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Doing Old Age the Right Way

??????????This week Genilee and I had a book signing at an assistant living facility—the Emeritus in Manassas, Virginia.  It was quite an eye-opening experience that really showed the difference a good activity director can make in the lives of the elderly residents.  When we got there, everything was already set up for us―table, chairs and about a dozen members ready for us.

??????????For the current signing, we gave our usual background speech about how we got started and a little about the book itself. We were delighted that, with that little bit of background and some enthusiasm from attendees, the director purchased a book for each member and proceeded to set up a book review event. The group decided to divide the reading of the 300-plus pages of Twist of Fate into four sections of 75 pages each—a session for each of four weeks going forward.  On the fourth week, Genilee and I are invited to come back and hear the group’s critique of our work and their opinion of the book in general – good or bad!  Then they may purchase our second book, Wretched Fate, and do the same with that book.

It was a wonderful plan not only for their club but also for Genilee and me.  We need people who have read our books to tell us not only what they like, but where the plot/character/sequences of events might falter so we can strengthen our books going forward.

The experience also was just an uplifting day for two authors who love to hear from readers, and we hope we inspired this particular group of readers as much as they inspired us. One of the reasons we believe there has been so much enthusiasm for us as speakers is that it’s good for older people to hear that life doesn’t have to stop because of advanced years or the reality that they can’t do the things they used to. Old age can be a time of pursuing a dream or a different ??????????hobby; and I firmly believe everyone needs hobbies.  The one thing none of us needs is to sit in front of the boob tube, living someone else’s life.

I’ve always had hobbies – and they changed as I grew older yet became just as important as the ones before them. For thirty years, I wrote a recipe column for our hometown weekly newspaper as I was raising my family.  After the kids were in school, I went back and took a few education classes and then served as a substitute teacher.  When I found the 75-mile trip to school got in the way of completing my education degree, I took a course in accounting and then found a job ??????????doing books, which I enjoyed.  From there, I went into knitting, oil painting, ceramic painting and then genealogy. Each venture lasted about three years – until I could no longer think of anyone to gift with my handiwork. After I retired, I perfected my Bridge game and taught that game to over 150 men and women. I have continued my bridge playing and tried to go back to knitting and ceramic painting, but my macular degeneration means my eyes are too bad for ??????????any close-up detail work. Yet, despite that sad fact, I could see well enough that I decided if I was ever going to write books―a desire I’ve always had―I had better get started. I was 82 by this time (I’m 86 now).

The lesson to other seniors is that, though I don’t do anything perfectly, I have kept the creative juices flowing, which I believe keeps the blood flowing and the mind active.  I may not be gifted enough to win awards for any of my ventures, including writing. Our books are not literary masterpieces. They are meant to entertain and to keep people reading. But what an inspiration it is to bring enjoyment to others! And hopefully, through visits like the one to Emeritus, Genilee and I are also spreading the word that life doesn’t have to stop at 80 … or even 90.

??????????

 –F. Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Old-fashioned Goodness

cooking 4For more than 70 years I’ve enjoyed cooking, but lately it’s become a chore. I still do it many days and often for an event or family get together. But it doesn’t carry the enjoyment I had when I was younger. This was especially true during the first few years of my marriage. Since this was right after World War II, cooking was something that was a challenge on our limited budgets (not to mention the lack of all of today’s fancy kitchen gadgets.) But it was something to be proud of, and something that gave us a challenge and usually a success every day.

Once the kids were born, it became a challenge for a different reason, mostly because there were so many foods they didn’t really like. It wasn’t fun, believe me, when one of my children refused to eat anything with ground meat of any kind and another one hated meat and potatoes so badly she acted insulted when I chose it for dinner. I think I began enjoying it again when I realized I just couldn’t please everyone so I stopped trying, started looking for new recipes and started experimenting.

I especially like to cook when I can make up something—I have a general dish in mind and certain ingredients, but no specific recipe. The trouble is, when I have a success this way, I’ve generally forgotten to write it down. It doesn’t seem to ever turn out quite as well as that first time, but maybe that has to do with remembering how good the initial success felt.

Like with writing, one of the reasons people enjoy cooking is the audience. For most of my senior years, my husband has been that audience unless we’re going to an event. Now my husband is good about everything and has never complained about anything I ever made and often complimented me. But he wouldn’t cook himself. He was raised in a different era than men today; he never even did much grilling—it just wasn’t his thing. This was fine because he enjoyed what I made and made me feel good about my cooking skills. After almost 65 years of marriage, however, even cooking for this one-man audience has become a chore.

If you’re wondering what my point is, I started writing this column after having a craving for something I used to make a long time ago, one of my personal favorites. It’s a simple recipe given to me by my brother-in-law’s wife. It’s just a frosting, which I usually put on a cake made from a mix. But it really crowns the cake and makes it a showpiece for its flavor. Somehow it’s just as good as eating candy. My son Mark mentioned it to me not too long ago, and it reminded me that there are simple recipes that stand the test of time as well the test of age. When it came to cakes, usually my kids preferred something simpler – white cake with white frosting. This one was the exception.

spry

Museum of American Packaging

Since this recipe is in my brain because I plan to make this frosting for a potluck I’m attending next week, I thought I’d pass it along to you. It reminds me that even with all the ease of canned frosting and boxed mixes, sometimes going back to the old-fashioned way of cooking produces something that reminds you why you like to cook: because you like to eat good food and you like to give that pleasure to others. If you’re wondering what “Spry” is, you have travel back to the 1950s and 1960s. It was a shortening that rivaled Crisco and was actually better tasting at the time, but lost the battle. I’ve left it in this recipe to keep it historically accurate. You’d have to travel to Cyprus today to buy any, so I’d advise substituting shortening!

Brown sugar frosting
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons Spry
1 cup brown sugar

Mix together in medium size saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Add 1/4 cup milk.  Bring to boil again and boil for 3 minutes over low heat.  Take off stove and cool. When cool, add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.  When thoroughly blended, frost over prepared baked cake. Very good on spice cake or white cakes.

For our readers, I want to leave you with this thought: when something becomes a chore, even when it’s something you’re as passionate about as your writing, one place to look for inspiration is to your own past. Dust off that old recipe or old creation and visit again how good it was.

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE LOCAL, Sharon and Genilee will be at the Porter Library, 2001 Parkway Blvd, Stafford, VA Thursday night beginning at 7:30 p.m. to sign copies of Twist of Fate.

F. Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Getting a Jump Start

How did you ever get started writing a book?

That’s the single most often-asked question mom and I get at book club meetings and signings and other events where we’re gathered around a table gabbing with readers and potential book buyers.

I usually turn that question over to mom since she was 82 when she started writing. [Okay, okay, I admit it’s also because I’m slightly ashamed that I am probably the person besides my newspaper editor father who has written the most words in our family. And yet, I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write—fiction.]

To answer the question, mom usually picks up The Pea in Peanut Butter to show people that she has a daughter who is a successful children’s author. Allyn Stotz, my sis and her daughter, also started fairly late in life pursuing her passion for story-telling. She’s about to publish a sequel to that first book, has three others in the works or at a publisher, and her stories have appeared in many children’s magazines and one compendium of short stories. None of us in the family knew Al was even pursuing writing for children until she was well into it—attending classes, hooking up with online writer’s groups. Like with everything she does, she pursued it with passion.

“I figured if she could do this, so should I,” mom always says.

Before I knew it, mom was writing, writing, writing away. I was amazed at how much she put into the art with no formal training. I knew she had always been an avid reader, and I knew that like Al, she was a good story teller. But I was as shocked by mom’s zeal as I was when I found out that Allyn was not only interested in writing, but well into it, with many stories already done and being fine-tuned.

And so we come to me … I don’t even know when mom and I had the initial discussion about the possibility of collaborating on the writing. I am an editor by trade so I volunteered to take a look at what she was doing. However, it’s a scary thing for an editor to look at a family member’s work. And so I must refer back to Allyn. I looked at her first works with the same trepidation. What if I hated what my sister or my mom were doing?

I’m an idiot.

Both Al and Mom have always been very creative and that creativity comes shining through in the stories they tell. Allyn was lucky to have worked with talented artist Valerie Bouthyette on that first book who could bring the words to life visually. But the ideas are pure Allyn, and I know she’ll go on to create many more ideas and books. And the same is true of Mom’s characters and plots. Her books (ahem, our books) are just plain fun to read. Like Allyn, mom and I love to lose ourselves in a good story, and to be able to create those stories is a pleasure.

So how did I get started writing? It was a jump-start provided by my family. But now, I’m zooming away down a fun highway, and I don’t intend to ever stop!

Mom and I send our thanks out for the inspiration provided by the Seniors Lunch Bunch from St. Francis of Assisi, Triangle, VA. Thanks to my friend Francia Salguero for introducing us to the group and to Anne Tunney for inviting us.

St. Francis

St. Francis Lunch Bunch

The group asked the question above, but they also asked many more and gave both mom and me the inspiration that makes creative writing and publishing a book so much fun.

 –Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Finding Our Way

lostIt seems like I have spent most of my time in the last two weeks getting lost, which I guess at 85 isn’t that unusual. The reason for this recent misadventure, however, is a good one: I have been busy trying to find places to hold book signings. I have had phenomenal luck in securing places and have come away from this experience with affirmation, once again, that the world is full of very nice people. What I’ve discovered also, however, is that, above and beyond the difficulty of “selling” yourself at my age is the challenge of actually finding your way to new places you’ve never been. I am now completely blind when it comes to reading highway signs (and for the most part, any printed words). It used to be my job to hold the map and point out the way to whereever my husband Bob and I were headed. I can’t do that anymore so I am pretty useless in helping us to get there. Meanwhile, Bob, who is now 87, used to always know what direction he was driving, but that doesn’t happen so much anymore. I suppose this is just part of growing older—trying to find your way from here to there, but it is frustrating to say the least.

Somehow, though, we managed to finally arrive at our destinations through a series of back and forth and turning around. At one point, I told Bob: “Just follow the ambulance.” Since we were looking for apartment complexes for people over the age of 55, I figured it was worth a shot! Sadly, I was right—we came right to the door we were looking for!

This is all a big change from the days when I was growing up in Michigan and always knew about where I was. North was always Lake Michigan – and from that I could always find my way. Even in the very early days of our marriage, when we lived in giant Los Angeles, I knew my way because I knew the ocean was always to our west. I managed to maintain that sense of direction right up until the years when we moved to Ohio, and it all went out the window—lost to a world of flat fields of corn. Unfortunately, the sense of direction never developed on the east coast, despite the fact the Atlantic is not so far away.
Anyway, for the past few weeks, I’ve also been lost in another way: I’ve been trying to find my way around my own computer. Instead of writing new material, I have been rewriting and trying to update my story timeline for book three. That means inserting chapters and keeping everything in correct position, which is not easy when you are almost blind. Oh, I can do almost everything except read what I’ve written. And thankfully, my son Mark installed a program on my computer that reads back to me. Thank goodness for my little man with the British accent who tells me everything I have written. He can be annoying at times, but he’s needed. And I have a new computer coming soon that will even “write” as I dictate. Isn’t modern science wonderful? It used to be that when you reached my age and had my problem, there wasn’t much you could do. Not so today—you can dictate to a machine, which puts your words on paper. Then you can make corrections and even have your machine read it all back!
I guess when I look back at the last few weeks of getting lost and frustrations with my eyesight and computer, the lesson that has been reaffirmed is simply: “Never give up.” Somehow, in spite of the obstacles, there is a way if you just keep trying. Don’t let age keep you from your dreams.

F. Sharon Swope
p.s. from Genilee: My mom is one amazing woman! This is what she and dad have been doing:
Book signings:
Saturday, March 2, 10 a.m. River Run apartments, Minnieville and Prince William Parkway, Dale City, VA
Wednesday, March 6, 11 a.m. Potomac Woods apartments, 2001 Southampton St., Woodbridge, VA.
Thursday, March 14, 1:30 to 3:30 Stafford Gardens, Mountain View Rd., Stafford, VA
We’ve also applied to participate in the Second Annual Local Author’s Fair, Bull Run Regional Library, May 4 and are participating in the Third Thursday Thrillers book group meeting, Potomac Community Library May 16.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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