health, life in general

I’ll take mine black—health & trivia

“I love coffee, I love tea. I love the boys, and the boys love me.”


I chanted that silly jump-rope jingle hundreds of times on the Oak Knoll Playground, certain I’d never acquire a taste for either coffee or tea. Little did I know. Today I live for that first morning cup.

My earliest coffee memory was watching Dad pour his steaming coffee into a saucer, slurping it carefully before racing off to work. Mom often sat at our yellow formica table, chatting over steaming cups of coffee with a friend. I remember, too, being told that coffee would stunt my growth. I was big for my age, so I snuck a sip in hopes it would retard my vertical development—YUCK! I swore off coffee forever. My resolve was strengthened by Mr. Ryshavy’s rancid coffee breath in 6th grade. I worshipped the man, but his breath could send me reeling to my seat.



Circumstances forced me to change my mind. As a university freshman, my procrastination got the best of me; at 10:00 one night a research paper and a final exam necessitated a quick dose of caffeine. I hated Coke and refused to take No-Doz (drugs!), so what was left? Coffee. Ralph & Jerry’s Grocery was open ‘til midnight, so I headed out for some instant Jo. I choked it down with a half cup of sugar, and it did the trick. I was up all night.

download-1I decided it might behoove me to acquire a taste for the stuff. For the next few years I searched out all the coffee-flavored sweets I could find to acclimate myself to coffee’s bitter taste. Thanks to coffee ice cream and Coffee Nips, by the time I graduated, I actually liked it. 

My taste buds have been further transformed by egg coffee, trips to Starbucks, treks through Europe, and finally, my own French press. Love the stuff—the stronger the better.



Over the years, coffee has gotten a bad rap, but more recent tests have indicated that it offers health benefits. According to Donald Hensrud, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic, coffee has been shown to “protect against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.

Not only that, but consuming four to five cups of coffee a day has been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research by Dr. Chuanhai Cao at the University of South Florida.

Of course, drinking too much coffee can have health risks as well. As with most foods, moderation is the key.



Brazil produces 40% of the world’s coffee, twice as much as 2nd and third place Colombia and Vietnam.

Coffee was discovered in Turkey around 800 A.D. and is currently the most widely consumed beverage in the world.


In Turkey, the bride-to-be is expected to brew perfect Turkish coffee for her intended groom and his parents before they will approve the match, and then the husband promises to always keep the wife supplied with coffee beans. If he doesn’t, it’s grounds for divorce (pardon the pun).

Beethoven was a coffee fanatic and counted out exactly 60 beans to brew each cup of coffee.

images-1The Americans, French, and Germans consume 65% of the world’s supply of coffee.

Honoré de Balsac, a famous 19th century French writer, drank up to 40 cups of coffee a day.

Coffee represents 75% of all the caffeine consumed in the United States (Coke comes second).

Coffee beans are actually berries, not beans.

images-3The human body can absorb up to about 300 milligrams of caffeine at a given time; additional amounts are sluffed off, providing no further stimulation. The body dissipates 20% of the caffeine in the system each hour.

Dark roasted coffees actually have less caffeine than medium roasts, because the longer beans are roasted, the more caffeine burns off in the process.

So enjoy! And remember the Turkish proverb, “Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.”

This article first appeared on Sixty and Me:


health, Uncategorized

Oh, my aching feet!

At a recent gathering with women friends, our discussion ran to the unglamorous topic of feet. You know, this little piggie and all that. I had to chuckle as we raved about the comfort of our less-than-fashionable footwear. 

Sherwood Forest Friends

Three of us were wearing clunky shoes  recommended by our doctors for various foot ailments. If anyone would have told me twenty years ago that I’d be decked out in orthopedic shoes like Grandma, I’d have laughed.


Well, here I am. And I’m not laughing.

What happened? Well, age has plenty to do with it, along with overtaxing my hoofers. Their demise began after a few glorious months of pounding away for hours at dance class—modern dance and tap. I loved it, but my feet didn’t.


Before long it was agony to stand barefoot on my kitchen floor. I struggled with heel pain for quite a while before I went to see Dr. Mike, my sports medicine guru. The culprit? Plantar fasciitis.

Ah, relief!

Mike fitted me with orthotics to support my arches and told me to give up dancing until my feet were healed. Sigh…

Other foot ailments plague us: heel spurs, bunions, and Achilles tendonitis. Morton’s neuroma and hammertoes are two more issues common in the middle years. I’d always been aware of athlete’s foot and blisters, but who knew we’d face these tortures?

The tortures, defined:

ACHILLES TENDONITIS is  soreness on the back of the ankle, sometimes with a sharp pain in the calf, caused by stressing and inflaming the Achilles tendon.

Bunion, Mayo Clinic

BUNION is a large bulge on the outside of your big toe joint, resulting from fallen arches and a tendency to overpronate or from wearing tight shoes.

HEEL SPURS are abnormal bony growth on the bottom of the heel caused by plantar fasciitis or an over-stressed arch (from overuse or running).

Hammertoe, Mayo Clinic

HAMMERTOE is having a middle toe that curls under and develops a corn on top, often the result of an overly long middle toe.

MORTON’S NEUROMA is a pain or burning on the underside of your foot, behind the toe, caused by a thickening of tissue around the nerves between the toes. It’s more common in women from wearing heels or tight shoes.

PLANTAR FASCIITIS is pain caused by the straining of tissue connecting the heel to the toes, which can be caused by fallen arches, tight calf muscles, weight gain, worn shoes, or excessive walking.

So how can we prevent foot maladies?

First, wear comfortable, roomy shoes—and give up those heels! Find shoes that give your feet support without cramping your toes. Treat your feet especially kindly if you are going to overtax them with a dance class or a marathon: make sure you wear quality shoes, and if you suspect you may have injured your feet, use ice as you would on any injury to keep inflammation from destroying tissue. Replace running shoes at least every 500  miles (or every six months, whichever comes first).

Love your feet!

Another factor that affects your feet is, of course, the load they carry. If the load is equal to the length times the width…figure it out. You may not be able to do much about your height, but girth is within your control–enough said.

It’s been shown that differences in gait can contribute to foot problems, too. Most people step first on the outside of the heel and then the rest of the foot rolls in toward the big toe. download-4Pronating is walking more on the insides of your feet, while supinating is walking more on the outside. You can tell how you walk by looking at the bottom of a worn pair of shoes. The wear should be fairly consistent down the middle of the sole. If there is more wear to the inside or the outside, your stride may be “off.” You can go to an athletic shoe store for help in finding the best shoes to correct your problem.

I’ve tried to alter my supinating stride deliberately, but it’s hard after 60+ years of walking like a duck. I have found a shoe, though, that adjusts for my problem. My high-arched, supinating feet like New Balance athletic shoes.

Custom orthotics

Another option is to get orthotics, which are basically custom-designed inserts to correct your foot issues. If you don’t want to spend the money on custom orthotics, drug store inserts can provide arch support or cushion.

If you’d like more information on foot ailments and their treatments, check out WebMD on foot problems. It’s not surprising that almost every ailment can be eased by wearing sensible, well-fitted shoes (like my grandma—and me). It’s worth putting money on your feet; they’re your ticket to the exercise that helps you lead a long, healthy life.

Until your feet heal, consider joining the gang at the pool for exercise. Swimming and water aerobics are easy on your feet.

Now that my feet are healed, I’m back to walking every morning. I still love to dance, too, but I do it in my Danskos—clunky but comfortable, with good arch support. Grandma would approve.

A version of this article first appeared on Sixty and Me:sixty&melink

exercise, health, life in general

Which sounds better, a half hour of exercise or a half-hour massage?

What a quandary, eh?


No need to decide, because you can get both at once with qigong (CHEE-gong), the gentlest form of martial arts. For a few years I watched a small group of men and women leave our local YMCA’s Qigong session with serene smiles on their faces. A friend in the group explained that it was an Eastern practice like yoga or tai chi. Sadly, I didn’t have time to squeeze another class into my busy life.

I finally I decided to give it a try. Chatting with participants before class, I learned that they never missed a session. Hmmm…


I brought my yoga mat, but there was no need; we remained standing for the entire class as Mona led us through a series of slow, gentle stretches and movements combined with deep breathing. At first I found it a bit odd. The repetitive movements were simple, and it didn’t feel like exercise. “Jerry would never put up with this,” I thought to myself, but then my husband’s a sceptic who thinks even chiropractic is voodoo.

After a half hour of stretches, movements, and sounds, I was transformed. My body was relaxed and my mind soothed. I felt like I’d been on a massage table for an hour. It was absolutely miraculous, and I didn’t understand why.

I was hooked.


What is qigong?


According to Chinese philosophy, the practice of qigong allows access to higher realms of awareness by balancing the qi (chi, or energy) within the body. Qigong’s range of smooth, gentle movements help strengthen balance as well as foster a sense of peace and well-being. The National Qigong Association in Minnesota summarizes it as “a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent.” Mona explains the effect of each movement on our health as we practice it. For a more thorough description of qigong, visit the NQA website.

What are the exercises like?


Qigong exercises range from very simple movements and sounds to more complicated sequences called the five animals. (My favorite is The Crane.) It also includes static meditative practices. “It’s a gentler form of tai chi,” Mona explains.

Let me describe a few of the movements. We always start in a quiet standing position with feet together. We slowly lift the left foot and place it about hip-width from the right. We slightly bend our knees and start with arm swings, swinging our hands up as high as our head, then down and back behind us, bending a bit on the downward swing. We repeat this movement for about a half minute.


We go through a series of other simple movements, and because I hold a lot of stress in my neck, I particularly like one where we bend our heads forward on an exhale, then breathe in (always through the nose) as we lift our head, drop it back on an exhale, then lift it back up on an inhale. We repeat this about five or six times. Then we switch direction, this time tilting the head to the right shoulder, inhaling as we bring bring it straight up, then tilt it to the left. I love what this exercise does for my tight neck. Try it.

How does Qigong affect you?

After my first few classes I thanked Mona for introducing me to qigong. I shared that after class I feel like I’ve had a two-hour massage. Mona looked at me with her gentle smile and replied, “I know. I get it, too. That’s why I teach the class.”


If you’re interested in trying qigong, I’d recommend looking for a class in your community. If that’s not possible, I’ve found two YouTube videos that are great for beginners.

Qigong for Beginners (30 minutes)


Marissa does a beautiful job of guiding the viewer through a number of movements with clear explanations. If you’re interested in trying Qigong, this is a great way to start.



8 Simple Movements of Qigong for Beginners by Jake Mace  (10 minutes)

If you’re tight for time but curious, this video will introduce you to some basic Qigong movements.

I must admit, I’m thankful to have discovered this beautiful practice and intend to continue with it.


A version of this article first appeared on Sixty and Me, a website I write for monthly.

~Ann Marie


Ladytrippers, canoe trip
life in general, outdoor activities, publishing, travel, writing

Want to live longer? Make friends. Women friends.

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”

Yup. They’re beyond precious, my women friends. They’ve reveled in my joys, shared my adventures, and pulled me through my crises. I treasure every single one of them.

Istanbul, rakı
Members of my canoe group, the Ladytrippers, trekked to Istanbul while I lived there. Here we’re toasting their first taste of rakı, the Turkish anise-flavored liqueur.

As I enter this glorious final chapter of my life, I realize how very important friends are. In fact, it’s proven to be one of the factors contributing to long life. A 2006 study of 3000 nurses with breast cancer showed that those with close relationships were four times more likely to survive their cancer than those without close friends. Amazing.

Some friends come and go while others stay with us for years, but it’s clear that one of the best places you can put your energy is into developing and maintaining strong relationships.

I remember a day long ago when a woman I’d only just met came to my door with a fresh-baked breakfast cheescake. When I invited her in, she said, “As soon as I met you, I knew I wanted to be your friend.” Annie’s been my closest friend for 37 years. If you find yourself needing a good friend, try her technique. It sure worked for us.

friends, best friends
Annie and Ann Marie–friends for 37 years so far. Activity abounds in this relationship.

Are you shy? Hesitant to reach out? Give yourself a kick. Anyone can build friendships, but it takes some effort.. It’s never too late.

Revive connections with old schoolmates

If you’re active online, seek out old friends through facebook or Attend a reunion and make a point of renewing contact with someone you enjoy. At my 35th reunion I bonded with Deidre, a former acquaintance who had moved to Germany, and it turned out she and I had more than a high school crush in common. We’ve gotten together countless times between Germany and Turkey, and she’s broadened my life immeasurably.

Deidre and I dressed to celebrate the New Year in Turkey
Santa dancing with us
Deidre dances in the New Year with the Turks.

I also have a childhood friend who decided to organize a reunion of neighborhood playmates. Old bonds were instantly renewed, and the six of us fell into comfortable and caring talks about families, activities, aging, and ourselves. We six gather from around the country every few years to enjoy yet another Oak Knoll retreat.

The six Oak Knoll buddies pose at Sally’s house on our first reunion.
Sherwood reunion
A reunion gathering on Lake Superior’s North Shore (all but me–someone had to take the photo!)


Join a book group…or START one!Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 2.22.06 PM

Retired women have time to read, and we all enjoy re-viewing our lives through literature. My first book group lasted fifteen years, and I actually mourned its passing. We ranged in age from 30 to 70, and the cross-generational sharing created deep connections. I keep in contact with many of these women, and I’ve since joined another book group that is becoming as close as that one was. It takes time to build trust, but it’s a precious commodity worth the effort.


Pull together an activity group

If you like to hike, start a hiking group. If you like to travel, pull together people to share travel tales or even travel together. Ski? Bike? Swim? Whatever activity you enjoy can become the focus of a friendship-building group.

When I was in my 30’s with small children, my friend Susan suggested that we organize a women’s canoe trip. Susan and I were the only experienced canoeists, but our friends soldiered through learning to paddle and portage. Of course, the best part was non-stop talking for four days. After 25 years of wilderness trips with the same incredible women, our bonds are deep. Though our canoeing days are behind us, we still gather for an overnight retreat every year. 

Ladytrippers, canoe trip
The Ladytrippers, my canoe group, after a wet final day. We took a summer canoe trip every year for 25 years. Susan, the organizer, is bottom right.

Start a writing group

Writers often operate in a void, and writer’s groups are a way to connect. Though it may feel risky to to share your writing, there’s a payoff. I’ve found it to be a stimulating and supportive environment. I always leave my writing group filled to the brim. I admire every one of those women, and we celebrate each other’s accomplishments.

writing group
My writing group outside Kari Vick’s studio shop. These women motivate and support one another every month. I love it! (20 years and counting…)

If you’d like to start a writer’s group (or a book group), you might work through your local library. Attend writing conferences and suggest putting together a writers group, either in person or online.

Create a theater group

My parents were part of a play reading group when I was young, and they developed lifelong relationships with the couples who met to share a dinner and read a play every month. Another option is to find a person or group of people to attend theater events together.

Embrace a group at church

Attending church is both healthy and inspirational, and if you are an attender, take another step to involve yourself in a church group: a women’s guild, a governing board, or a discussion group.

Become a volunteer

Every community needs volunteers, and everyone has skills to share. You will surely build relationships through whatever service you take on. Think through what you care most about and offer to volunteer your time for that cause.

Take a class

If you like art, find a course through community education. If you’re interested in nature, find a biology course or project to involve yourself in. Not only will you build friendships, but you will also keep your brain alert and active.

Take Action Today

However you go about building stronger relationships, make a point of reaching out to really know the people you connect with. Ask about their lives, their families, and even their struggles. Be sure, too, to share your own stories. It’s amazing how much support we can offer each other once we open up. Women get it. (And some men do, too.)

color hike
A North Shore fall hike with good friends Annie, Thelma and Jeanne with all our doggie friends.


An earlier version of this article appeared on


dating, life in general, Uncategorized

Online Dating? A Daunting Task

When I found myself single after 32 years of marriage, I vacillated between delight and despondency. After three years on my own I tentatively approached online dating, and my numerous coffee date debacles taught me a lot.

eharmony date
My sweetheart Phil from eharmony. The relationship was great, but the long miles between Michigan and Turkey ended it.

Online dating is like grocery shopping: read labels carefully, then proceed with caution. After ten years of plowing through profiles both clever and dull, I’d like to share some tips for those of you ready to launch into this intimidating arena. Though I write as a woman searching for a man, my advice applies if you’re looking for a same sex partner as well.images-5

First, accept the fact that you probably won’t find the right partner right away. It takes work, and the truth is— Ya gotta kiss a lotta frogs.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

Look beyond that first smiling mug shot. If the rest of his photos are cars, trucks, and motorcycles, prepare to play second fiddle to them. Of course, if you enjoy car shows and motorcycle rallies, go for it!


Is he smiling or serious? A smile speaks for itself, while a serious expression…well, some serious men are deep, deep, deep. Others are just plain downers.

Do his photos show him interacting with family or friends? If they do, he’s probably socially engaged, which most women prefer. Either that or his daughters posted his profile.

Lots of tattoos? If you don’t mind tattoos, ask for a close-up photo. Whether it’s MOTHER printed in a heart, a skull and crossbones, or Bart Simpson, tattoos speak volumes about values.

Photos say more about a person than any well-crafted profile, especially since many guys have someone else write their profiles.

Once you’ve read a profile, think about what he DIDN’T say. Beware of stock descriptions, and note what’s out of the ordinary.

“I love the outdoors and want a woman to sit by the fire with a glass of wine or walk the beach holding hands.”

Gak! Though these sentiments sound sweet, they don’t show much imagination— many profiles include these lines. Who doesn’t like walking on a beach? Loving the outdoors might mean mowing and raking the yard, hunting and fishing, or skiing through a snow-draped forest. If you’re interested, ask for details.


Here’s an interesting post:

“Car person,have a couple I am working on. .golf, read, walk , bike, NASCAR, Twins”

If you can get past the grammar mistakes (which speak for themselves), this fellow is a busy guy doing guy things. Are these the activities you want to share? Ask him how much time he has for another person. If you’re looking for someone who reads a lot and converses well, this might not be your man. (I’d blow him off.)


Look for traits in the writing style: a sense of humor, warmth, exuberance, sociability…

This post caught my eye:

“I can still feed myself! Looking for someone to chat with, Walks, talk, pen-pal/friendship, coffee,. Someone down to earth, not someone looking at their phone all the time.”

I like the “feed myself” line—good humor. It looks like he values communication, at least person-to-person. Few of us like being with people tied to their phones, but what do you think about a man who puts his pet peeves right up front? Would he be difficult to please?


Here’s another…

“I have a kind and gentle soul, but don’t make the mistake of thinking I am weak. I have a quick wit, and I am easy to talk to. I like the outdoors, photography, painting, flea markets, estate sales, I like the beautiful things in life, pretty ladies, autumn leaves, little babies. I love music, and reading.

I would like to share the love of nature and all God has to offer.”

This is a man who has many interests and seems to know himself. I wonder, though, why he included the comment about liking pretty ladies. Does he have a wandering eye? The mention of God points to a religious bent, a gentle indicator from this gentle man.

How about this one from Craig’s List?

How does a regular guy seriously looking for a real woman post an ad that will garner attention in this potpourri of ads, be read & elicit a response from a decent quality woman on this site with all these stupid & sexual ads — and that’s putting it nicely!”

So far this fellow sounds frustrated. His writing style, though, shows intelligence, so I’d read on. Big words—no dummy. It’s hard to imagine dating someone so cheap he’ll only post on Craig’s List, though, a minefield of tacky posts.


Be wise about meetings and sharing information.

Once you find someone who interests you, proceed with caution. Choose public meeting places and don’t share your address until you’ve met this person a few times and feel assured of his integrity.


If you look carefully at profiles and read between the lines, you’ll save yourself a lot of time as well as some coffee date debacles. You might even find someone worth pursuing.


I recommend checking  the highest rated dating sites  before diving into the fray. I was greatly impressed by, mainly because it requires numerous personality and interest surveys that take out the work of sifting through hundreds of profiles. After being single for ten years, I finally found a partner, Jerry, introduced to me by a previous Match connection who dropped me for a younger woman. It’s worked out great for us.

dating, senior dating
Jerry and Ann Marie on the Princes Islands in Turkey–before we got married.

A version of this article was previously published on Sixty and Me, a web site I write for monthly:

health, life in general, Memory

Try to remember…

Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 2.16.52 PM
Art from by Wullie Blake

“It’s the nouns that go first,” a good friend quipped when she couldn’t remember a favorite author’s name. How true. Every year it seems to take me longer to learn names and phone numbers, and lately I need an extra hour to pull some words out of my memory—if they ever come. More often, too, the wrong word pops out of my mouth. When I say “January” but really mean “July,” my women friends understand and put together the meaning from context. The men in my life just get confused and frustrated with me. Don’t they know I can’t help it?

Billy Collins said it best in his poem, “Forgetfulness.” Click here to see an animated version of the poem on YouTube. It’s one of my faves.

What can I do to protect my memory?

More and more of us are living longer, and the majority of us will live well into our 80’s. So am I facing an unavoidable mental decline in the coming decades? NO!


Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 2.26.06 PM

We can take some simple steps to boost our memory, and the first is as basic as breathing: get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation has a huge impact on mental functioning, and too many of us ignore this important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Most people need at least eight hours of sleep a night (every night, not just on weekends) in order to give our brains time to regenerate cells and reorganize information as we sleep. A body deprived of sleep loses ground with memory.


The next item on the list is nutrition. According to the Harvard Medical School, a healthy, balanced diet is one of the proven ways to protect your memory. They also recommend regular exercise, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar in check.

Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 2.28.07 PM

Of all the nutrients, B vitamins are the most essential for helping your mind stay sharp. Your body uses B vitamins to turn food into mental energy and to repair brain tissue. Thiamin, niacin, and vitamins B6 and B12 are probably the most important for mental functioning. Many breads, cereals, and pastas are enriched with thiamin and niacin, so usually we get enough of these nutrients. B vitamins also occur naturally in meat, poultry, shellfish, baked potatoes, bananas, and chickpeas. Nutritional yeast is also a great source for B-vitamins.

Another factor in avoiding “brain drain” is getting a good supply of blood to the brain. Back to low fat and high fiber, which keep your veins and arteries clear. Health tips keep coming back to a low fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. O.K. I can do that.


Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 2.30.13 PM

Those of us who rely on coffee for a jump-start each morning may be pleased to learn that a recent study at Johns Hopkins University found that “caffeine has a positive effect on long-term memory.” Of course, moderation is the key here: too much coffee can make you jittery and reduce your concentration, and coffee has other negative effects, too.


Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 2.32.09 PM

Another short-term boost to mental functioning might be peppermint. After hearing about a study linking mint chewing with higher test scores,  I gave my students  peppermint candy during their state writing test. A few students swore that it made a difference, and at least they all had sweet breath (and thought I was wonderful).

Last but not least, go light on alcohol. Alcohol destroys brain cells every time you use it. Many doctors recommend abstaining completely to keep your mind at its sharpest, but at the very least, it’s wise to limit yourself to one or two drinks a day.


It’s true that you can improve your memory by challenging yourself. You can do it with the online sites, but it might be cheaper and more effective for you to challenge your brain by learning something new: master a language, learn to play a musical instrument, or volunteer at something that’s new to you. The important thing is to engage your brain with new and challenging situations.


Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 2.24.02 PM

I consulted one of my more obscure resources to get a historical perspective on memory: Vivilore: The Pathway to Mental and Physical Perfection., © 1904. This guidebook, written over 100 years ago by Mary Ries Melendy, warns not to think about or handle the sexual organs because “it draws the blood away from the spine and the brain. It lays the foundation for consumption, paralysis and heart disease. It weakens the memory, and makes [one] careless, stupid, and too lazy to study or even play with any keen enjoyment.”

WOW! We’ve come a long way,  baby.

So—choose your own path, but remember…


Oh, well.


outdoor activities, travel

Travel is so Broadening… in 10 ways

I recently returned from three weeks in Turkey. My heart was full, my mind replete with warm memories, and my computer teeming with new photos. The best part, though, was that my travel compatriots now love Turkey as much as I do.

It happens. Traveling to new places broadens who we are.

1. Build and strengthen friendships.

I knew most of the ten people in our tour group, but they didn’t know each other. By the end of our weeks together we were a cohesive, caring clan. Sharing unique experiences is a wonderful way to bond; whether old friends or new, traveling together builds relationships.

We ten--friends forever
You can tell we’re bonded both by our smiles and our “blue clothing” theme. Left to right: Me, Tom Olson, Tony Paulus, Jane Johnson, and Jane Hofkamp (light hair), Sue Nordman, Sally Nankivell, Marnie Paulus, Rondi Olson, and Jini Danfelt–friends all!

2. Challenge yourself

Some of us visit the same places year after year because they’re comfortable That’s fine. However, visiting a country with a different language and culture stretches you. It challenges every part of you—your senses, your palate, your ears, and even your sense of self. Waking to the Call to Prayer, so different from the loon calls of my northwoods home, warmed my heart each morning.

a coffee toast to ballooning
Some of our group took the plunge and hopped on an early morning balloon ride in Cappadocia. Jini toasts them with her morning Java.

3. Expand your knowledge

I was bored with history through school, yet when I visit a foreign country as an adult, I’m fascinated with the sequence of events that brought it to where it is. Turkey’s rich history, both political and religious, continues to spur my desire to learn more. After traveling I always come home eager to devour both historical fiction and non-fiction about the places I’ve seen.

ladies in the Turkish bath
A Turkish bath is DEFINITELY a new cultural experience, and we loved sharing the adventure. L to R: Sally Nankivell, me, Jini Danfelt, Jane Johnson, Rondi Olson

4. Experience new cuisines

Ah, the food! There’s something about new tastes that elivens the palate. From the döner of street vendors to the haute cuisine of the world-renowned Mikla Restaurant, my palate was tickled daily in Turkey. Breakfasts of tomatoes, cucumbers, dried fruit, bread, eggs, and olives greeted me each morning, and I blush to confess that I never left my plate with fewer than 20 olive pits. We experienced the unique cuisines of each region, always preceded by mezes (Turkish appetizers). One favorite dish was the testi kabob, a rich stew baked in a pottery jar that’s brought flaming to the table, then broken with a flourish by an enthusiastic waiter. And of course, the fish was not to be missed—grilled head-on, it required a bit of finesse to separate the flesh from the bones, but we were rewarded with the tantalizing flavors of fresh, light trout or sea bass.

fish lunch on the Galata Bridge
We happily indulged in a fabulous sea bass dinner on Istanbul’s Galata Bridge.

5. Learn about yourself

As you traverse a new country, you can’t help but push the limits of your abilities, both physical and emotional. You may find yourself conquering hills you would never have attempted, or foraging into buildings you might not have explored. You’ll be astonished at how well you can communicate with signs and pantomime. Your confidence increases along with your curiosity as you immerse yourself into new experiences.

We were definitely challenged by the rough terrain as we explored the ruins of Termessos on a mountaintop near Antalya (on the Mediterranean coast).

6. View the world through a new lens

I’m embarrassed that my country is so self-absorbed that we seldom know what’s going on outside our Western World. Shame on us. I love seeing the world through the lens of a different culture, viewing the advances and accomplishments of a smaller country and listening to their perspectives on America.

carpet shop
Nazmi Bey fascinated us all with information about Turkish carpets during our stay at his Bella Hotel in Selçuk.

7. Understand world politics

When I’m overseas I pay much more attention to international politics. Visiting a less-known destination helps dispel the myth that a few countries dominate the world. Each country plays a role, and each faces its own issues. Turkey currently struggles with the ever-increasing power of their president, and they’re beginning to kick back. I loved discussing this issue with the Turks; I have yet to meet anyone happy with the current situation.

Ataturk and me
There’s a major conflict between the liberal Kemalists and the current Islamist government in Turkey. Imagine our surprise at finding this cardboard version of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Turkey’s founder and hero of the liberals) waiting for photo ops in the Antalya Airport. Yup, that’s me beside him.

8. See your position in the world

Travel helps me realize how broad the world is, populated by people with varied lifestyles and experiences. When I volunteered in Ethiopia I was touched by the desperate need of people who still found it in their hearts to smile. In Turkey I was repeatedly helped by people who had no reason to care about my needs. I can’t help but realize my insignificance in this world of 7+ billion people, each one as important as I am. It brings to mind these lyrics from “The Galaxy Song” by Monty Python:

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,

How amazingly unlikely is your birth;

And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,

‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

9. Spread the word

Because of your experiences, you’ll share insights and stories with friends. Of course you don’t want to bore them with a grocery list of events, but it’s fun to interject an anecdote about your first experience in a Turkish bath or your awe at the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Your stories can open the world to those less apt to tackle the adventures you’ve enjoyed.

fairy chimney cave hotel
Who wouldn’t be amazed at the Fairy Chimney homes of Cappadocia? This one has been converted into the Kelebek Hotel, probably my favorite hotel in the world (complete with resident pooch.)

And, last but not least, travel helps us…

10. Appreciate home!

I’m always glad to return home; being away makes me more thankful for my life in Minnesota. Though I left warm sunny days behind, I was undaunted at the ice still on our lake. I reveled in time with good friends and dove back into local activities. It’s the life I choose, the home I love, and the wilderness I occasionally leave to explore the world beyond.

You can read more about the Turkey tour on Ann Marie’s Istanbul.

This article first appeared on Sixty and Me:


angst, health, life in general

Sleep Tight: 10 Tips to Improve Your Health through Solid Sleep

I’m nearly 70, and I figure I’ve spent over 203,000 hours of my life snoozing. That’s 8,500 24-hour days, 1200 weeks, 300 months, or 25 solid years of sleep. Call me Rip Van Winkle. I’ve loved every minute of it.

But has it been enough?


When I was teaching I seldom got the “required” eight hours, and I paid the price. When I didn’t sleep well the wrong words would pop out of my mouth, I’d mess up writing on the blackboard, and I’d be short-tempered.

When I retired I decided to toss my alarm and rely on my biological clock. Within a week I fell into a routine of sleeping eight hours, from 11 pm to 7 am. It was heaven to wake up on my own, refreshed and eager for the day.

White Ring-bill Alarm Clock

The National Sleep Foundation has recently revised its recommendations for healthy sleep, and for people over 65 they recommend 7-8 hours, with a range of 5-9 hours considered appropriate, depending on individual health and needs.

I’m fortunate to be a good sleeper; the nights I toss and turn are rare, but I have a few close friends who struggle to get even five hours of sleep, and I worry about them. I know good sleep promotes health and long life.

Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. The Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine has done extensive research and discovered these consequences:

“In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.”

Person Lying on Bed Covering White Blanket


The Harvard Medical School offers the following tips for better sleep:

  1. Go to bed and wake at the same time every day. A consistent pattern of sleeping and waking will become habit, and your body will acclimate to the schedule, allowing you to fall asleep and wake more easily.
  1. Use the bed only for sleep and sex. If you’re still sexually active, what better way to tire yourself out? The experts don’t even recommend reading in bed, but books are my sleeping potion; I seldom manage more than a few pages before dozing off. I guess a page-turner might not be a good idea, though.
  2. Limit your caffeine. We all know that caffeine is a stimulant, and for some of us any amount of caffeine can keep us awake at night. My father was able to enjoy a strong cup of coffee before bed, while I have to cut myself off after three in the afternoon. Find your personal tolerance for caffeine and act accordingly.

Six White Ceramic Mugs

  1. Be physically active. Aerobic exercise helps us sleep. If I don’t exercise at all during the day, I usually have trouble sleeping. Whether you do an exercise class, a daily walk, or 10-minute spurts of exercise around the house, exercise will help you sleep.
  1. Limit naps to 30 minutes. Though you can use short naps to catch up on sleep, it’s best to do your sleeping at night. Long naps mess up your sleep schedule, and who likes to wake up groggy?
  1. If you use tobacco in any form, quit. There’s nothing healthy about smoking, and if cancer isn’t enough of a deterrent, the nicotine is a stimulant that makes it harder to fall asleep. Give it up.


  1. Use alcohol cautiously. Alcohol depresses the nervous system, so a nightcap may help some people fall asleep. However, this effect disappears after a few hours and may even lead to waking up throughout the night. I’ve found that a second glass of red wine with dinner guarantees me a 3AM wake-up.
  1. Improve your sleep surroundings. You should have a quiet, dark place to sleep. You should also avoid any blue-screen activities for 30-60 minutes before going to bed.  Recent research has shown that the blue light of televisions, computers, tablets and phones suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep.

Turned-on Laptop on Bed

  1. If you haven’t fallen asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something to relax. You might read, take a warm bath, or drink a cup of warm milk—anything that settles you down. Once you feel tired, head back to bed.
  1. Avoid taking sleeping pills. If you are having ongoing sleep issues, consult with your physician before relying on sleeping pills.


I was surprised to learn that blue light, even ambient blue light, is the most intense of all forms of light, the reasons you see blue lights on ambulances. Our bodies produce more melatonin as the day grows dark, and all lights impede its production, though the intense rays of blue light affect it the most. If you struggle with sleep, get rid of all the electronics in your bedroom.

I look forward to sleeping well in the coming years. Let’s see…eight hours a night for 25 years will be 73,000 hours, which is 3,042 days…


You can also check out my writing website:


Think Thin: Not Diet but Behavior

“Thin behavior” has fascinated me for years. I just don’t get it. I don’t mean the kind of behavior where skinny kids squeezed through fence slats in the alley, or where my teen-aged friends stretched thin, nubile bodies on the beach at Shady Oak Lake as I huddled on my towel.


I mean the eating kind of thin behaviors:

  • Behaviors like choosing a bowl of vegetable soup over clam chowder.
  • Behaviors like preferring a chef’s salad over a burger and fries, or grilled fish rather than steak.
Norwegian lunch
A fabulous yet low-calorie meal: eggs, tomatoes and smoked salmon over a slice of whole-grain toast with lettuce. YUM!
  • Behaviors like leaving food on your plate (not just the onions you’ve picked out of your salad).
  • Behaviors like nibbling one Rice Krispy bar for a half hour (I actually witnessed this).
  • Behaviors like choosing small portions of only three things at a potluck. (I take small portions, but I end up with twenty heaped on my plate.)
A slice of toast with Vegemite should curb your hunger. And how about a banana?


I’m thin-behavior challenged. Why me?

It all began in my youth. I grew up in the fifties when one of my favorite TV programs was the “Ding-Dong School” which featured the “Do-Bee” song: “Do be a plate cleaner. Don’t be a food shirker.” I took it to heart.

Another influence that pushed me to eat was Mom’s admonition when I left food on my plate. “Think of the hungry children in China.” Like any self-respecting child, I knew better than to say they were welcome to it, although I would have happily wrapped my Swedish meatballs and shipped them to those unfortunates.

Another obstacle to thin behavior was “No dessert until you eat up.” The logic in that escapes me. Eat a lot, then you can eat more. I learned it well, though. I eat a lot, then I have more.

Healthy eating behaviors start young, as my sweet great-niece and nephew demonstrate. They love fruit and yogurt.

The main reason I’m thin-behavior challenged, though, is that I love food. Lots of it. I love snickerdoodle cookies—hard to stop before twelve. I have a good friend who is aghast if she indulges in a third cookie. I’m sure she’s never eaten a whole bag. That’s why I don’t bake.

One slice of pizza is just a teaser, and I’m nearly certain that heaven is lined with camembert and brie.

So what can you do?

I used to go on crash diets and fast for days, neither of which was wise or healthy. Finally, in desperation, I joined Weight Watchers, which educated me about changing my attitudes and behaviors rather than starving myself. It changed my life. I went from a binge eater to a sensible one. I revere thin behaviors. I must admit they don’t come naturally, but I’m doing better all the time. These are some of the behaviors that help me:

  • I guzzle a glass of water every time I migrate to the kitchen. (It fills me up and deters me from mindless snacking.) That water glass is the first thing I see, waiting by the sink. I try to down least six glasses of water in each day.
  • I avoid red-light foods (foods I can’t resist), which for me are cheese and crackers, especially in the late afternoon. I know some people can’t resist sweets.


Sometimes you have to indulge in a sweet–like this scrumptious Christmas pavlova.
  • I plant myself far from the appetizer table at gatherings once I’ve tasted a few items.
  • I avoid shopping on an empty stomach. Morning works best for me.
  • I use rewards. I don’t allow myself a cup of morning coffee until I’ve done 20 minutes of stretches and exercises.
  • I exercise with friends daily, and when that’s not possible, I listen to audio books while I walk, bike, or hike.
  • Sometimes I treat myself to a long bath when I’m feeling out of control (late afternoon for me). Food doesn’t go in the bathroom, at least not at my house.
  • When I’m hankering for a treat it helps to go brush my teeth. It quells my appetite. Dill pickles and candied ginger work, too.
  • I’m trying to eat five servings of fruit and veggies every day, which continues to be a challenge.
abundance agriculture bananas batch


I still love food, and I still lose control sometimes, but these basic behavior changes have made it much easier for me to control my eating, and that helps me feel more in control of every other aspect of my life. 


Jake and a stick
Our pal Jake demonstrates the lowest fat kind of diet, and he’s clearly embarrassed about it. Lots of fiber, though.


This article first appeared on Sixty and Me: