Last Week’s Links

LA art exhibition look at dying through words, photos

Four years ago photographer Andrew George approached the medical director of a Los Angeles hospital with an unusual request: He wanted to meet and take photographs of people about to die.

There was nothing macabre about the request, George says. He simply wanted to learn of and reflect the wisdom these people had gained in the hope that others could discover how to lead better, more fulfilling lives.

Read what George learned about the hopes, dreams, happy memories, and regrets of his participants.

Relationships with family members, but not friends, decrease likelihood of death

For older adults, having more or closer family members in one’s social network decreases his or her likelihood of death, but having a larger or closer group of friends does not, finds a new study that will be presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

Will Your Prescription Meds Be Covered Next Year? Better Check!

The battle continues to rage between drug companies that are trying to make as much money as possible and insurers trying to drive down drug prices. And consumers are squarely in the middle.

This article from National Public Radio (NPR) suggests checking with your insurer to see if your prescriptions will be covered next year. If your insurance company drops coverage of one or more of your medications, you may have to consult your doctor about replacements.

New Clues in the Mystery of Women’s Lagging Life Expectancy

While the life expectancy of American women has remained stagnant, the cause or causes of this stagnation has eluded researchers. But new research has “found that many common demographic traits — whether a woman is rich, poor, unemployed, working, single or married — might not be as important as the state in which she lives.”

The finding that the social and economic environment of states affects women’s life expectancy but not men’s surprised researchers: “Women have consistently had longer life expectancy than men, and still do, though less so than 30 years ago.” Another surprising conclusion from the research is that people’s environment can be just as important to their health as their individual behaviors (such as exercise and healthy eating).

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Three Things Thursday

Thanks to Nerd in the Brain for the weekly challenge Three Things Thursday:

three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy


I have missed several weeks of Three Things Thursday because of a couple of family situations that required drop-everything-and-go travel. I’m glad to be back.

Memories from New England

My husband and I grew up in Connecticut, lived most of our adult lives (42 years) in St. Louis, then retired to Tacoma, WA. The first of our unexpected trips required a return to Connecticut, where I waxed nostalgic over several things emblematic of the region.

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

(1) White Birch Trees

white birch trees
white birch trees

These beautiful trees (Betula papyrifera) are all over the wooded areas of New England. I didn’t realize how much I love them until we moved to the midwest, where these trees don’t grow. Their white bark with narrow, horizontal black lines peels off in sheets. The bark is water repellant, and Native Americans used birch bark to build canoes.

I was glad to be reunited with birch trees when we moved to Washington State. Many of the trees here are not as white as those in New England. White barks signifies older trees;  younger trees have light brown bark. Birch is a short-lived species that doesn’t do well in humidity, which may account for the color difference between New England and Pacific Northwest trees. The birch trees here are definitely recognizable, though, and are one of the first natural phenomena I noticed when I moved here.

Also known as paper birch, these trees are among the first to grow after forest fires. They provide winter forage for moose.

(2) Buildings with Several Numbers

Elton Tavern, Burlington, CT, USA; built in 1810
Elton Tavern, Burlington, CT, USA

These plaques are on the Elton Tavern in my hometown of Burlington, CT (shown in the feature image at the top of this post). When I was a kid, the building was a private house. The local lore was that the building was originally an inn where George Washington stopped for the night on his travels. In more recent years the town historical society has bought and refurbished the building, but I haven’t been in town to attend the now annual Tavern Day that features colonial crafts and history. The road on which the building sits has always been called George Washington Turnpike.

Plaques such as these mark buildings all over New England. In many town centers you’ll see houses with a street number on the left of the front door and the date the house was built on the right. New Englanders take their early history quite seriously.

(3) White Clapboard Churches

Burlington Congregational Church, Burlington, CT
Burlington Congregational Church, Burlington, CT

This is the Congregational Church in Burlington, CT, which was founded in 1774. You’ll find a church that looks almost exactly like this one in most New England towns. This is not surprising, since the right to worship as they chose was what brought most early settlers to the area.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Here are some articles from around the web that caught my attention over the last week.

Alzheimer’s Patients Keep the Spark Alive by Sharing Stories

This heart-warming article reports on an eight-week storytelling workshop at Northwestern University that helps couples coping with Alzheimer’s disease stay connected:

Each couple’s story serves as a reminder of both the good and challenging times they have shared, experiences both poignant and humorous that reveal inner strength, resilience and love and appreciation for one another that can be easily forgotten when confronted by a frightening, progressive neurological disease like Alzheimer’s.

Don’t Throw Out Your Organ Donor Card After 65

I’ve been signed up as an organ donor since early adulthood, but lately I’ve been wondering how useful my organs would be now that I’m approaching 70. This piece explains how age makes those of us over 65 “particularly desirable as donors, living or dead, for older recipients, who represent a growing proportion of transplant patients.”

Diet, exercise reduce proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease, study says

A healthy diet, physical activity and normal body mass index have been connected to overall better health, with a new study at the University of California Los Angeles suggesting the combination of healthful choices may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Just in case we needed yet another reminder of the importance of healthy eating and exercise.

Virtual reality treadmills help prevent falls in elderly

A small study suggests that adding a virtual reality obstacle course to treadmill workouts may help prevent falls among older adults:

“Our idea was to use the virtual reality environment to safely train both the motor or gait aspects that are important to fall risk, while also implicitly teaching the participants to improve the cognitive functions that are important for safe ambulation,” said lead study author Anat Mirelman of Tel Aviv University in Israel.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Middle-age memory decline a matter of changing focus

The inability to remember details, such as the location of objects, begins in early midlife (the 40s) and may be the result of a change in what information the brain focuses on during memory formation and retrieval, rather than a decline in brain function, according to a study by McGill University researchers.

Senior author Natasha Rajah, Director of the Brain Imaging Centre at McGill University’s Douglas Institute and Associate Professor in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry, says that this decline in middle age may be a sign not of declining brain function, but rather of focusing on different aspects of information. “Rajah says that middle-aged and older adults might improve their recall abilities by learning to focus on external rather than internal information.”

Too Old for Sex? Not at This Nursing Home

A nursing home in the Bronx, New York, follows a “sexual expression policy” that allows residents to spend time together:

a number of older Americans … are having intimate relationships well into their 70s and 80s, helped in some cases by Viagra and more tolerant societal attitudes toward sex outside marriage. These aging lovers have challenged traditional notions of growing old and, in some cases, raised logistical and legal issues for their families, caretakers and the institutions they call home.

But the article also notes the other side of such a policy:

But intimacy in nursing homes also raises questions about whether some residents can consent to sex. Henry Rayhons, a former Iowa state legislator, was charged with sexual abuse in 2014 after being accused of having sex with his wife, who had severe Alzheimer’s disease and was in a nursing home. A jury found him not guilty.

Alexander Masters’s book based on discarded journals gives ‘throwing your life away’ a new meaning

leather diaryMany of us in our later years think about writing down something about our lives to leave a legacy for future generations. Here’s an interesting story about a biographer, Alexander Masters, who has published the book A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip. In 2001 two Cambridge University professors found 148 diaries in a Dumpster (the Canadian term is skip). Not wanting their find to go to waste, they gave the diaries to Masters.

Becky Toyne examines Masters’ project here and concludes:

We don’t have journal writing like this any more. We remain obsessive chroniclers of our lives, only in public pictures rather than private text (and we edit out all the sad bits). By contrast, the diaries of “I” build to a 40-million word chronicle of a life containing very little excitement. The difference? “These books were alive,” says the Cambridge professor upon finding them strewn about a skip – and in Masters’s heartbreaking, heartwarming biography we learn that, however unremarkable or littered with disappointments our existence might turn out to be, so are we.

What Do Contested Conventions Look Like? Ask Hollywood And Sinclair Lewis

I offer this article in preparation for the upcoming political conventions.

And this is as political as I’ll get here, I promise.


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Three Things Thursday

Thanks to Nerd in the Brain for the weekly challenge Three Things Thursday:

three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy


Lavender Festival

Last week several of us from Franke Tobey Jones visited the lavender festival held by:

Blue Willow Lavender Farm
10615 Wright Bliss Rd KPN, Gig Harbor, WA 98329

I’ve been wanting to attend a lavender festival ever since moving out here, so I eagerly signed up for this trip. Here are three things I learned.

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

(1) So Many Varieties!

I had no idea that there are so many varieties of lavender. The farm featured several rows of different varieties, all labled:

varieties of lavender

(2) Not all Lavender is Lavender

Some lavender is white:

(3) Lavender is Used in Many Ways

The gift shop contained so many items that use lavender: soap, body lotion, essential oil, flavoring for food and drinks. I bought some tea:

lavender tea


Lavender fields

lavender fields

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

What I’ve Been Reading

Last Week’s Links

Happiness increases after consumption of fruit and vegetables, study finds

orangesWe know we should eat lots of fruits and vegetables to keep our bodies healthy, but new research suggests this approach may also help our mental health as well. The study out of the University of Warwick, to be published soon in American Journal of Public Health, found that:

people who changed from almost no fruit and veg to eight portions of fruit and veg a day would experience an increase in life satisfaction equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment. The well-being improvements occurred within 24 months.

Star Trek and the Kiss That Changed TV
Star Trek: The Exhibition
Star Trek: The Exhibition

“Everything I need to know about life I learned from Star Trek” has long been my motto. I’m talking specifically here about the original series featuring William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock.

Finding this article truly warmed my heart. Natalie Haynes writes that Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, said that Gene Roddenberry, the series’ creator, believed in a world of tolerance: “He believed in that world, if you got it you got it. If you didn’t get it, you’d see it anyway.”

It’s a neat summary of the allegorical complexity of Star Trek: if you get the subtext, you get it. If you don’t, you just see the surface story. Whenever Roddenberry or his writers had a political point to make, they tended to use allegory as their best way to get that point across. One of the joys of Star Trek is that our crew is constantly exploring, constantly curious. So there is always a planet, a species, a story which can throw its illuminating light upon the less exotic world of the earthbound viewer.

Haynes examines how the same approach continued in the later Star Trek spinoffs, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. I haven’t watched all of the episodes of the later shows, but I cannot forget the lessons that the original series taught us about racism, greed, war, despotism, and other dark aspects of human nature.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Three Things Thursday

Thanks to Nerd in the Brain for the weekly challenge Three Things Thursday:

three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy


Recently we’ve come across some artistic representations of animals (click on any photo to see a larger version):

(1) Snake Sculpture

carved snake 02

We discovered this snake at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. It looks so real that I was taken aback the first time I came upon it in the Asian Forest section. A few days ago we visited the zoo again with a 3 1/2 year-old family member. Like me, she stopped in her tracks when she saw this guy. “Is it moving?” she asked. When I told her no, it was a statue, she said, “Whew!” I know exactly how she felt.

(2) Wooden Slug

Slug Sculpture

We came upon this carved slug on our most recent trip to Northwest Trek. We had never been him before. In addition to rain and a temperate climate, the Pacific Northwest is also famous for slugs, including the big banana slug. This fellow apparently arrived just in time for the annual Slug Fest, which was to be held the following weekend.

(3) Neighborhood Sea Serpent

carved snake 01

And what would a Pacific Northwest neighborhood on Commencement Bay be without its own resident sea serpent? We came across this clever use of a tree root on one of our walks. I always marvel at examples of such creativity.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown