Apple in Salad -- Really?!

Two ladies standing nearby as I was buying organic vegetable seedlings and bio-intensively grown sprouts, from Bob Burns of Aiki Farm at the weekly Stonington Borough Farmers Market, asked, “are you going to have those as a salad?”  I told them I was.  “Actually,” I said, “I add them to the salad, toss in large amounts, along with other things.”  Bob Burns is watching with a small smile.  He’s a former U.S. Marine and we always greet each other with “Semper Fi”.  One of the ladies asks, “you mean, with lettuce?”  “Sure; I mean with two or three kinds of lettuce: radicchio, bib, red leaf, some arugula; then I typically add tomato, yellow peppers, onion slivers, maybe avocado, apple, purple grapes or both.”  “You put apple in salad, really?”

I explain that small chunks of crisp, sweet apple make a salad perfect, tantalizing the taste buds, blending with the added drops of thick balsamic vinegar and complimenting the light film of extra virgin olive oil.  Salads should be eaten eight to ten times a week, smaller ones before or with main meals, a large one for a main meal now and then.  They are filling, nutritious, low in density and therefore low in calories.  Bob’s sprouts and seedlings add just the right touch.

Speaking of olive oils, there is a superb article in this weeks Bloomberg Business magazine...

One has to be careful of what one buys.  A certain amount of so-called ‘extra-virgin’ oil seems to be adulterated and/or mislabeled.  Usually you can tell from the taste.  Test your oil neat by dipping a small piece of crusty bread in the oil, Italian style.  Once you find the perfect brand, stay with it.  There are more and more specialty shops now that sell good oils and vinegars; the owners often travel to the countries and specific olive groves to select their products.  Stonington Borough has such a shop, called Amapola’s, right on central Water Street next to Tom’s General Store, where they offer a huge selection of excellent olive oils and vinegars, teas and chocolate truffles. 

Bob Burns is telling another customer how wonderful he feels, doing just what he loves, thanking God.  He gives me a thumbs up as I leave, and a parting Semper Fi – “see you next week”.  It may be winter outside the Velvet Mill, but it’s hard to match Stonington Borough for personal warmth!

Music Matters

A reader reminded me that Music should have been added to the topic Health Awareness, as a therapeutic medium for "best quarter" super-seniors, and as a memory enhancing aide. I couldn't agree more. At my cousin Geraldine's cognitive-impairement home, a musician or singer or dance instructor would come in at least twice a week, for an hour or more entertainment, to the delight of the residents. Many would sing along, remembering words and tunes they once knew from the 40s and the 50s. Some would get up and dance, and dance WELL, along with an aide or nurse to partner them.

One day while watching television in the theatre lounge with Geraldine, an ad came on featuring an insurance company. I said to my cousin offhandedly, just making conversation, "this is a company called Nationwide, Gerry; did you ever hear of them?"  "Oh, sure," she replied, then sang--quite robustly for her 88-pound sprightly body-- "oh, sure...dum-de-dum..Nationwide, de dum, We're On Your Side, de dum de dum!", in perfect tune. Music is magic, and you'll never forget it.

Contentment Is Not Elusive

In addition to sensible nutrition and regular exercise, the third key pillar--“health awareness”--includes an understanding of ‘peace of mind’, or contentedness, within the context of longevity and wellness--i.e. living longer better.  Even given such understanding, calmness is not always easy for certain elderly people to achieve.  For the highly-strung, or those used to being super-achievers, or worriers, the response to an instructor or author advocating contentedness is, “yeah, easier said than done”.  That’s why a book such as Dr. Herbert Benson’s compact classic The Relaxation Response, published in 1975 (just 52 pages excluding bibliography) is still in demand: it taught people how to achieve calmness, and eliminate stress, primarily through meditation in a proven manner--not effortless, but doable--employing a few simple steps.  
Today there are several new “how-to” books dealing with happiness and satisfaction during aging, for those years before and after retirement and during the following decade or so--currently the ‘boomer’ years.  Dr. Robert Waldinger who heads the Harvard Study of Adult development (begun more than 70 years ago) has written and lectured extensively on the health and wellbeing of two cohorts of men through their life cycle, identifying factors that contribute to happiness and satisfaction.  Dr. Waldinger “is now expanding the Harvard Study to the baby boomer children of those cohorts to understand how childhood experience reaches across decades to affect health and wellbeing in middle age” (extract from Dr. Waldinger’s bio). 
Dr. David Agus, oncologist at USC, who wrote A Short Guide to a Long Life in 2014, has now followed up with The Lucky Years.  He stresses the importance of interactive personal attention by physicians in treating patients, and advises readers--lay and professional alike--that the means to take control of one’s health can be accomplished “as never before”, and that practitioners are now able “to fine tune strategies to prevent illness”.  Well-known Dr. Deepak Chopra has teamed up with neurologist Dr. Rudolph Tanzi to publish Super Genes, a 320-page book that (per the subtitle) “unlocks the astonishing power of your DNA for optimum health and well-being”.  Complex theory is clearly explained and developed into six essential life-changing elements that readers are taught to consider: i.e. diet; stress; exercise; meditation; sleep; emotions.              
There hasn’t been much in print on “contentedness” for the age bracket that I am primarily concerned with, the ‘best quarter’ years, in particular for late-80s and 90s.  I developed a simple program for this age bracket, comprising just three “pillars”: nutrition; exercise; health awareness.  I relied to a great extent on what I learned from the Pritikin Longevity Center…but with a more relaxed regimen in terms of diet strictness; and I created a new set of isometric and cardio exercises that people in their 90’s can readily do, and be content with.  It’s all described in my book Wellness For Super-Seniors.
The third pillar, health awareness (as I call it), basically encompasses all the factors separated into several sub-areas in Dr. Chopra’s book, and perhaps more.  It certainly covers stress and being aware of how to relieve or mitigate worry and hypertension; one of the ways to do that may involve meditation or ‘emptying the mind’; another is to know about the importance of rejuvenating rest and/or good sleep.  I add in lectures (by physicians or nurse-practitioners) on the importance of companionship and camaraderie, and in giving pleasure or contentedness to others; helping to overcome loneliness or depression, in oneself or one’s neighbor - (this is particularly apt if addressing a class in a retirement community or an assisted living complex).
I once invited an ER physician to address a “Juans-Wellness” class at a community center near Westerly, Rhode Island.  Of the sixteen or so ‘students’, half were in their 90s and situated mostly in the front row.  The doctor was talking about gradual onset of memory loss and mild dementia, and various means to exercise the mind and slow the process; for example, taking more interest in the news, doing crosswords, talking with neighbors. One younger lady (80-ish) in the back row asked, “what if you can never remember your neighbor’s name?” The doctor replied, “good question: I have that trouble myself; I use tricks to remember my patients’ names or a new acquaintance--association with something that I can remember; or I get close and do more than just shake his hand.  For example, meeting an older fellow like Steven here in the front, I might give him a hug and even a kiss on the cheek; I’ll remember him that way.”  The even older guy next to Steven looked up and said in a gravelly voice, “and he CERTAINLY will remember you!”
That’s the final point.  Always impart humor into the class and the instruction book. Old people, really senior-senior folk, love to laugh.  My classes were always remembered as periods of great fun.  This is THE time in peoples’ lives to inject as much contentment as possible.      

Organic Dark Chocolate - in time for Valentines Day!

Bill Gash and MI Chocolate at the Stonington Village Farmers Market.

Bill Gash and MI Chocolate at the Stonington Village Farmers Market.

Dr. Lynders, M.D., addressed my Wellness for Super Seniors fitness class “students” several years ago, and in the context of a lecture on nutrition’s relationship to dementia, he quoted a study showing that moderate consumption of dark chocolate (70% and above) had positive effects on overall health and memory retention. For me, in particular, that was outstanding news because I am drawn to chocolate like a bear to a honeybee hive. Now I have found the best chocolate in America, right here in my hometown village of Stonington Borough, at the weekly Saturday Farmers Market.

Bill Gash personally selects his organic cocoa from small growers in Ecuador, farmers that have learned their trade over generations. These small Ecuadorian organic batches are internationally recognized because of their quality and unique flavor. Back in Connecticut, Bill stone-grinds his cocoa from the beans for thirty hours into the pure form from which he crafts his various offerings. I selected two 70%-pure cocoa dark bars, one harmonized with organic raspberries, the other flavored with orange; and a new model, 85%-pure cocoa with almonds. Bill lets passers-by sample any and all of his chocolate variations with mini-teaspoon sized ladles.  Bill’s wife Casey designs the attractive packaging for their bars--industrial design was her former profession--and they are visibly more distinct and colorful than any other high-end chocolate products on the shelves.  It is called MI Chocolate and can be found at

Stonington Borough Farmers Market moves from the fishing fleet docks and park (its venue during the summer months) to the nearby “Velvet Mill” for the winter months. The former velvet mill has transitioned into an enclave of artists’ studios, professional artisans in glass and pottery, a framer and gallery, a bakery and boutique brewery, and an assortment of other small shops and professional offices. Stonington Borough, where I live, is quite unique as a Northeast seaside village (with a working fishing fleet) that remains “open” and vibrant year round. It boasts six restaurants and a host of boutiques; two yacht clubs and a world-class Sailing & Science research school. From our park at the Point which juts out into Narragansett Bay, visitors have an unparalleled view of three states, the Watch Hill lighthouse, Fishers Island and the Atlantic Ocean. The Farmers Market is THE place to be on a Saturday morning, for the freshest foods and various products...and my week’s supply of heavenly chocolate!

Gerry did more for me than I did for her

My first cousin, Geraldine, died at 92 last May (2015) and left a void in my life and daily routine.   We all called her Gerry. She was the sweetest, most considerate lady anyone ever knew. All who met her said so. I had the privilege of caring for her the past twelve years, managing her financial affairs, her assisted living home moves and her medical needs. Gerry was in and out of hospital and rehabilitation facilities on several occasions, after some serious falls, pneumonia, and fractured hips and a shoulder. On one occasion when she was not recovering well, we brought her to our home and over the course of several weeks I and my wife and daughter nurtured her back to life. During a subsequent medical crisis, she was thought by all to be approaching death and Hospice was brought in to tend to her (which they did do magnificently). At one point we were told the end was very near, Gerry was not talking and seemed barely conscious, so I brought in our parish pastor to administer the sacrament of the sick (what we used to call “extreme unction”). As Monsignor was leaving, Gerry turned her head slightly and said to the nurse, “I’m not ready to go yet!” And she didn’t. During those twelve years her dementia progressed from so-called MCI--mild cognitive impairment--to somewhat more severe memory loss, yet short of full Alzheimer’s.  She could always recognize me and called me by name, but few others. She still loved to do crossword puzzles--large print copy and easy version--and we would finish one at least every other day. I learned a lot over that period, of loving someone very old and being loved in return, of caring and working for someone’s life and realizing all life is important, and that it can be made better.  Gerry did more for me than I did for her. 


Even for those living well in "The Best Quarter", who appear to be the healthiest, strongest and most vibrant of men and women, setbacks can and do occur.  The benefits to having "lived well" is that one is able to bounce back sooner and start over without undue anxiety, and accept the hardship associated with rehab and repair.

This happened to me. On a hot Sunday afternoon in June 2012, while playing tennis with three young men (all doctors), I heard a rifle shot close behind and felt a sharp pain low down -- although it wasn't a rifle shot.  It was my right Achilles tendon severing. I went through the usual operation to have it retied, a neat surgical job leaving an eight inch scar. Only problem was that the secondary anaesthetic (a nerve-blocker administered behind the knee) can, if penetrated into a nerve and not withdrawn quickly, cause permanent neuropathy. I wound up with that, an unpleasant numbness and constant vice-like grip about the toes that impairs balance and walking in a normal manner. It took several months of rehab and hard work to get the right muscle in shape again, albeit now half the size of the left. I resumed conducting my "JuansWellness" exercise classes for "Over-75s", and tentatively tried a round of golf (walking with a push cart).

Prior to that accident I had been running regularly and was planning to train for another marathon. My body was behaving differently and it took me longer to recover from training sessions. I turned 80 in mid 2013, and determined to redouble my efforts to get back to normal, or as near a "new-normal" as I could. However, I was thwarted by a second setback. In October I discovered lumps under my left armpit and along my clavicle, and was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Chemotherapy started in December and continued on through the first quarter of 2014.  That was followed by twenty-five sessions of radiation. Here's a truism about corrective medicine: one sometimes has to accept some lesser negatives in order to get the positive. My negatives this time were: (a) one of the ingredients in the chemotherapy cocktail can cause neuropathy, and so I got neuropathy in the left foot to complement that in the right foot: and (b) the radiation, in order to shrink the lymph nodes under arm and upper chest, scarred upper and lower sections of my left lung. The latter was, and is, a nuisance as I became winded very easily, not a good outcome for a would-be runner.

The year 2015 has been a year of getting back on the proper track and "Starting Over".  Now, as we move into 2016 (I'll be 83 in a few months), I am once again determined to concentrate more on sound nutrition and regular, do-able exercises including longer walks and perhaps even a bit of jogging.  I am back to golf (it was so mild a start to this winter in the Northeast that I played nine holes the day before Christmas--walking of course).  And I will do better.  If I am going to be bold enough to preach total wellness (for "Living Longer -- Better") to my former  class "students", my peers and my readers,  I had better shape up, try and avoid another setback.  But if I do get another unexpected surprise in my 80's, I will bounce back, and I hope I will always be able to start over.           

Super-Senior Cruise Adventures

On my recent transatlantic crossing, from New York to Southampton on the Queen Mary 2. Stay tuned for my nutrition and exercise pointers while cruising. The old adage is that most people gain a pound a day while aboard ship: you don't have to do that! Stay in shape and really enjoy the vacation in a healthy manner. Regarding the picture, yes it is OK to have a glass of red wine with dinner (it's in the book...).  

Preparing To Launch in 2016

We are amending the Super-Seniors' program title name from Juan's Wellness (as used over the past decade) to The Best Quarter.  The emphasis is the same: three key pillars of overall wellness - Nutrition, Exercise & Health Awareness.  The audience is now somewhat more senior.  Whereas we used to direct our classes and instruction toward 65s to 90-year-olds (and to their adult children and caregivers), we have moved to address primarily 75s to 100-plus-year olds, i.e. those in "the best quarter" (and, as before, their children and carers; plus nutritionists and health practitioners, in particular those dealing with the elderly, and scholars involved in studies of aging).  Aging well: that's the goal.  Hence our motto: "live longer, better--LONGO VIVAS ET MELIORA".