Crafting

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02It has been a wild and woolly few weeks. As the world swirls in uncertainty, I’m almost afraid to look at a newspaper or listen to the news. Between COVID and politics (not to mention everything else going on in the city, the country, and the world), the horrible and hopeful are chaotically jumbled and can’t be untangled. Parties and dance and travel seem like they might finally be again within reach – if only we can hang on long enough. Contemplating the future through the fog of uncertainty is exhausting, if not downright frightening.

“Mindfulness, ” the practice of staying in the moment, is more important than ever during this turbulent time. As some people get vaccinated and others can’t even get on a list, as some things open up and others don’t, as patterns we’ve reluctantly settled into over the last ten months get disrupted but not replaced, it is vital that we find ways to stay as sane as we can. The future (whether exciting or scary) shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed, but there are times when being in the present is what is called for.

Call it mindFULness or mindLESSness, allowing yourself to completely unplug for a day – or at least an afternoon - can be restorative. Unplug not only from news, but from tasks and to-do lists, from Zoom and email and smartphone. Give yourself permission to take a break from what you are doing – or not doing – every day. Try revisiting an old hobby. That’s what I did this past weekend, and it was like taking a vacation.

I spent hours last Saturday stringing beads for a necklace. I have always loved jewelry, and at various times over the years have tried my hand at making it. Some people have a talent for design - but I am not one of them. Long ago I discovered my talents lie in curating objects, not creating them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try my hand at crafting from time to time. I never got rid of the bead and beading materials from my youth, and every few years I get them out and play. This was one of those times.

I’m a big fan of ancient Egyptian art, and I have a pair of museum-reproduction earrings I bought at an Egyptian exhibit in New Orleans pre-Katrina. I decided it was finally time to make a necklace to match. I spent hours happily pairing crystal beads, acquired on a trip to Egypt in 2005, with agate and turquoise and lapis from discarded necklaces I’d unstrung over the years. It was a pleasure to enjoy the color, beauty, and texture of the beads, but also to recall the happy memories of past travel and friends that the beads carry with them. For at least a few hours, I was relieved of the strain of worrying about the future, and as a bonus I have an Egyptian-style necklace to wear the next time I watch “The Mummy.” And I call that a win-win situation.

Are we there yet?

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02“Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet??” “Are we there yet?!!!” The classic question asked a million times over by countless kids in the back seats of station wagons on cross country trips, is now the plaintive cry of everyone, no matter what their age.

Are we there yet? I suppose the answer to the question depends where (or what) “there” is. For purposes of something (anything!) to celebrate, let’s say that “there” is 2021. Yes, we have indeed arrived at the New Year, with bells ringing and fireworks exploding all over the world to show our collective joy in bidding good riddance to 2020. Despite the nonstop drumbeat of dreadful news, turning the calendar page to January 2021 gave a little boost of brightness and hope. THIS year will be better! THIS year, we will be able to hug family and friends! But as we know, throwing 2020 calendars out the window didn’t close the door on COVID, political chaos, or world crisis. A return to life as we knew it is the “there” we can’t wait to get to.

Of course, if I wanted to be picky I could point out that we never can be “there.” We can only be “here.” Just like tomorrow is always a day away (as Little Orphan Annie sang into infinity in the 1970s and 80s), “there” is always someplace else, while “here” is always where we are. So, where are we?

If you’re reading this, you’ve come through at least ten months of isolation with enough energy to click through the link to this blog. That’s something, anyway, isn’t it? You’re still engaged with people and places, connected to the Pasadena Senior Center, and probably to many other cultural, social, and wellness organizations through the miracle of the internet. Despite – or because of – the isolation, we’re finding new ways to connect and to find hope and friendship in the “here” as well as the “there.”

My dad will turn 93 on January 6. He’s still healthy and active, and he’s unbelievably irritated that he won’t be able to celebrate at the local pub like he did last year. But he’s not letting himself get caught up in continually asking “are we there yet?” He’s working as best he can to make the here and now fun and interesting.

One of the ways that Dad and I mark the “here” is to dress for dinner every night (yes, shoes and everything!), and sit down to a nice meal. Before we start eating, we raise our glasses in a toast to the passage of another day. We mark one more day successfully navigated, and as Dad says, “one day closer to the end of the pandemic.” We don’t know how much longer we’ll be sharing these dinners for two - it may be two months or a dozen months. But no matter how far in the future normal is, each day unquestionably brings us one day closer to making “there” “here.” So raise a glass to it!

Christmas at the Pasadena Senior Center

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02Back in May (remember May?), I wrote a series of blogs reflecting on postcards of early days at the Pasadena Senior Center. The ladies in hats and gloves, the homey looking library, and the 1960s-era ballroom dance may look quaint and old-fashioned to us today, but they show a vibrant, happy, and social place that continues to be at the heart of what the Pasadena Senior Center is.

As we close out this strange, isolated, and unfathomable year - which also marks the Center’s 60th Anniversary – I thought it was appropriate to feature a photo of the Pasadena Senior Center from Christmas in the 1960s.

The photo shows the original entrance, which was a combination of welcome desk, lounge, and library. The area is festive for Christmas with a large tree decorated with white doves. Wrapped presents lie underneath the tree, and a large pine bough centerpiece with a tall candle sits on a table nearby.

The decorated Christmas Tree is placed in front of a big picture window that looks out to the street. Backwards on the window is painted the word “Happy,” meant to be read from the street. There must be more to the message that we can’t see, written below, or on another window – maybe it reads “Happy New Year” or “Happy Christmas.” Or maybe “Happy” is just a statement of the season.

One notable thing about this particular photo is that there are no people in it. It is a quiet, surprisingly somber photo of an otherwise festive room. Looking at this photo from a 2020 CoronaVirus Christmas perspective, this empty lobby seems eerily appropriate. No one gathered around the tree. The sentiments of the season (“Happy”) painted to be read by people on the outside looking in. Even the fact that the print of the photo itself is a quiet gray and white instead of happy color seems to fit our 2020 perspective.

Today, like in the photo, we have a decorated Christmas tree in the Center’s lobby (but no dove decorations!). There is no one gathered around the tree, because we are still unable to welcome friends at the coffee bar. But although we haven’t painted “Happy” on the windows, we’re still trying to spread the sentiment as best we can, staying engaged with each other through online classes, programs, parties, events, and social services. “Happy” is a state of mind, and one that comes when we feel connected, supported, and cared for.

I, myself, feel happy, and lucky, to be part of the Pasadena Senior Center. It is rewarding to have a hand in creating programming that connects us. It is a joy to virtually meet so many wonderful and generous friends. And writing this blog has connected me to people in a way I couldn’t have imagined a year ago. So, to all of you – thank you for the “Happy” in my life, and I wish it back to you with all my heart.

The Upside of Lockdown

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02For the better part of nine months, I’ve been hunkered down at home. I’ve been in turns depressed, enthusiastic, distracted, focused, weary, hopeful, and anxious. Mostly anxious.

I’m anxious because like so many people, I’ve had to learn to work in a completely different way, trying to get my footing in this suddenly virtual world. It’s been daunting and fascinating to take on the challenge of working remotely from the confines of the 3ft x 1.5 ft vintage Art Deco desk in my room. To wrap my head around having conversations with people halfway across the world on Zoom while no longer being able to walk down the hall and pop my head into a co-workers office to ask a question.

In the physical world, changes are no less dramatic and no less anxiety-causing. I’ve had to start analyzing the risk factors of everything I do, trying to keep safe for my own health and – more importantly – for my 92-year old Dad’s health as well. Instead of visiting, dancing, going to concerts, and traveling, my main personal creative outlet is now almost completely centered around dinner: cooking the evening meal, crafting fun cocktails, setting a beautiful table, and dressing for the evening photo.

I’ve learned a lot about navigating the virtual world; heck, I can find/buy anything online now and I’ve learned enough about Zoom to actually help other people understand it! I’ve figured out ways to remain active and engaged without my usual outlets. I’ve made new, and I think lasting, friends over Zoom. It’s been uplifting and exhilarating. But it’s still nearly impossible to shed the anxiety.

I’ve been paying more attention to managing anxiety lately. I’m logging into mindfulness lectures and trying to bring that practice into my daily life. It isn’t easy. Learning to be in the moment, and not constantly worrying about the future, is a tough assignment. Especially when my job calls for me to actively be planning events two, three, or even six months away. The trick is working to cultivate a good outcome, as opposed to worrying about things I have little or no control over. That’s a tall order for someone like me who has made a career of worrying about pretty much everything (that’s what event planning is).

So, when this latest statewide directive of “don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything!” was announced, I was surprised to find it relieved some of my anxiety, despite the horrible reality of the COVID surge. Sure, I initially greeted the new stay-at-home order with dismay; I’d scheduled to do several things in the coming weeks, including going to the LA Zoo, and visiting (socially distanced) with friends. But as I started cancelling things, I experienced a sort of relief, a break in my constant anxiety. Whatever happens later, right now and at least for a few weeks, I have clarity. I can be in the moment, because there is nowhere else to be!

Thanksgiving Tradition

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02This past Thanksgiving weekend, I had one of the most pleasant and relaxed four-day weekends I can remember. Last time I planned a “staycation,” I was wound up with so much anxiety that I had trouble decompressing. Not so this time. I think the secret was not planning anything at all.

First, I have to confess that unlike most people I know, I wasn’t worried about Thanksgiving Day itself. I didn’t have to work (moment of silence for the Senior Center’s Thanksgiving Luncheon, alas on hiatus until 2021), and Thanksgiving was never a particularly important holiday for my family anyway. I didn’t even settle on what to make for dinner until the night before (we had Butternut Squash soup, Corned Beef, and Almond Custard pie, in case you were wondering. And Champagne, of course).

My main nod to Thanksgiving was to make the delightfully silly Oreo cookie turkeys that Girl Scout Julia demonstrated for us at the Center’s Virtual Halloween Party. You use candy corn for the tail feathers, and mini-marshmallows for the eyes. The sugar rush from eating one of those babies will last you until next Thanksgiving!

As for the rest of the weekend, I miraculously had no Zoom commitments from 2pm Thursday to 9am Monday. I think that is the longest stretch I’ve gone without logging into a Zoom call since May. I love how Zoom connects our world; that I can just as easily chat with someone in London as I can with my next-door neighbor, but to take time off was rejuvenating.

And it wasn’t just Zoom. Pretty much the whole country was on vacation too, so there was remarkably little conversation going on. After a flurry of emails and texts on Thursday morning from well-wishers who read Steve Lopez’ nice column in the LA Times about the Senior Center, my mobile phone fell silent: almost no dinging for text alerts, ringtone for calls, chimes for emails. I had never noticed before how communication goes quiet over Thanksgiving weekend. Of course, in past years I’ve been busy like everyone else – visiting, shopping, exploring.

With no meetings, classes, or lectures on the calendar, I didn’t have to worry about what I needed to do or what I was going to miss. What a luxury to just sit outside in the sun and read a book! To stroll in the evening under the nearly-full Autumn moon! And even to spend a bunch of hours going through boxes of dusty old papers in the garage with Dad.

Sorting (and throwing out!) miscellaneous stuff is soul-warming. By the end of a few hours, we had discarded a full barrel of assorted school papers, travel brochures, theatre programs, and whatnot. It was a blast. We shared memories of events and travels, enjoyed old postcards, and laughed at photos of short shorts from the 70s and big hair from the 80s. Yes, I totally recommend cleaning the garage as a great holiday weekend activity. In fact, I think I’ll make it my new annual Thanksgiving tradition.

The Joy of Pumpkins

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02It’s been a rough few weeks. Between election turmoil, COVID numbers surging, weather challenges, and an isolated holiday season, where can we turn for comfort and joy? I turn to pumpkins.

There is something delightfully warm and silly about pumpkins; even the name is hard to say without a smile. They can be comic (or comically scary) at Halloween or be the stately centerpiece of a fall cornucopia. They make yummy eating too; from pumpkin soup to pumpkin pie, cooking with pumpkin fills the house with comfortable warmth and enticing smells (Pumpkin Spice, anyone?).

I am now discovering that pumpkins can also bring sense of hope and joy. Bear with me here while I explain.

A year or two ago, we had a “volunteer” pumpkin vine start in an empty planter in the backyard. My best guess is that an ambitious squirrel had buried a half-eaten small pumpkin (the kind that local real estate agents leave on doorsteps). It produced one flower and a small, hard, inedible pumpkin.

As I was chopping up a pumpkin for soup a bunch of weeks ago, I remembered how the rogue pumpkin grew without any help from me, so I decided to experiment with planting pumpkin seeds of my own. We have a narrow stretch of flower bed along the side of the house by the driveway. In the 50+ years we’ve lived in this house I never remember anything growing there except weeds. After I watered it well and pulled up the weeds, I dumped the fresh pumpkin innards there and loosely covered them over with dirt. There was nothing scientific – or even realistic – about this approach to vegetable gardening.

Imagine my surprise, when almost immediately sprouts began to show. And more sprouts, and more, and more. It was as if every single seed had taken hold. Yikes! So I spent about a week, going out each morning and thinning the seedlings to what looked like a reasonable amount. And they kept growing. Very fast. Within a few weeks, they had grown exponentially in size, putting out leaves and forming buds. It was pure joy to come out one morning last week and see the first of the yellow flowers had opened.

Every morning I go out and check on my pumpkin vines. I spend a few minutes weeding, watering, and clipping off old leaves. It is a hopeful thing, watching the vines grow and flower. It doesn’t matter if pumpkins actually materialize, and even if they do, I don’t really expect they will be edible. What really matters, is I have something to look forward to at the start of every day. I’m eager to see what changes have happened in 24 hours, and how it looks different each day. I’ve turned a barren and forgotten spot of dirt into a place of joy. What fun! There may be hope for me as a gardener yet.

Routine

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02I like having a routine. Whether it’s a daily routine of starting every workday at 9am or a weekly routine of fixing champagne brunch every Sunday, consistency is my friend. It gives me a basic schedule I can count on, which helps keep me productive, centered, and able to look ahead. Of course, it’s fun to break routine, too: it can still feel like playing hooky from school; only now, instead of ditching high school to go to Disneyland (which I’ve done), I’m ditching my online exercise class to go out for ice cream with Dad. A break from day-to-day routine can be a real mood lifter, just like a “cheat day” on a diet can help keep cravings in check.

It’s good to change things up, yet too much disruption in routine can be DDD: Disorienting, Difficult, and Depressing. We all found that out when our lives and expectations were turned upside down last March by restrictions imposed by the pandemic. It took a while to settle into new routines and new patterns, but after eight months, many of those new routines have become familiar habits.

In the past few weeks, it has seemed that many of my current routines have been interrupted for one reason or another, and not because I’ve chosen the diversions. The time change, colder weather, holidays creating scheduling changes, and friends whose recreation time no longer coincides with mine, are just a few of the things that have wreaked a bit of havoc with my usual timetable. For months, I’ve done certain things on certain days at certain times, and now many things are jumbled up and turned around and up in the air. That is hard for a person like me that thrives on consistency and continuity. So, what’s the answer?

I’ve decided that I need to do two things to get through this complicated time: 1) Embrace the unknown, and 2) make lots of lists. The second is easiest for me. I love lists. It is very satisfying to create a to-do list and cross off each item one by one. It’s all there on paper, so I don’t need to keep it in my head. What needs to happen today (turn in blog). What needs to happen by the end of the week (order my sister a birthday present). What needs to happen by the end of the month (buy a space heater). And so on.

Embracing the Unknown is a harder task, but one with many rewards. So many joyful, meaningful, and unique experiences come precisely because they were unplanned and unexpected. Being open to possibilities around you is a hopeful and positive way of looking at the world, one that sees disruption as opportunity and uncertainty as a gateway to new thinking. So, go ahead! Celebrate the break in routine! Just don’t forget to make your lists, too.

Color

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Breath of Fresh Air 02Halloween, time change, shorter days, colder weather. There is much that is fun this time of year: neighborhoods become festive with Halloween decorations, the air is crisp (when it isn’t foggy), and there are even some fallen leaves dancing in the streets. Chocolate and Pumpkin Spice are featured in stores and restaurants. And grown people get to put on costumes and be little kids again.

It’s also a time often associated with depression. Shorter days mean less sunlight and more isolating darkness. Colder and rainier weather can mean less time outdoors and make it harder to stay active. And two months of non-stop commercial holiday cheer can be the opposite of happy-making; it can feel like everyone is having a splendid, care-free, holiday season except you.

Sound grim? It can be. I’m certainly feeling the slide into November and the challenge of keeping up a jolly attitude. Even writing this blog, which is a real pleasure for me, has felt like a chore as I reach for happy and interesting things to write about. It’s a bit like the color gets turned off in the world, and everything goes gray. Here are a few suggestions I’ve found helpful for keeping the color alive and the gray at bay.

1. Keep color in your daytime: put on a bright colored sweater (or shirt or jewelry or whatever), eat bright-colored food (never noticed the color of orange juice before? Notice it now!), enjoy bright colored cut flowers on the table (lots of sunflowers in the supermarkets right now).

2. Keep color in your nighttime: fun and beautiful lighting can make evening lovely instead of drear. String up Christmas lights in the TV room, light candles at dinner, turn on seasonal decorations like silly jack-o-lanterns or snowmen. Go walking at night if you can and enjoy your neighbors holiday lights.

3. Keep color in your heart: it may seem trite to say so, but count your blessings. Look for what is good and positive around you (hey, you’re reading this blog! Which means the Senior Center is a part of your life. Chalk that up as one positive). Stay in touch with your friends. Find a way to play music, practice your sport, write poetry, tinker with your car, or whatever it is you do that pulls you out of the doldrums. Heck, watch a funny cat video.

It is absolutely human to feel sad or depressed or lonely, under any circumstances. And it should come as no surprise that the waning months of a pandemic year might amplify pain and mute joy. Now is the time to actively look for the color, for the joy, out there. Maybe it’s a call to a friend, a socially-distanced backyard visit, or reaching out to the Senior Center for resources. It could be a walk around the block on a bright day. Or turning to your favorite Cat Video with a glass of orange juice in hand. Cheers!

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.

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Phone: (626) 795-4331
Fax: (626) 577-4235
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Email: info@pasadenaseniorcenter.org

Pasadena Senior Center
85 East Holly Street
Pasadena, CA 91103
Nonprofit I.D. #95-2085393