Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Staying young

Most of us want to live a long (and happy) life. But who wants to get old! Neither you, nor I. Since we can’t have one without the other, it’s best to make the BEST of it. We can grow old and yet retain some of the wonderful feelings of youth.

Happiness is number one. Being miserable contributes to no one's happiness, except our enemies. Happiness is within our control—we have no one to ask for it, and no one can take it away—not even Uncle Sam. We alone decide if we want to be cheerful or depressed. Of course, it’s not always easy; listening to the daily news can be a mighty damper—the ups and downs of the campaign, nuclear power in jumpy hands, riots about videos, floods and fires, or the wrinkles in our face. All sad, sad, sad. But can our sadness change any of it? Not very likely. On the other hand, our smile may cheer up someone. And, most importantly, it'll cheer us. A smile steers our thoughts into more upbeat channels. Our gloriously beautiful Earth provides much to be grateful for. As Shakespeare says: Assume a virtue if you have it not.  And smile.

Our health and stamina decline as we grow older; so it’s vital for us to walk and keep active, and stay away from the refrigerator. We need less food, and more gentle movement to keep our muscles alive and our body flexible. As to medications? Doctors often assume that their patients feel short-changed if they have to leave their office without a prescription. Worse, I hear that some doctors have a vested interest in some pharmaceuticals or pharmacies. I told my doctor that I’m no friend of pills, and he’s never prescribed me anything yet, except for something temporary like a flu.

A sense of adventure and curiosity, and the excitement of discovering or learning something new is one of life’s greatest pleasures. When we finally retire, we have more leisure to pursue these joys. My life has always been filled to the brim, but since I retired, the days seem shorter than ever—there's so much to do, to explore, to write, to share. My daughters gave me a new bicycle and pink and blue roller blades when I turned 65; I took up playing the piano at 70, I read more books in foreign languages now, and am having a ball volunteering. And think of all the wonders that Google is willing to reveal if we ask for it! It’s unimaginable that we once had to do without it.

Cherish your friends; and honor them for being your friends. Treasure them in good times as well as in bad. Loneliness makes for poor company; we thrive in interaction with others. A pet may help, but a pet ties us down and needs daily care. If you’ve moved away from your friends, join a group, volunteer or become a friend to the friendless. To have a good friend is one of the greatest delights of life, as R. W. Emerson put it.

I’ve found the perfect solution for our declining youthful beauty, but you may not like it. I found light bulbs with low, low wattage and use them near my mirrors! I feel better when I’m not reminded of my wrinkles and glad to discern nothing but a cheerful grin. It seems ludicrous and a losing battle to pretend that we're younger than we are.

It's more fun to put some twinkles in our wrinkles, and be proud of our age! We’re still alive, and eager to make the best of it. And that is all that matters. It's grand to enjoy the fruits of our efforts—no more crying babies at two in the morning, instead some darling grandkids to spoil. No more rush hour traffic to fight, instead full devotion to the daily paper. We have leisure to do what we like.  It’s worthwhile to be grateful for, or, if you’re still young, something to look forward to.

Come to think of it, the last ten years have been the happiest of my life.

Until next time,

Monday, September 10, 2012


“Don’t clear the table yet,” I anxiously exclaimed. We’d just eaten two slices of toast. “The toast made me hungry!”
“That’s what carbs do to you,” my daughter replied. “They stimulate the appetite.”
It’s true. We should have added an egg, or lots of peanut butter. We had three more slices of buttered toast and felt better; at least for the next hour.
“I’ve got to look into that carb phenomenon,” I decided, and did. I quizzed google, which came up with 34 million websites in 0.16 seconds flat! It’d take years to read them all, but here’s what I found. First of all, ignore the many fads; just use the basic guidelines and good common sense if you want to enjoy a happy, long and healthy life.
Carbohydrates are highly essential for all of us. They turn into glucose that provides us with energy and stamina. Some carbs, however, are healthier than others:
Unhealthy carbs include sugars and refined and processed foods. Most processed foods contain added sugar, primarily corn sugars, for which Monsanto has invented some 19 different names. When they reach the stomach, they activate a mechanism that makes us crave more and more food, which has caused a steady and alarming increase in the weight of our population. (For details see the June 28 post below: Health Hazard — Sugar)
Healthy Carbs come in two varieties, simple and complex—stick with them. They include all the natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk products. We need both types.
  •      Simple Carbs are quickly broken down by our body and are found primarily in fruit, but also in refined sugars and processed foods. Do avoid the latter two. If we’d live on nothing but fruits and vegetables—as much as we could eat— we’d be as skinny as could be. The more we indulge in processed foods, the more weight we consistently add.
  •      Complex Carbs take longer to break down and do not cause a sugar rush. They include the starches found in starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas, corn and dried beans), and in grains and breads. Legumes (dried beans and peas) are a good source of fiber and protein, and an excellent substitute for meat.
Carbohydrates provide us with Fiber, which plays a vital function in our digestion. Some fiber is soluble, as found in most fruits, nuts, legumes and oatmeal; some fiber is insoluble, as in most vegetables, seeds, brown rice and couscous. Both types are good for us. Consequently, it’s much better to eat berries or a piece of fruit than to drink a glass of fruit juice.
Grains need special mention. They are a good source of fiber and provide us with many vital nutrients. Unfortunately, most of these nutrients get lost when the grain is extensively processed and refined. The less processed food we eat, the better off we are.
In summary, carbohydrates are an essential food, but they differ greatly in their effect on our health and weight. Minimize foods that are processed and avoid foods that are sweetened with corn sweeteners. Give preference to vegetables, legumes and fruits, rather than juice, cheese and meats. Eat slowly to prevent overeating. And be consistent. You’d be surprised how quickly eating good and healthy food turns into a wholesome habit. And you’ll save money in the process.
Until next time,

Monday, September 3, 2012

Teenagers' Brain

Summer has come and all too quickly gone again. Our youngsters are back in school. 

My grandchildren are teenagers now and have taught me a lot this summer—for one thing that the world has changed. To be more precise, I discovered that the world of the teenager is a world apart from ours. Science may have nailed the cause: it’s the teenager’s brain that is in a tumultuous state of growth.

Frontline, August 22, 2012, Inside the Teenage Brain explains it well. Why do the mood and behavior of a teenager swing so unpredictably from one extreme to another? Because the teenage brain is being flooded with an overabundance of new brain cells that need to be tested, pruned and organized. Puberty is a time of growth and change.

The brain seems to develop in two basic steps: spurts of tremendous growth, followed by a period of thorough pruning and re-organizing.  It happens first in the womb and during the first 18 months of life, then again when we start our teens.

If we engage in sports and music during that stormy period, our penchant for sports and music may become hardwired; if we primarily indulge in video games and TV, a soft spot for being a couch potato may gain the upper hand.

The brain continues to change throughout our lifetime.  Yet once a propensity becomes hardwired and becomes a habit, it will be hard to change, because it needs to be unlearned and replaced by something else.

Scientists do agree on one point, teenagers need lots of sleep, nine hours at least. Adequate sleep helps them to retain knowledge and to cope with abstract concepts, such as math and physics.

Also vitally important in the teenagers’ development of the brain are their connections and relationships. Teenagers may appear to push away their parents, but extensive research shows that teenagers crave close relationships and good communications with their elders. Did you ask them, how was school, and were answered, fine? Or did you ask, what did you do all day, and they answered, nothing?  Don’t be dismayed; these answers have been used by teens for centuries, worldwide.

Parents have to be rather specific with their questions. What’s gnawing at you? You look downhearted, or Meet any interesting people on your trip? Teenagers are so preoccupied with pushing their parents aside or ignoring them that it is hard for them to open up without being asked, even if they do want to tell you or get advice.

Ellen Galinsky, President  & Co-founder of Families and Work Institute, in a three-year study found that teenagers wanted their working parents to be less tired and stressed. For them it was important to be together, just to hang loose, maybe chat, not necessarily do planned activities. Her advice is, hang in there, even if they push you away, they want to be with you.

Teenagers give their parents the lowest mark when it comes to knowing what is going on in their lives. Parents fare a little better when it comes to conveying values, though here the teenagers’ answers varied widely.

When asked about their parents’ work, many youngsters had the impression that their parents hate it; yet the parents insisted that they loved their jobs. It turns out that parents come home tired from work and recount the things that went wrong that day.

Most surprising in her study was the realization that the youngsters interviewed worry about their parents—a third of them often or very often, and two-thirds of them some of the time.

Ellen Galinsky asked the teenagers what they cherish most about their family life. It was not the big events or grand vacations, but the small rituals and family traditions that stuck in their minds.

No matter what we perceive, most teenagers want their parents to care what happens in their life and to be accessible to them; they like them to ask questions and show an active interest, especially Dad, who assumes an important role in a teenager’s life, a role that Mom once played when he was little.

There is still much to be learned about the mysteries of the brain. Nonetheless, one thing is certain, our children are our greatest treasure. Besides, they constitute the future of our country.

Until next time,