Chicago Lady Boomer Examiner has a new home!

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Welcome to the new Chicago Lady Boomer Examiner, the online magazine for Chicago women over 50. It’s great to be alive at this time in history – the Internet, the dynamic technology, the advances in medicine – and we’ve got the wisdom and the experience to make the most of it all.

Chicago skyline

Eventually we’ll have all  earlier material from the former Chicago Lady Boomer Examiner website posted, but meanwhile we’re all about helping you get out and enjoy our great city in any way that works for you. Share your ideas on what you’d like to read about – use the form below to connect with us.

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Megabus keeps growing – 10 years now!

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Happy anniversary, guys! Low fares, good service
Happy anniversary, guys! Low fares, good service

Megabus is having a big anniversary – ten years serving the Midwest and the east coast with low-cost inter-city express bus service. Frankly, I love Megabus. When I heard about the $1 fare ten years ago, I couldn’t wait to try it out. Hard to believe they could afford to do that, but yes, for $1 I became one of the first riders back then. I happily gave up flying and driving between Cleveland and Chicago, a trip I made with regularity. At first, I was one of four or five people on the buses. But the service was excellent, the drivers professional and courteous, and I soon began looking forward to relaxing into the refurbished seats inside the bright blue buses adorned with the figure of the little round guy in a yellow cap.

After I moved to Chicago, I kept riding the Megabus back to Cleveland. One of the nicest aspects of riding the Megabus is the fact that I arrive at my destination feeling rested and relaxed instead of stressed out from flying or exhausted from driving. I bring my lunch and drink; they have one half-hour rest stop when you can purchase food and drink and one brief stop to pick up and drop off in Toledo.
I’ve watched the service grow in popularity, add electric outlets and wi-fi access, and introduce a small number of higher-priced reserved seats. Now they’re standing out for their contribution to the well-being of our planet. This earth month megabus.com, a subsidiary of Coach USA, in celebration of its ten years of sustainable travel in the United States, has partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant 10,000 trees along megabus.com routes and on college campuses throughout the country over the next year.
“Bus travel is one of the most eco-friendly ways to travel and it also takes numerous single occupancy trips off the road,” said Sean Hughes, director of corporate affairs for CoachUSA/megabus.com. “In fact, a recent study of megabus.com customers found that traveling alone is the number one way people travel with us.”
The brand kicked off the celebration in New York City with award-winning actor, Skylar Astin who shared the news about this eco-friendly travel option. He helped christen their 10th anniversary bus, featuring the brand’s beloved mascot, Chuck, at one of their Manhattan stops.
As part of its effort to reduce environmental impact, double decker busses are outfitted with a Green Roads system that gives drivers real time information and feedback to drive safer, it also assists with reducing fuel consumption and carbon.

 With megabus.com and fares from $1 (plus a reservation fee), the cost of travel is no longer an issue. To purchase your ticket or learn more about available routes visit megabus.com. For more information and the latest news and travel deals, follow megabus.com on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Megabus did not provide any free rides. Opinions are still strictly those of the writer. ” )

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1More triple-driver technology gets really good sound in a tiny set of earbuds

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1More triple-driver in-ear buds
1More triple-driver in-ear buds

Earbuds are all the rage these days, some with built-in microphones and remote control for your device. Apple hands them out with some iPods and iPhones, or you can buy the Apple earbud-remote-mic combo online for $29 (maybe cheaper on Amazon). But their design just doesn’t stand up to the sound quality of a set of 1More brand triple-driver in-ear headphones that was recently sent for review purposes.

What does it mean that it says “triple-driver”? A whole lot, say the experts. The more drivers in your headphones/earbuds, the better quality sound you’ll get and, according to Gizmodo, a well-known online tech blog, it’s hard to get technology into headphones. Even making a single driver (like the ones in your big speakers) so small that it fits in a tiny earbud is tough. To fit in more than one is a true technological achievement. These buds have three of them inside, and they’re all about producing fine sound you can really appreciate.

Experimenting with the 1More headphones (~$99) gives a new appreciation for what good-quality buds can do for you. In a little personal comparison test, these 1More triple-drivers came out way ahead of the Apple product and light years ahead of the crummy disposable phones they hand out on airplanes. You can really tell they have been tuned to their final state by a professional sound engineer/producer/mixer. Good bass and crisp sounding brushes on drums and cymbals and nice piano in a jazz piece. Rich bass and fully twanging strings for a duet by blues giants Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Beautiful violin clarity in your classical favorites (you listen to Nutcracker all year long, too, don’t you?).

Once you find the correct eartips for the 1More – you get three sets to work with – these stay pretty well in your ears. The earpiece is set at an offset angle to the technical part and that helps make them feel more secure as well. Running with them might be a challenge, but with ordinary use and walking around, these minimize or eliminate the falling-out-of-your-ears frustration common with some. Truly handy, too, if you’re on a long call and don’t want to have to hold your phone up or put it on speaker.

Nice extra touches. The cord is strengthened with Kevlar and covered in a braided coating that makes it non-knot-forming (don’t you just love that?). The earbuds come in a classy pleather-covered black magnetic-closure case and also with a shirt clip and and a dual-prong airline adapter. Really nice for traveling, and they also work great with an audio extension cord** to listen to a movie streaming on your computer or your TV or other audio device when you want to listen yourself without bothering anyone else. Or in case your old McIntosh receiver is malfunctioning…

**Get the audio extension cord with three rings on the prong, not two, if you want to also use it on your phone. The third ring is what makes it connect with the remote (volume and call answering) and the mic functions.

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3 fun travel ideas for boomers

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We all love to get away sometimes, even if it’s to a park or a beach or even just a visit out to the suburbs. And some boomers who saved up over the years can now count on a nice nest egg to travel anyplace on their bucket list. So here are a few ideas for making your travels more convenient, or fun and fashionable or exotic:
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Droplet bag and Matador blnket packages
Droplet bag and Matador blnket packages

Handy beach/picnic/gym stuff. On vacation – or at home – you don’t want to lug along a clunky bag to put your wet suit or sweaty gym clothes in. You sure don’t want to worry your cell phone is gonna get wet on a beach or picnic. Matador offered a test sample of a couple of their practical little easy-carry items tohelp with travel/vacation situations. Their Matador Droplet Wet Bag ($14.99) comes in a 1.5-inch teardrop-shaped pouch and unfolds to a generous size (see photos). Although you probably can’t fit your gym shoes in here, you can certainly cram some shorts, a top and some socks in and know they won’t smell up your bag or dampen your other items. If you’ve got tiny grandkids and you’re out somewhere when they spill all over their clothes, this is a great place to stash the wet stuff. Or maybe you’re carrying around a bottle of red wine on your outing and don’t want it to stain anything in your bag…

The surface of the bag is waterproof, but overall the bag is not at the closure point. So don’t be thinking you can drop it in the white water rapids and be sure your phone will be dry. But for simpler challenges, it’s handy on your keychain and will keep water out or watery stuff in. And believe it or not, it’s not too tough to get in back into that little pouch.
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Also, say you’re out walking or climbing or whatever-energy-level activities you prefer. At some point you decide you want to sit down, but there’s no bench or the nearby rocks are wet. Or there’s only dusty, damp or muddy ground. Never fear. Whip out your Matador Pocket Blanket ($24.99) and lay it out for you and a friend to relax comfortably on. At 63″ x 44″ it’s almost the size of a throw, and more than two could sit if needed. It’s water and puncture resistant and folds up into a neat little package that fits easily in a pocket or purse. You could even use it as a cover in a sudden rain.
Crystal and black pack of 1More dual-driver earbuds
Crystal and black pack of 1More dual-driver earbuds
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High-tech in-ear sound with fashionista design. Big sound. Small package. Cool look. In a nutshell, that’s Crystal 1More Dual-Driver In-Ear headphones. We all want to look chic when we’re using our phones or tablets or whatever, and you can’t go wrong with these. Not only are these buds tuned by a Grammy-award-winning sound engineer, but they look good, too. 1More sent a pair of these to evaluate.

Sitting outside and integrated into the in-ear bud is a faceted Swarovski crystal – either sexy black or pretty pink; you get both colors in a single package for $79.99. Together with the matching-color, coated wires, these buds have a classy, fashionable look. They also come with a neat little storage case and several sizes of silicone eartips so you can get a better fit in your ear. If the plugs don’t stay in your ears, try the larger, triple-flanged tip. The earbuds themselves are fine-tuned by produce great sound – once you get them tightly seated in your ear. You may have to tug on your earlobe or pull on the back of your ear to open the canal wide enough to get them properly situated. Once they’re in you’ll hear the full and satisfying range of bass/treble tones in your music or movie or game.
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The cord is covered with a special Kevlar coating that protects the internal wires and makes the cord tangle-resistant – a much-appreciated feature for those of us boomers who are cord-challenged. The inline-microphone is very handy with its 3-button switch for answering/canceling calls and turning the volume up or down. Nice note: the phones automatically turn the music down on your phone when a call comes in. And it’s so nice not to have to hold the phone up on a long call.
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Use these while you’re on the plane or in the car/bus/train to listen to your music on Pandora, Spotify or whatever. Or if you want to rest or sleep – or just escape the guy-next-to-you-who-wants-to-talk – use them to listen to a white noise app like the simple Bed Time Fan or the adaptable Relax Melodies. The latter is an amazing app that lets you choose between nature sounds, guided meditations and multiple other relaxing sounds. You can even overlay sounds, like play ocean waves and rain at the same time. Cool. <Grin>
 
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Cruise and safari in Africa 2017! Yep. If you’re looking for exotic, this is it – the land of elephants and lions and giraffes and wildebeests awaits. CroisiEurope hosts a bunch of different cruises through Africa, but next year they’re introducing a new trip sailing up the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers with their new luxurious 16-passenger river cruise ship. Select a 6-day, 5-night cruise through Southern Africa in one of eight exterior-facing deluxe suites with balconies, a panoramic restaurant, lounge bar and rooftop patio with pool and chaise lounges. After that, enjoy a 4-day, 3-night stay in CroisiEurope’s own 5-star lodges, complete with safaris and a day at Victoria Falls. For a complete list of their cruise itineraries, visit their cruise website.
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Wherever you choose to go, relax, expand your horizons and open your mind. Travel well!
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Discover new delights in France

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Whether you’re a leading-edge baby boomer or on the back end, maybe you’ve got some disposable income and would love to explore the charms and attractions of France. While Paris and Versailles are undeniably magical and magnificent, alone, they do not a country make.

In case you’d like a few more reasons to start booking your trip from Chicago on Air France ($1100+ depending on dates) and then riding RailEurope within France to your destination, ask yourself a few questions: a) Crazy about watching elegant horses in majestic surroundings? b) Wish you could visit the scene of the D-Day landings in WWII? c) Love to see where they invented and still produce one of France’s most famous soft, runny, white-rind cheeses? d) Like to make a pilgrimage to a world-famous holy spot in France?

Open your guide book and check out Normandy on the northwest coast of France. Following are the landmarks relating to the questions above:

In case you’d like a few more reasons to start booking your trip from Chicago on Air France ($1100+ depending on dates) and then riding RailEurope within France to your destination, ask yourself a few questions: a) Crazy about watching elegant horses in majestic surroundings? b) Wish you could visit the scene of the D-Day landings in WWII? c) Love to see where they invented and still produce one of France’s most famous soft, runny, white-rind cheeses? d) Like to make a pilgrimage to a world-famous holy spot in France?

Open your guide book and check out Normandy on the northwest coast of France. Following are the landmarks relating to the questions above:

a) Le Haras du Pin is known as the “Versailles of Horses” and is the oldest and most prestigious national stud in France.

b) The beaches on the Channel Coast of Normandy is where the Allied troops broke through Nazi defenses to change the course of World War II.

c) The enchanting Norman village of Camembert has timber-frame farms built on lush green slopes typical of Norman countryside.

d) The basilica at Lisieux, dedicated to St. Therese, is the second most-visited pilgrimage site in France after Lourdes and the largest church built in France during the 20th century.

Another section of France known as Midi-Pyrénées was recently imagined into existence in accord with the trend toward regionalization in that country—a trend designed perhaps to help potential tourists more readily perceive the many and varied far-flung attractions of each area as a unified destination. Like the Pays de la Loire region further north, Midi-Pyrénées is now an area surrounding and affiliated with a regional metropolis, in this case the city of Toulouse. Just a few of the high points of the area:

a) Lourdes (now part of the Hautes-Pyrénées) offers a universal message of spirituality, peace and friendship that permeates the tiny village at the foot of the Pyrénées mountains—and welcomes the six million pilgrims who visit each year.

b) Marciac (part of the new Gers) is the scene of a giant party for jazz lovers from the around the world each August. The rest of the year visitors find quiet peace in this 13th century fortified town known as part of D’Artagnan and the musketeers’ Gascony.

c) Rocamadour (in Lot) is a sacred city suspended on a cliff that glows in the light of the setting sun. This extraordinary village transports you to a time when people from far and wide to worship the Black Virgin.

d) The capital city of the new region Midi-Pyrénées is Toulouse (in an area now known as Haute-Garonne). The fourth largest city in France (pop. 716,000), Toulouse is young, modern and dynamic and vibrates with a Latin heat that inspires both its temperament and its architecture.

Now, in case you’d like to feel like you’re in France but actually prefer the weather in the Caribbean, consider Martinique. This French-speaking island is part of France and yet is truly a tropical island paradise with events and festivals all year long. Dine year-round on sophisticated cuisine amid safe, lush green surroundings near crystal clear waters and enjoy the island’s rich history and architectural masterpieces. Stay in budget or luxury hotels or rent a villa. Top Martinique attractions range from a slave memorial to a fabulously ornate library—originally built for the 1889 Paris exhibition, then transported and rebuilt on the island—and include beaches, mountains, parks and gardens. It might cost you ~$800 to fly there from Chicago in February, but you’d sure be in a different—French and tropical—part of the world for a while.

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5 holiday gift ideas for boomers 2015

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Anti-fatigue mat. Feet hurt when you’re standing by the sink or the stove? Love to go barefoot when you cook, but it makes your legs ache? Recently received a sample of a super-cushiony anti-fatigue mat from Wellness Mats. It was a pleasant surprise to feel such firm-softness underfoot by the kitchen sink. The mats have beveled edges, come in multiple sizes, and are guaranteed for seven years not to curl—important to prevent falls—or deform or lose their cushiony-ness. Plus, they’re made 100% in the USA.

These mats ought to make a big difference in comfort for a bunch of scenarios. For example, if you:

  • Don’t have a dishwasher—or just like washing dishes by hand
  • Love to cook…
  • Stand and fold laundry…
  • Have a bad back or simply for better health want to use a standing desk
  • Want to cushion a hard seat at sports or entertainment events…
  • Work at a tool bench on a concrete basement or garage floor…
  • Kneel when you garden…
  • Have to stand a lot when you travel…
  • and so on.

You can buy cheaper mats, but most are more industrial-looking. These will go with almost any décor. Prices range from ~$70 for a small companion/travel size, ~$130 for a 2’x3’ professional-grade for medical, industrial apps, to $260 for a 6’x2’ mat from one of the designer collections. The designer collections are beautiful and look classy on your floor, almost like a sculpted rug. (Update 2/23/17: Be careful not to trip on this – even though it’s beveled at the edges, it’s thick and can definitely trip you up if you’re not paying attention. Also, take care not to fall off the edge when you’re side-stepping! See post here about using the mat for in-home exercise.)

_______________________________________

Book—Act III: Your Anti-Retirement Playbook. Received a review copy of this book and found it clearly written, easy to read, and full of positive ideas and practical tips for getting more out of life after retirement, along with a bit of history about the concept of retirement. Did you know the idea of retiring was introduced in most countries only in the late 19th century? Before that, people didn’t live all that long, and so mostly they just worked until they died. Lucky for many of us, we get to think creatively as we age about how we want to nurture our interests and even expand our relevance.

If you haven’t yet discovered the paths you want to take in this last part of life, this book uses mind mapping and questionnaires to help you discover your passions and set goals in the areas of technology, relevancy, relationships, health and finance. Sounds overwhelming, but don’t let this intimidate you. A quote from the book, “Find the smallest possible thing you can do to make an improvement and start with that.”

And even if you’ve already settled into a nice routine, the book may help you discover something new about yourself and what you care about. It takes a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to finding and pursuing your purpose in life—I think it would be good for anyone—even younger—who has free time and for whom the bills are mostly taken care of. Written by Cecilia Williams, PhD and Paula White, CPA, MBA. Price ~$15 ($9.99 for Kindle).

_______________________________________

Book—How Memory Works—and How to Make It Work for You. Are you lost without your smartphone? Can’t call your friends without speed dial? Never remember names? A review copy of this book reveals that its title is succinct and accurate—it contains a lot of scientific research about memory, explains a number of common tricks (acronyms, acrostics, rhymes) to sharpen mental skills, and gives practical tips to strengthen your memory as well as exercises to test yourself.

The author, Robert Madigan, PhD, says learning about memory is akin to walking rather than driving in the sense that “walking offers opportunities for self-reliance, healthy exercise, and personal satisfaction.” He details the following ideas for remembering something, saying you must:

  1. 1intend to remember it and have a plan for doing so (hmm, pay attention!);
  2. 2attach a deeper meaning to the item;
  3. 3add it to some existing memory;
  4. 4attach a visual image;
  5. 5associate it with another easier-to-recall memory;
  6. 6practice remembering it; and
  7. 7organize it, if possible, into categories (which automatically reinforces meanings you’ve attached per #2).

The chapter on “Remembering Life” may particularly appeal to anyone thinking of writing a memoir. Did you know that people over 50 tend to most vividly recall, except for very recent events, their memories from ages 15 to 30?

Though clearly written, this is a complex book. Not designed for a quick read but very good if you’re seriously into the topic. ~$12 paperback or e-book. $9.99 for Kindle.

_______________________________________

Book – The Noticer’s Guide to Living and Laughing: Change Your Life without Changing Your Routine, by Margery Leveen Sher, gives readers a light-hearted guide to paying attention to the ordinary people, places, things and events that make up a typical American life. Her premise is that we are overly scheduled and too much on our screens, that our anxiety is increasing, and that there’s a realistic solution. Her book relates anecdotes about her life and offers tips on how to enjoy and appreciate life more by truly noticing the things and people around us. She says “Noticers” seem to have less anxiety, experience more joy and make deeper connections.

Even though the author is a professional life-work-balance consultant, she writes in a cheerful, easygoing voice. The conversation-starter ideas in each sub-chapter consist of questions you ask and answer with grandparents, kids, friends or co-workers. Resulting discussions might be like little mini-workshops you conduct together. The ideas encourage talking to each other about simple things that are worth noticing—some cute, some tough (like how to act when we make a mistake), and some that are just there (like the stuff that accumulates in closets and junk drawers). She uses quotes from great authors and often suggests conversations based on content from books.

This one’s an easy read. Something you could keep on a shelf by the coffeepot to leaf through each morning and pick something to notice that day. Price ~$12 paperback, $6.99 Kindle.

_______________________________________

Book – Cookies & Beer: Bake, Pair, Enjoy by Jonathan Bender. Yes, you read it right: Cookies and beer. While this may seem like heresy, the more you read about it, the more sense it makes. Both things have important ingredients in common: grains, spices and fruits. The book points out how the perfect beer can bring out unexpected flavors in a cookie, and how the right cookie can awaken flavors hardly noticed before in a beer.

The cookie recipes are fascinating—some of them even include beer as an ingredient as in, for example, Rye IPA Apricot Crumble Bars, which are made up of an apricot-beer-lemon-maple-sugar compote, a rye-flour-sugar-butter shortbread, and a caraway-black walnut crumble. Isn’t your mouth watering just thinking about that? The chef’s notes say: “Rye beers (IPA or otherwise) will amplify the rye and caraway seeds in the bar cookie and tease out a bit of sweetness from the apricot filling.”

How about a beer milk shake? Made with vanilla ice cream, milk, chocolate syrup and beer syrup (made out of dark beer and raw sugar—the result of which can also be drizzled by itself over ice cream) sounds like a dessert that would love the company of almost any cookie. You’ve heard of pumpkin ale, right? Check out his recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies served with Russian Imperial stout. The chef says: “When you add the stout to the cookie, it’s like you’ve just invented creamy pumpkin pie without the pie. The cookie pops up to lend lushness to this big, dark beer.”

You can tell this guy’s a food writer. This book is fun to read and dream about—even if you never make any of the recipes. Price ~$15, $9.99 for Kindle.

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5 holiday gift ideas for baby boomers

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Even though most of us don’t need more “stuff,” it’s still fun to give a gift someone can really use. Here are a few ideas (one product and four books) for those over 50 who still love giving and getting useable—books are also recyclable—gifts.

I love this mat for exercising while watching movies
I love this mat for exercising while watching movies
Anti-fatigue mat. Feet hurt when you’re standing by the sink or the stove? Love to go barefoot when you cook, but it makes your legs ache? Recently received a sample of a super-cushiony anti-fatigue mat from Wellness Mats. It was a pleasant surprise to feel such firm-softness underfoot by the kitchen sink. The mats have beveled edges, come in multiple sizes, and are guaranteed for seven years not to curl—important to prevent falls—or deform or lose their cushiony-ness. Plus, they’re made 100% in the USA. These mats ought to make a big difference in comfort for a bunch of scenarios. For example, if you:
  • Don’t have a dishwasher—or just like washing dishes by hand
  • Love to cook…
  • Stand and fold laundry…
  • Have a bad back or simply for better health want to use a standing desk
  • Want to cushion a hard seat at sports or entertainment events…
  • Work at a tool bench on a concrete basement or garage floor…
  • Kneel when you garden…
  • Have to stand a lot when you travel…
  • Like to exercise while you’re watching television, and so on.

You can buy cheaper mats, but many are more industrial-looking. These will go with almost any décor. Prices range from ~$70 for a small companion/travel size, ~$130 for a 2’x3’ professional-grade for medical, industrial apps, to $260 for a 6’x2’ mat from one of the designer collections. The designer collections are beautiful and look classy on your floor, almost like a sculpted rug.

_______________________________________

Good stuff in here for anyone thinking about life
Good stuff in here for anyone thinking about life

Book—Act III: Your Anti-Retirement Playbook. Received a review copy of this book and found it clearly written, easy to read, and full of positive ideas and practical tips for getting more out of life after retirement, along with a bit of history about the concept of retirement. Did you know the idea of retiring was introduced in most countries only in the late 19th century? Before that, people didn’t live all that long, and so mostly they just worked until they died. Lucky for many of us, we get to think creatively as we age about how we want to nurture our interests and even expand our relevance.

If you haven’t yet discovered the paths you want to take in this last part of life, this book uses mind mapping and questionnaires to help you discover your passions and set goals in the areas of technology, relevancy, relationships, health and finance. Sounds overwhelming, but don’t let this intimidate you. A quote from the book, “Find the smallest possible thing you can do to make an improvement and start with that.”

And even if you’ve already settled into a nice routine, the book may help you discover something new about yourself and what you care about. It takes a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to finding and pursuing your purpose in life—I think it would be good for anyone—even younger—who has free time and for whom the bills are mostly taken care of. Written by Cecilia Williams, PhD and Paula White, CPA, MBA. Price ~$15 ($9.99 for Kindle).

_______________________________________

Book—How Memory Works—and How to Make It Work for You. Are you lost without your smartphone? Can’t call your friends without speed dial? Never remember names? A review copy of this book reveals that its title is succinct and accurate—it contains a lot of scientific research about memory, explains a number of common tricks (acronyms, acrostics, rhymes) to sharpen mental skills, and gives practical tips to strengthen your memory as well as exercises to test yourself.

The author, Robert Madigan, PhD, says learning about memory is akin to walking rather than driving in the sense that “walking offers opportunities for self-reliance, healthy exercise, and personal satisfaction.” He details the following ideas for remembering something, saying you must:

  1. 1intend to remember it and have a plan for doing so (hmm, pay attention!);
  2. 2attach a deeper meaning to the item;
  3. 3add it to some existing memory;
  4. 4attach a visual image;
  5. 5associate it with another easier-to-recall memory;
  6. 6practice remembering it; and
  7. 7organize it, if possible, into categories (which automatically reinforces meanings you’ve attached per #2).

The chapter on “Remembering Life” may particularly appeal to anyone thinking of writing a memoir. Did you know that people over 50 tend to most vividly recall, except for very recent events, their memories from ages 15 to 30?

Though clearly written, this is a complex book. Not designed for a quick read but very good if you’re seriously into the topic. ~$12 paperback or e-book. $9.99 for Kindle.

_______________________________________

Book – The Noticer’s Guide to Living and Laughing: Change Your Life without Changing Your Routine, by Margery Leveen Sher, gives readers a light-hearted guide to paying attention to the ordinary people, places, things and events that make up a typical American life. Her premise is that we are overly scheduled and too much on our screens, that our anxiety is increasing, and that there’s a realistic solution. Her book relates anecdotes about her life and offers tips on how to enjoy and appreciate life more by truly noticing the things and people around us. She says “Noticers” seem to have less anxiety, experience more joy and make deeper connections.

Even though the author is a professional life-work-balance consultant, she writes in a cheerful, easygoing voice. The conversation-starter ideas in each sub-chapter consist of questions you ask and answer with grandparents, kids, friends or co-workers. Resulting discussions might be like little mini-workshops you conduct together. The ideas encourage talking to each other about simple things that are worth noticing—some cute, some tough (like how to act when we make a mistake), and some that are just there (like the stuff that accumulates in closets and junk drawers). She uses quotes from great authors and often suggests conversations based on content from books.

This one’s an easy read. Something you could keep on a shelf by the coffeepot to leaf through each morning and pick something to notice that day. Price ~$12 paperback, $6.99 Kindle.

_______________________________________

Book – Cookies & Beer: Bake, Pair, Enjoy by Jonathan Bender. Yes, you read it right: Cookies and beer. While this may seem like heresy, the more you read about it, the more sense it makes. Both things have important ingredients in common: grains, spices and fruits. The book points out how the perfect beer can bring out unexpected flavors in a cookie, and how the right cookie can awaken flavors hardly noticed before in a beer.

The cookie recipes are fascinating—some of them even include beer as an ingredient as in, for example, Rye IPA Apricot Crumble Bars, which are made up of an apricot-beer-lemon-maple-sugar compote, a rye-flour-sugar-butter shortbread, and a caraway-black walnut crumble. Isn’t your mouth watering just thinking about that? The chef’s notes say: “Rye beers (IPA or otherwise) will amplify the rye and caraway seeds in the bar cookie and tease out a bit of sweetness from the apricot filling.”

How about a beer milk shake? Made with vanilla ice cream, milk, chocolate syrup and beer syrup (made out of dark beer and raw sugar—the result of which can also be drizzled by itself over ice cream) sounds like a dessert that would love the company of almost any cookie. You’ve heard of pumpkin ale, right? Check out his recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies served with Russian Imperial stout. The chef says: “When you add the stout to the cookie, it’s like you’ve just invented creamy pumpkin pie without the pie. The cookie pops up to lend lushness to this big, dark beer.”

You can tell this guy’s a food writer. This book is fun to read and dream about—even if you never make any of the recipes. Price ~$15, $9.99 for Kindle.

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Movie review: Runoff

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If you’ve ever spent any time on a farm, you know the sound of the wind through the leaves on the trees and vines. You know the blend of sound and silence that’s totally unlike the sometimes-muffled, sometimes-raucous but ever-present cacophony of the city. You know how the trees and the solitary buildings delineate spaces in the sky, the way stars stud the nighttime heavens, and how manmade lights punctuate the darkness. People who inhabit such places tend to be hearty types who partner with the earth and with the animals they raise.

But you may not know what a brutally unending battle with nature—insects, wild creatures, viruses, weather and more—such people continuously engage in to bring produce and meat and poultry to market so we can all eat.

Whether you’ve spent time of a farm or not, you can get some of those feelings from watching the movie Runoff, a film by biochemist Kimberly Levin. The whole film is a compassionate yet clear-eyed depiction of how human beings, including those who partner with the earth, can be led to sacrifice their dearest-held beliefs when desperation strikes—when their own survival and that of their families is at stake. The movie intersperses shots of sparkling brooks and crowded animal pens with heart-rending scenes of souls torn by feeling they have no choice.

English: Actress Joanne Kelly at the Big Apple...
English: Actress Joanne Kelly at the Big Apple Convention in Manhattan. Photographed by Luigi Novi. This photo may only be used if the photographer is properly credited. (See Licensing information below.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joanne Kelly stars as the main character, Betty—a farmer, a farmer’s wife, a beekeeper, a mother, and a woman with a conscience. She and her husband are struggling to maintain their living in the face of overwhelming competition from agri-giant Grigas, which threads farm country roads with its massive white trucks, dispensing chemicals, fertilizers and antibiotics at prices impossible to match.

Betty is made fully human by first showing her at her best in each of her roles. In one scene she surprises her older teenage artist son by suggesting they stop pretending to themselves. “Let’s fire up your pipe,” she says with a little smile. “It’s a bong, Mom,” he says as they climb out on the roof to light up and enjoy the stars. Then we feel the rift in her as her husband’s health declines and she slowly realizes she must take on the burden of their survival. And soon faces moments of agonizing choice—live by her beliefs or relieve her own immediate pain, consequences be damned.

It’s interesting to note that many of the older characters—old-hand farmers of baby-boomer age and older—seem to have the resignation that comes from having fought the battle so long, they’ve given up worrying about principles and just do what has to be done.

Poignant moments of love and simple depictions of the harsh realities of farm life build a multi-layered backdrop for this powerful eco-tale of compassion, conscience and compromise.

To be released in theaters on June 26 by Monterey Media.

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Blueberries as medicine?

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A single blueberry.
A single blueberry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

News about blueberries. A small study—48 post-menopausal women who were pre- or stage 1 hypertensive—showed that participants who took 22 grams (that’s .77 of an ounce for those of us who are gram-challenged) of freeze-dried blueberry powder (equivalent to about 1 cup of the fresh fruit) every day for a month lowered their blood pressure and limbered up their arteries compared to those who took a placebo. And they lost 10 pounds!

No, sorry. Just kidding on that last one.

But they did lower their systolic (top number) blood pressure by 5% and their diastolic (bottom number) BP by 6%, raised their nitric oxide (NO) levels by a whopping 68.5% and decreased arterial stiffness by 6.5%, as reported in a paper by Sarah A. Johnson and several other exercise and nutrition professors. Johnson has an impressively lengthy title: assistant director of the Center for Advancing Exercise and Nutrition Research on Aging (CAENRA) and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University.

Previous studies had shown impressive benefits for blueberries, but most involved consuming huge quantities (13 cups per day in one study).

Considering the cost of both freeze-dried blueberry powder (sample online price ~$2.50/oz) and fresh blueberries (a sample Peapod grocery delivery price as of this out-of-season writing ~$.50/oz, 5.2 oz = 1 cup), you’d need to spend between $1.95 and $2.60 per day to consume the appropriate amount of blueberry material. That would be between $58.50 and $78 a month—and not covered by Medicare or other health insurance.

The cost of blood pressure medication (angiotensin receptor blocker ARB) varies wildly, depending on the type prescribed and the place you buy it. One site gives ARB prices ranging from a discounted $9 to a top price of $183 for a 30-day supply.

One caveat: The study was paid for by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. The Council is industry-funded and is in the business of marketing blueberries. But at least the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service monitors their operations.

Another study done at University of California Davis states that consuming freeze-dried blueberry powder in smoothies every day can increase insulin sensitivity – and is thus very good for anyone at risk of developing type II diabetes, a risk that grows for us Baby Boomers as we age. Too bad the participants had to cut back 500 calories on other foods to accommodate the calories in the two smoothies they drank each day.

Here’s what I conclude:

  1. Freeze-dried blueberry powder looks like a nutritionally equivalent substitute for the fresh fruit at a similar price—plus it keeps longer and is easier to store.
  2. Don’t substitute blueberries for your ARB medicine. Talk to your doctor before you invest in months’ worth of blueberry powder.
  3. I might have to break my rule against getting nutrition in liquid form and start making the occasional smoothie with some o’ that blueberry powder.

Update 2/23/17. I’m now the owner of a “high-powered’ blender to make fruit-veggie blends and – yes – smoothies. Read more about these potential powerhouses of nutrition in the review of the Sneaky Blends cookbook here.

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Top 10 ways to feel good – w/o diets or punishing exercise

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Still working, fellow boomers? Whether you’re retired, working in your home office or employed at somebody else’s place of business, you might find something useful in this list of top ten ways to feel good every day. And not one of them is “run on a treadmill ’til your butt falls off” or “live on 1200 calories a day.” Not that there’s anything wrong with those things…

My first source for this Top 10 list is a practical and encouraging book called The Healthy Programmer. Since I worked with programmers for nearly a decade, I know how glued to computers such brain workers can get. They are passionate about writing the hundreds and thousands of lines of code needed to make your computer software do what you need it to do. They are masterful puzzle solvers. This book is written specifically for them – among the most sedentary of all office workers – and offers detailed practical advice for keeping healthy and fit despite the job requirements.

Second source is an article called “8 Ways to Work Happier” from the January 2014 edition of AARP magazine. I love the tips they give because I actually used several of them in my post-divorce years as a cubicle-or-not office worker. And they still work great today in my home office.

Herewith, my list of Top Ten Ways to Feel Good:

  1. Change positions about every 20 minutes. If you can’t actually work in a different position, do some in-place calisthenics. Swing your legs. Clench and unclench butt, thigh and calf muscles. Stretch arms.
  2. Get up and move at least 5 minutes out of every hour. Preferably out of every half hour. If necessary, set yourself a quiet timer for every 25 minutes. Do sit-ups or knee-lifts or whatever in the break room. If don’t have one of those, go outside or go in the bathroom and do knee lifts, (or if you’re ambitious, run in place). If people are allowed to go outside to smoke, there’s no reason you can’t go outside to move.
  3. Keep your desk clean – or at least leave it clean at the end of the day. Back when I was re-entering the workforce after my divorce, I coughed up some for-me serious dough to attend a training program that taught me how to keep track of my day and organize my desk and papers. I recently started re-using what I learned then, and I can’t tell you what a load it is off my mind not to have to constantly live with piles of paper everywhere.
  4. Use full-spectrum light bulbs – if you don’t sit near a window in your office. “Workers in offices with windows get an average of 46 more minutes of sleep each night than their windowless colleagues do. They also report higher quality of life and get more exercise during the day.”
    I used to hate those awful overhead fluorescent lights in offices. The only way I could combat it was to bring in my own lamp – living-room-size with incandescent bulb. It created a small pool of warm light – and improved my mood and productivity considerably.
    Nowadays, with the outlawing of incandescent bulbs on the rise, your best solution is to find energy efficient bulbs that contain the full spectrum of light waves – as much like natural light as possible (at least so far as we humans have been able to discern).
  5. Keep some plants around. Not only do they improve air quality – and look nice – but they also “decrease stress and enhance productivity by 12 percent.” Yikes.
  6. Have a glass of wine at lunch. Okay, you may guffaw at this one (and so might your employer, so check the rules), but a study of young males with a BAC (blood alcohol count) of .075 percent (that’s just short of the .08 legal limit) were consistently better at creative problem solving than their sober counterparts.
  7. Get out of the office for lunch. Eating at your desk is bad for your mood. Eating with coworkers can promote office harmony and creativity. But if you prefer peace, like me, go somewhere else (sit in your car if it’s close by) and read or just rest. Better yet, meditate. I can get a serious second wind from doing that.
  8. Listen to music you enjoy. You’ll be likely to work quicker and come up with better ideas than folks who don’t listen. It’s also known to reduce stress.
  9. Drink a glass of water every hour and eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. I don’t need to run this one into the ground when so many have done it so ably.
  10. Do something physical for 5-10 minutes about 30 minutes after dinner. Walk, do kneelifts, leg raises, whatever. Research shows being active after meals is a powerful tool for good health. Plus, it’s a way to fight the insidious onset of diabetes. A few months after I started doing this (as often as I could fit it in), my blood sugar level went down by 25 points!

P.S. Here’s a bonus for those of you have dogs.

  1. Bring your dog to work. How many companies are going to let you do this? But there’s hard evidence that pet dogs at work reduce stress, improve morale, boost collaboration and raise efficiency. And just think, your dog is a perfect excuse to take a break, go outside and walk (see tip #2) for a few minutes.

One day, more and more businesses are going to catch on to all this. They’ll realize that letting people get physical during the workday can be one of the greatest productivity tools known to humankind.

Oh, and P.S. When I do my kneelifts indoors at night, I don’t want to put on my heavy gym shoes. I found these unique non-slip socks to wear that protect my feet and give me a bit of cushioning. They’re called Shashi socks, and they’re super for doing yoga. You can brace yourself in your down-dog and not slide and yet not have to show off your how-long-since-the-last-pedicure? bare feet. I kinda like the mesh they have on the top – a little sexier looking than regular ankle-highs. exercise, exercise, exercise. exercise for improving health

 

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Travel, fun and curiosities for Chicago women over 50