100 life lessons from a 100-year-old woman

“When you brag about yourself, make it a doosie.” And 99 other pearls of wisdom you’ll absolutely love.

Left: Annabelle Moseley and her grandmother Annabelle Black, 2016. Right: Annabelle Black as a young bride, cutting her wedding cake in July 1941. Photo courtesy of Annabelle 

Annabelle Black, centenarian, has lived through the Spanish flu, Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, The Second World War, and the great changes ushered in during the sixties and seventies. Hers was the first family in the neighborhood to own a car and she has watched the evolution of technology from the radio to the smart phone. Annabelle was one of ten children and raised six children in a house out of a storybook, decorated with beauty and whimsy. She delights in twelve grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Along with raising a faith-filled and happy family, she had a thriving career. She was a workforce innovator in the 1960s when she became the first ever assistant to the Huntington, NY Town Attorney, a position created for her, due to her brilliance and tenacity.

She is an active parishioner at her church, where she has served in roles such as President of the Rosary Society and Eucharistic Minister. She continues to serve as a Lector there and is known and loved for her singular blend of grace and gumption and her unflinching spirit of hope and good humor. She is also a role model of class and kindness. As a sidebar, her sense of style is bold and impeccable. Before there was “What Not To Wear” or “Fixer Upper,” there was Annabelle Black.

Annabelle Moseley

Annabelle Black’s granddaughter, Annabelle Moseley. Photo courtesy of Annabelle Moseley

Annabelle Black is my grandmother. I was named after her and I am proud to say, she (along with my mother who also bears the name) is my role model of womanhood. I think of her every day. Her example inspires me whether I am shopping for an outfit, struggling with pregnancy pains and aches, decorating my home, teaching a class, making a meal, or deciding how I want to raise my children. I have turned to her during the storms of my life growing up, and she was always an umbrella of strength and wisdom.

I spent countless nights at her house, sleeping over and watching “Mr. Bean” and ballroom dancing competitions with frozen yogurt and candy. I spent countless days at her side, watching her cook dinner for more than just herself, in case someone was hungry and stopped by (and someone always did). And when my father died and I was only eleven, I told her the week after his funeral that I didn’t want to go to church because I was mad at God. She was quiet for a moment, then said “I am, too. Why don’t we go to church together and tell Him?” She’ll never know how much that one act deepened my faith for a lifetime, or how that one moment of spiritual honesty was for me the authentic outcry of a psalm.

And since we are now at the crest of her 100th year, with her mind and eyes as bright as ever, I felt it was a good time to interview her, and to share the amazing wisdom I’ve been privileged to have learned from her over the course of my lifetime with the rest of the world. As an outgrowth of that recent conversation and the many conversations we’ve had together over the years (I’ve admired her philosophy and approach to life since I was old enough to chat) here are: 100 Ways to Live Fully to 100.

1. Rediscover your inner child.

Have an ice cream cone or stop for a roadside hotdog from the greasy truck.

2. Like your own company:

“You have to be able to stand yourself,” Annabelle says. There is a lot of talk about learning to “love yourself” but not as much about enjoying being alone and not letting feelings of guilt, insecurity, boredom, or self-doubt spoil your joy.

3. Have a sense of humor:

Annabelle has a sign on the outside of her door that says, “Gone Crazy.” She loves to tell funny stories, like the time she opened the wrong car, put all her groceries in it and only then realized it wasn’t hers!

4. Realize that humor can be developed and built up over time, like a muscle.

It can keep you humble, too! Annabelle remembers telling her mother with great concern that she had a run in her stocking and her mother answered, “Walk fast and no one will notice.”

5. Develop a knack for making your own fun.

A little mischief now and then is good.

6. Cultivate your own interests.

Have hobbies apart from your parenthood and career … or in her words, “you’ll go batty!” Annabelle liked to hook rugs and dye the wool bright colors. She remembers that once her young child said, “My mother is hooking,” and another one of her children added, “and dyeing,” and both times were met with looks of shock. Annabelle laughs and recalls how much fun she had “hooking” and “dyeing.”

7. Know what your favorite things are:

candy, song, color, teacher, meal, etc. It helps explain who you are: to yourself, and to others.

8. Have your own favorite word:

“Hope” is a good one; that is Annabelle’s … or any word that speaks to your soul.

9. Find what makes you feel beautiful and make it a part of your daily rituals:

it could be earrings, a hair style, a bit of blush. Wear what makes you feel your best.

10. Be more interested in loving than in being loved.

Along with this, think of other people more than yourself.

11. Have teatime as a daily ritual. Teapot required!

The royal family knows this … why not your family? Even if you drink coffee daily (as Annabelle also does) there is just something inexplicably calming about the act of pouring hot water over tea leaves in a bright pot. Poured and savored alone or with others, an afternoon tea heals the body and soul. Note: black tea with milk and sugar tastes great!

12. Music should be an active part of your life, even better if you make it yourself.

Dust off the instrument you played in high school or sing in the shower! When Annabelle was young, she would often come home to her father playing the piano and her mother singing along. They were not professional musicians but they kept themselves and the family in good cheer by sharing their melodies. (Interested? Try the popular new group singing activity, Choir! Choir! Choir!)

13. Do something daily to keep your brain sharp:

Annabelle reads a lot, does crosswords daily and plays piano.

14. Memorize poetry.

Discover poems that mean the most to you and quote them when needing to find meaning or share wisdom with others. Annabelle’s favorite is “A Psalm of Life” by Longfellow.

15. Walk for exercise. When possible, climb the stairs.

Walk and climb the stairs enough and you’ll never need a gym membership. As a side note, Annabelle recommends: if possible, walk to the bakery to get chocolate cake and then come home and eat a piece, guilt-free (bonus points if you do so while the kids are napping)!

16. Seek comedy and drama as a balance in entertainment.

Look for two favorite tv shows at any given season: drama to make you think or feel more deeply and comedy to make you laugh.

17. An occasional extravagance can replace a year of therapy.

Annabelle once bought a Versace gown, and wore it with joy and panache at special events through many years.

18. Fashion is not frivolous.

It’s a form of self-expression. Annabelle says, “Sometimes it is a reason to live!” Even at 100, she expresses herself through what she wears and enjoys planning outfits. She even knows such fashion terms as “peplum,” “epaulette,” and “snood.”

19. Don’t be afraid to pursue your own style.

It can lift your spirits as you walk your form of beauty into the world!

20. Sparkle and shine.

Wear beautiful pins and earrings, especially “jewelry that has a lot of life,” which means sparkle and shine. Annabelle appreciated “bling” before it was “bling.”

21. Don’t be afraid to wear colors.

Get away from the usual browns, beiges and blacks.

22. When you brag about yourself, make it a doosie.

Annabelle likes to say, “I’ve never needed to shave my legs.” And she’s right.

23. Be careful of compliments:

give them freely but don’t take them too seriously when they are lavished on or withheld from you. Everyone has insecurities.

24. Go antiquing or to a flea market, garage sale or estate sale now and then.

It’s fun and you may find a rarity for your home or as a gift that isn’t a “cookie cutter.”

25. Send birthday cards by snail mail.

In this time of emails and e-vites, there’s still something timeless and special about that act of a handwritten letter. Annabelle likes to include holy cards or inspirational inserts inside the greeting cards. She sends these to all her friends and family, young and old … and all enjoy receiving them.

26. Appreciate every age group:

all have something to celebrate and something to teach.

27. Be grateful.

Annabelle believes in the power of grace before meals, and she always prays in this way: after the grace before meals she adds, “We pray for those who are not as fortunate as we are. And may we always have as much!”

28. Be charitable.

Help the needy. Teach the young. Protect the innocent.

29. Moderation in all things is a youth elixir.

Don’t drink too much alcohol or overindulge in anything. It will age you!

30. Look for the simple joys.

When life is difficult it can be the little things that get you through: a good book, a bike ride, a bubble bath.

31. Learn to speak up for yourself.

As Annabelle would say, “God gave you a mouth; use it.”

32. Women should exercise their power more.

Don’t allow your children to have the last word. Don’t fold when they have a tantrum. Speak up when your husband is wrong. Speak up when the boss doesn’t notice the good work you did. When you know in your gut it’s right, let your voice be heard!

33. Have the courage to be counter-cultural.

It’s important to be “up with the times,” but buck the trends when they violate your values.

34. Don’t put money first in your life, or you’ll lose your soul.

35. But do have a rainy day account:

a bit of money set aside for an emergency or fun, or to help someone else.

36. Be well-groomed.

Don’t look “pulled through a pipe,” as Annabelle would say, especially in the workplace. Polish your shoes, comb your hair, use a lint brush, etc.

37. Think out of the box professionally.

Forge your own path in the workplace!

38. If you are a boss, be the kind of boss you wish you had.

39. A woman is entitled to maintain a healthy aura of mystery; a man should be an open book.

Look for the kind of man who is honest and forthright. As a woman, always have a few fun surprises up your sleeve.

40. “A woman who tells her age will tell anything,”

Annabelle says. Especially if you are lucky enough to look younger than you are, don’t tell! It’s no one’s business. Until you are over eighty… then unabashedly brag!

41. Go out dancing with your husband, even if he can’t dance.

It’s romantic. You’re holding each other. And whenever you go to a wedding, be sure to slow dance together. It renews your own wedding promises.

42. Have fortitude.

Do your best to hang in there when times get tough.

43. Laugh every day:

by the way, it’s okay to laugh over something silly even in the midst of the darkest times. Laughter keeps you young.

44. Love your country:

it reminds you that you are part of something bigger than yourself. As the granddaughter of immigrants, Annabelle never took her country for granted. Whenever a new baby was born, her grandma, an immigrant, would say to the infant, “And how do you like America?” with a jaunty smile.

45. Find some way to add whimsy into your life and home decor.

Annabelle hung cowbells on the door to greet guests with a bright and joyful noise. Her children loved them when they were young but as they reached the college years, they dreaded the giveaway noise as they came in late!

46. Houses should have nooks and crannies …

Open concept is nice but have little places to enjoy womb-like serenity.

47. Every bedroom should have a quilt.

48. Every home should have a piece of lace somewhere, a touch of blue and chinoiserie.

49. Your home should display your faith.

People who enter should know who or what you worship. Annabelle has always had religious art on the wall, tastefully displayed, as a clear reminder that her faith was an important part of her life.

50. Housecleaning can be an opportunity.

It’s both physical and emotional exercise and a chance to be proud and humble at the same time: proud of what you’ve created and humble enough to take care of it yourself. If you have a house cleaner, you’re lucky and that’s great but you can still putter and put your mark on things … and you should.

51. Your house is your palette.

It is a way to express yourself. It is also a refuge, a place where family and friends should want to go, and should reflect joy.

52. Set a nice table: even if you are alone.

Don’t be afraid to use your best table linens, cutlery, glasses and china in ordinary time. We often save things for “special” days that rarely come instead of making every day special. Annabelle practiced this wisdom even as a widow. It was a way to remind herself of her own dignity, kept her in a routine and ritual of self-care and if someone stopped by they felt very welcome to join her. Annabelle notes that her mother-in-law, a woman with very little money, always set a beautiful table.

53. Make not-so-pleasant tasks pleasant.

When you go out to throw out your garbage or do some other menial task, look around at the flowers or up at the stars.

54. Devote an entire area of your home to spoiling your grandkids or children and young guests.

Annabelle had a corner cupboard with glass mason jars filled with candies and a box with painted strawberries on top filled with M & M’s. Her grandchildren have fond memories of that corner.

55. Having a family is a beautiful and heroic act: so go for it!

Annabelle says, “don’t be afraid to have children. I had six and it was tough sometimes, I was overwhelmed at times, but I never regretted one of them. Each of them enhanced my life.” Annabelle says she understands it can be intimidating to imagine caring for a completely dependent being, or adding another mouth to feed. But she says raising your kids is the best time of your life, hands down, and she has known the joys of every stage. She would do it all again, in a heartbeat. Not much sleep, interrupted meals, all plans go out the window—but there is nothing better than life in the making! And with loss of planning and letting go of control, a new kind of freedom follows.

56. You are closest to God when you are in labor.

Annabelle’s oldest brother, a Jesuit priest, always reminded Annabelle before she went into labor with each of her children, “Remember: you are the link for your child between heaven and earth and are assisting in the act of creation.” Annabelle believes that while you are in labor, it is a special opportunity to pray for people who most need your prayers.

57. Women should always have the final say in choosing their baby’s first name.

After all, they do all the work getting the baby into the world! Husbands can offer ideas but should ultimately support the woman’s pick for what to name the baby.

58. When you come home with a new baby, the older one(s) should get lots of attention.

After all, they are the ones making the most adjustments to the new routine.

59. Your children can be your teachers.

Annabelle’s mother taught her grandma to read and write.

60. Sometimes you need to give one child in the family extra attention.

While no parent should have a favorite child, there may be times when they worry more about one than the other and they should not be afraid to give that child lots of extra time and attention during that child’s time of need.

61. Families should experience humor, prayer and music daily.

You can sing or whistle while you do washing or clean around the house and kids will admire your cheerfulness and learn that work is not a bad thing to be avoided.

62. Discourage competition between siblings.

They need to be supportive of each other and each other’s cheering squad through life. After all, it’s a cruel world out there.

63. Dress your kids up nicely.

Show them and the world they are worth it … even if it’s some trouble or a bit of extra expense.

64. Involve the kids in keeping order in your home.

This way, they can share some pride in a job well done: no coats on the chairs and glasses in the sink. Put shoes away and hang up coats. It’s so easy to give kids anything they want. But it’s more beneficial to them if you are fair but a little strict.

65. Everyone in the family should pitch in.

Many hands make light work.

66. Don’t just hope for your children to be happy …

Happiness is a by-product of a good life, not a goal. Raise them to be people of good character and integrity and faith and the rest will fall into place.

67. Teach your children manners.

Have them say please and thank you, even if they hate the gift or food. Also, kids should not be privy to every adult conversation. Childhood should be an innocent and relatively carefree time of life so why blur the lines?

68. Don’t be individualistic.

Lean on the strength of the family tribe and support it. Each member of the tribe is responsible for the good reputation of each other.

69. Don’t be afraid to tell your grown kids what to do sometimes.

Overstep a little if you see that their decision could potentially create unhappiness or squander their gifts. They will appreciate your concern and guidance in the long run.

70. Take the time to talk with your children.

Discuss their joys and concerns and share your stories. Stories of important people and events in your own life shared with your kids gives a better appreciation of you and a greater sense of identity and belonging.

71. Don’t overly brag about your kids.

It is ungracious, off-putting and worst of all, could come back to bite you. It can also put too much pressure on the children.

72. Discuss things at the table.

Try to keep the custom of having a special Sunday dinner together as a family.

73. Get involved in outreach or charity work.

There are so many ministries that need the exact type of gift you can provide and you’d be surprised how much satisfaction you will reap from your involvement as you make new friends and help others.

74. Have your own favorite go-to prayers.

Annabelle regularly prays The Anima Christi after Communion. She recommends that when you don’t know what to pray, just give praise. The Gloria is a great prayer for that.

75. Try to get to church most Sundays.

It gives you an attachment to the community and it is very satisfying when your parish friends get to know your family and watch your children grow.

76. The best gift you can give your children is to ensure that they know God.

77. Husbands/fathers should come along with the family to church.

It makes an indelible and positive impression on the children.

78. Have an heirloom related to meaningful events in the life of the family.

Annabelle started a family tradition of embroidering each new baby’s name on a slip each child wears beneath their baptismal gown. It was started in the forties and was most recently worn by my own children.

79. All good parents should make sacrifices when it is in their children’s best interests.

This is especially true when it comes to education and morality. Annabelle is proud of her and her husband’s sacrifice to give all six of their children a Catholic education.

80. Have family traditions.

Annabelle’s family always played cards—euchre—at her Aunt Mamie’s house while her dad and uncle performed music. Annabelle’s children liked board games and movies shared together with ice cream. Try to enjoy the activities as living, breathing memories and not just as posts and pictures for Facebook and Instagram.

81. Designate technology-free time each day.

82. Welcome visitors.

Family and friends should feel warmth and hospitality when they enter your home.

83. Always have extra food ready: you never know when someone will be hungry.

Annabelle vividly recalls the Great Depression. When a man came to the house looking for work, rather than turn him away empty-handed, her mother gave him a plate of meat loaf, stewed tomatoes, and veggies.

84. Learn a recipe native to your nationality.

It increases your family’s sense of identity. Annabelle is Irish and so along with the many other awesome dishes she cooks, she can make a mean corned beef and cabbage dinner!

85. Comfort food really can comfort.

Some of Annabelle’s favorite indulgences include: hot dog and ice cream soda, pot roast and mashed potatoes, a thin slice of pizza with Pepsi free, frozen yogurt, a cup of hot tea with homemade peach pie, cookies, sugar on her cereal and butter on her vegetables … and an occasional cordial glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry.

86. Keep making friends.

Family is everything. It is what it’s all about, but Annabelle’s friends have gotten her through a lot. Don’t be afraid to keep reaching out.

87. Don’t suffer alone.

Invite your family, friends and prayer into your heart when things get difficult.

88. Don’t envy.

It eats you up from the inside. In a similar way, don’t hold on to grudges or anything that gnaws away at your soul and festers. It’s not worth it!

89. Shakespeare was right.

Especially when it comes to sleep: “Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care.” Annabelle puts a lot of store in sleep: naps for babies and elderly, and proper amount of rest for adults.

90. Travel is over-rated.

Making a house worth coming home to is more valuable. Besides, the most rewarding journey is the one we navigate within our own soul over a lifetime.

91. Examine your conscience.

Each night as you get ready for bed ask yourself: “Where did I go wrong today?” And try to do better tomorrow.

92. Rise and shine.

Try to find ways to be joyful and grateful for a new day … every day.

93. Have informed opinions and beliefs.

Keep vibrantly interested in world events, politics and religion (it gives you something to read and think and talk about!) but caution: never hate anyone with a different belief than your own.

94. There are things to really look forward to about getting old.

Here’s one: don’t be afraid to embody the best qualities of a matriarch or patriarch: setting a strong, wise and loving example for the whole family.

95. Cultivate curiosity and wonder.

Be eager to know how the stories continue in the lives of all those you love.

96. Wherever you go in life: bloom where you are planted!

When you are old and your living arrangement changes, remember to seek new friends (it’s never too late) and find a way to be of help to people.

97. Remember always that we are part of a “communion of saints.”

There is a bridge connecting loved ones on earth to loved ones in heaven. Annabelle looks for signs from her loved ones who have passed. Once you are in the habit, you will find those signs often.

98. Be authentic.

When everything else fades away: youth, beauty, money, power, career: what remains is the authentic life you’ve built and fostered: that is your true legacy.

99. Remember to keep loving yourself, with all your imperfections.

100. Never forget that God loves you.

See God in all things. When Annabelle was a young child, she recalls feeling God’s presence loving her for the first time when she pushed a treasured doll carriage in the warm sunlight. She says that these days, she feels God loving her in all the people He sends her way. What a beautiful arc this makes: from the light of the sun to the light of loved faces. As a side note, I add that Annabelle’s first memory of God’s light as she pushed the carriage was also foreshadowing: her life has always been one of valuing new life and the children she was blessed to influence.

Annabelle Moseley
Annabelle Moseley
Annabelle Moseley is an author of nine books, speaker, and professor of literature and religion. Her most recent book is a double volume of poetry written in the voices of notable and notorious Biblical characters, entitled: A Ship to Hold the World and The Marionette’s Ascent (Wiseblood Books, 2014). Moseley was The Walt Whitman Birthplace Writer-in-Residence (2009-2010); and in 2014, she was named Long Island Poet of the Year. She lives on Long Island with her husband and children.

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