LIFE & WORK
100-year-old sisters share 4 tips for staying mentally sharp as you age—and they don’t say crossword puzzles
Centenarian Ruth Sweedler has impressive recall and can make good conversation about what’s going on in the world. Over the years, strangers and family members alike have commented on it.
“My doctor loves to talk to me,” Sweedler says. “He’d say, ‘You’re amazing.’ And I’d say, ‘Because I’m old?’ And he’d say, ‘No! Because you’re sophisticated.’”
Sweedler, who lives in a retirement home in Connecticut, is proud of the way she’s retained her faculties: “I don’t talk like an old lady.”
It probably helps that she doesn’t think of herself that way: “I don’t feel that I’m old,” says Sweedler, who turned 103 in December.
Her sister Shirley Hodes, whose independent living facility is about 800 miles away by car, in North Carolina, echoes those sentiments. “I’m not that old!” says Hodes, who’s 106. “I don’t feel old, that’s the truth.” She’s still excited to learn new things, especially from books.
“I never did crossword puzzles,” Hodes says, but “I always did a lot of reading. That’s the best thing for your mind.”
The sisters share their best advice for staying sharp as you age:
Sweedler “loved to work,” she says. She was an amateur actress in local theater productions and stayed “very active” in both her synagogue and in various Jewish organizations.
“Not that I’m so religious,” she says. “But I’m aware that I’m Jewish, and I like being involved.” Once, as part of a lunch-and-learn study group at the synagogue, she read through the Hebrew Bible in six months.
When her two children were older, Hodes got a full-time job as a paraprofessional and a teacher’s aide. She stayed nearly 20 years and only retired at age 70. “I loved working at the high school,” she says.
An aptitude test had told her that she could have been a teacher herself. That would have been exciting. She would have been thrilled to be a journalist, too, she says, since “I always loved interviewing people.” Now she draws on those skills getting to know the other residents of her assisted living facility.
If you’re lucky enough to have work you enjoy, embrace it, she says: Being engrossed in what you do “is very important.”
It’s satisfying to “make full use of your talents,” she says, and “it makes life so much pleasanter.”
Both Hodes and Sweedler wax rhapsodic about the importance of family and especially a good marriage: “There’s nothing better,” Sweedler declares. “It’s so wonderful to love and be loved.”
“I’ve been very lucky. My husband was easy to get along with,” says Hodes. Up until he died, they had “a wonderful relationship.”
“The people you’re surrounded with, friends, relatives, family,” she adds, they have an outsized effect on you. “That’s what you’ll remember the most.”
Ruth Sweedler with family in 2019
Ruth Sweedler with family in 2019Photo by Ester Bloom
Although Sweedler’s husband, too, has passed away, other close relationships she has cultivated have lasted for decades. “I like to have friends. I love people.” The former president of her congregation still comes to visit her, she says, as does the rabbi.
Curiosity keeps your mind active and engaged, says Hodes. “Some people aren’t interested in anybody but themselves,” and she’s not like that. “I was always so interested in hearing people’s stories, backgrounds. They’re full of surprises.”
“People like to talk about themselves,” she adds. “Just give them a chance to open up and remember what they tell you.”
The entertainment Sweedler favors transports her or presents her with challenging ideas. When she was younger, she loved going to the theater with her friends. “We saw wonderful plays!”
Nowadays, she says, “I don’t watch television, except for news. I watch PBS at night.” Her favorite TV show is “60 Minutes” on CBS.
And “I love reading!” she says. “That’s my passion.”
People like to talk about themselves. Just give them a chance to open up and remember what they tell you.
“Older people can get absorbed in themselves when you have ailments and such. That can make it hard to have an open mind,” says Hodes.
Hunger for knowledge led her to audit classes at the local college as soon as she retired. Though she had to sit in the first row in order to be able to see and hear the instructor, she aced the class.
Art and literature have broadened her horizons as well. “I have some wonderful books,” she says: Most recently, she’s been listening to nonfiction audiobooks about elephants, the Jews of Salonika, and the U.S. opera singer Jessye Norman. “They’re quite different from my background,” and that makes the content exciting: “There’s always so much to learn!”
Hodes never had the opportunity to go to college when she was young. It’s one of her few regrets. She and Sweedler were the youngest of eight children in a cramped apartment; their parents were immigrants who had to scrape to get by. “We had to be careful because there were so many of us,” she says.
Still, she recognizes that “you can’t have everything.” And “when you have the important things in life, you have to realize it.”
Sisters Shirley Hodes and Ruth Sweedler, circa 1923
Sisters Shirley Hodes and Ruth Sweedler, circa 1923
“My secret? I’m a lucky person. Although I’ve had illnesses and problems, I’ve overcome them,” she says. “I’m in decent health, enjoying health, thankful for a wonderful life. That sustains me and keeps me going.”
These days, Sweedler can’t travel. Though she used to walk several miles every day, her mobility is limited enough that she can’t even consistently get outside. She wishes that her body were as strong as her mind.
But she is grateful for what she has. “Luckily, I still can read,” she says, “and I read wonderful stuff.”
Hodes is of the same mind. If you want to live a long time in good shape, “disposition doesn’t hurt,” she points out. “I am satisfied. I have been blessed.”
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LIFE & WORK
Mississippi River crest reaches historic proportions as Iowans cope with yet another flood
As a slow-moving crest works its way down the Mississippi River this week, flood-weary Iowans living along the water were doing their best to cope with the rising water.
In Davenport on Sunday, River Drive lived up to its name: The street looked like a river, but residents said their sandbagging efforts are working.
James Perez, who was helping a local business owner fill sandbags Thursday night outside Mary’s Bar in downtown Davenport, estimated about 180,000 pounds of sand encircled the business they were trying to protect.
About a block away, the barrier outside the bar kept water from entering the business, which remained open Sunday evening.
Perez recalled the 2019 flood, when the Mississippi River broke through a temporary barrier, covering streets and surrounding homes and businesses.
“This time around, we knew ahead of time what to do so I kind of took charge,” Perez said. “I took all the volunteers who were not sure what to do and organized them into a team.”
Some are making the best of a bad situation. With music playing on a portable speaker, Joseph Anderson and Jimi Williams spent a recent afternoon in their kayaks floating down River Drive.
Anderson, a longtime resident of Davenport, said people who call the place home know what to expect.
“Checking out the view and enjoying life. Watching it under water and getting a different perspective of the same thing,” Anderson told . “It’s a beautiful day. We get to see the city. Not everyone gets this view. This is a locals-only tour.”
The flooding caused by snow melt this year does not compare to the 2019 flood, Anderson said.
“You start to get used to it. This one isn’t as bad. Last time we had some levies break and there was a little more damage. It’s not too bad,” Anderson told CNN. “Everyone was prepared. They’ve been through this before, and if you are local you know what to expect.”
Claudia Anderson, the manager of The Phoenix, a large downtown Davenport restaurant, said Monday the barriers seemed to be holding water out of the business, and sump pumps are taking out the little water that does get it.
But the restaurant cannot open, and it’s losing tens of thousands of dollars in revenue, she said. She has had to temporarily lay off about two dozen employees, including some who have no other income.
“It is what it is, we’ve gone through this, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone through the flood,” Anderson said.
The crest in the Quad Cities area in Iowa ranked in the top 10 historic crests Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
The river gauge at Rock Island, near Davenport, was cresting with water levels fairly steady around 21.4 feet Monday morning, placing it as the eighth-highest recorded at that spot.
Flood warnings continue along a long stretch of the Mississippi River from St Paul, Minnesota, to just north of St Louis, Missouri, as snow melts from a phenomenal winter season.
The recent flooding comes after areas of the Upper Midwest saw extraordinary snowfall this winter. Duluth, Minnesota, broke its highest seasonal snowfall last month, and Minneapolis recorded its third-highest season.
As the snow in the region melts, the swell of water is making its way south.
Upstream from Davenport in Dubuque, Iowa, officials closed all of its floodgates along the river last week, only the third time the gates have been closed since they were installed in 1973. Pumping stations were operating around the clock.
And farther upstream, North Buena Vista area residents were living in flooded homes, CNN affiliate KCRG reported Sunday, taking “canoes back and forth or we wade through the water,” resident Scott Blum told the station.
The Mississippi will continue cresting further south on Tuesday and Wednesday, but major flooding is not forecast for locations farther south.
A levee breach causes more flood damage
Sixty miles north of Davenport, in Green Island, Iowa, a levee breach flooded roughly 4,000 acres of a wildlife refuge and damaged nine properties, according to Jackson County Emergency Management Director Lyn Medinger.
Officials were not yet able to investigate the cause of the breach due to weather, Medinger told CNN Monday, adding authorities will likely reach the area Tuesday morning.
The region has seen powerful winds, making air transport to the area difficult
No injuries were reported and no evacuations have been made, Medinger said.
“The one breach is affecting the low-lying areas in that region,” the director added.
Just a few miles south, in the city of Sabula, the flood wall was eroded by the high winds but officials were able to stabilize the situation with sandbags and avoid flooding, Medinger said.
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International Journalism Festival 2023: the events you shouldn’t miss in Perugia
Here is a curated list of panels on topics such as Ukrainian media, membership and funding models, solutions journalism and more.
April journalists from all over the world will be gathering for the International Journalism Festival in Perugia once again. Many voices from the Reuters Institute will speak at the festival. Here’s a selection of some of the highlights this year, which include panels on reader revenue models, the media in Ukraine, press freedom, equity and inclusion in journalism and AI. All the panels will be live-streamed on the festival’s IJF YouTube channel. See you in Perugia or online.
Investigating the crimes of war
Anna Babinets from Slidstvo.Info | Sam Dubberley from HRW | Sarah El Deeb from AP | Anne Koch from GIJN
12.00. Sala delle Colonne, Palazzo Graziani.
How to support the Ukrainian media system in the long run
Joanna Krawczyk from the German Marshall Fund of the United States | Jakub Parusinski from The Fix | David Schraven from CORRECTIV | Penelope Winterhager from the JX Fund | Eugene Zaslavsky from the Media Development Foundation
14.00. Sala della Vaccara, Palazzo dei Priori.
Membership models: all you need to know about running a member-centric newsroom
Leon Fryszer from Krautreporter | Richard Hoechner from Republik | Lea Korsgaard from Zetland | Eduardo Suárez from RISJ
14.00. Sala dei Notari, Palazzo dei Priori.
Gender, leadership and surviving authoritarian regimes and cultures: women leading independent Arab media speak up
Rawan Damen from ARIJ | Fatemah Farag from Welad Elbalad Media | Diana Moukalled from Daraj | Nora Younis from AlManassa News
15.00. Sala della Vaccara, Palazzo dei Priori.
Solutions journalism: a means to achieve equity and inclusion
Dina Aboughazala from Egab | Caleb Okereke from Minority Africa | Dora Santos Silva from Obi.Media | Holly Wise from the Solutions Journalism Network
16.00. Sala Brugnoli, Palazzo Cesaroni.
Two to tango: a closer look at the relationship between independent investigative teams and legacy media
Cecilia Anesi from IRPI | Nikolas Leontopoulos from Reporters United | Geoffrey Livolsi from Disclose | Elisa Simantke from Investigate Europe | Bastian Obermayer
16.00. Auditorium San Francesco al Prato.
How the far right is going global
Luke O’Brien from the Shorenstein Center | Andrea Dip from Agência Pública | Natalia Viana from Agência Pública | Jamil Chade
17.00. Sala dei Notari, Palazzo dei Priori.
Legal threats hampering media freedom
Lina Attalah from Mada Masr | Will Church from TRF | Chile Eboe-Osuji from Toronto Metropolitan University | Jodie Ginsberg from CPJ | Joel Simon from the Journalism Protection Initiative | Antonio Zappulla from TRF
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