Author Q&A – Francine Falk-Allen
- Tell us about your new book.
No Spring Chicken addresses what we all face eventually: aging and the physical difficulties that can ensue.
I’m a polio survivor who knows a thing or two about living with a disability, and offer my take on how to navigate the complications aging brings with equanimity (and a sense of humor). Part I is a jaunt through accessible travel pleasures and pitfalls; Part II addresses the adaptations caregivers can make for a mutually rewarding relationship with their loved ones, plus advice for physically challenged and aging persons themselves regarding exercise, diet, pain management, mobility, care tips and more; and Part III discusses the rewards of engaging with support groups sharing similar issues, with a little activism and advocacy for good measure.
I’m told it’s accessible and wryly funny, and is a fun and informative guide to living your best and longest life―whatever your physical challenges, and whatever your age.
- What inspired you to write it?
Well, again, I have a lifetime of experience to share about how to take care of oneself with a physical challenge, handicap or disability, and enjoy life as much as possible at the same time. I thought it would be useful to those facing the later years of life, or even younger people with a disability, or family and friends who are perhaps stumped about how to face their loved one’s challenges.
- What is the one aspect that you hope readers learn from it?
I hope they take away that there is almost always something we can do to improve at least one aspect of our condition, if not many, and to keep functioning as best we can in order to enjoy whatever opportunities present themselves to us.
- As family members age, what should we keep in mind?
That they are the same people they have always been with the same needs and desires, and they want to keep participating in life to the extent possible. Also, generally, aging people could use a little or even a lot of assistance, but most of us hate to ask, and only ask when it’s a dire necessity. There are exceptions of course, but most people I know prefer to be as independent as possible. So chipping in more than you used to without an air of “You should have asked me for help” or “Mom, you aren’t keeping your house clean enough anymore” is likely to be appreciated.
- What adaptations should we make for our loved ones?
Ask what is most needed rather than assuming we know. Remember that walking can become more difficult and think about what you can do to make this accommodation. For instance, renting a mobility scooter for family outings or vacations can allow Grandma or Mom to participate fully. A friend surprised me with this on a vacation in Hawaii and it made all the difference; I had a much better time since I could not walk the long distance to the beach or even to the pool in the complex, and it was helpful when we went shopping as well.
- You have traveled many places as someone living with a disability. What are your favorite places to travel?
Ooh, there are so many great places. I love Maui, Hawaii; Edinburgh, Scotland; New Orleans, LA; Butchart Gardens on Victoria Island, BC, Canada; Kilkenny, Ireland; New York City, NY; and of course, Paris, France.
- What do you look for when deciding on a vacation spot?
My husband and I both like places with beautiful scenery, and/or perhaps some culture such as concerts, or music clubs. We sometimes go to museums as well, but find that we can only do a couple of hours of a museum before we start to feel overwhelmed. We also are very interested in history and the culture of the people in the area we visit, and we like places with very good restaurants. (I start to feel ill if we eat too much fast food or simple carbs.) We sometimes plan a trip in order to see friends or family, also. For getting around, there have to be paved walkways for my scooter, or we take a lot of cabs or rent a car. I cannot go for long walks, but like to go places where I can scoot around, and then get off the scooter and walk a bit and see things up close, or sit in a park or on a beach and read. Sometimes I paint a watercolor, so I appreciate a really nice view.
With regard to lodging, my first priority is that the hotel is easy and either has an elevator or is one-story, since stairs are very difficult for me, and also has food service in case I’m too tired to go out. Next would be that if there is not a restaurant in the hotel, there is one next door! And I always try for a place with a warm accessible pool if possible. I always call ahead to make sure the staff does not put us down a long hallway, because then sometimes I may be able to go to the lobby or restaurant without needing to use my mobility scooter.
- Share some of your favorite self-care tips.
I do a little yoga and core strengthening every single morning, and I do pool therapy a few days a week. Stretching and keeping up what strength you have is important in order to stay mobile. I also avoid eating large amounts of simple carbohydrates (basically, white foods!) but I do try to eat a large amount of vegetables! It’s important to keep weight down, or to at least not become obese, to avoid or keep in check joint pain, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And of course all that helps just to assist yourself in feeling great so that you have a positive attitude. Also, I rest regularly, and sometimes take a little nap, and get at least six or seven hours sleep every night. I think meals or tea dates with friends, reading good books, watching inspiring movies and spending time outdoors are also great ways to reduce stress and increase a feeling of peace and well being.
- Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be an activist?
Look for others who are already activists in the issues you care about. Someone has probably already got a group going and would love your participation and assistance and perhaps your knowledge and experience. If you can’t find that, you can start a group; I describe how to do that in my book. If you are housebound, you can research on a computer and stay informed with news on PBS and other reliable channels, and there are websites you can access which recommend what actions you can take, such as signing petitions or donating money, or making phone calls. Some groups will continue meeting on Zoom now that that is established. I am on an Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility committee in my town, which has met via Zoom during the pandemic, and I started a polio support group some years ago.
- Anything else you would like to add?
I truly hope people will buy and enjoy No Spring Chicken, or ask for it at their local library, and suggest it to their friends and family. If they do, it’s helpful to the success of any book, especially for someone who is not a celebrity author, to leave a very good rating or review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble or Walmart’s book review pages. Do remember that anything less than four or five stars is considered poor, though, by the algorithms that run those sites.
Even if people don’t read either of my books (my first book was Not a Poster Child: Living Well with a Disability—A Memoir, about growing up with a disability and navigating the world as a women with a disability), I hope that everyone who has physical difficulty is finding ways to keep on enjoying life! That’s what I’m intending to do. Later this year, we’re hoping to visit someplace like Hawaii or New Mexico, where there is a high number of vaccinated people and a low incidence of the Covid-19 virus. Happy trails to all!