Friday, March 28, 2014

What you learn in your 60s

I'm Happy Just to Dance with You

So many 50th anniversaries of Baby Boomer milestones to celebrate these days, from the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show fifty years ago to President Kennedy's assassination. And expect a lot more, since the Baby Boomer generation spans 18 years of history (1946-1964). Moreover, in 2014 all boomers, even the youngest ones born in 1964, are passing the 50 mark and most boomers are now facing the transition to the second act in their lives.

Time to figure out what the sixties decade means!

Warning: what I’m going to say here is based on my own experience (!). When I left behind a lifetime career at the United Nations, I thought I was going to enter into a wonderful period of R & R (rest and recuperation). Hey, I deserved it! But no, it didn’t pan out. Too much to do. There was my writing, I wanted to revive my childhood dream of becoming an artist. But I hadn’t stopped being a wife, a mother (two grown-up children) and…a daughter. My Mom, 100 years old and still thriving (she reads one novel a week on her Kindle but I'm the one manipulating the ereader to buy them).

So here goes. 
  • The biggest transition is realizing that you're the "sandwiched generation". In spite of all the hype about how rebellious Baby Boomers have changed History, the truth is very different. Most of us are not into politics or big events. We find we are responsible for both our old parents and our children. The parents may not be in their dotage quite yet, but they need care. Our children in some cases may still be toddlers (a result of the fashion for late marriages), but for most of us, they are grown-up. With the on-going recession, chances are they’re home, struggling to find a job. As parents, we are happy to have them around, but it's impossible not to worry about their future.
  • You've finally know the distance between the real world and the ideal one. The distance is big and no one can pull a fast one on you.
  • There may be no "soul mates", you've known there weren't since you were in your 40s, but you can distinguish between your real friends who will help you and those who won't. This is perhaps the most surprising thing: it's still possible to make new friends in your 60s.
  • You learn more about yourself, more than you ever thought possible. The last time you learned so much was back when you were in your late teens and early twenties. That's exhilarating. And frightening. For us writers, that transition to greater self-knowledge is a fantastic fount of inspiration to write novels (indeed, that's what inspired Louis Begley with his About Schmidt series or my own Crimson Clouds, a romance featuring a man who’s just retired).
  • On a lighter note: You see the good side of things more easily than before. You've learned to appreciate the simple things in life and honest friendship - because now you trust your judgment and you know you're not going to live forever. Carpe Diem! Catch the joy in each day and spread it around.
  • On a yet lighter note: Now you can buy those tight jeans, you've learned to control your weight (about time too!)

 About Claude Nougat

She is a writer, economist, painter and poet. A Columbia U. graduate, Claude has held a wide variety of jobs before starting a 25 year career at the United Nations, ending as  FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Director for Europe and Central Asia.
Claude is the author of many books, including two in Italian that won several awards in Italy, and six books in English, all fiction except one essay on development aid; she is considered a prime exponent of Boomer literature. Her latest book, “Crimson Clouds”, is a romance, tracing the passionate search for self by a man who has just retired from a brilliant career and the desperate efforts of his wife to save their 20-year marriage. Her poetry has been included in "Freeze Frame", a poetry anthology curated by British poet Oscar Sparrow and published in 2012 by Gallo-Romano Media.

Claude is married and lives in Italy.

Connect with Claude Nougat:

Her blog about social issues, books and art:

 Photo credit: The Beatles, Wikipedia file

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Olympic Men and Women to Machines


By Courtney Pierce

From daring feats to digital art to drones. My voyage of watching the Olympics over the past forty-five years has followed our progression as humans to a non-human age. We held our breath; our eyes filled with pride and tears, but this time around I watched in fear as these young men and women pushed their bodies to feats programmed on computer models, devised no less by BMW.

But even rocks crack. Witness the decision by Russian skater, Evgeni Plushenko, who inched away from the men’s skating competition because his health was more important than winning another medal. I was riveted.

He was human in that moment; a star who wanted to remain one to his fans. After twelve surgeries on his lower back before the age of thirty-one, he will surely be thankful he glided off the ice when he watches himself on an archived video at sixty, seventy, or eighty. It takes a true human to make an Olympian call in defiance of sponsors and country.

I love the emotion of the Olympics. Hundredths of a second separate a hero from a zero, our new measurement of human achievement. Olympic emotion, though, was mostly relegated to the backstory segments, such as those of the U.S. team members, Amanda Bird and Gus Kenworthy, who rescued stray dogs in Sochi to bring them home for a better life. Or the Canadian free skier, Alex Bilideau, taking on air to please his brother with Cerebral Palsy, his true hero. Those are the heart-felt moments we watched off the ice that allowed us to connect as humans.

Remember when millions of women wanted a Dorothy Hamill haircut? We didn't watch the counter; we watched Dorothy. She exuded personality.

And who would dare whack the knee of Nancy Kerrigan, America’s skating sweetheart? One of our own skater’s entourage stood under the camera lights for that unthinkable act in 1994. The stakes rose. Do anything to win. Nancy went on the ice, buoyed with charged emotion from the fans, and won a silver medal. My own knee ached as I watched. Like a thriller, we wanted the bad guy to go down.

This year, I became fascinated with the strange mechanical shadows as skiers soared to new heights on their snowboards in baggy pants. They were drones. The little flying machines recorded the faces in the crowds and followed the Olympians should there be an act of terror. I get it, but geez. Empty seats. Globalization is kind of immobilizing, the opposite result of its goal. Many were too afraid to go to Sochi because of media-infused threats.

There are still thrills and spills to fascinate us. Comcast even had an on-demand selection for those moments on cable: Olympic light. But then my cynicism vanished as the figure skater, "Queen" Yuna Kim of South Korea, sailed across the ice in a near-flawless performance that dropped my jaw with its beauty. Wow! So young to exhibit such mature grace. Yuna didn't seem real.

Photo: Jackson Hole News & Guide
My uncle, Harry Baxter, has been a professional skier since 1938. He didn't make it to the Olympics due to the war in Korea. A hero of a different kind, but an Olympian nonetheless. After more than seventy years on skies, Harry still competes and instructs young hopefuls to be their best. He does it with my bionic aunt, Martha. A major ski event has been named after Uncle Harry: The Harry Baxter Challenge. And in January, 2014, he won his category at the age of eight-four. (Yes, that's a photo of my uncle on his latest winning run!)

Will Evgeni Plushenko be skating at eight-four? I wonder and worry since he experienced so much pain in his final Olympic moments. My uncle is both a hero and a star while he continues to ski. But more than that, Harry’s an example for human athletes in the future: Achieve, live a full life, and continue to follow your passion. The Olympic spirit shouldn't stop at thirty when sponsorship fizzles and fans have gone home to hibernate for four years.

What heartens me is what happens after these Olympics. Some 2014 athletes will come home with rescued canine orphans, give back to the families and friends who supported their journey, and inspire young athletes to be better than they ever dreamed . . . and thrill us with their backstories four years from now.

Here’s to the true Olympic spirit!

Courtney Pierce is a fiction writer living in Milwaukie, Oregon. After a twenty-year career as an executive in the Broadway entertainment industry, she switched her focus from the magic of theater to her passion for writing. Courtney is currently in the Hawthorne Fellows program at the Attic Institute and is Vice President and board member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA). Her short story, 1313 Huidekoper Place, was published in the 2013 NIWA Anthology of Speculative Fiction. Her first two novels of a trilogy, Stitches and Brushes, follow the trail of two sleuthing boomers who want a little magic in their lives—and magic what they get when they find a mysterious artifact at an estate sale. Her third book of the trilogy, Riffs, will be published in 2014. For more information, visit Courtney’s blog: 

Friday, March 14, 2014


By Linda Wood Rondeau

I pulled out my recipe for snicker doodles, an old-time favorite. As I put in the shortening, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla, the recipe said to blend until creamy.

 My mind flashed to when I first learned how to bake, back in the day when cake mixes were a novelty or used for last minute church suppers.

The kitchen was my mother’s paradise and her instructions were gospel. To deter meant banishment from the stove.
First: “Wash your hands. No good cook comes to the kitchen with dirty hands.”
Next: “Now read the recipe, and put all the ingredients on the shelf.”
Third step, to my mother the most crucial in the whole process: “cream the shortening, butter, eggs and sugars.”

I stuck in the rotary beaters, set it on high and splashed wet globs from one end of the kitchen to the other. “Done,” I said.

Mother knew better, knew I was always in a hurry to get to the end of a project. “Nope. It’s too grainy. Set the beater on low, scrape the sides frequently, fold the batter together and repeat. Let time and the ingredients do their magic.”

Reluctantly, I started again, following her directions blowing out my frustration all the while. “This takes too long.” 

“Creaming is the most important step in the whole process,” Mother said. “If you hurry the creaming, the cookies will come out crumbly. Creaming is what makes them chewy and delectable. Don’t rush the creaming. It takes time but the result is worth it.”

I slowed down and watched with wonder as the goo gradually melded into a creamy, light texture, the ingredients transforming before my eyes.

As I carefully creamed for the snicker doodles, Mother’s words came back to me. I thought about our instant society, how we crave immediate results, the growing tendency to hurry through life in the fastest checkout line. In our haste we blunder through the mix of it all, leaving globs of broken dreams in the muck of our speed.

I thought how the creaming principle is true in all the rooms of our lives, not just the kitchen. We tend to rush for the pleasure without enduring the process. God has given us the recipe for a rich, textured life. If we take the time to cream it, not be satisfied with grainy goo or toss it aside because of its unpleasantness—if we repeatedly scrape, fold and beat for as long as it takes, the grimy gook of our shattered hopes will become that creamed foundation that awakens the flavor of our human experience.  

An award winning author, Rondeau’s stories provide a wide assortment of unforgettable characters who journey paths not unlike our own. Her debut novel, The Other Side of Darkness, a novel dealing with PTSD, won the 2012 Selah Award in its category. Her story, It Really IS a Wonderful Life, featuring a war widow, continues to be a best seller in its category. The popular A Christmas Prayer (renamed A Father’s Prayer) reaches an audience for special needs children. Days of Vines and Roses features an estranged couple battling demonic forces. Joy Comes to Dinsmore Street demonstrates the destructive influence of family secrets. Her loved non-fiction, I Prayed for Patience/God Gave Me Children demonstrates how the experience of parenting teaches us what it means to be God’s child.

Contact her through her website,, or email or through her social media pages: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.  


Friday, March 7, 2014

Two Goats, a Falcon, and a Wedding Night in Jail

This is a story that could only happen in the ‘60s. Those days of muscle cars. Days when they threw real rice after a wedding. In some ways it wasn't as bad as the title sounds. In other ways it was much worse.

Our wedding was finally over and my beautiful bride ran beside me through a shower of rice as we hurried to the little blue Ford Falcon with a big V8 engine that, with my best man at the wheel and the maid of honor at his side, would whisk us away from the church. We would outrun those in pursuit to where I had hidden my car at a rest area along the freeway north of town. You know, so it wouldn't be molested by those pesky wedding vandals.

My wife of only a few minutes glanced at me when we jumped into the Falcon. I’d known her since we were kids, so I could interpret the look in her eyes. Let’s get to our car and get out of Dodge. My sentiments exactly.

I had rented the honeymoon suite at a place about 70 miles up the freeway. We just needed to shake anybody following us, get to my car, and drive for an hour up the freeway and … But back to the Ford with us in the back seat.

My best man, and buddy of 15 years, leaned over and whispered something to the maid of honor sitting beside him. They were plotting something. I started to lean forward and listen, but honking horns behind us drew my attention.

As we pulled from the curb, I looked back to see who was honking and got a close-up view of the grill of my uncle’s GTO. Suddenly, losing the chasers became a little dicier. You see, my buddy and I had sat in the back seat of that Goat when my uncle showed us it could hit 100 MPH in quite a bit less than a quarter mile. As he accelerated down the highway, we must have pulled 5 g’s. Couldn't even move my arms. And now that vehicle was chasing us through town.

The little Falcon with its over-sized engine could really scoot, but the Goat was raw power and speed. Realizing this, my buddy tried to shake my uncle by circling blocks and weaving through town on side streets. I looked back. Now another GTO was also in pursuit, hanging close to my uncle’s car.

We were now leading a long procession of vehicles, racing through town with horns blaring.  This was not good. I looked at my bride and caught her gaze just before another sharp turn threw us to our left. Again, her eyes spoke what I was thinking. Our wish to get out of Dodge had morphed to getting out of Dodge alive.

Things had gotten out of hand. I tapped my best man on the shoulder, “Just head for the freeway and get out of town before—“

Too late. Red lights flashed and a siren sounded. My bride tensed beside me as a cop brought our whole procession to a stop, cutting us off.

My best man rolled down the window and put a cheesy grin on his face. I was anxious to get out of town, but I was also anxious to see how he was going to talk his way out of a ticket, because I knew my buddy would try. He always did. But things didn't go like I planned. Not one bit.

The cop, a big, middle-aged guy who had mastered the look of authority and intimidation, stuck his head halfway in the window. Good. He’s going to get right in my buddy’s face. But he didn't.

The cop’s gaze locked onto me and my bride seated in back. I’ll never forget those 12 words that came out of his mouth as he gave us his laser look, “How would you two like to spend your wedding night in jail?”

What do you say as a comeback to a question like that? Maybe something like, “But we would lose the honeymoon suite we rented at—“

“That’s the general idea,” he said in his gruff voice as he raised his eyebrows and stared at me for a moment.

They say patience is a virtue, so I closed my mouth and waited.

Eventually, he pulled his head back and turned to the driver, the guy who had caused all of this. “What in blazes did you think you were doing?”

 “I was just trying to get these two out of town.” My best man used his best imitation of an innocent kid’s voice. But it was a poor imitation by any standard, and I was now hoping he would get a big ticket. He deserved it.

The policeman thumbed over his shoulder in the direction of the hospital. “Do you want to send these two off on their honeymoon or to the morgue in a body bag?”

If there was anything romantic left in this evening, it flew out the window with the mention of body bags.

The cop gave my best man a lecture that seemed to last for an hour. Eventually, the cop’s threats slowed to a trickle, and he looked back at my bride and me again. “I’m going to let you go just this once. But if anyone honks their horn or starts speeding again, you two will spend your wedding night in jail.”

In hindsight, I figured out what the guy was doing. He knew how badly we wanted leave his area of jurisdiction. And he probably knew I could handle my best man better than anyone else and would do so long after the policeman had driven away.

He was right. I threatened to kill my buddy if he didn't drive below the legal limit straight to where my car was parked. Told him I was sitting right behind him, so he wouldn't even see it coming when I wasted him.

In conclusion, my best man drove us safely and sanely to the rest area where I had parked my car. After he exited from the freeway and decelerated into the rest area, the whispering between him and the maid of honor resumed. But only after the Ford Falcon stopped behind my car, pinning it to the curb, did we realize what the whispering was about. The two people in the front seat hopped out … carrying bottles of black shoe polish in their hands.

 H. L. Wegley served in the USAF as an Intelligence Analyst and a Weather Officer. In civilian life he performed research in atmospheric physics. After earning an MS in Computer Science, he worked 20+ years in systems development at Boeing before retiring near Seattle, where he and his wife of 47 years enjoy small-group ministry, grandchildren, hiking on the Olympic Peninsula, snorkeling Maui whenever possible, and where he writes inspirational thrillers and romantic suspense novels. He just released his second novel in the Pure Genius Series from Pelican Book Group, On the Pineapple Express