7 Ways to Stay Young: Nuns Reveal Their Secrets

Whoopi Goldberg is no nun, but she played one in Sister Act, where she befriended three other nuns all named Mary and made the convent’s choir into a rollicking, soulful act.

Wikipedia Image
Wikipedia Image


Dr. David Snowdon obviously is no nun either. He’s not even a monk. But he is an epidemiologist, who spearheaded a study to decode Alzheimer’s disease as he researched the lives of 678 nuns at the School Sisters of Notre Dame. All had willed their brains to research on death.

Aging with Grace could have been a deadly dull read, but I kept turning the pages because the author was able to intertwine the excitement of scientific research with personal stories. These nuns shared valuable life lessons about “Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives,” part of the book’s sub-title.

Here are the seven I gleaned from Snowdon’s book:

  1. Keep your sense of humor

 Just before she turned 90, Sister Genevieve Kunkel marveled at her wellbeing. She said, “I have two good traits . . . I am alert and I am vertical.” 183


  1. Mingle with the young

When pressed about her other secrets for staying young, Sister Genevieve admitted, “Maybe it’s because I’ve always been with the young.” An educator, she had taught young people from grade school through college and was currently reading a Harry Potter book. She also read nearly every issue of the Sunday New York Times.


  1. Enjoy eating as a social occasion.

Share mealtime with others when possible. “The air in the convent dining room buzzes with laughter and . . . chatting.” 168


  1. Help others

Healthy nuns served themselves during mealtime. Then they took turns helping sisters in the assisted-living wing by pouring drinks, cutting their meat and helping them take their medications.


  1. Stay “With It”

Sister Clarissa, age 90, drove around the convent in her motorized cart dubbed “Chevy” and knew “as much about baseball as any die-hard fan a third of her age.” (She sounds a lot like my Aunt Cecilia!)

Sister Dorothy Zimmerman drew others into Scrabble games, often closely contested.


  1. Keep Moving

 Sister Esther Boor, who lived until age 106, sat on her “exercise” chair and regularly pumped the pedals on a stationary “bike.”


  1. Wake up every day with purpose

Sister Matthia knitted a pair of mittens every day for the poor. Every evening she recited the names of all 4378 former students until her death less than a month before her 105th birthday.



  1. Pray and Meditate

Dr. Snowdon admits “while we cannot directly measure intangibles such as faith and social support, the Nun Study would be incomplete without acknowledging their powerful influence.”

Want to know more about these marvelous women? You can read my review here.

Here’s a link to the book!


Here is your invitation to add to my list of seven. You can also comment on the tips you find here.

Thank you!


At Home with Grandkids: Fun Stuff to Do

It’s cold outside, maybe even Polar-vortex cold, and Saturdays with Grandma or Aunt or Mom will be spent indoors. One cold day three of our grandkids warmed up the house, at least the kitchen, with cupcake baking.

Gkids_2 kids_ top_chocolate +lowers_071008

Gkids_2 kids_bottom_chocolate+flowers_071008

Yes, it’s fun to help mix up the batter and lick the beaters, but the grandest thing is putting the plastic Gerbera daisy in the flower pot or scooping up the “chocolate” dirt. It’s okay that we get frosting all over our arms and face – Grandma doesn’t care, now does she?


Downstairs the grand-kids find the ottoman/toy chest with classics like Lincoln Logs, just like sets from the 1960s but with added plastic gadgets. Tinkertoys – there is just no way to improve on Tinkertoys!



Do you have a deck of jumbo cards? If so, you are in business. Patrick and Curtis both learned the meaning of the expression “house of cards” as they tried to stack playing cards on a shaky foundation. Incredibly they persisted even after a collapse or two. Bryan Berg, who holds the world record for a 75-story card tower, can rest easy. Still, both boys couldn’t enjoy the challenge more, as Patrick illustrates:



Their dad Cliff retooled this marble flick board from an old oaken desk in 1978 when Crista was 9 and Joel, 7. They both competed in “Flick the Marble,” trying to earn the higher number of points, best out of three! All four grandkids have since enjoyed the board. Even grand-nephew Noah and grand-niece Emily give it a whirl here.




Back in February 2013, when “plain and fancy” launched, the theme of Grah-ti-Tood, announced my first blog post. The grandkids’ gratitude books were featured along with pictures Curtis and Ian had drawn. They are a year older now, and their thanksgiving continues. Sometimes reluctantly. But this time spontaneously, as conversation around the breakfast table last month moved around to things to be thankful for.


Curtis_Ian_Gratitude Book_102514

On October 25, 2014, Curtis is grateful for friends and thankful that the wars are not hurting me badly (Oh, my)! Ian says, “I am thankful that blueberry pancakes are the best!” Curtis’ illustrations are cartoon-like. Ian’s pancake is realistic with shading.

Each unique.

I am sure you thought of a game or activity to add to the assortment here. Suggestions, comments – it’s your turn!

Coming next: Moments of Discovery # 3: Two Butter Stories and an Autograph Book

Playing Tag, The 2014 WIP Tour: Who’s Next?

On the playground of Rheems Elementary School, Red Rover, Hide and Seek and Tag were standard fare. I wrote about fun at recess in a blog post last September entitled Games We Played.

Google Images
Google Images

In the blog world, I have been tagged in the 2014 Work in Progress (WIP) Blog Tour, offering authors the chance to share snippets of their Works in Progress. When Janet Givens tagged me, my first reaction was this: “I’m so busy in my personal life and my writing life, I don’t know how I could possibly squeeze in another thing!” At the time, she did not remind me that she herself was busy promoting her just-published memoir of her years in the Peace Corps At Home on the Kazakh Steppe while keeping current on her blog.

Before I said, “Okay, I’ll do it!” she explained, “It’s really simple. There are just three rules.”

1. Link back to the post of the person who nominated you. (See above.)

2. Write a blurb about and give the first sentences of your next three blog posts (or book chapters)

3. Nominate four other writers to do the same.


While thoughts of my memoir are incubating, I have spent time here on my blog mining material that may be woven into my book some day. Here, in chronological order, are the opening lines of my next two blog posts and a blurb from the preface to my work-in-progress memoir. That makes three!


November 8: “How to Tell Your Children What’s What” 

Unlike Hansel and Gretel whose mother tried to starve them and then lock them out of the house, Mother Longenecker provided well for her children and left behind, not white pebbles or bread crumbs, but hand-written notes tucked away to tag her heirlooms.


November 12: “Purple Passages and Fine China”

La Lectura es el viaje de los que no pueden tomar el tren.        – F. Croisset

(Reading is the journey of those who cannot take the train.)

Excerpt from preface of my untitled memoir, WIP:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,

He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;

He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,

And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

The Longenecker family doesn’t have a cat in residence but we all live together in a little crooked house. Crooked as in lintels above the bedroom doors that slope crazily so much so that they can never be closed tight. Crooked as in floors that sag slightly so that water flows oddly when I’m on my hands and knees washing up the kitchen linoleum. Sagging steps from the 1903 part of the house leading down to the cellar. Every night I sleep downhill on my hard feather pillow.

But there is nothing crooked or saggy about my upbringing . . . .

Now it’s my turn to tag 4 writers for the 2014 WIP Tour:

1. Laurie Buchanan, holistic health practitioner and life coach with inspirational posts weekly on Tuesdays with Laurie. They are short, sweet, and wise.

2. Marie Keates, blogger tells true stories with a British accent. When her fat-girl-slim-blog was hacked (decimated) recently, like a Phoenix she rose from the ashes and now posts at I Walk Alone.

3. Melodie Miller-Davis, author with over a dozen books/cookbooks to her credit, most from Herald Press, she writes weekly on her blog, Finding Harmony.

4. Marylin Warner, writing coach, short story and memoir author, writes of the remarkable connection to her literary mother suffering from Alzheimer’s in her blog Things I Want to Tell My Mother.

I hope you’ll click on the links and visit their sites often.

None of the four are under any obligation to play tag. But I hope they do. I’m looking forward to reading bits about their Works in Progress. So, Laurie, Marie, Melodie, and Marylin. You’re it!

*  *  *

Coming next: How to Tell Your Children What’s What

How to: Create Keepsakes

For years I have kept a ratty ole pin cushion from Grandma Longenecker in my sewing cabinet. It looks pitiful, but I’ll never throw it away because it came from my Grandma. Pierced through its dusty middle with some of her pins and holding one of my mother’s hairpins, I’d say it’s more of a keepsake than an heirloom.


Remember Art Linkletter’s show “Kids Say the Darndest Things”? Of course they do! I have kept quotes from each of our four grandchildren since their early years, as keepsakes. It’s easy to do the same for your children–both grand and great–nieces and nephews too:

1. Be alert to their part of any conversation. You never know when a wacky, wise, or witty saying will burst forth from their lips.

2. Write it down ASAP. Memory is tricky. If you don’t get it just right, what they have actually said may lose its zing in your faulty translation.

3. Use a notebook or reserve a folder on your computer desktop for the quotations. For example: SayingsPatrickCurtisJennaIan.doc

4. Always include a date. If you’re like me, you’ll never connect their age with the saying. What seems precocious at age 4 would sound ordinary at age 7 or 8.

Here are some examples from my files. (You can guess which one I would pull out at a rehearsal dinner celebration!)

Patrick and Jenna  Patrick & Jenna snacking after planting grass plugs

  • 2.15.07  Patrick to Mommy Crista: “Mom, we can’t move to Florida.”“Why?”“Because we can’t get Daddy’s bean bag on the plane.”  (age 4)
  • 10.24.09  Patrick: “My favorite thing in school is writing in my purple journal. Every story I write has the word ‘the’ in it!” (age 6)
  • 12.23.09  After Jenna breaks her snow globe Christmas ornament Cliff gave her from Washington State, Patrick says, “Grandpa, the next time you go on a trip, don’t give the little girl a glass present.” (age 6)

Jenna’s turn:

*  6.25.09  You and Patrick were with NaNa as Mommy was having some time to run errands.  You were busy upstairs helping me pack for PA: on jewelry– “That’s too fancy . . . or too casual.”  On outfits – “This matches . . . this doesn’t.” (age 4)  Fashion design in her future? Who knows.

*  8.5.12  Mommy Crista: “So we are at the beach and Jenna and I are sifting through sand looking for neat sea shells.  She says to me, ‘Mommy, you know, you are doing pretty good for your age. Flattered (and in my bikini), I said, ‘Well, thank you.  Do you think I should cover up a little bit more?’  Jenna says, ‘No, Mom, I didn’t mean it like that.  I meant that you have good eyes for looking for nice shells.’”  (age 7)

CurtisSnowGlobe  Curtis and Snow Globe Gift

  • 1.1.08: NaNa observes that Curtis is wearing his “Dash” suit to bed, and so she says, “Why are you wearing your Incredibles suit to bed?” Curtis: “Well, I need to be strong in bed!”  (age 5)
  • 11.7.10 When I came to dinner on Sunday evening, you had balled-up paper in a small laundry basket and mentioned you wanted to have a “dry” snowball fight.  (age 7)
  • 5.10.13  I describe how Great Grandma’s Chicago snow globe was taken on the sly and how sad she is as a result: After a bit, Curtis goes to his room, and gets his own larger version of the snow globe, a keepsake from his early days in Chicago, to give to her as a surprise. (age 9)

photoIan and Teddy

      • With Grandpa at the mall, as Ian finished drinking his chocolate milk from a straw, he exclaimed,  “Look, I’m a sucker!” (age 4)
      • After being given an assignment at pre-school, (All Saints’s Episcopal), Ian completes this prompt: If I were President, “I Would protect the children!” (age 5)
      • 3.18.13 When Great Aunt Janice gives us kumquats, you say, “I’m glad I’m not a kumquat!”  Now what brought that on, I wonder? (age 5 1/2)

Another Keepsake: Kid-size Gratitude Journal

Tables Turned: Kids do their own drawing, writing:  “I’m thankful for . . . . ”

JenGratCover        JenGratPage

Add your clever keepsake idea to the mix. Tell us an activity or tradition that helps keep memory alive for the sake of the next generation in your family.    

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