Posts tagged ‘fitness’

Get On Your Feet…Get Up and Make it Happen!

Listening to NPR this week, I heard a story on the dangers of too much sitting,” Sitting All Day: Worse For You Than You Might Thinkthat reminded me of Baby Boomer, Gloria Estefan’s great song, Get On Your Feet.  So many of us have sedentary jobs and/or we come home from work (whether required to perform physical labor during the day or not) and then sit for the rest of the evening. Dr. Steven N. Blair, a professor of exercise science, epidemiology, and biostatistics at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, has conducted research that shows that even individuals who exercise regularly during the week may be at greater for heart attacks than those that have less sedentary habits throughout the day.  Dr. Blair warns, “If you’re sitting, your muscles are not contracting, perhaps except to type.  But the big muscles, like in your legs and back, are sitting there pretty quietly.”  Dr. Blair goes on to say that such sedentary behavior can lead to slower metabolism and health problems.

Coincidentally, in the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times dated May 1, 2011, the Business Section included an ad supplement entitled, “Stress, Inc.” that emphasized the effect of jobs on one’s overall health, and how stress in particular can wreak havoc on our bodies resulting in headaches, back and neck pains, anxiety, lightheadedness, and a loss of sleep and energy. In the section on “Desk doldrums,” the article points out the health risks of workers whose jobs primarily require sitting in front of a computer monitor for most of the day.  For some, overcoming work related ailments requires employing some of the simple suggestions below.  Others may need to think about a career change that offers more physical movement.  You might wish to consult the Library’s copy of J. Michael Farr and Laurence Shatkin’s 175 Best Jobs Not Behind a Desk for advice on alternate career opportunities.

The NPR story also referenced Dr. Toni Yancey, professor and co-director of the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of the book, Instant Recess. Dr. Yancey advocates taking routine breaks during a full day of sitting.  Here are a few ideas she suggests to help break the sitting cycle:

  • Park further away from where you work, shop, study, play, and/or worship
  • Take the stairs instead of an elevator
  • Place printers a short distance away from work or study spaces
  • Fidget, stand up, and stretch at intervals during meetings
  • Take a 10 minute activity break at a scheduled time every day

There is a short video accompanying the story that demonstrates how to take some of the simple actions above.

In the Library world, most of us that work public service desks spend a great deal of time on our feet answering questions and directly interacting with the public. Getting up from behind a desk to show someone how to use a library resource or find their desired book, CD, or DVD is a common occurrence. However, after hearing the radio piece, I started thinking of other ways to force myself to get up and move about at my workplace, such as drinking at least 3-4 glasses of water per day. The drinking fountain requires a little trip from my desk and water is much more beneficial than loading up on coffee or soda, my typical guilty pleasures.  I also will be offering to deliver items to fellow workers that are located on another floor or in a nearby building.

In thinking about your workplace and daily activity level, what are some steps you might take to insure you are providing your body with needed movement and muscle tone?  Please share your ideas with our readers and comment below.

May 10, 2011 at 2:20 am 4 comments

Dancing With the Stars

The dance shows Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance are immensely popular, perhaps expressing many of our secret desires to be great dancers and showcase our talents to the world. If you haven’t seen DWTS, the premise is that celebrities and professional dancers are paired up for ten weeks. Every week, the professional dancer teaches the celebrity a different ballroom dance. The couples are judged by a team of judges as well as audience polling. Winners leave with a cash prize, as well as the increased fame from being a show contestant.

The 2009 champion of Dancing With the Stars was Donny Osmond – a true Boomer born in 1957 (featured in the picture above).  Other famous Boomer dancers are Gregory Hines (1946), Mikhail Baryshnikov (1948) , Paula Abdul (1962), Michael Jackson (1958), Madonna (1958), and Liza Minelli (1946).

Several Boomers played important parts in dance movies that left a huge cultural impact on multiple generations.  Patrick Swayze (1952) played the role of suave dance instructor, Johnny Castle, to Jennifer Grey in the sleeper 80’s hit Dirty Dancing. John Travolta (1954) made his name in Saturday Night Fever, kicking off the disco dancing trend. And finally, Kevin Bacon (1958) played the role of Ren McCormack, a teenager who moves to a town where dancing and rock music are banned (!) in Footloose.

Far from being an activity for the very young and infinitely limber, dancing can be taken up at any age. While watching TV the other night, I was inspired by a woman well into her 60’s who was so taken with tango dancing, she purchased an apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina to practice and be in the heart of the local tango community.

Below, I’ve listed some local venues to either learn or practice dancing. I haven’t tried any of them myself, so feel free to share your thoughts and reviews in the comments!

Torrance Recreation Center (Torrance): Affordable and great variety of classes offered through the city – ballroom, belly dancing, flamenco, line dancing, plus cardio dance classes. Check the recreation centers of other South Bay cities for more offerings.

You Can Dance (Hermosa Beach): Primarily focusing on typical ballroom dances – rumba, foxtrot, tango, waltz, cha-cha-cha, and swing.

Hype Studios (Torrance): Highly-rated dance studio offering a wide variety of classes – hip-hop, Afro-Cuban, salsa, zumba, tap, aerial arts, ballet, and more!

Soul Tree Center (Manhattan Beach) : Not your traditional dance studio. Offers a core mind-body vertical pole workout for women. Also offers pilates and yoga.

Alpine Village (Torrance): Live music and dancing – check out their events calendar for the schedule of bands and/or style of dance (e.g. Tuesday night features salsa dancing and free lessons, Thursdays are swing nights).

The popularity of DWTS has led to the creation of dance DVDs and a book for fans interested in dancing at home for fitness. We offer these titles at the library:

In addition, we have other dance/fitness DVDs as well as materials focusing on technique for all amateur ballroom dancers out there:

Do let us know where you like to kick up your heels and follow the advice of the Bee Gees…You Should Be Dancing!

– rs

May 11, 2010 at 8:01 am 3 comments

Bouncing Thoughts and Sharp Brains

As I go about my work day, my Boomer brain can become easily confounded by the many distractions and interruptions I encounter. I frequently find myself thinking, “What was I going to say?” or “What was I just about to do?” Such symptoms of bouncing thoughts are typical of many individuals as they age, and while the experience can be disconcerting and/or annoying, two recent stories overheard on National Public Radio helped to reassure me that I’m not necessarily in the beginning stages of dementia.

Morning Edition’s anchor, Renee Montagne, profiled a new book by Barbara Strauch, The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind. Ms. Strauch is the health and medical science editor at the New York Times and when she began her research, she hoped to determine what happens to the middle age brain that makes us so forgetful. Her definition of “grown-up” (people roughly between the ages of 40 and 65) closely aligns with the widely accepted notion of Baby Boomers (those individuals currently between the ages of 46-64).

Yes, one common indication of aging is becoming more forgetful; however, memory is comprised of different components and some parts of our memory, for example autobiographical details and habits remain strong throughout middle age. It is episodic memory (remembering things in context such as the name of someone you are talking to) and short-term memory that pose problems. As Ms. Strauch says, “It’s a retrieval issue. Those names are not really lost. They’re just kind of temporarily misplaced.”

While conceding that our brains do decline as we age, Ms. Strauch sites research that suggests that the middle-aged brain actually improves in a number of areas including inductive reasoning, verbal memory, and vocabulary. In addition, as we perform tasks and learn, white matter, which is composed of fat and coats the tails of brain cells, increases and brain signals move faster. In fact, Ms. Strauch says that white matter peaks in middle age and studies have shown across all occupations and ethnicities that as people reach middle age, a sense of well-being also peaks and an older brain can see connections and solve problems better than a younger brain!

Rather than recommending mild mental stimulation to keep your brain healthy, Ms. Strauch says that people may have to work harder than they anticipated. For example, doing crossword puzzles may not be enough anymore because when doing them, you’re retrieving information you already know. She contends that you have to push your brain very hard – make it not comfortable. Some research shows that talking with people who disagree with you is basically good for you since it helps you sharpen your own thinking.

So the next time you become distressed at not remembering a co-worker’s name or where you left you keys, forgive yourself and think about all those areas where we outshine our 20-year-old co-workers: in general we Boomers are better at getting the gist of arguments, better at recognizing categories, better at sizing up situations, better at making financial decisions, and better at social expertise (judging character). And don’t forget to challenge your brain – get out of your comfort zone. The Library has an incredible array of resources to help you do just that!

For more information on current brain research and health you may want to check out these titles:

Brain:The Complete Mind: How it Develops, How it Works, and How to Keep it Sharp by Michael S. Sweeney

Buddha’s Brain:The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love &Wisdom by Rick Hanson

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Danel G. Amen (book on CD)

Rewire Your Brain:Think Your Way to a Better Life by John B. Arden

The Scientific American Brave New Brain by Judith Horstman

Your Brain: A User’s Guide by Jeffrey Kluger

May 4, 2010 at 5:21 am 5 comments

The Aging Brain: Bad News/Good News

As a Boomer who loves to eat much and often, I have learned that if I don’t take to the treadmill most nights, I will suffer for it with reduced energy and mental lethargy for several days to come, to say nothing of the pounds I seem to acquire almost instantly.  The way in which my body has appeared to guide me on its own, I now discover is based on scientific fact.  In a radio piece entitled “The Aging Brain Is Less Quick, But More Shrewd” airing on March 1, 2010, National Public Radio (NPR) reporter Michelle Trudeau provided information about research on the aging brain.

Listen to the story from the link above to get all the facts but here are a few gems:

  • Bad news:  Reaction time is slower in the aging brain – it may take longer to learn or retrieve new information
  • Bad news:  Our ability to multi-task diminishes with age – we’re quick but we may be sloppy and make more errors!
  • Good news:  Complex reasoning skills improve
  • Good news:  Empathy (the ability to understand the emotional viewpoint and feelings of others) increases as we age
  • Good news:  The brain is always changing and is capable of brain cell growth in middle age and beyond

My favorite part of the story was Ms. Trudeau’s revelation that memory can improve with treadmill workouts.  Citing research conducted by neuroscientist Art Kramer (University of Illinois), Kramer found that “three days a week, working up to an hour a day, people improved in various aspects of both short-term and long-term memory.”  Following treadmill workouts, individuals were given brain scans and those who had trained on the treadmill had larger hippocampi, the key brain area for memory, as well as growth in other brain areas controlling decision making and planning.

While my rationale for walking exactly one hour has not been based on scientific knowledge or method (I watch DVDs when I walk and I can view at least one full TV episode of a favorite series each night), I was delighted to discover all the positive benefits of my treadmill regimen…and I can feel my hippocampus growing as I write!

NPR has recently featured other stories on brain research including an article broadcast February 22, 2010 that reported how scientists are working to understand what hormonal and physiological cues in the body lead the brain to respond to food emotionally.

I have no doubt my Boomer brain is best served by regular physical and mental exercise and I regularly turn to the Library to obtain the resources that help accomplish both. Good news: If you don’t have a library card, it takes only a few minutes to apply, and once a “member” of the library, you’ll have access to a wealth of resources to keep your aging brain young!

March 7, 2010 at 7:07 am 8 comments

12 Again: the Importance of Play

In “Generation B,” a column written with Baby Boomers in mind, the January 29, 2010 issue of the New York Times, featured columnist Michael Winerip describing a weekly touch football game played among friends over the course of years.  The name of the group is “12 Again” and the participants are all friends in their fifties, playing a game that sends them limping home.  The rules have changed over the years to adjust for physical limitations.  One player describes how they don’t “go long” any more because they can’t really run that far that fast, and the time required to sack the quarterback has lengthened as a concession to age, but they still play every week when they can.

The name of the group, 12 Again, is a reference to how playing makes them feel. This is true of many favorite childhood games, bringing back memories and making us revert to a time in life when game playing was expected and routine. Do you and adults you know routinely play hide and seek, or do you wait for visiting grandkids or time babysitting the nieces and nephews to give yourself a reason? What about tag, or one of its many variations? The favorite in my neighborhood was called “TV Tag” and had the added element of embarrassment. If you were about to be tagged, you could sit down and call out a TV show or character and then you couldn’t be tagged.

There is an old Twilight Zone episode, called “Kick the Can” that was also included as a segment in the Twilight Zone movie. The residents of Sunnyvale Rest Home look and act old, until a character named Charles Whitely comes along with the secret to youth. If you act young, you are young, and he engages some of his fellow residents to play a childhood game called Kick the Can. In a review of that episode posted on the Twilight Zone project, it explains that Charles “…is saying that it’s not only a surrendering-to-the-inevitable mindset that makes people ‘old’, but that it’s a driving sense of fear, the sort that adults of any age often feel and what ultimately separates them from their youthful counterparts.”

Play has a significant role in aging. Studies show that creativity doesn’t change, and can help forestall some of the brain effects of age. Singing, painting, and even video games are being explored as brain boosters. Singing improves your health, even if there is nobody around to hear you. I know I will often gear up for a stressful day, or calm down on the way home by singing along with a favorite song, be it rock anthem or folk music. After all, there is nobody in the car but me! There is no doubt that games like tag, kick the can, hide and seek, and football have all the benefits of exercise too, boosting mood and sending a rush of oxygen to the brain.

So host a game night instead of a movie night for your friends, breaking out old favorites from the closet or shopping for second hand games at garage sales. Instead of gathering for coffee, gather for a walk (to a coffeehouse) and catch up on friends and family as your roam in a beautiful setting such as those highlighted in our previous post dated August 21, 2009. When you hear a favorite tune on the radio, turn it up and sing as loud as you can. And the next time you have a big family gathering that ends on the lawn, there is no law that says the adults must sit while the children go play. Embarrass your kids with a full-out run during Red Rover Red Rover or introduce them to Hospital Tag or any of the other fun tag games. Just do it all safely! As the guys in “12 Again” have reported, they all go to work sore the next morning.

And remember the saying I saw on a birthday card aimed at someone turning 50. Roughly paraphrased it said, “Don’t let anyone or any group tell you that you are too old to do anything you want to do. That is what knees are for!”


March 1, 2010 at 7:46 am Leave a comment

Healthy Aging: How to live to 100

In a previous post, we wrote about Boomers with Zip, or Zoomers.  One of the recent issues of U.S. World and News & World Report is devoted to the topic of aging well – a chief concern of Zoomers.  The issue covers a wide variety of topics: longer life spans and longevity research, Medicare, epigenetics, eating, diet, and exercise, hormone therapy, Alzheimer’s disease, long-term care, and nursing homes (including the magazine’s rankings for Best Nursing Homes).  I found the profiles of nonagenarians and centenarians inspiring and a featured 10-week plan for getting fit designed by orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright realistic (you don’t have to buy any trendy equipment). Issues of the magazine are available at the El Retiro, Henderson, North Torrance, and Walteria branches of the Torrance Public Library and you can borrow Vonda Wright’s book, Fitness After 40, or read the U.S. News & World Report special issue at the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library.

Not to be outdone, Time Magazine also features the science of living longer in its February 22 issue. The focus of the Time Magazine special section is primarily on health, and thus a bit narrower than the U.S. News & World Report issue, but similar topics are covered and there are also profiles of centenarians with interesting information from the Long Life Family Study (LLFS), an investigation into the factors that help certain families produce members who live into their 80’s, 90’s and even 100’s. The study was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health and hopes to determine which genetic, environmental and behavioral factors contribute to longevity. Other research cited includes Dr. Bruce Yanker’s (Harvard Medical School) work on brain differences between those individuals that live to 100 with limited cognitive decline and those that show signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia before 85, and Dr. Mehmet Oz offers steps individuals can take to encourage longevity based on his research studying long-living populations:

  • The ability to exercise remains the single most powerful predictor of longevity so try to perform rigorous physical activity – at least three 30-minute workouts weekly that break a sweat
  • Get  15 minutes of sun every day (or take 1,000 IU of vitamin D) and take 1,000 mg. of calcium with 500 mg. of magnesium to avoid constipation
  • Eat foods that look the same when you consume them as when they came out of the ground
  • Sleep more than seven hours a day
  • Have a purpose (such as family, work, community) – it serves as motivation and inspiration

If you enjoy studying charts and statistics the “Map of Health” displays a chart on life expectancy at birth around the world – the longest is Macau at 84.4 years, the shortest is Angola at 38.2 years, with the United States recorded at 78.1 (12th on the chart).

Both articles mention the importance of keeping your brain active and what better place to find hundreds of free resources to aid you do just that than the Library!  Please do visit us to learn more about healthy aging.

February 20, 2010 at 11:30 am Leave a comment

Your “Falling” Health

42-15200848Several days after reading the Washington Post article on balance and posting about it (Finding Your Balance 9/4/09), I heard a segment on NPR’s All Things Considered (September 8), “Hospitals Work To Prevent Patients From Falling” that served as another reminder of the danger of falling (and the importance of balance). The segment reported that the number one cause of injuries at hospitals is patients falling down and it focused on how hospitals are taking measures to protect their patients’ safety through fall prevention programs.

Listen to the link above for more information and/or read the full transcript.  And if you’d like to work on strenghtening your balance skills, try one of the Library’s many DVDs/videos on yoga, tai chi, and other titles linked in our previous posting.

In following up on our search for balance classes in the City of Torrance or the South Bay, we checked with Bartlett Senior Center staff who responded with the following information:

“We offer yoga at the Friday Recreation program, which is taught by an instructor from Torrance Adult School. We also offer low-impact fitness classes at Bartlett Center Monday – Friday mornings. They do cover some aspects of balance training. These classes are offered in cooperation between the Bartlett Center and Torrance Adult School. In addition we offer “Fitness Difference by Catherine McRae” at Tillim Center on Wednesday mornings. It is a DVD based program and is mostly stretching and gentle movement. It does address balance issues in many of its segments. Our seniors are loving the program and asking for more!

For more information on fall prevention, visit the extremely informative website, the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence. September 20-27 is Fall Prevention Awareness Week so here’s to your “falling” health!

September 22, 2009 at 7:31 am Leave a comment

Finding Your Balance

j0341347While several recent and somewhat controversial articles on exercise and fitness (e.g. Time Magazine’sWhy Exercise Won’t Make You Thin“) have focused on whether exercise can actually help one lose weight, the “MisFits” column in the Washington Post written by Lenny Bernstein (August 4, 2009) featured a piece on the importance of balance, “On Balance, Your Ability to Move With Confidence Is Central to a Healthy Life.”

In the article, Mr. Bernstein described his difficulty balancing on one leg and trying to kick with the other, an action he attempted while visiting his daughter’s karate class for Parent Day. As a Boomer who is fairly clumsy, I was intrigued to learn about balance in general, and something that never occurred to me – one can and should practice balance.

Mr.Bernstein notes that, “Your ability to stay upright and move confidently through space is determined by a complex combination of muscle strength, nerve function, visual inputs, the vestibular function of your inner ear and your proprioception — the work of sensors, including nerves in the soles of your feet, that orient you in relation to other objects.”

The importance of maintaining balance is emphasized by some fairly frightening statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Every 18 seconds, someone in the 65+ age group is treated in a hospital emergency room for a fall-related injury, and every 35 minutes an older person dies from a fall.

I was happy to read that Dr. Chhanda Dutta, Chief of Clinical Gerontology, National Institute on Aging believes that loss of balance and mobility can be prevented or delayed if one works at keeping these abilities sharp, and recommends starting efforts in your 20’s or 50’s (that’s you Boomers), not your 80’s!

Mr. Bernstein goes on to describe a senior community and assisted living facility in Bethesda, Maryland, Fox Hill, that offers balance classes twice a week. Students in their 70’s are taught by a trainer to do stretches and exercises designed to strengthen their muscles and make them more comfortable with being slightly off-balance. They practice standing on one foot and then the other and walk heel to toe and then reverse it. Other exercises described include holding poses while looking at the ceiling (with your eyes closed no less!)

I’m not sure if there are any workshops or classes similar to the Fox Hill balance program being offered in our area, but I will investigate and report back. In the meantime, the Recreation Services Division of the Torrance Community Services Department offers a wide range of fitness and exercise classes including yoga, tai chi, kick boxing, and several different martial arts, all of which usually include stretching and balance as a regular part of their regimen. Check the latest issue of the Torrance Seasons to see class listings and schedule. And if you’re just too busy or don’t have the financial resources to take classes, use your Torrance Public Library Card to check out any of the Library’s many books, instructional DVDs and videocassettes on yoga, tai chi, and other similar subjects. It’s time to put some balance in your life!

September 4, 2009 at 8:18 am 3 comments

A Fine Walk Along the Coast

surf at terraneaThis past weekend I was fortunate to spend some quality time outdoors. I had been looking for a local venue where I could get moderate exercise while at the same time have pleasant viewing and, if possible, not tax my pocketbook in the process. I was delighted to discover the coastal access hiking trail at the Terranea Resort. Located in nearby Rancho Palos Verdes, this $480 million dollar property’s appropriately named Discovery Trail includes six interpretive areas with spectacular ocean views. The trail snakes along the bluffs and takes hikers past hotel accommodations including luxury casitas, several swimming pools, restaurants, a 9-hole golf course, and even a sandy beach and mysterious rocky cave. The trail is so new (completed in June of this year) that when checking on a well-known hiking website,, it was not yet listed. If you’re a looking for a lovely way to spend several hours, the Discovery Trail is a mild hike sure to please all members of your family. And do check out Sea Beans, the resort’s coffee bar – the two Boomers in my party shared a $5.00 gelato that was tasty and refreshing! We found free parking in the first public parking lot we turned into off Palos Verdes Drive South; however, the other hotel lots which are closer to the hiking trail charge parking fees.

While Terranea is new, there are many other excellent free or inexpensive well established hiking destinations available in the South Bay. You may want to take advantage of the excellent docent led nature walks offered by the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy. Los Serenos de Point Vicente is another Palos Verdes based volunteer organization that supports the Point Vicente Interpretive Center and its docents and volunteers also provide a full schedule of free hiking tours. And while Los Serenos offers a docent-led tour of the Ocean Trails at Trump National Golf Course (just down the way from Terranea), there is public access through the golf course and my family has also enjoyed walking those trails on our own.

Closer to Torrance we have the South Coast Botanic Garden. This 87-acre “jewel of the Peninsula” doesn’t afford ocean views but it does have a small lake, rose garden, a “garden of the senses” and a Japanese Garden among others. There are entrance fees for adults and children (under 4 free) but parking (located off Crenshaw Blvd.) is free.

While you won’t get as much exercise walking at the Madrona Marsh Preserve and Nature Center, operated by the Torrance Community Services Department, this vernal marsh located within the Torrance city limits has an amazing array of activities for adults and children including free 2-hour nature walks on the 4th weekend of the month. Check the calendar of events to verify date and time of all activities.

For those of you who want to hike or walk with others, the Palos Verdes – South Bay Group of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club organizes many activities and adventure outings. A quick look on their website showed 6 local hikes in August alone; they also maintain a calendar of events.

Do you have a favorite spot for walking or hiking in Torrance or the surrounding South Bay area? We’d love to hear from you. Please share a comment below.

August 21, 2009 at 9:21 am 2 comments

59 is the new 30

tom watsonOne of my favorite columnists, Thomas Friedman, wrote an eloquent tribute to golfer Tom Watson, in the July 28, 2009 edition of the New York Times. At age 59 (and well into the belly of Boomerhood), Mr. Watson’s performance at the recent British Open was awe inspiring and, as Friedman says, “an affirmation of life.” For all you Boomers out there and not just the golfers, read the editorial linked here that reinforces the importance of how you play the game (sports and life). Did you watch Watson’s performance and/or Lance Armstrong’s recent 3rd place finish in the Tour de France 2009 bicycle race? How do you feel about these athletes’ accomplishments as the “old men” of their respective sports? Please add a comment below and tell us what you think.

July 29, 2009 at 10:49 pm Leave a comment

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