Ollie the Cat in Maine
Old Cats Do Learn New Tricks

Old Dogs Do Learn New Tricks

category_bug_journal2.gif It is a myth that old people are set in the ways. As has been discussed here before, it is experience and discernment that are sometimes misunderstood by younger people as refusal by elders to try something new. I tasted dozens of blends of coffee in my life to find the one I like; I’m done with that experimentation now – until or unless my tastes change.

In fact, it is arguable that because elders have more opportunities to cope with big, often sudden life changes – retirement (forced or planned), widowhood, reduced economic circumstances, chronic illness, leaving their homes are a few examples – they are better at adapting than younger people. Survival requires that they be so.

Now, a week into my new digs in Portland, Maine, I’ve discovered not a need to adapt to anything but instead, an unexpected desire to change how I live.

One is a small item regarding that coffee I mentioned. For half a century, it has been my habit to drink about three cups of coffee over the course of the morning. It not only gives me an energy boost, I love the taste and aroma of coffee (not to mention that particular blend it took me years to find) and I don’t give a hoot about the “experts” who periodically warn that coffee will kill us or, at least, do serious damage.

Nevertheless, for the past few mornings, coffee has tasted acidic and heavy to me and I’m ready to experiment with tea perhaps, or maybe just juice. Too bad I bought six pounds of my favorite coffee blend when I left New York City.

I have always risen earlier than most people and although I haven’t worked nine-to-five in an office for two years, I’ve still waked at 4:30AM or 5AM each day and relished those early morning hours of alone time before the world comes alive.

Now, suddenly, during this first week in my new home, I’ve still wakened at the same time, but savored pulling up the covers and snoozing for another hour in that delicious mind-state of half-dream, half awake. It’s a pleasurable way ease rather than leap into each day, and I think I’ll give it a shot as a possible new habit.

Another potential new habit is developing, also without conscious effort: I’ve taken to walking in the morning or evening along the Eastern Prom at the edge of water, which is just a block and a half from my apartment. Walks for exercise, relaxation, thought or just idleness are a centuries-old, human tradition, but not mine. I walked a lot in New York City, but only with a destination and purpose. Now, something outside myself urges me toward a walk once or twice a day and I’ve found I don’t need a purpose anymore.

Sometimes, it is hard to know, when new practices and habits appear, how they came about. I could go all Freudian here about fulfilling unconscious needs and desires, but I don’t have much patience with that stuff, finding it enough to just observe and note changes.

What does interest me, however, is that so much of who we are – young and old - is defined by our daily habits and it appears, if I am an example, that a major life change (moving to another city) provokes alterations in behavior that will create new melodies and different rhythms to the pace of daily life. And, these changes come about whatever your age.


I love the Eastern Prom and can imagaine it would be quite a draw for a daily walk. I do think Maine will change you in a lot of ways. There are different attitudes as you have already discovered. I think you picked a great spot to live, on the Hill.

I think that people of our age (over 50)adapt as well as anyone else to change and new opportunities. After all we have seen our share of them. :)

Your descriptions and sharing of this whole move from beginning to end including all the different aspects: physical, emotional, social - are inspiring to me. I have been trying to figure out why I did not embrace my move to Philadelphia as you have done yours and have realized that it was because it was not my choice! There was nothing intentional and thought out about it. I just kind of dragged along without taking much of any responsibility for it ...

Naturally, with such an attitude, I have not seen all the changes *I* have been making within and without - re: old habits.

Lots more to think about.

Gee, those walks by the sea sound wonderful, and snuggling a bit more into bed in the early morning too.

I wish you more and more such satisfying and fulfilling changes.

You go girl…..take a walk on the wild-side!

I am one of those elders-of-habit myself. For fifteen years I went to the market every Saturday morning at 7:30 AM. Then when I retired almost three years ago now, I moved market day to Friday. Not sure why I made that move to Friday however. Think I did it just because I could. That, my dear, has been the biggest “habit change” in my life for some eighteen years. In fact, I just got back from the market – it is Friday you know.

"...because elders have more opportunities to cope with big, often sudden life changes...they are better at adapting than younger people..." in order to "survive." "Experience and discernment" inform us as to what new to try and what not.

We elders have the ability, willingness, interest, enthusiasm, desire to change in many areas of our lives.

More false perceptions about older people relegated to the trash bin, for which I thank you, Ronni.

Yeah, I switched to green tea a long time ago after years of having a pot of coffee going all the time and a coffee cup permanently attached to one hand at work and home.

Ok, you've inspired a confession. I have always prided myself on my adaptability, but lately I find myself becoming rigid. I have two small children and routine makes life manageable. When we break it and the baby cries, my stress levels shoot through the roof and I just can't take it. I want to change how I respond to this, but it seems this stage in my life demands it.

You give me hope that one day, I will be able to relax and take things as they come again.

That said, for Mothers Day I wrote an article about generations of women who overcame true technophobia to start new careers, advance in their original positions, or to just find a place to communicate.

Since the article was published
I've heard of so many more "Older" women who have made such strides in learning about technology that I wondered where the idea of elder rigidity game from? Maybe from new mothers trying to learn to cope?

Your remarks about waking time were interesting. My sister-in-law worked three days a week for years on a job that required waking at
5 a.m. After retirement, she was pleased that she could sleep later. However, she still wakened at 5, but only on the days she had worked. Unfortunately I don't have an efficient body clock. Without an alarm, I might sleep until noon.

Hi Ronnie,
I've been interested in your move. My husband and I are leaving a very busy Chicago suburb and moving to a mountain valley in New Mexico. Major changes! I think that I, too, will be very adaptable, and now I'm looking forward to the change in habits.

Home is where the heart is, and it is obvious you are in love with your new place. The heart knows.

Like Kate, I once needed a rigid schedule to balance four girls, a present but emotionally absent husband, a job and a household. Routine was tatamount to staying sane. Nowadays, I have some necessary regimen, but the weekends are mine to squander, to invest. Slowly, but surely, I am making my way to a "Ronni" kind of life.

Nancy, a move to New Mexico from Chicago sounds like changing from coffee to tea - smooth, mellow, and good for you. Now, if I can only accomplish my own desire of moving to the Texas desert Big Lonesome, I can enjoy that lovely pot of green tea!

Change & adaptability come easily for us elders with one caveat......we are in control. If I had to change & adapt to living with one of the kids or in a nursing "home".......not so sure it would be an easy thing. As long as we call the shots, it's easy. .......Ronni, so looking forward to some wonderful photos of your new digs & the prom where you walk. Sounds wonderful. Dee

I think your coffee problem may be related to the 6 lb. can. It gets old fast. Try a 1 lb. or 12 oz. bag of good coffee to your liking. Get beans and grinder and make smaller portions. Don't give up, for goodness sake!

Have you thought that the taste of your coffee might have changed because of the change of water. I find that water in Paris and in Normandy doesn't taste the same. You might consider trying to make your coffee with filtered water or mineral water...

Somerset Maughm said, "Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit."

Habit is deadening which why we often associate old with being "set in our ways." (Let's remember that the young often resist something new. We all find comfort in habit.)

Whenever I change my routine, whether it is to go on vacation, start a class, or get involved in a new project, try a new restaurant, a thrill like playing hooky comes over me.

I think as we age we resist parting with the comfortable routines we've so carefully cultivated. But on occasion of our own choosing, smashing our own molds of ourselves can be exhilarating.

It's easy to see that your change in taste is affecting more than just your palate.
I'm a huge coffee lover, but this same thing happened to my mother in her mid-60's. She switched to black or green tea. It'll be interesting to see if I go the same route.
Sounds like you're adapting to your new location much like I did 16 months ago to my island. But I also think it's a bit different, as many here have said, when WE make the change and WE are in control. Instead of a "chore" out of necessity, it became a welcome adventure.
Loved this post, Ronnie. Keep savoring all the new changes and sharing them with us. Did you find your camera yet to also share photos with us?

I loved this post too Ronni. It spoke to me of the times in my life when I have "discovered a new neighbourhood". I realised what a precious time it was when the process registered with me when coming back to Sydney after 3 years away (hah! 3 years seemed like such a long time when I was 25 :-). That one was especially redolent as it had familiarity and novelty all mixed in together.

I love the way you have drawn the connection here between new surroundings and new patterns in your life. You sound well: I feel happy for you.

Ronni Could it be the change in the water from NYC to Portland that makes your coffee taste different? Try making your coffee with bottled water and see if that helps. However, I went through a loss of taste for coffee for a few years and savored hot tea during that time.

Your walks along the water sound great. I don't suppose Ollie could accompany you could he? On a leash of course?

High fives to Claude and a "great minds" also. I had posted my "bottled water" thesis before I read Claude's ;)

Chancy, Claude, my first thought was also the change in water. :))However, I certainly infer a change in attitude and "taste" that may have little to do with the physical.
Though it sounds like a heave of relief and release of gritted teeth from here.
I'm so very happy you're snuggling and burrowing in a bit longer in the morning---and learning to meander! It's delicious.
A week of peace, my dear friend,

This is a first for me! But It looked interesting. I am 66, and on my third career and very happy. I agree, we get happier. I had to coment on your love of coffee. I have found the perfect coffee. I bought a small roaster, buy green beans, roast, grind and enjoy! It is the best coffee I have ever had.


Enjoy your new leisure! If your experience is at all like ours, it will be only a few short months before you will be drawn into activities that will fill every waking moment.

These few months, however, should be savored like the taste of morning coffee with fresh scones in a sunny window seat.

Your morning walks and your quiet routine may soon become a distant memory, but like all good memories, they enrich our lives and give us a breathing space to go on and tackle new challenges.

You may also experience the phenomenon of expanding the reach of your imagination as you settle into your new existence.

Enjoy every moment!

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