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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Gerontologist

LIVE VIBRANTLY EVERYDAY

Some little-known and Forgotten Vibrant Women

So many accomplished, extraordinary women are being highlighted during Women’s History Month. I would like to offer three of my favorite vibrant women who are often overlooked, but are equally as interesting and worth remembering. Take note, they all lived very long lives, busy and contributing until their very last days. Here’s to Girl Power!

Dame Freya Stark DBE

dame freya stark

Dame Freya Stark DBE (31 January 1893 – 9 May 1993), was an Anglo-Italian explorer, geographer, cartographer, and travel writer. Born in Paris, and raised in Italy, she spoke more than a dozen languages and dialects, including being fluent in Arabic.

Beginning in her early thirties, Freya traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, India and Asia Minor until her last trip at eight-six.

On all Freya’s trips she made maps of the area, often being the first person ever to record the topography of the area. Many of her maps are still used today.

She flaunted convention, associating with English diplomats and officers as well as with locals; she went on desert excursions to the Bedouins, accompanied exclusively by Iraqi nationals, completely disregarding the colonial moral code of the time. She wore men’s clothing when traveling, and spent months at a time on camel back in rough and dangerous terrain, always the only woman, much less the only white woman, to do so at the time.

During World War II, Freya collaborated with the Ministry of Information in London, where she was employed as an expert on the Middle East. She lectured widely, did radio broadcasts, received numerous awards for her work and her writing and in 1972 she was knighted/raised to the level of nobility by the Queen of England and given the lifetime title of Dame.

Freya lived to be over one hundred years old, and was busy writing and lecturing until the very end of her life.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull

victoria claflin woodhull

Victoria Claflin Woodhull, (September 23, 1838 – June 9, 1927), was an American leader of the women’s suffrage movement. 

Even though it would be almost fifty years before women gained the right to vote, Victoria was the first woman to run for President of the United States. She was the candidate in 1872 from the Equal Rights Party, supporting women’s suffrage and equal rights; her running mate was black abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass.

Some historians quibble about the legality of her run because she was younger than the constitutionally-mandated age of 35. Election coverage by contemporary newspapers does not suggest age was a significant issue.

As well as an activist for women’s rights Victoria championed labor reforms, and was a voice for “free love”– the freedom to marry, divorce, and bear children without social restriction or government interference.  Together with her sister, Tennessee Claflin, she was the first woman to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street, and the two were among the first women to found a newspaper in the United States, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which began publication in 1870.

The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership was founded by Naomi Wolf and Margot Magowan in 1997, and in 2001, Victoria Woodhull was inducted posthumously into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a Renaissance woman only she was born just about 300 years before the Early Renaissance. 

At about fourteen, she became a nun of the Order of St. Benedict and remained so for her entire eighty-one years. Hildegard was a visionary, theologian, writer, composer, artist, healer, reformer, medical practitioner, prophet, and poet.

Her theological ideas became part of the Catholic Church, and even helped to shape modern theology. She was canonized (official declaration of Sainthood) and named a Doctor of the Church (only one of thirty-six, ever designated) by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

She may have lived and worked only within the confines of the Catholic Church, but her contributions were world-influencing and her writing, prolific. Entering her stride at forty-two, Hildegard wrote about holistic healing, developed new forms of music and opera, and inspired modern philosophy and psychology.

700 years later, her writing influenced Carl Jung’s work on the subconscious in psychology. She also wrote extensively about nature, science, and cosmology, and about diet and nutrition.

One of my favorite ideas is Hildegard’s concept of the divine feminine as a positive creative force in the universe. Something we are beginning to acknowledge in our world today, eight hundred years later.

Do you have a favorite vibrant woman from history? Please share her name!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Becoming the Older Generation

Not long ago the last of my parents’ siblings, my father’s youngest sister, passed away. In the moment of her passing, I joined, like many others, the oldest generation alive– the senior generation of our family. This is a new sensation for me. My “elders” are all now gone, and I can no longer ask their advice or hear their stories. It feels strange. As little ones, teenagers especially, and young adults, we all thought of the older generation as, well, old.

As I wrote recently in a Myth Buster – Old People Should Just Get Used to Getting Old – every year we experience new challenges in the journey of life. When a generation dies, suddenly we become the older generation, and this takes many of us (hand raised, here) by surprise. This new role comes with some difficult adjustments: internally—noticing the wrinkles and gray hairs, seeing the extra time it takes to do certain things, and externally– the prejudice felt by younger people toward older folks. When the last of our parents’ generation dies, we are forced to reckon with our own mortality, and, as I often say, to realize there is more sand in the bottom than in the top.

The advice I offer to this generational shift so many of us experience is to lean into this new chapter of life and find the gifts that await us. That awareness and acceptance takes time. As a gerontologist, I continually reveal those gifts to my clients and readers. Now I must embrace them, as well.

As I listened to the various cousins and friends speak about my aunt at her memorial service, I realized she had been the glue holding the generations together. Often in a family, one person emerges as that keeper of the family history– one with all the original papers for the DAR, or the photo albums going back to the first days of photography. My aunt became that person in her early thirties.  She was always our go-to gal for the questions about our gene pool. She knew whether anyone in the family had suffered from a particular disease, or why some of us were covered in freckles. She kept all the family stories in her head and freely shared them with us. That link to my history, to my father, my grandparents, and beyond is now gone. In its absence I feel a part of who I am has also disappeared.

How I wish I had asked more questions…

What are some of the things you experienced when you became the older generation?

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Who Draws George and LJ?

So often I am asked if I do the drawings I share each week with my readers. My answer is a resounding, I wish! I have talent in other areas, but drawing wasn’t a skill I was encouraged to develop ever. As I defined my idea for my practice, I thought about including a visual element with my written offerings; however, I needed a trained artist to help me bring that aspect into focus.  

Several months before, Alex Mikev, then an art student at Parsons School of Design in New York, had completed a design project for me. As I looked through his portfolio, I was awed by his drawings. I knew immediately Alex could bring my vision into reality. Almost three years on, our successful collaboration continues.

It all started for Alex with a high school drawing class. Drawing gave him “more joy and purpose,” he says, “than anything else.” With passion and dedication, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Art from Ball University. His artistic style draws on the influence of the great masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. He wants to “make things that are as jaw-dropping real as possible.” His beautiful, commissioned works reflect this intention.

Sanctuary of Opara

Alex applies the same desire for realism to our weekly illustrations, with the added consideration of “understanding the conceptual nature of how L.J. and George are relating to each other and to the setting. It’s important I understand the story L.J. wants to tell, and keep the continuity of the journey of L.J. and George Eliot in each drawing.” In his hands, my rough, stick-figure sketches, and scribbling of notes quickly evolve into a finished sketch. Over time, Alex says he has learned to intuit what I am trying to say, and so often he is right-on. Every once in a while we get out of sync, and his rough draft makes me laugh. In the end, even the misunderstood ideas end up as successful illustrations. A testament to Alex’s talent!

As I work with Alex, my first such collaboration with an illustrator, I understand just how hard creating a successful “cartoon” is. Alex makes it seem effortless, but readily admits, “Drawing cartoons is not as easy as people think. It is a process of abstraction to correctly summarize the message, because you have to distill a lot of information into a few lines.” I am grateful every week that Alex translates my ideas so perfectly into those few important lines.

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Aging Well in 12 Steps

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

To adapt Lao Tzu’s proverb to this case, the journey toward aging well starts with one step: choosing to make YOU a priority.

As a gerontologist, I am asked every day, “What do you do to age more vibrantly?” Some days it’s an easy answer because I am walkin’ the walk and talkin’ the talk. Other days, I want to pull my head inside my collar like a turtle because I have temporarily fallen, not only off the wagon but into the ditch beside it!  I heartily admit since the beginning of the pandemic, staying with the program is harder. Some days I just bag it and go to bed with a book and George beside me. But, I understand that these days especially, it’s important to treat myself with a gentle hand.

What is the very good news about getting sideways with what we know are good practices? Each morning we all start with a fresh page and a new opportunity to make better choices, to step back on the path toward aging vibrantly. That’s the perennial blessing, and I’m most grateful for it.

If this is the first of my blogs you are reading, please read these words several times:

  • The Journey Starts With a SINGLE Step
  • Don’t Beat Yourself Up About Getting It Perfect
  • Do Your Best and Give Yourself Lots of GOLD STARS For Each New Choice You Make and Adopt

Today, I want to talk about times when I’m firing on all cylinders and doing what I know to do to keep my body, mind, and spirit humming at their peaks. Please know for sure, I didn’t implement all these choices (listed below) into my routine at once, and I don’t recommend you try to either. Start SMALL. Pick one, two or, if you are very ready, three, practices to adopt now. Give it some time for those to become habit before adding any more. The journey is our lifetime, and we can only take one healthy aging step at a time.

aging well in 12 steps

My Top 12 Choices To Help Me Age More Vibrantly

For My Body:

The science tells us as we get older we sleep less deeply and often wake earlier than when we were younger. I am experiencing this in my own life in the last few, post-menopausal, years. To counter these changes, I now strive to turn out the lights by 11:15 pm. This has truly been one of the best choices I have made, ever.

  • I exercise almost every day for forty-five minutes to an hour, getting my heart rate up to 85% max.

Once a week I tap dance for an hour (This counts under My Mind, too!) and I pick from a buffet of exercise options on the other days:

  • Brisk walking (my #1 go-to)
  • Interval training
  • I ride my road bike
  • Riding the stationary bike (a great chance to catch up on my reading!)
  • Lifting free and stationary weights
  • Swimming
  • Zumba (virtually, lately)

I avoid sugar, flour, hard liquor, and all processed food while consistently reaching for organic whole foods.

Most days I do well at this one; some days, well, not so much. I have no trouble avoiding all processed foods and hard liquor, but I sometimes get squidgy around baked goods. The good news: each day I have a clean plate on which to fill with better choices.

This one I can honestly say is the easiest for me, as I have been taking handfuls of supplements since I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis at twenty-two, some thirty-nine years ago. Drinking the water has also become an ingrained habit. One thing I do notice: if I short myself on the water, I feel it the next day, so that keeps me honest.

For My Mind:

  • I meditate for fifteen minutes almost every morning.

Especially since the pandemic, meditation keeps me calmer, more balanced, and better able to deal with these very trying times. I might even take a lie-down and do a mini-meditation during particularly difficult days.

  • I get my news from the newspaper, only. I do not watch the news on TV, or have it in my Facebook feed, or anywhere else.

Research tells us how much more harmful negative images—either moving (TV) or still (social media) can trigger anxious feelings of fear, depression, and seeing the glass as bone dry. Limiting my news input to only the written word has kept me sane.

  • I practice being grateful every day for what happens in my life. Since I can control my thoughts, why not pick good ones?

Ten years ago, I bought a piano and started taking lessons. Acquiring new skills is so important at our age. Research shows the benefits for of learning to play a musical instrument are overwhelming. 

Spirit:

I take time some mornings and almost every night to write down not only things I am grateful for but also things I am appreciating at that moment. There is a subtle difference between these two experiences, and I feel both are worth noting in my special notebook. This practice also helps me let go of regrets and embrace forgiveness.

  •  I connect daily with one or more friends who love and support me and who fill me up.

Sometimes this is on the telephone and sometimes it’s over a socially distanced meal or walk. Staying connected to my uplifting pals is as important to me as breathing. I see this choice as vital to healthy aging.

A frustrated clothing and jewelry designer/maker, as well as a yellow-thumbed gardener and avid recipe-experimenter, I get cranky if I ignore my creative side for too many days. These spirit-nurturing hobbies add purpose to my life and keep me grounded and happy.

Nature feeds my spirit, and as many scientists, including Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, author of Forest Bathing have shown, Mother Earth replenishes us when we soak in her beauty, fragrances, sounds, and atmosphere. Nature is a spirit healer, like no other.

I know this is a long article, so I will close here by saying one more time:

Go Slowly! Begin by picking one or two choices from my list. Add them to your daily routine and enjoy the experience of a more Vibrant Life!

And, until next time…Be Vibrant!

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George Eliot And I Are in Print!

After many months of hard work, and countless revisions, I am thrilled to announce the birth of our book, Live Vibrantly! With L.J. and Her Dog George Eliot. Many people asked me how this book came about. Here’s my story.

While finishing my return to graduate school– after a thirty-year hiatus– I began thinking about how my new business as a gerontologist would manifest. A friend, and artist, and one of my staunchest supporters and cheerleaders, Ann McIntyre, put forth a novel idea. She suggested adding a visual element to my practice. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out how that should look.

After graduation, my husband and I went on vacation to one of our favorite spots, the mid-coast of Maine. There, relaxing and recharging, I could finally stop and take time to just think. As I walked the beach each day, I asked myself, how could I incorporate a visual something into a world of words? Trusting the answer would come at the perfect time, I waited. One afternoon, while stretched out on a blanket, a vision popped into my head. I love clever cartoons; several live under the glass on my desk. I sometimes send particularly funny ones to my friends. Cartoons, cartoons…then my Aha! Moment. I would include funny, but gentle, comments on aging to compliment my Facebook and website blog posts and other offerings, and share them on all my social media platforms.  Adding my precious Havanese puppy, George Eliot, as my sidekick, completed the vision.

The more I thought about this intriguing idea, the more I liked it. Everyone I mentioned it to agreed. Now, how to fill in the details? Since my drawing skills end with stick figures, I needed help to transfer my ideas onto paper. Having worked with a talented young artist, Alex Mikev, on a previous project, I knew he was my man for the job. He said yes, and soon we solidified how George and I would look. We were ready to go!

The finished illustrations you see each week, begin by me drawing a rough sketch and thinking up the dialog. I then give that to Alex to work his artistic magic to bring my idea into frame. I find my inspiration all around me—from things I have personally experienced as I am getting older, things my friends say, quotes I read, comments from my readers, and the endless antics of life with George Eliot. I decided to select some of my favorite drawings I have posted since George and I debuted on the World Wide Web in January 2018–the day I hung out my sign and opened my door as a gerontologist.

 I hope you enjoy my humorous perspectives on aging as much as I enjoy creating them!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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One Ringy-Dingy, Two Ringy-Dingy…

Frustrated and exasperated by scam callers? No matter our age, we are all inundated with unscrupulous boiler room calls. This is an especially serious problem for our more senior members of society. Today, I am addressing this growing, and possibly harmful issue with a few original tips I use that have reduced the number of calls I receive by more than ninety percent. Really. I may have a bit of an odd sense of humor, but I have decided that this is a game I want to win. I find it very rewarding when they hang up on me, since I know that after once or twice playing with them, they will never call me back. (So far, at least!)

scam callers

As the frequency of the calls increased, I searched the internet for solutions, and tried every one, including the most popular one recommended by so many sources—simply hanging up. While gaining momentary satisfaction as I slam the receiver to my landline into its cradle, that method failed to decrease the number of interruptions. Same for my cell phone, minus the slamming part—although once I did, and was grateful I didn’t crack the glass.

I caution about one thing: My suggestions do require actually talking to the scammers, and so it might not be the best option for everyone. But, if you or your loved one can handle the responses, it will definitely help. (No foul language required!) 

First, differentiate between legitimate items that need addressing and scams: Legitimate issues from legitimate companies will come in the form of a letter in the mail, giving you time to investigate the claims thoroughly so as to be sure it really is from the credit card company, or the car warranty department, etc. The one exception I can think of is when credit card companies call about checking for possible fraudulent charges, but in that case they tell you what charges they are checking. You don’t have to tell them anything. You only have to confirm or deny the charge—a very different kettle of fish from stinky scammers!

Let’s look at three of the current scams:

Your Car Warranty is about to Expire

  • The phone rings; you say hello and wait the 5-10 seconds for them to know they have a live one on the line.
  • “Barry” comes on the line and says your warranty is about to expire and he needs you to confirm the make and model of the car (or something similar).
  • Your answer: (This is the fun part) “My car is a 1973 Dodge Dart.” Or, pick a model more than twenty-five years old, maybe your first car, or one you particularly loved, somewhere around 25-30 years old or older, but after WW II. 😉
  • “Barry” will be incredulous, and say something to counter your answer. Just stick to your guns and tell him your car is a 1973 Dodge Dart. He will sputter for a moment, then hang up. Victory!
  • Another scam warranty company will probably call again soon. Tell them the same thing, or pick another oldie but goodie. After a very few times, you will be put on the No Dice list scammers all share (I believe) and that round of calls will (hopefully) stop.

Lower Interest on Your Credit Card or Other Scams about Your Credit Card

  • The phone rings; you say hello and wait the 5-10 seconds for them to know they have a live one on the line.
  • “Melissa” finally comes on and says you are eligible for lower interest payments on your credit card because you have consistently paid your credit card bills on time.
  • Your response: I don’t have a credit card, I only use cash.
  • “Melissa,” like “Barry” is incredulous and pushes you to say you have a credit card. She may even ask how you buy things online, or something like that. Stick to your guns again, and repeat, “I don’t have a credit card, I use only cash.”
  • “Melissa” sputters and as I/you continue to repeat the same answer, she finally gives up and hangs up.
  • Again, it will take a few times, but these calls will cease.

You Are Eligible for a Free Trip to Florida/Cruise to the Caribbean/Mars

This one has the most persistent scammers. It did take several times before they quit calling. I was tenacious, and you can be, too.

  • The phone rings; you say hello and wait the 5-10 seconds for them to know they have a live one on the line.
  • “Jessica” says you won a free trip to ___________. She just needs to confirm you have an income of more that $6400 (or some similarly low number).
  • You respond that you don’t have any income at all.
  • “Jessica” pushes, and maybe even asks if you get Social Security, or if anyone in your household makes more than $6400. Your answer: No and No.
  • “Jessica” says, (I love this part) “Well, unfortunately you are not eligible for any of our programs at this time.” Then hangs up.

While working on this a friend told me about a website and an app that can stop many of these scam callers after one ring. It’s called Nomorobo.com. However, you will miss the satisfaction for telling the scammer something that will make the never call you. I will wait just a bit to try this, until I have stopped a few more scams, just to be sure. (Plus it’s fun!)

 AGAIN REMEMBER!! No matter how sincere the person sounds on the phone, NEVER give scam callers any personal information!

There are a multitude of scams out there; these are just a few of the latest from scam callers. What is important for us to remember is: Feed them information that takes you out of the realm of possibility, like a very old car, no income, no credit cards, no bank account, you don’t pay any taxes—something that shuts them down from asking for any personal information.

Best of luck in reducing your phone ring-a-dinging!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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What it Means to Age in Place

Home…Going home…Being home. Those words envelop my soul, and bring a feeling of calm, of exhaling, of comfort, and warmth, and safety. One of my greatest fears, and a fear shared by mid-lifers and older adults I know, is not being able to stay at home until the angels call me/us home. Gerontologists, researchers, and policymakers have a phrase for this desire to stay in one’s home. We call it aging in place, and more and more we hear about what it means, and what the implications are for losing our ability to stay at home as we get older. I can sense a quick intake of breath here, and a visceral reaction to the image conjured up in your mind of having to leave your home to live in a a nursing facility or retirement community if you really want to stay at home. I feel exactly the same way, which spurs me every day to stay as vibrant as I possibly can to avoid being forced to give up home. 

What environmental gerontologists (yes, that’s a special subset of the discipline) find from many recent studies validates what we all feel. One of the first studies to actually ask seniors what they thought about aging in place was done by Dr. Janine Wiles at the University of Auckland. Dr. Wiles found these folks felt very strongly about wanting to stay in their homes, but not so much for the physical structure of their house, but for the ancillary elements of “staying put,” as many called it. Chief among the reasons they want to age in place comes from wanting to be independent, and having control over their environment and their lives as a whole. 

In fact, a pivotal study done in the UK decades ago found that the more control workers had, i.e., the higher up they were on the work ladder, the less they experienced the effects of aging because they felt less stressed. Those at the bottom of the ladder, with little control, exhibited the most stress, and aged the fastest. Dr. Robert Sapolsky in a book I have mentioned before, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, saw this so clearly in the animal kingdom, as well. Keeping their independence also meant less dependence on family in terms of needing their help with personal care, or being able to stay independent “through” family who step in to provide personal care and support. 

Next on the list, the New Zealanders mentioned the connection to social support, including friends and family. Their connections to neighbors and the neighborhoods in which they live were major sources of comfort and feelings of security through familiarity. Don’t you draw comfort from your neighborhood if you have lived there a long time? My husband often mentions the feeling of ease he has walking our third dog, George, around the block in the evenings. These are the same blocks we have walked with our previous two puppies, for almost thirty years.

Financial benefits came next. When we do the math, it is much cheaper to stay in one’s home, especially since many seniors have almost paid off their mortgages. More than twenty percent of seniors 65-74 own their homes outright.. This makes staying at home much easier if outside caregivers are needed at some point. Systems of support and one’s family enable seniors in many areas of the country to age in place.

The science also tells us that aging in place slows our memory loss.  Staying at home allows us to keep our current social network of friends and familiar places, One of the worst things for our cognition, memory, and spirits is having to leave our homes against our wishes, for any reason.

As a former interior designer, I know several colleagues who are now becoming certified aging in place specialists—designers who help retro-fit one’s home with everything one needs to be safe and comfortable. This may include adding ramps,  changing out bathrooms fixtures or creating a same floor living space for greater convenience.  God bless these wonderful folks! 

As Dr. Wiles summed up so well, “The friendships, clubs, access to resources, and familiar environments [makes] them feel attached to their communities as ‘insiders,’ ” and just as we knew in high school and beyond, being an insider always feels like coming home.

Until next time….Be Vibrant!

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This Week’s Wonder Woman: Dame Freya Stark

Dame Freya Stark DBE (31 January 1893 – 9 May 1993), was an Anglo-Italian explorer, geographer, cartographer, and travel writer. Born in Paris, and raised in Italy, she spoke more than a dozen languages and dialects, including being fluent in Arabic. Beginning in her early thirties, Freya traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, India and Asia Minor until her last trip at eight-six.

dame freya stark

On all Freya’s trips she made maps of the area, often being the first person ever to record the topography of the area. Many of her maps are still used today. She flaunted convention, associating with English diplomats and officers as well as with locals; she went on desert excursions to the Bedouins, accompanied exclusively by Iraqi nationals, completely disregarding the colonial moral code of the time. She wore men’s clothing when traveling, and spent months at a time on camel back in rough and dangerous terrain, always the only woman, much less the only white woman, to do so at the time. During World War II, Freya collaborated with the Ministry of Information in London, where she was employed as an expert on the Middle East. She lectured widely, did radio broadcasts, received numerous awards for her work and her writing and in 1972 she was knighted/raised to the level of nobility by the Queen of England and given the lifetime title of Dame. Freya lived to be over one hundred years old, and was busy writing and lecturing until the very end of her life.

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This Week’s Wonder Woman: Victoria Claflin Woodhull

Victoria Claflin Woodhull, (September 23, 1838 – June 9, 1927), was an American leader of the women’s suffrage movement.  Even though it would be almost fifty years before women gained the right to vote, Victoria was the first woman to run for President of the United States. She was the candidate in 1872 from the Equal Rights Party, supporting women’s suffrage and equal rights; her running mate was black abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass. Some historians quibble about the legality of her run because she was younger than the constitutionally mandated age of 35. Election coverage by contemporary newspapers does not suggest age was a significant issue.

As well as an activist for women’s rights Victoria championed labor reforms, and was a voice for “free love“– the freedom to marry, divorce, and bear children without social restriction or government interference.  Together with her sister, Tennessee Claflin, she was the first woman to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street, and the two were among the first women to found a newspaper in the United States, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which began publication in 1870. The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership was founded by Naomi Wolf and Margot Magowan in 1997, and in 2001, Victoria Woodhull was inducted posthumously into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

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This Week's Wonder Woman: Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a Renaissance woman only she was born just about 300 years before the Early Renaissance.

At about fourteen, she became a nun of the Order of St. Benedict and remained so for her entire eighty-one years. Hildegard was a visionary, theologian, writer, composer, artist, healer, reformer, medical practitioner, prophet, and poet. Her theological ideas became part of the Catholic Church, and even helped to shape modern theology. She was canonized (official declaration of Sainthood) and named a Doctor of the Church (only one of thirty-six, ever designated) by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. She may have lived and worked only within the confines of the Catholic Church, but her contributions were world-influencing and her writing, prolific. Entering her stride at forty-two, Hildegard wrote about holistic healing, developed new forms of music and opera, and inspired modern philosophy and psychology. 700 years later, her writing influenced Carl Jung’s work on the subconscious in psychology. She also wrote extensively about nature, science, and cosmology, and about diet and nutrition. One of my favorite ideas Hildegard wrote about was her concept of the divine feminine as a positive creative force in the universe–something we are beginning to acknowledge in our world today, eight hundred years later.

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This Week's Wonder Woman: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This month is Women’s History Month, and I am beginning each newsletter in March by highlighting a woman from history, or presently alive, that I particularly admire. Honestly, it would take a year to even get halfway through my list, but I will pick a few for this month and save the others for the future.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, A Supreme and Living Legend

How could I not start with RBG?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was only the second female justice appointed in United States history, nominated and confirmed in 1993, at the age of 60. She is still there influencing key decisions and helping furthering the rights of women. In her quiet yet deadly way, she makes her points so brilliantly as to leave the opposition (usually a man) literally speechless. I wish for that talent! I recently learned she is also the subject of the popular Tumblr blog Notorious RBG celebrating her judicial accomplishments as well as her status as an inspirational part of women’s history. She will celebrate her 86th birthday on March 15th. Go RBG!

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10 Inspirational Black Women You Need to Know

There are so many accomplished women of color to acknowledge and applaud during Black History Month; women doing great things in the present, and ones from the past. I struggled to pick just ten to introduce here. We all know the names of the former First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah, Hattie McDaniel, Rosa Parks, and many other black women who have become household names through their achievements, contributions, sacrifices, and resilience for which we admire them. In compiling this list, I hope to introduce a few rising stars and highlight the achievements of some lesser known ladies. Each of these women displays facets of what it means to be vibrant. They are true role models for us all.

Kimberly Bryant
Founder of STEM program for Girls of Color
An electrical engineer, in 2011 Kimberly founded Black Girls Code, a training course for girls 7-17 that exposes them to STEM disciplines. It also opens up opportunities for them to learn about technology, and acquire basic coding skills. Since its creation, Kimberly and Black Girls Code have trained more than 8,000 girls in 13 chapters across America, and one in Africa with plans to expand to other countries. Black women make up less than 3% of the workforce in the tech fields, and Kimberly wants to help raise that number.

Kimberle’ Crenshaw
Distinguished Law Professor
Leading Scholar and Activist
Kimberle’ holds the title of professor of law for both the UCLA School of Law and Columbia University Law School specializing in race and gender issues. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she has done much to raise awareness about the unique kinds of discrimination black women experience at the intersection of racist and sexist institutional practices, coining the term “intersectionality,” now widely used as the term for this issue. Kimberle’ launched the #SayHerName initiative, now a critical component of #BlackLivesMatter.

Marley Dias
Thirteen Year Old Out to Change the Book World
At 13, Marley is the youngest person on Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 List. Distressed by the lack of brown faces in books for children, especially female brown faces, Marley founded #1000BlackGirlsBooks, a social media campaign and book drive to collect and donate books for children featuring black girls as the main characters. She has surpassed her goal by a factor of ten. In the spring of 2018, Marley also became an author by writing her own book for Scholastic Books called, Marley Dias Gets it Done: And So Can You!  This is a young woman to watch.

Ava DuVernay
Director of Film and Television
The list of accomplishments for this fireball is impressive: the first black woman director nominated for a Golden Globe, the first black woman director nominated for an Academy Award. She is the first black woman to direct a $100M+ film budget and the first black woman to direct a film earning more than $100M. All this and she is only 46. 

Melissa M. Freeman
A 91 year-old Practicing Physician
Dr. Freeman, who has been practicing medicine for more than half a century, specializes in internal medicine and is leading the fight against the opioid crisis by treating female patients with heroin addictions in her native New York City. She knew early on she wanted to be a doctor, and was only one of four women in a class of one hundred and fifty students at Howard University College of Medicine. Asked about retirement in an interview with ABC, Dr. Freeman replied, “I’m not ready yet!” 

Hadiyah-Nicole Green
Medical Physicist focusing on Laser Treatment for Cancer
For Dr. Green, finding new cancer treatments was and is personal after losing both the aunt and uncle who raised her, to cancer. After an internship at NASA, Dr. Green saw how important the use of lasers could be in cancer therapy. In 2016, as a faculty member at Morehouse School of Medicine, she received a $1.1M grant from the VA’s Office of Research and Development to begin clinical trials on her theories of using lasers to reduce pain and aid in the treatment of cancer. 

Ayanna Howard
Innovator in the field of Artificial Intelligence
After a dozen years at NASA as a senior robotics researcher, Ayanna is now the chair of the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, where she is pushing the boundaries of what we know in the fields of artificial intelligence, computer vision, and robotics. Ayanna is also the founder and CTO of Zyrobotics, L.L.C, which focuses on developing personalized educational technologies for children with learning differences.

Lucy McBath
Member of Congress, Georgia’s 6th Congressional District
Rep. Lucy McBath, elected from Georgia’s 6th Congressional District last November, is a dynamic addition to the Democratic Party. Lucy’s passion for public service arises from her family’s 2012 tragedy when her son, Jordan, was shot and killed. She credits her son with inspiring her to run for Congress. Lucy was a private citizen who believed she could make a difference. She harnessed her pain from losing her son by taking action to help save others from experiencing senseless gun violence.

Adrienne Raquel
Rising Photographer and Art Director
As beautiful as the women she photographs, Adrienne is the creative genius behind Nylon Magazine’s 2018 Black History Month cover, Nike Sportswear’s FashionAir campaign, and NARS global social media 2018 holiday campaign. Adrienne is one of the few black female photographers ensuring that stunning images of black women are a part of the present visual culture.

Zim Ugochukwu
Pioneer in the Black Travel Movement
Zim created the digital publishing brand “Travel Noire” to make traveling more relatable and accessible to people of color. Her publication brings the world of black travelers together by sharing tips, tools, and the lure of new destinations around the globe. Zim reaches more than two million readers a month, and has 400,000 Instagram followers.

What a list of accomplished women!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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What Does it Mean To Live Vibrantly?

“The concept [of successful aging] needs to be broadened, and to be seen on a continuum, rather than categorized… in terms of successful or unsuccessful.” Thomas A. Glass, PhD., Johns Hopkins University

In the 1980’s, researchers Drs. John W. Rowe and Robert L. Kahn first expressed what they thought were the defining characteristics we should strive for as we got older. They called it “successful aging.” That term has now gone the way of power suits, Jane Fonda aerobics, and Reaganomics. Their criteria were the absence or avoidance of disease and/or disability, the maintenance of high levels of physical and cognitive functioning, and an active engagement with life. These two men tried hard to see beyond their prejudices, but, as we know now, they were a thousand miles short of reality.

After a generation of research had been done to understand what keeps us vibrant as we get older, a brilliant woman researcher, Dr. Yuchi Young at SUNY more accurately defined it, “as a state in which a person uses physical and social adaptive strategies to achieve a sense of well-being, high self-assessed quality of life, and a sense of personal fulfillment [perhaps] even in the context of illness and disability.” Dr. Young broadened the palate and colored in the outlines first drawn by Rowe and Kahn, helping us all see a more complete picture of aging.

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The Adventures of LJ and GE™

Why am I telling you this? For several reasons. Please notice it wasn’t until the 1980’s that social scientists were even looking at crafting a definition of aging that might differ from the millennia-old view of aging as simply, falling apart, getting sick, then dying. Also, the first analysis was narrow in scope, and heavily eschewed toward more well-off, fantasy-based Americans with perfect silver hair and glimmering straight teeth. You get the idea– the majority of aging folks were left out of the first draft. Dr. Young, her colleagues, and those following her have done well to give us a greater range of what it means to age vibrantly. (No one uses “successful aging” anymore, as it sets one up for “failed” aging if the criteria isn’t met)  🙁 

I believe a few more gradations are needed to create a nuanced image of what it means to live vibrantly as we get older.  I have divided my vision into the three areas gerontology encompasses: the body, mind, and spirit. To age vibrantly, I believe, we need to include, and maximize our abilities and options in all three areas. This month I will be unwrapping the gifts research has given us. I will reveal the findings of scientists who observe seniors, as well as what seniors themselves say makes them feel vibrant every day. Stay tuned.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Jo Ann Jenkins Rocks!

I am impressed with Jo Ann Jenkins, the CEO of AARP. She is a quite an accomplished lady, and in 2016 she published a book called, Disrupt Aging, which every person over fifty might want to read. I recently finished it and wanted to share it with you. Now, you might be thinking, well of course, she is at AARP—you know, that organization for old people, and so she is going to say positive things about aging. My acknowledgement of her timely and pitch-perfect contribution to the conversation, from a gerontological perspective, comes from her wisdom in sharing information on aging that we all need to know, but that the press has practically ignored. Of all the statements in this very readable book, this one stood out as spot on:

Finally, we must change the way we view ourselves and our inner lives from age as decline to aging as continuous growth. Many older people feel cast aside. Instead, it’s important that they develop a sense of purpose and positive self-image. The goal is to gain confidence in navigating life transitions – and see ourselves as an integral part of society – rather than being isolated from society.

She hits the right note, as Disrupt Aging ranks #1 on Amazon in the Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Gerontology category. Her book covers some of the important sociological areas we gerontologists look at: guiding one through the healthcare system, discussing “not outliving your money,” and choosing where you live in the last few chapters of life. These rank as key elements of living a good life and getting older with joy. I particularly liked her re-framing the discussion about getting older and what that means; something I have touched on in past blogs, and will revisit time and again until “ageism” becomes an antiquated term from a former time in history.

  The Adventures of LJ & GE

The Adventures of LJ & GE

Her discussion of a second career, and the many mid-lifers who have chosen and continue to choose a 2.0 version of themselves, spoke directly to my choice of completely shifting gears at mid-life and becoming a gerontologist. I loved interior design, but felt I wanted to help others in a more tangible way.  Blessed with great health and energy, and the belief I could reinvent my life, (remembering you always have the power to re-choose), I wanted to give back to the world in gratitude for all I have been given, to pay forward my good fortune. And, I had to do something with all that energy and find a way to utilize the database I had built up over a lifetime of study about health. Also, I think my husband was getting a little tired of me reorganizing the kitchen cabinets and drawers every few months!

We are coming on summer very soon, and even if life is going great in all corners of your world, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Jo Ann’s book, and see what resonates for you. You never know, you could decide to change careers while lying in that hammock, and the world will be a better place for it!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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What Does Aging Look Like to You?

We all have conscious and unconscious beliefs and ideas about how an older person (no matter your age) looks and acts. Many of these beliefs are influenced by what we see in the media, some are formed by interacting with older people—grandparents, great aunts and uncles, seniors in the neighborhood, or at the store. And, some come seemingly from nowhere in particular, we simply think it to be true.

what does aging look like
The Adventures of LJ and GE™

I invite you to take a couple of quiet minutes to check in with what you truly believe about what aging looks like to you. Grab a piece of paper and pen. Close your eyes and ask yourself what words come to mind when you think of an older woman. No hurry.

As research tells us, chances are more than half– roughly 60%, of the words you wrote down were negative. Most people have ingrained negative age stereotypes; it’s what we see (until very recently) on TV and in the movies, everywhere seniors are portrayed or represented. Some of these beliefs include: grumpy, slow, frail, confused, lonely, angry or bitter, forgetful, lost in the past, and less than.

What research also tells us is that the beliefs we hold about seniors strongly influences how we age. Even if you are currently healthy, holding negative beliefs about how you will be when you get older sets you up to become exactly as you believe. This is shown to be so powerful that when generally healthy seniors were simply reminded of age stereotypes then given a test, they scored in the same low range as folks who have dementia.

Now for the good news! You have the power to re-choose in every moment of your life. I believe this with all my heart and soul, and I have lived by it every day since I was a child. Once you have made the list of your present beliefs about aging, let’s take a clean piece of paper and write down some positive traits about getting older. Take as much time as you need.

My list includes: wise, resilient, empowered, experienced, selective, emotionally complex, capable, accepting.

For the next few days see how many new words you can add to your positive-traits list. By looking at your list of positive traits everyday—on the fridge, above your desk, you can change the projection of your aging by changing what you view aging looks like and seeing yourself as embodying these positive traits and thriving as you get older.

We create our future by what we believe today. Imagine being vibrant in every moment.

Until next time…be vibrant!

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