Going Green… Permanently, by Nicole Walton

You recycle. Every bit of plastic and paper you can find is collected and set aside on trash day because you can’t stand the thought of it sitting in a landfill for the next billion years. It just doesn’t sit right.

But have you ever considered what will happen when you shuffle off your mortal coil? How will your body or ashes commune with the earth when you’ve gone on to bigger and better things? Will your final disposition be environmentally sound?

The movement to be more earth-friendly is manifesting itself as “green burials” in today’s funeral homes. People are choosing alternatives to the traditional embalming process, caskets, and final resting place in an effort to be kinder to Mother Earth.

Mark Canale is the owner and director of Canale Funeral Homes in Marquette, Gwinn and Ishpeming. He says in a green burial the embalming fluid normally used would be replaced with one that degrades naturally. Traditional fluid contains formaldehyde, which is excellent for preservation but is also highly toxic. The casket would be made of plain wood, wicker, or bamboo, and would not be held together with any nails, bolts, or screws. It would be placed directly in the ground instead of in a concrete vault. Cremated remains would be put in some type of biodegradable urn.

Canale says he’s all for green burials, being a recycler himself. “Funeral directors sell burial vaults, but you’re putting a piece of concrete in the ground, and the concrete continues to cure for over 100 years and it will never, ever disintegrate,” he says. “So you’re putting all that stuff in the ground for what? The purpose of the burial vault was to prevent the ground from collapsing over a period of time, creating a sunken grave and additional cemetery maintenance, but I’m one for using wood caskets and putting them directly in the earth, or going the green burial route.”

Most people in the Upper Peninsula aren’t aware of the options they have when it comes to recycling their most precious possession. Canale says the green burial movement is growing in metropolitan areas, but not many of his clients in this region question him about it. He has, however, brought up the possibility of creating green spaces with local cemetery directors. “They all have plenty of acreage to set aside a little plot of land for green burial, which would mean that there may be walkways but there can be no bituminous or concrete, no roadways, no grass to mow,” he says. “So if you buy a little section of land for your eventual burial place, you receive a GPS coordinate.” Some green burial areas don’t allow any markings at all, but others will let people indicate the spot where the remains of their loved ones lie with a simple, natural stone.

As far as money is concerned, going green would cost less than a traditional burial. Canale says he doesn’t know exactly how much a lot would be since area cemeteries don’t offer green space as yet. He’s guessing it would range from $1,000 to $1,200. A traditional casket costs roughly $800, and dispensing with the vault is a $1,300 to $1,400 savings. Canale says some cemeteries may even allow a body to be placed directly into the earth without a casket; it depends on what the cemetery draws up in its bylaws for green burial.

If it’s not a traditional burial, is it any less sacred? Not according to Canale. “No. If anything, it’s probably a little bit more sacred and has every bit of meaning because that’s where your loved one is interred—their early remains—so whether it be in a fancy cemetery with a well-manicured lawn and a fancy granite marker, or whether it’s in an area where there are plenty of trees and the leaves fall and they’re never raked up, it’s still sacred ground,” he says.

Should you want something a bit larger than a stone for a marker, something that will contribute to the earth’s well-being, you now have the option of purchasing a biodegradable “egg” and planting a tree above it.

Capsula Mundi was created by two Italian designers who wanted to give people a different approach to the way they think about death. Their project focuses on the biological cycle of transformation. According to their website, “In a culture far removed from nature, overloaded with objects for the needs of daily life and focused on youth, death is often dealt with as a taboo. We believe that this unavoidable passage, so meaningful, is not the end, but the beginning of a way back to nature. Inspired by these reflections, we decided to redesign the coffin – an object entirely left out of the design world – using ecological materials, and [non-religious] and universal life symbols, such as the egg and the tree.”

A small, egg-shaped pod made from an organic plastic holds ashes of the deceased. It’s buried like a seed in the earth, and a tree of the person’s choice is planted above it to serve as a memorial. The pods’ designers envision cemeteries allowing space for “sacred forests” that connect the sky to the earth, where family and friends continue to care for the tree and honor the departed.

Capsula Mundi for the body is still in the beginning stages, as that type of burial isn’t legal in all countries. The body of the deceased is placed in the fetal position inside a large pod and is buried just like the urn. For more information, go to http://www.capsulamundi.it/en.

A funeral with all the traditional accoutrements may make us feel better, but if we want to help the earth as well as respect our bodies as our souls’ temples, green is the way to go.

Nicole Walton is the news director at Public Radio 90 in Marquette and a freelance writer. She loves to hug trees

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.


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Your Energy & Your Life: Your Crowning Glory, by Roslyn Elena McGrath

This is the final article of a seven-part series on your 7 main energy centers.

All of life includes a spiritual component in that we are all part of something beyond what we can identify purely with our physical senses. Our attention is often focused primarily on the physical, yet our lives can be so enriched by deepening our spiritual awareness.

As you move into the holiday season and beyond, how might it feel to include more attention to this vital aspect of being alive?

Developing your understanding of your crown chakra, the energy vortex located above the center of the top of your head, can support you in deepening the spirituality in your life. Here is a first-person description of it, followed by questions to consider, and some ideas on how you might support this part of yourself.

I am your link to Heavenly Creation. I am your source of knowing Heaven while on Earth. I help you relate to otherworldly experiences. I assist your linkage with those who have made their transition, those who are in the process of coming into human form, and those who are your spiritual teachers and guides. I assist you to experience other lifetimes, parallel realities, and much more. I enlighten your load, allowing you to process current challenges in the context of spiritual discipline, spiritual awakening, and spiritual mores. Everything becomes easier as you bask in the Light of the vastness of Being. It is as if you look to the stars, recognize their relationship with your own human heart, and relax into knowing that you are part of the wonder of All That Is and that your troubles are minute within this universal context.

I am the place where you can review your life in terms of spiritual growth and empowerment, know spiritual teachings through your Soul, and invite expansion of your human experience to encompass greater knowledge of Heaven and its potential to be lived on earth.

I am completing a particular phase of human evolution right now, in which you transition from having been instilled with a strong sense of separation from other forms of life, from the crux of Creation and from one another, to a consciously felt sense of connection with all of life and its source as the dominant factor.

You will continue to know yourself as an individuated facet of the God experience on Earth, but with much greater awareness of your origination from and connection through Source. You are in for quite the magnificent ride!

It behooves you to dwell upon my vortex, in combination with your other primary vortices, of course, in order to utilize better the influx of incoming Light and ride the waves of shift with greater comfort and Grace. Indeed, I am a portal through which much Grace can flow. And I am thrilled to play such a pivotal role in your ongoing evolution!

Questions to Consider

– Do you have a sense of the Eternal and Infinite?
– Do you cultivate a sense of sacredness?
– Do you know yourself as part of the web of all life?
– Do you experience your life as having purpose and meaning?
– Do you experience Grace?

11 Ways to Support Your Spirituality

  1. Pray.
  2. Meditate.
  3. Go to &/or create a special place where you feel you can best connect with your spirituality.
  4. Give your full attention to the moment.
  5. Wear and/or surround yourself with shades of violet and/or lavender.
  6. Wear amethyst, sugilite, charoite, selenite, diamond, and/or other crystals supportive of your crown chakra on your person, and/or place in a well-frequented, visible spot in your home.
  7. Keep spiritual pictures, statues, and/or other items in your environment.
  8. Dab a little rose, lotus, helichrysum, or other essential oil supportive of your crown chakra, diluted with jojoba oil or other unscented carrier, just under your nose, on a handkerchief you keep with you, or diffuse in your home and/or work space.
  9. Visualize your crown chakra opening like a flower to receive more light
  10. Read about and/or watch movies about spiritual experiences.
  11. In a quiet, comfortable space and undisturbed time, visualize a brilliant violet-white in front of you and all around you, breathing it in until you eventually feel as if you have become this color, then ask if there is anything your crown center would like you to know.

Adapted from Chakras Alive! © 2015, Roslyn McGrath.

Roslyn Elena McGrath is the author of Chakras Alive! and other personal growth books and CDs. She recently released a recording of the Chakras Alive! meditations, and also offers workshops and private appointments. For more info., visit http://www.empoweringlightworks.com or contact (906) 228-9097, info@empoweringlightworks.com.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2017 – 2018 Issue, copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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Bodies In Motion: Yoga & Me, Yoga & You, by Diane Sautter

Yoga is profoundly subjective in individuals, yet objectively seen everywhere, including throughout the U.P. You may have noticed how interest in yoga and the variety of yoga classes available have grown. That is an objective story. My story with yoga is subjective, and will describe some of its inner workings.

My story begins with the birth of my first child. I had a long labor, and when the nurse performed the final measuring of the body’s dilation and ran my gurney down the corridor to the operating room, I watched this body shoot itself down the cosmic tunnel from a strange distance. The tunnel appeared as a black hole. Timelessly, a baby was born of my body in the fusion with intensely luminated darkness. Ecstatic moments – beyond anything in my earlier life.

A year later, I saw an ad for yoga classes. I had been feeling broken down from birthing and baby care, and was in fairly low spirits. Feeling yoga might help, I joined a class. A few days later, I bumbled through the postures and subsided into the final relaxation, stretched out on the floor. Deeper and deeper relaxation….. the teacher called it shavasana, the corpse pose. Slowly I let go, breathing deeply. Ecstatic energy, a sudden rise of voltage…. I was connected back with the experience of birthing. That experience was with me even before I had met a yoga teacher! Yoga had reopened me to the natural state of primal energy (called prana, in yogic vocabulary).

A surge of yoga teachers from India was coming to the U.S then, in the late 20th century. These were the teachers with whom I would meet and train. I found myself in the companionship of seekers. I experienced discoveries within practices that further opened perception, diving into the new books from the Far East that enriched and guided the practice of yoga. Ancient India had come to America, and I stepped into the ambiance of a civilization that constructed life on a vast sense of oneness. Yoga included the physical, psychological, and mental, and the overarching unifier was soul and spirit.

I learned that yoga was an old Sanskrit word meaning ‘yoke,’ expressing that we are connected (yoked) with the earth and its humans. Life itself is divine in higher perception (subjectivity again). During the long prehistoric tribal period (thought to be at least 100,000 years), humans lived in natural relation to the earth and to each other. Physically active, their body movements kept them grounded and in touch. As tribes moved into food cultivation, their movements became more repetitive. A hunter or gatherer is keen to the moment. A person planting seed feels the ache of repetition. Yoga seems to have gradually emerged as a way to keep in touch with the aboriginal relationship felt with the body. By the time people flooded into cities, this ancient practice of postures and attitude toward life (including spiritual experiences) brought about a more organized yoga. These ancient practices were formalized about 2000 years ago by Patanjali in the book Yoga Sutras. We still use his book today.

I gradually discovered that to give yoga to others, to teach …to bring life more alive, to break through the jails of self-limitations, to teach in order to learn, and to practice moving on the beam of stillness would help me in continuing my own yoga practice. And so I taught yoga in New York State when living there, and in Marquette when living here, for a total of fifty or so years.

Yoga celebrates subjectivity, and deep subjectivity is contact with oneness. Yoga, to yoke, to join all things together, union, means oneness! It is an activity that expresses oneness, and therein lies the bliss.

Yet objectively, as seen everywhere, there is a practice we can do that opens us to our birthright, to know the soul and the bliss of life. How many kinds of yoga are there? As many as people who practice yoga. Objectively infinite in its continuation, and subjectively infinite in its soul: infinite yoga.

Yet it is necessary to break things down in order to speak conceptually, for the mind. Traditionally, yoga practice is described as having four distinct approaches: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jana Yoga, and Raja Yoga. These names illustrate a way of practicing yoga.

Karma Yoga: Most yoga classes begin with Hatha yoga, meaning Sun/Moon yoga, literally. Hatha yoga is a way of experiencing our bodies and their potentials, and our connection with the natural world. Yoga postures communicate with this ancient and present earth; they express a physical, psychological, mental, and emotional way of being alive. Hatha yoga is part of Karma yoga, which refers to your everyday life, your Sun/Moon life. Karma yoga asks you to bring oneness and peace to your Sun/Moon life. That is yoga. One of my teachers said: Yoga is drinking water. Yoga is walking with friends. Yoga is that task you have to finish. Yoga is writing this subjective/objective note on yoga.

Bhakti Yoga: This is the yoga way of connecting with the oneness of the stream of life through engaging with emotional and psychological actions. Chanting is a devotional part of Bhakti yoga, and the many names and personalities of the deities from traditional stories line up with our various personalities as an evocative language of stories and images. Bhakti yoga asks for surrender because unless you release your habitual ideas and feelings, you will be unable to experience what you don’t yet know. And yoga is primarily a practice in opening yourself to a higher and larger experience of life.

Jana Yoga: This is the yoga way of connecting with the movements of life through the conceptual mind. Jana yoga is considered the most difficult pathway to knowing the oneness as mental conceptions often stray into mere ideas without a living connection. Philosophy leans on words, and words are often merely conceptual. Discoveries uncovered in Jana yoga change you. These discoveries of higher levels are experimental, matters of insight, matters of meditation, and all changes involve an increase in energy, the prana referred to in Patanjali’s sutras.

Raja Yoga: Raja yoga is an interlacing of the other three approaches to yoga: Karma, Bhakti, and Jana. Subjectivity is obvious here, because a practitioner or teacher will naturally create a mixture of the three that supports his or her practice of yoga.

The practice of yoga is subjective and objective, as are the hatha yoga classes you find around you, with aspects of the Karma, Bhakti, Jana. Hatha yoga is natural and also consciously directed. Most yoga classes are a mixture of ways to “still the mind.” Look for the teacher and class that fit you. At different times you may want different “mixtures.” You may also find hybrid classes that combine Hatha yoga with Pilates, or the arts (writing, painting, music, dance), or aerobics.

Yoga is proliferating, with more approaches to yoga now available to meld with the unique subjectivities of U.P. seekers. Perhaps the great friendship you can have with yoga will draw you to explore the ways of yoga in the variety of offerings available to you. Yoga (oneness) is infinite. . . and through seeking, you will likely discover your way.

Diane Sautter Cole is a retired English professor from NMU, where she taught writing, literature and mythology. Her yoga teaching began in New York State in the 1970s. She also taught yoga in Marquette and in the Physical Education department of NMU.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2017 – 2018 Issue, copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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Healthy Cooking: Secrets of a Nourishing Food for Winter, by Val Wilson

What’s a wholesome food with two names that refer to nearly the same thing?

Kasha/buckwheat! Kasha is typically the whole form of this food, while buckwheat is its flour form. Though not a true cereal grain, it is used as a grain and has similar properties to grains. Buckwheat is actually not a wheat at all. In fact, it is gluten-free. Many people with food allergies get confused and stay away from buckwheat; however, they will find it is an excellent grain to start including in their diets.


Because it is a good blood-building food, buckwheat/kasha can neutralize toxic acidic wastes. In Chinese Medicine, it is known for feeding and nurturing the kidneys and reproductive organs. Also known as the signature grain of winter time, it is medicinal for capillaries and blood vessels, and can increase circulation to the hands and feet.

Buckwheat has the longest transit time in the gut, making it an excellent blood sugar stabilizer. It is also rich in vitamin E, very high in vitamin C, and contains almost the whole range of B-complex vitamins.

When cooking kasha, it is best to pot boil it using a two-to-one ratio (one part grain, two parts water). Some like to pan roast it before pot boiling it. You do this by simply putting the grain in a skillet and cooking it until it starts to brown. Then place it in boiling water for about 25 minutes or until the water has been absorbed. I hope you try this wonderful grain! Here is a recipe including it.

Creamy Kasha and Pasta Casserole

1 1/4 cup kasha
2 cups brown rice pasta
1 onion (diced)
4 cups butternut squash (cut in cubes)
2 cups broccoli (cut up)
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup tamari
2 T. dulse flakes (sea vegetable)
1/2 cup minced greens (kale, collards, parsley)

Cook pasta in boiling water for 7 to 10 minutes, until done. Put the kasha, water, onions, squash, and broccoli in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to lowest possible temperature, cover and simmer for 25 minutes, until all water is absorbed. In the large pot, mix in pasta, tahini, tamari, dulse flakes, and minced greens. Put mixture in a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Chef Valerie Wilson, a.k.a, Macro Val, has been teaching cooking classes since 1997. Visit her website to purchase her new cookbook, Perceptions In Healthy Cooking Revised Edition, set up a phone consultation, or listen to her radio show, http://www.macrval.com. Facebook, Macro Val Food.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2017 – 2018 Issue, copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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Can I Really Heal? by Joshua Brown

I want to share something here specific to my personal experience and perspective over the past seven years since sustaining a spinal cord injury from a car accident that left me quadriplegic.

It is difficult not to take on a condition as an identity. We sometimes start to identify with our issues until we develop a form of apathy and entitled victimhood.

And when we are in deep physical pain and emotional suffering—feeling helpless, we expect others to cater to that, and they often do, enabling us to continue our dream of suffering. I realize this will trigger some folks, but again, this is my personal perspective. Please hear me out if you will.

There is a way out of your suffering, or at least a way to lessen it. And if you must suffer, then at least there is a way to find peace with it.

If you really want out of suffering, or at least to become functional, open your heart, open your mind. Be willing to move outside of your comfort zone. You could call it a leap of faith. Be willing to let go, and release old conditioning, habits, beliefs, relationships that aren’t serving you.

Be willing to ask questions—Is there a way out of this pain (other than dying unless it’s your time)?

Do I have to wait until some miracle cure comes along so I can feel better, or walk, or whatever?


Do I have to wait decades upon decades hoping?

Can I allow myself to believe that I can find the answers and healing in my own life, right now, today, rather than being in agony waiting for someone to produce the magic fix?

Am I attached to this suffering? Afraid to lose this suffering self, even as I say I want it gone? Am I afraid of who I can become if I let it go? Am I afraid to rise to the responsibility?

Yes, there is a way out of this pain. No, I do not have to wait for a miracle cure in order to make my life better today. No, I don’t have to wait decades to do something about improving my life today. I can empower myself, rather than waiting for others to find the answers. I have found many of the answers that work for me, and many are still unfolding.

Ask and it is given. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you.
With spinal cord injuries and physical paralysis come a host of issues. A few of these are intense, debilitating neuropathic and inflammatory pain, impaired bowel and bladder function, inflammation, swelling/edema, skin sores, lung congestion, loss of bone density, muscle spasms, low and swinging blood pressure, urinary tract infections, ingrown toenails.

Those in my situation are prescribed a host of pharmaceutical drugs early on, and while they are useful to a degree, I have seen them overused. They mask symptoms, suppress systems. To me, it’s as if plugging your ears when your body is screaming at you to listen. For example, with the use of opioid drugs, when the body receives up to a maximum prescribed dosage, the nervous system creates new pain receptors so it can feel.

What does that tell you? Your body is giving you messages, over and over again! And what do we do? “Shut up! Just go away!” we say. We are not addressing the root causes. We are just avoiding, suppressing, ignoring until the dysfunction can no longer be ignored.

I still use pharmaceutical drugs sometimes because they can be useful for managing some symptoms while you’re on your way to improvements.

My body is a complex organism, a very intelligent organism. And my tiny mind, the part of my brain that thinks in words and is educated, would do best to learn that that system is perfect. It knows what is needed, and I must reconnect to its language to discover its solutions.

Your journey is not going to be like mine. You may find your remedy through a different process than mine. But I am here to tell you that you do have options. The answers exist. Healing is real.

I have eliminated much physical pain through natural and non-invasive means. Now I am more functional. I know how to keep my bowels healthy even with paralysis. I rarely ever have a skin sore. My lungs are improving getting stronger, with very little congestion. Muscle spasticity is minimal. (I like some to keep muscle tone.) My blood pressure is more balanced. I very rarely have a cold or flu (though I do believe they can be good for us).

Is it all perfect? No. But life is so much better than two or four or seven years ago. I expect it to get better. I will keep going. Why? Because I like feeling good. I like feeling free. I like being at my best for the humans around me.

Joshua Brown suffered a broken neck caused by a severe car accident seven years ago, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. This has led him on a healing journey, learning how to heal in his own way, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2017 – 2018 Issue, copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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Life-Work with Dr. Stevenson: Your Fact-Finding Mission, by Heidi Stevenson, PhD

Welcome back! In my last column, your life-work assignment was to learn about a group of people to which you did not belong. I encouraged you to learn about a group with which you felt at odds.

The submissions I received were fascinating. I learned that ski jumpers are sometimes afraid of heights (there goes my excuse for not ski jumping!), and that there are people who contract with butterfly houses to procure the wings of the deceased for artistic purposes.

Another participant wrote this: “I read about DACA and the application process because it was being discussed a lot in the news and some are angry. I learned they are held to high standards and am still reading to understand this program better. I now want to understand its history and current status better. Thanks for the push.”

I feature this response at length because it got my gears turning, thinking about our relationships with the media and how it colors our relationships with each other. In short, it got me thinking about Facebook fights.

Many of us have felt pulled into an argument in an online space like Facebook. Sociolinguistic norms shift when we’re not face-to-face. It’s easier to be meaner, to feel attacked, and to easily lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is—or at least should be—greater understanding of a wider variety of views for all involved.

A common ploy in these bloodbaths masquerading as discussions is dismissing a source of information wholesale that someone has used to back a claim. It can feel like an efficient way to shut the whole thing down and get back to the rest of your life.

But here’s the rub: Any time you make a blanket statement discrediting an entire media outlet instead of the ideas it has expressed, you’re employing a logical fallacy called an ad hominem attack. You’re foregoing sound logic.

Let’s try an example: Your friend has posted something about the threat of nuclear war between the USA and North Korea. And then your friend’s Uncle Al adds a link to a Fox News article titled something like “Opinion: Ridiculous Snowflakes Fear Nonexistent Threat of Nuclear War with North Korea.” Please switch out the word “Fox” for “Mother Jones” above and the word “Snowflakes” for “Deplorables” if it helps you better engage with this scenario.

You know how the next part goes. Everyone—you included—piles on Uncle Al to tell him he’s an idiot for believing anything from Fox News/Mother Jones, that Fox News/Mother Jones is ill-informed, sensationalist trash.

Here’s what you’re all really trying to say to Uncle Al: “I don’t believe the content of this article is objectively accurate.”

Here’s what Uncle Al is likely hearing, though: “I don’t believe you are capable of reading through bias or fact-checking sources.”

We can all read through bias and fact check our sources, Uncle Al included. Over time spent consuming media from many different outlets, we may come to respect some more and others less. We are entitled to our preferences. We are allowed to frequent news sites that make that reading through bias and fact checking easy for us.

But we don’t get to eliminate other media outlets for other people. If we tell Uncle Al we won’t accept any information from Fox News/MJ, we are also insinuating that we are incapable of reading through bias and fact checking, and that we cannot read a Fox News/MJ article for accurate information while noting what additions, omissions, and language choices might be misleading.

Here’s what we might do instead, if we do not think Uncle Al’s Fox News/MJ article is accurate:

—Find an article disputing it from a credible source. Assume other members of the conversation are unfamiliar with the source. Explain why you find it trustworthy.

—If you don’t have a single source that compellingly refutes the Fox/MJ piece, find and present several.

—In your presentation of this information, consider establishing some common ground with Uncle Al. We all want the same big things; we just disagree about how we should achieve them. It does not take much for any of us to feel attacked. Uncle Al might be more receptive to your contribution if you don’t lead with insults.

When you are ready to begin your life-work assignment, find just this kind of conversation happening on Facebook or in an online space like it.

1. Write down a quick summary—just a sentence or two—of what you are observing. Leave names and any other identifying information out as best you can.

2. Write down what you would do to help turn it into a productive discussion. Lean as hard on my suggestions above as you’d like. Share any of your own tips. The more tools we all have, the better.

3. Lastly, and this is optional: Take your own advice from #2 above and jump in. Write down a few sentences about what happened from there. Just maybe, to paraphrase a hockey idiom, a conversation will break out during a Facebook fight.

Then submit your writing to heidi.ann.stevenson@gmail.com with the subject line “Life-work #2 submission” for a chance to be featured in the next column. Designate whether you’re comfortable with your writing being shared under your name or you’d prefer anonymity.

Heidi Stevenson is a lifelong Yooper, save for two years earning a PhD in Pennsylvania. She is a former NMU professor, writing center director, group fitness and yoga instructor, and a current wrangler of house cats, autoimmune diseases, and ideas.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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Senior Viewpoint: Hands of Time, by Esther Margaret Ayers

“Do wrinkles hurt?”

The eleven-year-old boy asked it suddenly as we sat together on the piano bench. I had asked the student to observe my hands on the keys, showing him the proper position: curved fingers, the wrist forming a level bridge from hand to forearm.

“What?” I was caught off guard, unable to think of a simple reply. With three fingers and a thumb, he stretched the thin skin on top of one of my hands. It obligingly yielded, rising in a pale tent of tissue. He released it, and the tent slowly collapsed. “Old people have such cool skin,” he murmured.

“Okay, buster,” I retorted, gently batting his hand away. “Your turn to try this.”

I was thirty-two years of age at the time. I certainly didn’t accept the notion of myself as old. This was the first occasion a student had even hinted at such a thing. After his lesson was over, I briefly contemplated my hands, then set the moment aside. I was, after all, a young wife and mother, a teacher, a graduate student; I had no time to think about Time.

In my forties, a single parent, I continued to teach piano in addition to my full-time job as a vocal music teacher. My students continued to teach me, too.

One student, in her fifties, studied with me for eight years. She had grown up in a poor rural family, but had always wanted to play the piano. Over the years she mastered the basics, learned to play hymns and popular songs of her youth. Yet she loved the classics and we began to learn the much beloved Adagio Cantabile from Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique. She learned the notes and rhythms readily, but neither of us could understand why certain passages were so difficult, why it didn’t sing. We labored in some frustration until one day she sighed, “Maybe it’s my hands. You’re still young; you wouldn’t understand. But I’m getting older.”

I tried to brush it off. “Oh, we all have different hands. You’ll be playing in your seventies.”

“No, look at my hands. I think it’s the arthritis.”

I looked—really looked—at her hands, seeing them for the first time. I saw the swelling and redness. I had been so focused on the music and the instrument, I had been looking right past her hands. How could I have been so blind?

I took her hands in mine. She encouraged me to feel the knobs forming at her joints. “It’s probably from the laundry.”


“Yes, that’s what the doctor thinks. I was the oldest of nine kids. My job was to hang wet laundry outside on the line. He thinks it’s a miracle I can play the piano at all, but says it’s good for my hands.”

I closed my eyes, picturing the little girl in the woods near Big Bay, her bare fingers freezing in the winter wind as she pinned up the family washing.

“Shall I play it again?” she asked.

Yes, please. Tears ran down my face this time as she played the timeless melody.

It’s been twenty years since the woman with arthritis suggested I was too young to understand, and 30 years since that boy cast me as an ‘old’ person. I still work full-time: mornings are for writing, afternoons for piano teaching. Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of students of all ages, all with something to teach me.

This fall, a new student began lessons with me, a professional woman in her forties, with a good ear and a ready laugh. She took lessons as a child. As a yoga instructor, her posture is already perfect. Her fingers curve beautifully over the keys. However, when she plays the Arabesque, I hear a brittle, tense tone. I observe how her wrists and arms are locked.

I say, “Watch me play for a moment.”

“Oh,” she exclaims, after a few measures. “You make it look so easy. Your hands move so naturally.”

“Here.” I pat the bench of my piano. “Come sit beside me. Let’s draw some circles with our wrists and elbows.”

It’s true my presbyopia makes me fiddle with myriad sets of glasses, which amuses my young students. But I wouldn’t trade the eyes I have now for anything; I see more clearly, with more openness.

It’s true my ears don’t work as well as they once did, especially that left one. But I hear my students better, for I have finally learned how to listen to them.

And even I will admit I have “old hands.” But these hands are still learning—from my own teacher, now in her mid-seventies, who guides them in making even more beautiful the music I still desire.

Esther Margaret Ayers (known to her students as Esther LaVoy Barrington) lives and writes in Marquette. She has taught piano from her home studio near McCarty’s Cove since 1983.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2017 – 2018 Issue, copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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