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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Amour, the Movie

imgresAmour is a difficult film to watch, but worth it. If you’re feeling discouraged about mortality, Amour will put things in perspective.

It’s a stunning film, one that stays with you. Depressing? Actually, it didn’t hit me that way, maybe because I was a bit confused about the ending, so went online to gain clarity. There I found an essay asserting this isn’t the way most of us will end our days, and the film is ageist in painting elderhood with such despair. I hope so.

The rest of this post contains some spoilage, so you might choose to stop reading here.

Anne and Georges love each other deeply and in spite of their advanced age enjoy a rich life. Then she has a stroke, at which time both of them reveal their strength and in his case, heroism.

After the first stroke, Anne reveals to Georges that she would prefer to die. She tries and fails to refuse food and liquids. Then she has a second stroke and loses the ability to enforce her decision. This is one of the main aspects of the film that resonates with me, what most of us fear – that we’ll wait too long to make the choice, or that we’ll have no choice and will have to live out our final days (years?) regardless of the impact on our loved ones.

The upside of Amour was that it put things in perspective. My aches and pains seemed laughable and my existential fears no more than childish superstitions compared to the reality portrayed in this movie. I was also left with the determination, should I ever be struck by a horrible terminal affliction, to move immediately to a state that permits me to end my life when I chose.

Did you see Amour? What did you think, and/or how did it make you feel? If you haven’t seen the trailer, here it is.

POLL RESULTS: If you’re interested in the poll results from earlier this week, click here. Thanks again for your input.

Old Age Better Than I Ever Expected

Ronni Bennett

Ronni Bennett

I never expected to feel as alive and vibrant and spirited and vital as I do at this time of my life.

These are the words with which my friend, elder blogger Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By, began a recent post. It seemed so powerful I asked if I could reproduce it for Any Shiny Thing. The following words are Ronni’s. Enjoy.

“There is little if anything in our culture that would lead me to believe I would feel this good about being an old woman. The media relate to old age almost entirely via health, poor health – and mostly about dementia.

“There are more news and feature stories about Alzheimer’s, for which no prevention or treatment exists, than reports on all other elder health issues combined.

“The New York Times publishes what is now a long-standing, daily blog about and for elders titled The New Old Age. Day in and day out over several years now, it is exclusively about being sick or frail or demented or all three at once as though there are no other states of health in “the new old age.”

“Someone ought to tell The Times that 80 percent of old people live independently until they die.

“Then there are the politicians. Elders are a big topic for them because we are more frequent voters than younger people and our numbers are ballooning.

“But the pols see us exclusively in economic terms, wringing their hands over how expensive we are, a bunch of greedy geezers who they would rather starve than allow a Social Security cost-of-living increase.

“Is it any wonder nobody likes old people?

“The only positive words about us involve freaks who jump out of airplanes at age 85, reported by the media either as a joke or as an object lesson to all other old folks to get off our duffs and climb Mt. Everest.

“As regular readers know, I think about these things a lot and frequently rail against them…

But that doesn’t stop me from being amazed at how good old age feels. This is the most interesting time of life I have known.

“It seems to happen when I’m not paying attention that a lot of former imperatives fall away, making life easier and far less fraught with shoulds.

I am done improving myself. Self-help be damned. I am what I am and so I shall remain.

“My ambitions these days are about how I might be able to contribute to my community and not the next better, higher-paying job. I’m not competing for work or recognition or awards anymore and that takes off a load.

“My concern about myself has shrunk to little more than a daily mental checklist on well-being rather than how I compare with others. I have less to prove to them and to myself.

“I’ve almost learned that there are good days and bad days, good and bad moods, and that’s all right. Each is as much a part of living as the other.

“And, as I’ve mentioned here before, I have lost my younger sense of urgency, the need to do, do, do. I still find it odd that as my days dwindle down, I more frequently say, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”

“I still don’t understand that but it sure feels good and for a bonus, I suspect it helps keep my blood pressure in check.

“There is time now, finally, to be. Time to follow my interests and instincts, to investigate those avenues – internal and external – I was too busy for in the past. Or not. I get to choose and the freedom I’ve arrived at to do so thrills me.

“Whatever the rest of the world thinks about being old, from my vantage point of 72, it is unexpectedly better and more exciting than I ever guessed it could be.”

Lynne again: Are you surprised to find yourself happy at an age when we expected to be bummed out?

How Does It Feel to Be 82?

Dory by Sallie Bailey

Dory by Sallie Bailey

I asked my friend Sallie Bailey that question because I think the more we know about aging, the less chance we’ll waste a lot of time being freaked out when we get there. Sallie is an award-winning artist and writer (here’s a link to her website). She’s practical and smart, and she said I could quote her, so here goes.

Frankly, it’s a pain. Literally. Arthritis has taken its toll. Joint replacements help but there’s a lot that brings me up short, limiting my mobility. I’m very fortunate that I’ve dodged all the major bullets – no serious health problems. The brain still functions. I firmly believe that creativity is the answer – I think we writers/artists have an enormous advantage. It’s my opinion that our ceaseless brain activity keeps that organ healthy – keeps it young. I have more ideas than I can carry to fruition. Time can be a problem there – but it’s always been a problem.

That brings up another facet of aging well – curiosity. Many of the normal occurrences of aging surprise me. Physical changes – some small, some more pronounced. I observe and reflect on them.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been gifted with a fine sense of the ridiculous. Laughter certainly helps. My father, mother and brother lacked that. Our youngest son and my brother’s oldest daughter have it. (The niece, knowing I’m partial to art glass, sent me on my 80th birthday an art glass marble on a little base along with the note that it was to replace any marbles I might have lost!) My husband has it – actually both arthritis and a sense of humor.

Death? I don’t like the idea of dying at all. I don’t don’t believe in an afterlife and I don’t like the idea of missing anything. On the plus side – people like us leave footprints. They may be lost but they’ll always be there to be found – art, writing, whatever. Another plus – at least someone else will have to clean out our dresser drawers………

I love what Sallie said about being curious and having so many ideas that time is a problem. As long as we’re hungry, life is good. I have another friend who’s in her early eighties and when we get together to talk about the novels we’re writing, we get so excited we talk over each other. We drink wine and rant about our ambitions and dreams.

Want to feel inspired? Here’s a short video interview with a 94-year-old artist who’s making money on his paintings. Thanks to David Kanigan for the lead.

Readers, I’m curious. What is it like being your age?

Claris Healthcare Responds

After last week’s unfortunate review of the Claris tablet by a magazine called FastCompany, I got in touch with Claris Healthcare. One of Claris’ people said they don’t have any control over a journalist’s choice of headings, but she was dismayed by the “firestorm” that reviewer had created. It seemed fair to offer Claris a chance to say something on their own behalf, so here is their statement from Kara Wood:

Simple is Smart

There has been quite a bit of discussion about a recent article titled ‘A Tablet So Simple, Even An Old Person Can Use It’. Claris Healthcare, the company that makes Claris Companion – the subject of the article, appreciates the opportunity to offer our perspective.

IMG_0137

Kara Wood, Claris Healthcare

There are a lot of older seniors that enjoy keeping pace with today’s rapidly changing technology. But there’s also a portion of the population (independent of age) that isn’t interested, or because of a physical disability, isn’t able to benefit from being online. We developed Claris Companion to help anyone connect with friends, family and caregivers by removing the barriers imposed by modern computer design.

The latest tablet is great if you want to learn all about the pages of icons, settings, menus and options.  But what if you aren’t that interested?  As my 92-year-old mother would put it, “I never had to enter a user name and password to answer the phone, or launch a web browser and enter a URL to read a letter”.

She’s far from alone. Yes, seniors are the fastest growing population of Internet users (see Sparkbeat 2012/07/03) – not to mention the fastest growing segment of the population, period – but there are a significant portion who simply don’t want to climb the learning curve to get the benefits of the Internet, or due to disease like arthritis or Parkinson’s, have trouble with devices that were specifically designed for a different demographic of users.

So our design challenge was to make a device that can engage anyone in online communications – sharing of email, text messaging and photos with family in a way that most others take for granted. And there is a much larger issue at play here. Access to the Internet is not just about photos and email; but for our aging population, it is increasingly critical to their care and wellbeing. That’s because our healthcare system simply cannot withstand the wave of aging boomers that is coming. We will no longer be able to provide prolonged care for older seniors in hospital or extended care facilities –  increasingly people will have to age at home. So effective delivery of self-care assistance and monitoring at home will be critical to successful aging-in-place.

The answer is to be sure that the immediate benefits outweigh the effort required to use the technology. The benefits side of this equation is easy –most people (including older seniors) are very happy to engage with sharing photos, email and text messages with family – and even adopting personalized self-care assistance if and when they want.

It’s the other side of the equation that is challenging – how to design something that doesn’t require any training at all to use. This is not about ‘dumbing down’ computers to make them ‘so simple even old people can use them’. This is about designing something where the benefits are much greater than the effort required to use it. That’s what we believe we have achieved with Claris Companion.

Apparently, we have found that balance for my mother. She now gets photos sent to her from everyone in the family and dashes off emails to us too. But what is even more important to me is that she has now decided to turn on the medication reminders and I get a notification each day confirming that everything is okay.

In spite of the recent issue, we at Claris Healthcare hope that by creating this product we’ll be able to open doors to people who are currently unable to access the benefits of technology.
A
Lynne again: I read a statistic recently that seniors who are online are 20-28% less likely to be diagnosed as depressed. Also, aging in place is the gold standard – what we all want. If anybody can develop a product that allows seamless web access to people who are otherwise unable to access the Internet, I think that’s a product worth supporting. It’s too bad that a magazine, FastCompany, virtually slandered Claris. However, I hope this post will help clear up who was at fault here. Kara Wood will be available to respond to your comments. What a lively and vibrant discussion! I am grateful to all of you for your involvement and passion. 

FastCompany to Old People: You Must Be Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

“A Tablet So Simple, Even An Old Person Can Use It

Technology can be scary, with its buttons and beeps and boops.”

That’s the exact wording in a review by FastCompany of a new Claris product. (Update 7/6/13: the writer, Zak Stone, is not responsible for the headline.) It’s in poor taste, obviously, but it’s worse than that. I don’t think they’d ever say, “A Tablet So Simple, Even a Woman Can Use it,” because that would sound sexist. Or “A Tablet So Simple, Even a (insert ethnic minority here) Can Use It,” because that would sound racist.

But it’s okay to stereotype people due to their age, apparently.

Why FastCompany would choose to look so  unsophisticated and dense is beyond me. We’ve tried calling it to their attention. The Yo, Is This Ageist blog talked about it, but nothing changed. I thought it would be fair to email the editor, Morgan Clendaniel and tell him I planned to run this post with the above “stupid x 3″ title, hoping he’d reconsider. We went back and forth a few times and then he stopped answering, so I have to assume he’s cool with it.

Here’s what he said.

You are, I think, unfairly putting into our mouths the most offensive option for why the tablet needs to be simple for seniors to use it. At no point do we say it’s stupidity, nor–emphatically–do we think it is…it was created for older consumers who are not so-called digital natives and who may be uncomfortable with the various bells and whistles–not to mention small type and ungainly interfaces–of the current crop of tablet computers and would like something more simple.
A
You should also note that in a recent Pew Survey, only 1% of adults aged 66-74 and 74-85 said they owned a tablet. Nearly half of adults aged 74-85 don’t even own a cell phone. So the idea of technology being an alienating factor for older Americans isn’t just a myth made up by some snot-nosed kids. It’s a fact that Claris reader is trying to address. I assume they think they can sell a lot of tablets to that 99% who still don’t have one, and that they think that the reason those seniors don’t have one yet is that they’re too complicated.

Clendaniel’s statistics aside, he’s missing the point:

The headline is ageist.

What is ageism? Here’s a very brief definition that cuts to the chase:

…Another common instance of ageism is in the case of older adults or senior citizens, when they are portrayed in the media as being feeble or weak-minded (from the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

Clendaniel seems not to get it, but he’s not alone. Negative stereotyping of older people is the rule, not the exception. It’s so common it’s not even noticed. This concerns me; society seems oblivious. We’ve become quite knowledgeable about mistreatment of other protected groups, but not older folks. That should change, because ageism isn’t just stupid. It can lead to a waste of talent and resources from older people who can’t get hired and then have to go on the dole. That’s just one example. Ageism is discouraging, unfair,  cruel, and it can be illegal. You’d think big, fast companies would know that.

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  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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    8. How the Cookie Crumbles
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Feed the Beauty

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How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for indie authors

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Celebrating Some of the Best Years of Our Lives

Waiting for the Karma Truck

Thoughts on work and life and everything in between

Live & Learn

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Platinum Boomer

fabulous @ any age

How the Cookie Crumbles

An irreverant view of life after SIXTY-FIVE

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Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (+more!).

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Let's Win it in the 2nd Half! Middle-agedman.com

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Write until your fingers bleed.

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The daily musings of a fiftysomething adventurer who has left the rat race to explore the world.

All the small things

A mother-daughter diablog

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A Place of Observation

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Memoir Writer's Journey

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A guide to good health, women's wellness and getting it all done

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