Puzzles for your brain

How to Knock 10 Years Off Your Age

My dad did the crossword puzzle every day, and, I believe, Sudoku. He reached the age of 90 with his faculties intact.  I’ve always credited those puzzles.

Something we’ve all instinctively known has now been proven by a research study. Doing puzzles will keep your brain sharp.

Scientists at the University of Exeter and King’s College London studied 19,000 people over the age of 50. The participants had to report how often they did word and number puzzles. Then they took cognitive tests to measure brain function. The more puzzles people did, the better they did on the tests in attention, reasoning, and memory.

The study concluded people who engage in word puzzles have brain function equivalent to ten years younger than their age on tests assessing grammatical reasoning and eight years younger than their age on tests measuring short term memory.

The scientists can’t say that playing these puzzles necessarily reduces the risk of dementia in later life, but this research supports previous findings that indicate regular use of word and number puzzles helps keep our brains working better for longer.

The study is expanding into other countries and will extend for a period of 25 years using an online platform called PROTECT that allows follow up with participants annually.

I have never been interested in Sudoku and rarely do a crossword puzzle these days. Maybe I’d better invest in a puzzle book.

Do you do puzzles?


On the lookout for figs



Have you ever tried fig jam? I first bought a jar from a vendor at a local farmers’ market. He sold a wide variety of products. The one he convinced me to buy had just a smidge of jalapeno in it. The salesman assured me it was good on almost everything. Sure, I thought.

But darned if he wasn’t right. We used it on pulled pork, hamburgers, crab cakes. All delicious.

The problem is I haven’t been able to find the vendor again. He doesn’t have a store front. What to do? Well, try Amazon, of course. They sell a lot of different jams and preserves, but nono of them seem to have the jalapenos.


This one is also sold at my local Publix. My husband says we can cut up a jalapeno from our back yard and mix it in ourselves. I am doubtful this will produce the same result, but I guess I’ll give it a try.

Have you ever found a product that is as versatile as fig Jam turned out to be?


Taking care of the caregivers



A recent study at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine offers practical advice for caregivers. The study was done with caregivers for those with dementia, but I’m sure it would be equally effective for any caregivers.

The lead author Judith Moskowitz, who also is the director of research at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Feinberg, said teaching people to focus on positive emotions reduced their anxiety and depression in six weeks. Participants also reported improved physical health and a better attitude toward caregiving.

The intervention included eight skills that evidence shows increase positive emotions. An intervention such as this doesn’t require licensed therapists and can be easily provided.

Skills taught to participants in the study:

    • 1. Recognizing a positive event each day

2. Savoring that positive event and logging it in a journal or telling someone about it

3. Starting a daily gratitude journal

4. Listing a personal strength each day and noting how you used this strength recently

5. Setting an attainable goal each day and noting your progress

6. Reporting a relatively minor stressor each day, then listing ways in which the event can be positively reappraised or reframed

7. Understanding small acts of kindness can have a big impact on positive emotion and practicing a small act of kindness each day

8. Practicing mindfulness through paying attention to daily experiences and with a daily 10-minute breathing exercise, concentrating on the breath

The positive emotion skill sessions, called LEAF (Life Enhancing Activities for Family caregivers), were presented by a facilitator via web conference, reaching caregivers across the United States. Caregivers, already stressed, didn’t even have to leave home to get the help they so badly needed.

Next, Moskowitz will launch a second study funded by the National Institute of Aging. In this one,  she will compare the facilitated version of the intervention to a self-guided online version of the intervention. If the self-guided version is as effective as the facilitated one, the LEAF program can be implemented widely at relatively low cost.

Positive Psychology has been around for a while. It was first recognized in 1998 by Martin Seligman in his book Authentic Happiness, but apparently this is the first time it has been applied specifically to caregivers. The University of Pennsylvania, where Seligman still teaches, has an entire center and curriculum devoted to the field.

Personally, I try to follow this advice; however, I find it is easier said than done. What about you? Do you do any of these eight activities? Are they working for you?


Making space on the counter


My husband and I had Sunday dinner at his brother’s. As I was trying to help my sister-in-law in the kitchen, I noticed her air fryer. I have been wanting one of these for some time, but my kitchen is tiny. I don’t have enough counter space for one more small appliance.

I didn’t notice the brand of fryer, but it looked similar to the Ninja above.


This Black & Decker toaster/convection oven  is what I am currently using. We got this as a replacement, or so we thought, for one we had for many years. This new one, however, is a dud. Try though I may, I cannot figure out what settings to use to produce items that are properly toasted or heated without being burnt.The interior is also much smaller than the one we had before. I used to be able to fit a standard cookie sheet inside. No longer. What fits in this one is a 12 inch pizza pan. Who bakes anything, except actual pizza, on a round pan?

I’m going to call my sister-in-law to find out what air fryer she actually has. She told me she loves it. In the meantime, I’d love some recommendations. Do you have an air fryer? What brand is it? Do I need to ditch the toaster oven?

Go ahead and care



Here’s some good news if you happen to be a caregiver as I am.  Researchers at Johns Hopkins say caregiving doesn’t take as big a toll on health as has long been thought.

This assumption started when a study done in 1987 of caregivers for people with Alzheimers  found they had decreased levels of some immune molecules. From then on, studies “suggested that family caregivers have increased mortality and rates of psychiatric diseases, decreased immune function and life span, and slower wound healing than other people.” Yikes!

David Roth, M.A., Ph.D., professor of medicine and director of the Center on Aging and Health at Hopkins, and his colleagues looked at some recent papers and noticed problems in how the research was conducted. They ended up reviewing 30 studies done between 1987 and 2016 and found the number of people studied was quite small. In more than half the studies, fewer than 50 caregivers were included. But results were interpreted as being universal.

Roth confirmed there is an effect on immunity, but it is far less than previously reported. He characterized it as “generally weak and of questionable clinical significance.”

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, more than 34 million people in the U.S. provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend in any given year. The value of the services provided by these family caregivers is estimated at $375 billion annually. Those seem to me to be huge figures, but, in fact, some people shy away from caregiving because of all the erroneous information. Roth hopes his study will encourage more people to become caregivers, noting it can actually be a beneficial experience, a pro-social behavior.

in the meantime, Roth’s team are conducting a larger, better designed study to get more information about the connection or lack thereof between caregiving and the immune system.

If you’re a caregiver, have you suffered ill-effects as a result?


The great outdoors



Even after living on a relatively rural island in Florida for more than 20 years, I still consider myself a city girl. I burn easily in the sun and bugs love to bite me, so I really don’t like spending time outdoors all that much. But a study done by researchers at the University of Michigan has given me incentive.

People have always been urged to commune with nature to reduce stress, but just how much time was needed and what kind of experience would do the trick weren’t known.

Lead author of the research, Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, says people who spent 20 minutes a day in nature saw a significant reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. The “nature pill” prescription is sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature.

Participants were studied over an eight week period. They were to spend 10 minutes or more, three days a week anywhere outside that made them feel like they’d interacted with nature. There were a few constraints to minimize factors known to influence stress: take the nature pill in daylight, no aerobic exercise, and avoid the use of social media, internet, phone calls, conversations and reading.

The 20 to 30 minute window produced the highest reduction in cortisol. After that, the benefit continued but at a lesser rate.

I guess I can spare 20 minutes outside on a stressful day, and what day isn’t? How do you feel about taking a “nature pill?”


One person’s trash…



I watched multiple episodes of Flea Market Flip on HGTV one morning last week. Years ago, I did quite a bit of furniture re-finishing. This was back when I was furnishing my first apartment and later my first home.

I’d love to get back into working with furniture or repurposing items as they do on Flea Market, but I already have all the furniture I need. Besides that, I really don’t have a dedicated space I could use to work in. Here in Florida, we don’t have basements.

This is the closest I’ve come to recycling. I spray painted my husband’s old army trunk and set it on top of a discarded coffee table I found in my neighborhood. It is serving as filing cabinet/storage until/unless something better comes along.



I wonder if there is a profit making opportunity hidden in here somewhere. Is there a market for small, hand finished side tables and the like? Does anybody have any advice for me?

Do you have a side gig? I’d love to hear about it.

Spring wardrobe replenishment



My favorite annual event on the island where I live occurred this past Saturday. It is the Hookers’ Bag and Tag Sale. That probably requires an explanation.

The Hookers are a group of women based on Matlacha Island. This has historically been a fishing village, so that is part of the reason for the name. The other reason is that they are “hooked” on the community. They raise a lot of money every year and much of it goes to the elementary school. They also provide college scholarships to local youth.

Anyway, at this sale, you pay a flat $5 for everything you can stuff into a brown paper grocery bag. I have become quite adept at rolling clothing into tight balls and can generally fit at least 15 items in my bag.

This year, I was under a time crunch, so I only managed 13 items. Below are some of them. Without planning to , I found things that went together pretty well to form outfits.




A couple items were just a smidge too close-fitting to suit me. I will simply recycle those to the local thrift shop.

Are you able to find bargains in clothing? Or are you someone who wouldn’t dream of wearing second-hand clothes?

Welcome to pioneer land



I have to confess I am something of a Luddite when it comes to technology. Oh, I’m on my laptop pretty much all day every day. And I spend an unreasonable amout of time on Facebook. But I have steadfastly refused to succumb to the lure of smart phones. I have only had a minimalist mobile phone which I only turned on to make calls, not receive them. It was basically for emergencies.

Then, my husband’s daughter gave him an Echo Dot for his birthday last Thanksgiving. Frankly, I didn’t see the point. What was this thing supposed to do anyway? We’ve since learned how to get it to play music at dinner time and how to set a timer and an alarm. But I could easily have done all those things without it.


I tried to use smart plugs but soon discovered they require a smart phone. The two plugs I bought went back.

Well, I finally broke down and bought a smart phone. This Tracfone is still basic, but it does allow me to access apps.


Both Orlando daughters came to visit over the weekend, bearing new Wemo smart plugs. It took both of them combined quite a bit of time to configure one of the plugs to the lamp in our living room. Now I can turn on the lamp remotely by using my spanking new phone. Of course first I have to turn on the phone, wait for it to power up, and wait for it to find the plug. I still don’t understand why or when I would want to do this.


Could somebody please explain all this to me? What am I missing? Do you ask Alexa to do your bidding?

Go early; go often


I’m finding that retirement is filled with lots of doctor’s appointments. And oftentimes things don’t go exactly as planned.

My husband had an outpatient procedure scheduled last week. He is not an early riser, so we chose to come to the hospital at noon. Then that got pushed back to a two o’clock arrival time with the surgery to start at three.

My husband ate an early-for-him breakfast since he wasn’t supposed to eat or drink anything from nine o’clock on.

The nursing staff got him all checked in, blood drawn, IV access inserted, and we waited. And waited. By this time, my poor husband was hungry, thirsty, and getting crankier by the minute. Not that I blamed him. I was offered and gladly accepted a package of Chips Ahoy cookies. For him, nada.

The nurses, bless them, offered to turn on the TV for us. We didn’t want to watch anything, so they tuned the channel to what one called “Zen music.” It was a combo of new age and classical that was, indeed, soothing. Or as soothing as anything could be under the circumstances. Then they set out to discover what was hanging things up.

Unfortunately, the patient ahead of my husband had some complications. At this point, it was four thirty. The estimate was at least another two hours to wait. The nurses suggested we re-schedule. Her comment was revealing: “I wouldn’t want to be the next patient when the surgeon is tired.” Agreed.

We’re going back to do it all over again this week; however, this time my husband is first on the schedule.

What has been your experience with hospitals and medical care in general?