Sobering Lessons From the Blogosphere

Honest_PortraitI started blogging this summer to chronicle the countdown to my 70th birthday that was on September 12th.

Armed with a new FitBit, it was my plan to spend the summer walking at least 10,000 steps a day, losing weight, working out, having head-to-toe medical checkups and putting my finances in order. I thought blogging would be a good way to keep me on track. I also thought that my summer shape-up might inspire others to follow my lead.

The title of my blog Countdown to 70…And Life Beyond, gave me the built-in option of quitting once I turned 70 or to continue if I discovered that blogging was a calling for my senior years. My first post, Milestone Birthdays, went out into the blogosphere on July 15th.

Related Post: Milestone Birthdays

Ten weeks and 17 posts later, here are the sobering lessons I’ve learned:

  • There’s no getting around it; blogging is a whole lot of work. Serious bloggers post several times a week. There are those people who love to write. I’m not one of them. Writing has never come easily for me, so the process was stressful. Committing to a blog is like constantly having a term paper due. It can quickly become a grind. I made the decision to keep the commitment I had made to myself and continue blogging until I hit my 70th birthday.

Related Post: To Blog or Not to Blog, That is The Question

  • A bloggers day is never done. Writing a post is just the beginning. Once written, you need to promote it through a variety of social media platforms if you want people to read it. That means spending hours sitting at a desk in front of a computer. Not my idea of a good time; so I didn’t do it. I simply wasn’t interested in putting in the time and energy needed. Consequently, I never built an audience for my blog.
  • The most important lesson I learned is that I would much rather spend my time living my life than writing about it.

As I start this new chapter of my, I may choose to write a blog post from time to time but it is not something I will be doing on a regular basis. Blogging like all writing is a solitary activity, and I want to be out and about interacting with people.

My foray into the blogosphere was an education. I have the utmost respect for people like Rene Syler and my friends Deb Mitchell and Lora Wiley, who have been blogging for years. This newbie doesn’t have the motivation and tenacity to join your ranks.

Though I did not find my calling as a blogger, I’m proud of the 17 posts I wrote, which will live forever in cyberspace.

Many thanks to all who followed me this summer.

Related Post: Blogging-Not a Beginner’s Game Anymore

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A Perfect Birthday

I was 70 years old on Saturday. When friends had asked what I wanted to do on the day of my birthday to celebrate, knowing me, they were not surprised to learn that I wanted to have a party at the Equinox Sports Club New York that would include a yoga class for all my guests.

Related Post: My Home Away From Home

Thanks to the support of Monique Dash, the group fitness manager at the Club that’s what happened on Saturday afternoon. Thirty of my friends joined me for a gentle yoga class and celebration planned by Whitney Chapman, one of my long-time teachers.

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The beautiful, sun-flooded yoga studio was all set –up when we walked in; mats were facing the windows and the New York skyline. The energy in the room was palpable as we all chanted “OM.” One of my other instructors, Jeanene Garro, shared the teaching with Whitney. They were an incredible team.

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As the class was ending, Whitney asked everyone to bring the cardboard container that was next to their mat and form a circle around me. The containers were filled rose petals. One –by –one, my friends looked me directly in the eye and made a one-word wish for my future; which was sealed by showering me with rose petals.

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There were multiple wishes for love, health, magic, adventure, companionship, and fulfillment. My friend Dede Brown, one of the founders of the Spinsters Union, was the last to step forward. In a booming voice, she shared her wish for me: “Great, passionate sex!!!” “Amen!” shouted my friends as rose petals rained down.

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A yoga party was the perfect way to celebrate this Milestone Birthday.

Related Post: Milestone Birthdays

I feel blessed and loved as I begin a new chapter of my life.

My Years As A Caregiver

This week, I closed the joint checking account I had with my mother. It was the final act of the more than a dozen years I had spent as her caregiver.

My mother died on April 16, 2014. I had kept the account open until I was sure that her final tax returns, which I had filed in July, had been accepted. I had indicated on the returns that the person filing was deceased and had included a copy of my mother’s death certificate.

Before the Labor Day weekend, I received a letter addressed to my mother from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance informing her that her tax return was not complete. She hadn’t signed it. What part of dead did they not understand? It took several phone calls over several days to straighten it out. The case is now closed, as is the chapter of my life that was devoted to and defined by my responsibilities as a caregiver.

Like many New Yorkers of their generation, my parents had retired to Florida, Century Village to be exact. Over the years, they had survived medical crises that are often fatal or severely debilitating. They sprang back like the Energizer bunny, a little worse for wear but still ticking.

2000: Julia and Nathan Rivman in Florida
2000: Julia and Nathan Rivman in Florida

Intellectually I knew a day would likely come when my parents were no longer able to care for themselves but I operated as if it would never happen. I got used to seeing my once overweight father become painfully thin. I believed my mother when she said that her wobbly walking was not a problem. I blithely embraced the freedom of my single, childless life.

In 2002, that was all changed by a phone call.

I was shocked to hear my father’s voice. He NEVER called. I knew it had to be serious. In a shaky voice he said, “I’m really worried about your mother. She’s got a terrible pain in her left leg and lower back. She can barely walk. You better come to Florida.”

My mother was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a condition caused by a narrowing of the space surrounding the spinal cord. A cortisone shot relieved much of her pain. The doctor prescribed a brace for her left leg.

My mother’s mobility was compromised; she needed help dressing and bathing. Housework, shopping, and cooking were no longer possible. My father insisted that he could handle the situation; that under no circumstances would he have help in the house.

Thus began my journey as a caregiver.

For the next two years, I called my parents at least once a day. I made frequent visits to Florida. When I was there, I cleaned my parents’ apartment and went shopping; accompanied them to doctors’ appointments and for haircuts; and cooked and froze enough dinner meals to last until I returned.

Despite my best efforts, both my parents’ conditions steadily deteriorated. My mother was having difficulty getting in and out of her bed and lift chair, and she was showing increasing signs of dementia. My father was having trouble swallowing and weighed less than 100 pounds. After much cajoling, my stubborn father finally relented and allowed me to hire an aid to come to their apartment for five hours every day to take care of both of them. That arrangement lasted only a few weeks. On January 10, 2004, my father had a heart attack and died.

The first thing my mother said was, “Who called Marian? When is she coming?” She had no doubt that I would come, take care of her and make sure she was safe. (I have an older sister but she was not a participant in my parents’ care. It is not unusual that one offspring bears the full responsibility.)

It was clear that my mother could not live alone. She shuddered at the thought of having an aid live in her apartment with her. She nixed the idea of moving back north to be closer to me and the rest of her family. She said she couldn’t face the cold winters.

My mother wanted to stay in Florida and go to an assisted living facility that served three meals a day. She wanted somewhere she could play bridge and if possible, she wanted a water view. I found just the place, The Classic Residence by Hyatt. My mother adjusted well and was happy there. But she was plagued by a variety of medical problems, and I constantly had to go to Florida to be with her. The truth was, it didn’t matter whether she lived in Florida or New York. Her mobility was so bad, she never went outside. 

After five months, I convinced my mother to move to the Hyatt Assisted Living Residence in Yonkers, New York. We were both happy. She had a small studio apartment with a view of the Hudson River. Despite her worsening dementia, she played bridge three times a week; something clicked in her brain when she had cards in her hands. All was going smoothly when my mother and I were featured in a New York Times story about Sunbelt retirees returning north.

In January 2005, almost a year to the day my father died, my mother fell and fractured her hip. She had barely been able to get around before the fall. So it wasn’t too surprising that even after three months of rehab, she no longer had the minimum skills required for her to remain in assisted living. I immersed myself in elder law to explore my options.

I had two choices. My mother could move to a nursing home where she would be a private pay patient for three years, or I could get her an apartment where she could receive Medicaid home care. I chose the latter.

In April 2005, I moved my mother into an apartment across the street from mine. She had qualified for 24-hour Medicaid home care. I was going to run a nursing home for one.

Julia Rivman in her 'nursing home for one'
Julia Rivman in her ‘nursing home for one’

Charlotte Oti was the primary aid assigned to my mother’s case. For nine years, my mother had home health aids 24/7. During that time, many different aids were assigned to my mother’s case. There was no one who ever compared to Charlotte. She was my partner in my mom’s care. Even when Charlotte became a Certified Nurses Aid and started working in a nursing home, she was always there for me. She was the one person I could always depend on. Charlotte and her children are now an important part of my life; we are family.

Julia Rivman and Charlotte Oti
Julia Rivman and Charlotte Oti

It had been my plan to have my mother remain in the apartment and receive home care until she died. As the years passed, I missed the freedom I once had. I was well into my sixties and was beginning to feel like my life was passing me by. Friends encouraged me to move my mom to a nursing home, but I resisted. I changed my mind after an aid had a heart attack and died while caring for my mother. I realized how vulnerable my mother was. She was wheelchair bound and no longer could make a phone call.

The decision to move my mother to a nursing home was the hardest decision I ever made. I did extensive research and chose what was supposed to be one of the best nursing homes in New York. Getting a Medicaid bed for my mother was considered a major victory. She moved on June 1, 2013.

I was traumatized eight days later when I learned that while being transferred in a Hoyer lift by an inexperienced aid, my mother’s left arm had been broken, and her shoulder dislocated. I turned into a raving lunatic. Having given up my mother’s apartment, I had few choices.

Rather than move my mom again, I decided to keep her at the facility. I arranged for her to be transferred to a different pavilion where the supervising nurse was sympathetic to my concerns. I hired private companions to be with my mother ten hours a day. I sued the nursing home and used the money from the settlement to pay for the companions.

My mother was content. Her companions took her to concerts, the art studio, bingo and other activities offered at the home.

She was at the nursing home for ten months before she died in my arms in April 2014. It has taken all this time to be finally able to put a period on that chapter of my life.

The most important lesson I learned from my mother during my years as her caregiver was the power of a positive attitude and an appreciative nature.

My mother had an incredibly positive and upbeat attitude. She NEVER complained. This was her mantra: “I consider myself very lucky. At my age, I’m not in pain. I’m lucky because I’m never bored; I read and watch television selectively. I even count the taxis that are going down the street. I’m lucky because I’m VERY well taken care of thanks to my daughter.” Every time I find myself in a negative frame of mind, I give myself an attitude adjustment a la my mother.

My mother never asked for anything without saying “please” and she was quick with a “thank you.” She expressed her gratitude to me daily. She was kind to her aids, and they loved her for it. She enjoyed every morsel of every meal. She took pleasure in the smallest things.

As I start a whole new chapter of my life, I’ve been working on myself to become more like my mom.

A Visit to the Dermatologist

As part of this summer’s countdown to my 70th birthday, I scheduled a series of doctor’s appointments. I’ve been fortunate health wise. I have no chronic conditions; I’ve never been hospitalized, and I’ve never had surgery. My intention is to keep it that way. I wanted t make sure that if there were any potential problems, I’d catch them at an early stage.

In the last two months, I’ve seen my eye doctor, general practitioner, dentist, and gynecologist. All delivered good news. “The cataract in your right eye hasn’t changed. No need for surgery.”“ Marian, your test results are good. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing.” No new prescriptions. No problems.

My most recent appointment was with my dermatologist. I was nervous before this one. I wondered if the stupid use of a sun reflector when I was in college and the endless hours I spent in the blazing sun during my years representing the scuba diving industry had done more serious damage than the freckles that dotted my skin. Were the hated bumps and blotches that had sprouted on my body like a garden out of control more than an annoyance?

Marian Rivman - poolside in the Caribbean. Photo Credit: Pechter Photo
Marian Rivman – poolside in the Caribbean. Photo Credit: Pechter Photo

My concerns were not unfounded. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

Dr. Lisa Travis at Upper West Side Dermatology listened to my concerns and patiently answered all my questions. Then she pulled out a magnifying glass and examined my body head to toe, inch by inch.

She determined that the blotches and bumps I loathed were Seborrheic Keratoses, common, non-contagious skin growths that can appear anywhere on the skin in middle-aged and older adults. (An unwelcome gift of aging????) Some people get just one. Most people have many. Too bad, I’m in the latter category.

Seborrheic keratoses - a common skin growth.
Seborrheic Keratoses – a common skin growth.

According to the AAD, most Seborrheic Keratoses do not require care. However, they recommend you see a dermatologist if:

  • The growth grows quickly, turns black, itches, or bleeds (possible signs of skin cancer).
  • Many new skin growths suddenly appear. This can be a sign of cancer inside the body.
  • Your skin growth does not look like a typical seborrheic keratosis.
  • Your growth is dry, flat, rough, and scaly. It could be an actinic keratosis, which can progress to a type of skin cancer.
  • The growth is easily irritated, such as from shaving or clothes rubbing against it.
  • You want the growth taken off because you do not like how it looks. An option I may consider some time in the future for the blotches beginning to develop on my face.

There was only one spot, the size of a pinhead, which Dr. Travis said could be problematic and she wants me to watch. To me, it looked like just another freckle. She explained that it was much darker than my other freckles and that color was an important variable.

The suspicious dark spot that needs to be watched.
The suspicious dark spot that needs to be watched.

Before I left the office, I asked Dr. Travis the most important things people my age should do to keep our skin healthy and hopefully, cancer free. She said her recommendations would be the same for people of any age.

First and foremost, be sure always to wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. She also said that everyone should examine his or her skin regularly. She suggested that I visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website that has an excellent step-by-step guide for skin self-examination. I did that as soon as I got home, and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same.

All-in-all, it’s good to know that I’m as healthy as I feel.

I hope you will continue to follow me on my countdownto70.

Home Sweet Home

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It has never been easy to find an affordable rental apartment in New York City. Snagging one was always considered a major accomplishment and the subject of many a dinner party conversation.

Decades ago, the shortage of available housing led to a series of laws aimed at stabilizing the Big Apple’s real estate market. Though there’s been a weakening of those laws over the years, there are still currently close to a million apartments in New York City that are stabilized. These prize apartments offer perks including a guaranteed right to renew your lease and limits on how much your landlord can hike up your rent each year. It is my good fortune to live in one of them.

It most definitely was not my plan to spend my entire adult life in the same one-bedroom upper westside apartment. However, that is what happened. I have the dubious distinction of being the longest continuous tenant on my block, which runs between Broadway and Columbus Avenue.

Marian Rivman's block - West 68th between Broadway and Columbus Avenue
Marian Rivman’s Block – West 68th between Broadway and Columbus Avenue

I moved into my apartment in November 1968. I’d been staying with my best friend who had an apartment on West 83rd Street, which was a seriously seedy area at the time; Columbus Avenue was neither stylish nor safe. My friend’s apartment had been robbed multiple times, and she was having a new lock installed. The first thing the locksmith said was “What are two nice girls doing in a place like this?” He was the super of a building on West 68th Street and said there was an apartment available. We signed the lease the next day. My friend left two years later to move to Israel. I remained and have been there ever since.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my apartment this summer.As I develop the financial plan for my retirement, I realize just how blessed I am to have affordable housing.

Related Post: A Financial Check-up.

There have been many changes since I moved to the block. There were years of blasting and drilling as high-rises went up all around me. I used to envy the people in my building who had apartments with windows that faced 68th Street because they had unobstructed skyline views. No more. Thanks to the 47 story building that was erected directly across the street, they now face a brick wall.

For the most part, I embraced the changes. The Loews AMC multiplex was a welcome addition; I joined the Sports Club New York before it opened. However, the cost of commercial and residential real estate in the neighborhood has reached astronomical levels, and we are losing needed services.

For virtually all the time I’ve lived in my apartment, there was a supermarket on the corner of Broadway and 68th Street. No more. The Food Emporium left because it was more lucrative for them to sell their long-term lease than to sell food. Now Lowe’s Home Improvement is anchoring the corner.

Lowe's Home Improvement - 2008 Broadway NYC 10023
Lowe’s Home Improvement – 2008 Broadway NYC 10023

Lowe’s will be having its Grand Opening on September 12th, my 70th birthday. And on the same day, for the first time, the West 68th Street Block Association will be holding their Fall Party on my street rather than the block between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.

How very thoughtful of my neighbors. I hope you will join the festivities. There’ll be partying from 11:00am-4:00 pm.

Four Must Have Legal Documents

There are four legal documents all adults, regardless of age, should have. They are a Last Will and Testament, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Living Will and a Health Care Proxy.

I have had these documents in place for years. However, when I reviewed them as part of the countdown to my 70th birthday, I found that they were woefully out of date. Several of my beneficiaries had died; non-profits that I wanted to support had gone out of business. Friends who were named as health care proxies were no longer in my life. The good news is that these documents can be changed multiple times in your life and are now readily available on several websites at a reasonable cost. August is Make a Will Month, so several sites have specials. I chose Legal Zoom’s estate plan bundle.

Last will

Last Will and Testament- This is where you decide how your assets and property will be divided upon your death, and who will handle that process. Generally, assets are left to a surviving spouse or children. I was the executrix of both my parents’ wills; my sister and I were the only beneficiaries. As a single, childless woman, I had to give serious thought to who I wanted my beneficiaries to be.Where would my money do the most good? Who would need it the most? Who would get my jewelry? My art work?

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Durable Power of Attorney – You name someone who can step into your shoes, legally speaking, should you become incapacitated. You can authorize this person to do such things as sign checks and tax returns, enter into contracts, buy or sell real estate, deposit or withdraw funds, run a business, or anything else you do for yourself. Without a durable power of attorney, the courts would have to intervene if you are no longer capable of handling your affairs. For the decade I was my mother’s caregiver, I had her power of attorney. Two close friends have agreed to act as my agent. I hope I never need them to do so.

Living Will

LivingWill-A living will, also called a directive to physicians or advance directive, is a document that lets people state their wishes for end-of-life medical care, in case they become unable to communicate their decisions. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have no interest whatsoever in having my life prolonged by being on a respirator or a feeding tube. Often a Living Will is part of a Health Care Proxy, which is the case at Legal Zoom.

Health Care Proxy – This document puts your life in someone else’s hands. A health care proxy makes medical decisions on your behalf when you are not cable of doing so. Scary stuff! Without a health care proxy, you are at the mercy of the medical establish and the courts could intervene in your care. It is imperative that your health care proxy has a copy of your living will and agrees to follow your directives. I was my mother’s health care proxy and made endless medical decisions on her behalf. The two friends I have designated as my health care proxy fully understand and will abide by my directives

From now on, I will review these documents on a yearly basis to make sure the information is up to date and reflect my current wishes.

My Home Away From Home – The Sports Club New York

Fitness experts advise people that when choosing a health club, convenience should be their number one priority. So, when it was announced that the 47 story building that was being constructed directly across the street from my apartment would include a health club, I joined before it opened. The Sports Club New York, first owned by Reebok now by Equinox, has been my home away from home for more than 20 years.

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While I have used all the facilities of the Club at different times, it is the mind/body classes that are the core of my workout routine. The yoga studio is my dream come true. Big windows allow light to pour into the room, and the view of the Manhattan skyline is the antidote to my closed-in apartment.

Yoga studio at Equinox Sports Club New York
Yoga studio at Equinox Sports Club New York

Though I had taken many a yoga class before I joined the Club, I had not been exposed to Iyengar Yoga. It turned out to be just the right form of yoga practice for me. It is slower; poses are held longer, and props are used to help students achieve proper alignment. Depending on my schedule, I take 3-5 Iyengar classes a week. I also throw in a couple of gentle yoga classes for good measure. I have been taking the same classes, with many of the same students for 20 years. We are a community. During the decade that I was my mother’s caregiver, my yoga classes kept me sane.

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In the last couple of years, I’ve added two additional techniques to my weekly list of classes. The first is Melt, which helps to rehydrate the connective tissue, rebalance the nervous system, and restore space to compressed joints. The other is  Floor-Barre, which helps with alignment, correct muscle usage, and strengthening joints. I’m such a floor-barre fan that for my summer pre-70th birthday shape-up, I’m taking a Wednesday evening class that my instructor teaches at another studio.

I want to take this moment to thank all the teachers past and present who have helped to keep me flexible and grounded. They are Carol Foster, Cheryl Malter, Michelle Hill, Eve Holbrook, Robin Simmonds, Kavi Patel, Whitney Chapman, Jeanene Garro, Suzanne Taylor and Jodi Moccia

Related Post: Milestone Birthdays

In addition to the yoga studio, I am grateful for the outdoor track at the Sports Club where I have logged thousands of steps the last couple of weeks to meet my daily goal.

The track at the Equinox Sports Club New York
The track at the Equinox Sports Club New York

It is hard for me to imagine my life without the Sports Club New York.