body, happiness, health, mind, the alternative, wisdom

How to Improve Your Chances to Live Longer

There really IS something that’s better than the alternative – thinking positively about the future. This article detailing a longitudinal study by Yale researchers, reports that the brains of those whose attitudes towards aging were negative showed shrinkage in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is important for memory formation. And the same brains also showed a buildup of protein plaques and twists associated with Alzheimer’s.

Is this another chicken vs the egg example? Well, does it really matter? Even if the correlation is that hippocampus shrinkage and protein plaque buildup come before the negative thoughts, humans can control thoughts. So think positively about what aging brings you. Freedom from working from 9 to 5. Lower costs at matinee movies. Senior discounts at many restaurants. Celebrate! Don’t castigate. Applaud the future. Don’t condemn it.

What do you have to lose?

mind, security, soul, wisdom

Non-Immigrant Visas, Visa Waiver Program, and Refugees


I watched news clips recently of Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, Michelle Bond, in Congress being questioned about where the 9,500 people with terrorist connections whose visas have subsequently been revoked are. She couldn’t answer the question. And Congressmen appeared to take delight in having put her on the spot. I’d like to come to her defense with one statement – it isn’t the responsibility of the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs or anyone else in the Department of State to know where anyone is once they enter the United States or to take action to ensure the removal of such a person. It is the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security.

There is so much talk these days about the need to “fix” the vetting process for the issuance of visas of all types, for approving refugees for entrance, and for getting rid of the visa waiver program, but I am concerned that the discussion is based on multiple misunderstandings. I served in two countries as a consular officer – Germany and Barbados – where I only issued non-immigrant visas, including fiancee visas – and it has been a long time since I had that responsibility, so I’ve only cited examples that I know are still processed the same way today.

Checks and Balances

Department of State Seal by DonkeyHotey, on Flickr Department of Homeland Security by DonkeyHotey, on Flickr
Department of State Seal
(CC BY 2.0) by  DonkeyHotey 

The decision to allow someone – anyone – to enter the United States for either a temporary visit or as an immigrant or refugee involves multiple agencies which ensure there are checks and balances in place. Sometimes the process begins with the Department of State (State). Sometimes the process begins with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Agents from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), a part of DHS, make the decision to allow travelers to enter the United States. In all cases, at least these two federal Departments are involved. There are checks and balances in place already.

Non-Immigrant Visas

The simplest type of visa is a non-immigrant visa, but simplest doesn’t mean simple.

First, there are many different types of non-immigrant visas and some of them require additional documentation before they can be issued. For example, student visas can only be issued if the applicant has an I-20 form from the school the student plans to attend. Each school has its own requirements for the issuance of an I-20. When I worked at San Francisco State University, the American Language Institute (ALI) issued I-20s for its students to be able to study English prior to attending college or university.  But having an I-20 in hand still does not guarantee the applicant will receive a visa because of the next condition.

Second, anyone who applies for a non-immigrant visa is presumed to be an immigrant and must overcome that presumption to the satisfaction of the consular officer. There is no checklist. If there were, people who wanted visas would manufacture the evidence called for in the checklist and the decision would be reduced to a matching exercise. Letter from employer to verify the applicant has a job when he returns? Check. Letter from bank to verify the applicant has enough money in her bank account to cover the trip? Check. Letter from a minister/politician/well-known personality to verify what a good guy the applicant is? Check.

Instead of a checklist, a consular officer reviews the information on the application form and passport, including the pattern of travel indicated in the passport, and evidence the applicant chooses to include to demonstrate their strong ties to their home country. If the type of visa the applicant needs requires additional documents, such as the I-20 mentioned for student visas, the applicant must have it and still overcome the presumption the individual plans to remain in the U.S.

Third, there are several types of ineligibilities. Most people who were determined ineligible could still travel to the U.S., but first they must receive a waiver of the ineligibility.

Sometimes the ineligibilities change from time to time. Who does that? Congress, of course, based on the feedback their members receive from their constituents. For example, long before I arrived in Germany to work in the non-immigrant visa section, having been a member of the SS during World War II was an ineligibility, lumped together with membership in the Communist party. Under that ineligibility, there was still a way for the ineligible applicant to travel to the U.S., with a waiver. But just prior to my arrival in Germany, a new ineligibility without the ability to obtain a waiver was added for those persons who participated in the persecution of Jews and others during the Holocaust. Understandable.

Here’s how that played out in one case. An elderly man who had traveled on a visa with a waiver to see his daughter several years earlier, applied again, aware that it would take some time for the waiver to be processed. But instead of that little bit of extra paperwork, we needed now to interview him much more closely to see if his actions as a member in the SS were so abhorrent that he would never be able to obtain a visa again or if he was a “foot soldier” and therefore eligible for a visa, this time without a waiver. That process took so long that he died before we received approval to issue him a visa.

Fourth, in all cases, a security check is also completed before a visa is issued. That check includes derogatory information from all federal agencies. Many times these checks result in even more restrictive processes must be followed, waiting for a specific agency to give the go/no go decision to the consular officer.

Fifth, since 9/11, many additional forms have been added in specific cases, such as a supplemental form for student and exchange visas and detailed travel histories.

Sixth, visas have been made much more tamper resistant than they were in the days I served as a consular officer. Visas now include the digital photo and biometric information of the individual.

That’s for the simplest of the visa types. And it’s just the beginning of the checks and balances.

Business/Tourism Visas – B1/B2

Let’s just stick with the most basic of non-immigrant visas – the B1/B2 business/tourist visa. If a consular officer is convinced that the applicant’s intentions are consistent with business/tourism and that the applicant plans to return from the U.S. at the end of the stay, a visa will likely be issued. But a visa is not “permission to enter” the United States. It is “permission to apply to enter” the United States. The agency that permits people to enter the United States is Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a part of DHS. If the CBP agent believes the person’s intentions do not match the issued visa, the agent can order a secondary inspection. If evidence is found that indicates the person intended to stay for a longer time or permanently (letters from the family in the United States welcoming him, cards of congratulations from her former colleagues, dozens of suitcases instead of the one or two most tourists bring), CBP can send the person back where they came from. And if that happens, the airline that accepted the person on the flight eats the cost. So even the airlines have a role in determining if the passenger’s visa is appropriate for the trip.

If a person has a valid visa, issued by a consular officer based on the facts on the application and as stated by the applicant, but the applicant was lying and somehow manages to get past CBP, there is still another check. An applicant who arrives on a non-immigrant visa may request to adjust their status to permanent resident or student or temporary worker or au pair, each of which has different requirements. In those cases, a copy of the application is sent to the consular section where the visa was issued in order for the consular officers to determine if there was fraud involved in the application. If the consular section staff provide information to indicate the visa was obtained through fraud, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), another DHS agency, uses that information, along with whatever else they have to determine if the applicant’s status is adjusted or the person is deported.

Discussions including demands that the vetting process be fixed focus on what else must be done. Adding steps to an already lengthy process for issuance of immigrant visas or adjudicating refugee requests will have the unintended consequence of increasing the number of people willing to try to get in without a visa instead of their requests being processed systematically, through multiple agencies. And I don’t think that is what anyone wants.

happiness, leisure, mind, soul, wisdom

connect, respect, protect

tv_flashpoint01I hate to admit this about any television program, but I’ve become a Flashpoint junkie.  I never watched this Canadian television program when it debuted, but ION Television bought up the rights to the series from CBS and has been rebroadcasting the seasons nearly every day recently. I recorded them without realizing what the series was about. The title was intriguing enough to catch my eye.

Initially, I thought this series would be so easy for Second City TV, if it still existed, to parody. Instead of the three and sometimes even four black vans with dark-tinted windows and flashing blue lights making their way in single file through Toronto’s downtown streets without problems, I’d like to see them encounter normal downtown traffic, preventing the last vehicle from keeping up with the others, peeling off one more at successive traffic lights until they are each on their own. Or, instead of the six members of Team One jumping out fully covered in their armored vests, pants held tight just above the knee with a holster for weapon or equipment, and carrying high-power long guns, able to jog from the vans to the site of the emergency without breaking a sweat or even breathing heavily from exertion, I’d like to see one of them trip on that gear and fall down, knocking the others over like dominoes.

But I’m willing to suspend my disbelief regarding all their gear because I am charmed by their motto — connect, respect, protect — and by how they approach both those they are there to protect and those they need protecting from.

Unlike episodes of U.S. cop shows where the SWAT team arrives with a battering ram to break down the door so those with the long guns can start shooting at anyone in sight, Team One members follow their motto — protecting those who need it, respecting everyone in the area, and connecting with those holding guns, knives, bombs, or hostages to defuse the situation, ideally without anyone being injured. Like all law enforcement officers Flashpoint team members train to keep fit physically as well as to maintain their sharp shooter skills, but they also train to improve their negotiation skills and to recognize behavioral clues that indicate state of mind so they can adjust their plan accordingly. They use the clues to determine how to connect with victims and witnesses, to gather information to learn the suspect’s motivation, and to help anticipate what the suspect will do next.

I’ve picked up some negotiation tactics myself as a result of watching the shows.

  • First, establish rapport by telling the other person your name and asking for his.
  • Second, point out that nothing done up to this point is irreversible. It is possible to end the standoff right here and right now.
  • Third, you always have a choice, but some choices are better than others.
  • Fourth, consider the consequences of the choice you are contemplating now, and then consider the consequences of other choices so you can identify the best option, the best choice, for now.
  • Only use force when necessary, and deadly force is always the last option.

These tactics are appropriate in less than life-threatening situations as well — well the first four anyway. Imagine a situation when a friend has disappointed you, or you feel that you have disappointed a friend. First, establish rapport — with the other person or even with another side of yourself — by finding common ground, something to agree on. Second, point out that the friendship is still what is important. It is possible to close the distance between one another right here and right now. Third, you always have a choice, but some choices are better than others. Fourth, consider the consequences of the choice you are contemplating now and then consider the consequences of other choices so you can identify the best option, the best choice, for now.

Perhaps I am just rationalizing my Flashpoint habit by finding something positive, some lesson, some take away — it isn’t just entertainment; it’s educational, too! But the clincher for me is that motto — protect, respect, connect. A good story that illustrates the power of those three words is worth telling, and retelling. If you haven’t watched Flashpoint yet, I encourage you to check it out.

body, happiness, health, leisure, mind, soul, wisdom

lessons from the dalai lama

For his 80th birthday, the Dalai Lama’s shared eight lessons for living and asked that we all try to follow them.


For more information about each of these lessons, see this article from

body, happiness, health, leisure, mind, retirement, soul, wisdom

what to do? what to do?

Compact Calendar Card - Design 3 by Joe Lanman, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Joe Lanman 

Those who have retired before keep reminding me that it won’t take long for me to wonder how I did anything while still working. My days will be filled with projects until there isn’t any more time left.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

photo (56)So, even though it might sound like work, I plan to schedule my time in blocks of 1-2 hours in this new retirement state. I have a white board positioned to my right, under the window of my office, at just the right height for me to add items while sitting at my laptop.

I’ll include those tasks I never could find time for before, like housework (thanks, Sweetheart, for filling in when it was clear I wouldn’t). Two hours each day, at least for the first week. And I have a stack of recipes I want to try – rhubarb upside down cake, orange scones, rhubarb pie – so one of those will go on the schedule for each day. And I plan to write more, for this blog and for myself. That means some time needs to be scheduled for research, another 1-2 hours.

Then there are the presentations I promised to do for Ladies of Valhall (the women’s auxiliary of Sons of Norway out here in San Diego) in September and for the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild in August. They will each take 2-4 hours to prepare.

Every other week I meet with my critique circle. I need to have a new piece written (or an old piece rewritten so that it is worth sharing). That requires another 4-6 hours every other week.

There are audio tapes from Great Uncle Henry from his years living in China while he worked for the Chinese Maritime Customs Service in the 20’s and 30’s. I keep picking them up to transcribe them, but get stalled in the same places each time. I’ve been reading books and books about China’s history in the period just before he arrived there, during the years he was there, and even some of the history afterwards to try to absorb more of what he assumes his listener knows. Transcribing the tapes I have will take weeks, not hours.

Through all of this I have to continue maintaining the website for the Writers Guild, adding posts regularly to improve the likelihood that new people will discover it and decide the Guild is worth looking into. That takes 1-2 hours every day.

I also hope to dig deeper into my family history, to learn more of just who our ancestors were and how their hopes and dreams have influenced mine. Everyone I know who is into genealogy tells me there aren’t enough hours in the day to devote to this project. There is never a point at which the work is “done.”

There are photos to organize (and scan), papers to file (and others to shred), closets and cupboards to organize, and trips to plan.

photoThere are now 8 more hours in each week day that can be scheduled and that means I need to keep a paper calendar with me at all times because I won’t be able to keep all the possibilities in my head. I tried scheduling everything on my iPhone, but it just doesn’t look like a calendar. I need to see not just the events I have scheduled but all the days between them. Look left to see what I mean.

I must leave time for reading. I am reading Peder Victorious, the sequel to Ole Rolvaag’s Norwegian immigrant saga, Giants in the Earth. And yesterday I borrowed the third in Norwegian mystery writer Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, The Redbreast. I’ve read four of his books, three from the Harry Hole series (The Phantom (9th), The Bat (1st), Cockroaches (2nd), and am now working my way through them in the order Nesbo wrote them) and one standalone novel, Headhunters. I won’t be satisfied until I’ve read all the books in both those authors’ series.

But most importantly, there are the grandchildren. Not working any longer means we can help out during the day, not just after my work day ended.

Ufda! I think I understand what those kind folks advising me about the future mean. I don’t know how I’ll ever get all of that done. But I’ll let you know if I discover any tricks.

happiness, leisure, mind, wisdom

links i love

I’ve been very bad this week. I have to catch up on five days’ worth of Blogging 101 in just one day.

But the first one is easy. Here are some blogs I love, and why I love them: – It covers the same issues I cover, but with an edge I wish I could carry off. – I also have Minnesota roots that I keep finding reasons to love in spite of the fact that I spent the better part of 21 years trying to figure out how to escape. – Who doesn’t need improved health? – My niece is the most AMAZING elementary school art teacher and her blog proves it! – A work colleague writes this one. She inspires me both at work and once the work day ends.

happiness, health, mind, wisdom

the impact of the digital future on seniors

When my husband and I moved across country, we took the usual step of requesting the U.S. Postal Service forward our mail from our old address to the address where we knew we would be staying until we were able to buy a new home. Then, when we bought our new home, we filed another form to request the Postal Service forward anything from that temporary address to our new address. In addition, now that we had a permanent address, we contacted our business correspondents – banks, insurance companies, magazine publishers and the like – to provide our new address.

What we hadn’t anticipated is the amount of new mail we would receive as a result of the public record of our home purchase. Some of those pieces of mail were from the same organizations we had just contacted to provide our new address – AAA, AARP, and so on.

Where we probably wouldn’t have given a second glance to the same piece of mail had we received it at our previous address, we opened these envelopes, assuming the contents were in response to our change of address requests. But very careful reading was required to distinguish among them since many of them were intended for people new to the area who weren’t already members or subscribers. I caught myself just before writing a check for what I initially thought was a membership renewal when I saw the carbon copy of the renewal check I had sent just a few weeks earlier.

There is no bad ending to that story, largely because the purchase of a new home is not a regular recurrence. After a few months, the offers from businesses in our new area stopped coming and we could return to our pattern of opening and shredding or recycling the contents of correspondence that we know we don’t need.

But as I approached 65, another barrage of mail started arriving: offers for Medigap and life insurance coverage. Since my husband and I have taken all the steps we believe we need for insurance coverage, including Long Term Care insurance to protect our financial resources from disappearing if one of us can no longer live independently, it is fairly easy for us to identify the envelopes we can ignore and toss/shred.

Those direct-mail marketers use some very aggressive and manipulative, tactics to get us to open their envelopes. “Private, for the attention of the addressee only.” “You requested this information.” “You are invited to a free dinner at [fill-in-the-blank] restaurant.” I just keep in mind what I learned long ago, having heard the phrase since an even earlier time: There is no such thing as a free lunch.

What distresses me about direct-mail marketing aimed at seniors is that seniors, especially those living on their own, are among the most vulnerable targets for scams which use the same manipulative tactics, playing on fears on the one hand and on willingness to help others on the other.  For example, AARP and the Better Business Bureau have identified one of the top six scams targeting seniors as involving a phone call to a senior who recently lost a spouse, supposedly from a grandchild in trouble and needing money. Obituaries list all the surviving relatives’ names, providing the scammers with the information they need to place the phone call to the grieving surviving spouse at a time when he or she is making one of the most significant adjustments in life to make the pitch for help.

Recently, I began thinking about how much more vulnerable seniors will be in the future when what is referred to as the Internet of Everything connects information about people even more tightly. Even if a senior doesn’t have a computer or a social media presence, devices being sold have the technology that may allow the unscrupulous to obtain information without the subject being aware at all. And as technology becomes part of the ordinary and mundane, it may not be possible to purchase versions without the embedded technology. Try to find a cellular phone that doesn’t include a camera these days. Those photos may include geographic coordinates embedded in the metadata, two concepts I wouldn’t have tried to explain to my dad, even before his memory and cognitive functions began to fail.

That is why an article from the Pew Research Internet Project15 Theses About the Digital Future, has resulted in my spending a lot of time thinking about whether I agree with the authors’ assessment of which are optimistic and which are pessimistic when viewed through the lens of a senior point of view. Below are the 15 theses, stately objectively without giving away the authors’ assessment. In the next posts, I will consider each of the theses with my own assessment of which I look forward to with enthusiasm and which with dread.

  1. Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries.
  2. The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters more planetary relationships and less ignorance.
  3. The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data will make people more aware of their world and their own behavior.
  4. Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.
  5. Political awareness and action will be facilitated and more peaceful change and public uprisings like the Arab Spring will emerge.
  6. The spread of the ‘Ubernet’ will diminish the meaning of borders, and new ‘nations’ of those with shared interests may emerge and exist beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control.
  7. The Internet will become ‘the Internets’ as access, systems, and principles are renegotiated
  8. An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.
  9. Dangerous divides between haves and have-nots may expand, resulting in resentment and possible violence.
  10. Abuses and abusers will ‘evolve and scale.’ Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime, and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others.
  11. Pressured by these changes, governments and corporations will try to assert power — and at times succeed — as they invoke security and cultural norms.
  12. People will continue — sometimes grudgingly — to make tradeoffs favoring convenience and perceived immediate gains over privacy; and privacy will be something only the upscale will enjoy.
  13. Humans and their current organizations may not respond quickly enough to challenges presented by complex networks.
  14. Most people are not yet noticing the profound changes today’s communications networks are already bringing about; these networks will be even more disruptive in the future.
  15. Foresight and accurate predictions can make a difference; ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’
happiness, mind, wisdom

teaching old dogs new tricks

Everyone has heard the saying that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. But I am no longer convinced that saying has anything to do with what you can and can’t teach people – young or old. For many years I believed I couldn’t learn a new language once I passed teenage years because the number of fibers that run through the corpus callosum that connects the two hemispheres of the brain stop increasing by adulthood. At least that is what I recall, correctly or not, of the argument put forth at some point in the past. My own experience with studying foreign languages seemed to bear this out in that I have always been more comfortable speaking and listening to German, the language I began studying at 14, than any of the other languages I have tried to master since. But my first German teacher took a radical approach to teaching us German which may have had as much to do with my higher level of comfort than my age offered: she didn’t give us any books for the first six weeks. Instead, she spoke German, we repeated what she said until we had memorized the dialogs, and then we recited the dialogs in pairs with our classmates after which we practiced using the sentence patterns of the dialogs to make up our own sentences using new vocabulary. There was no distracting written version to complicate the tasks. And we didn’t pick up the habit of trying to speak German words using English pronunciation rules because we already knew, for example, that “ie” in words was pronounced “E” and “ei” was pronounced “I” and words that were spelled with “sp” at the beginning, such as “spielen,” were pronounced as if they were spelled “shp,” “SHPEE-len.”

But I’ve heard about more recent studies that indicate the size of many sections of the brain continue to grow even long into adulthood. For instance, studies of London taxi drivers who must master massive amounts of navigational information, known as “The Knowledge,” in order to pass the exam to obtain a taxi license, show that one section of their brains, the posterior hippocampus, is larger on average than the brain of non-taxi drivers. In addition, the size of that section of the brain in London taxi drivers is proportionally larger depending on the length of time they have been driving a taxi.

There have been any number of studies that show the progress that is possible to overcome the effects of damage to the brain, so it is surprising that the notion of the nervous system being essentially fixed throughout adulthood was still prevalent until the 1970s. Many of those studies indicate that when there is damage to the left hemisphere of the brain, areas of the right hemisphere can be developed to take over the function.

And now there is Lumosity, the website that presents game-like activities designed to improve brain function, based on the science of neuroplasticity. Experiments that have led to new beliefs replacing the belief that the brain of an adult is essentially fully formed and unchangeable involve what some would consider cruelty to animals. For example, one study involved sewing shut one eye of kittens, which revealed that instead of the portion of the brain that would have processed information being inactive, that section remapped itself to assist with processing visual information from the other eye.

I started playing Lumosity’s games more than a year ago and try to complete the five games that make up a training session at least five days each week. No more than 15 minutes is required to play the games and that’s important to me because I get caught up in games – both on-line games on my iPad and puzzles, such as Sudoko, jigsaw puzzles, and crossword puzzles. The games and results are rated against five scales: speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving. At the end of each session, the day’s scores for the five scales, plus an overall Brain Performance Index (BPI), is presented. The option to compare my scores today with my scores over time as well as to the average scores of others in my age range provide plenty of metrics to provide motivation and to identify areas of relative strength and weakness. I haven’t figured out just which games line up with which scale, but I know from my scores that I am much better at those testing – and training – my flexibility than my speed. My BPI has improved from 473 the first time I played the games to 981 today. I recognize much of the improvement resulted from my familiarity with the games, but just when I think I have mastered a game, it stops being presented as a suggested game, switching tasks to keep me flexible.

body, happiness, mind, wisdom

turning 60

Well, I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve managed to set the calendar back by more than three years since I passed 60 that many years ago. But I found 12 lessons Tony Schwarz captured on the Harvard Business Review blog when he turned 60. They are worth sharing –

body, health, mind, soul, the alternative, wisdom

five wishes

image of Five Wishes from Aging With DignityMy husband had total knee joint replacement surgery last week. At several points along his pre-op processing, his immediate after surgery care, and so far as he met with the home health care nurse and physical therapist who are part of the joint replacement program, we were asked if he had a living will or medical power of attorney. We both do. And while we waited until we were near 50 to do so, I recommend that no one wait so long.

My brother was diagnosed with Acute Myeolitic Leukemia at 51. He did not have a living will or medical power of attorney. He also didn’t have a will. There was always one too many questions to answer to complete them.

Until he was finally able to open his eyes and move his head to indicate that he understood what people were saying, his beautiful wife was left unable to take care of all the non-medical issues that my brother usually handled — paying the bills, getting information about just how high the credit card balances were.

It isn’t easy to begin thinking or talking about end-of-life issues when you are in the midst of the glory of living. Aging With Dignity offers an easy way to begin the conversation with Five Wishes. The 12 pages pose questions in simple, not legal, language to help think about answers regarding who should act in my place and what extraordinary measures I would like that person and health care providers to take or not take in the event that I cannot express those wishes myself.

Every state has it’s own guidelines for what constitutes a medical power of attorney or living will. Five Wishes meets the requirements in 42 states and us useful in all 50 states.

It doesn’t take a lawyer to get the process started.