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:


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.


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:

health, life in general, travel


by Ann Marie Mershon


I took this selfie on a mountaintop overlooking Bodø after a gorgeous solo hike.

Many of us over 60 are single or have husbands uninterested in touring the planet. Is that any reason to avoid the trips we yearn for?

I lived overseas (alone) for seven years, and though I preferred traveling with friends, I spent a week in Malta by myself and another one alone in Thailand. I managed, but I learned some things along the way. At first I sat with a book at dinner and ate other meals in my room, but once I reached out just a bit, I found people were friendly and welcoming. I need connections.

Street performers in Bangkok, Thailand

1. Tell restauranteurs that you’re alone and would appreciate being seated with another party. 

If that’s not an option, seat yourself near someone who is alone or people who look friendly. Why not?

Last month my husband suffered a back injury and had to wave me off for two weeks in Norway without him. I would have cancelled the trip if it hadn’t been for a huge family reunion in the fishing village where my grandfather grew up. Determined to make the most of things, on my first night in Bodø I wheedled my way into a busy seafood restaurant and was seated beside a couple from Lilljehammer. It took me a minute to engage them, and they turned out to be charming as well as informative, giving me ideas for activities in the coming weeks.


I indulged in this delicious solo lunch at the Underhuset Restaurant in Sakrisoy, Norway. 

2. If breakfast is provided at your hotel, strike up a conversation as you stand in line and ask if they’d mind if you join them at their table. Few people would refuse.

Once your day begins, you have other options for making connections, or perhaps you’d prefer to tour on your own, which is great, too. I like going through museums by myself, but I prefer company at meals.

3. Stay in hostels or bed-and-breakfasts that offer time for socializing.

On my last night in Lofoten, Norway, I moved from my studio apartment to a hostel-type room, where I was pleased to chat with a young Australian woman. She happily joined me on a trip to a glassblower’s shop the next day. The drive was spectacular, and I enjoyed her company immensely, especially after five days by myself.

This was my “cabin” in Chang Mai, Thailand, where I shared meals with other residents.

4. Plan at least one interesting activity each day.

Jerry and I had planned a kayak trip in the Lofotens for our second week in Norway. At the beginning of my solo week, I perused the tourist information books and chose one or two activities each day. I booked a studio apartment in Å (pronounced “Oh”), a town of about 50-60 residents. The Lofotens are spectacularly beautiful, with mountains jutting from the sea between adjacent fjords. Å featured two fishing museums,and I visited them on separate days, making sure I was included in guided English tours of the museums. It was fascinating to learn about the life my grandfather must have lived as a fisherman.

One day I arranged a kayak trip of the Reine Fjord, and my young guide Kaspar was an absolute delight. The two of us spent a fascinating four hours chatting and paddling some of the most breathtaking water on the planet.


Nothing beats kayaking the Reinefjord with a charming young guide. Really.

5. Join group tours at museums and tourist sites, then engage others in conversation throughout each tour.

It might cost a little more for a spot with a tour guide, but you’ll learn a lot more and have the opportunity to connect with other English speakers. Of course, most Norwegians speak English, but they don’t tent to reach out to strangers. That was my job.

Another option is traveling on a tour, which offers you automatic companionship. I’ve sponsored a few tours of Turkey, and I was amazed at how close members of the group became after spending a few weeks touring and eating together.


I met this friendly fellow on a tour of the Elephant Sanctuary near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

6. Engage shop owners in conversation.

Whenever I felt lonesome in Turkey, I’d find a carpet shop to wander into. Carpet dealers always offer a cup of tea or bottle of cold water as well as friendly conversation. Of course, I always looked at carpets, but I only bought one occasionally. I still treasure my relationships with Hussein Palyoğlu and Musa Başaran, who always seemed pleased to see me. Western cultures might not be quite as welcoming, yet most shopowners are eager to engage customers, and they can offer a wealth of information about the area. Who knows? You might even find the perfect souvenier or gift to bring home.


One of the many delightful carpet dealers I’ve met over the years, this one in Cozumel.

7. Choose a safe bar or pub and enjoy a chat over a glass of wine or a beer.

Should you dare, you might also consider a stop into the hotel bar or a nearby pub, making sure you use good judgement and hang on to your purse. Though I’ve always found it difficult to step into a bar alone, it can be a good way to meet other solo travelers. It’s important to keep your wits about you and avoid being pulled into an uncomfortable situation, but it’s also great fun to chat with other travelers or locals about activities they’ve enjoyed or recommend.

Efes in Kalkan coffee shop

I grew fond of Efes beer while in Turkey, especially since their wine is, well, not as good.

8. Take a group tour that matches your age, interest, and activity level.

There’s a wide variety of tour organizations geared for people of different interests and activity levels. Some arrange cruises, others bus tours, and some offer high-energy active options. The first time I took a group to Turkey, I arranged it through Go Ahead Tours, an adult affiliate of EF Tours (an international student tour organization). We were a group of 24, and everyone fell in love with our intelligent, fun, and informative guide, Mehmet. There wasn’t enough physical activity on that tour for some of us, though that was the only complaint. This year I’ve organized an independent tour through Sojourn Turkey Tours, and we’re doing a similar tour with fewer people and more activity—lucky us!


The fellow waving at me was our wonderful tour guide Mehmet, here at Ephesus in Turkey.

However you choose to connect with others while you travel, I wish you a fulfilling and interesting experience.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

~ Mark Twain


This article (with different photos) originally appeared on Sixty and Me, a web site for women over sixty:

angst, life in general

Angst of Another Sort


Though it’s clearly the last minute, I feel compelled to share some excerpts from a New Yorker article, “Trump’s Boswell Speaks” by Jane Mayer. It’s based on an interview with Tony Schwartz, the ghost writer who penned Trump’s autobiography, The Art of the Deal.

Excerpts from Mayer’s article:

“I put lipstick on a pig,” he (Schwartz) said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is. I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility that it will lead to the end of civilization.”

“Trump didn’t fit any model of human being I’d ever met. He was obsessed with publicity, and he didn’t care what you wrote. Trump only takes two positions. Either you’re a scummy loser, liar, or whatever, or you’re the greatest. I became the greatest.”

Mayer continues:

He asked Trump to describe his childhood in detail. After sitting for only a few minutes in his suit and tie, Trump became impatient and irritable. Schwartz recalls, “like a kindergartener who can’t sit still in a classroom.” He regards Trump’s inability to concentrate as alarming in a presidential candidate. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time,” he said.

“I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his entire adult life.” During the eighteen months that he observed Trump, Schwartz said, he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment.

Schwartz says of Trump, “He lied strategically. He had a complete lack of conscience about it.” Since most people are “constrained by the truth,” Trump’s indifference to it “gave him a strange advantage.” When challenged about the facts, Schwartz said, Trump would often double down, repeat himself, and grow belligerent.

When writing the book, Schwartz concocted an artful euphemism. Writing in Trump’s voice, he explained to the reader, “I play to people’s fantasies…People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration–and it’s a very effective form of of promotion.

Schwartz now disavows the passage. “Deceit,” he told me, is never “innocent.” He added, ” ‘Truthful hyperbole’ is a contradiction in terms. It’s a way of saying, ‘It’s a lie, but who cares?’ ” Trump, he said, loves the phrase.

“People are dispensable and disposable in Trump’s world.” If Trump is elected president, he warned, “the millions of people who voted for him and believe that he represents their interests will learn what anyone who deals closely with him already knows–that he couldn’t care less about them.”

life in general

Writer or volunteer?

I like to think I’m a writer, but my volunteering seems to get in the way. It’s the truth. I think I might be addicted.

I’m trying to beat it. I get up at 6:00 every morning to write for an hour and a half before the morning walk. I do some exercises, make coffee, and hurry to my computer, diligently ignoring the stack of volunteer responsibilities flanking my writing desk. Yes, I’m a writer.

As I sit at my computer, the school levy referendum perches on my right shoulder. “Have you got enough people lined up to write editorials? How will you manage to deliver the road signs?” Is this obsession a sign of addiction? Oh, dear.


If that’s not enough, there’s the Lioness Education Grant program. I need to get messages to all the teachers in the county, both public and charter schools, along with grant applications and a deadline. Goodness, how things pile up. I can’t seem to stop—another sign of addiction.

Back to writing—Whew! I’ve started a sequel to my historical children’s novel, Britta’s Journey,  and I’m on chapter two. So far Britta and her Swede-Finn family have left New York City and are riding a train to Minnesota. Researching the train ride has been fascinating, but I want to know more about what the ride was like. Was it noisy? Crowded? Bumpy? How will I ever find time?

Steam engine, circa 1900, much like what pulled Britta’s train to Minnesota.

Oh, dear—the pile on the right side of my desk is pulling at me: the Art ‘Round Town banner project. We had a fiasco in the first printing of the downtown light pole banners, a striking design by local artist Jayne Richards. She silhouetted a herring fisherman pulling in his nets on a sunrise background—gold. Sadly, the design bled through our yellow banners, so I called  a board meeting the other day to resolve the issue, and we made a plan. I’ve got an e-mail out to vote on the color for our second attempt, and I’m dying to open the responses.

Art 'Round Town Banner, Grand Marais, MN, Best Small Town in America 2015
Our upcoming banner—yellow or orange background?

NO!!! That’s NOT writing! I write from 6:30 to 8:00, and that’s that. How can I call myself a writer if I spend all my time doing volunteer work? I mean, REALLY!

I got an e-mail yesterday asking for volunteers to stuff envelopes for the local radio station, and I was TEMPTED!!!! What’s wrong with me? Is it selfish to stick to my own projects? Why do I need to reach out to help everyone with…

Oh, dear! I haven’t met our new exchange student yet, and I agreed to be her liason for AFS, sort of like an auntie. That’s what it used to be in the old days when I was AFS president, but little did I know how things have changed. I’ve spent five hours filling out forms and taking online information classes, and now I have an e-mail warning me that I haven’t filed my first monthly report yet. COME ON! Give a writer a break!

Yet another commitment

I’ll never get Britta and her family to Eveleth if I don’t get cracking, and I need to focus more on marketing my new memoir as well as my other two books. Time to get organized. Three mornings to write, one to blog, and three to market. I’m posting a schedule beside my computer, and I PROMISE to stick to it. Somehow.

I AM a writer. Right? So WRITE!

Oops! I forgot to go sort children’s books for the Library Friends book sale this week, and I missed the Volunteer Fire Department STOP team meeting Wednesday night. Yup, I’m clearly addicted.


Writer or Volunteer?
A refrigerator magnet from my friends the Bale/Andersons


life in general

A Conundrum

Life is a conundrum. One day I’m pummeled by the horrific massacre in Istanbul yet instantly buoyed by the artistic focus of our young grandson.

Painting in Jerry's,
Our grandson in the throes of creativity

I shudder at news of insensible shootings by police and of police, then moments later I’m gleefully giggling at the absent-minded antics of Dory at the movie theater.

How can this be?
Perhaps I should be thankful for the resilience that allows us to feel joy in the midst of pain, sort of like the warm laughter my siblings shared through our tears at our father’s death bed. It’s how we survive. How we cope.
At times I’ve worried that my recent memoir, You must only to love them [I know, it’s ungrammatical to use lower case letters, but it was a quote], might seem too light and airy considering the devastating violence going on in the world.

You must only to love them, cover, A Writer's Angst
You must only to love them, book cover

But then I realize my main intent with this book is an important one. I want to help people accept Muslims by experiencing the beauty of Turkey and its people through my eyes and experiences.

I want the entire world to understand that ISIS is not Islam but a heinous aberration of a warm and loving faith. I was repeatedly touched not only by the kindness and generosity of the Turks, but also by the many thoughtful expressions they use daily. In Turkey, when someone creates a meal for you, “thank you” isn’t enough. You say “Eleniz sağlik,” or “Health to your hands.” When you walk by someone who is working hard, you say “Kolay gelsin,” which means “May it come easy.” If someone faces a difficult time, you don’t just say “I’m sorry,” you say “Geçmiş Olsun”—”May you leave it behind.” Even language can be the key to a culture. I was charmed by the Turks and their many kindnesses. That’s why I wrote this book, and I hope it will serve a real purpose in showing people the beauty of Islam.

Bursa, Turkey,,
When I complimented the roses in her garden, this Turkish woman picked one for me. Oh, so kind!


My experiences in Turkey taught me exactly what my parents had taught me, what life had taught me: Be kind.

When I was a girl my mother stressed repeatedly that I needed to be kind to everyone—not just my friends. If Kathy (who I wasn’t crazy about) called me to play and then Sally (my best buddy) called, I wasn’t allowed to change my plans. I could, however, arrange for all of us to play together, but I had to treat Kathy as well as Sally. And I did.

I can’t tell you how many frogs I dated because they asked me out and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings by refusing. Thanks a lot, Mom. I think that might have been taking kindness a bit far, but I’d learned my lesson well: Be kind.

If only everyone were as kind as my mother wanted—as kind as the Muslims—perhaps we could all live in peace. At least we can counteract the world’s ugliness with our little kindnesses. We could be like the people I grew to love, the Muslims who stole my heart.
As my good friend Uygar said, “You must only to love them.”

Give someone a rose.