Category Archives: Uncategorized

Caffeine

I’m addicted.

I admit it.  I’m addicted to caffeine.

I find that I increasingly need caffeine.  It’s become an absolute necessity.  I drink 3 to 4 cups of coffee from about 8 a.m. till about 4 or 5 p.m. Why?  Because I like it.  And because it helps me stay awake when I need to be.

First, a little bit about my relationship to caffeine. 

I remember how my mother drank coffee all day long.  Once I asked her if I could taste it.  I figured that it had to be delicious or she wouldn’t drink so much of it.  So when she said I could taste it, I took a sip.  Yuck!  It tasted terrible.

I didn’t try coffee again until my first year of college, when I discovered that it was drinkable if I put enough milk and sugar in it.  I decided to try it when late-night studying began to take its toll.  I found I’d doze off in class the minute the professor turned off the lights and showed slides on a screen at the front of the classroom.  But I discovered that if I had some caffeine in my breakfast coffee, I could stay awake.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that consuming caffeine is a necessity.  Especially before sitting in a theater, when (as in college classrooms) the lights are dimmed and I need to stay conscious to enjoy a film, a play, a concert, a ballet performance, or an opera.  Although the pandemic has cramped my style, suspending my theater-going, for example, I’ve continued to rely on caffeine while I read or watch TV at home.

Now let’s look at some of the science behind caffeine.  I won’t bore you with the wonkiest stuff, but you probably want to know something about it.

I found this info in the March 2021 issue of Nutrition Action, a monthly newsletter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), my go-to source for honest reporting on healthy food choices and the like.  Here’s a summary of the most useful info:

How does caffeine work?  It blocks adenosine receptors in the brain.  Huh?  What’s adenosine?

Adenosine is a natural sedative.  When it builds up, you feel drowsy.  But when caffeine blocks it, you don’t.

But watch out:  You can build up a tolerance to caffeine.  What happens is this:  The more caffeine you consume, the more adenosine receptors your brain makes.  So you need even more caffeine to block those extra receptors and keep you alert.

But how much is too much?  The FDA says that most adults can safely consume up to 400 milligrams a day.  This is roughly the amount in two large cups of coffee at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts.  But the amount of caffeine in your home-brewed coffee can vary.  And caffeine’s impact on people varies.

So you need to judge the impact it has on you.  If you’re having trouble sleeping, or too much coffee makes you feel jittery, you probably need to cut back on how much you imbibe, and pay attention to when you’re imbibing.

You can try to break up with coffee, as famed author Michael Pollan has.  He reports “sleeping like a teenager” and waking “feeling actually refreshed.”  But that experience may not work for everyone.

One study asked 66 young caffeine users–who were having trouble sleeping–to go “cold turkey.”  But during the a week with no caffeine, they spent no more time asleep and took no less time to fall asleep than before. 

Still, it’s probably wise to avoid caffeine right before bed.  Studies show that people generally take longer to fall asleep and get less deep sleep when they have caffeine right before bedtime.

Coffee consumption has shown some real benefits.  A lower risk of type 2 diabetes, for one thing.  Better exercise-performance for another.  (Although few studies have looked at the exercise-boosting effect in older adults, one study of 19 Brits aged 61 to 79 showed that they performed better in a battery of physical tests after they consumed caffeine.)  Finally, studies have shown that people who consume more caffeine have a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease.

I get my caffeine in a variety of sources, including coffee, tea, and cola drinks. I also happily consume coffee candy (my favorite is Caffe Rio, available at Trader Joe’s) and coffee ice cream.  I also heartily recommend the cappuccino gelato at my local gelato shop.  But let’s face it:  a cup of coffee packs the most punch.

The recent advent of cold brew coffee allows coffee-drinkers to get their caffeine in a less acidic form.  According to one source, cold brew is over 67 percent less acidic than hot brewed coffee because the coffee grounds aren’t exposed to high temperatures.  Result:  cold brew appeals to some of us because it’s sweeter, smoother, and less bitter. (But don’t confuse it with iced coffee, which has the same acidity as regular hot coffee.  The ice can dilute it, however.)  I’ve tried cold brew and like it.  I keep a bottle of it in my fridge and frequently drink some.  But it’s much pricier than my home brew, at least for now.

New sources have popped up.  One may be bottled water.  In the bargain bin at a local supermarket, I once came across a bottle of Sparking Avitae, whose label states that it’s caffeine plus water and natural fruit flavors.  It claims to have “about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee,” thereby giving you “instant go with added fizz.” According to the manufacturer, it includes “natural caffeine derived from green coffee beans.”  I’m not sure this product is still available.  Possibly something like it is.  My original purchase is stashed in my fridge, but I’ve never tried it.

Even newer:  I recently spied an ad for a cosmetic product called “Eyes Open Caffeine and Peptide Eye Cream.”   Yes, eye cream.  This one claims to be “supercharged with caffeine,” adding that it can “reduce the appearance of puffiness and dark circles.”  Does it work?  Who knows?  I’d guess that it probably works just about as well as any other eye cream.  Dermatologists generally tell their patients not to expect very much from any of them, no matter their price or their claims. 

To sum up, I confess that I ally with Abbie Hoffman, the “Chicago 7” trial defendant.  When the prosecutor asked him whether he was addicted to any drug, Abbie said “Yes.”  Which one?  “Caffeine.”   [Please see Post #9 in my blog series, “Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman,” published on 4/20/21, where I noted this amusing bit of testimony.]

My favorite coffee mug says it all:  Its vintage photo features a stylish woman in glamorous riding gear, holding the reins of her horse, saying “You can lead a horse to water…but I could use a triple expresso.”

And let’s not forget my sticky-note pad featuring a stylishly-coiffed woman, circa 1928, drinking what’s clearly a cup of coffee.  She boldly announces:  “Given enough coffee, I could rule the world.”  

Well, maybe coffee-drinkers like me should actually try to rule the world.  We might do a better job than most of those who’ve been in charge.

Okay.  I’m addicted.  And my path ahead is clear. 

I’ll continue to reap the benefits of caffeine while at the same time I steer away from any potentially harmful impact.

Maybe you’d like to join me on this path?

Hangin’ with Judge Hoffman: Post #2

This is the second in a series of posts recalling what it was like to serve as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Julius J. Hoffman.

We currently live in a time in which we’re increasingly aware of the enormously important role that judges play in our lives and how critical it is to have judges who are fair and unbiased.  For this reason, I think it’s useful to talk about how judges perform their jobs.

Thanks to the recent film focused on the trial of the “Chicago 7,” Judge Hoffman has garnered new attention in the public eye.  I’ve attempted, in this series of posts, to tell exactly what it was like to work for him for two highly significant years.

What were Hoffman’s quirks?  How did he conduct business, on and off the bench?  As Hoffman’s law clerk from the summer of 1967 through the summer of 1969, I observed him on and off the bench, in his role as a “hanging judge” as well as his role as a charming personality who enjoyed engaging in clever repartee.  “Warts and all,” here is what Julius J. Hoffman was really like.

Hoffman’s Proclivities

•      His calendar

                Judge Hoffman was obsessed with his “calendar.”  The court administrators published statistics on every judge in the district (the Northern District of Illinois), and Hoffman was fanatic about being first in the judges’ rankings every month.

                Why was he so obsessed with this single evaluation of his judgeship?  My guess is that he saw these statistics as an objective measure of his worth as a judge.  Although the statistics did nothing more than state how many cases a judge had dismissed or tried or otherwise removed from his calendar, Hoffman wanted to be at the top of the list.  Then the whole world would know that he was a judge who disposed of cases efficiently, had the smallest number of cases left on his calendar at the end of every month, and therefore was–had to be–a great and admirable judge.

                To achieve this ranking, Hoffman sometimes trampled on the rights of the criminal defendants who appeared before him and often rushed to judgment in his civil cases, forcing undesired settlements and otherwise compromising the pursuit of justice in his courtroom.  The appellate court that reviewed his conduct often took him to task for it.  Yet he continued his relentless pursuit of first place.  In my view, his obsession with being first in this ranking was in large part responsible for much of his erratic behavior.

•      His bias in favor of the government

                Hoffman’s bias in criminal cases reflected a general bias in favor of the government and an even more fundamental conservative streak.  He was, after all, appointed to the federal bench by a Republican, President Eisenhower, and his background and relative affluence (in part due to his wealthy wife) probably accounted for some of his conservatism.  But because he was so willing to favor the government in criminal cases, he frequently wound up in big trouble. One criminal case, the “Chicago 7” trial, ultimately led to his downfall.

•      His delegation of decision-making to his law clerks

                Hoffman’s desire to have the “best” calendar in town worked to the benefit of those of his law clerks who relished assuming a large measure of responsibility for Hoffman’s rulings.  (I happily fit into this category.)  While he spent almost his entire day on the bench, presiding over trials and disposing of motions, his two clerks were working in chambers on the rulings that he would later adopt as his own. 

                 Of course, he made some rulings spontaneously from the bench without his clerks’ assistance.  But virtually all of the pre-trial and post-trial motions filed in Hoffman’s cases were decided by his clerks.  So while he sat on the bench, dispensing his own brand of justice, his two law clerks were working hard back in chambers, researching the law that applied to these motions and other matters (like jury instructions) filed by the lawyers in his cases, and writing the rulings that Hoffman later read from the bench.

                In the two years I worked for Hoffman, we law clerks probably decided at least 95 percent of the motions filed in his cases.  And he rarely overruled our decisions.  Once in a great while, he would walk into our part of chambers, hand back a written decision, and ask us to rewrite it.  But he never took the opportunity to do his own research or do any rewriting, even when he was displeased with the decision we had left on his desk.

                The tremendous degree of responsibility we had, as a result, was astounding.  At first, I was amazed at how much power I had been given.  Later, I realized that I was, to some extent, dispensing justice where Hoffman himself never would have.

Reunion-worthy clothes: A follow-up

In my last post, I described my new strategy for purchasing clothes:  I ask myself whether they’re reunion-worthy.

I adopted this strategy for the first time before a class reunion a few years ago. Pondering what to wear to the reunion, I decided to no longer fill my closets with clothes I wouldn’t wear to an event like a reunion, where I wanted to look my absolute best.

Recently, when another class reunion loomed, the issue was once again front and center.

Now that (more recent) reunion has come and gone, and my strategy proved to be a huge success.  When I packed for my flight to Reunion City, USA, I selected only reunion-worthy clothes to wear during the reunion weekend.  And I think I accomplished my goal.

In photos taken during that weekend, I look simply smashing.

Now let’s focus on another question:  What about those duds you and I still own that are NOT reunion-worthy?

I have two suggestions.  My hope is that you’ll adopt your own version of one or both of them.

  1. Donate non-reunion-worthy clothes to charity.

I have a longstanding policy of donating to charity those clothes I’m no longer wearing.  I  donate still-attractive and wearable items of clothes (as well as shoes, costume jewelry, household items, books, and a whole host of miscellaneous stuff).

I prefer two nearby charities.  One favorite is Goodwill.  This is a venerable charity organization that channels clothing and other items by selling them in their stores to those who want to acquire these items at rock-bottom prices.  Goodwill also plays another role:  It will happily take possession of almost any electronic device you no longer find useful.  It apparently hires people who know how to extract usable parts from these devices, working or not, and repurpose them for the greater good of humankind.  Bravo!

My other favorite charity?  The Discovery Shops that dot the landscape in the Bay Area.  Discovery Shops are attractive stores filled with beautiful things donated by people who decide to pass them along to others and, at the same time, support an important goal.   Because Discovery Shops are affiliated with the American Cancer Society, the money raised in their shops supports research aimed at defeating the scourge of cancer.  I donate to Discovery Shops the most desirable items I no longer wish to keep but sincerely believe would enhance someone else’s wardrobe or home.  Passing them along this way makes me feel great.

  1. Create a “jettison pile.”

Some years ago I created what I call my “jettison pile.”

My jettison pile serves a valuable purpose, a purpose that benefits not only me but others as well.  The end result resembles donating to charity, but in practice it operates somewhat differently.

First, I periodically review my wardrobe and set aside clothing that has become less and less useful to me.  These are usually clothes that are somewhat ill-fitting or no longer suit my lifestyle but are okay to wear one more time when I’m traveling.  I’ll add clothes like these to the jettison pile, and next time I prepare for a trip, I’ll throw some of them into my suitcase.

Then, when I arrive at a destination, I jettison them.

I often jettison them as I depart from a hotel room.  I’ll leave them in a neat stack for the cleaning staff with a note that clearly states something like the following:  “These items are for you if you want them.  I no longer need them.”

In a foreign country where I know the basics of the language, I’ll try to write my note in that language.  If I don’t know the language, I’ll ask English-speaking staff at the front desk to help me write my message.

Jettisoning clothes (and sometimes other small items, like an extra flashlight) serves a double purpose.  I’m leaving things for cleaning-staff people who may be able to use them, or who know someone else who can use them.  (Of course, they have the option of dumping my stuff in the trash.)

I benefit as well.   When I leave these things behind, I make room in my suitcase for new things I acquire during my trip, like souvenir t-shirts or books about local sites or……well, you get the idea.

On a recent river cruise, a young woman from a not-very-prosperous country was assigned to clean my cabin.  I’d prepared for the cruise by bringing very nice but no-longer-wanted-by-me tops, pants, skirts, nightgowns, and miscellaneous stuff.  When the cruise ended, I left my cleaning woman two shopping bags full of things she could either use herself or pass along to her family and friends.  And I now had newly freed-up space in my cases for things I’d acquired during the trip.

Passing things along this way seems to be another good choice.

Please decide what works best for you.  Just remember to make choices that bring you joy!

 

The Charm of San Miguel de Allende

 

Light rain was falling when I arrived at the airport in Leon, Mexico, searching for the shuttle that would take me to San Miguel de Allende.  A sign listing all the passengers on my shuttle made clear it would be crowded.

I jumped on board, taking a seat near the door. Not a great choice.  Passengers departing before me carelessly left the door open too long, and raindrops pelted me every time.  Even more annoying was the man behind me who talked incessantly, telling another passenger everything to do and see in San Miguel.  I wished he’d shut up.  I wanted to discover all of it for myself.

The shuttle driver finally located the house on Calle del Castillo belonging to Merrily and Paul, my great friends since college, and they welcomed me warmly, ushering me inside.  The house was a wonderful surprise, modern and comfortable, and I felt very lucky to be in their sheltering arms.

For the next few days, the three of us set out together every day, covering a host of sites in and around this charming city set in Mexico’s central highlands.

Why go to San Miguel?  First, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, an extremely beautiful city filled with historic and architecturally-astounding buildings.  Next, although parts of Mexico have sadly seen a measure of violent crime in recent years, San Miguel is still a peaceful sanctuary where one feels totally safe.  And although it’s perhaps best known in the U.S. as a city inundated with American ex-pats, the overwhelming majority of the population is made up of warm and friendly mexicanos.  Unlike the Mexican resort cities like Puerto Vallarta (my favorite) and Acapulco, San Miguel is a much more authentically Mexican city.  You may want to spend a vacation of a few days there, or linger much, much longer.  Or, like Merrily and Paul, you may even want to move there, joining the five thousand or so ex-pats who have made San Miguel their home.

In case you’re wondering how the lengthy name of the city came about, here’s a brief history lesson:  When the Spaniards arrived in this part of Mexico during the 16th century and established a colony, many of the indigenous inhabitants fled.  A Franciscan friar took advantage of their departure and founded a Spanish settlement that evolved in the 17th century into a beautiful town called San Miguel el Grande.

During the next hundred years, when many people who by now considered themselves Mexicans rose up against Spanish rule, Ignacio Allende was a prominent local leader.  He was executed by the Spanish, but he was not forgotten.  After the Mexican army defeated the Spanish in their War of Independence, the city was renamed San Miguel de Allende to honor him.

Today’s city has the Spanish to thank for many of its striking buildings, constructed during the colonial period.  The most magnificent is the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, a pink-hued Neo-Gothic cathedral dominating the Centro Histórico, the historic center of town, directly across from the leafy park, El Jardin.  Originally built in the 16th century, a local architect did a smashing renovation about 300 years later.  Its pink sandstone towers present a facade unlike that of any other church I’ve ever seen, resembling a set right out of a Disney fairytale, and when it’s illuminated at night, it has a truly magical vibe.

The city contains a host of other remarkable sights.  Instead of listing all of them, I’ll highlight just a few.  One of the must-sees is El Jardin (pronounced har-deen), the leafy green park in the center of the city.  It’s a vibrant gathering place, filled with both locals and tourists.  Groups of mariachi musicians play there every evening, and all around its perimeter are vendors featuring kids’ toys, balloons, and lots of food, including some pretty wild varieties of ice cream (helado), including elote (corn), queso (cheese), and guayaba (guava).

El Jardin is also the place where tours of the city center begin.  These tours, organized by a local children’s charity called Patronato de Ninos, are offered at 9:45 a.m. three times a week.   They’re led by a diverse group of cheerful and knowledgeable guides (mine was an American ex-pat wearing an exquisite locally-embroidered dress).

Another highlight is the Fábrica de Aurora, a former textile factory whose machinery has been preserved and can be viewed through large glass windows.  It’s been totally renovated and now houses a wide range of art galleries, craft studios, and delightful places to eat and drink.  A bit north of the city, it’s well worth the trip.

Farther outside the city (about eight miles from downtown San Miguel) is the town of Atontonilco.  Its centerpiece is another World Heritage Site, an astonishing church called the Santuario de Jesus Nazareno de Atononilco.  The church’s walls and ceilings are covered with paintings of religious stories and figures, a remarkable achievement by an artist who spent 30 years of his life creating this result.

We arrived on a Saturday and encountered not just one but two weddings being held in the church.  While the first wedding was being celebrated, the second wedding party lined up outside, awaiting its turn.  On the city streets outside the church, friendly locals offered items for sale, most notably whips of various sizes.  Whips?  Yes, whips–mainly of the “cat-o’-nine-tails” variety.  Why?  Because the sanctuary has a long history as a Catholic-pilgrimage destination, and that history includes self-flagellation by some of the pilgrims.  For kicks, you might want to buy a souvenir whip while you’re there.

Speaking of shopping:  If that pursuit interests you, San Miguel offers a wide range of possibilities.  Merrily and Paul first guided me to a largely low-rent and authentic option (my choice).  Descending to a small alleyway, we found the Mercado de Artesanía, a distinctly non-posh assortment of stands tended by local artisans and their families.  There I purchased trivets and other items made of pewter, earrings made of silver and abalone shell, and colorful embroidered blouses and pillow covers.  Besides admiring their wares, I relished meeting the artisans and speaking with them in my high-school-level Spanish (Merrily helped).

We then went on to some actual shops, like Martha’s shoe store, where she sells the famous “San Miguel” shoes in many different colors; delightful candy shops; and the highly unusual “oil cloth” store, where the brawny young proprietor makes useful items—like tote bags and luggage tags—out of a variety of bright oil cloth patterns.  (I hadn’t seen so much oil cloth since I was a kid in Mom’s postwar kitchen!)  I later sought out stores offering artisanal products like ceramics and jewelry.  My favorite purchases were the ceramic trees-of-life I bought for both of my daughters.

If the art scene is your thing, be sure to check out Bellas Artes, an art school and cultural center in downtown San Miguel.  Stroll through the arcades surrounding its beautiful courtyard and view exhibits by local artists.  As for art galleries, they’re everywhere you look.  Many of the ex-pats living in San Miguel are part of a well-established artists’ colony, and anyone interested in art will have no problem finding the kind of artwork he or she prefers.

And then there are the fiestas.  Mexico has a huge number of outdoor fiestas and religious celebrations, all observed with great exuberance.  I was extremely lucky to be in San Miguel during one of its notable events, the celebration called the Fiesta del Seňor de la Conquista.  I won’t elaborate on its history and religious connotations.  But I was blown away by what I saw and heard.

When we entered the area surrounding El Jardin, we saw crowds gathered in and around it to watch a multitude of dancers garbed in wild costumes, many with brightly colored feathers, masks, and most notably, shells artfully attached to their legs.  As they danced, the shells vibrated, making a wonderful and raucous noise.  The dancing, accompanied by music, went on all day Friday and continued on Saturday.

Combining indigenous traditions with Catholic ones, this fiesta struck me as extraordinary.  But it’s just one in a long list of festivals like it.  In fact, if you happen to be in San Miguel around Easter, you’ll witness an even more spectacular celebration—two full weeks of processions and pageantry.

Here’s one more thing about San Miguel:  Great food and drink are available everywhere.  (Just avoid local tap water.)  For recommendations, check a recent guidebook or ask locals like Merrily and Paul.  The food is delicious and prices are remarkably low.

And just in case you long for familiar surroundings, there’s a busy Starbucks in the center of town and, believe it or not, a place called the Bagel Café!

Curl Up With a Good Book

If you have a penchant for reading fiction, guess what. You may have better social skills as a result.

A recent Harvard study asked 26 young people to undergo MRI brain scans while reading brief excerpts from novels, magazines, and other sources. The study found that reading fictional excerpts about people heightened activity in a brain system called the default network.

The study suggested that those who read a lot of fiction turn out to have stronger social skills than non-readers or people who read nonfiction. Why? Well, according to the researchers, reading fiction can improve social skills (also called social cognition) because a reader’s attention is drawn into other people’s mental states.

When the study’s participants read passages about people, there was significantly greater activity in the default network. (Reading about physical places didn’t evoke the same response.) The researchers noted that the enhanced activity stemming from reading about people linked to higher scores on social-cognition assessments.

In other words, stories with compelling emotional, social, and psychological content seem to trigger neural changes in the brain. And this apparently translates into enhanced social skills in real life.

The take-away? Reading fiction, especially stories that take readers inside other people’s lives and minds, may improve social skills by exercising the part of the brain related to empathy and imagination.

As someone who occasionally writes fiction, I’m delighted to learn the results of this study. They validate the feedback from those of my readers who’ve praised the characters I’ve created and the harrowing situations they’ve found themselves in.

As a reader, I love plunging into an absorbing story that’s focused on people with fascinating lives. Now I can envision my brain lighting up as I read an exciting passage.

I’ll bet you can, too.

So curl up with a good book—especially a story about other people’s lives. Then take a break and spend some time with your family or friends. As someone with enhanced social skills, you’re sure to have a great time.

The study, published online in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, was reported in the Wall Street Journal on March 8, 2016.

Celebrating Love in the City of Light

Along with the rest of the civilized world, I was horrified to learn of the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris on November 13th. They were followed by an equally–perhaps even more–disturbing attack in San Bernardino.

Both of these have shaken me. San Bernardino? Because it hit so close to home.

Paris? Because Paris has a special place in my heart.

Special indeed. I celebrated my first, tenth, and 26th wedding anniversaries in Paris.

Celebrating anniversaries in Paris…. Romantic, n’est-ce pas?  But here’s what’s more important: Those anniversaries were filled with the kind of love that lasts even longer than spine-tingling heart-pounding romance.

On our first anniversary, Herb and I were in Paris on our very first trip to Europe. We made plans to dine with some old friends (including one of Herb’s Harvard roommates) who were living in Geneva and drove into Paris to see us.  We didn’t tell them it was our anniversary till we visited them in Geneva several days later. (I think Herb didn’t want them to treat us to dinner.)

So on our anniversary we dined at a typical French restaurant near our hotel on the Boulevard Saint-Germain instead of a pricey and far more elegant one. When we finally confided that we’d spent our first wedding anniversary with them, Herb’s roommate said, “You should have told us! We could have blown our wad and gone to the Tour d’Argent.”

But I hadn’t minded our modest dinner on the Left Bank. Just being with Herb, along with our friends, was more than enough. The evening had been filled with laughter and love. And there was plenty of time for romance later when we were alone.

Our tenth anniversary was very different. Herb was on a sabbatical from the university in Chicago where he taught math.  During our month in Paris, Herb spent most days at the University of Paris, where he communed with other mathematicians while I shepherded our two small daughters (ages 4 and 7) around the city.

We ate dinner together every night, and our anniversary dinner was no exception. We dined with our daughters at a small and inexpensive bistro on the Left Bank, very near our apartment in the 5th arrondisement. Our modest apartment was on the Rue Tournefort, one street over from the better-known Rue Mouffetard, and the area, just off the Place de la Contrescarpe, was filled with bistros like this one.

We were preoccupied with our daughters, making sure we ordered food they would cheerfully eat (no fancy French sauces for them!), and reprimanding them if their behavior became too rambunctious. So as an anniversary dinner, it wasn’t glamorous, and it certainly wasn’t romantic. But the love all of us felt for each other turned the evening into a memorable one I’ll never forget.

Our 26th anniversary was even better. By this time, our daughters were no longer children, and our older daughter, Meredith, was spending all year in Paris on a graduate fellowship at the Ecole Normale Superieure. Herb and I, along with our younger daughter, Leslie, traveled to Paris to meet Meredith and spend some time there, after which the four of us traveled together in France for another ten days.

Our anniversary fell on our third day in Paris, and Herb asked me to choose a place for dinner. I picked a small restaurant on the Ile St.-Louis, one of my favorite places in all of Paris.

We walked there from our Left Bank hotel, strolling along the Seine, crossing the bridge that leads to Notre-Dame, then crossing the bridge to the Ile. The weather was sunny and warm, and we laughed and chatted as we walked.

We arrived on the island and enjoyed perusing menus posted outside the restaurants on the Rue St.-Louis-en-Ile as we approached our destination. Then we shared a delightful dinner at the restaurant I’d chosen, where our charming waiter took photos of us laughing and eating and reveling in just being together.  After dinner, we strolled to Berthillon, famed for its glaces and their unique flavors, and we devoured our ice cream on the spot. That evening was one of the most blissful I’ve ever spent.

I’ve been to Paris on five other trips (I wrote about one of them in a blog post last November, “Down and Hot in Paris and London”). I recently returned for the eighth time, and Paris was just as beautiful as I remembered.

But Paris without Herb? It’s never been quite the same.

When Herb died, he left me with years of memories filled with the extraordinary love and happiness we shared.  The three anniversaries we celebrated in Paris are at the top of my list.

 

 

 

P.S. re Sugar

Sugar has been the focus of two of my previous posts, the October 2015 post on chewing sugar-free gum to avoid tooth decay (“Chew on This”) and a more general indictment of sugar in October 2014 (“Gimme a Little Sugar”).

I now have a P.S. to add to those.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the FDA has endorsed a proposed revision to the Nutrition Facts label that appears on about 700,000 packaged food items. The new label will give consumers more information about the sugar hidden in their food.

Here’s the proposed change: labels will specify the amount of “added sugars” in a product. In other words, it will highlight the sugar that doesn’t naturally occur in the product’s other ingredients. It will also include the percentage of an adult’s recommended daily intake of sugar this added sugar represents. Significantly, it will caution consumers to “AVOID TOO MUCH” of these added sugars.

The US calls this “a win for science” because it validates the strong scientific evidence that consuming too much sugar contributes to diseases affecting millions of Americans. It’s a major win because scientists were up against both the sugar lobby and the powerful packaged-food industry’s lobbyists, all of whom fought against the proposed change.

It’s also a win for public health because “Americans remain remarkably uninformed about the health dangers of excessive sugar intake” and even about how much sugar they’re already consuming. The average is more than 19 teaspoons of sugar every day! And an estimated 74 percent of all packaged foods—including many presumably non-sweet products like soups, salad dressings, and crackers—contain added sugar.

The UCS will continue to fight for the proposed change in hopes that the new label is finalized soon.

This info appears in the Fall 2015 issue of Catalyst, a UCS publication.

Chew on this

During the holiday season–spanning Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the December holidays–most of us worry about our consumption of sugary candy and desserts.

We should worry. Sugar not only adds calories but it also can lead to other health problems. For one thing, sugar clearly leads to problems with our teeth. It’s well established that the bacteria in our mouths combines with sugar to create an acid that causes tooth decay.

There’s a useful remedy for the tooth problem. No, not the one that immediately comes to mind.

Sure, you can brush your teeth right after consuming sugar-loaded food and drink. But how many of us do it?

Until something else comes along (and it inevitably will, thanks to researchers like the ones I noted in my blog post “Beavers? Seriously?” last March), here’s one thing you can try: chewing sugar-free gum.

In October, The Wall Street Journal highlighted how chewing gum can help reduce tooth decay. It quoted a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association–a family dentist in Fremont, California, Dr. Ruchi Sahota–on the virtues of sugar-free gum. According to Dr. Sahota, chewing gum after eating stimulates saliva, and that can prevent cavities.

Why? Naturally occurring saliva helps to neutralize the mouth by reducing the acids produced by bacteria in food, and those acids are what ultimately cause cavities. Chewing sugar-free gum can reduce the amount of the bacteria-happy acid. In 2007, the ADA began including chewing gum in its Seal of Approval program. But only sugarless gums can qualify (other gums contain the kinds of sugars used as food by bacteria).

Sugar-free gums typically use artificial sweeteners, most of which are created in a lab, and there’s been some discussion of whether they are safe. But concerns about their being carcinogenic have been dismissed by the FDA for lack of clear evidence.

Some dentists promote chewing gum sweetened with xylitol, a sugar alcohol that usually derives from wood fiber. Studies have shown that it adds mineral to tooth enamel, and one study showed that it can inhibit the growth of bacteria that stick to teeth.

But recent analysis concluded that there was insufficient evidence that xylitol can help prevent cavities. So Dr. Sahota told the Journal that the research “isn’t conclusive enough” to promote gums with xylitol over other sugar-free gums.

Although some dentists recommend chewing sugarless gum for at least 20 minutes to get the full anti-bacterial effect, Dr. Sahota disagrees. She advises moderation, cautioning people “not to overchew,” which can be hard on the jaw and tooth enamel.

Regarding candy, Dr. S. recommends avoiding sticky or hard candies because they’re the worst cavity-causing villains. Chocolate is much better for your teeth because it washes away more easily than other candies. Yay, chocolate!

As an inveterate gum-chewer, I’m happy to learn that all those sticks of sugar-free gum I chew can help me avoid tooth decay.

But “candy is candy.” So although chewing gum may help forestall the worst effects of coating our teeth with sugar, we need to remember that a toothbrush will do an even better job of scouring all that sugar off our teeth.

Enjoy those sugary holiday treats. But don’t forget to keep some sugar-free gum handy to pop in your mouth when you’re done. Even rinsing your mouth with water ought to help. And at bedtime, if not before, head for your trusty Sonicare or Oral-B.

Once your teeth are properly scoured, you can drift off to sleep, those visions of sugar plums dancing in your head.

 

How Young/Old Do You Feel?

Do you feel much younger than your real age?

A recent study, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and reported in the Wall Street Journal, suggests that those who feel younger than their real age probably have a better memory and better cognitive function than those who feel older.

The study, conducted by researchers in France, analyzed data from over 1,300 men and women, ages 50 to 75. They’d originally been part of a U.S. study in the mid-1990s.

The respondents were asked how old they felt most of the time. They were also asked for their medical info and how often they engaged in moderate or vigorous exercise.

Following these people for 10 years allowed the researchers to assess how well they later did on tests of memory and executive function (defined as the capacity to plan and the ability to carry out complex tasks). The study found that the participants, on average, felt 19% younger than their chronological age.

Overall, 89% of the group felt younger than their actual age. But 11% felt older, and these individuals scored 25% lower on memory and cognitive tests than those who felt younger.

Factors like gender, education, marital status, and chronic diseases were ruled out.

The researchers concluded that people who feel older than their real age should probably be closely monitored because this may be an early marker of impaired cognition, leading to dementia.

The Journal also noted other research showing that a younger self-image is more common in physically active people with a lower body-mass index.

The findings in the French study coincide with a large body of data emerging from a recent AARP survey of 1,800 Americans, ages 40 to 90. AARP Magazine set forth the data in an article called “You’re Old, I’m Not: How Americans “really feel about aging.”

Although the respondents acknowledged facing challenges, they also revealed “some surprisingly rosy attitudes.” For example, 85% said they weren’t “old” yet.

When asked at which age is a person “old,” respondents’ answers depended on their age. People in their 40s said 63, those in their 50s said 68, those in their 60s said 73, while those in their 70s said 75. (One 90-year-old woman said that a woman isn’t “old” until she hits 95.)

The older people were, the “less hampered” they appeared to feel by their aging bodies. They were asked whether they agreed with the following statements:

1. Problems with my physical health do not hold me back from doing what I want.

2. I have more energy now than I expected for my age.

The physical-health answers were somewhat surprising. While 58% of people in their 40s agreed with the first statement, the rates of agreement went up with each age group. Those in their 60s and 70s agreed (that their physical-health problems didn’t hold them back) at the rate of 69%.

On the energy question, the results were also illuminating. Only 24% of those in their 40s expected to have more energy at their age (they probably expected to be pretty energetic), but 55% of people in their 70s said they had more energy than they’d expected to have at their age.

One new bit of information: According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 69 million Americans are not as “young at heart”—literally—as they think they are. The CDC just found that more than 40% of Americans had hearts that were five or more years older than their actual ages. Wow! Does this contradict the research on how young we feel?

Not really. CDC Director Tom Frieden said its “heart risk calculator” was just an easy way to reveal someone’s risk of heart attack or stroke. Frieden added that learning one’s heart age can be “a clear call to take charge of your health.” Let’s therefore keep this finding in perspective: all it really does is underscore the importance of your overall health.

So…how old do you feel? Staying active and avoiding excessive weight-gain no doubt improve your odds of feeling younger. But here’s the most important thing to keep in mind: Forget about numbers!

Don’t obsess about your chronological age. Don’t think in terms of “young” and “old.” If your physical health is reasonably good, and your overall life-situation is likewise, keep living an active and rewarding life.

Jonathan Swift wrote, “No wise [person] ever wished to be younger.” Maybe not. But as someone else once said, “We are all getting older, but we don’t have to GET OLD.”

I’ve Got a Tip for You

Next time you order a BLT at your favorite restaurant, will you leave your server a tip?

Tipping is an issue fraught with questions. Who do I tip? Where do I tip? How much do I tip?

When it comes to tipping, lots of people are confused.

But the people on the fuzzy end of the lollipop–the ones who do the hard work–live in hope that the folks they serve will cough up a big tip.

People who work as servers in restaurants are particularly vulnerable. Thanks to a crazy federal minimum-wage provision, in some states employers can pay tipped workers only $2.13 an hour, the same rate allowed since 1991.

The result? Tipped workers are about twice as likely to be living in poverty as workers who don’t rely on tips. According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, tipped workers have a poverty rate of about 13 percent, compared with a rate of 6.5 percent for other workers. The median wage for tipped workers—including tips—is $10.22, compared with $16.48 for workers overall.

Let’s look at how this result has come about.

Most of us favor a fair minimum wage for employees in our country. Witness the recent adoption of a higher minimum wage in such politically conservative states as Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, where referenda increasing the minimum wage passed in the 2014 midterm elections. And even though Republicans in Congress have stood in the way of enacting a higher federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, as proposed by President Obama, some state lawmakers have taken the initiative and increased the income of workers in their states by passing minimum-wage legislation of their own.

One group has been largely left out of this benevolent trend: Workers who depend on tips. According to articles in Mother Jones magazine in May 2014 and the Wall Street Journal in August 2014, only seven states, including California and Alaska, require employers to pay tipped workers the same minimum wage as nontipped workers.

The federal minimum wage for tipped workers has remained stagnant at $2.13 since 1991. If tipped workers aren’t earning the regular minimum wage (currently $7.25) via tips, employers are supposed to make up the difference. Are you surprised to learn that they don’t always do it?

President Obama’s proposed Minimum Wage Fairness Act would gradually raise tipped workers’ minimum wage to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. That would help. But this increase has been opposed by the National Restaurant Association, which spent more than $2 million lobbying against it in 2013. (Some may remember that former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain lobbied against any change during his tenure as president of the NRA.)

The NRA claims that no one is making only $2.13 an hour. But the “servers who make ‘good money’ are in the minority,” according to a spokeswoman for Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a group that tries to improve conditions for servers. She notes that servers are hit especially hard by the “wage theft” by restaurant owners who don’t make up the difference they’re supposed to. When the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division investigated the restaurant industry from 2010 to 2012, it discovered that nearly 84 percent of restaurants had some kind of wage and hour violation.

Barbara Ehrenreich has documented the deplorable life of servers in her 2001 bestseller, Nickel and Dimed. Trying life at poverty-level wages, she spent her first month as a waitress, resulting in a “monthlong plunge into poverty” during which she often endured dehumanizing treatment at the hands of restaurant managers.

One problem is that servers are often unaware of the law requiring employers to make up the difference. One server states that unless tips were on credit card receipts, “We never logged our tips or reported them to our employers.” And when she told other servers what they were entitled to, “nobody felt comfortable asking employers about it.”

In the last few years, a new trend has appeared: a ban on tipping. A handful of restaurants in California, New York, and elsewhere have adopted a no-tipping policy, paying servers between $10 and $20 an hour in lieu of lower wages plus tips. How do these restaurants cover the cost of the higher wages they pay? Some, like Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, add a service charge (like 15 or 20 percent) to their diners’ bills. Others are experimenting with higher menu prices. The San Francisco Chronicle noted in November 2014 that a new restaurant in that city plans to simply raise all prices on the menu by 15 percent.

As the Wall Street Journal has noted, servers in some upscale restaurants who currently earn “a handsome income” might not welcome losing out on tips. But the no-tipping trend is clearly underway. If adopted throughout the industry, it would likely benefit the vast majority of servers who right now are seriously underpaid, often living in poverty as a result. Doing away with tipping would require enormous change for most restaurants, however, so it may never become the standard policy in American restaurants.

In the meantime, next time you order that BLT, think about putting a generous wad of your own lettuce in the hands of your server. You just may be helping that server escape the grip of poverty.