Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Juicy Tomatoes, Women 50 and Beyond

Good morning Sandwiched Boomers! Today we are delighted to welcome Susan Swartz to our Virtual Book Tour. A talented journalist, author, public radio commentator and blogger, she has written two books about women 50 and beyond. She's here to talk about her 'Juicy Tomatoes' books so lets get started, Susan.

Nourishing Relationships: First off, who or what is a Juicy Tomato?

Susan Swartz: It’s a term I came up with for mature middle aged women to counter those over-the-hill stodgy predictable stereotypes. Juicy Tomatoes are ripe, still on the vine, a little sun-damaged but not ready for the compost bin, if you get my metaphors. Juicy to me means succulent in mind, body and spirit. Also juicy in terms of still having the juice, that is power and ability.

NR: Why did you write your book?

SS: When I waded into my 50s, which was more than a decade ago, I didn’t like the images of middle aged and older women that came up in commercials, novels, movies and the culture in general. Those images, of tired, grumpy, regretful women didn’t match the energy and intellect of women I knew. So I used my journalistic skills to seek out real women in their 50s and 60s and asked them what they liked and didn’t like about getting older. We talked about everything from face-lifts and faith to how contra dancing can cure the empty nest syndrome. The idea was to encourage women to not get stuck but push on and enjoy these years. And to set a better example for those little hard green tomatoes, including my three daughters.

NR: So getting older is all wonderful and rosy?

No, you lose parents and friends get sick and your doctor wants you to have a colonoscopy and there are weird skin things growing on your body. And you worry that you never saved for retirement and your company is downsizing and the younger staffers are nudging you towards the fire escape. But, if you’re lucky you’ve got a husband who likes to dance and friends to grab for girly-girl overnights. And maybe you’ll finally learn to kayak or write a sonnet.

NR: Who are the women in your book and how did you find them?

SS: As a long time newspaper columnist and reporter I already knew a number of women who dazzled me with their attitude and energy including business leaders, artists, folk singers, ex-pats, a house builder, inn keeper, ski instructor. Then I tapped friends and newspaper colleagues around the country for more juicy women.

NR: What did you learn from your Tomatoes?

That truth-talking girlfriends are essential. That creativity lasts. That confidence is sexy. And from a yoga teacher – you are as young as your spine.

NR: What is the difference between your first and second Juicy Tomatoes book?

SS: In the first book Juicy Tomatoes: Plain Truths, Dumb Lies and Sisterly Advice After 50 I explore the stereotypes of aging, where they come from and why there's more to us than over-the-hill black balloon birthdays and saggy breast jokes. Still, there's a lot of frank talk about menopause and some of the visible changes that we experience. As one woman said: "I showed a picture of me with my first husband to my current husband and he looked at me and said, 'Who's that?'"

The second book The Juicy Tomatoes Guide to Ripe Living After 50 is more of a girlfriend guide. Women discuss cosmetic surgery decisions, taking care of our bones, how not to be an old poop. One hint: Walk as if you're wearing high heels even if they're sneakers. Sexy women wear heels, if only in their minds.

What is your next project?

SS: I’m fooling around with a kind of memoir about what happens to my generation of women when we leave our life-long profession but don’t really retire. I tentatively call it Life After Newspapers.

We appreciate your candor and insight, Susan. For more information about Susan, her books, podcasts or articles about health and fitness, click here.

Now, readers, it's your turn. Susan is available all day to answer questions - just click on 'comments' at the bottom of this post and follow the prompts. And thanks for stopping by!

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Top 100 Senior and Boomer Blogs

Michelle Seitzer has just published the impressive list of the Top 100 Senior and Boomer Blogs. This year, it's even broken down into categories and descriptions. As a member of the Sandwich Generation facing the challenges of parents growing older and kids growing up, this list is for you. And if you work with seniors or want to network, you'll find a wealth of useful information and helpful resources. We appreciate your including us, Michelle! Here's what she has to say:

"Here’s an updated version of our first Top 100 Senior and Boomer Blogs and Websites, to help you stay up-to-date on the latest advances in boomer blogs and senior sites spanning a colossal range of topics. Peruse and use this new list as your hitchhiker’s guide to the most interesting, engaging, helpful, and heartwarming offerings in the virtual galaxy today."

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Make Your Brain Sweat with Novel Challenges

Interested in narratives of remarkable people who confirm that it's never too late to blaze new trails? Journalist Bruce Frankel’s book What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life? is full of stories about those who find passion in lifelong learning, the creative arts and giving back. We asked Bruce a few questions:

Why did you write the book?
Facing unexpected challenges in my career and life in my mid-50s, I decided to write a book about ordinary people who achieved significantly in the second half of life to provide real, not faux, inspiration.

At about the same time, while helping my recently-laid off 84-year-old mother recover from heart surgery, I became fascinated by recent findings in neuroscience about the brain's plasticity into very old age. I took a leap and began researching people whose later life stories demonstrated the remarkable possibilities of reinventing ourselves and the benefits to our brains and lives.

What were the best personal results?
Writing the book and meeting the people whose stories I tell was a gift. They expanded my imagined lifeline for work and provided me with models of how to plow through adversity and find well-being in a life lived with engagement, passion, discipline, and a playful outlook.

I learned the importance of diversifying my activities, rededicating myself to exercise and making my brain sweat with novel challenges. It helped me establish a new career, including public speaking, and to take risks less fearfully, like when I recently accepted my son's request to make a music video with him. Critically, those I interviewed taught me the importance of living life in sync with my own values and dreams. Most amazingly, completing the book, in itself, made me feel successful in ways I hadn't imagined.

In his other life, Bruce worked at People magazine and USA Today. He left full-time journalism, in his 50's, to study for an MFA in poetry.

Read more about What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life? and the award Bruce just received at his website. He also writes a blog about later life achievers, the brain and aging, and, occasionally, dance and poetry.

You may want to sign our email list to the left of this post, and receive a free monthly newsletter, Stepping Stones as well as download a complimentary ebook, Lessons Learned: Reaching For Your Goals.

And please visit our blog again on Wednesday, March 30, when we welcome Susan Swartz for a Virtual Book Tour. She'll be discussing her two books about women 50 and beyond, the women she calls Juicy Tomatoes.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Building Resiliency After the Disasters in Japan

The Japanese concept of gaman - strength, patience, discipline - is evident in the reactions of the people there to the cascade of disasters that have hit them: earthquake, tsunami, nuclear contamination. In the midst of widespread damage, they are grieving their tremendous loss of lives and property but are also determined to endure and already beginning to rebuild. With the tradition of working together and an attitude that "everything will be all right," the Japanese people are hoping to move forward.

What can we learn from the people of Japan about resiliency in the face of tragedy? World events - and the 24/7 news about them - contribute to the anxiety and tension we feel on a daily basis. Without the effect of these outside events, the most frequently cited sources of stress in the recent American Psychological Association survey were money, work and the economy. Over one-half of the respondents also noted that family responsibilities and relationships were significant causes of chronic stress. Today, added to that, people are experiencing additional anxiety, though out of harm’s way themselves, because of the uncontrollable events that have hit Japan.

Coping with stress is important for building resiliency and maintaining our physical as well as mental health. Earlier this week on the blog we talked about four strategies to use when you are feeling overwhelmed. Here are five more suggestions for you to use now and on a regular basis:

Practice relaxation techniques. Set aside time for a regular routine of deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation or other stress reduction methods. Decide to put off worrying - much of what you may fear never actually happens anyway. Remember to be open to the healing effects of laughter.

Exercise several times a week. Only one-quarter of Americans surveyed by APA were satisfied with their level of physical activity. To increase yours, find an activity that you enjoy and stick with it - walking with friends, water aerobics, pilates or yoga classes, training at the gym.

Eat sensibly. Resolve to maintain a balanced diet of healthy foods rich in nutrition that serve as a natural defense against stress. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and limit your use of sugar, caffeine and cigarettes as they can contribute to anxiety.

Reach out to your support system. Ask for help. Talk about your thoughts and feelings with family and friends - they can validate your emotions. You may want to consult a professional counselor for a non-judgmental ear and guidance in sorting out your concerns.

Be patient. Know that you will recover balance and serenity at your own pace. As long as you keep taking steps to move forward, you will eventually reach your destination. Like one-half of survey respondents, you may find that listening to music, exercising, spending time with family or friends and reading are comforting ways to manage stress.

Close to one-half of those surveyed by the American Psychological Association said they experienced irritability and anger as a symptom of stress. The APA has compiled a stress tip sheet to help reduce these kinds of negative emotions. You can learn to manage stress and become more resilient when you practice the strategies we've focused on this week. Nevertheless your emotional recovery, like the Japanese, will take time. Support - both for yourself and what you provide to others - is valuable as you begin the process of rebuilding and restoring hope in these difficult days.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning How to Cope from the Japanese

For the past 10 days, we've seen heartbreaking pictures of epic devastation in Japan, resulting from the massive earthquake and ravaging tsunami there. And read frightening reports of damaged nuclear reactors with newly elevated levels of radiation in the food and water supply. But what we've also seen are people reacting with composure and a cooperative spirit. And we've read about people demonstrating resilience and unity in the face of tremendous horror. Even with the shock of one-half million homeless and estimates of 10,000 dead, the culture of the Japanese remains one of harmony with a focus on what is best for the group. There is certainly grief and mourning the loss of loved ones, but the reaction to the tragedies has not led to a further deterioration of community cohesion.

From your distance, how do you respond? Are you overwhelmed by the 24-hour news coverage? Has your level of anxiety increased? If you're feeling vulnerable, you're not alone. The emotional reactions to disasters such as these may be even worse for baby boomers, who reveal higher levels of depression than other age groups, according to the website

The palpable distress created by shocking news reports has added to the already high levels of stress identified by the American Psychological Association in their national survey. The study found 75% of the U.S. population experiences at least some stress every two weeks, with half of these rated at moderate or high levels, leaving people emotionally exhausted. And stress levels have increased over the past five years - even before the catastrophes in Japan - impacting both physical and psychological health.

APA has compiled some strategies to help those recovering from disasters. And to reduce your stress levels and take better care of yourself, here are some of our tips to help manage the pressures you face:

Focus on what you can control, not what you can't. The people of Japan could not stop the earthquake or tsunami but they did choose to react to the disasters with teamwork and a sense of purpose. When can't influence negative circumstances of your own, you can still decide how to handle them. Let go of painful thoughts and unrealistic expectations. Keep a journal to aid in the process of releasing frustration and coping with anxiety. Clearly define your goals and aspirations. As you keep your focus on what you can do, a positive accomplishment may emerge from the negative situation. Giving a helping hand does wonders - it provides aide to those in need and makes you feel useful too.

Maintain balance in life between family, job and your own needs. Don't over commit yourself - rather, attempt to retain a normal routine. Set aside some special time for yourself to recover your equilibrium - even if you are a sandwiched boomer with a family in flux. Get enough rest and sleep to allow your body to recover from the stresses of the day. Over 40% of the APA respondents reported lacking energy and feeling fatigued on a regular basis.

Shift your attention to what is truly important. Although hundreds of thousands in Japan lost their homes and possessions, they drew together as families and friends. As you revise your priorities, recognize the value of the underpinnings of your own strength - family, friends, spiritual connection. Express gratitude for your many gifts and change the focus from yourself to those around you. Offer help to those who require it, in Japan or in your own community. You'll feel better when you do and provide essential material support to the needy.

Draw on your strengths. APA survey respondents admitted their lack of willpower to create a healthier lifestyle, but 70% still thought they could improve and make the changes they had identified. What personal strengths have you used in the past to kick-start your progress? Rely on those now as well as ones you've developed more recently. Brainstorm ways to apply these abilities in a novel way.

The recovery in Japan will not be easy or quick. As Confucius said, A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. Our hearts are with the people of Japan as they continue to take small steps forward toward personal and national healing. We can all learn from their determined attitude and courageous behavior in reaction to the tremendous crises they face.

For more tips about how you can cope with your own challenges, check back here on Wednesday. And you can receive a complimentary copy of our ebook, Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching For Your Goals when you sign up for our free monthly newsletter, Stepping Stones.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Charlie Sheen Can Learn from the Tragic Earthquake in Japan

Often, in the face of disaster, we feel a deep sense of helplessness. And the tragedy in Japan evokes a particular vulnerability when we see the pressing and immediate needs for food and shelter.

Many who have lost everything are offering support and hope to one another - their self reliance and resiliency are apparent. One couple in their late 70s weren't waiting for help. They immediately began fixing up their home so they would be able to help others.

If only Charlie Sheen could access that kind of courage to face up to his problems. Are you dealing with a family situation that requires you to step up to the plate and care for your grandkids? Here are some ideas for you:

Maintain a bond with the ex and extended family. By being civil and keeping the lines of communication open, your grandchildren will transition easier if they have to move from one home and family to the other. And it's impossible for them to have too many loving arms.

There will be a huge void to fill. You may be confused about your role now, so don't be afraid to see a family therapist. Perhaps you were a natural when your kids were little, but this is a unique situation. Learning new techniques from experts can make a big difference the second time around. Talking with someone outside the family about your concerns and frustrations can be a lifesaver.

Do what is necessary to maintain familiarity and continuity.
By nurturing your grandkids and stabilizing their environment, they'll feel more secure. The support and structure you give them will minimize their feelings of anxiety and stress. Children are resilient – they'll thrive as you model positive thinking.

Charlie Sheen lost his kids and his job. And the bitter custody battle with his estranged wife is a heartbreaking tragedy for his children. His wild rants and erratic behavior on streaming webcasts are hard to watch and make you wonder what's coming next. Whether his problems stem from a deep hunger inside, a serious psychological issue or habitual drug use, he needs encouragement to examine his life.

Mental illness and substance abuse are major problems in our society today. Community resources are positioned to help out when our adult children, struggling with these problems, require inpatient treatment rehabilitation.

Through all these difficulties, our grandchildren need representation and someone to speak on their behalf. They deserve role models with strong ethical standards, integrity and character. Just as Charlie Sheen, hopefully, will take care of himself in preparation for return to his family, our children need our support as they get healthy enough to come home and raise our grandchildren.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Charlie Sheen's Impact on His Kids and Their Grandparents

Our hearts go out to the people in Japan, struggling with tsunami warnings and the aftershocks of a devastating earthquake. This humanitarian crisis is compounded by the race to contain meltdowns in their nuclear plants. It certainly puts Charlie Sheen's meltdown in perspective.

In the past, any media frenzy involving Charlie Sheen has been over the top. This time, his derailed thinking, and grandiose attitude – no matter whether it seems like he's in the middle of a self destructive hypomanic episode or a drug induced psychosis - are indeed cause for alarm.

The voyeuristic public loves a show and cuts some slack when it comes to celebrities and controversy. But don't you think we should draw the line when the best interests of children are at stake? And if parents are unable to care for their children, is it up to their own parents - often hard working, card carrying members of the Sandwich Generation - to step in?

An increasing number of boomer grandparents are assuming greater care-giving and financial responsibility for their grandchildren. Reports indicate that more than 3 million grandparents are raising twice as many grandchildren. This is particularly true in homes where the circumstances involve habitual substance abuse, chronic illness or a single parent. If you happen to be caught in the middle of a complex and painful crisis, here are ideas to help you take better care of your grandchildren, your children and yourself:

Grieve what you have lost. Perhaps it's the dreams you had for the future and your family, your children as you once knew them or the freedom to work less or retire at this time in your life.

Accept the changes in your family whatever they are. While it's important to show support, try not to excuse bad behavior. Validate the feelings of your adult children yet make them accountable and hold them responsible. Remember that your primary concern here is to attend to the immediate needs of your grandkids.

Log on Wednesday for more practical tips about how grandparents can step in and begin to care for their grandchildren when their own kids lose their way.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Living the Life of Your Dreams

We've come across an new ebook that we want to tell you about. Written by Caryn FitzGerald, it features 30 ordinary people sharing their experiences living extraordinary lives. Living the Life of My Dreams: Essays & Interviews with 30 Ordinary People Living EXTRAordinary Lives can inspire you with some amazing stories of people who have gone from ordinary to extraordinary.

You'll find plenty of practical ideas in Caryn's book about how to create the life you want by tapping into your passions and talents. And the message about perseverance that runs throughout the book - take action with a first step and stay on the path - is an excellent reminder for all of us.

Featured are people such as:
Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo
Shelly Rachanow, Author of What Would You Do If You Ran The World
Sally Shields, Speaker, Radio Personality and Author of bestseller, The Daughter-in-Law Rules
Pablo Solomon, International Artist
Shirley Cheng, Blind at 17, Author with over 25 book awards a decade later
Achayra Sri Khadi Madama, Yogi, MMA trainer with 4 black belts earned after age 50!

Caryn has arranged to offer you bonus gifts from her partners around the world, if you purchase her book today:
Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching For Your Goals - our ebook with practical tips for creating your own success
The Self Improvement Guide
Journey to Shangri La - full CD
The Daughter-in-Law Rules ebook
and over 35 more bonuses available for one day only – March 9, 2011

To learn more about Caryn's book and take advantage of this inspirational offer, purchase the e-book today and receive the links to download your bonus gifts.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Toning Down Your Fights

Here we are again in March, which has the reputation of coming in like a lion, out like a lamb.

Do these changes in the tone of the weather mirror the shifting atmosphere of your relationships?


Everyone has fights sometimes but have you been wondering how you can switch your relationship squabbles from turbulent to sunny in the same way March does? Whether you're dealing with a significant other, your child, parent, in-law, friend or colleague at work, here are some tips for toning down the rhetoric and creating your own calm in the storm:

Commit to working toward change. Decide to let go of old hurt feelings and instead focus on the present and what you can do to transform it. When you find yourselves fighting the same battles again and again, determine to finally resolve them or agree to put them away with the understanding that you'll accept your differences of opinion.

Let go of your anger. Step back and take a deep breath - several actually. Leave the conversation for a while and find a healthy outlet for your negative physical energy - go for a jog, yell in the shower, hit a pillow, call a friend. When you remove yourself and deal with your anger, you can come back to the disagreement later when you both have calmed down. For some ideas about how sandwiched boomers can develop this approach, check out a past blog post.

Listen, really listen. Develop the skill of active listening - paying attention to what your partner is saying without distracting yourself by planning a response. Ask empathic questions and work to understand his position, feelings and needs, even if you don't agree with them. Conflict resolution techniques can work among family members as well as they do in business and international relations.

Fight fair, even as you keep your communication open and honest. Keep your messages on topic and avoid name-calling and criticisms about character traits and past actions. Focus on talking about behaviors and issues that can be modified. Let your partner know about how you react to his or her actions without putting a value judgment on them. For more tips about improved and effective communication, re-read our post about limiting your arguments.

Be willing to take some responsibility. As you acknowledge your part in the turmoil and begin to see your partner's perspective, it's easier to find the means to compromise and cooperate. Learn some of these practical strategies we offered to new bride Chelsea Clinton and her groom, Marc Mezvinsky, on a past blog post.

Insert some positives into the equation. Give compliments for positive behaviors you want to reinforce. Forgive your partner for mistakes made and offer an apology when you have been the one in the wrong. Shared humor can ease the strain of hostility and help forge a new sense of connection.

If your husband has been the main source of tension in your marriage, our virtual book tour with Jed Diamond about his book Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationships from the Irritable Male Syndrome can give you some additional suggestions about how you can dilute the anger and start enjoying each other again.

As you know so well, your relationship with your mother - or daughter - isn't immune to a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows either. As a matter of fact, it's often the closest emotional connection a woman has in her life. But close doesn't always mean easy. When you want some more insight into how to pull back a little, click on our virtual book tour with Susan Shaffer and Linda Gordon, authors of Too Close for Comfort: Questioning the Intimacy of Today’s New Mother-Daughter Relationship.

And here on the blog we also hosted a virtual book tour with Dr. Susan Lieberman, author of The Mother-In-Law’s Manual: Proven Strategies for Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships with Married Children. So if you're searching for more ideas about how to smooth over the friction between you and your daughter-in-law, you'll get some helpful advice from her.

You'll find more tools for developing successful relationships when you search our blog. Let us know what works for you - and remember spring is just a few weeks away.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

How Sandwiched Boomers Can Fight Inertia

This is a continuation of the tips offered on Monday about how to fight inertia. As Sandwiched Boomers with so much on your plate, you may feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin. Take it slow and easy. If some days you can't follow through with your plans, don't let frustration sap your enthusiasm. Think about all those New Year's resolutions you made when you were young and didn't know better. And then remember the inertia that followed the failure of your short-lived goals. Don't fall victim to that kind of logic.

Photo by Filomena Scalise

Make a public commitment to those who want to see you succeed. By telling your family about your intentions, you create a reality that'll keep you feeling motivated. You'll find it may be easier to lose weight by joining a support group or to stop smoking through an organized program.

Lower your expectations. And, for sure, don't expect anything near perfection. Actually, there is no perfection, so relax. Start out small and be OK with baby steps. If Aunt Bess has moved into the nursing home across town, your only choices aren't either to go daily or not at all. Pile the kids in the car one Sunday a month and enjoy an hour in the park with her and your family.

Give up the pleasure principle – that is, having exactly what you want when you want it. Next time you eat out, instead of finishing up with apple pie a la mode, visualize a thinner you in that little black dress at your upcoming high school reunion. Delaying immediate gratification for future goals will lead to feeling better about yourself - and nourish you way beyond your last bite of dessert.

Savor your power. Positive reinforcement is a major part of any behavior modification program, so reward yourself for a job well done. Choose a pleasurable activity that nurtures you, like a trip to the spa or a yoga class. This kind of attitude will sustain you as well as promote greater self care. And as your goals take shape, you'll shape up.

Our website,, has lots of complimentary articles full of strategies about how to reach your goals. And in this difficult economic climate, our ebook, Taking Care of Stress in a Financial Storm, may be the best $2.45 gift you can give yourself. The information will help you look beyond the present moment. Why not take this chance to get closer to your goals? As you realize that you are making progress, every day will present a new opportunity.

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