Overcoming the challenges of empty nesting and divorce

What is end-of-life planning?

preparing for death

If you are terminally ill or are coming to the end of your life, talking about your wishes for your final months should be part of the process.  Nobody really wants to face the idea of planning for death.  However, when you have written down your personal preferences and wishes, it lightens the decision-making burden on your family. Planning ahead also means you receive medical care based on your own choices even if you can no longer speak for yourself.

Speaking about death

Medical advances have made us very efficient at preventing death but not quite as efficient at ensuring quality of life.  Preserving life at all costs often results in people dying in hospital beds going through unwanted procedures and treatments. As we are living longer, we need to talk about the subject of death and our rights when it comes to end-of-life care. Talking about death is not easy and we often choose to avoid the subject altogether.

The Conversation Project is an organization that helps people to talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.  Another website called Dying Matters is helping to raise awareness of dying, death and bereavement.  In an inspiring video on this site, Dr. Kate Granger talks about her experience of living with terminal cancer as well as how she has planned ahead for her future care.

If you are a taking care of elderly parents, don’t avoid the subject of death. If you have no idea about their wishes, discuss the subject openly. There is no right or wrong way to talk about it.  Sometimes we go to great lengths to avoid conversations that can actually bring relief to someone who is dying. I recently went to the funeral of the mother of a friend – she had planned her whole funeral down to the glass of sherry we all received afterwards. It was as though she was right there, thoroughly enjoying the event. Do you know your elderly parents wishes when it comes to their funerals?

End-of-life checklists

Most people, when asked, say they would like their death to be quick, painless, at home and surrounded by loved ones. However, planning for death is often ignored – as if by planning for it we hasten its coming.  Two years ago my elderly mother handed me a newsletter about living wills and said she would like to make one. I recently found the newsletter buried under a stack of other correspondence and faced the fact that I did not want to think about the death of my mother.  I realized that ignoring my mother’s wishes was only part of my reluctance. I didn’t want to face my own mortality either.

A website called Everplans  allows you to create, share and store important documents that your loved ones might need. An Advance Health Care Directive (also called a Living Will), End-of-Life Housing, Estate Planning, Funeral Planning and even an Obituary and Death Notice form part of the end-of-life checklists found on the site.

Our decisions about what happens at the end of our lives is very personal and is based on our beliefs and values.   Caring Info is another helpful website with some useful resources that may help you to start that difficult conversation. You will find the answers on this site to many of the questions you might have when trying to make your decisions.

Books to read

The following books present some interesting perspectives on end-of-life and what matters most.

I’ll Have It My Way: Taking Control of End of Life Decisions: a Book about Freedom & Peace by Hattie Bryant.
Inspired by the peaceful death her mother was almost denied, Bryant began gathering information from national experts in palliative care, geriatrics, oncology, bio-ethics, psychology, and spirituality. This books presents the case for personal responsibility in decisions that all of us must make―if they are not to be made for us.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A Daughter’s Journey Through Old Age and New Medicine by Katy Butler
Most of us do not wish to die with a tube down our throats but the cruel fact is, as Katy Butler reminds us, that a fifth of American deaths now take place in intensive care and at great expense.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande is a New York Times bestseller. Gawande is a practicing surgeon and he tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending. 

Not just a good life but a good end

Planning for death can have a positive impact not only on your own life but on the lives of those you care about. Online resources will give you all the guidelines on how to approach the conversation about death and your end-of-life wishes. Many documents are also available to help you record your wishes in a legal way so they can be implemented.  Take the time to do it while you still have the time.

 

 

 

 

 

How to create a living will

living will

When you create a living will, you take responsibility for the manner in which you choose to die. It comes into effect when you are no longer able to voice your own wishes or make your own decisions.  Everyone has a legal right to sign a living will (as long as you are older than 18). It means that death can occur naturally by withdrawing or withholding artificial life-support. Medical personnel have a duty to obey your wishes if you have signed a living will.

What is a Living Will?

A living will is a legal document that gives instructions for your end-of-life care and medical treatment. It is not like a traditional will – it comes into effect when you are still alive.

You living will comes into effect when the following conditions are met:

  • Terminal illness certified by a physician
  • Permanent unconsciousness or coma
  • Later stages of dementia
  • Near the end of life

Other names can be used for a living will such as an advanced health care directive. Executing the provisions of a living will should not be confused with ‘active euthanasia’ or ‘mercy killing’ which is illegal in many countries.

End-of-Life Issues

There are various end-of-life issues that are dealt with in a living will.

Treatments that prolong life

Living wills will usually state whether you want to receive treatments to prolong your life or not. These procedures may include:

  • CPR (cadiopulmonary resuscitation)
  • blood transfusions
  • using a respirator
  • giving drugs
  • dialysis
  • surgery

Food and Water

Medical personnel give patients nutrients and fluids intravenously when they are no longer able to eat or drink.  A patient who is permanently unconscious can live indefinitely being fed and hydrated artificially.  If food and water are no longer administered, death due to dehydration occurs in a relatively short time.  It is hard for children to accept that a parent doesn’t want food and water – this decision is probably the most difficult one to make.

Palliative Care (Pain Relief)

Palliative care helps a patient to remain as free of pain and as comfortable as possible until life ends naturally. Feelings and preferences about palliative care can be included in a living will.  This type of care does not prolong life but helps a patient to face the dying process with dignity.

Drawing up a Living Will

Prior to drawing it up

Before drawing up a living will, it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor about the choices you will have to make. These are not decisions that can be taken lightly and its important to understand the various medical terms. For example, there is a difference between life support and resuscitation. Life support means using equipment like a feeding tube or ventilator to keep you alive. Resuscitation occurs when your heart has stopped beating to make it start beating again.

Speaking to your family is also important.  It can put an incredible burden on your family to make a decision to “pull the plug,” or decide not to continue with life-prolonging treatment. Drawing up a living will takes away this burden.

Main components

  •  Full legal name, street address and telephone number.
  • Date on which your will takes effect. A statement like “If and when the writer cannot make health care decisions” is usually used and this is determined by a doctor. You can specify if you would like two doctors to determine your incapacity.
  • Full name, address and telephone number of a health agent who will carry out your wishes. You need to make sure that who you consider appointing is not uncomfortable with your choices. Typically, people decide on a spouse or an adult child as their agent.
  • Instructions on issues such as blood transfusions, resuscitation, surgery etc.
  • You can specify if you want to donate your organs at the time of your death.  If you are already an organ donor, you do not have to specify this.
  • Witness information – a witness has to verify the will and should have no vested interest in the declining health of the person. The full legal name and address of the witness should appear.
  • Signatures – both the person and the witness.

To fill in the living will form, you will have to answer questions such as the one that follows, choosing which option you prefer.


If my doctors certify that my death from a terminal condition is imminent, even if life-sustaining procedures are used:

  1. Keep me comfortable and allow natural death to occur. I do not want medical interventions used to try and extend my life. I do not want to receive nutrition and fluids by tube or other medical means.
  2. Keep me comfortable and allow natural death to occur. I do not want medical interventions used to try and extend my life. However, I do want to receive nutrition and fluids by tube or other medical means.
  3. Try to extend my life for as long as possible, using all available interventions that in reasonable medical judgement would prevent or delay my death. If I am unable to take enough nourishment by mouth, I want to receive nutrition and fluids by tube or other medical means.

Living will forms are available from various different sources such as attorneys, living will societies, senior centres and hospitals.  It is possible to download free templates online but internet forms may be outdated (the laws are changing all the time) and you have to make sure they are applicable to the laws of your state or country.  Could you just write out your wishes? Theoretically, this is possible, but it’s better to err on the side of caution and using some kind of template helps you to cover all the areas that need to be addressed. A Five Wishes living will created by Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit organization, is popular as it is written in everyday language and it’s inexpensive.  Once you register online, you can create, access, change and print your living will at a minimal cost.

What to do with your signed living will?

You should give a copy of your signed living will to your family members, your physician and your hospital or care facility. It will always be difficult to bring up this subject with your loved ones but they need to know your wishes.  You can’t just file it and forget about it. You can change or cancel your living will at any time and for any reason. If you do decide to cancel, you should immediately notify anyone who has a copy.

Deciding what kind of care you want is not easy. You are able to state your own preferences but you will also have to carefully consider how your choices will affect your loved ones.  Making a living will can often help to reduce the stress of an already stressful situation.

How to check keyword ranking in Google

Writing a blog without using targeted keywords is like trying to kick a ball between the goalpost without taking aim.  Keywords are the words that searchers type into search engines to find information. The general idea is to use keywords with high search numbers and the least competition from other websites. This will help your content to show up on one of the first few pages of the search results.  If you ignore keywords, that content you slaved over may remain forever hidden from the audience you want to reach. Once you have found your keywords and published your post, it is exciting to your check keyword ranking in Google.

Selecting your keyword

Ranking for the right keywords can make all the difference between failure or success for your site. If you’re just starting out, read this great guide to keyword research.   It will help you to understand how to judge the value of a keyword. It also explains long tail keywords and why they convert best.

Placing keywords correctly

One you have selected your keyword, you need to make sure it appears in all the right places:

  • title
  • URL
  • meta description
  • H1
  • first paragraph of content
  • image alt tag

Apart from using keywords, there are a number of other SEO practices to consider such as using internal and external links and embedding videos. There are many blogs with informative content on exactly how to increase your google rankings but that is not the purpose of this post.

Is my keyword ranking?

Once you have hit publish, it goes without saying that you want to find out whether your post is ranking or not. Going to the search engine and typing in your keyword is NOT the way to do it. This will give you inaccurate information and you may think you are ranking when results are being skewed to suit your browsing history. You must switch to private browsing mode for accurate results.  In Firefox you open the menu and go to a New Private Window. In Google Chrome, look for New Incognito Window. However, there are far easier ways than manually scrolling through all the search results. Here are some great free tools that make finding how your keywords are doing an easy exercise.

Google Rank Checker

This handy free tool is very easy to use. Simply enter your URL and the keyword you want to check, click submit and you will soon find out exactly where it is ranking.

Google rank checker

 

smallseotools

With this tool you can check up to five keywords at a time. It gives you a neat little report showing their position.

smallseotools

Serplab.co,uk

Serplab allows you to submit numerous keywords used for a project and performs regular searches to check on their positions. Unfortunately, free accounts no longer show search volume data due to recent google updates and users abusing the system.  Knowing the volume of searches for a keyword is important – you want to rank highly for keywords with a large volume of searches. A keyword with hardly any searches may rank highly but will not bring you many visitors. This tool does help you to organize your keywords and keep track of them as well as see how many keywords for a specific project are ranking in the top 3, top 10, top 30 and top 100. As seen below, 13 of my keywords have improved their position, 7 are now in the top 3 and 17 in the top 10.
SerplabSerplab

SEMrush

SEMrush allows you to do far more than just keyword research. It enables you to track your keyword ranking, check backlinks and even to see how your competitors are ranking. It also allows you to do a complete SEO audit of your blog. With all the features it offers, the cheapest package costs $69.90 a month.

The bottom line

It is possible to find out where a particular keyword is ranking quite easily. However, doing keyword research, monitoring keyword performance and making adjustments is far more complex.  An idea for one keyword may inspire another, especially if it is ranking well. There are many free tools you can use when you are first starting out that will give you some idea about how your keywords are performing. However, at some point it is obviously worth investing in a tool that offers more insight into the overall performance of your website.

 

 

 

Best makeup for women over 50

makeup for women over 50

When makeup is applied using the correct techniques and products, it enhances our natural looks. When it is applied with a heavy hand, particularly when we are older, it can add years to our faces.  For a woman of over 50, less is definitely more.

As older women we are exposed on a daily basis to hundreds of adverts urging us to buy anti-ageing skin products that will turn back the hand of time.  As Rosalind Russell once said “Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic” and we are often tempted to buy too many products. That being said, we do want to look as good as we possibly can. Many of us over the age of 50 are being inspired to rethink our approach to makeup. We are often stuck in a rut of using products and outdated techniques that are no longer suited to our ageing skin. Buying the right products, learning some new techniques and applying makeup with subtlety is key to creating a dewy, fresh look.

8 Makeup mistakes to avoid

  1. Don’t apply a thick layer of foundation in an attempt to hide wrinkles and blemishes. It gives a cakey look and emphasizes lines.
  2. Don’t use too much under-eye concealer, especially one that is too light. Trying to conceal dark circles, especially with a lighter concealer, will only emphasize bags and wrinkles.
  3. Don’t just keep wearing a shade of lipstick that has always worked for you. Your hair colour and clothes have changed over the years and your lipstick needs to change too.
  4. Don’t go outside your lip’s natural line. The color tends to get caught in the lines around the mouth and ‘bleed’, making you look much older.
  5. Don’t apply blush too far above or below the cheekbone. Blush that is applied too high will emphasize the area under your eyes and if applied to low, it makes your lower face droop. Blush that’s too intense can make you look like you’re trying too hard to look younger.
  6. Don’t forget about your eyebrows as they frame your face. However, make sure you enhance them softly as a harsh, overdone brow is a real faux pas.
  7. Don’t apply heavy eyeliner on your lower lashes as this can add years to your face.
  8. Don’t experiment with frosty and glittery eye shadows in later life. It will just draw attention to saggy eyelids.

Transforming makeup tips and techniques

  • Use primers under make-up—it will help even out skin tone and texture, and keep a lightweight foundation on for longer.
  • Powder has gained a bad rap for ageing women but there are powders today that make your skin appear translucent, like an HD pressed powder.
  • Pat concealer from the inner corner of your eye to the mid-point. Using it under the outer corner highlights wrinkles. Don’t apply it directly under the eye but a bit lower so that it reflects upwards, hiding dark circles.
  • Experiment with lipsticks and look for tones that match your gums or inner lip. Some say older women should not wear dark coloured lipsticks but the danger of lipstick is more in the texture than the shade. A sheer red can look stunning on an older woman.
  • Give a sparse brow emphasis by defining the arch and subtly shading in any thin areas with quick, short pencil strokes. Use a slightly lighter colour than your natural colour. Defining your brows correctly can give your face an instant lift.
  • If you apply eye shadow, stop short of the end of the eye to achieve a lifted, wide eyed look.  A tasteful matte shade defines your eyes subtly without being too overpowering.
  • A foundation should be carefully selected to match your skin tone. Spend a little more on a foundation that gives coverage without adding texture. A great tip is to test foundations on your chest area. Try three different shades and choose the one that disappears.
  • When using mascara, you want your lashes to look full and lush. Avoid lengthening mascaras and focus instead of a thick, full formula product.

Good makeup choices for older women

Andrea Robinson, author of a book called “Toss the Gloss: Beauty Tips, Tricks and Truths for Women 50+.” says “Forget about makeup reclaiming youth,”  She believes instead that good makeup reclaims you.

She advises, “:Get down to the six bare necessities: tinted moisturizer or foundation, cheek color, lip liner and lipstick, mascara and eyeliner. It should all fit in a small makeup bag. ”

Ili leather cosmetic pouchThe Ili Leather Cosmetic pouch on the left is made from genuine leather with a sturdy zip top closure. It has a fully lined fabric compartment with a zip wall pocket. It comes in different colours and is really cute but really small. Take Andrea Robinson’s advice and pack in the bare necessities. It may be a little small for a full-sized pencil but but it will hold foundation, mascara, primer, lipstick, lip liner and blush.  It has a tiny pocket inside where you can keep nail scissors and tweezers.  Pack it and slip it in your purse for everyday use. I absolutely love this little pouch but I must warn you it will challenge your packing skills if you want to include more than the bare essentials.

Here are some great products for older women:

Smashbox primer

Smashbox Photofinish Foundation Primer is an oil-free, 60% water based primer. The revolutionary formula has oil absorbers for a smooth matte finish all day, light diffusers to minimize the appearance of imperfections, and vitamin C and peptides to help even skin tone and promote collagen production.

 

Lancome foundation

The key thing to consider when choosing a foundation for older skin is texture and lightness. You don’t want anything too matte. Light-reflecting products are best and Lancome’s Teint Miracle fits the bill admirably.

 

Laura Mercier secrete camouflage

Laura Mercia Secret Camouflage contains a unique two shade system so you can custom-blend your own shade. One shade matches the undertone of the skin and the other the skin’s depth of colour. You don’t need much product to achieve perfect coverage because it contains a high level of pigment.

 

boomstick-colour

Cindy Josephs, super model and makeup expert, has a new line of multiple use cream sticks. She believes in celebrating your age and wearing it proudly. She says “Beauty is about natural color, glow, moisture and joy! You don’t have to ‘put on’ your face anymore. You already have one. Are you ready to reveal your skin and features and let them radiate the natural beauty you have?” Apply her sheer berry to your cheeks, eyes, lips, forehead and neck. Use an irridescent champagne for the inner corner of your eye, cheekbones, shoulders and decollete. An olive oil and beeswax moisturiser will help plump up your lips and can also be used on your cuticles and around your eyes.  These products are only available from her store.

L’oreal Paris Voluminous Extra-Volume Collagen Mascara can be worn all day with no clumps, flakes or smudges. The Patented Instant Impact Brush is 50% bigger than a classic brush so it builds volume fast. This product is opthalmologist and allergy tested – it’s suitable for sensitive eyes.

L'oreal mascara

Bobbi Brown has some great eye pencils and natural brow shapers that will help you to create the perfect frame for your face.

Bobbi Brown eye pencil
Bobbi Brown Brow Pencil in Ash

Bobbi Brown brow shaper

Bobbi Brown Natural Brow Shaper and Hair Touch Up – blonde

Some other brands with great products for older women are Mary Kay, Revlon, Elizabeth Arden, Origins, Josie Moran and Chanel.

The bottom line

Join the revolution and turn your focus away from anti-ageing to positive ageing. We have many positive role models of women who look their best in their fifties, sixties and even their seventies.  Ralph Lauren says “Real beauty, like real style, has no age.”  Gone are the days when we have to overpaint ourselves to try and look younger.

With the philosophy of less is more, we do not have to buy hundreds of products but rather focus on those that will enhance our beauty as we age. We are fortunate to be able to buy new products that create a more natural softer look. Finally, we need to apply products with the right techniques. Many of us get stuck using outdated techniques that have worked well for us since our teens and twenties. We need to  learn what works best for us as older women, using light and shadow to our advantage to minimize wrinkles and make our skins look fresher.

Coconut oil and hair growth

coconut oil and hair growth

Coconut oil has been used on hair for thousands of years to help keep it strong, nourished and protected.  Excessive use of hair products can strip away natural oils in the hair, leaving it weakened, damaged and dull. When hair is damaged, it starts splitting up the hair shaft and it breaks off little by little. Coconut oil’s fatty acids help to moisturize and protect the hair follicles,  preventing breakage, damage, and split ends.

What nutrients are found in coconut oil?

The main reason that coconut oil is so good for your scalp and hair is because it is composed mainly of saturated fatty acids. A good percentage of these are medium chain fatty acids. Lauric acid accounts for half of these and it binds easily with the protein in the hair.  Coconut oil also contains Vitamin E, Vitamin K and iron.  Vitamin E is helpful in maintaining the integrity of the cell membranes of the hair follicles.

Refined or unrefined?

Natural unrefined coconut oil has a pale yellow appearance at room temperature and becomes firmer and whiter at lower temperatures. It starts to melt at +25° C.  When it is refined it becomes more transparent and has less odor. For this reason, some people prefer using refined oil on their hair. However, others recommend using only extra virgin, raw organic oil.

5 Benefits of Coconut Oil for Hair

1. Prevents breakage

Hair dye, blow dryers, and styling products cause damage to the hair, making it brittle and dry. The medium chain fatty acids in the oil of the coconut are able to penetrate the hair follicles. They bind with the natural protein found in the hair, thus helping to protect the strands and roots from breakage.

2. Retains moisture

Coconut oil helps to retain moisture because it does not break down or evaporate easily. These moisturizing properties keep the hair shaft strong, lessening chances of breakage and damage. It does not just keep moisture in but also helps to protect against heat and impurities in the environment.

3. Improves softness and shine

Some shampoos can leave the hair dry and brittle, even preventing a comb from going smoothly through it after shampooing.The  fatty acids found in the coconut oil helps to deal with dry or frizzy hair and improves softness and shine.  When we age, our gray hair can seem coarser because the oil glands produce less sebum. This means that it becomes drier and more roughly-textured.  Coconut oil can help to keep it soft and manageable as it is much like the sebum found on the scalp. Gray hair is also more vulnerable to sun damage because it does not have as much melanin, and here again, coconut oil can help to protect it.

4. Boosts blood circulation

Massaging the head with coconut oil helps to stimulate circulation. This enables more nutrients and oxygen flow to the hair follicles. Sebum build-up is removed, the scalp is nourished and hair growth is stimulated.

5. Deals with bacteria and fungus

The hair and scalp are full of bacteria. In the presence of certain enzymes the fatty acids in coconut oil are converted into antimicrobial and anti-fungal agents. These agents offer protection against dandruff and lice, potential problems that can cause hair loss and limit new growth.

How to apply coconut oil

Different hair types respond differently: It is not surprising that different hair types respond differently when applying oils.  If your hair is naturally healthy and has enough moisture, it is better to apply coconut oil before washing. Some people have hair that becomes greasy with even a little of the oil and they should also apply it prior to washing. Those who have very dry or unmanageable hair may benefit from applying it after washing.
Amount matters: It is better to start with a small amount. See how hair reacts and apply more if necessary.  Slathering too much onto the hair may be counterproductive.

Method

Heat oil: Heat the jar gently in warm water until liquid.

Dampen Hair: Use warm water to dampen your hair thoroughly.

Massage in: Spoon a tablespoon of the warmed coconut oil into your hands and begin to apply to your hair. Massage it in with your fingertips for at least three minutes. You will usually use one to four tablespoons depending on the length of your hair.  It spreads quite easily over your scalp and a little goes a long way.

Cover: Cover your hair with a shower cap and wait for about twenty to thirty minutes.

Rinse, wash and dry: Rinse with warm water, wash with a natural, sulfate free shampoo and towel dry.

Repeat: Do this three times a week for the best results.

 

TIP: Add 4 drops of rosemary essential oil. This also helps to increase circulation to the scalp, prevent hair loss and encourage new growth.

Some product suggestions

Choosing a particular brand can be difficult as there are so many different ones, all of which differ in aroma, consistency and color. The following two brands have been given excellent reviews by well over 5000 customers on Amazon. Nutiva is cold-pressed and never refined, deodorized, or bleached. It is USDA Organic and Non GMO project verified. Viva Labs Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is a best seller on Amazon. It is made from unrefined, extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil. It is USDA certified organic, kosher and gluten free. It is also free of pesticides, bleach and trans fats.

The bottom line

Coconut oil has been used as a hair oil for thousands of years for good reason. Its fatty acids keep the hair strong and the scalp nourished, preventing breakage and hair loss as well as keeping it shiny and soft. Although it should not be thought of as some miracle potion that makes your hair grow faster overnight, there is no doubt about its many benefits for the hair.

Adding essential oils, like Rosemary, which is known to encourage hair growth, can be very effective.

Remember that it is no good to just try to solve problems from the outside – be mindful of your diet too. Good nutrition will go a long way towards keeping your hair in the best possible condition.

 

 

How to write a blog post: the 10 basic steps

blogging

Bloggers can get so carried away trying to outdo the competition that they forget about the basics. You can be as creative as possible but why ignore principles that are proven to work.

1. Hook them with your headline

Your headline is what readers see first – it’s what has to persuade them to click and read the rest of the post. A headline must provide enough of an idea of what the reader will get if they follow the link. Here are some ideas on how to write clickable headlines.

2. Entice them with an image

An image attracts more readers, particularly if it is well selected to illustrate the headline and gives them more insight into what to expect from the post. Fortunately, you can use the following 8 sites to find beautiful free images if you are not a photographer yourself:

3. Create informative subheadings

Subheadings do the work of breaking up your post into readable sections. They provide a detailed breakdown related to the main header. An interesting exercise is to read a headline and subheadings and see what this tells you. This activity does not work at all if subheadings are generic or if they are so clever and elusive that it’s difficult to know what they are about. When subheadings are specific, they are surprisingly informative. Most readers skim through posts and it’s a subheading that will make them stop and read further about exactly what interests them.  It’s not a matter of just making a few words at the top of a section bolder than the rest of the text. You have to think carefully about subheadings as they should arouse curiosity, surprise the readers or evoke their interest in some way so that they want to continue reading.

You will find examples of good and bad subheadings here.

Remember:

  • Don’t think of a subhead as just a label for the content below. It is a way to keep readers interested.
  • Find a balance between stating the obvious and being too cryptic – too obvious is boring and too cryptic will leave readers thinking ‘what on earth does that mean?’
  • Try to work surprise, personality or emotion into your subhead. You don’t necessarily have to be shocking  – evoking emotion works well too.
  • Remember that your subheads should tell a story. Build from one subhead to another to create a clear picture.

4. Write short paragraphs

Writing short paragraphs, even if they are only two sentences long, helps you to avoid a ‘wall of text’ and keeps your post easy on the eye. Try to stick to one point a paragraph and make your point in the fewest possible words.

5. Keep your tone conversational

Choose simple words as far as possible. You don’t have to write over reader’s heads and impress them with your extensive vocabulary. Use active not passive voice – passive voice tends to be boring. Know your audience – figure out exactly who you are writing to and have a clear purpose when you write. Avoid jargon, ambiguity  and acronyms. Tell stories and appeal to the emotions.

6. Make use of bullet points

Bullet points attract the eye and help readers to find important information. Long, over complicated bullet points defeat the whole object. They should start with the same part of speech such as an action verb and be written in the same tense. The text that introduces the bullet points should end with a colon. If the text that follows is not a proper sentence, it does not need to begin with a capital and end with a full stop. Structure and punctuation must be consistent. Bullets help to break content down into digestible chunks – they drive home your content and make it easier to remember.

  • keep them short
  • use action verbs
  • stick to the same tense
  • punctuate consistently

7. Add relevant links

Links are added so that readers do not have to be bogged down with too much detail. If they want to find out more, they can click on the link. These links can be a mixture of internal links (clicking on this link takes you to a post on this site about how to be better writer) or external (this will direct you to another website with content on external links).  The links should be set to open in a new tab or window so the reader can easily go back to your post.

8. Make use of keywords and other SEO tactics

If you want readers to come to your site via the search engines, SEO is essential. There are two broad aspects to SEO – on-page and off-page factors. In this post, only the on-page factors are relevant. You have to think about words users would type in to find your site. When using keywords you need to use a light touch and never sacrifice readability. Relevant keyword placement is important. The ways of using keywords have changed considerably over the years and so you need to make sure your on-page keyword advice is as current as possible.

9. Edit and proofread

Once you have gone through the process of writing your post, it’s so tempting to just push that publish button.  We tend to scan through what we have written and easily miss errors that jump out at someone else when they read the post. We also tend to get too close to our material and may assume readers already know certain information because we know it. It makes sense to step away from what we have written for a while and come back later to edit. When you reread, make sure that your meaning is crystal clear.

Edit ruthlessly where necessary – shorten, delete, rewrite, don’t repeat or ramble, and omit any needless words. Here are some words you can do away with:

  • mostly
  • honestly
  • rather
  • for some reason
  • very
  • a little
  • sometimes

It helps to read your post out loud!

10. Share!

Share your post as much as possible. Social sharing buttons on your site will make it easier to share.  People go online to belong, not just for content. They get a sense of community when they share. The content of your post needs to enhance someone’s life in some way or they won’t read it and share it. If it helps them to solve a problem, is useful in some way or makes them laugh, they are much more likely to share it.

 

 

 

A way in the wilderness

flower in desert

This desert road seems endless, Lord
but in Your mercy You reminded me
“I will make you a way in the wilderness,
a river in the desert.”

I was sitting in the veld
Dry, arid, filled with rocks,
sun beating down and
You said
“See how I make the desert bloom”.
And I looked up and saw …
a flower growing out of a rock,
little green plants and
lizards scuttling
Pink winged insects
and a thorn rimmed cactus
A vivid orange butterfly
Eagles circling in the sky.
A variety of textures, colours and sounds
Paradise unlocked for me
Just by seeing differently!

Lord, help me to
To see past helplessness and despair
and see instead Your world, Your life
Your kingdom, Your realm
Eternity.

A trip down the garden route in South Africa

The garden route  is a must-see for any visitor to South Africa. Lakes, lagoons and long, white beaches are dotted along the route and from Wilderness to Knysna, indigenous forests offer a different kind of allure. When my sister planned to visit South Africa from the UK,  she wanted to take a trip down the garden route.

Staying in Sedgefield

Deja Vu Cottage

Sedgefield sunset

We had booked accommodation in Sedgefield for the week because of its proximity to both the Wilderness area and Knysna.  Sedgefield is a small village but it is growing rapidly as the more popular towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay become increasingly expensive and crowded, particularly during holiday season.  On our arrival in Sedgefield, we drove alongside the lagoon to our self-catering cottage in Pelican Street. On a walk around the area, we discovered that many of the streets are named after birds. A beautiful sunset over the lagoon was the first sight that had us reaching for our cameras. The next day was rainy and overcast so we meandered around the little town of Sedgefield, drank hot chocolate and browsed through the Scarab craft market that’s open on a daily basis.  The very popular Wild Oats Market in Sedgefield is only open on a Saturday morning.

Strolling around in Knysna

On Leisure Isle

Knysna waterfrontrays in harborKnysna, one of the most popular towns on the garden route, is not far from Sedgefield. We drove to Leisure Isle on the far side of Knysna and took a walk alongside the sea towards the lagoon. The houses on this peaceful little island embody the coastal lifestyle and make one imagine lingering on the porch and drinking sundowners while admiring the view.

Then we were off to the Knysna waterfront for lunch – less appealing to us as it can be overcrowded with tourists but fascinating if you enjoy watching people. We enjoyed listening to all the different languages being spoken around us as we ate our lunch.  After lunch, our attention was drawn by a display of artwork next to the harbor and soon we were strolling along looking at all the boats and yachts moored there. We spotted several ferries that take people on tours around the harbor and across to the other side of the lagoon. A group of rays languidly flapped around in the shallow water next to the boats.

Paragliding in Wilderness

paragliding in WildernessparaglidingThe next day we decided to travel back towards the Wilderness area. My sister had persuaded me to take a Segway ride through the Wilderness National Park. I was quite nervous at the prospect but ready to challenge myself and move out of my comfort zones.

As we arrived in Wilderness rather early, we  sat on a bench overlooking the Wilderness beach far below and watched as people jumped off the cliff with paragliders. We saw a novice struggling to land, his skinny little legs weaving around as he tried to control the large glider. We couldn’t believe it when he took off again and admired his courage as he floated along over our heads.

We watched another two young men who obviously had more experience catching the thermals and swooping around the coastline and over the sea.

Segwaying in Wilderness National Park

canoeingsegway in WildernessWhen we arrived at the Wilderness National Park we had to wait for another party of five to arrive for the tour. We were given about 15 minutes of training on how to operate the Segway.  When it was my turn I grasped the handlebar and gingerly inched one foot and then another up onto the body of the machine whereupon it started to rock wildly. I shot forward and when I tried to use my arms to turn, I crashed into the hedge. We all found that first minute a little difficult but soon realized that the machine moves with your body – lean forward to go forward, stand up straight to stop and lean to the left or right to take the turns. As I became accustomed to the movement I began to enjoy myself and we headed out on the Kingfisher trail. The route was full of potholes and you couldn’t let your attention wander for a second. I wanted to look at the surroundings but I didn’t dare. Eventually we reached a stretch of grass where we could go faster. At the half way point, we relaxed with a bottle of cold water before tackling the return route. Finally, we were speeding along down the park roads and over fields of grass alongside the river. My mother was sitting in the car waiting for us and she said we were both wearing wide smiles as we rode back up to the starting point. As we had paid to enter the National Park, we decided to take the opportunity to picnic at the riverside and spent an idyllic afternoon lazily sitting and watching canoes go past. I decided that I would be back with a tent and a canoe on my next visit.

Swimming at Buffalo Bay and the castle at Noetsie

cast;e at NoetsieNoetsie beachNoetsie beachThe rest of the week went by quickly. We spent a day on the beach at Buffalo Bay and bravely swam in the ice-cold water. This is a lovely swimming beach and we saw several young surfers having lessons. We also visited Noetsie, just outside of Knysna, where you drive past derelect shacks and go some distance before coming upon the most spectacular scenery with huge houses hidden amongst the fynbos. We went down some steep steps to the pristine beach and looked up at the ruins of an old castle.

In the afternoon we went to an organic market where we browsed through the stalls.  We saw  saw rhinos, elephants and even some Mongooses (or is that Mongeese?)  crafted out of  bits of wood and nails. My sister tried her first oyster ever and we enjoyed the relaxed vibe as we sat and listened to live music.

organic market

Wilderness organic marketOn our way back to Somerset West, we took a detour to visit the coastal village of Witsand, the scene of many happy boating and camping memories. My sister was determined to see a whale while she was in South Africa and she had missed out on a whale watching tour while we were in Knysna. We sat at the beach café and saw a few fins at a disappointing distance. I remembered the time when we had seen so many whales in the bay that we could not count them all. Perhaps it was a little too late in the season – we usually start seeing whales from about June.

Back home again, I realized once again that we live in a country of awesome natural beauty. It was wonderful to travel the garden route once again and see it afresh through the eyes of my sister who has been living in the UK for two and a half years. Next time I am sure I won’t take much persuading to go on a canopy tour in the forest or go on a whale watching adventure.

 

Watch the video my sister made of our holiday below.

10 quotes about embracing change to inspire you

Change is unavoidable and occurs as a natural part of life.  Sometimes it takes place gradually but at other times it is more like a tsunami triggered by factors like broken relationships, a tragedy or a new opportunity.  Here are some quotes about embracing change for you to draw on for inspiration:

1. Commit to the process

I recently watched a video of a cicada shedding its skin and it looked very much as though it was doing a bizarre dance. It put its whole body into the process.  When you are facing change, you have to commit to the process. You have to get rid of what’s weighing you down like old routines and habits that do not serve you any more.

Alan Watts quote

2. Allow yourself to dream

Saying you have to plunge into change does not mean going into some frenzied form of activity. Give yourself a chance to process what is happening. Transformation doesn’t happen all at once. Nature shows us this all the time – a caterpillar takes time to transform into a butterfly and a seed takes time to change into a tree.
Sarah ben breanach quote

3. Don’t let your survival instinct take over

A part of the human brain is dedicated to survival and when you face change, it starts crying ‘danger’ and flooding you with adrenaline when you deviate from the beaten path. Remember that this primitive part of your brain will prevent you from taking action, even when the fears are imagined rather than real.
Amelia Earhart quote

4. Don’t listen to the naysayers

People can be so well meaning with their advice but they do not always know what’s right for you. When I was unemployed, everyone encouraged me to find a job (the obvious thing to do) but I wanted to take a chance and try freelance writing for a living. Everyone told me how difficult it would be  but I decided to give it a shot anyway.  You may also find that when you start experiencing the benefits of change in your life, people feel threatened because it tends to put a spotlight on their own fears and resistance.

Ken Hakuta quote

5.Be prepared for messiness

As change is a process, at times it will feel that you are worse off than before.  As you move forward, you will eventually begin to reap the rewards but things may get rather messy before they get better.

Robin Sharma quote

6. Insecurity is part of the process

For a while you are going to have to make friends with some feelings of insecurity. Any change brings with it insecurity as your world starts to shift and old supports give way. However, once you are in motion, you will feel the power of change and it will help to carry you forward.
Alan Cohen quote

7. You have to die to the old you

Change means that you have to let go of the old you. Even if you don’t like the old you much, its still hard to let go. You may feel nostalgia for what you know you have to leave behind.
Anatole France

7. Try out something new

New experiences can be terrifying but elating at the same time. You may just discover something about yourself that you didn’t know before. Maybe you have more courage than you thought possible.  It’s normal to feel anxious when attempting something new – it does not mean you are doing anything wrong.

Oliver Wendall Holmes jnr. quote

8.  Hatch or go bad

Ultimately, change is not a choice – it happens whether you like it or not.  If you resist it and keep trying to cling to the past,  you may just miss an opportunity to fly.
C.S. Lewis quote

9.  Let things flow naturally forward

Don’t try to force change. It does involve discomfort as you move out of your comfort zones but this is different from trying to force it. Tap into the natural flow of change that’s a part of life and it will become less difficult.

Lao tsu quote

10.  To grow we have to change

To grow as a person and unleash your full potential, you have to change. This means that you have to leave behind your comfort zones and venture out into unknown territory, ask new questions and challenge yourself.

Gail Sheehy quote

 

Recovering from rejection after divorce

rejection

After a divorce, feelings of rejection are common. When a long-term relationship comes to an end, the pain of rejection is often severe for the person who has been left.  It may be unreasonable for the person to feel this sense of rejection but it is severely debilitating none the less.

Warning Signs

When my husband of 32 years betrayed me and lied to me, a sense of rejection was one of the hardest emotions to overcome.  The warning signs had been there for some time – subconsciously I was aware that our marriage was in trouble. I remember waking up one morning and thinking “I’m in an unhappy marriage”. My father and mother were a perfect example of a happily married couple and the idea of divorce was foreign to me. Even admitting to myself that I was not happy felt taboo. I quickly brushed the thought aside. Financial difficulties had put a great strain on our relationship and when my husband moved away from home to take up a job, the cracks started to show.

The shock of discovery

The day inevitably came when I had to face the fact that he was having an affair. My humiliation was public as photos taken by the other woman appeared on Facebook. My friends saw them before I did and had the unenviable job of breaking the bad news. What I had subconsciously suspected was now a reality and my body went into shock as it absorbed the truth. This was not way our story was supposed to end.

Rejection sets in

Once the initial feelings of shock and disbelief wore off, the relentless sense of rejection set in. I did not think I would battle so much with this feeling but it was more insidious than I imagined. If someone who had once loved me so much did not love me anymore, there had to be a good reason.  Where had I gone wrong?  Could I have done anything different? Was I unlovable?

Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who has studied the chemistry of romantic love says “We humans are soft-wired to suffer terribly when we are rejected by someone we adore – for good evolutionary reasons.”  Scans of heartbroken individuals show activity in the same area that’s active when a person experiences other forms of physical pain – like toothache. Evolutionary psychologists believe that experiencing rejection as physical pain gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage.  If they experienced pain on rejection, they were more likely to modify their behavior and remain in the tribe where they were safer.

Finding ways to cope

1. Accept what has happened

I lived with a sense of unreality for some time after my divorce. However, I was also determined not to remain stuck and I knew I had to accept my new reality. A friend of mine went through a divorce years ago and she still thinks her husband will come back to her although he has moved on long ago. I needed to accept that my plans for the future were irrevocably altered and would not include my ex-husband.

2. Realize that it’s normal

Rejection is a perfectly normal feeling following a divorce. It may not be reasonable but it is normal. Certain social experiments have shown that when people are rejected by others who don’t even know them, they still feel pain. This pain becomes overwhelming when it’s someone you know and love.

3. Recognize that you need to go through it

You can’t just wave a magic wand and expect the feeling of rejection to disappear. It will eventually fade but you need to go through it to move beyond it.  You may try to distract yourself from your pain with food, alcohol, drugs or medication but it does not disappear.  If you recognize that you have to go through it, this is a step towards your personal growth.

4. Don’t feel that it’s all your fault

You have to realize that your marriage involved two people and you cannot take the full responsibility for your divorce. The person who has rejected you is influenced by his past, his present circumstances, his values and his world view. Just because your relationship has come to an end does not mean it’s your fault.  Before you end up criticizing and blaming yourself, consider that it is as much about what is going on in your ex-spouse’s life as it is about you.

5. Embark on a process of self-discoveryrecovering from rejection

You are a unique person with your own purpose and talents. Just because your marriage is over does not mean you are inferior or inadequate. You are worthwhile in your own right. Your self-esteem has taken a knock and much of your energy is being used to process all the emotions. That’s why you question yourself and why it’s so important to rediscover what you love about yourself.

It helps to pursue interests you may have enjoyed before you were married that you gave up because your partner did not enjoy them. Picking up an old hobby may help you to rediscover facets of yourself that are undeveloped.  Enjoying new experiences is another way to overcome the negative emotions, like rejection, associated with divorce. One of my unexpected pleasures now is to jump on my bicycle and go for a ride (I was given the bicycle by good friends after the divorce). It helps me to recapture the sense of freedom I used to feel as a child. Taking up writing again has gone a long way to helping me rediscover myself and come to terms with my divorce.

6. Share your feelings

Speak to someone you trust about how you feel. It is easy to start thinking irrationally when thoughts are continually churning around in your mind.  When we share our feelings with someone else, perspective tends to return. If you don’t feel free to share your thoughts with family or friends, go for counseling or join a support group. If you have no-one with whom you can share your feelings, it will be more difficult to find healing.

7. Find supportive relationships

We all have a need to belong. When we get rejected, this need becomes destabilized. Friendships change when a marriage breaks up and you may lose some of your ‘couple’ friends. I kept most of my ‘couple’ friends but the relationships did go through a shift. We used to all get together on Saturday nights and although I was still invited, I was now the odd one out and it made me very conscious of how different my life had become from theirs.  I found other ways of being with them that were easier for me – I would visit them individually for tea or go out for breakfast with them.

Fortunately I have a supportive family and I am lucky enough to still have my children close by.  Being with those who accept and support me really helps to ease the feelings of rejection.

Some divorced people start dating to boost their self-confidence. It does work for some, but for others it makes things worst.  If you do start dating, just be sure you are ready to accept more rejection.

Don’t be defined by your divorce

You don’t have to be defined by your divorce. Don’t develop a victim mentality. Focus on what you can control and what you can change. Get a new haircut, buy some new clothes, set some new goals – not because you want to get your ex back but because you believe you are worth it.

 

Three questions to ask yourself when writing online content

content writer

We all have to start somewhere when writing online content, even if we have to push out hundreds of rather muddy words before the well starts gushing.  Just take that first step and you will improve as you  continue to write. If you’re crafting content for your own website, answering these three questions will help you think about your brand, clarify your thoughts and make your writing more engaging.

Is your content relevant to your audience?

Readers look for content that has meaning to them. Think about who you are trying to reach. What questions can you imagine them asking about your topic?  The topic must add value to their lives in some way whether it’s helping them to eat more healthily, teaching them a new skill or offering them peace of mind. Speak straight into their lives, write with empathy and you are sure to make a connection.

Is it engaging?

You have to engage the reader and you won’t do this if you make your content completely generic.  Take yourself out of the equation and they will battle to relate because they won’t feel the person behind the words at all. At the opposite extreme, it’s also possible to inject too much of yourself into your writing. You lose sight of your readers and your writing becomes self-indulgent and sloppy.  The best content writers manage to find a good balance between the two extremes. The more you write, the more you begin to distinguish between generic content that could have been written by anyone and remarkable content that sticks in the minds of readers.

There is just so much information out there that it can be difficult to find anything new to write about. Do you feel that every possible topic has already been addressed? This is how I feel sometimes until I realize that I can always try to offer a new perspective on an existing topic. This is where your brand becomes important – what is it about you and what you have to say that is different from anyone else.

People pay attention and share with their friends when they find your content engaging. Does your writing provoke emotion? Is it shocking or funny? You can make even a rather boring topic entertaining by using metaphors, analogies, and connections readers would not have thought of making. This not only attracts and holds their attention but gives them an alternative way of viewing the topic, helping them to understand and retain what has been written.

I listened to a video recently where copywriter, Richard Armstrong, reveals three secrets he uses for finding clients. He calls these secrets: The Japanese Movie and the Chinese Restaurant; The Chimpanzee and the Chandelier; The Broadway Producer in the Elevator. Now, the secrets themselves were not all that different – but his approach was.  I can’t think about the topic of finding clients now without those images flashing through my brain – and that’s exactly what makes him so successful at what he does.

Is it focused and concise?

Vagueness is not your friend when writing content. Every word must be carefully chosen to fulfill its purpose. Meandering sentences without purpose detract from your writing. According to the book Reading in the Brain  the online reader uses different sections of the brain to read than the offline reader. They tend to scan and skip around. You have to try and make sure that readers don’t just read one line of your content and click away to another site. This is why your headline and very first paragraph are all important. They have to draw the readers in and make them want to read more.

Readers want to get the information that is most important to them as quickly as possible.  They will rarely read every word you write. Once you understand what your audience wants to know, you have to make sure that they get your message as early on as possible.  If readers read only your headline and your first paragraph, would they understand exactly what your content was about?

Tough love for adult children

love tough

From the time our children go to kindergarten, we begin the process of letting go as we surrender them to the influence of others.  We let go of them a little more as each year passes. When they leave home it’s a big step and it takes both parents and children time to adjust and to work out new ways of relating.

Move forward a few years and a couple of possible scenarios exist – your children have become so independent that they no longer have much time for you; you have managed to achieve a fine balance in the relationship where they are completely independent but you have a respectful, loving relationship with them; or they are still overly dependent on you. In the third case, you may have to practice some tough love.

A cycle of enabling

When an adult child is overly dependent on you as a parent, it’s not good for him or you. Tough love is scary – you do not want to alienate your adult child so you give in to demands.  You love your child fiercely and that fear of what would happen if you withdrew your support can keep you trapped in a vicious cycle of enabling.

Where do you draw the line?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your adult child feel entitled to demand money?
  • Do you feel you live from one crisis to the next?
  • How much do you have to sacrifice to meet your adult child’s needs?
  • Do you feel resentful, stressed, used and burnt out by the constant demands?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, you have a problem. You are enabling dysfunctional behavior and you need to draw the line. I know this is easier said than done but you need to find a way to be supportive and understanding but firm at the same time.

What does tough love really mean?

I think there is some misunderstanding over the concept of tough love. When I was suffering from an auto-immune illness, I felt that people were giving me tough love and I did not like it one bit. All I wanted was some compassion and instead I was constantly being encouraged not to give in to the illness as though it was all in my head. In retrospect I realize that what was offered was not tough love at all but came from a lack of understanding. The word tough often has a negative connotation – people forget about the love part. Practicing tough love does not mean being controlling or lacking in understanding and compassion – it often hurts the giver more than the receiver.

Children have to develop accountability for their actions or they go through life with an attitude of entitlement, thinking that nothing is their fault. This is where tough love comes in – to help develop that accountability.  It takes a lot of strength and resolve from parents – sometimes it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to face. When we don’t allow them to bear the consequences of their actions, we take away their ability to learn from their mistakes.

Be honest

You need to be honest with yourself and honest with your children. Realize how your behavior may be preventing them from becoming responsible adults. The truth is that when you draw the line, the initial reaction will probably be shock and you may feel like a ‘bad’ parent for a while. However, it usually leads to a better relationship in the long run. They must understand that you care for them deeply but that you cannot be manipulated.

Respect your differences

Tough love has nothing to do with forcing your kids to live according to your standards. They will always make decisions you don’t agree with and you need to know when to keep your mouth shut. If they ask for your opinion, share your thoughts without being critical. If they don’t want your opinion, keep quiet even if you feel the decisions they are making are wrong.

Show your love

This is harder when they no longer live with you and you don’t have any control over their actions. You may not  agree with their choices or their lifestyle. Keep showing your love,  even if you hate their behavior. If you’re tough on them and that essential ingredient of love is missing, you can destroy the relationship.

Detach from their problems

Realize that their problems are not your problems no matter how much you feel that they are. You do not have to take responsibility when their decisions and actions get them into trouble. This is not easy – you will naturally want to rush in and ‘save’ them.

Focus on yourself and your marriage

You spend years sacrificing for your children. Your focus is on raising them as best as you can. After they leave, your focus has to change. They should no longer need you in the way they did before. If they find it hard to let go, you will have to be the one who insists that they learn to stand on their own two feet. If you’re married, now’s the time to focus on reigniting the spark that may have gone out of your relationship and enjoying life together rather than worrying all the time about your grown children.

Financial help – how much is too much?

One problematic area is that of finances. When parents help their children too much financially, they usually do so because they want to protect them. They forget how much they learned from their own financial struggles.

Helping adult children financially can drain parents of finances at a time when they need to start thinking about retirement. Parents should not help out if they can’t afford to do so – especially if they have to dip in to retirement savings.  Of course, there are some exceptions. My brother became very ill in his twenties and was unable to work – my parents took him in for a few years and I would do exactly the same for my children.

As a parent it makes sense to help with costs that contribute to a child’s independence if you can. Perhaps you could help a child with a down payment on a car or a deposit for an apartment near to a place of work. You may want to give them money as a gift or assist them with a loan. If you loan money, it’s important to decide on a realistic repayment schedule and make sure they keep to it.

Don’t ever just dish out money. Have a conversation first where you find out why they are battling financially, what changes they are willing to make and whether they have thought about how they will avoid such problems in the future.

The current economic situation does mean that adult children move back in with their parents more often than in the past. This comes with its own set of challenges but it can work if the boundaries are clearly defined.

Love tough

Tough love is harder to give than to receive. It can break your heart when you see your adult children experiencing the consequences of their actions and you have to force yourself not to rush in and rescue them. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the words ‘tough’ and ‘love’ – what does love have to do with being tough? Ask the parents of an addict. If they keep giving in to manipulative behavior, it might just have dire consequences. Sometimes you have to get tough in challenging negative behavior and say ‘enough is enough’. On the other hand,  sometimes parents may justify their attempts to continue controlling their adult children in the name of ‘tough love’.

We owe it to our children to be tough on them at times for the very reason that  we love them so much. Maybe a better way of expressing it is ‘love tough’ – put the love first because that is the all-powerful ingredient and the only way kids will ever really benefit when you are hard on them for their own sake.

How to start a copywriting business

copywriter

Copywriters are more in demand today than ever before. A copywriter, in the simplest terms, is someone who can write persuasively. Companies need the skills of copywriters to present their products and services to clients in such a way that makes them want to buy. If you’re interested in knowing how to start a copywriting business, here are just a few reasons why it’s a good idea.

Why is copywriting a good opportunity?

  1. You can do it from home

    There are many successful copywriters who work from home for their ideal clients. They no longer have to work for a boss or face the daily commute – they enjoy freedom and flexibility while earning well at the same time. Of course it can take a while to get to that point but it is not as difficult as you may imagine.

  2. The start-up costs are low

    The costs of starting an online copywriting business are relatively low. You will need a website with your own domain name to market your copywriting services effectively. A domain name and hosting do not cost much and these are practically your only initial expenses. It is easy to build a website on the WordPress platform and online tutorials show you every step of the process, from choosing a theme to installing plugins.  Of course you can always find a web designer to build your website for you but this will cost much more.

  3. There’s a great demand

    The demand for good copywriters keeps increasing as more and more businesses develop their online presence. Companies are beginning to realize the importance of copywriters who know just how to increase the response from their potential customers.

  4. You have the potential to earn very well

    Copywriting is a skill that can end the problem faced by many writers of how to make a decent living from their writing. You may not be able to charge as much for your services when you are first starting out and your portfolio still has to grow. As you begin to build your reputation,  you can start raising your prices.  Persuasive writing is in high demand so you can eventually be very well paid to do it.

5 Important starting steps

Before you take any of the steps that follow, I suggest you find out whether you are really cut out to be a copywriter. You can download a free ebook called “How to know if copywriting is right for you”.

Step 1: Learn the skills

I have always loved writing but I only thought about becoming a copywriter in my fifties when I was faced with a few crises simultaneously and needed to start earning money.  I was encouraged by the fact that I could do an online copywriting course without even leaving my home. It was just the beginning of an exciting adventure for me and although some people do regard my age as a disadvantage in a field that seems to be dominated by young people, I found clients who wanted the perspective of an older person – I fit the bill for marketing to baby boomers because I can relate!

Since then I have read many books about copywriting, browsed websites of well-known copywriters, listened to podcasts, and tried to absorb as much as I could from every source possible. I would urge you to do the same. Fortunately, the basic skills you need to land a client do not take years to learn. It’s impossible to know everything before you land your first client. You learn more and improve as you go along.  Here are some resources that will help you master the necessary skills:

Courses:

Online copywriting courses abound so you will need to do some research to find out which one suits you best and offers the best value for money.  Two courses that come highly recommended are AWAI’s  Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting  and Blackford Centre’s Professional Copywriting Courses.
For a free 7-day copywriting crash course, subscribe to Matt Ambrose’s The Copywriter’s Crucible.

Websites:

Copyblogger – helps you to build a solid foundation as a freelance writer and copywriter. You will find many smart tips and plenty of helpful advice on this site.
Top Copywriting Sites – a great resource for newbie copywriters. Experts give advice on every aspect of copywriting.
AWAI (American Writers and Artists Inc.) – offers extensive copywriting training. It’s a great resource for any writer who wants to make a living from their writing. What I like is they do not just teach you how to be a copywriter but also help you with the process of finding the right clients so you can making a good living doing it.
Making a Living Writing – a well-known site run by Carol Tice who is dedicated to helping writers make an income from their writing. This site is for all freelance writers, not just copywriters.  I found it helped me to get out of the mindset of undervaluing myself as a writer. (I spent two years writing for content mills so I needed to learn how to up my game!)
Doris and Bertie: Good copy, bad copy – helps you with the business side of copywriting. Start with their article What is a Copywriter? Hint: Writing’s only half the job and you will realize what being a copywriter is really all about.
Copyhackers has some good resources for newbies like The Beginners Guide to Creating Facebook Ads. I love what Joanna Wiebe says – “You’re not selling a product. You’re not selling a service… you’re selling your prospects a better version of themselves”.
Men with Pens is all about writing better copy for better conversion. This site will help you take your business to the next level.

Books

The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells by Bob Bly is a good place to start. His ‘features versus benefits’ checklist, including a twenty-two point examination of a pencil drums home a message you’ll never forget.
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples. This book is recommended by Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger  for its principles that have stood the test of time.
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath is a guide to understanding why some ideas have staying power and others don’t. If you want to find out how to make your messages ‘stick’, read this provocative, entertaining book.
Words that Sell by Richard Bayan contains more than 6,000 words and phrases with alternatives for each – it will help transform your copy from bland to riveting.
The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman takes you step by step through everything you need to know about making a living as a freelance writer. 

Step 2: Choose your niche

There are many different areas in which copywriters are needed and many different types of projects they can work on.  The following points will help you to narrow down your choices. However, it may take a while to discover what type of copywriting you really enjoy doing and what kind of companies you want to work for – you may only find direction by trial and error.

Write for many niches or for one

It is possible to write for a variety of companies in different niches and sometimes it helps to have no preconceptions about a topic at all. Many beginning copywriters think they’re supposed to know everything about the product and how to promote it from the get-go. Remember that your clients do not expect you to know everything – all they expect is that you to ask the right questions. One problem with writing for many different niches is that it does require lots of research from you to familiarize yourself with the type of clients and the products.

The revelation that being a copywriter was not so much about selling a product as making a connection was a very welcome one for me. I am no salesperson but I have a real interest in people and what makes them tick. I hated the idea of pushing products but I loved the idea of connecting with the people wanting to buy the product and convincing them how their lives could improve if they bought it.  If the niche is already well known to you, you will more easily understand the aspirations and desires of the clients.  For example, if you are a pet lover, you are more likely to identify with other pet owners and you can specialize in writing copy for clients in the pet care industry.

Small companies versus large companies

For copywriters who are starting out, I think it’s better to cut your teeth by working for small companies. Don’t fly too high in the beginning or you may just crash and burn. You can always graduate to bigger companies later if you want to. Some people, like me, are happy to keep working for small companies.

Jack-of-all-trades or specialist

Direct mail, newsletters, PR materials, brochures, catalogues – the list of potential projects for copywriters goes on and on.  Each type of work requires a slightly different approach and if you find one type that suits you best, you may want to focus on doing only that type of work. Extroverts, for example, may revel in writing for social media. Managing social media accounts for businesses is a big opportunity and the learning curve is not that steep (especially if you are already very active on social media). Once a business hires you for their social media writing, it is possible for you to earn a predictable income every month as they need your input on an ongoing basis.

Step 3: Create your portfolio

Your portfolio offers clients proof of what you can do. You have to provide proof of your skills and convince clients that you are worth hiring.  So, how do you overcome the obstacle of not having a portfolio when you first start out?

Use what you already have

I started off by using some of the assignments I had completed for my copywriting course. My coach had critiqued these assignments and I had made changes according to his suggestions.

Offer free copy

My next step was to help friends in business with free website copy, About Me pages, press releases, blogs etc. Each one I did provided an example of another type of copy for my portfolio. It helps that lots of my family own their own businesses too – they were happy to help me.

Rewrite bad copy

Another idea (one I never attempted but I heard was successful for others) was to look for a website with bad copy, rewrite it and then present it to the owner.  Ask him to try it and see if it improves his conversion rate – if it does, you have a client!

Portfolio hosting sites

There are many sites where you can host your portfolio.  My first one was hosted at Clippings.me which is more of a journalism portfolio site. IM Creator is one of the recommended sites for copywriters to use for their portfolios.

Step 3:  Your own website

Without a website with your own domain name (your website URL) and hosting (where your website’s files are stored), it will be difficult for you to stand out from the competition.  Having a website is like having your own piece of property. You have total control. You can design it in such a way that the client can see immediately what to expect from you, getting a good sense of your style and your approach to writing.  Create a snappy profile with a great image, think about your tagline carefully and tell clients what’s unique about you. You do not have to make things up or blow your own horn. Just present your skills and experience as clearly as possible and they will speak for themselves.  Here are the websites of four successful woman writers who all have pretty diverse approaches:
Check out Kirsty Stuart’s simple but effective freelance writing website. She quit her day job in 2012 and became a full-time freelance writer.
Compare this with that of  Dawn Mentzer who includes everything her clients need to know on her home page, including her samples, contact details and FAQs.
Kristi Hines does a great job of presenting her skills and testimonials from her clients. Compare her approach with that of Sophie Lizard whose statement on her website “You need words that make shit happen” immediately reveals her no-nonsense style.

Step 4: Find clients

Most beginning copywriters ask: “How will I find clients? Who is going to hire me?  I don’t have any experience? How do I get experience if no one will hire me?” This is a vicious cycle and getting out of it depends on you. It is up to you to reach out. I found this part difficult because I am more of an introvert than an extrovert. I learned that you must be open to all opportunities and put yourself in the right place in the right time if you want to succeed. Get connected with people who can help you. Follow influential marketers on Twitter, create a LinkdIn profile, join Google Plus – there’s a community for just about every interest you can think of, write strategic blog posts. Get your name out there in every way you know how.

Job Boards: I  found job boards like these very useful as a way to find clients:

Problogger
Freelance Writing Jobs
Freelance Writer’s Den
Direct Response Jobs
Be A Freelance Blogger

Step 5: Keep clients happy

Ask questions

One of the first calls with your client will be to find out everything you need to know about your assignment.  At this point it’s important to impress the client with your professionalism. You need to know how to ask the right questions and listen to the answers. Show the client you are serious about your business and about giving the best possible value for money.

Don’t bother the client unless you really need to

Your client can be a great source of information and you need to get as much information as possible in your first briefing. However, its best to keep contact to a minimum after that unless you have a question that only he can answer. Your clients are usually very busy people and they will get irritated if you bug them constantly.

Do your own research

After receiving initial information from your client, you will need to spend plenty of time researching the product and the customers. If you do this right, your copy will be good. If you don’t, there’s a very good chance it will be bad.

Keep to your deadlines

Always deliver your copy on time. Don’t ever make excuses – especially when dealing with a new client.

Be willing to accept criticism

If your client wants to change your copy because he doesn’t think it’s quite right for his clients, listen to him and make the suggested changes. On the other hand, if you really feel his suggestions are counterproductive, explain why you think his promotion would be stronger without the changes. If the client still insists, do it his way.

Keep contact

If you really want to create a favorable impression, check back with your client to see how your copy is performing.  If you can convince the client that you are concerned about his bottom line and not just your own, he is more likely to keep giving you work.

Don’t bug your client for more work but try to keep the lines of contact open. Perhaps you could email him something of interest related to his industry.

When I first started out, I found that some clients gave me very small jobs. I would try to do these to the best of my ability and go the extra mile although they only brought in small amounts of money. It paid off for me in the long run as eventually more work started coming my way.

Conclusion

Copywriting can help you to live the life you want to live. Give it your all, put yourself out there, be professional and you will find loyal clients.
 

 

 

10 questions to ask yourself before starting a blog

workspace

Blogging is subjective and every potential blogger asks different questions. It is also personal and every blogger would probably give different answers to the questions asked. Thinking about what you want to blog about and why you want to do it is a good starting point.  Here are some of the questions I wanted to ask when I was starting out and the answers I discovered along the way.

  1. How much of my own life should I share on my blog?

    Blogging has evolved since it first became a phenomenon. Writers took to the internet in droves to share their lives, sometimes exposing more details than readers wanted to know. Today bloggers are highly, respected professionals and many of them make a living from their blogs. Blogs have become more about the readers than the people who write them. There has to be a fine balance between sharing your life and giving your readers what they want. They have to feel as if they know you and trust you if they are going to be loyal to you.  It’s more about what you can do for them than what they can do for you.

  2. Do I have to blog every day?

    Some people blog every day, others once or twice a week and some less frequently. It’s more important to produce quality than quantity. You will need to find your own rhythm and what works best for you. Trying to blog too frequently may just burn you out and won’t be sustainable. However, you do need to post on a consistent basis to expect any success. Personally, I find that I manage to post at least two blogs a week. Consistent publishing helps with Google indexing. Blogging for any length of time takes dedication, commitment and hard work. It has to be a labor of love or you will lose interest.

  3. Is there a formula I can follow that will make me successful?

    No, unfortunately there is no blueprint you can follow. What you can do is to learn from other bloggers and adapt their strategies to suit your blog. Many successful bloggers offer courses to help you start a blog and give you step-by-step guidelines. Many of them are also dedicated to mentoring other bloggers. However, it is still up to you to implement the strategies and to see what works for you.

  4. Do I need money to start a blog?

    One of the advantages of starting a blog is that you can do so without investing too much money upfront. As your blog grows you will find you do need to spend more. Starting a blog on your own domain is important – you wouldn’t build a property on someone else’s land. You will need to pay for your domain name and hosting costs but this is not that expensive. It’s nothing like what you would pay to start up a physical business. Many free tools and resources are available to help you when you start off and you can slowly upgrade to the paid versions later.

  5. Can I design my own website?

    Yes, you can. WordPress is one of the best blogging platforms and it is easy to build your own website. However, you need to understand that there is more to website design than meets the eye. You’ve got about ten seconds to make a first impression or the person will leave. You have to choose the right theme for your topic and there are many other factors that need to be taken into consideration. One of the best ways to learn what works is to  analyze websites that are doing better than yours. You will also need to understand how people behave on your site and do everything possible to make sure they stick around.

  6. Can I really offer content that no-one else has blogged about before?

    It may seem that every possible topic has been covered in depth. Perhaps your topic may have already been covered but remember that your point of view will be different. Your experience will differ from that of anyone else and that is what will appeal to readers. You can present your experience in many different ways such as writing ebooks, offering tutorials or presenting courses.

  7. What length should I make my blog posts?

    This is a subject of much debate. Some bloggers believe that a 500 word blog is long enough. Others believe that longer posts help with Google rankings and that posts should be more than 1 000 words. At first my posts were about 500 words but I soon found I couldn’t cover a subject properly in under 1 000 words. I have had to go back and rewrite some of my earlier posts. However, I think that instead of being obsessed with length, focus on your topic and when you feel you have delivered your message clearly, you can stop – don’t just keep writing to reach a certain length. Most blogs contain posts of varying lengths, depending on the type of content.

  8. How do I build an audience?

    This is one of the biggest questions I had when I first started out. I had no idea how I would bring traffic to my blog. For quite some time I thought I was writing for myself alone. When you first start out, the hardest thing is working hard to write great content when you only have a handful of people reading it. However, you will be surprised how soon you get traffic by using social media, becoming active on forums, guest blogging, and connecting with other bloggers. You have to market your blog. You can’t just build it and expect people to find it. You need to pay attention to SEO too as it will help you to make it to the first page of Google. People will then find your blog by searching for keywords online. Getting more traffic to your site takes time. It involves creative thinking and trying new strategies all the time.  Understanding your audience and asking them what they want to see you write about can help a great deal.

  9. How long before I can make money on my blog?

    This is the question asked by most potential bloggers and there is no single answer to this question. Some people manage to make money fairly quickly and others never succeed in making money at all. Focusing on making money right at the start can harm your reputation. If your only reason for blogging is to make money, you’ve chosen a difficult way to do it. When you focus primarily on providing value for your readers, your audience will begin to grow and it’s only then that  you can start thinking about making money.

  10. What qualities do I need to be a successful blogger?

    You have to be passionate but you also need to be persistent and relentless. If you are passionate about sharing with your audience and helping them, accept that you aren’t going to be successful overnight and know that it takes tons of hard work to create excellent content – go ahead and create a blog.

What is the best advice I can give you?

Think of your blog as a tool. It is a very powerful tool that allows you to reach readers with valuable content on a consistent basis.  You don’t have to worry too much about all the latest gimmicks and tricks or you can become quite overwhelmed. Just try to be true to yourself and put the interests of your audience first. Deliver content that resonates with them and you have every chance of being successful.

Celebrate your life with an ’emptynestcation’

Paris

A survey commissioned by British Airways and conducted by Censuswide recently found that travel habits of parents change when their children leave home. One trend was for them to travel further afield, trying out new destinations. The survey also revealed that 63% of college students had no problem with their parents spending some of their inheritance on a vacation!

As parents, we have embraced a more engaged approach to parenting than previous generations. We spend two decades of our lives fully involved in a nurturing role and when this shifts, our lives undergo a transformation. Interestingly, the survey revealed a gender divide in what parents are looking forward to in their empty nests –  men choose planning a vacation and having more sex, while women are excited for starting a new hobby, redecorating the house and of course, vacation.

Advantages of an ’emptynestcation’

Of course, as I have mentioned frequently before, every individual reacts differently when faced with an empty nest for the first time. Some find it tougher than others and it may take a while before they are interested in traveling. Travel is also perhaps more challenging if you are single but today there are many travel companies that cater for singles.  For some couples, it is the perfect opportunity to take all those trips they weren’t able to take when their kids were at school. An ‘emptynestcation’ can help empty nesters to adjust to the transition and launch them into the next phase of their lives.

Off-season travel

Empty nesters have the wonderful opportunity of traveling in off-season periods.  This means they can take advantage of special promotions and reduced rates offered by many resorts and hotels during this time. They don’t have the problem of overcrowding and standing in queues that often come with traveling in season.

Cultural and palate pleasing tours

Empty nesters can also indulge themselves in ways they may not have done for years for the sake of their children. They may now be able to enjoy cultural activities like dramas, operas, dance etc. that may have bored their children to tears.  A great opportunity to enjoy the arts is the Festival dei due Mondi (the Festival of Two Worlds). This is held in the months of June and July in Spolento, Italy, which is only a 90-minute train ride from Rome.

For those who enjoy gastronomic delights, a culinary tour is a must. One such tour is a Tasting Tour of the French Quarter celebrating the rich New Orleans food culture. Just about every country has tours of this kind and some include both culture and food tasting. In the Western Cape, South Africa, where I live, Taste the Cape offers great foodie tours.

Rekindling romance

There’s no better place than Paris, the City of Love,  to put the romance back into a marriage after the children have left home. Couples can book into a romantic hotel and eat at one of the many fine gourmet restaurants.  They shouldn’t miss one of the most romantic views in the world –  from the Pont des Arts one has a panoramic view of famous Paris sights. Taking a riverboat up the Seine and under the Pont-Marie, also called ‘the bridge of lovers’, is another romantic option.  A visit to Le mur des je t’aime or the Wall of Love,  a beautiful mural that features the words “I Love You” inscribed in over 300 languages is sure to help rekindle romance. Located outside the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens is the perfect spot for a romantic stroll – lovers have been meeting in these gardens for centuries.

Take a riverboat cruise

All-inclusive ocean cruises are a good option for couples of every age. For empty nesters looking for more intimate travel,  it’s worth considering a cruise along the Rhine, Danube or Mosel in Europe. A riverboat is much smaller (usually 200 or less passengers) and usually offers intimate gourmet dining, cozy bars, luxury rooms, comfy book nooks and views of the river. Daily shore excursions to quaint towns along the river are part of the attraction.

Adventures

Bev Sanders as an entrepreneur who offers women the opportunity to master a new skill, engage in some self-discovery and be adventurous. She took up surfing at the age of 44 and launched Las Olas Surf Safaris for Women. The company tagline is ‘we make girls out of women’.  Another venture she has launched is Artista Creative Safaris for Women. Many other entrepreneurs are following suit and catering to the challenges, needs and aspirations of a major demographic group – baby boomers who are experiencing major life transitions.

If empty nesters are not quite ready to go on safari, there are plenty of other adventures they can go on that are not so extreme. A company called Breakaway Experiences in Canada offers an adventure game where couples follow clues to find a restaurant, discovering Ottawa’s sights and sounds at their own pace.
Breakaway Experiences Urban Quest Adventure & Dinner for 2 - $90

Technology and travel

Technological advances have made it possible for people to travel and live a higher quality of life as they age. Travel is not as difficult as it used to be with the option of lightweight suitcases and innovative travel accessories. Many travelers are documenting their adventures along the way because cameras are more sophisticated and easier to use than ever. Laptops give them the option of blogging as they go. Some empty nesters are even embracing full time travel as a way of life, like the Gypsy Nesters. Here are five empty nest travel blogs that are worth following: gypsynesters.com, adventuresofemptynesters.com, ouremptynest.com and talesfromtheemptynest.com and myitchytravelfeet.com. These couples travel to all kinds of places, documenting their experiences and forging the way for others to follow in their footsteps.

Travel companies

At http://www.emptynestravel.com the  motto is ‘to inspire and simplify leaving the nest.’ This is a travel company devoted to empty nesters. Barbara Movelle is the owner of the company and she helps clients to filter through decisions such as where to go and when to book. She also deals with insurance, accurate budgeting and will tailor travels to suit specific clients.

Many websites are dedicated to travelers over the age of 60 such as travelat60.com.  Other websites have extensive categories dedicated to senior travel such silversurfers.com as sixtyandme.com.

British airways have taken note of trends indicated in the survey.  They have just launched a video series called “101 ways to spend the kid’s inheritance”.  They have also announced a companion offer whereby you travel for less when you purchase two tickets. This offer is valid from January 1 to May 10, 2017 and tickets must be purchased by Sept. 28 at 11:59pm EST.  Visit www.britishairways.com for more information on this offer called ‘Europe on Sale’.

One of life’s biggest regrets ….

In the British Airways survey, thinking back on their lives so far, one in five boomers say that one of their biggest regrets is not traveling enough. This is corroborated by research into the lives of 1,200 older people over a 10-year period by Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development at Cornell University. He  found the same thing – people often regretted not traveling more when they were younger.  Pillemer says “To sum up what I learned in a sentence: When your traveling days are over, you will wish you had taken one more trip.”

Conclusion

The empty nest phase is simply the beginning of another chapter in our life’s story – it’s up to us to make sure it’s a good one.  Travel and adventure help to keep us young.

 

 

 

 

10 small bathroom storage solutions

If you have downsized from a large home with a few bathrooms to an apartment with one small one, you may find it difficult to adjust. There are so many little odds and ends like razors, makeup, hairbrushes and toilet paper. These items are essential but they do create clutter – and nothing makes a small space feel smaller as much as clutter.  The solution is to be as organized as possible – every item must have its own place. Your bathroom can still be your sanctuary where you take long luxurious baths – you just need to be a bit smarter about how you use the space.

Assess the space

The first step is to honestly assess the space. Take some careful measurements such as the one between the toilet and the basin. It helps to make a sketch including these measurements.   As the floor space is limited, assess the walls to see how vertical space can be used. Where can you install shelves? Think about where you will store all your shampoos, hair products etc. Will you be able to utilize the space under your bathroom sink?

Get creative

1. … with shelves

You can buy shelves or you can even make your own If you like a combination of modern and rustic, then you will love this tutorial on how to make your own rustic shelves that can be found at craftsmandrive.com. Floating shelves look great and can be bought inexpensively at most big retailers.
rustic bathroom shelves

2. … with baskets

Attractive baskets on shelves  help to create a calm and pulled together look.

baskets on shelf

3. …. with hooks

Use  stainless steel hooks instead of a towel rack to save space.

towel hook

4. … with space under the bathroom sink

Use an expandable shelf organizer to utilize space under the bathroom sink.

bathroom storage

5. …. with space above the toilet

There are many creative ways to use the space above the toilet. You can even install a cabinet. An idea I love seen on My Fabuless Life  is to install a simple wall shelf and add a patterned basket on top of the toilet which can be used to store magazines, newspapers etc.

stylish basket and shelf

6. … with shower caddies

Use a shower caddy to organize soaps and shampoos. A corner caddy is another option – it always helps to utilize corners in a small space.

shower caddy

corner caddy

7. … with a rolling organizer

A Slimline rolling organizer  two shelves tucks neatly into a small space. Some people prefer drawers but I like the fact that items can be displayed effectively and are easy to access.

organize-bathroom-1

8. … with spice racks

Consider using spice racks – they can make a very effective storage solution for toiletries.

spice racks

9. … with a storage ladder

This is another item that is easy to make yourself and doesn’t require any expensive materials. Find a tutorial at charmbraceletdiva. You can paint the ladder any color to match your  design style, and fill it with different types of containers, adding dimension to the space.

storage ladder

10. … with a shelf over the bathroom door

This idea comes from  Martha Stewart. She suggests making space for supplies over the bathroom door so that they’ll be accessible when they need to be replenished.

 

shelf over bathroom door

There’s no need to despair if you only have one small bathroom – it can still work for you. With creative use of storage, it can be functional, organized and a place where you can unwind after a busy day. Using the right lighting, colors and accessories can also work wonders in a small space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suitcase packing tips and tricks

suitcase

Buying a lightweight suitcase usually makes great sense until you try to pack. Then reality hits and you realize it takes some skill to pack in a limited space. For those of us who remember lugging around huge, unwieldy suitcases filled to the brim with everything we could possibly need, the idea of packing in a small space can be daunting. The more I discover innovative ways to pack in a small space, the more excited I become. I look forward to setting off with my small, highly organized suitcase to visit my sister in France or my two siblings in the UK – no more shoulder or back strain for me!

It helps to have a detailed packing list when deciding what to take with you.  I have discovered the benefit of using one drawn up by an experienced traveler who knows exactly what to pack through trial and error. If you are a woman traveling on your own, you will find some great packing lists and many other tips given by Leyla Giray Alyanak on her webiste www.women-on-the-road.com.

Your clothes

rolled clothing

According to author, Kathleen Ameche, who wrote The Woman Road Warrior, you will probably need two pairs of jeans or slacks, five shirts and one skirt for every five days. I don’t wear skirts so I include some leggings instead.

  • pack two tops for every bottom.  Say, for example, you take a pair of jeans and some slacks, you can wear them on alternate days with varying tops, jackets or scarves.
  • rather take simple clothes and use accessories cleverly.
  • you can’t go wrong with including a pair of black leggings as they’re easy to wash and dry and go with just about anything.
  • a sarong is another lightweight item that can  be used in many different ways.
  • choose wrinkle-resistant fabrics that dry quickly like nylon and micro-fibers.
  •  roll your clothes instead of folding them.
  • if you want your clothes to stay rolled, that’s where packing cubes come in handy. If you buy four cubes, you can use one for tops, one for bottoms, one for underwear and one for evening clothes. The packing cubes come in different sizes and can be organized according to the weight of the clothing.

Your shoes

shoes

Shoes are bulky and take up room so the fewer you can take with you the better. Most people find they can’t get away with less than three pairs. Consider taking a casual sandal, comfy walking shoes and a more formal shoe for evening wear.  Wear the heaviest ones and pack the other two.

  • pair sandals with rubber bands to keep them together and compressed.
  • put shoes into a shower cap or some other type of protective bag (a large resealable bag will work) and then place them along the sides of the suitcase.
  • because shoes take up space, don’t waste the space inside them. Store socks inside them and you can even put other small essentials and fiddly bits like an electronics charger inside the socks.

Your toiletries

Toiletries have a way of taking up lots of space. Go through your daily routine and take note of what you use. Pack only that and nothing else – eliminate all those ‘just in case’ items. There is no magic ‘one-size fits all’ list here so pack what you personally feel you cannot do without.

If you are flying with a carry-on, check out the current regulations for liquids. For example, the current 3-1-1 liquids rule allows you to take a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, pastes and creams through the checkpoint. Each item is limited to 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters.

Toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, facial products, sunscreen – the list of liquids you may need is a long one. It helps to take products that can do more than one job such as baby oil that’s great for removing mascara and moisturizing or a tinted moisturizer that also works as a foundation.

Travelon 1 quart bagYou may be able to find a solid version of a toiletry so you won’t have to worry about leaks or too many liquids to put in your 1-quart bag.  For example, go with a bar of body soap instead of a shower gel.

I prefer to use a durable toiletry bag instead of a Ziploc bag (as some people suggestion). The TSA compliant Travelon Wet Dry 1 Quart Bag  (amazon)  keeps your liquids organized in a clear, easy to screen zippered pouch and it has a second compartment for non-liquids.  It includes three 2 oz. reusable bottles, two 0.50 oz. jars and one 1.2oz bottle with an atomizer.

When filling containers with liquids, an important tip to remember is not to fill them all the way to the top or they may overflow.

Your Jewelry

It’s best to leave items of great monetary or emotional value at home when you travel. Stick with some neutral pieces like a small pendant, stud earrings and a bracelet that will work with multiple outfits and then throw in some statement pieces as well.

Various websites offer the idea of preventing your jewelry from tangling by using clingfilm. Glad’s Press ‘n Seal appears to work best.

jewelry storage

From Huffington Post come the following tips:

Store small pieces of jewelry in a seven day plastic pillbox.

jewelry in pill box

String delicate necklaces through a straw to prevent tangling.

jewelry through straw

From Buzzfeed comes the idea of putting earrings through the holes of a button to keep a pair together.

earrings through button

… and a few more tips

Wrap fragile items inside another more protective item. A glass perfume bottle, for example, can be slipped inside a sock.

A good stash of Ziploc bags comes in handy for all the other fiddly bits like phone chargers, adaptors and headphones.

One important rule of thumb is to keep all the heavy items stored towards the wheels.

If you don’t think it’s possible for you to fit all that you need into a lightweight carry-on, former Bond Girl and frequent traveler Rachel Grant will convince you otherwise and inspire you as to what is possible. The video below I found on www.mydomaine.com shows how she manages to pack 100 items into a small suitcase.


 

I can’t wait to try out all these tips and tricks myself. I am sure that they will reform my packing style and hopefully transform me into that super-organized traveler I have always wanted to be. If these tips have helped you or if you have any others to share, please leave your comments below.

Small, modern, energy-efficient homes

energy-efficient home

The trend towards smaller, greener homes is growing. Downsizing and creating an eco-friendly home is probably not as difficult as you imagine. You may think that it will take up too much time, energy and money. You may imagine that it will restrict your choices and give you no opportunity to express your particular sense of style. This is simply not true.  Your budget, your health and the planet will all benefit as you take small steps towards this goal.

When children have flown the nest, you are in a great position to reconsider your needs and wants. You may want to travel more and if this is the case, the convenience of a smaller, lock-up-and-go home cannot be underestimated. Large homes are like high-powered cars – they are more expensive and harder to look after than the smaller ones. It is possible to make your life simpler without sacrificing your lifestyle when you downsize and go green.

What is a green home?small green home

An eco-friendly or green home is:

  • constructed with eco-friendly materials
  • efficiently designed to provide maximum ventilation and insulation.
  • contains long-lasting, functional fittings and furnishings.
  • uses energy thoughtfully, making it cheap and efficient to run.
  • makes use of the sun, water and natural light effectively.
  • is designed to connect interiors with the outside natural world.
  • keeps you comfortable and safe.

The natural elements like the sun have always had an influence on how we live – cave dwellings were chosen to catch the light in cold climates, while homes in the tropics were built with wide verandahs for shelter from the sun.  If you have decided to move to a smaller home, you are in the position to choose one that satisfies eco-friendly requirements as far as possible. Here are some factors to consider if you want to downsize and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.

1. Location

Finding the right location is important. Moving across the country when you decide to downsize can prove very expensive and you may find yourself traveling back to your original home frequently to visit friends and family.  It often makes more sense to find your new, smaller home closer to your current neighborhood where you have probably built up a network of friends over years. Here are some other factors to think about when choosing the location of a smaller, more eco-friendly home:

  • is it in a quiet, unpolluted area?small green home
  • Is it close to shops and/or work?
  • Are the streets lined with trees?
  • Does it have good views?
  • Is it private?
  • Do streetlights shine into rooms at night?
  • Is there any green space?
  • Is it surrounded by other buildings that might block out light?

When you are serious about going green, your means of transportation should be reassessed. Want to save big? Consider getting rid of one of your cars.  After your kids leave the nest, transportation needs change drastically. You no longer really need that SUV or a minivan and a smaller vehicle uses much less gas and costs less to maintain. If you are not ready for this, another option is to swap your cars for smaller ones. If you decide to do this,  you need to carefully consider price, performance and safety as well as size. Think about walking more, too, rather than just automatically jumping into the car even when going a short distance.  The closer your home is to shops, entertainment etc. the easier it becomes to do more walking and this can save you a great deal in fuel and improve your health at the same time.

3. An energy audit

Don’t just assume that a small home is always more energy efficient than a larger one. You must assess its energy-efficiency. Perhaps it already has solar panels,  additional insulation and a modern heating system but these benefits come with a price and this may not fit your budget. Don’t worry if you can’t afford these expensive solutions. Just make sure that your smaller home is well constructed.  You can hire a professional energy auditor, who will give the home a complete examination. If you would rather perform your own audit, you can do a free online energy survey or a DIY audit (find out more by reading Home Energy Audits.  A test will show you any flaws such as leaky windows or doors. Once the home is properly sealed, added insulation is the next step. These steps may not be as exciting as having solar panels but they can go a long way towards reducing costs.

Once you are in the home, there are many simple measures you can take that make a difference too. For example, a simple step to take is to use more efficient, longer lasting LED light bulbs,  Download an energy-saving guide and see how easy it is to make small changes.

4. Energy-saving appliances

When you move to a smaller home, it makes sense to trade in your large, energy-guzzling appliances for smaller more energy-efficient ones. Appliances have come a long way over the past few years, becoming more efficient and using less energy. Europe, Scandanavia and America have developed eco-labeling and Energy Star certification which helps you to see clearly how one product compares with  others instead of just relying on a manufacturer’s claim that it is energy-efficient.

Washing Machines

You want a washing machine that gives the best wash possible and uses as little energy and water at the same time. A general consensus seems to be that front loaders are more energy-efficient than top loaders, although top loaders are improving all the time.

An example of an 7kg washing machine with an A+++ energy rating is the John Lewis JLWM1205. The slim depth of this model makes it ideal for a smaller home but it still has a large porthole so loading and unloading is easy.  Its price is reasonable for a washing machine that performs as well as many of the more expensive machines. It isn’t as noisy as some of the cheaper machines either and you get a three-year guarantee.  It’s a good choice if you don’t have too much to spend but unfortunately this product is only available to UK residents.

energy guideThe Haier HLP24E 1.5 cu. ft. Portable Washer with Stainless Steel Drum and Pulsator Wash System was rated the top portable washing machine by Top Ten Reviews, earning their Gold Award. They say “The Haier HLP24E is the best portable washing machine out of all the ones we evaluated. It combines a portable design with numerous wash settings, which enables you to fully clean your clothes and avoid the laundromat altogether. You can move the machine from room to room easily because it is lightweight and has cabinet handles to help you pick up. Overall, this is the best portable washing machine we evaluated because it offers the best solutions for cleaning your clothes, even if you live in an apartment or home without standard washer hookups.” Read their full review for more information.

Refrigerators

Bosch B10CB80NVS: 24″ Glass Door Counter-Depth Bottom Freezer B10CB80NVS 800 Series – Glass on Stainless Steel is rated as an energy star most efficient model in 2016 by www.energystar.gov.

Dishwashers

An A-rated dishwasher can actually save more water and energy than washing up by hand. This is because they sense the dirtiness of the water and decide whether it can be used twice. They also use hot water from one cycle to warm the water in the next, and use cold water to condense steam so dishes can be dried with air alone.

The  SPT SD-9252SS Energy Star 18″ Built-In stainless steel Dishwasher is a best seller on Amazon. Another best seller on Amazon is the SPT Countertop Dishwasher with 1,480 customer reviews. Perfect for apartments, office kitchens or any small-sized kitchens, it offers full-size power in a compact design. With a height of only 17.24-inch, this unit will fit between most countertops and cabinetry.

5. Heating, air-conditioning and water

When your home is small and well insulated, it is much easier to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer, A variety of technologies are available – furnaces and boilers,  wood and pellet heaters, active solar heating, and heat pumps, which are used for both heating and cooling. Find out all you need to know about home heating and the different options available from the U.S. Energy Department.

Water is vital to our lives and rather than relying totally on water supplied to us, we need to learn to put some of our faith in the natural cycle of water. This may involve collecting rainwater from roofs and storing it in tanks, re-using ‘grey’ water and generally being more conscious of wastage. Various products have been manufactured that help to save water too. You can turn a standard toilet into a dual flush two button toilet quite easily by using a converter to increase its water efficiency. No tools are needed for its installation and you don’t have to remove the tank. You can use a water-saving showerhead that reduces water usage but still has a strong, satisfying spray.

Once you are in your small home, following simple, practical tips on water-saving can reduce costs too.

Conclusion

Living in a smaller home makes sense – it is easier to maintain and reduces costs considerably. When your children have left home, there is no reason to stay in a large home with unused rooms and it can actually hamper your lifestyle. When you make the decision to move to a smaller home, it also makes sense to make it as eco-friendly as possible. Just remember that because  ‘going green’ has become a catch-phrase, it is being used as a selling point.  Make sure you are well informed about greener options to find your way through all the hype and discover what truly makes a difference.

The best travel suitcases for seniors

If you are over 50 with time on your hands, good health and some disposable income, you are likely to want to travel. One of the most important decisions you have to make is about what luggage to choose. Make the wrong choice and it can put a damper on your entire experience. The best travel suitcases for seniors are designed to be as light as possible in weight without sacrificing strength. The types of handles and wheels used nowadays make them far easier to control than ever before.

Size

One of the first things you should consider is choosing a small suitcase. This does mean that you have to be smarter when packing but the advantage is that managing your luggage is so much easier. When you choose a bigger suitcase, the tendency is to fill up the space just because it’s there. I will never forget the sight of my mother of 82 leaving for a few months in the UK on a visit to my siblings with an enormous suitcase in tow. She admitted when she returned that it was a big mistake.

Of course the size you choose will depend on factors such as the length and type of your trip. Many people prefer to use a suitcase that is small enough to work as a carry-on to avoid delays that come with checking in. Even if you find it difficult to lift a suitcase into an overhead locker, in-cabin flight staff are happy to assist. I personally prefer to use a check-in suitcase as I do find it difficult to hoist luggage into the overhead locker and I don’t like to wait for the staff to assist me.

Weight

Everything is called “lightweight” today but it is important to check on the exact weight. Even if you have a rolling suitcase, it still has to be carried from time to time and the lighter the better.  The weight should ideally come mostly from the clothes inside and not from the suitcase itself. Experts suggest that an empty suitcase should not weigh more than 7.5 pounds (3.4 kilograms) and many of them fall into this category today.

Space

Even among lightweight suitcases, some have more capacity than others. An expandable one is a good option. Packing cubes help you to organize the space – a set of four cubes – slim, small, medium and large helps to keep your items organized. You can pack similar items together, making it  easier to find what you need without having to scratch through your whole suitcase.

Mobility

If you are using old luggage that you have had for many years, you are not taking advantage of the most recent technology.  Rolling suitcases are being made that make maneuvering of a suitcase more efficient than ever before. This may make the difference between spending  your whole holiday nursing injuries and handling your luggage with ease and confidence.

Quality of materials

It does not make sense to compromise on the quality of the materials used when it comes to buying a suitcase.

Fabric

There is not a single best material for a suitcase. They are made of all kinds of materials like ballistic nylon, polyester, aluminium, leather and polycarbonate. Each material has its pros and cons. For example, leather is very durable but it is heavy in weight. Blends or “poly” materials are not as durable and polyester is often used in less expensive ranges. The choice between hard and soft-sided luggage depends largely on preference today because hard-sided suitcases are lighter in weight than ever before and soft-sided ones are more durable. The top fabric choices for soft-sided bags are ballistic nylon and cordura.  Aluminium and polycarbonate are the most popular materials used for hard-sided cases.

Handles

A telescoping suitcase with an extendable handle allows you to wheel your suitcase with one hand. The telescoping handle can be extended to different lengths and locked in place. The maximum extension must be right for your height so your back does not suffer strain.

Your suitcase should also have easy carry handles on the top or side of the bag, allowing you to lift it whichever way you prefer. A comfortable handle will reduce stress on wrists and arms.

Wheels

For decades, suitcases have had small wheels that used the same technology as in-line skates. They are fixed to the side of the case and roll in one direction. These wheels allow you to pull your suitcase along behind you.

Newer models have four wheels that move in all directions rather than just backwards and forwards. These are called ‘spinners’ and they allow you to wheel your suitcase alongside you. They are easier to maneuver, especially in tight spaces as they don’t have to be tipped and pulled along behind you. Some people dislike spinners because they say they glide away from you on an incline and aren’t suitable for any surfaces other than in airports. However, the best spinners do not have these problems.

When it comes to wheels, reliability is the most important consideration.  You don’t want your wheels to break and you want them to be strong enough to wheel over uneven surfaces if necessary.

Color

It helps to have a suitcase that stands out so you can easily identify it. A bright color can save you much confusion at the carousel. However, if you prefer a more classic color, like black or blue, it’s easy enough to attach a brightly colored tag. Even a brightly colored scarf tied around a handle can help you identify your suitcase.

Pockets

An outside pocket can carry a light jacket or sweatshirt and even a folding travel umbrella. This means you will be prepared for unexpected changes in the weather.

Zippers

The most popular luggage zippers today are coil zippers which are flexible and smooth to operate but still strong.  They consist of two coils on each side, stitched onto the zipper tape and the teeth are formed by the winding of the coils. The most durable zippers are chain zippers that have individual locking teeth fused onto the zipper tape but they are more expensive and not as flexible. A closed-end zipper that opens up at the opposite ends and comes together in the middle is the most practical type as you can still use the suitcase even if one zipper breaks.

Cost

Cost obviously plays an important part in your decision but it is not worth buying a cheap suitcase and struggling with a broken zipper or wonky wheels. Travel can be hard on your luggage.  On the other hand, there is a happy medium and it’s not necessary to spend a fortune either. A good quality suitcase will probably cost from $250 to $300 and it’s not really necessary to pay more than that.

5 of the best

Figuring out which is the best luggage to buy can be very difficult with countless styles, sizes, and prices to choose from. I have rounded up some options for you.

Best check-in suitcase

Wirecutter.com researched 26 pieces of check-in luggage, tested five finalists and found that the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 25″ Express Spinner Suiter is the best check-in luggage for most travelers. This 25-inch model offers plenty of room without going over airline weight limits, looks good,comes with a warranty, and is considered extremely reliable by most travelers. Its extension handle has three stops and its self-aligning magnetic dual wheel spinners ensure that the suitcase rolls in a straight line.

Travelpro suitcase

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Best carry-on

For air travel, many travelers are opting to limit their baggage to what they are allowed to bring on board.  Good Housekeeping tested 14 polycarbonate suitcases made to fit in overhead lockers. They found that the Hartman Vigor Carry On Spinner was the best all-around performer. This suitcase is lightweight, easy to roll, durable and it can contain about a week’s worth of clothes if you pack lightly.
Harmann vigor spinner

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Best brand

Based on their survey of more than 3400 subscribers, Consumer Reports found that durability was a top concern for consumers.  They also found that most people were much happier with four wheels than two wheels. Surprisingly, some of the top brands did not come out on top on this survey. Two brands that performed well in all categories were Eagle Creek and Briggs and Riley.  

The Briggs & Riley Torq International Carry-On Wide Body Spinner Suitcase is 100% polycarbonate so it is durable. It rolls well and the handle extends and retracts easily. The inside has zippered pockets that have webbing and clips to hold down your clothes. This suitcase is a little on the pricey side but according to customer reviews, it’s well worth the extra cost.

Briggs and Riley suitcase

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Most versatile

Eagle Creek’s EC Lync System 29 Convertible Luggage Suitcase is versatile, ultralight and durable. Essentially a roller bag, it converts into a backpack and breaks down flat for quick storage. It comes with a shoulder strap so it can also be used as a duffel. Durable, ultralight and water resistant fabric is used and it has a lightweight aluminium frame. It also has a No Matter What Warranty that covers the lifetime Warranty promise plus the added insurance of repair or replacement due to product failure during the product lifetime, regardless of the cause.

Eagle Creek suitcase

IT luggage

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With the lightweight options available, there is no need for you to worry about stress on wrists, backs and shoulders. These lightweight suitcases are also far sturdier than the older versions and stand up well to the stress of travel. Handles are more comfortable than ever and four wheels offer great maneuverability.  You can travel to your heart’s content, even if you’re well into your senior years.

 

 

Fight aging with pomegranite power

pomegranate for anti-aging

Many of us have been introduced to the health benefits of pomegranates. However, it is only recently that a study has revealed the anti-aging potential of this superfruit. Modern scientists have managed to prove what ancient physicians believed – that the pomegranate can help us to fight aging.

Forbidden fruit?

The pomegranate, with its jewel-like seeds, has been a symbol of life, fertility and vitality through the centuries. It was one of the earliest fruits to be cultivated and has been written about in Greek myths, Shakespeare’s plays and the Bible. Part of the reason why it became so significant symbolically was probably because it was used successfully to treat a wide range of illnesses through the centuries.  Now, thanks to a team of scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, some of the beliefs about the benefits of the pomegranate have been proved scientifically.

A miracle molecule

As we age, our cells struggle to recycle mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell). Their build-up affects the health of many tissues, causing muscle weakening, and possibly causing diseases that come with aging, like Parkinson’s. Within the humble pomegranate lies an answer to this problem.  Our intestinal bacteria convert natural substances called ellagitannins found in the pomegranate into a molecule called Urolithin A. Urolithin A drives the process that allows the parts of the cell that become defective to be cleared away.

The scientists doing the recent study conducted tests on the nematode C. elegans. This worm is often used in such tests because it ages rapidly. Its lifespan increased by more than 45% when exposed to Urolithin A, a truly amazing result.  Rodents were tested too and it was found that the older ones showed 42% better endurance while running than those in the control group – another significant result.

Human studies

Study co-author,  Johan Auwerx, thinks there is good reason to expect positive results from human studies too.

He says “species that are evolutionarily quite distant, such as C elegans and the rat, react to the same substance in the same way. That’s a good indication that we’re touching here on an essential mechanism in living organisms.”

The amount of Urolithin A produced does vary widely depending upon factors such as the flora present in the gut. For some people, no matter how many pomegranates they eat, they don’t produce Urolithin A because they do not have the right microbes in their gut. However, the scientists are already working on a solution to this, and  start-up company, Amazentis, is currently conducting clinical trials on humans. They have developed a way of delivering calibrated doses of Urolithin A.

An Antioxidant powerhouse

pomegranates for anti-aging

The value of antioxidants is common knowledge.  We are aware that they slow the aging process, protect our health in many ways  and reduce the risk of numerous diseases.  How does pomegranate juice compare with other beverages that are heavily promoted as being rich in antioxidants?  In a UCLA study comparing different polyphenol-rich beverages, pomegranate juice came out tops. It beat out grape juice, blueberry juice, cranberry juice, red wine, iced green tea and other well known sources of antioxidants. The main reason was because it contained the most of every type of antioxidant.  

Ways to add pomegranates to your diet

Fresh – enjoy fresh pomegranates when they are in season – it’s easy enough to remove the edible arils by cutting around the diameter, splitting it in two and then pounding the back with a large spoon. You can even store arils in the freezer to get the health benefits of pomegranate all year round.

Use the arils as a topping for granola or add to red wine based sauces.  Pomegranate gives a Pomegranate and Cucumber Salad a juicy kick.

  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1  can garbanzo beans
  • 1 large clove garlic
  •  fresh basil leaves
  • red wine vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil

pomegranate juicePomegranate Juice – when drinking a juice make sure it contains no additives like sugar, other juices as fillers or taste enhancers – it should just be pure pomegranate juice.  A pure juice is obviously going to be more expensive but at least you know  that you are getting the full benefit of its antioxidants.  It is  important to realize that the juice does contain a high amount of natural sugar. Lakewood Pure Pomegranate Juice can be found on Amazon (A pack of 6 32oz bottles).  As you should do with any herbal or dietary supplement, you should talk to your doctor before adding pomegranate juice as a regular supplement to your diet. It can interact with certain prescription medications.

Conclusion

With recent studies, a host of new possibilities have opened up in the fight against muscular degeneration and other health problems that develop as we age. An old age free of some of the health problems we normally associate with aging is an exciting thought.  We don’t just want longevity – we want to have quality of life for longer – and maybe that dream is not so elusive after all.