to do the small, simple things that bring joy. Bake a cookie, smell a rose, walk in a park. Sunlight on the ocean with the smell of salt in the air is guaranteed to calm and rejuvenate me. So why didn’t I get down to the water before now?

Driving there wasn’t the problem. I live in West Los Angeles, just ten miles from the beach. My weekly trip into my office at the Senior Center is twice as far. I drive to the supermarket and the post office, and to get take-out food. I even have access to a convertible, and what is more Southern California than a drive along the coast in a convertible with the top down?

Breath of Fresh Air 01It wasn’t exactly that I was making excuses not to take a trip to the ocean. But I wasn’t making time to do it either. With each day sliding into the next, there was always another work project or Zoom class or chore that needed to be done. The monotonous grind of this strange life smothers our senses and makes it hard to keep alert and active.

Finally, last Wednesday, the time was right. It was a lovely day (finally), and I didn’t have a Zoom event or class (amazingly), and Dad’s convertible needs to be driven every so often to keep the battery alive. Why not take a road trip? Dad and I grabbed our hats and sunglasses and headed out for Malibu.

We drove up Pacific Coast Highway our turnaround point being a short excursion up into the hills above the Getty Villa. There wasn’t much traffic on PCH, and lots of free roadside parking so we could pull over without committing to a $10 parking fee. We didn’t scramble down the rocks to the sand (we knew we could get down – not so sure we could get back up!), but it was enough just to stand in the sunshine and watch the waves breaking up and down the beach. A few blissful, carefree moments.

Next time, I won’t wait six months before getting another breath of sea air. And next time, I’ll be sure to bring a picnic.

Object Lesson

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

There are many different words to describe a special object. It’s a souvenir if you got it on a trip. It’s a memento if it reminds you of family or a lover. It’s a present if it is given to you to mark an occasion. It’s commemorative if it is in honor of a person or time. When we see, touch, or use these objects, they help us remember moments of our lives.

Now, more than ever, I feel a need to commemorate – or maybe just remember – this strange, surreal time known as 2020. What kind of objects sum up this experience? What kind of souvenirs do I keep from the longest staycation ever? What presents do I get for myself as reward for having survived one month, two months, six months (and counting) of lockdown? I’m not likely to forget the general fuzziness of this year, but what physical reminders will I look at ten years from now that will viscerally call to mind the year that evaporated in front of our eyes?

Back in May, when shops were allowed to reopen in a limited way, I stopped by C’est La Vie on Holly Street to say hello to the owner, Sylvie. I bought a frilly t-shirt made in France with the words “I Need Space” written out in sequins. That’s my Covid souvenir t-shirt.

I’ve never been an online shopper, and I don’t typically surf the internet, but one night I found myself looking at the website of an up-and-coming clothing designer based in Saudi Arabia that I’d seen in a magazine. With surprisingly few clicks, I ordered a jacket. The beautiful velvet piece arrived two weeks later. This is my Covid present to myself; an indulgence as reward for facing the challenges of the time.

I remember one morning in June thinking that trying to do my job as an Event Director during Covid was like trying to put together a puzzle when I didn’t know the picture and didn’t have all the pieces. Then, out walking in my neighborhood the same day, I found a puzzle piece lying on the ground. No image on it, just foggy grey-pink-bluish colors. No other puzzle pieces around. It’s my Covid memento, a thought turned into an object.

Early on in the lockdown, my dad and I decided to make dinner a celebratory event. Nearly every night since March 22 we have set the dining room table with linen, china, and crystal. We dress for dinner as if we were going out to a fine restaurant. After 140 or 150 formal dinners, we were getting pretty tired of our ordinary flatware. So I went online and ordered two place settings (don’t need a service for six if you can’t have anyone over!) of the most flamboyant and least expensive flatware I could find. The gold-tone knives, forks, and spoons are now my 2020 Covid Commemorative flatware.

What are your Covid souvenirs? Purchased, given, made, or found, what objects tell your Covid story?

Friends

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Marathon

A few weeks ago, at our Tuesday Social Hour, guest host Serena asked attendees to pick one or two words to sum up what happiness means to them. The answers were all on the same theme: “friends,” “friendship”, “my friends,” “friends and family.”

This isn’t a new idea – the importance of socialization has been acknowledged since the days of the caveman, and I’ve probably made a reference to friendships in 90% of my blogs. But somehow, when the hills are on fire and smoke fills the sky and obscures the sun; when our isolation inside becomes doubly so because it’s unhealthful to breathe the air outside; when homes are threatened and “what next?!” is on all our minds; the importance of human interaction stands out even clearer than before.

When I am a little bit down, I can usually cheer myself up with an activity. I’ll put on some happy music and bake a batch of muffins, or re-arrange my jewelry, or go for a vigorous walk. We all have those favorite things that lift us up, and it is different for each of us. But when I feel really depressed (which is more often than it used to be, in these anxiety-ridden times), I call on a friend.

What is friendship, exactly? For many of us growing up, friendship was defined by the grade-school bestie who you told all your secrets to. If you didn’t talk on the phone every day, you weren’t really friends. It took me a long time (well into my adult years) to understand how many different types of friendship there are. Most of us will only ever have a few people very close to us. Yet how many people are we happy to see, and are happy to see us? Those people count as friends too. Even in the virtual Zoom world, we can look forward to seeing people even if we’ve never met in person.

People need people. I’m not talking about a general post on Facebook. I mean an actual phone call, email, snail mail, or socially-distanced visit. Reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Or call your best friend for the third time in a day. It’s all good. I know, because I’ve had days brightened immeasurably by a single phone call or unexpected text. And I’ve turned my own mood from sour to happy by picking up the phone and calling someone.

It can be difficult to keep up with everyone like we did before all this started. I hardly talk to some people that I used to see all the time, yet I have had other friendships strengthen and new ones emerge. A friend of a friend and I started exchanging postcards just for something to do, and now we send cards almost every day. I started running Social Hour as part of my job, but now I look forward to visiting with these new friends each week. Whether old buddies or new friends it’s the people that help get us through each day.

Taking it Easy

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Marathon

Last week, I took my very first “staycation.” I chose the beginning of September because I saw a time in my calendar when I had nearly two weeks between Zoom events. I jumped at the chance to take time off, even if I couldn’t physically leave town. At least I could just take it easy for a week.

It turns out that I’m not very good at slowing down. I’m used to taking vacations to travel, or at least to do exciting things. My staycation turned out to be a frustrating, but ultimately liberating, lesson in how to do nothing.

It was hard not to think about work-related projects while staying at home. It took a surprising amount of will power to wrench my mind away from the Pasadena Senior Center and to give myself permission to think about something else. For so many months now, work has been one thing that has kept me balanced and engaged. To stop, even for a week, felt like a void. I might have just gone on working, but our broadband went out, leaving the house without internet, wireless, and land-line phone. It took six days to finally get the broadband service connected again.

I could still get internet and email on my small smartphone, but the 6”x3” screen isn’t very easy to read, and that tiny virtual keyboard makes it hard to type. But wait! Wasn’t the point of this vacation to disconnect? If I had gone to Paris, instead of staying home, I wouldn’t be working! Now I had a reason to untether from my computer and start doing “real” things like sorting through all the boxes in the garage.

Then came the second curveball of the week: blistering heat. I live about ten miles from the beach, where the marine layer keeps the weather temperate. No need for air-conditioning, just open the windows! Except for days like this past week when the heat and humidity move in and stay. Nowhere to run to – movie theatres are all closed. Nowhere to hide – the house isn’t much cooler than the outside.

The heat put a stop to plans for cleaning the garage. For moving boxes. For sorting through shelves in airless closets. Long walks were out of the question, as was a leisurely visit to the Huntington Gardens. No patio lunches. It got almost too hot to be able to concentrate on a book.

So, instead of a week filled with tasks accomplished and stimulating trips, I puttered around. I did some early morning gardening, re-arranged the glassware in the dining room cabinet, chopped vegetables for soups and salads. Polished jewelry. Talked on the phone. Talked to my dad. And made blueberry sorbet. I did all sorts of unimportant things that were quiet and peaceful and ultimately restorative. Yes, it is important to keep busy and be productive, but it is also important to put aside expectations from time to time, and just be. I hope it won’t take another internet outage and record heat for me to remember that!

What to know about contact tracing from Medicare

Posted in Caregiving Resources

Written by MEDICARE

Placeholder-Image-320x200

If you've been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you may be contacted by a contact tracer or public health worker from your state or local health department in an effort to help slow the spread of the disease. Here's what to know if you get a call:

Getting to know the Garden

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Marathon

I’m not a gardener, never have been. I adore flowers but never really understood how anyone could actually get joy out of doing the work to make them grow. I’d rather spend that time in the kitchen, cooking and baking. Years ago (lots of years ago), I worked for a Parks & Rec department. The secretary would arrive in the morning with beautiful roses from her garden for the office. I would arrive with fresh baked muffins still hot from the oven. We’d look at each other and say “how do you find the time to do that?!” Each to their own hobby.

I still love baking, but one of the remarkable things about this strange and surreal time is how forced changes to living patterns lead us to enjoy new things as well. Like gardening.

Back in May, when the spring rains were over and our small backyard lawn went from lush green to dry brown and the soil in the planters dried up. I decided to – gasp! – start watering regularly (we haven’t had working sprinklers in 40 years). Lo and behold, not only did the backyard respond with blossoms and new growth, but I found I was enjoying the “chore.” I’ve fallen into a routine of watering the backyard at night, lit only by the ambient light from the breakfast room windows. There is something very meditative and restorative to standing alone in the dark under the moon (if there is one) and the few stars (if it isn’t too overcast) watering plants.

There is also something lovely about watching things grow, day by day, week by week. I think herbs are the perfect garden plant. They grow quickly, need very little care, they attract birds and butterflies with their flowers and fragrance, and, best of all, you can eat them!

One of the added joys of herbs is that they root easily from cuttings, and I don’t have to grow them from seeds or go to a garden store and have to decide what plants to buy. I have flourishing plants of rosemary, mint, sage, and thyme which all came from grocery store packages of cut fresh herbs meant for cooking. I keep them fresh by putting them in water on the windowsill instead of in the fridge. If I don’t use them up after a week or so, they often start sending out roots. If the roots become robust enough, I stick them in the ground outside. More often than not, those plants take hold.

I feel a little sheepish cheerleading for gardening, when humans have been doing it all over the world since the beginning of time. But heck, it is new to me! I don’t expect that I’ll ever graduate to tomatoes or a rose garden, but as I water my herbs under the stars, I understand just a little bit better what keeps gardeners returning to the soil, and I have a few more moments of peace in a chaotic world.

Being Jolly

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Marathon

Mark Tapley is my hero. I loved him when I first encountered him, and I appreciate him now more than ever. If you’ve never hear of him, you’re not alone. Mark is a character in Martin Chuzzlewit, one of Charles Dickens’ least read and least loved novels. So, what does a secondary character in an unsuccessful 1844 novel have to do with real life in pandemic-riddled 2020?

Basically, Mark is a role model for tough times. He is intelligent, kind, resourceful, and energetic, with a natural disposition to be “jolly,” as he puts it. His only selfishness is the worry that if his life it too easy there “won’t be any credit” in his being happy and he won’t be appreciated for always being in good humor. In order to prove himself, he leaves his comfortable job at the local pub outside London and ends up in a tiny town in America on the banks of the Mississippi river. There, he nearly dies of a contagious disease that is infecting everyone around him. Hmmm. Deadly disease? Contagious? Sound familiar?

Mark manages to stay jolly through his horrible experience, not because he willfully ignores reality, but because he has a gift for seeing and understanding that which is good and admirable around him. He is unfailingly kind to others, helping, befriending, and empathizing with the people he meets, who respond with what is best in themselves. Kindness repays kindness, friendship creates friendship, hope engenders hope.

Too good to be true? It is fiction, after all. But we all know people like Mark, if we think about it. They are the friends and acquaintances who are always ready to help out, and who seem somehow to be bright and happy and encouraging, no matter what the situation. Of course, no one can be happy all the time (even Mark Tapley has his down moments). The goal is to be cheerful as much as you can, and cranky as little as possible.

It may seem an uphill climb to find the sunny side of things in this era of isolation, disenfranchisement, and loss. There are so many things we can’t do right now, it is easy to focus on that which has been taken from us, instead of those things we have newly discovered. My Dad is 92, and his hobbies are choral singing, theatre, and going to movies. You can’t sing with friends on Zoom with everyone a different spit-second delayed, and live theatre via the internet is pretty much a non-starter. No wonder he gets cranky! But having a naturally happy disposition, Dad moves on to things that do please him, like morning walks, fancy dinners (I cook), aged whisky, and basketball on TV. It makes the time pass much more quickly if you are enjoying yourself.

So keep “cranky” at bay and embrace “jolly” like Mark Tapley. You’ll probably find that not only are you making life more pleasant for the people around you, you’re making it much more pleasant for yourself as well!

Time after Time

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Marathon

It seems that nearly all conversations these days at some point circle to discussing Time. How slowly the days pass, how fast the weeks fly by, whether we’ve got too much time on our hands or find we can’t even find a minute to return a text message greeting.

The constraints of the pandemic affect each of us differently. Do you live alone, or with family? Are you used to going out, or are you a homebody? How connected are you through computer/smart phone/TV? Are you working or did you lose your job or were you retired before this began? What is your preferred recreation, and has it been stopped by the pandemic or not?

The common point in this shared experience is that virtually all of us have had our daily lives disrupted. We’ve seen our daily routines go out the window, no matter how hard we’ve tried to maintain a semblance of what we once considered “normal.” It is hard to plan tomorrow when we haven’t even figured out what is happening today. For so many of us, our routines (eat, sleep, work, recreation, whatever) keep us on a familiar timetable.

This strangely elastic ability of time to expand and contract continues to fascinate and perplex me. I look back to the delightfully naïve time at the beginning of March, when I gave advice in one of my first blogs as to how to get through a month of lockdowns without going crazy. How quaint! That first month felt like it would never end, and here it is the second week of August already. What happened to the last four months? Even yesterday is a blur.

Early on, one of my Senior Games friends said he viewed the lockdown as a blessing in disguise. He called it a much-needed opportunity to slow down, pause, reflect, and take stock of our lives without a schedule over-crammed with activity.

But has that happened? Have we paused to reflect? Or perhaps our lives are busier than ever as we find ways to meet our daily physical and emotional needs in a world that feels turned upside down. Easy communication with co-workers down the hall now takes three times longer, with texts, emails, and zoom appointments. In-person visits with friends that used to be spontaneous now need to be carefully choreographed for social distancing and protocols. And so on, for all that we do (or did).

There isn’t any one answer to these challenges, and there may not be any real answer at all. Time is going to continue to baffle us. Weeks will seem to just evaporate – poof – and yet the minutes may drag and drag and drag and we wonder why we’re not being more productive. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to embrace this weird never-never-land. That along with the stress, fear, and anxiety that I can’t banish, there is room for wonder at it all. And for laughter and kindness and reflection – and even a little bit of planning for a non-pandemic future.

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Pasadena Senior Center
85 East Holly Street
Pasadena, CA 91103