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InterView Magazine

Shira Rister: A Recipe for happiness

Shira Rister loves to cook and create new recipes, which she’s been doing since she was a just child in her grandmother’s kitchen. She also loves to dance even when she doesn’t have a partner. At 74 years old, Rister has no shortage of enthusiasm and when she speaks of her life you can feel her joy, even when discussing life’s challenges.
Finding Ingredients
        Rister was always interested in health and people so, at age 29, she decided to go to college. Battling severe obstacles, ADHD and a fourth grade reading level, she started attending a junior college, which was “very, very scary,” she remembers. She took special classes tailored toward her learning disability and was fascinated by other topics like psychology and the human body. She fondly remembers the first nutrition class she took. The professor urged her to seriously pursue her degree and become a health educator. “She told me, ‘You’d be perfect!’” It was exactly the encouragement she needed to keep going.
        Her aptitude for health and science quickly became apparent when she took her first anatomy class. The things that made other students squeamish were just more opportunities for her to learn. I loved it so much that in two months I became the teacher’s assistant,” Rister remembers.
        Thirteen years later, after that first foray into junior college, she earned a Master’s degree in Health Education with a specialization in Elder Care. “I’m a very determined person,” Rister says. 

Putting Them Together
        She then went to work for FHP, an HMO health insurance company, for about 7 years. Her talents quickly asserted themselves and soon she was performing healthy cooking demonstrations, creating recipes, and helping people with diabetes and weight management. She found herself looking forward to work each morning and her sparkling personality made her classes so popular that people would take them more than once. “I found that my forte, other than being in the kitchen, was being able to be of service to people. To help people was exciting and wonderful,” She says.
        She and her family moved to the Inland Empire from San Pedro and Rister left the field of health education when she was unable to obtain a transfer. After a stint of doing “this and that” she was hired for an outside sales position at a large cemetery and funeral company, where she assisted people with preplanning. Once again Rister had found a way to help people. Her background as a health educator and the body of knowledge she had acquired allowed her to show people the importance of pre-planning. She fell in love with the job and worked there for quite a few years. But it was also during that time that she was faced with personal tragedy.
        Rister’s husband, Ramon, suffered from a series of minor and major strokes and she retired to spend more time with him. Eventually she became his sole, full-time caregiver, not an easy task. Ramon suffered from Vascular Dementia, which worsened with each stroke. Rister devoted herself to spending time with him and taking care of him, “to make his life as pleasant as it could be.”
        Though she gave herself fully and willingly, Rister understands more than most that being a caregiver is not easy, but she made the choice to live a positive life and encourages other caregivers to do the same. She remembers one weekend when she put Ramon in respite care through an aging foundation. During that time she was able to recharge and relax. “This is the most important thing to do when you’re going to be a caregiver: give 100 percent and love every minute of it… and take care of yourself. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone.”
Rister cooks a healthy gluten free meal in her kitchen at the Sun Lakes Country Club in Banning, an exclusive gated community for active seniors. With its numerous clubs and activities, Sun Lakes has helped keep Rister moving to the beat.  
Creating a New Recipe and Spicing it Up
        When Ramon passed away, Rister grieved, but allowed herself to feel some relief that he was in a better place. She gave herself permission to move forward without guilt, though it was difficult at first.
        After the loss of her husband of 37 years, she realized she was adrift. As she began to heal she also came to realize that she lost a part of herself during the seven years that she had been caring for him. After six months of drifting, she finally took some good advice and tried something she had never done before, Salsa dancing. Rister enjoyed it so much that you can now find her on the dance floor three or four nights a week, often dancing past midnight. Her advice to caregivers who need help moving on and are not sure how to start is: “Put yourself in a program or take a class. Take an interest in something.” In addition to her Salsa and Mambo dancing, Rister “mixes it up” by participating in an Israeli-folk dancing group in Claremont lead by certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, Yael Steinfeld. Israeli-folk dancing was a passion of her husband’s and the couple often attended, even as his health began to wane. “All ages and backgrounds are welcome to join in with this joyful celebration of folk music.” Rister says.
        Between her husband and herself, they have three beautiful daughters and three beloved grandsons. When one of Rister’s grandsons was diagnosed with Celiac disease, she found herself experimenting in the kitchen to make tasty dishes that would meet his dietary restrictions as well as some of her own (she’s a type 2 diabetic). She started recording all her new recipes and ended up writing a cookbook for those with Celiac disease and glucose intolerance, called the Gourmet Cookbook of Life.                                                 
        What keeps Rister dancing and creating? “I love life,” she says, “It’s attitude that’s so important about life in general. It’s my philosophy that keeps me healthy and young. I look at life in a positive manner with everything I do.”
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