Finding My Roots

Today’s Mail Tribune had an article in the TV Tempo section that was promoting a PBS program called “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.”  Gates is the director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard and his show features high-profile guests finding their roots.   This article follows a series of features on CNN following various staff of that channel tracing their own ancestry.  In addition, as we are still unpacking from our recent move to Twin Creeks I was reminded of the boxes and boxes of genealogical materials I had accumulated about 30 years ago in pursuit of my own roots.

When I first began my ancestor tracking journey I had little information to go by.   There was no internet and research involved going to a local genealogical library to pour through endless reels of microfilm or writing to state offices for death certificates.  Slowly piece-by-pieces I was able to fill in many missing parts of my family history.
This blog is not so much about reaching a destination, such as finding a famous ancestor (none so far) or tracing your family back to the middle ages (I’m around 1623).   For me genealogy brings to life two passions I have had for all my adult life; notably travel and history.  I had always planned to take all the information I had gathered, documents, newspaper clippings, visits to cemeteries in five states and four countries and write the great family history after I retired.

Well, I have been “retired” for about two years and the history is still not written.   What I now realize is that the journey was the real story.  Standing on a steep hillside above a Norwegian fjord on the soil my great grandfather farmed or visiting a small village in the Rheingau area of Germany only to discover a distant relative who had heard the story of two brothers coming to America in the 1850′s.  Finding a handwritten will from my great grandfather in the basement of a courthouse in Wisconsin or taping my now departed grandmother singing a nursery rhyme in German.  One time I knocked on a farm house door in Western Minnesota and introduced to the family living there that my great grandfather had homesteaded the property.  They were thrilled to learn what I knew and had some stories to share with me about the homestead farm.  I left with square nails from the original barn my great grandfather John Johnson had built and I have a framed copy of his homestead patent dated 1890.

It’s never too late to begin a search for your roots but I would encourage anyone who can afford it to visit the places where their ancestors lived and loved, worked and died.   Try and put their life into the context of the time.  In many of us with European ancestors often as not wars played a major role in relocation or, as in the case of John Johnson, lack of farming opportunity because he was not the eldest son.   Or Franz Jahnke who was a shepherd in Prussia but wanted something better for his family.  Take the journey.

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My New Best Selling Book

I have this great idea for a new diet book.  The title is “How I lost 50 pounds in two years after turning 70.”   The sub-title will be “If I can do it so can you.”  Want to buy it?   There’s just one problem with my book; it’s a bit thin.  As a matter of fact my “secret” diet can be summed up thusly:  eat less, exercise more.  It really is that simple.

When I retired at the end of 2012 (having just turned 70) I was determined to shed weight.  For years I had travelled the world spending countless hours on international flights eating and drinking with abandon.  I was lucky enough to fly business class in many cases and who could resist the free wine and heated nuts.  To say nothing of the desert cart!

My “diet” regimen consisted of setting a daily calorie goal and then keeping a daily food and drink diary to track what (and how many calories) I was taking in.  The calorie goal was set so that if I did nothing else but stay at that caloric level I would gradually loose weight.  However, if I exercised (walking, cycling, etc.) I could increase my food intake accordingly.  I used a smartphone app called Fitbit but there are many such apps and programs out there.

After about three months I no longer kept the daily food diary as I knew what not to eat (little or no bread, cereal and pasta and no French fries).  I tried to exercise for about 40 minutes at least three or four days a week.   At first the weight loss seemed painfully slow but once my metabolism was moving in the right direction the weight came off and my waistline shrunk.

Recently I saw an article titled “Exercise helps aging brains” by Leah Cannon (  The article reported on a recent study that compared healthy participants 60-85 years old who did 60 minutes of high intensity exercise train or low intensity exercises three times a week for eight weeks.  Both groups had the same improvement in working memory and cognitive ability in a test where they had to think up random numbers and say one number each second for 100 seconds.   Leah Cannon wrote “it was previously thought that aerobic exercise improves cognition by increasing oxygen uptake and potential energy in the body.  This study shows that it not the way that exercise improves cognition.  So more gentle exercise plans that target flexibility, balance and relaxation might offer similar brain benefits to high intensity exercise.”

See, I told you, eating less, exercise more….it’s a no-brainer.

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He said he hoped to die at age 75? He said that!

This blog is drawn directly from another blog site ( which is worth subscribing to if you do not already. A recent post on that site references a September 17, 2014 article in the Atlantic magazine ( titled. “Why I Hope to Die at Age 75” by Ezekiel Emmanuel, who is a 57 year old medical doctor in exceptionally good physical and mental health— with a loving family.

The Atlantic article is unsettling. It will engender an immediate visceral reaction in most people. I suspect Dr. Bill Thomas, a well-regarded national expert on aging and a Changing Aging champion nearly went apoplectic when he read it. As illustration, he calls the Emmanuel article an “epically tone-deaf essay.”

The opposing blog post written by Dr. Thomas goes something like this: Emmanuel “like millions of other people his age (and younger) has difficulty imagining any future self that is not simply a continuation of his current self. Because he cannot see or feel what it is really like to be an elder, he substitutes our culture’s blatant ageism for foresight and declares— defeat.”
Dr. Thomas goes on to underscore this article as “yet more evidence we need to change the way our society thinks about aging. Imagine if we lived in a society that envisioned aging as a sophisticated form of human growth, one that takes a lifetime of learning before one can handle it responsibly. What if he had been taught, from a young age, that the later decades of life are meant to be savored for the slower, deeper and more connected ways of living that they make possible?”

And finally, “not only is there life after 75, there is compelling evidence that some of the sweetest, most poignant of life’s passages are available only to those who have passed that milestone. The time has come for a new story about life, living and aging and it should help us embrace growth and change from our first breath to our last.”
And may I just add… Hallelujah.

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Lucy-Part 2

As I post this blog, our sweet and oh-so-busy new pup –Lucy– who Howard wrote about recently in his blog– lays on my lap. Seems the sound of tapping keys on the computer has lulled her to sleep. Thankfully. She has displayed a somewhat destructive bent in the last few days. A partially shredded sock and a ravaged chair leg are evidence of that. And yes, dear, I was watching her–I just got a little distracted for a minute. And yes, it was your white sports sock and the tooth-marked leg belongs to a chair in your office. No worries. It sounds worse than it is. But that sock is definitely history. Maybe I will just give her the other one to play with and you won’t even miss them.

I went on-line for chew toys this morning and Amazon has quite an array. Before I knew it I had ordered $30 worth of dog toys. And, in case you’re wondering–that was exactly the time when the gnawing-of-the leg incident took place, The sock issue happened while I was in the shower and thought she was snuggled on her blanket. That would be the blanket she never chews on at all. That blanket.

The”Bully Sticks” the breeder supplied to help deal with Lucy’s chewing tendencies worked well for the first week to address her ‘teething’ issues– but then she stopped liking them. Apparently gnawing on dried bull penis (yes, really, that is what they are made of…) can entertain you for only so long.

A friend told me yesterday-” If you have a puppy and you don’t know exactly what that dog is doing, it’s definitely making trouble somewhere.” She was prescient.

Wait–did this just happen? Did Lucy raise her furry little head off my hair- covered lap and wink at me?  Is that possible?  Oh. My. Gosh.

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I Love Lucy

No, not the zany 50′s TV star Lucille Ball, but our new little 11 week Cavalier King Charles puppy Lucy.  For Sharon and I Lucy is a wonderful little companion.  She has arrived just as we have moved into our new “age-friendly” home in the Twin Creeks development in Central Point and befitting her regal status we had a dog door installed in our bedroom that opens into our compact fenced in backyard.  Lucy has already figured out how to use the door!  Awesome.

Lucy has many excellent features not the least of which are her desire to please, her quick learning and, most importantly, her love of laps, mine or Sharon’s.  Small dogs like Lucy are ideal companions for older adults.  They are less active than many breeds and thus don’t require extensive exercise (but a little walk is always welcome and our neighborhood is well suited for that).  Thus far she doesn’t seem to be a “barker” and sleeps about 12 hours a day (either in her custom crate or little bed).   During the day Lucy is perfectly comfortable being in our home office.

Small dogs still require maintenance including feeding, bathing and various preventive medications.  The cost can be a factor for some on fixed incomes but the health benefits for the owners may well offset the added expenses.   While we purchased Lucy from a well-regarded breeder in Washington State, the local Humane Society also has small dogs available most of the time.  When choosing a shelter dog it is wise to make certain the pet you select has the proper temperament for your style of living.

A web site I found, has a discussion regarding the benefits to older adults of small dog ownership.  The site references “studies” which, while not identified, sound reasonable.  They include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness
  • Encourage activity in older adults
  • Offer a sense of security and safety
  • Enhanced social activities
  • Offer affection and unconditional love
  • East the loss of a loved one
  • Offer fun and entertainment
  • Decrease feelings of isolation
  • Offer a sense of feeling needed and wanted

This Saturday Lucy will make her Age-Friendly Innovators debut this Saturday (October 4) at the first annual Jacksonville Health Fair on the Jacksonville Courthouse lawn from 10:00am to 3:00pm.  She will be demonstrating her soothing nature.


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Well…Is It?

A recent article in Forbes magazine was titled “Is Aging in Place a Pipe Dream? It began with a story told by former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros about “having to” place his 90-year old mother in a long-term care facility despite her heart-felt desire to remain in the home she had lived in since becoming a bride in her early 20’s. She was reportedly miserable in this facility. He indicated visiting her there was wrenching and noted he had been very reluctant to place her in a structured residential setting but felt he had no choice.

This was the same Henry Cisneros who had co-authored a book a few years ago titled “Independent for Life: Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging America.” In it he had touted the fact that his mother was continuing to live independently. There were even pictures.

Now, I do not know Secretary Cisneros nor am I acquainted with his mother. But I do know we always have choices. If we start with the premise that we all want to live in our own homes until the end of our days and ask the “What Will It Take?” question, we can sometimes come up with highly innovative and personally satisfying answers. There are five things that make “staying at home” much easier. The five key features for an accessible home are: a no-step entry, single floor living, wide doorways, accessible electric switches and outlets, lever-style door handles and faucets. Reportedly, according to studies done by the AARP Foundation and the Harvard joint Center for Housing Studies, only 21% of houses have at least three of these features.

So, it will clearly “take” some renovation and retro-fit of our decades-old housing stock in order to assure our mothers and grandmothers–and we ourselves–can remain in our own homes as long as we wish to do so. We may have to do this one house at a time; so we better get started now.  Answering the “what will it take” question will also involve some creative thinking that examines enhanced social support and shared care–something I call “nested neighborhoods.” In my way of looking at the world, this means assuring there are communities and neighborhoods where people look out for and “look after” one another.

Let’s do that. Let’s start now—one neighborhood at a time.

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A Fish Tale

There was a nice article in the New York Times a few weeks ago by noted science and nutrition writer Jane Brody titled “Lots of Reasons to Eat Fish.”   I don’t want to paraphrase her entire piece but suffice to say she strongly advocates the health benefits of seafood in our diet.   The scientific evidence in support of seafood consumption is well documented and goes back many years.   My personal contribution to this body of evidence can be found in The New England Journal of Medicine, May 9, 1985 page 1216.  The study had the tongue twisting title “Reduction of Plasma Lipids, Lipoproteins, and Apoproteins by Dietary Fish Oils in Patients with Hypertriglyceridemia.”   Bottom line, a diet rich in fish oil can reduce blood plasma cholesterol and triglycerides.  As this research was beginning I was contacted and asked if my company would contribute fresh salmon that would be served to test subjects.   We did that for a year and I forgot about the research until my name popped up in the Journal article.   One person called me and asked if we sold salmon oil by the barrel!

I recognize that not everyone likes seafood for any number of reasons.  Sharon and I love seafood.  We love to cook it and we love to eat it.  All kinds of seafood.  Our favorites include salmon, shrimp, petrale sole, halibut, black cod, mussels and the list goes on.  We firmly believe our good health reflects our passion for seafood. The sheer variety of seafood is an adventure in itself.  Despite some negative publicity in the past I believe farmed seafood is not only safe to eat but is now produced in large measure using environmentally compatible methods.

Having been in the seafood industry for over 40 years, and an industry consultant for 30 plus years, I am often asked questions about seafood issues.  Over the past ten years I have become a strong advocate for sustainable seafood, meaning our fishing practices and regulations are such that we are not depleting resources needed to reproduce future populations.   Attention must also be paid to destructive fishing practices that damage the environment.   In my earlier days I confess I once went out with a group of Asian fishermen who were using explosives to stun fish then scoop them up with a net.  Very destructive (and dangerous).

A fish story that is good news to those of us in the Northwest that love seafood; Marine scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium recently upgraded their rating of 21 species of coastal bottom fish (rockfish, lingcod, sole and flounder) to “good” or “best” from the previous rating of “avoid.”  Many of the species upgraded were deemed by the federal government on the mid-1990s and early 2000s as seriously overfished and at risk of extinction.  Dramatic cuts in fishing quotas and changes in regulations ultimately resulted in these fisheries recovering.

Bottom line seafood is good for you.  Eat it with a clear conscience and a healthy heart.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?




No—this is not the wicked witch of the west and we are not in Kansas anymore. This is what happens when you live in a house with slippery floors and loose scatter rugs and you elect not to wear good walking shoes. Are those heels? Yikes.

I am obsessed with doing all that I can to prevent my age peers—the people I know and love–from falling and breaking a limb or a hip. If you are at the Southern Oregon Fall Home Show at the Jackson County Expo in in Central Point at 4 pm on Friday or Saturday and 3pm on Sunday (September 12, 13, 14) you will hear me expound on this topic. My husband and I are giving seminars we are calling “Age-Friendly Home Make-Overs” for older adults. We will talk about all the little and big things we should all do to reduce fall risk and promote in-home safety and ease of living. Check out our website: for more information.

I will be the passionate one and my husband (co-presenter) the more practical one. The really practical one—Darrell Boldt–who is an experienced builder, will also be giving seminars. It’s a team effort. And it’s all under the umbrella of aging-in-place-in-a-home-of-your-own.

We will talk about making in-home adaptions that increase the likelihood you will be able to live in the home you love forever and ever. For example, changing the handles on drawers to C or D pulls instead of knobs can make a huge difference if you have arthritic hands. Another idea: a bench by the front door to put parcels on when you come back from shopping means it’s less likely you fumble for a key with your hands full of groceries and drop a gallon jug of milk on your big toe. And yet another: automatic shut-off timers for select appliances so there’s less danger of setting the house on fire. That’s only the beginning of ideas we have to offer you—we should get together.

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We Need to Talk

I came across an interesting report last week titled “Housing America’s Older Adults:  Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population.”   While this 44-page report brings to mind visions of “old folks warehouses,” former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros called the report “a wake-up call on elder housing.  One of the report’s authors stated “housing is so critical to so many elements of wellbeing, aging brings increasing risks of disability, isolation and financial stress.  We do have time to prepare but we have to start now.”  The Washington Post article on this report carried the headline “America is rapidly aging in a country built for the young.”

What is this all about and why should we care?  Well, for openers, by 2030 the over-50 population in Jackson County will rise to 40 percent (from the current 30 percent) and one out of three persons in Jackson County will be over age 60.  Sharon calls this “the silver tsunami.”  The aging of the baby boomer generation.

This report, and many other studies and surveys points out that the greater majority of older adults want to stay in their own home and in their own neighborhood rather than move to some other alternative such as assisted living, continuing care facilities or other options.  This perspective is called aging-in-place.   The Joint Center for Housing Studies report by Harvard University makes several key points including:

  • Existing housing stock is unprepared to meet the escalating need for affordability, accessibility, social connectivity and supportive services.
  • Much of the nation’s housing inventory lacks basic accessibility features preventing older adults with disabilities from living safely and comfortably in their own homes.
  • Our transportation and pedestrian infrastructure is generally ill-suited for those who cannot or choose not to drive.
  • This disconnect between housing programs and the health care system puts many older adults with disabilities or long-term care needs at risk of premature institutionalization.

Late last year Sharon and I launched Age-Friendly Innovators, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization ( Our vision is communities that embrace and support healthy and independent living for older adults and persons with disabilities.  Our mission is to promote greater awareness of aging-in-place issues and the development of creative and innovative solutions to enable older adults to lead healthy and independent lives in a home of their own.

This weekend Sharon and I will be at the 2014 Southern Oregon Fall Home Show at the Jackson County Expo (booth 13) and will be doing a seminar each day called “An Age-Friendly Makeover for your Home.”  On Friday and Saturday (12th and 13th) the seminars will run from 4:00 to 4:45pm and on Sunday the 14th from 3:00 to 3:45pm.  Join us for an age-friendly conversation.  We need to talk.

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It happened again…

For the third time this week I’ve been approached by someone I hardly know who says: “I really like those newspaper columns you’ve been writing about downsizing lately ( The fact is I’ve not written about downsizing or “right-sizing,” as I prefer to call it, for months. But obviously– when I do tackle the topic people resonate with it. Me too

I’m about to start packing for the second house move we’ve made this year. Our newly built “age-friendly” home is close to completion. I culled long-held possessions like a crazed woman after we sold our home and re-located to a rental residence— but I still have seven seafood cookbooks, piles of unmatched plates and bowls (some with chips) and clothing that I’ve had since high school. There’s a more to talk about–but you get the picture.  Oh, yes…. I also have lots of pictures…four boxes of decades-old photographs and countless framed pictures of relatives I don’t even know,

I need a better plan; perhaps I should research new approaches. Or maybe just take my own advice. I may even write about this in again in my newspaper column this week. Solicit ideas from others who have tried— and succeeded.

I found some great suggestions in an article in The AARP Magazine (August-September, 2014)  and a recent New York Times article that quoted  experts at the business of organizing and re-deploying accumulated “stuff.”  It was an August 22, 2014 piece titled: “Moving to a Smaller Home and De-cluttering a Lifetime of Belongings.”  I modified a few of their suggestions (there are many more) for my purposes, but you’ll get the idea. For example:

■  Once a week, start a timer  and set it for 15-30 minutes.  Fill a trash bag(s) with give away or throw away items while the timer ticks away.  Once you have closed the bag, do not re-open it.

■ When you have several bags, call and book a donation pickup for the next day. (The “next day” is the important part I think…)    Another option is to put the bags in your car immediately and drive to your closest donation center.

I am going to start today. All the way home from my donation adventure I will verbally pat myself on tha back. And when I get home, I might even re-set the timer.

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  • About This Blog

    Sharon and Howard Johnson are Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) with the National Association of Home Builders who have launched a nonprofit organization, Age Friendly Innovators Inc. (
    They are passionate about the importance of older adults aging in place in a home of your own and have practical and provocative ideas about how to make that happen. Sharon is a retired Oregon State University educator who has developed dozens of award-winning programs about health and aging. She has written a weekly column for the Mail Tribune for over ten years.
    Howard is semi-retired from his international work in marine conservation. In 2010 he was named a Purpose Prize Fellow by as a "social innovator."
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