Friday, December 17, 2010

Has blogging 'hit the wall'?

I ran across an interesting study about how different generations are using the Internet, put out by Pew Internet research and reported on Mashable.

The results reveal some unsurprising facts, such as that

The Millennials – those ages 18 to 33 – are more likely to engage in many online activities than older generations, namely social networking, using online classifieds, instant messaging, playing online games, listening to music, participating in virtual worlds and reading blogs.

Or that social networking (i.e., FACEBOOK!) is on the rise among all generations. Or that everyone uses e-mail.

But there was also one fact that I found extremely interesting: Blog writing is, apparently, on the decline (except for a slight uptick in the older generations -- those over 33). Not only that, but only a slim percentage of people even have a blog: 9-19%, depending on the age group.

The researchers posit that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter allow users to share personal information and opinions, thereby supplanting the need or desire to write a blog. And, judging by personal experience, this theory has great merit. For, my own posts on this site have plunged quite a bit, as I have grown more active and interactive on Facebook.

But I also suspect there's another phenomenon at play, which I'll call "social media fatigue." Perhaps the Internet is reaching the "tipping point" of saturation. People's time, and interest, and attention -- these are all things in limited supply. There are only so many social media platforms, or news sites, or online stores, or blogs, that a person can browse on any given day, before the eyes glaze over and the mind begins to wander ...

Not only that, but blogging is hard work! And, for the vast majority of us, it's purely a labor of love -- in other words, we do it for free. Well, guess what? If you do something for free, you'll only be willing to dedicate free time to it on a regular basis.

Now, I don't know about you, but my free time is becoming more and more precious each day! And sitting down to post a new blog is slipping further and further down the list ....

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gen Insta-Grat *

* That's "Generation Instant Gratification," for those individuals with minuscule attention spans, or who lack an ethics of commitment to anything that requires, like, work, to comprehend.

It's no secret that our society is moving -- with lightning speed -- toward abbreviated forms of communication. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course: Anything that expedites modern-life processes, in this age of overwhelm, is a good thing. So, I have no problem with using or receiving "text-speak" in, say, my tweets, text messages, Facebook posts or informal e-mails. LOL!!!

But what does bother me is how this ethos of instant gratification has crept into our general behaviors. The Today show this week has been doing a series on the loss of civility in our society -- and what the ramifications of this loss might mean in a larger context. They've talked about problems like rude cell-phone users, and people not holding doors open for others or saying "please" and "thank you" -- that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, we're creating a culture of me-first, short-term thinking that does NOT bode well for our long-term survival as a society. For, where there is no civility, there is anarchy. The biggest culprits of this behavior are, of course, the younger generations. And guess who's to blame for that? The PARENTS! These are the generation that have raised these youngsters with such a huge attitude of entitlement and self-importance.

Now, in some ways, the parents aren't totally to blame --they bought into the "self-esteem" movement by so-called parenting experts, which told them to give nothing but positive feedback to little Johnny and Susie, hyping their "achievements" at every turn -- and thereby diluting the messages of effort, team work, diligence, resilience, etc., that they should have been receiving in order to become productive and cooperative members of society.

Still, common sense should have clued these generations of parents -- boomers and Gen Xers -- that, maybe, telling Sallie that she's the center of the universe and can do no wrong, was doing her no favors as she approached adulthood. Some of it was pure laziness, no doubt, and some was likely borne out of desperation: It's much easier, after all, to gain cooperation from children via positive reinforcement or even outright bribery.

I recently witnesses first-hand the repercussions of this kinds of ethics, however, and it wasn't pretty. As I took a walk/run around my neighborhood the day after Halloween, I was struck by the number of discarded candy wrappers littering the road and people's yards. I must have seen at least 100 during my 45-minute walk. Huh? Whatever happened to waiting till you get home to eat your candy?

I'm assuming -- hoping?! -- that the majority of this litter was created by older kids not being chaperoned by an adult (parents wouldn't countenance their kids gobbling the candy and then littering, right? Right?) and thereby being utterly careless and disrespectful in their behavior. I mean, really, kids: These people just GAVE YOU FREE CANDY, and this is how you say thank you -- by creating garbage that they have to pick up?

The most ironic thing about this orgy of littering, of course, is that this kind of uncivil, careless behavior is only going to bite them in the ass down the road, because they are going to be the ones who have to clean up such messes in the future!

So Gen IG (for those with even smaller attention spans!): You've been warned.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Where are all the good guys?

Pardon my pique, but I'm about to indulge in a bit of personal ranting, something I'm sure you've noticed I'm not prone to -- at least on this blog.

As a single woman smack dab in the center of the Baby Boom generation, I've been dating with the intention of finding a man to settle into a rewarding, long-term relationship with. My preference is someone close to my age -- give or take a few years on either side -- because I just find it easier to relate to someone who grew up at or around the same time I did.

Now, I realize I'm not perfect; but, at the risk of sounding conceited, I believe I have a lot to offer: I'm smart, funny, well-rounded, independent, trim and fit, and reasonably attractive. So why has it been so hard to find an equally deserving guy?

You might suspect that I'm too picky. Or afraid of commitment. Or some other such thing that amounts to a personal failing.

And, maybe so. But, frankly, I think the problem lies with the pool of men that I'm "fishing" in. They just don't seem to be out there in any significant numbers. When I go out socially or participate in recreational activities, invariably the women in my age group outnumber the men by at least two to one. I realize that the odds where I live -- South Florida -- DO favor the men quite a bit. But you'd think that they would still be out and about in visible numbers.

So, while I'm out bike riding, or attending a barbecue/picnic, or snorkeling, or shooting pool, or doing dinner and a movie, where are all the good guys my age? Are they hanging out in bars? Staying home immersed in solitary hobbies? Watching back-to-back sporting events? Watching porn? Yeah, guys -- that's gonna be good for your social life!

Even worse, it seems like the eligible men in my age bracket aren't looking for long-term. Some are fresh off a divorce and want to sow some wild oats; fair enough. But too many others, who've been single at least several years, seem to relish their bachelorhood far too much to want to "settle" for one woman. They want to be free to "enjoy" their 40s and 50s -- which, apparently, means going through as many women as humanly possible.

It will be interesting to see how these same "free spirits" feel about being tied to a relationship in another decade or so. I'd be willing to bet that they'll suddenly be quite open to settling down with someone -- someone who will be there to go with them to the doctor, make sure they take their meds, comfort them in their old age.

And guess what, guys? I'm not so sure that we gals are going to willing to go along with that plan. If you don't want to be with us in these relatively healthy and prosperous years, when we could actually enjoy life as a couple, why the hell should you deserve us when you need a nursemaid?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

And they call it puppy love!

I'm in love, and I'm not ashamed to shout it to the skies. The object(s) of my affection are three wriggly, snuggly brothers with big dark eyes, fluffy and floppy ears, wagging tails, and that wonderful puppy smell.

Meet Bromley, Chester, and Townshend. These long-haired dachshund pups are almost 10 weeks old, and they came home in a box yesterday with my sister, Mimi, and me. We had found them 10 days earlier on our way up to vacation in Vermont. The sign on the side of the road said "mini dachshunds for sale." And, being a doxie-loving family from way back, we HAD to stop.
Big mistake. Or, wonderful decision -- depending on how you want to look at it. I already have a doxie, Jake (whom I blogged about here), but Mimi has been wanting a dog of her own for a while now. The breeder had four long-haired litter mates available -- three boys and a girl. One look was all it took for Mimi to decide to get one. At first, she chose the female, but changed her mind and went with the little red male. We bandied about possible names, and she came up with "Bromley," which is where we stay in Vermont. I also thought up "Chester," short for Manchester (a nearby town), but we decided that was a more fitting name for the biggest pup, a chestnut-colored dog.

We left Bromley at the breeder's for the duration of our trip, and stopped on the way back home yesterday, always intending just to leave with the Bromster. Well, our dad, who joined us on the vacation, suggested yesterday morning that if the other males hadn't been sold, we think about trying to cut a deal with the breeder for them, too. The idea was to maybe keep one as a companion for Jake, and sell the third.

Great idea ... for about a nano-second. For, the minute we put those dogs in the car and headed back to Mimi's place, we were smitten. Now it looks like we're probably keeping all three, though in which combinations is still to be determined. I'm quite partial to Chester -- the intrepid explorer and ringleader; though Townshend (which is a village, and lake, and park in Vermont -- not to mention a family name!), or "Townie," is quite adorable too, being the most people-oriented of the siblings.

For now, we are keeping all three at Mimi's (I fly home in a few days, and Dad will be driving back to Florida in a couple of weeks with one or two of them) and getting to know them. Also, the housetraining has begun (Oh joy! Up at 3:30 and 7 a.m. each morning for a pee break outside!) .

Frankly, we're in pup heaven!!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bulk up to slim down: Easier said than done!

By now, we all know about the importance of fiber in the diet, right? Fiber -- an indigestible complex carbohydrate that comes from the thick cell wall of plants -- gives food a more interesting, satisfying texture; aids in the digestive process by keeping food moving through the body; makes us feel "full" longer and thereby eat less; helps fight diseases such as diabetes and heart disease; and prevents the absorption of a percentage of calories in foods, therefore helping us lose weight.

Doctors have been advising us to get more fiber in our diets for years, even as Americans' eating habits grow increasingly fiber-less and unhealthy (not much fiber in a Big Mac, after all!). The latest recommendation is 25-37 grams per day, says Prevention.

Gulp! MUCH easier said than done ....

To put this in perspective, here are nutritional facts about some of the bulkiest foods: 1 cup cooked broccoli or carrots, 5 g. and 54 calories; 1/2 cup cooked barley or quinoa, 3 g. and about 100 calories; 1 cup blackberries of raspberries, 8 g. and 65 calories; 1 cup cooked black beans, 15 g. and 227 calories; 1 cup cooked chick peas, 13 g. and 269 calories. Foodstuffs such as dairy (milk and cheeses), proteins (chicken, fish, beef) and fats (oils) contain zero grams of fiber but crucial nutrients and added calories.

So, each day you have to eat a mountain of fruits and veggies or grains, plus a pile of legumes, just to get within the recommended range. But, on a restricted-calorie diet, such as the 1,500-1,600 per-day range that I must stay within to maintain my weight (and even fewer during those times I need to lose a few pounds), I could easily go way over the calorie limit in order to get enough fiber. Not to mention -- being very unpopular in crowded places, as the indigestible fiber "talks back" to me!!

It's a delicate balance, then, getting enough fiber without overeating (or without being over-gaseous!). And not one that I get right every day, by a long shot. Oh, I do regularly eat lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains, but not legumes on a daily basis. What I DO do is try to add bulk in "sneaky" ways, such as sprinkling bran on my cereal or yogurt or into protein shakes (1/4 cup, 7 g. and 35 calories).

To help you in your fiber quest, check out the Prevention site and its handy-dandy Fiber Up Food Finder. Happy bulking!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The summer flicks report

I've managed to see three of the big summer blockbusters within the past few weeks -- Knight and Day, Salt and Inception -- and I've gotta say: I'm not blown away.

First was Knight and Day, the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz action/comedy/romance flick about a super-spy who's on the run while trying to clear his unfairly besmirched name (Cruise, of course!), and the comely, hapless woman who gets drawn into his adventure (Diaz, of course!). That was actually my favorite of the three: Fun action sequences, good performances by the sunny stars, and a fairly straightforward plot that didn't stretch credibility farther than your typical big-budget action thriller does. Ir was two hours of mindless, enjoyable entertainment. I'd give it a B+.

Then I saw Salt (caught it at a free screening the other night, lucky me) -- which, for the two people on the planet who haven't heard anything about this one, stars Angelina Jolie as a super-spy who's on the run while trying to clear her unfairly besmirched name (are we sensing a pattern here?). It certainly is a non-stop shot of adrenaline: The poor woman barely gets a chance to breathe between narrow escapes, setting off bombs, narrow escapes, car crashes, narrow escapes, hand-to-hand combat with squads of cops and agents, narrow escapes, being beaten up, narrow escapes, revenge killings, narrow escapes, etc. Phew! I'm exhausted just describing it -- just as I was, watching it. But what I wasn't doing was buying it. It's all just a lot of bombast, misdirection and pouty lips to disguise a thin, thin premise that doesn't hold up well under any kind of scrutiny. Regardless, I'm sure it's going to kill at the box office if the rave reviews from fellow film screeners and critics alike are any indication. My rating: a C+.

Last was Inception, the latest mind-bending offering from hot "auteur" Christopher Nolan. This is a dense, murky, sci-fi thriller about a group of dream "thieves" on a mission to implant the seed of an idea in someone's mind. And, if the excessively sycophantic reviews are to be believed, this is one of the best movies of the year. It certainly looks good, with some extremely cool special effects and a gorgeous cast headed up by Leonardo DiCaprio. And the premise -- the ability to insert yourself into other people's dreams, and steal vital information from their minds during this vulnerable state -- is intriguing. And granted, a generous suspension of disbelief is always necessary when it comes to viewing -- and enjoying -- this type of film. OK, done: I'll buy that it's possible to steal mental info from someone who is dreaming.

Unfortunately, Inception doesn't stick to its own internal logic, with HUGE gaps in credibility based on the rules set forth within the plot line. Also, sorry -- but the big emotional storyline involving DiCaprio and his lost love just didn't do it for me. The film left me emotionally uninvolved -- and therefore, in spots, bored. But apparently I'm way in the minority on this, and Inception is sure to do box-office gangbusters, just like Nolan's last offering The Dark Knight (which I wasn't too crazy about either, frankly). For me, Inception rates a C+ also.

All in all, a pretty typical summer's worth of big-budget offerings!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer in the suburbs

So ... how's your summer going?

Now that the Fourth of July has come and gone, we're dead-smack in the midst of it. Many folks around the nation are sweltering right now, while we here in South Florida are experiencing the typical thunderstormy days (and nights.)

The Fourth was actually a washout here: It rained and/or drizzled pretty much all day (starting at noonish) and through the fireworks displays. I spent the day on or near the beach, hanging with friends, dodging raindrops, and awaiting the fireworks -- which did go off in typical spectacular fashion. However, other city-planned festivities (concerts, parades etc.) were pretty much abandoned.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to stay positive and make plans for my favorite summer activities: snorkeling, biking, kayaking -- while also keeping a Plan B in the back of my mind. I also need to find a sunny afternoon/dry evening with which to complete a deck-refinishing project that got screwed up by an untimely rainstorm ...

A typical summer, really, for South Florida: Hot and rainy, but also slower-paced and friendlier. Time to hang with friends, take it easy, and do as little "work" as possible. While, always, keeping a watchful eye on the hurricane reports!

And so it goes. July already, spinning quickly into August ... and my escape to Vermont for a much-needed respite/change of scenery. It'll be here before I know it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Being safer in the sun

In my ongoing efforts to live as healthily as possible, I just threw out at least $100 worth of sunscreens in my drawer -- after writing an article for Examiner on the latest report by the Environmental Working Group on the safest sunscreens to use.

Turns out, there are two really bad ingredients in the majority of sunscreen products on the market: retinyl palmitate (a vitamin A compound) and oxybenzone. How bad are they? Well, both are suspected carcinogens.

... Hmmm. So, maybe this explains the explosion of skin cancer cases during the years in which we've been using these products that supposedly protect us? That may not be so crazy a theory, given the fact that the good old FDA has failed -- since 1978 -- to come up regulations for sunscreens. Says the EWG site:

Until the agency formally issues its rule, companies are not required to verify that their sunscreens work, including testing for SPF levels, checking waterproof claims or providing UVA protection. Nearly 1 in 8 sunscreens does not block UVA rays.

So, I took a look at the labels for all of the bottles of lotions and sprays that I have collected in the past couple of years. And guess what? Nearly every single one contained either -- or both -- of these nasty chemicals. This included inexpensive brands such as my go-to No Ad sunblock lotion, major brands including Coppertone Oil Free for Faces and Banana Boat Tear-Free Baby lotion, as well as supposedly quality products such as Neutrogena Age Shield Face sunblock.

So, down the drain they went, with the bottles destined for the recycling bin. And tomorrow, I'll be heading to the drugstore or health-food store on the hunt for the few products (only 8 percent of the 500 or so products on the market!) that are deemed the best beach and sport sunscreens by the EWG.

It's going to cost me ... but money is a much easier thing to pay with than my health!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Update: The BPA answer

Well, the Tervis Tumbler company is nothing if not responsive.

I already received a reply to my e-mail yesterday inquiring about whether their insulated plastic products contain bisphenol-A, or BPA. That's because I've decided to eliminate my exposure to this toxic chemical as much as possible, by stopping my use of food (or beverage) containers made of plastic that has BPA in it.

I suspected that these wonderful tumblers, which I've been using at home for years, might contain bisphenol-A, for they are super-sturdy and very clear (two big characteristics of BPA). Plus, there is no recycling number on the glasses, another indicator that it's probably a polycarbonite/BPA product.

The answer from the company was a form letter written in January 2010 -- so, obviously, other customers have expressed concern over the BPA issue. Here is the pertinent text:

Dear Customer:
Thank you for your inquiry concerning recent developments on the safety and use of bisphenol A (BPA) in polycarbonate plastic. Recent media coverage and reports of legislatures considering bills to ban BPA have created questions about this topic.
Our polycarbonate tumblers are made of 100% virgin polycarbonate. BPA is a compound used to make polycarbonate plastic. Tervis Tumbler hired AXYS Analytical Services Ltd. to test water that we stored in a selection of our tumblers for up to 48 hours. Our conclusion from the AXYS results is that our tumblers may have the potential for miniscule levels of BPA estimated to be 0.5 parts per billion or less, to migrate into water. On that basis, one would need to drink 17,000 16 oz glasses or 2,100 gallons of water from our tumblers daily to exceed the recognized safety threshold.

Hmmm ... so, they're admitting there is BPA in the tumblers, but saying it's not enough to be harmful. That leave me in a quandary: Should I resume using them, or leave them on the shelf and keep on drinking out of glass glasses.

For now, I'll stick to the glass, and leave the BPAs on the shelf.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dumping the BPAs: Goodbye, dear double-walled glasses!

So, I just wrote a blog for Examiner on how to avoid consuming bisphenol-A, or BPA, a chemical additive in plastics and resins that has been linked to or a suspect in health problems ranging from cancer to obesity to birth defects.

I've been hearing the rumblings about the dangers of ingesting BPAs for a couple of years now, especially from the leaching of bisphenol-A into your food when microwaving it in plastic storage containers. So, I switched to glass (Pyrex) containers, especially when reheating my leftovers. I do use plastic containers to store food in the fridge, but never use them in the microwave.

I also bought a metal water bottle and fill it with filtered water from the fridge on a regular basis.

But these measures, it seems, were only the first steps. After researching "good" vs. "bad" plastics for the Examiner article, I found out that I must avoid using anything with the numbers 3, 6, 7 -- or no number. Also, containers that are scratched, stained or worn from use should not be kept. So, I'm going through my cabinets as I write this (well, OK, not exactly as I write this: my arms can't reach that far!) and clearing out all the "bad" containers.

This also forced me to take a look at my beloved double-walled plastic glasses. I've been using these insulated tumblers for years, because they are designed to avoid "sweating," a pesky problem here in hot and humid South Florida. I keep a tumbler filled with water by my side pretty much 24/7. But these plastics have no number on them -- meaning there's a very good likelihood that they were produced using BPA, which is known to make plastics very sturdy without making them cloudy.

Gulp! As I've been doing the "healthy" thing, eschewing sodas and other harmful beverages in favor of good old H2O, have I been ingesting BPAs this whole time? To find out for sure, I just wrote to the company that made these products, Tervis.

In the meantime, it's goodbye, double-walled tumblers made of plastic; hello, glasses made of ... glass. Guess it's time to start using coasters again!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

White midde-aged men can't dance ...

... or, more accurately: They don't like to dance.

This has been a frustration of mine for many years now. Baby Boomer men just don't feel comfortable on the dance floor. It's apparent every time you go out to any nightclub or dance hall -- and see the packs of ladies shakin' it up while the guys stand on the sidelines, not quite knowing what to do with themselves.

The few brave male souls who do venture onto the dance floor are usually quite rewarded for their efforts, either by the grateful reaction of their date/dance partner, or by the groups of gals who happily welcome them into their little gyrating entourage.

It's a phenomenon that seems to only have affected men ages about 45 to 60-ish. The younger generations of men, raised to be more self-assured and comfortable in their bodies, all really seem to be into the modern moves such as hip-hop and the like. And older gentlemen, who were raised on dance classes and ballroom action, really enjoy dancing, too. This was evident recently, when I went to a local nightclub that caters to the senior set. The men -- all mid-60s, 70s and even 80s -- were having a blast, twirling and swirling the women around in steps such as the cha-cha, swing, two-step, etc. I looked on, a bit enviously.

Where did the Baby Boomers' fear of the foxtrot, hatred of hip-hop, scorn of salsa and disdain of disco come from?

Here's my theory: Blame it all on rock 'n' roll. We grew up in this era when ballroom fell out of favor -- and couples separated into individuals, dancing together but apart. Not only did this remove the "benefit" for guys of being able to hold a babe in your arms and control her every move, but it also shone a spotlight on the men -- as dancers. Let's face it: Many men do seem to be rhythm-, grace-, or coordination-challenged. Ballroom dancing, even though it is complicated in other ways, really just requires learning to move your feet in prescribed sets of steps, and keep somewhat to the music as you lead your partner.

But, in rock 'n' roll dancing, you've got to move your entire body -- in time to the music, and in sync with your partner -- and look good (or at least not like a total dork) while you do it! And most men my age are just too self-conscious to try to pull that off.

But, guys, here's a secret: Women LOVE men who dance! Even men who aren't that great at it but try anyway. And, with the renewed popularity of ballroom dancing (thanks to shows like Dancing With the Stars), there are many more opportunities these days to get a babe in your arms, twirl her around, and control her every move.

So, it would behoove you to learn some moves!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A case for being overweight

Want to have a few fries with that grilled mahi sandwich? Longing for a scoop of Ben & Jerry's? Are those chocolates in the fridge calling out to you? Does a big, frosty margarita (or two) sound like heaven right now?

In our weight-fixated society, we've been trained to deny ourselves these indulgences, lest we pile on the pounds. The goal is to achieve -- and maintain -- your ideal weight, as determined by your body mass index. And this struggle has pretty much become out national obsession.

But, guess what? New studies are all pointing to the startling conclusion that carrying a little extra weight (10-15 pounds) might not be all that bad -- and, in some ways, might be better for you!

Researchers, it seems, are now focusing on overall health and fitness, rather than weight, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. Says the article:

"Researchers and doctors are starting to understand that eating healthy foods and getting exercise can matter more than the number that appears when you step on the scale."

I say: It's about damned time! As we move away from the reign of the scale over our lives, perhaps we'll come to a healthier overall approach to our lifestyle!

The Journal story discusses several benefits to being a little over your "ideal" weight:

  • Overweight people are no more likely than those of normal weight to die from cancer or cardiovascular disease.
  • During a 10-year time span, there was a reduced risk of dying for people in their 70s who were overweight compared to those of normal weight.
  • Doctors who study osteoporosis say a little extra weight may help strengthen bones.
  • As they age, women who are overweight often look younger than other women.
This, folks, is news that should make all of our lives easier! Chocolate, here I come ...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The A-Train Express

Don't know whether I've mentioned it, but I LOVE to entertain. My house happens to be great for parties: The layout is very conducive to small groupings in various areas, with easy flow and access around the house. I'm also a born hostess -- not to brag; just stating a fact.

Sadly, I haven't had much of a chance to throw a kick-ass party here in the past few years. Happily, that was remedied last night with a wonderful potluck with about two dozen people -- old friends and new, and strangers-turned-friends.

The weather cooperated wonderfully, staying pleasant and breezy, so that the deck became a usable area for gathering and dining. Many people seemed to mingle around and sit in different rooms at different points throughout the night. Everybody seemed relaxed and engaged, full of good food and good cheer. You couldn't ask for more as a hostess!!

Jake was a huge hit, too. Everybody fell in love with him (duh! -- I do have the cutest dog in the world!) and many of them were glad to play "fetch" with him ... making for one VERY HAPPY, and pooped, pup!

Themed "Get on the A List," the potluck challenged everybody to bring a dish that starts with A or features an A ingredient ... so, we had things with apples, avocado, artichokes, angel hair pasta, etc.

One of the guests brought Amaretto, and she made a drink with Amaretto and orange vodka (a bottle of which I had in the house already). She asked whether I'd like one, too. After tasting hers, I said sure -- but please also put some lemon-lime soda in mine. It was delicious, and became our signature drink of the night. Soon, several other people were drinking it as well.

Of course, signature drinks need a name, so I came up with "A-Train," in keeping with the general theme of the evening. Later on, when the soda ran out, people began drinking just the Amaretto-and-vodka version -- which, naturally, became the "A-Train Express."

What a ride! What a night!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The greening of a film festival

Last year in May, I was lucky enough to sign up last-minute as a volunteer for the Delray Beach Film Festival, and I had a wonderful week -- which I blogged about May 25, 2009 (A Film Lover's Orgy). At the time, I vowed to take a larger role in this year's festival, the fifth one, which just concluded its May 22-28 run.

So, last November, I attended an early organizational meeting for volunteers, where I announced that I wanted to help make the festival go "green" this year.

Soon enough, I was the head of a one-person greening committee! Not wanting to bite off more than I could chew, I decided to my main goal would be to bring recycling to the major parties and events -- but only glass/plastic and aluminum (baby steps!!).

It was a dirty job -- literally, as I had my hands in trash and recycling bins at every party! -- but it was well worth it: I saved about 20 bagfuls of recyclables from the landfills during the weeklong festival. I also headed up a beach cleanup event on Saturday, which was designated as a specially themed "Green Day."

I kept my eyes open and learned a lot during the entire week -- especially Saturday. In addition to seeing several enviro-themed films that day, I also attended a green workshop, where I got some good ideas on expanding our efforts at next year's festival.

From these little baby steps, we can only get greener!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Damn you, cold bug!

The argument could be made that you NEVER get sick at a good time.

Stomach viruses, colds and flus tend to crop up with pinpoint timing just when you need them least: You're preparing for a big presentation at work, or planning to see your child's piano recital, or embarking on a long-needed vacation, or playing in a crucial softball game in your league.

It's certainly happened to me this week! I started getting a scratchy throat and a dry, persistent cough round-about Tuesday. And I seemed to have less and less energy as the week wore on. By yesterday (Friday), I was barely able to gently get through my morning yoga class. Then the hacking cough, runny nose, and greenish phlegm (yuck!) began in earnest last night.

And guess what? I have an incredibly busy week coming up, starting with a fancy mansion party tonight that I've been planning to attend for at least a month. Then tomorrow (Sunday), the Delray Beach Film Festival kicks off with a 4-11 p.m. Battle of the Bands.

Since I've been on the planning committee for the March 22-28 film fest for six months now -- and have committed myself to the task of organizing and running a recycling program at all of the major parties, as well as a beach cleanup next Saturday -- I can hardly crawl into bed and sleep for the next week! (Though, of course, that's exactly what I'd like to do!)

I'll soldier though, of course, and probably enjoy myself despite this illness inconvenience. ... But I'm sure it's not going to be easy!

Damn you, cold bug-- damn you!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Red wine: A diet aid for women?

As a health and happiness blogger, not to mention a Middle-Age Sexy gal, I'm always on the lookout for stories that make me feel not-quite-so guilty about my guilty pleasures.

So, it was with great interest that I read about a study that indicates alcohol (and especially red wine) might not be as fattening for women as previously thought.

The 13-year study, reported recently in London's Daily Mail and other sources, was conducted on about 20,000 average-weight women ages 39 and older. Over time, most of them tended to put on weight, a standard side-effect of aging in women. However, surprisingly, it was the teetotalers -- those who drank things like water and soda instead of alcohol -- who gained the most pounds. And those who drank moderately (about a drink or glass of wine a day) gained the least!

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston offered several theories for this phenomenon, including that females metabolize alcohol more efficiently than other types of carbs, or that women subconsciously tend to make up for the extra calories by eating less of other foods.

So, the old adage about avoiding alcohol (and its "empty" calories) when you're dieting might not be such good advice, after all!

Since the study found that red wine seemed to bring the most benefits -- with hard alcohol, beer, and white wine less effective -- it seems that indulging in a nightly glass of Pinot Noir or Merlot might help you whittle your waistline a little bit faster! (Not to mention reaping the other benefits of red wine that have made headlines in recent years, such as it helping your heart and your sex life!)

It sure as hell will make dieting a LOT more pleasant!


Thursday, March 4, 2010

BIKE PUMP; or: Why Google is making us all TERRIBLE writers!

Thanks a lot, Google. Because of you, the art of writing is being lost -- to the science of search-engine optimization.

Clearly, the minds behind Google don't care much about good writing, for the algorithms they've created to "rank" pages put the highest value on repetition and density of key words and phrases. This results in a very stilted, redundant style of writing that certainly doesn't flow off the tongue (or out of the word processor) very easily.

Let's say you're writing an article on the best bicycle pumps -- an arguably valuable resource for bicyclists. Now, of course, in the world of the Internet, there are probably thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of Web pages that contain information about bike pumps. And in order for readers to receive your valuable insights, they must first find your article. Thus, the importance of gaining a high page ranking: It greatly increases your chances of catching readers' attention.

This has forced a complete change in the way writers research and compose their articles.

Instead of starting your article off with an interesting statistic, say, or a personal anecdote, and then letting the story flow naturally and pleasingly into your list or descriptions of bicycle pumps, the first thing you need to do is do a little key-word research. This will yield a determination that the phrase "bike pump" is actually the most-searched term in Google.

That's the key phrase you need to use -- and you MUST be sure to incorporate it into both your headline and the first sentence, and then use it every 20 words or so on average. The resulting copy looks something like this:

Bike Pump Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah

Bike pump
blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah bike pump blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Bike Pump blah blah blah bike pump blah blah blahblah blah blahblah blah blahblah blah bike pump blah blah blah blah blah blah. Bike blah blah pump blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah bike pump.

Now, to be fair, you're allowed -- even encouraged -- to use up to five similar or related key words and phrases, such as "bicycle air pump," "tire pump" and "bicycle pumps."

Oh, joy! Your sparkling copy will now resemble something like:

Bike Pump Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah

Bike pump blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah bicycle pumps blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Tire pump blah blah blah bike pump blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blahblah blah blah blah blah bicycle air pump blah blah blah blah. Bike blah blah pump blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah bicycle pumps.

Ahhh ... SO much better!!!

BOB-ing and weaving ...

Report: The Sun-Sentinel's BOB (Best of Blog) awards party took place last night (March 3) at YOLO, a hot spot on Los Olas in downtown Fort Lauderdale -- and a block away from the Sun-Sentinel building where I worked for almost 10 years.

It was a little strange, in a deja-vu-ey way, to be back in the neighborhood I spent so much time in. And we shivered a bit through the proceedings, as the event was held outdoors on an extremely chilly night (thank god for that roaring fire pit!).

But Gail and I both agreed at the end of the evening that it was well worth attending -- even though, as expected, neither of us won. First of all, we were served the restaurant's Szechuan Calamari (delish!) and a side dish of creamy pasta; second, we drank for free.

Good mood established, we were ready to mingle with other local bloggers, say hello to some old colleagues from the Sentinel, and cheer the winners as they were announced. (In case you're interested, you can read which blogs won the first BOB Awards here.)

Interestingly, two of the winning blogs contain the word "sex." Hmmm ... maybe I'm on to something. Or not.

Regardless, I'll continue this endeavor -- even without any awards or recognition. Because, really, to be honest, I'm kind of hooked on being Middle-age Sexy!!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Point ... and, SHOOT!!

I've been camera-less since last summer, when the telescoping mechanism on my Canon Powershot 7.1 megapixel digital camera went blooey -- and they wanted 90 bucks to fix it.

Since $90 was a bit dear to me at that point, I put the camera away and forgot about it. Then, I started thinking I could probably buy a smaller, newer-generation camera for not much more than that after Christmas. (Hello, disposable society!).

After several frustrating incidents of needing a camera but not having one (like, uh -- being in the same room as the Dalai Lama!), I finally decided to get a new camera. I perused the sale brochures from all the local stores, and determined that the clearance prices for 10 megapixel cameras, which are being phased out, were pretty much the same.

So, on a whim last Thursday, I stopped at a nearby Office Depot -- and left the store with a little Nikon Coolpix. Saturday provided a perfect opportunity to try it out, during a trip to Loxahatchee Refuge in western Boynton Beach (here's my Examiner review of the refuge.)

Though the Coolpix camera was nicely compact and very user-friendly, it had a couple of features I really did not like at all:

  • First, there's no viewfinder -- and here in sunny Florida, taking shots in the bright outdoors can be challenging just using the LCD screen, because you can't always see it.
  • And second, the camera's zoom was really quite lame. Zooming in on a gator sunning on a bank with a bird perched nearby, my Nikon didn't get nearly as close to the scene as my friend Cori's little Canon did.
Point ... and, SHOOT!

So, I returned the Nikon Coolpix today and exchanged it for a Canon Powershot Digital Elph -- a better camera for my needs. And, best of all, after the floor-model discount, only 20 bucks more.

Point and shoot, no problem!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Dalia Lama and I ...

... hung out together the other day. And, even though there were about 3,000 other people in the room with us, I felt the intimate pull of this most holy and wise man for the hour and a half that he was present in the auditorium.

For more details on the Dalai Lama's visit Wednesday (Feb. 24) to Florida Atlantic University, check out my story for Examiner. The report even contains many useful quotes from Tibet's spiritual leader ... feel free to spread them around!

OK, I'll start:

"Inner strength, inner peace and self confidence lead to lasting joyfulness."

Vote for me!

I've never been one for avid self-promotion, so this blog title already doesn't sit too well with me.

But, a friend of mine nominated this blog, Middle-Age Sexy, for a bunch of South Florida Sun-Sentinel Best of Blog awards. The voting has been ongoing for a couple of weeks now, and the contest is fast winding down. (In case you want to support a starving -- but sexy! -- middle-aged blogger, go to the BOB Awards voting site and vote! I'm in several categories: humor, defies categorization, personal, and best overall.)

The prize is $100 -- which would be the first money I'd ever earned from this particular labor of love. Of course, I'm not even in the top three in any of the categories, so I'm not holding out much hope of scoring a cool hundred bucks.

But I am looking forward to attending the BOB Awards party, which occurs next Wednesday (March 3) in downtown Fort Lauderdale. I'm going to go with my friend, Gail, whose excellent blog, Shrinking Sisters, is also a multiple nominee.

As two escapees from the Sun-Sentinel (and yes, we do consider ourselves as having escaped that place!), Gail and I are looking forward to checking out the old "nabe" -- as well as networking with other bloggers. We've even heard there's going to be some free food! (Hey, we're bloggers: Will socialize for food ...)

I'll let ya know if I win anything. It would be an unexpected honor, that's for sure!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I have a date with the Dalai Lama ...

Well, me and about 5,000 other people!

I was lucky enough to score a ticket to hear the Tibetan spiritual leader speak at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton next Wednesday (Feb. 24). As a graduate student of the university, I was eligible to enter a student lottery for a free ticket -- and I won in the second round of drawings! Woo-hoot!

The Dalai Lama will talk about "Compassion as a Pillar of World Peace." I plan to take notes and report on his speech in my capacity as the WPB Health and Happiness Examiner. I've already posted an article for Examiner outlining the ongoing events on campus celebrating "Peace Week" leading up to the Dalai Lama's appearance. Check it out! And stay tuned for the report ...

Monday, February 15, 2010

New economy, new attitude

While enjoying my 9:30 a.m. yoga class this morning, I glanced around the room of 22 or so students, and noticed that almost all of us "regulars" are Baby Boomers -- from 40-something to early 60s or so. Meanwhile, lots of other Boomers were out in the gym, exercising on machines, in the circuit, with weights, etc.

Hmmm, I thought. It's interesting that so many people in this age group are able to attend a class that clearly falls during the 9-5 workday.

Though it's probably a combination of factors (retirees, people on flex time, housewives, etc.), I suspect that many are, like me, working as a freelancer or a consultant these days.

It's no secret that middle-aged workers have borne the brunt of the downsizing fever these past couple of years, as employers, eyeing only the bottom line, gleefully cut us loose from our well-paying positions. After eking it out on unemployment, applying for the few paltry jobs out there, and getting thoroughly discouraged, many Boomers seem to have found their way into the world of self-employment -- via contract, freelance or consulting jobs.

And I'd be willing to bet that they're loving it! This lifestyle gives you independence, freedom and flexibility -- especially if you can land some well-paying gigs.

Want to go to a 9:30 weekday exercise class? Planning to meet a friend for a leisurely two-hour lunch? Feel like popping in a load of laundry so it doesn't pile up so much? Go for it!

Think better after midnight when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet? Work more efficiently in smaller bursts as opposed to a drawn-out, eight-hour day? Want to tackle some projects in the evening while the TV is on in the background? Go for it!

After spending much of our lives as drones for some big, soulless corporation, it's nice to finally see what real life balance can look like. And you know what, I'm thinking this might just come back to bite said corporations in the butt -- big-time.

For, when they start hiring again and needing quality workers, they're probably going to cast desirous glances our way. After all, the things middle-aged workers bring to the job -- our experience, our wisdom, our work ethic, our focus, our maturity, our knowledge -- are things that benefit the bottom line in the long run. And the things we lack -- shallowness, entitlement, it's-all-about-me drama, callowness -- are found in abundance in the rest of the employee pool!

I don't know about you, fellow Baby Boomer, but the new economy has given me a new attitude. When these companies crook their fingers, I'm not going to go running back to them with my tail between my legs.

Sorry, no -- I've got a yoga class to catch!

Friday, February 12, 2010

More chocolatey-good news!

With Valentine's Day right around the corner, comes a research report that reiterates the benefits attributed to dark chocolate. Yummy news, indeed!

According to a story in, researchers in Toronto compiled results from several studies to conclude that eating dark chocolate seems to lower your risk of stroke or lessen the chance of death after a stroke.

It's the antioxidants in dark chocolate called flavonoids that are credited with a growing list of health benefits, including lowering your blood pressure and helping battle heart disease (or so says Web MD) .

But of course this good news comes with a caveat: Chocolate should be consumed in moderation.

Nutritionist Keith-Thomas Ayoob, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, was quoted by HealthDay as saying: "It's nice to know that chocolate isn't bad for you, assuming you eat modest amounts and don't become overweight by overeating it."

Yes, indeed!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

That's entertainment!

I've had a great week entertainment -- both the live and screen versions.

First, I caught a showing of the wonderful production now playing at the Delray Beach Playhouse, an all-female musical review titled A .. My Name Will Always Be Alice (lame title, yes, but an awesome show!) It's playing through Feb. 14; see my Examiner review for more details. By all means, go see it -- if you can get seats! Positive buzz has spread, and tickets are selling out.

Speaking of sold-out showings: Went to see Avatar in 3D at the IMAX last night (Feb. 5), a plan that I blogged about in my last post, "The Avatar effect." All of the seats for our showing at 7:50 p.m. were filled, and as we left the theater, it looked like sold-out line for the later showing, too.

I'm so glad I went! Having seen the movie before, I was free to concentrate on the visuals: the lifelike, eye-popping 3D effects; the glorious, luminescent colors; the athletic, graceful -- and blue -- Na'vi people; the wondrous and fearsome flora and fauna; and the incredibly intricate details that filled the screen, top-to-bottom and side-to-side.

What a film! It's an instant classic -- sure to be talked about, analyzed, duplicated, and viewed for decades to come. And there's already talk of a sequel. Can't wait!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The 'Avatar' effect

As I reported on my Examiner page, the blockbuster sci-fi movie Avatar just shattered the record for biggest grossing film of all time, raking in more than $1.843 billion (!) -- with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Indeed, pricey tickets at IMAX 3D theaters across the country (including in my South Florida area) are selling out show after show ... after show after show.

Not only that, but people are lining up more than once to pay for the pleasure of being immersed in the wondrous world created by James Cameron -- watching the adventures of the paraplegic hero Jake, as he interacts with the the fascinating race of the blue Na'vi on the luminescent moon of Pandora.

People like me -- someone who never pays to see a film twice on the big screen. Normally, I'll wait till it comes out on DVD or HBO for a second viewing, thank-you-very-much. But I found myself so taken with this film when I first saw it in 2D (how very ... archaic!!) that I'm anxious to see it in the format that Cameron intended -- glorious, lifelike 3D.

That, folks, is the Avatar effect.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The copywriter's conundrum

Oh, great! Just as I'm landing some significant gigs as a copywriter -- meaning, more time spent with my butt firmly planted in my seat, typing away on my PC -- comes news that prolonged sitting can shorten your lifespan. Considerably.

According to recent stories in both the L.A. Times and The Independent, a study out of Australia looked at the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle, and found that each hour a day spent watching TV was linked with an 18% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, an 11% greater risk of all causes of death, and a 9% increased risk of death from cancer.

"The message here is that in addition to promoting regular exercise, we also need to promote avoiding long periods of sitting, such as spending long hours in front of the computer screen," said lead researcher Dr. David Dunstan, as quoted in the Times.

Well, isn't that easier said than done! When your entire career is based on -- ahem -- sitting at a computer screen, how the heck are you supposed to avoid this activity?

Short answer: You can't. And thus arises the copywriter's conundrum.

So, to battle not only the bulge that can arise from being inactive, but also, now, the health risks, it's more imperative than ever to find ways to work in short breaks in my day.

I've blogged about this before -- dispensing advice to get up regularly throughout your day and do some simple stretches and/or exercises (The Terrible Tuesdays, April 7 2009). Now, I just have to follow my own advice!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Oops! You caught me looking backward

It had to happen sooner or later.

Ran into the ex last night at a happy hour/Haiti fund-raiser at a local bar we used to go to together.

I hadn't seen him in about six months, nor heard so much as a peep from him (well, OK, maybe a peep, literally -- a one-line e-mail wishing me happy birthday, a signed Christmas card, etc.).

We chatted briefly, engaging in a shallow conversation, before each of us moved off to socialize with different sets of people at the party.

And, even though we both have definitely moved on, it was much harder than I imagined it would be. Not so much wanting him back; but I guess maybe more the sense of rejection, that he seems so unconcerned with me and how I'm doing. (Of course that's the ego talking, the wish that I at least meant something significant to him from our time together!)

I've come to realize that what I miss the most is the partnership, having someone in your life to truly count on and share things with, to hang out with, to go places with, to consult with, to argue with, to make love with. I was seeking that (in the form of a long-term commitment), while he really wasn't -- and that's what ultimately drove us apart.

Yes, I've moved on. But that doesn't mean I'm immune from looking backward, wistfully, every once in awhile.

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's impossible to keep a secret on Facebook

I got a message from a Facebook friend yesterday (Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010) clueing me in on a girls-only meme that was making the rounds on Facebook, whereby, as a sign of support for breast-cancer awareness, women were asked to put their bra color as a one (or two) word status update -- and, hush! -- keep it a secret from the guys!

Awesome! I thought, immediately complying, ("blue" it was!), before dutifully forwarding the message to dozens of my female FB friends.

And then I spent a good portion of that afternoon and evening refreshing my Live Feed so I could see how many gals had joined in on the fun -- and also read the men's puzzled comments to some of the updates. One guy even optimistically posted a link to a cool -- but misguided -- YouTube video about the color "black" in response to a posting with said color.

"Black" ... "Red" ... "Beige"... "Pale pink" ... "Leopard"(!) ... "None"(!!)

It was a hoot -- almost addictive, really.

Alas, as soon as today, the word started leaking out via public blogs about the FB craze; so that men are getting in on the secret, mere days after it began.

Too bad ...

It was fun while it lasted; but in the public realm that is Facebook, I guess secrets are almost impossible to keep!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The breakup guide for older singles

Having survived a breakup or two in my life, I've certainly found that it doesn't get any easier the older you get!

So, I wrote and posted a breaking-up how-to for Baby Boomers and seniors for AOL Personals. If you're ever in need of such advice (not that I'm wishing such a fate upon you -- oh, no, not at all!), check it out. It's titled How to Survive a Breakup: The Guide for Older Singles.

The bad news? We're not as flexible or quick to heal as our younger counterparts in the broken-hearts club. The good news? We're wiser and more resilient, so the part about being alone isn't quite so hard to take! In fact, most Baby Boomers rather enjoy their own company!

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