Category Archives: personal care

2 books on improving Boomer bodies

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As we mature into our 50s and beyond, decades of hunching over computers, staring down endlessly at cell phones, and otherwise inadvertently abusing our muscles, tendons and joints, can begin to take a toll. Many of us develop, as a result of too much hunching, a kink in our posture that bodes no good. But, like the 85-year-old stooped-over woman who discovered yoga and regained her properly aligned spine, there are things we can do to rectify the situation no matter how late in the game we start.
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Agreed recently to review a couple of books by Dr. Karl Knopf, a professor of health and fitness for older adults and the disabled. For 40 years he’s worked in multiple areas ranging from personal fitness and therapy to consultation, plus he developed the “Fitness Educators of Older Adults Association” to guide trainers of older adults. Now he’s writing an ongoing series of books on fitness and health topics for older adults.
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Surprising help in this book

Stretching for 50+ is one book in Knopf’s series. I took it with me one day to a place where I had to sit and wait for a long time, which gave me plenty of time to pay serious attention to trying the exercises. The biggest surprise was the stretches relating to posture.

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A family friend who’s a doctor came up to me one Sunday while I was helping my daughter prepare family dinner and said, “I’m worried about you grandma. Your shoulders are getting rounded.” Now this friend is not only a doctor but is also a former personal trainer. So you can bet she doesn’t prescribe drugs if stretching and exercise will solve the problem. She said there was a solution.
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She taught me an exercise that I’ve been working on. But when I read this book, I learned there’s more that can and should be done. It describes stretches to help remedy the situation – whether your poor posture comes from working on a computer all day or using your cell phone for texting and typing emails, which tends to lead towards the “head forward” problem.
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Sensible ways to strengthen bones and and prevent falls

And Dr. Knopf has also written a book called Beat Osteoporosis with Exercise that features low-impact stretches and exercises designed to improve posture, build bone density and increase strength and flexibility – all of which can help prevent falls in the first place.

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Each book includes hundreds of photos so it’s easy to see how the moves are done without having to read an inordinate amount of text. No matter how old you are, you can benefit from incorporating even some of these exercises and stretches into your routine. Remember, this stuff deserves just as much a place in your schedule as all the things you do to keep your mind strong and nimble.
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Thin Optics – Snazzy way to sport reading glasses

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Thin Optics pictures very young users on its website!

We’re baby boomers, so we don’t have to talk about what a pain it is to have to keep reading glasses handy. We’ve all been doing that for years now. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been through many different options for keeping yours with you. Some kind of case, of course, is a must, otherwise the lenses get so smeared and scratched they soon become unusable. But what kind of case? Tried buying a pair whose claim to fame was neat: they fold totally flat, even the temples, and go in a nice, neat, flat case. Only problem with them – besides being a bit pricey at $30 – was that the straight-line-shaped earpieces let the glasses slip immediately off your face when you bend your head down to read. Ended up having to wrap a black hairtie around each earpiece to keep them on – a really sophisticated look. Saw another pair that folds flat but stays on – and it costs $200!

Now enter a new product called Thin Optics. These readers come in your desired strength and clip on to your nose – no temples needed. Plus, they come in a case that’s cute as a button – totally flat and available in many different colors and designs. The sample they sent us has a beautiful multicolor floral pattern all over it.

Even cooler, there’s a little strip on the back so you can stick it to your telephone, your dashboard or wherever. You slide the glasses out by gripping the nose bridge and then clip them on your nose and read away. If you’re standing in the store with labels that you can’t read, if you’re out somewhere and you want to read a book, or even if you just need to see what’s on your smartphone (emails, bus arrivals, etc.), these little things come in really handy. If I didn’t already have something stuck on the back of my phone. I would definitely put these on there. But you can also buy a Thin Optics phone case with the holder (they call it pod) already built into the case. Because what do we boomers really need to take with us besides our phone, our ID or bus card and a credit card? Right: a pair of reading glasses!

And these Thin Optics glasses come with an extra pair for free and free replacements for lost or broken ones – forever! How can you beat that? And check out the cases that are decorated with lovely unique artwork from disabled or homeless artists. Thin Optics partners with Artlifting and donates 20% of its profit to directly benefit the artists.
Now the glasses likely won’t stick to your nose through high winds or strong, sudden movements, and you probably wouldn’t want to use them for your long-term reading, but they’re good to get the job done when you’re up and about. And hey, how about putting one in every room of the house? Could stick one on the inside of a cabinet door in the kitchen. Inside the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, etc.
Okay. I’m getting carried away. But it’s a neat concept, well-executed, and offered at reasonable prices (starting at $19.95 + S+H) and with free replacements. A win-win for sure.
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A case for probiotics

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We’ve all heard of probiotics, but what do they really do? There’s reasonable disagreement as to the benefits, but here’s a fascinating piece of research. Eating fermented foods to balance your gut microbes can lead to a reduction in social anxiety, according to a  recent study at William and Mary College. But if you’re not a fan of kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, yogurt and the like, consider taking probiotics. We were recently asked to review a brand that has recently become an Amazon’s Choice because of its natural qualities and its affordable price (~$25 for a two month supply).
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Hyperbiotics for good gut health

After healing from a parasite acquired while traveling, Hyperbiotics co-founder Jamie Morea realized just how important the body’s microbiome is to overall health and well-being. Even the United States government is backing up the idea that gut flora have a profound influence on how you feel. American diets high in processed foods, antibiotics taken over the course of a lifetime, chlorine in the water, and many other things  – even things that happened from birth – can result in deficiencies in the stuff in our gut known as probiotics.

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Morea did a vast amount of research and ended up creating a product known as Hyperbiotics. It comes in a range of formulas designed for many different ages and needs. On their website you can take a quiz to see what formulation might be best for you, get a free pamphlet about gut health and sign up for news about probiotics  here.
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Some doctors feel you only need to take probiotics if you are having trouble with your gut, whereas manufacturers tend to promote this as useful for anyone at any time. My doctor said you probably wouldn’t notice any dramatic change if you were not having trouble. But one health-nut, former-nurse friend of mine said, if you’ve taken a lot of antibiotics over the years – as I have – your gut will probably be happy to have an infusion of appropriate probiotics.
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Reading the Hyperbiotics label is comforting

In any case the Hyperbiotics, the formulas are vegetarian, non-GMO, and free of lactose, gluten and sugar. There’s also no soy, iron, nuts, artificial flavors, artificial colors, or preservatives. And they contain only strains of probiotics that are already resident in the human gut. So the chance is slim of anything negative happening by taking them. Things you might not notice if you’re not having issues but could potentially be benefiting from anyway include:

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  • Digestion. Absorb nutrients and vitamins more efficiently and minimize gas, bloating, diarrhea etc.
  • Energy levels. When your gut microbes are balanced, it frees up your body’s energy.
  • Reduced leels of low-grade inflammation. This can help fight infection, heart disease and some cancers.
  • Strengthened immune system. Your gut houses 70% of your immune system.
  • Support for brain function and mental clarity. Serotonin, the feel-good hormone, is produced in the gut. (Refer to the study on reduced social anxiety in the link at the top of this article.)
  • Support for optimal body weight, metabolism and blood sugar.
  • Support for healtheir, clearer skin.

Visit the company’s well-laid out website at www.hyperbiotics.com for thorough explanations and more information. Meanwhile, try to eat more yogurt and quit using so much bacteria-busting cleaning fluids and anti-microbial gel. Healthy immune systems have to keep in practice.

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Finally! Activity tracker dress-ups for less

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Fitbit Flex in its original rubbery band

OK. I’ll start with a bit of a rant about how much I love my activity tracker, the Fitbit Flex. It has changed my life. I’m healthier, fitter, and 30 pounds lighter – a goal that had been receding further and further with every passing year until this tracker came along. It has amazing capabilities for such a small device. But truth be told, it’s not the most stylish thing to wear on your arm, especially if you’re going somewhere dressed up. I accidentally found a way to hide my tracker on dressier occasions by fastening it a little looser and then slipping it inside a big black plastic bangle bracelet. No one has ever been the wiser. And that bracelet looks at least business-casual dressy but doesn’t work well for fancier occasions.

I had seen last year some classy-looking ornaments and covers and bands for activity trackers, but the prices were outrageous and some of the bracelet covers extremely heavy. Now, to the rescue comes FunktionalWearables.com. They’ve got a wide variety of beautifully designed charms, bands and actual jewelry pieces that don’t just disguise your tracker; instead they make a serious fashion statement. Whether you like like your look flashy, bold or simple, you’re bound to find a design that calls your name. For those of us already dedicated to tracking our steps and so on, this is fabulously exciting news.
If you own and wear an activity tracker – or want to but never wanted something that ugly on your arm – I seriously urge you to visit FunktionalWearables and take your time looking over the merchandise. Affordable beautiful and fun. Would make a fabulous gift for someone who has a tracker or for whom you want to buy one. This line of products includes – mirabile dictu! – even stylish necklaces that hold and conceal that little smart thing that counts your steps. Absolute genius at affordable prices. They start at around $15 for a simple charm or enhancement and go up to maybe $50-ish for a gorgeous engraved silver necklace and earring set. Unbelievable.
Transform your activity tracker! Looks even better without the bandage on the finger.

Take a look. Choose a style or two (after all, they are affordable) that makes you feel good and buy. Then walk – even if it’s on a pad in your living room (which works well if you listen to your favorite rockin’ music ). You will be the happier – and the more stylish – for it, I promise.

You guys are offering some sure-fire-win products. Thank you – and congratulations!
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Gift guide 2016 – consumables and more

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Gifts can be so hard to choose.  Especially as we grow older, many of us don’t need any more tsatskes (pronounced in some circles choch-kees, it’s a Yiddish expression for “stuff”), so we tend to go for consumables – and most of us do enjoy receiving such things as candy, coffee, popcorn, etc. So let’s start with a few suggestions for unique wines and spirits and places to treat your friends/family to dinner on Christmas/Eve.
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Sparkle the holidays with Segura Viudas

For sparkling-wine-loving friends. Segura Viudas Brut (SRP $10) or Freixenet Cordon Negro (in the sexy black bottle – SRP $9), both Spanish cavas that bring full, elegant flavor for value prices. Wonderful with food. Perfect for toasting. And just plain fun to enjoy in front of the fireplace (or a video of a burning fireplace).  Or give them a fireplace DVD for their VCR ($10).

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For luxury wine-loving friends. Check out the reviews here, here, here and here for ideas for luxurious wines that are sure to make your friends feel truly appreciated if they love full, rich wines with their special meals. SRP $20 up to $100-plus.
HIbiki Harmony Suntory Whisky

For whiskey-loving friends. Japanese Hibiki Harmony Suntory whisky – floral notes play just a small part in this elegant, smooth, balanced and subtly sweet blend of whiskies. Plus it comes in a beautiful bottle. SRP ~$70.

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Oh, and here’s a cool new book about whiskey – Whiskey: A spirited Story with 75 Classic and Original Cocktails by Michael Dietsch. It just happens to be written by a pal I met during our Freixenet trip to Spain. He’s very entertaining and knows a lot about whiskey. Great gift for one who loves whiskey, making cocktails with whiskey and enjoys a good read.

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Cool recipes for Jack Daniels seasonal whiskies

And if you want to offer something really unique, Jack Daniels has a whole line of whiskies, including Gentleman Jack (sweet vanilla, citrus, spice), Jack Daniels Tennessee Fire (red hot cinnamon and a touch of sweetness, and a seasonal release called Winter Jack. It’s a mixture of apple cider liqueur and JD whiskey with holiday spices. It’s  very light – not serious sippin’ whiskey – but it makes some fun cocktails. Magnify the image to get the ingredients and instructions. Ah, I can feel myself in front of a fire sipping one of these homey concoctions, can’t you?

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For after dinner. Amaro is the name the Italians give to the herbal-infused liqueurs they serve after their fabulous many-course Italian meals. Chicago’s own maker right here in the city makes Cinpatrazzo with a secret herbal potion that truly settles the stomach after a big meal – and tastes delicious while doing so. This locally made amaro will impress your giftee with your good taste – and let her/him know how much you care. And, oh, enjoy the beautiful Cinpatrazzo websiteSRP ~$35
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MAGNUM bottle with Santa hat

And then there’s MAGNUM™ Highland Cream Liqueur, a silky smooth blend of Scotch whisky and pure cream that brims with tastes of chocolate, caramel and rich toffee. What a fabulous dessert drink to serve with your holiday cookie tray. Or try these scrumptious Magnum drink recipes.

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For your pizza-loving friends/family – Brunch!  Who’d a thunk you could turn pizza into a fabulous brunch menu? Robert’s Pizza Company, has done it in style. Take your gang between 11:30am and 3 pm and check out the mouth-watering-sounding LOXZA PIZZA (with lox, double cream  cheese, chives, red onion, chopped egg, dill and capers) or a cool sweet treat like Robert’s very own ‘ZA DOUGH CINNAMON BUN. ‘Za Dough is their own recipe that was 15 years in the making. Oh, and try their new brunch cocktails like the BRUNCH MONEY COCKTAIL, made with Patron XO Café liqueur, hot coffee and heavy cream.
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And speaking of meals, how about taking your giftee out for a holiday meal? Check out some Chicago restaurants open for Christmas/Eve.
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While it’s always best if you can figure out something a particular individual is likely to enjoy, you might be one of us who is not blessed with gift-choosing acumen. Or if you’re blessed with lots of friends/family who have everything – or almost – here’s a brief random assortment of product reviews you that might fit as gifts.
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For your grandchildren – give twice. From Cricket Media comes a collection of ad-free kids’ magazines for all ages. I took the samples they sent on a visit to my grandkids – ages 9, 7 and 4 – and they all immediately got lost inside the pages of their very own age-appropriate publication. I call that a very positive reaction to the material. Games, puzzles, stories and more. Check ’em out: BABYBUG (6 mos to 3 yrs), LADYBUG (3 to 6 yrs), SPIDER (6 to 9 yrs), and CRICKET (9 to 14 yrs). Hey, something besides digital screens to keep them interested and challenged! On sale for the month of December, subscriptions are $29.95 (regular $33.95) and when you subcribe they will also give a subscription to your choice of one of two charitable organizations. Visit them at www.cricketmedia.com.
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Bil-Jac apple Dessert Jacs – yes, dogs love ’em

For your dog. Ever feel sorry for your dog because all s/he ever gets to eat is dry brown nuggets? How about a dog dessert for the holidays!? Bil-Jac is offering this year Apple Caramel dog treats – with real chicken as the #1 ingredient. My daughters’ dogs LOVE the taste. And it’s just fun to treat your dog to something special during the holidays – oh, alright, any time at all. Look for the brand at your Chicago neighborhood PetSmart, Pet Supplies Plus, and Petco locations, plus some private pet stores like Let’s Pet, Ruff ‘N’ Stuff Pet Center and others. Anyway, don’t dogs just love anything you get for them?

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Snap Power faceplates with something extra

For your home. A nightlight that doesn’t stick out from the wall and/or look silly sounds good, doesn’t it? Snap Power makes one that’s totally integrated into an ordinary-looking dual-electrical-outlet faceplate. Some reviewers say they won’t shut off and that the electrical connection is iffy. And a hitch with this and with the USB-charger-equipped model (next paragraph) is that you can’t use them with those high-tech plates with the reset buttons that are now required by most cities to be installed anywhere near where there’s water – usually kitchens and bathrooms.

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The Snap Power USB-charger-equipped faceplate is a great idea, in that you don’t have to dig out another USB-charging device and plug that in first. For those of us not too comfortable with messing with power sources, it’s a bit daunting to face turning off the power to your outlet before you install the new faceplates. These are both cool ideas and the products look nice. Just to be sure it’s right for you or your giftee, read the Amazon reviews before you make a purchase decision.
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For your snoring spouse/SO.  In case you want to give something you believe might be helpful to a spouse who suffers – or makes you suffer – with snoring problems, only consider this if you’re pretty sure s/he won’t be insulted! Rest-Rite makes a back-sleeper’s aid that’s designed to gently remind you to sleep on your sides instead of your back – when snoring often kicks in. These are disposable (wish they were reusable) kinda big (about 4 inches in diameter) stick-on molded plastic bumps that stay in place and prevent you from rolling onto your back in the middle of the night. We were surprised to find that it really did stay in place, in spite of some tossing and turning – which we did carefully so as not to have to be reminded mid-turn that we were passing by our back-sleeping option. Gotta think this could help those who drift onto their backs and can’t help sawing logs. You can try a sample pack of 7 for ~$17. Even though that seems high, how can you put a price on your mental health? Let us know how it works for you.

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Holiday happiness – try gratitude therapy

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New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto o...
New Orleans: Thank you message in the grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church; added by those for whom prayer or miracles were granted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gratitude – just the act of thinking about how grateful you are for the good things in your life – improves your attitude, your mood and, yes, even your health. HeartMath.org has scientific proof of how it works, and they even get hired by corporations to teach executives how to feel more gratitude – because it also improves your ability to be creative and to make sound decisions.

What? you say. Too good to be true! But in fact, it really makes a difference. And if this season tends to give you the holiday blues, here’s a little schedule – with thanks to Health.com magazine for the plan – by which you can teach yourself how to feel more gratitude and gain some of those benefits.
For the first week…
  • Notice the good. Every morning think of three things you’re grateful for. Doesn’t matter what they are or how small they are. Can be as simple as “I woke up this morning” or “I have enough milk for my coffee today” or “Knowing my friends.” But make sure you think of three different things each morning. It won’t work if you just mindlessly repeat the same things each day.
  • Put it in writing. Write or record the things you’re grateful for. Journaling works for some, but you could also text your three things to a friend or record a voice memo on your phone.
  • Use terms of positive feelings. When you think, write or record, use words like gifts, blessings, good fortune and abundance. Avoid left-handed expressions of gratitude like “thank heavens, this finally happened” or “it’s about time!” or “it’s the least they could do.”
For the second week…
  • Express thanks to others. Every day tell someone thank you for something very specific they do/did. “I really appreciate that you gave me your seat on the bus.” “Thank you for taking the garbage out in time for the truck.”
  • Put it in writing. Write a note to a friend, family member or mentor expressing your heartfelt appreciation for something s/he did that affected you in a positive way. If possible, read it out loud to the person or schedule a video chat to share it.
  • Volunteer to help someone else. People commonly feel more grateful for their own blessings when they do something for others. Carve out some time and sign up to help in your family, church, community or city in some way.
For the third week…
  • See the good everywhere you look. Notice the good things done by others in your family, school, neighborhood or civic group. When you think of your three blessings each day, also recognize others who perform heroic or even simply kind acts.
  • Find and record silver linings. Think of three less-than-ideal experiences you’ve had recently and discover ways in which they might have benefited you in some unexpected way. Sometimes, for example, getting laid off can lead to an even better opportunity. Ending a difficult relationship may lead to greater peace of mind.
  • Pay it forward at work. Workplaces can be the least gratitude-inspiring environments of all. Change up the vibe in your workplace by showing a peer, an intern or a boss some appreciation. And don’t be surprised if your gratitude comes back to you in return.

Rinse and repeat. Endlessly. And see what happens. Happy holidays!

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5 books for boomers: Laugh, cry, exercise, cook and – what the hell – drink

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Reading is something a lot of baby boomers are thrilled to have more time for than they used to. Maybe you’ve longed to read all the classics and are into the thick of that project. And perhaps you look for something lighter now and then. Here are 5 books for your consideration:

  1. Laugh. Die Laughing: Killer jokes for Newly Old Folks, selected and annotated by William Novak, author of The Big Book of Jewish Humor. Some good laughs about aging and forgetfulness in some of the stories and especially the quotes from comedians. Some are just funny in general without being specific about aging. If you’re an older married person, you may or may not appreciate the many jokes in here that are built on the idea of how miserable a man is with his wife and a few, vice versa. If you’re an avid emailer who receives frequent jokes from friends, you may recognize quite a few of the stories in here. In any case, you’re bound to find some that are new and entertaining.
    Laugh, cry, exercise
    Laugh, cry, exercise
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  2. Cry. My New Friend, Grief: Reflections on loss and life, by Anna Hodges Oginsky. Processing a loss is never easy. The social worker author reflects on how her father’s sudden death awakened memories of previous traumas she’d experienced. She writes about how she got help in processing her many painful, negative memories, how she began to be able to see her grief as a positive force and how she came out feeling stronger and more peaceful afterwards. Because the book is about getting perspective, it may not be good for those newly in the throes of grief, but could be good to keep on hand for when they are ready.
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  3. Exercise. Beat Osteoporosis with Exercise: A low-impact program for building strength, increasing bone density and improving posture, by Dr. Karl Knopf, a physician who was also a personal trainer and has worked with older adults and disabled persons for four decades. Growing older doesn’t have to mean extreme muscle loss and broken bones. The secret, says the author, is doing specific exercises and stretches that address the core protection against fractures – strong muscles, solid bones and the best possible posture. He points out that building these things begins in childhood, and that it’s never too early to begin. “Eighty-five to 90% of adult bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and age 20 in boys.” So the recommendations in this book are good for both you and your grandchildren – fun, healthy things to do together.
    Cook and - what the hell - drink
    Cook and – what the hell – drink
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  4. Cook. Whole Cooking and Nutrition: An everyday superfoods approach to planning, cooking and eating with diabetes, by Katie Cavuto, nutritionist and wellness expert. It’s not often we turn down so many pages in a cookbook on our first trip through it, but that’s what happened with this book. We love that every dish uses creative combinations of ingredients and encourages the reader to discover all kinds of new healthy-eating options. For example, ever heard of tempeh? Well, it’s a fermented soy product from Indonesia that’s firmer and more distinctive tasting – nuttier – than tofu. Check out the recipe that combines this with white balsamic vinegar, citrus juice and don’t-you-just-love-it? orange zest – ginger, soy sauce, garlic and more seasonings with greens. It sounds so delicious we don’t even care that we’ve never liked tofu. How about roasted cabbage steaks with vinaigrette? You don’t have to be diabetic to find pleasure in these recipes, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to get all the benefits of the super nutrition in them.
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  5. Drink. Bourbon: The Rise and Fall and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, by Fred Minnick. If you like bourbon and you love history, this might be the right book for you. The author scores American whiskey for Whisky Advocate and has written a number of books about bourbon whiskey, including Bourbon Curious: A simple tasting guide for the savvy drinker (review here). This book focuses on the role of bourbon in American culture and traces its resurgence as a favored spirit in current cocktail culture. Minnick details the rise and fall of various distilleries, bootleggers, marketers and more. Ideally, you should be really into history to appreciate the level of detail here, but it might be fun for any bourbon devotee.
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