What’s Your Best Feature?

Back in 2013, Virginia Allain wrote, “Most of us are critical of our own looks. We easily compliment others but brush off the nice things others say about our own looks. Sometimes parents felt they had to discourage children from becoming vain and tried to instill a sense of modesty in us.
Now even when we are hard on ourselves, there’s usually one feature you think is your best. Maybe it’s your eyes or your mouth or your high cheekbones. Perhaps you think your hair is what’s special about you.
My niece's eyes
The eyes above are my niece’s. She has equally lovely lips, nose, teeth, and hair. Actually, she’s pretty stunning. If you asked her, she would probably start telling you all the things that are wrong with her face and figure. I think we’ve gone overboard trying to suppress vanity in young girls.
As for me, I do like my big blue eyes and my blonde hair, though it used to be thicker and more reddish which I liked. I wish my nose wasn’t so stubby and that I didn’t have freckles. My eyebrows don’t contribute much to my face as they are too pale. See how easy it is to start tearing yourself down? Let’s start over and appreciate our own looks.
Ginger Allain - selfie

Taking a selfie – Virginia Allain

Here goes: I like my big blue eyes. They probably are a legacy from the Tower family line. Someone told me about my great-great-grandfather, Abraham Bates Tower, having the biggest blue eyes, even as an eighty-year-old.”
I know my mother, Gail Lee Martin, avoided the camera later in life if she hadn’t had her hair styled recently or if she was just wearing her comfy around-the-house clothes. I wrote about how pretty she was in her eighties. She was uncomfortable with my doing that. Here is that post: Beautiful Octogenarian.
gail in black, ginger in yellow sweatshirt

Here we are together, Gail Martin and daughter, Ginger Allain. I actually don’t have that many photos like this. Usually, I’m the one with the camera in hand. (One of the folks’ wagon wheel rugs is in the background)

What do you consider to be your best feature? Eyes, smile, cheeks, hair, ???
My friend, Kathryn, commented on Mom’s pictures, “Your mother was beautiful 60 years ago, and she is beautiful today. As I round the bend of middle age, I am inspired by so many older women whom I meet. I certainly count your mother among them!”

Thrifty Gift Giving Ideas

This is a variation on an earlier post. Gail often reworked a topic for publishing in other places. This appeared on Squidoo’s website.  Some of these gifts are ones you can get ready the day before Christmas using what you have at home.

Giving Gifts without Spending Too Much

Seniors can find gift-giving occasions difficult when their budget won’t stretch to buy one more thing. Here are some gift ideas that won’t put a strain that Social Security income.

Most of these I’ve tried out myself and can assure you were well-received. A little imagination and a lot of love will make your gift the one they treasure. With six children, eight grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren, the Christmas and birthday gift giving was a challenge. Seniors living only on Social Security must apply creativity in their gift giving to keep it affordable.

Give a Family Treasure when you can’t afford to go shopping

Think about things you have stashed away unused. We no longer decorate a tree at Christmas, but we still have boxes and boxes of special ornaments. I can give one to each person on my gift list. I’ll gain some storage space and they’ll gain a family heirloom for their Christmas tree.

 Give the Gift of Memories

Grandparents’ memories make a precious gift

Write down a special memory of the day they were born or about something you did with them or their parent. Print it out or write it by hand on nice paper to give them. Slip it in a plastic sleeve to preserve it. If you write a new memory for their birthdays and Christmas, eventually they will have enough to fill a binder.

Here’s One of My Grandchildren’s Family History Books

That I compiled with my writing over the years

A family history notebook created by Gail Lee Martin for her son, Owen.

A family history notebook created by Gail Lee Martin for her son, Owen.

Vintage Books Make Great Gifts

from a senior citizen

Look on your bookshelf. Is there a book there that has special meaning to you? Write a note explaining what is meaningful to you about the book and give it to someone on your list.Old Vintage Books iPad Case speckcase They will enjoy reading it, knowing that you selected it especially for them.

Lincoln biographies on bookshelf

Books on Clyde and Gail’s bookshelf.

Everyone Loves Grandma and Grandpa’s Baking

Food gifts to give when you’re on a tight budget

Make up a batch of your popular candy or cookie recipe and package it up to give to the children and grandchildren. Just a small amount on a paper plate (dessert size) and covered with plastic wrap lets them know you were thinking of them.

Attach the recipe to the gift.

To make it extra special, put them on a plate or platter that has been in the family for many years. They get a family heirloom, some of your great cooking, and you gain some space in your overcrowded cupboard.

What Do You Collect?

 Look at your collections. Chances are you aren’t adding to the collection anymore. It may be just one more thing to dust.

We collected Norman Rockwell mugs for many years. If we give one to each family member, they will think of us each time they use it. We also collected Feather Bird Pictures. They used to cover the wall of my dining room but now sit in a box in the closet.

Another thing I collected was vintage aprons. I used these when giving a talk to homemaker groups or at nursing homes.  At some point, you may decide not to keep a certain collection anymore. Consider giving them as gifts to family members.

Even if you are not on a Social Security budget, you might want to try some of these ideas.

Give Me Some More Thrifty Ideas

for gift-giving on a Social Security budget

  •  1angelsbestkeptsecrets Mar 27, 2014 –  What wonderful ideas! I think the sentimentality and specialness of gifts like this would please most all family members.
  • karendd123 Nov 26, 2013  – These are really good ideas. They are thoughtful and economical. Growing flowers from seeds or cuttings can make good gifts too.
  • ewyorkdude Oct 14, 2013 – I can’t remember the last time I bought a greeting card. Homemade greeting cards make a much better impression than the store-bought kind. Most people tend to keep them longer. I will never be a professional artist (my work is more like Picasso on a bad day). But no matter how awkward my drawings are on my cards, people appreciate them.
  •  rinMellor Oct 11, 2013 – These are wonderful ideas. A few handwritten family recipes would be a real treat too.
    knowledgetoday Oct 08, 2013 – I think the greatest gift from grandma or grandpa to family members or friends is memories brought together in a creative way. And if creativity is not available giving a gift of what the other person has wanted for many years means much to the receiver.
  • MarcellaCarlton Oct 01, 2013 – I loved each idea! This has great tips for those of us who are experiencing the pinch at any time.
  • Cercis Sep 30, 2013 – What a wonderful article! I like the memory book idea the best. Another thought is to shop at a thrift store – either a neighborhood or one of the more established ones – to pick up almost new items for pennies.
  • WhyCleanCounts Aug 05, 2012 – great ideas, good topic for anyone that needs to stick to a budget around the holidays.
    dpgibble Jul 06, 2012 – I was exploring Squidoo for ideas when your page caught my eye. Curious, I stopped and found a direct connection to vallain who was the first or one of the first visitors to my first article. Since our family survives on disability income along with a dollar here and there that we hustle up, celebrating Christmas on a budget piques my interest. We picked wild grapes last year and made pint jars of jelly from them. This produced about two dozen gifts with cash out at less than $25. People really liked this gift!
  • Gail-Lee-Martin Jul 06, 2012 – Homemade gifts are the best, in my opinion.
  • LiteraryMind Mar 16, 2012 – Good idea. Meaningful gifts are more special than anything money can buy.
  • MiddleSister Feb 21, 2012 – I like the cookies idea.

Writers in Their 70s, 80s, and 90s

Septuagenarian, Octogenarian, and Nonagenarian Writers

I have great admiration for writers who continue their craft into their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Writing is something that fits quite well into a senior lifestyle. By the time a person reaches an advanced age, they have a lot of living and a wide range of experience to share with younger generations.

We may have to give up playing football or baking rich desserts or other hobbies we had when younger. Arthritis and high cholesterol start to cut into some of our fun. Writing remains. Some seniors don’t discover the pleasures of writing until their other activities become restricted.

Here I want to celebrate writers who put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard to record the essays, poems, and even books during their seventies, eighties, and nineties.

70, 80 and 90-Year-Old Writers on the Our Echo Website – Links to their essays and poems

Our Echo specializes in family memory writing but attracts a variety of writing from essays to poetry to fiction and family history. Check out the writing by these octogenarians and nonagenarians.

Gail Lee Martin served as the webmaster for the site and encourage these writers to keep on writing. When you read the stories from the writers listed below, click on the comment section and you will see that Gail faithfully read and commented on almost every post.

(Just click on their name below to go to their online stories, poems, and essays.)

  • Wanda Molsberry Bates (born in 1915)
    Read her essays like “At 94” and “School Days – Memories.” Over 90 Years 90th Birthday by BirthdayObsessions
  • Gone But Not Forgotten by Nancy J. Kopp
    A tribute to Wanda Molsberry Bates who died in April 2010 at the age of 95.
  • Kathe M. Campbell
    Read her accounts of ranch life and overcoming hardships. She has memory pieces like “Blooming Where We’re Planted.”
  • Gail Lee Martin (born in 1924)
    Gail wrote about growing up on the Kansas prairies. Her writing list on Our Echo also includes poems.
  • John William Daniel
    At 92, John William Daniel writes about his early experiences in South Texas near the Mexican border.
  • Nancy J. Kopp
    Read her heart-warming stories and musings. She has had nine articles included in the Chicken Soup series of books. She has an awesome blog called Writer Granny’s World too.
  • Winifred Beatrice Peterson (born in 1914)
    This 95-year-old writer tells about her childhood in “Just a Country Girl” and later life in “The Farmwife Flunky.”
  • Tom Foley of Maine (age 82)
    Besides writing, Tom also does watercolor painting and woodcarving.
  • Monte Leon Manka
    Formerly of Chelsea, KS, and now lives in California. He was 83 in 2010 when he started posting on the Our Echo site and writes poems about bleak times during the Great Depression. Take a look at these on the Our Echo website and leave a comment so Monte will know you visited.

Memoirs Written By Octogenarians

Addie of the Flint Hills: A Prairie Child During the Depression (1915-1935)Addie of the Flint Hills: A Prairie Child During the Depression (1915-1935)View DetailsMy Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s KansasMy Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s KansasView DetailsShadows in My House of Sunshine: A Journey of DiscoveryShadows in My House of Sunshine: A Journey of DiscoveryView Details

The Passing of a Generation

(Written in January 2014) – They came of age during World War II with their formative years being during the Great Depression. Now they are in their 80s, and not just their early 80s, but in their late 80s, and some even into their 90s. The ranks are thinning.

Over the last two years, I lost my parents at age 87 and 88. I knew we couldn’t keep them forever, but kept hoping for just a few more years. My dad outlived 6 of his 7 siblings. Mom had a younger sister who is still going strong.

It’s sad to see a whole generation pass from our midst. In the last few days I heard about three of mom’s cousins being hospitalized or going into hospice. They are siblings and my heart aches for their children, my second cousins.

My sister’s mother-in-law just had a stroke yesterday. The father-in-law is already in the VA hospital for long-term care. Then I heard that another sister’s father-in-law has been in and out of the hospital a few times lately.

They are the parents of the baby boomers, the grandparents and great-grandparents of the generations after that. There is a lot of collective wisdom disappearing, a lot of family memories that are being wiped out.

They will be missed.

Gail Lee McGhee is right under the words Hamilton Seniors.

Gail Lee McGhee is right under the words Hamilton Seniors.

Getting Some ZZZZZs

Did you catch some ZZZs? What do I mean? I’m asking if you reposed. Took a nap. Slept.

My mother was a champion sleeper. She liked to read in bed and in no time at all would be sound asleep. Even during the day, she would stretch out on the couch for a little reading. That usually ended up as a nap.

“When the kids were little,” she said, “sometimes the only way I could get them to take a nap was to lie down with them.” I imagine she probably needed the rest too after having disrupted sleep with each new baby.

During those 105 degree summer days in Kansas, the folks found an afternoon nap carried them past the hottest time of the day. Then they refreshed themselves with a bowl of ice cream from the freezer. We nagged them to turn on their air conditioner, but they were adamant about not messing up the special discount on their electric bill for being a low-usage household.

She liked to sleep late during their retirement years. I learned not to call before ten in the morning. Once Dad died, this sometimes stretched even later in the day. It worried me, thinking that she had no compelling reason to get out of bed and start the day.

Sleeping allows the brain some downtime and lets it sort out and process all the information packed in there. Just writing about this is making me sleepy. How about you? Naptime…

N is for Never Ninety

I wanted my mother to live forever, I guess. Even though I knew that wasn’t realistic, I was hopeful that she’d live well into her nineties at least. After all, her grandmother lived to be 91 and great-grandfather lived to 92. Her Aunt Bertha lived to 96 and Aunt Vina to 94.

Those are all from the Tower line in our family. It’s pretty remarkable for people born in the 1800s to live that long. I was hoping that those Tower genes would carry Mom along into the nineties too.

We had worked together to complete the two books, Mom’s memoir and the collected stories about Dad’s life. I’d hoped the three works-in-progress gave her some incentive to hang around. I really needed her input on our Civil War ancestor’s book and on Aunt Bertha’s biography.

The book includes her prize-winning essay on "My Mother's Apron."

My mother’s memoir.

They say that having a passion for something contributes to longevity. Sadly, she did not regain her zest for writing and research and genealogy after Dad died. Her health issues and missing her spouse of 67 years dragged her down. She died of a broken hip followed by a heart attack at 88.

Now it is up to me to make those books happen. I worry that there will be gaps that I can’t fill without her knowledge of family history. I worry that I can’t tell the stories like she could.

Knowing that they won’t be perfect, I need to go forward with the projects. It is what she would want. Here’s hoping I live until 99 to complete all the family projects.

The book about Dad.

The book about Dad.

F is for Fear of Falling

I joined a balance class that meets two days a week in the active retirement community where I live. It seemed like a good idea since my doctor tells me I have osteopenia, the stage you go through before osteoporosis.

With the class, I hope to improve my agility and prevent a fall where I might break a hip. My mother suffered that, as had her 94-year-old grandmother some 40 years earlier. In both cases, the broken hip was just the first part of a downward spiral leading to death.

Here’s an article that my mother wrote for the online site Squidoo back in 2009. Before Christmas in 2012, Mom slipped on a throw rug at someone’s home and broke her hip. After hip replacement surgery, she was in rehab and hoped to go home in a few weeks. Unfortunately several heart attacks followed and she died at age 88.

Advice for Seniors – Avoid Falling at Home

A while back, I took a tumble at home and really gave my leg a whack. Fortunately it wasn’t broken, but it sure hurt. Falls can happen to anyone, but when you’re older, it gets more dangerous.

I’d taken some precautions, but here are a variety of things you can do to avoid falling at home. No matter what your age, you need to remove tripping hazards from your home. The tips I provide here are targeted to the elderly, but others can benefit as well.

I’d already removed most of the throw rugs in the house. Those are notorious for slipping underfoot or getting an edge flipped up for you to trip over.

Don’t leave clutter on the floor. I clip the newspapers, so I put a basket for those and my scissors under the side table. That way I won’t accidentally step on the loose papers and go skating across the room.
Be particularly careful if you have pets. Dogs and cats love to follow you around and to twine around your legs. You probably won’t give them up, so just be careful.

Change Your Behavior to Avoid a Fall

  • 1 – When you get up from sleeping, sit for a minute on the edge of the bed. That lets you get oriented and more balanced when you stand.
  • 2 – Don’t leap up and dash for the phone. Keep a cordless phone at hand by your chair. Then you won’t be breaking your neck just for a recorded sales pitch. If you don’t have a cordless phone, take your time getting to the phone. They will leave a message or call back if it’s important.
  • 3 – When you carry things, be careful that they don’t block your view of the floor.
  • 4 – Don’t stack things in normal walkways. Put things in a corner, a closet, or up on a chair. Don’t walk around without turning on a light at night.
  • 5 – If you use a laprobe to keep out the winter chill, be very careful not to get tangled in it. Totally unwrap it from your legs and put it aside.

Health Tips That Prevent Falls

  • 1 – Know about any precautions you should take with your medicines. Does your blood pressure medicine make you a little woozy? Read over the paper the pharmacy gives you with the medicine. If you take more than one medicine, ask the doctor or the pharmacist to be sure they don’t interfere with each other.
  • 2 – Ask your doctor to do a balance assessment on you. They can do this at most health fairs too. If your balance needs improving, there are simple exercises you can do.
  • 3 – If you are supposed to use a cane or a walker, don’t be too proud and independent to use it. Remember, safety first.
  • 4 – Have your eyes checked every year. Maybe you aren’t seeing everything that you need to.
  • 5 – Don’t go too long without eating. Skipping regular meals can make you light-headed and apt to fall.

Guardian Alert

My daughter got me one of these. It makes me feel more secure that if I should fall, I could push the button and be instantly connected with 911.

LogicMark Guardian Alert 911

If you are thinking of a Life Alert to wear in case of falls, you might be put off by the monthly monitoring fees. This one doesn’t require that, so is much more affordable. The button connects you directly with 911, so no monthly service fee. Peace of mind.

More Tips – Use a Cane If You Are Unsteady

Don’t be too proud and risk a fall

For inside the house, I just use a regular cane, but in the yard, I prefer the four-footed one for more stability on uneven ground.

Don’t lock the bathroom door.

If you have a fall in there, no one can get in to help you.

Gail’s Advice on Helping the Elderly with Doctor’s Appointments

This is another article that Mom wrote for the eHow website about 7 years ago.

As your parents, friends and even neighbors grow older you might find yourself chauffeuring them for grocery shopping, hair cuts, club meetings, various errands and doctor’s appointments. This last one is the most important one to be sure to do it right.

Call the doctor

 If your older neighbor or a family member has trouble driving or lacks transportation, talk with them frequently by phone or drop by to see what their needs are. When they have a health issue, encourage them to schedule a doctor’s visit and offer them a ride. Make a note to remind yourself of the date and time of the appointment.

Make sure you allow plenty of time to pick up the one going to see the doctor. Someone who’s elderly walks much slower and might even use a cane, a walker or even a wheelchair that takes time to load into the car.


Gather all the medicine prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs that your friend or family member uses. Put them into a small bag to take with you. This lets the doctor know what the patient has been taking and avoids conflicting drug prescriptions. The doctor can check if the prescriptions need to be updated as well as making sure the patient is following instructions.

Take the pills

If it is snowy weather be sure your car is cleared and warm inside. If you have a seat-warmer, I’m sure your passenger will appreciate that too. They may need help with the steps and sidewalks if they’re slick. A fall can have disastrous consequences as bones grow brittle with aging.

Flyers with information

Flyers with information

On the trip to the doctor’s office quiz your passenger on what they need to tell the doctor or questions they need to ask. You can make a list of these as you wait in the waiting room. While there, check out pamphlets that might be of interest to you and your friend. Take time to chat and catch up on their news. Make this trip more like a friendly visit than a trip to the doctor to keep the anxiety level at a minimum.


Listen and take notes

Listen and take notes

Go into the doctor’s office with the patient to provide extra set of ears. Take notes of what the doctor says or even take a voice-activated recorder along to be sure everyone has the same information.

If a prescription is issued, take time to fill it as you head home. During the drive, talk about their plans so you can be sure they will follow the doctor’s directions. Find out if they need help carrying these out.

Gail’s Advice on Getting Older

My mom, Gail Lee Martin, loved to write and loved to give advice. When she was 85, she shared what she learned over the years by writing articles for the eHow website. Many of her topics targeted a senior audience, but other ages will find tips they can use, seasoned with her 85 years of living.

She grew up in the Kansas Flint Hills at a time when water was pumped by hand into a bucket and carried into the house. Having a “can do” attitude and a practical outlook, she shared some methods that may seem old-fashioned. In a time of recession, these low-tech ideas and thrifty methods are gaining in popularity. We need to learn from our elders, so take a look at Gail’s advice below.

Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” That’s the poetic way to look at it. Actually growing older can cause lots of changes in people’s lifestyle. These can be coped with, if approached with some pre-planning or by taking advantage of any opportunity that comes along. I would like to show you how we handled these difficult times and even shared with our six children as they grew up.

FOLLOW YOUR INTERESTS WHEREVER THEY LEAD YOU – It took quite awhile for all six to grow up enough to get married or at least out on their own to raise families or follow their careers. By 1981 the youngest was married, and my husband and I were only 56 years old. Needing something to occupy my time until Clyde retired, I became interested in tracing family’s history. What I found in military and census records was so interesting I wanted to share with our children. So one by one I made family notebooks of the first four generations. I fancied up the notebooks with padded coverings and added an appropriate photo in matching padded frames on the front. The notebooks made great birthday gifts. You can continue making copies of the family books for your grandchildren as they get married.

Here's an example of one of the decorative notebooks Mom created.

Here’s an example of one of the decorative notebooks Mom created.

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME WHILE HEALTHY – Retirement age really isn’t so very old. At 62 or 65 years of age you have lots of years to have fun. Fishing was our first choice as we had missed doing that a lot during our working years and raising a big family. We also couldn’t seem to stop making a big garden because any garden thrived under Clyde’s watchful eye and tender care, developing into too much produce that even our family, neighbors and friends couldn’t use it all up.

KEEP ACTIVE UNTIL IT ISN’T FUN ANYMORE – We enjoyed the garden so much that we didn’t want to give it up, leading us into another enjoyable pastime when we joined a local farmer’s market. At the market we made many new friends who enjoyed our fresh produce, preserved products and baked goodies. After twenty years even that type of activity became more drudgery than fun.

Gail and Clyde Martin with their farmer's market tent.

Gail and Clyde Martin with their farmer’s market tent.

PREPARE TO PASS ALONG YOUR HERITAGE – Old age was gaining on us and who wants to read or watch television all the time? We decided to use our computer skills and label our family heirlooms, accumulated over the 63 years of marriage, for our children’s information after we are gone. Typing or writing the details (from whom and year received) on address or shipping labels and placing it in an inconspicuous place on the object passes on the history of precious items.

Mom collected vintage canning jars to display in her kitchen.

Mom collected vintage canning jars to display in her kitchen.

I have to insert a comment on this last advice. Unfortunately the household goods were auctioned after Mom’s death, so the only way her children and grandchildren could preserve the family pieces that Mom treasured was to bid for them there. It’s most unsettling to see your parents’ lifetime accumulation spread across a lawn with strangers pawing through it. Some of the items are safely in family keeping, but others are now who-knows-where.

I remind myself, that our greatest inheritance is our memories and our values passed down through the generations. Those are what I’m trying to preserve in this blog and eventually in the family books I’ll create.

Looking for the Silver Lining

It’s such a blessing that Mom didn’t suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, nor did Dad. They spent the last years of their lives in their own home though they depended heavily on family to keep them supplied or to take them to the doctor.

Though pretty much home bound, they cocooned and tried to get pleasure from the resources available to them. Going out to eat or to family gatherings became too much of an ordeal to them. They preferred the quiet and comfort of their home.

There they could read, watch their favorite series or baseball games. They could snack when they were hungry, nap when they felt sleepy.

I’m following some bloggers who write about their aging parents. One is about an Alzheimer’s patient living at home with her daughter. When I see what that does to the one with the disease and to the caregiver, I feel so thankful that Mom and Dad didn’t get that.

Here’s the blog, My Sweet Peanut, which is most touchingly written.

My folks were so fortunate that in their late eighties, they could still make decisions and remember things. Yes, they were frail, but still able to reason things out for themselves.

Here's Mom (Gail Lee Martin) in the yard at her home.

Here’s Mom (Gail Lee Martin) in the yard at her home.