A Journey That Changed My Life

Guest blog by Janet Stevens

In the middle of the night on December 11, 2001, I began a journey that would change my life. At that time of night, it took only an hour and ten minutes to get from Danbury, CT, to St. Paul's Chapel in NYC, where I began volunteering one night a week as a massage therapist for the World Trace Center workers, taking care of my private practice during the balance of the week. 

Immediately, a few misperceptions were cleared up - there was a more diverse population at the site than the media had described. There were men and women, young and not so young, from every conceivable background and culture. They were plumbers, electricians, carpenters, teamsters (truck drivers), construction workers, operating engineers, iron workers, National Guards, Coast Guards, construction subway operators (didn't know there was such a thing), sanitation workers, transportation workers, Red Cross volunteers, EMT's and paramedics. And then there were the people that we heard about in the media - the NYPD, PAPD and FDNY. And, yes, sometimes they bickered and fought - brothers and sisters do that, especially when there is the amount of stress that they encountered. These people weren't perfect…however, for the most part, they were good, hard working individuals who had been thrown together for one incredible purpose. And, as best they could, they worked together toward that purpose - to bring closure to those who survived the disaster.

We would feed them and patch them up physically and emotionally as best we could, and they would turn around and go back, sometimes quietly asking a chaplain to walk down with them. We were serving food to about 1,500-3,000 workers every 24 hours, several sleeping in the pews, on cots and mattresses on the floor in the sanctuary and in the balcony. One meal wound into another meal which wound into the next and the next (oh, bacon - it must be morning)…cleaning going on around the exhausted bodies. One would get up and another would slump into the warm bed. One January morning I saw two female construction workers take the only vacant cot in the sanctuary, one sleeping at each end, looking like what I imagine twins would look like in the womb. This little Episcopal chapel held services to honor the many cultures that were represented - Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Native American, Buddhist. For nine months, it was one long day in the chapel. 

One of the O.S.H.A. representatives came in daily on his 15-minutes breaks and would play the piano for his own relief and for the enjoyment of anyone who happened to be there at the time. I sometimes napped for a couple of hours in the balcony after my shift ended at 8 a.m. so that I wouldn't fall asleep at the wheel driving back up to CT. I woke up one morning to hear a police officer who stopped for a couple of minutes and accompanied the piano to "Amazing Grace" - she had a beautiful, gospel voice. One night a musician strolled in at 2:30 a.m., quietly took out his guitar, sat in front of the altar and played for over an hour, packed up and just as quietly strolled out.

The lesson? Just a few feet from where the most evil of what mankind could do burned and groaned were the quiet ministrations of what the most loving of mankind could provide…not perfect, but the best that was inside each of us. We all went into the reservoir deeply and went outside of and past ourselves. It was not for everyone, and no one who went there was left unaffected. And we became an extremely close-knit family. This was appropriately called "radical hospitality".

I didn't dream that I would suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) because I wasn't in the city on 9/11th. However, as we came closer to ending the relief effort, I found myself crying often, sometimes prompted by a construction site in the CT area and sometimes prompted by nothing. As much as I grieved for those who lost their lives that day, my grief was for the workers. I knew what they had seen, the smell that would never be erased, the pain that they were having trouble relieving. Fortunately, I recognized what was happening. I had done simple things to care for myself from the beginning, pampering myself when I would get home from the city on Thursday mornings, talking to a friend who knew just to listen and not to question, getting massage on a regular basis. At times, I felt guilty doing these things for myself when "my guys" were down at the site 12-14 hrs. a day, 7 days a week. But I knew that I couldn't help them best if I wasn't helping myself. 

When the official work ended, I took a couple of months off to rest and get myself together emotionally and physically - and then I began to continue with volunteer relief work on my own. I go in to some of the firehouses once in a while to provide relief for the men there and for some of the workers, police and fire fighters in my own practice in Ridgefield, CT. I am not trying to save the world…I am taking care of myself and treating a number of people who want to be well. I am seeing to my own recovery by now drawing some of the scenes that I saw while I worked in the chapel and writing a book of the stories of what took place there. 

Once in a while, when I host the relief exhibit now taking place at St. Paul's Chapel, a massage therapist I have never met, who also volunteered there, will come in to revisit, and we'll meet for the first time. We'll embrace and weep, smile and talk about what a privilege, an honor, it was to come past the security at the front gate, walk up those front steps and hear someone say, "I knew you'd be here…thanks."

The Power of Intuition

Guest blog by Judith Orloff, M.D.

I'm a psychiatrist and intuitive in Los Angeles. What I do isn't my job. It's my life's passion. With patients and in workshops, I listen with my intellect and my intuition, a potent inner wisdom that goes beyond the literal. I experience it as a flash of insight, a gut feeling, a hunch, a dream. By blending intuition with orthodox medical knowledge I can offer my patients and workshop participants the best of both worlds. 

Now, listening to intuition is sacred to me, but learning to trust it has taken years. I've described the details in my memoir Second Sight which is meant to assure anyone whoever thought they were weird or crazy for having intuitive experiences, that they are not! This brief synopsis gives you a taste of the book. 

I grew up in Beverly Hills the only daughter of two-physician parents with twenty-five physicians in my family. From age nine, I had dreams and intuitions that would come true. I could predicts illness, earthquakes, even the suicide of one of my parent's friends. This confused and alarmed me, as it did my parents who were entrenched in the hard-core rational world of science. At first they tried to write my intuitions off as coincidence. Finally, though, after I dreamed my mother's mentor would loose a political election--which to my horror, came true--she took me aside and told me, "Never mention another dream or intuition in our house again!" I'll never forget the look in my dear mother's exasperated, frightened eyes, nothing I ever wanted to see again. So from that day on, I kept my intuitions to myself. I grew up ashamed of my abilities, sure there was something wrong with me. 

Luckily, I've had many angels in human form who've pointed me to my true calling as physician. In the sixties I got heavily involved with drugs in an attempt to block my intuitions out- obviously not something I'm recommending to you! Following a nearly fatal car accident at age sixteen when I tumbled over a treacherous 1500 foot cliff in Malibu Canyon, my parents forced me to see a psychiatrist. This man was the first person who ever "saw" me--not who he wanted me to be, but who I was. He taught me to begin to value the gift of intuition, and referred me to Dr. Thelma Moss, a intuition researcher at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. She was to become my mentor and guide to developing my intuitive side. 

While working in Thelma's lab I had an amazingly specific dream which announced, "You're going to become an MD, a psychiatrist, to help legitimize intuition in medicine." When I awoke, I felt like someone was playing a practical joke on me. I'd never liked science, and I was bored around all my parent's doctor-friends. I was a hippie living in an old converted brick Laundromat with my artist-boyfriend in Venice Beach, working in the May Company's towel department. (I've had a great love of towels and sheets since!) The last thing I envisioned doing was medicine. But because I was beginning to trust my intuition, I enrolled in a junior college just to see how it would go. So one course became two, became fourteen years of medical training--USC medical school and a UCLA psychiatric internship and residency. 

The irony was, that during my medical training I strayed far from the intuitive world again. Traditional psychiatry equates visions with psychosis. Working in the UCLA emergency room, I'd keep seeing psychotics who were wheeled in screaming, strapped to gurneys, accompanied by cops with billy clubs. These patients professed to hear God and to be able predict things. They also felt their food was poisoned, and that the FBI was on their tail. No one tried to sort through this mishmash of claims. Typically, patients would shot up with with Thorazine, hospitalized on lock-down inpatient units until their "symptoms" subsided. Seeing this so many times I doubted whether it was safe or appropriate to integrate my intuitions in medicine. 

When I opened my Los Angeles psychiatric practice in 1983, I had every intention of it being traditional; I'd use medications, psychotherapy, but I didn't intend for intuition to play a role. My practice was extremely successful. Since I was a workaholic and also loved helping people, I had twelve hour days, though very little personal life. But then I had a heart-wrenching wake-up call that changed everything. It was an intuition that a patient, on antidepressants, was going to make a suicide attempt. Because she was doing so well--nothing supported my hunch--I dismissed it. Within a week she overdosed on the antidepressants I'd prescribed and ended up in a coma for nearly a month. (Had she not survived I would've been devastated.) The hardest part, though, was that I thought I'd harmed her by not utilizing a vital piece of intuitive information. This was intolerable for me. From then on, I knew, as a responsible physician, I had to integrate my intuitions into my work.

After this episode, my journey to bring intuition into my medical practice began. I didn't know how I'd do it, but I put out a silent prayer to the universe to help me. Soon, I began meeting people, more angels, who showed me the way. Gradually I grew comfortable with my intuition, set out to write "Second Sight." This took me seven years to complete because I had so much fear about coming out of the closet as an intuitive. I was afraid of what my physician-peers would think, that they'd mock me or blackball me from the profession. My mother warned, "They'll think you're weird. It'll jeopardize your medical career." Ah Mother: I loved her, but thank god I didn't listen. Finding my voice as a psychiatrist and intuitive has been my path to freedom. 

Sure, there's a risk when you stretch yourself, but the rewards are enormous. Now, I'm blessed to travel around the country giving workshops on intuition to auditoriums full of extraordinary people--health care professionals and general audiences alike--who long to embrace their inner voice. I'm heartened to see that many physicians are eager to deal with patients in the new way I offer. Recently I gave an intuitive healing workshop at the American Psychiatric Association convention, a annual gathering of the most conservative psychiatrists in the world. I'm pleased to report the response was wonderful. 

I'm sad to report that my mother didn't live long enough to see this. In 1993 she died of a lymphoma. But, on her deathbed, she decided to tell me our "family secrets." She told me, "I want to pass the power onto you." I was astounded to learn that I came from a lineage of intuitive healers on her side of the family--my Jewish grandmother who did laying on of hands in a shed behind the pharmacy she and Grandpop ran in Philadelphia. East coast aunts and cousins I'd never met since I grew up in California. Also, my mother, herself, had a strong inner voice which told her how to treat patients for over forty years. She'd listened to this voice and secretly used her innate healing powers to keep her lymphoma in remission for many years. "Why didn't you tell me?" I asked her. She said simply, "I wanted you to lead a normal, happy life, not to be thought of as weird like your grandmother was." Oh Mother... I'll always be grateful for what she shared, but, still... she'd waited so long. Even so, I believe in the wisdom of the paths we've been given. Mine has been to fight for what I believed in despite what my parents or anyone said. An invaluable but rugged lesson in empowerment. 

These days, no matter what I'm going through, especially when my heart is torn in a million pieces my intuition has sustained me. I hope that my journey in "Second Sight" can help you. One thing I'm certain of: if you follow your intuitive voice, you can't go wrong. Stay true to it. Intuition is about empowerment, not having to conform to someone else's notion of who you should be. It's about being true to yourself, and all the goodness that comes from that. 

How to Survive Caring for a "Challenging" Elder and Recognize the Early Signs of Dementia! Part III

Guest blog by Jacqueline Marcell
Author of Elder Rage, or Take My Father... Please! How To Survive Caring For Aging Parents
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

Elder-Proof the House to Reduce Frustrations

There are things you can do to make navigation in the home easier for elders.

1. Even out the ridge on the floor in front of a doorway to make it easier for a wheelchair to get over.
2.Strategically placed grab-bars (even in the shower) will help to reduce falls.
3. Remove throw rugs as they are a hazard and easily tripped on.
4. Put glow tape around the perimeter of doorways so they are visible at night.
5. Place motion-sensing night-lights on the floor of their bedroom.
6. Put colored tape on the edges of stairs so they can be clearly seen. Adult Day Care is the Answer

Relying on the professionals at an Adult Day Care turned out to be the answer to getting my parents out of bed 23 hours a day "waiting to die," and giving them social, physical and intellectual stimulation during the day, so they'd sleep through the night. Yes, it was no small feat to get my father to go, but gradually, once he got into the swing of it, he really enjoyed it. Then, you can spend quality time with them in the evenings and on weekends and you will not be so burdened with their care 24 hrs a day.

Hiring Caregivers

When your loved one needs more care than you can provide, it is time to hire a caregiver.

Questions to ask when hiring a caregiver:

1. Does the person live close by; have a car, a valid driver's license, and current insurance?
2. Has he or she had elder care experience and can you call several references?
3. Is the person willing to be photographed and fingerprinted so you can do a search on his or her background?
4. If you're hiring through an agency, is that agency a member of state and national organizations that you can call to check on them?
5.What kind of background checks does the agency do? (If they refuse to give this information to you in writing, they probably have not done any background checks.)

A Success Story

A year later, after turning around a seemingly impossible situation, I knew it was all worth the horror and heartache to hear my father say he loved me again.

I felt so compelled by what I had lived through, I wrote a book so that others won't have to struggle as I did to figure out how to manage their elderly loved ones. The result: Elder Rage, or Take My Father… Please! How To Survive Caring For Aging Parents.

It's written with humor and I guarantee laughter out loud, as you learn everything you never wanted to know about eldercare but were afraid to ask. After the success story I include 70 pages of self-help, answers to the toughest questions, valuable resources and a renowned dementia specialist's chapter on medications. I'm honored to have 40+ prestigious endorsements including: Hugh Downs, Regis Philbin, the late Steve Allen, Dr. Dean Edell, Robert Stack, Dr. Bernie Siegel, Dr. Nancy Snyderman/ABC News, Duke University Center for Aging, Johns Hopkins Memory Clinic, Dr. Eric Tangalos/Mayo Clinic, Dr. Rudy Tanzi/Harvard Medical School .

How to Survive Caring for a "Challenging" Elder and Recognize the Early Signs of Dementia! Part II

The 10 Warning Signs of Dementia

1. Recent memory loss -- your loved one may ask you the same question over and over, look at a beloved granddaughter and ask her name, or forget that they just told you that story and tell you again.
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks -- such as tying a necktie or shoelaces, or being unable to do the knitting they have enjoyed for many years.
3. Problems with language - using the wrong word or unable to remember the right word to use.
4. Disorientation of time and place -- mistaking a time period of hours for days, or giving incorrect directions in the town they have lived in for many years.
5. Poor or decreased judgment - for example, while babysitting they may completely forget about the child they are supposed to be watching.

6. Problems with abstract thinking -- inability to balance a checkbook, adding becomes difficult or they may insist that a one-dollar bill is a 20-dollar bill.
7. Inappropriate misplacing of things -- you might find the wristwatch in the sugar bowl, the iron in the microwave, or a hat in the freezer.
8. Rapid mood swings -- switching from tears to anger for no apparent reason.
9 Changes in personality -- you may notice a tendency toward fear and paranoia.
10. Loss of initiative -- your loved one may not want to get out of bed, withdraws socially or says they don't want to live anymore. Behavior Modification Techniques
Once the brain chemistry is properly balanced for the dementia, often-present depression and possible aggression, you will be able to start behavior modification techniques on a challenging elder if they are still in the very earliest stage of dementia.

As amazing as it sounds, the use of tough love coupled with rewards and consequences worked to turn around the most obstinate man on the planet: my father, even with the onset of dementia. By being 100% consistent, never rewarding his bad behavior and using lots of praise to encourage good behavior, he finally changed his negative life-long behavior pattern of screaming and yelling to get his way. He learned that he could (as Mom would say), "catch more flies with honey than vinegar."

How to Survive Caring for a "Challenging" Elder and Recognize the Early Signs of Dementia!

Guest blog by Jacquelie Marcell
Author of Elder Rage, or Take My Father... Please! How To Survive Caring For Aging Parents
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

Caring for a "challenging" elder can be one of the hardest things you'll ever do. I know -- I went through a year of hell before I figured it out.

I had been the light of my father's life -- but with the onset of dementia he turned on me, doing and saying things that I would have never believed he could do. Having no experience with elder care, I just didn't get it. I thought it was just due to his bad temper of a lifetime and his need to control, which it was, but it was also the very beginning of dementia that intermittently made his actions even more illogical and irrational than ever before.

When he threw two little dilapidated hand towels at me, screaming and swearing at me for throwing them out, I was stunned and sobbed my heart out. With the knowledge I have now I'd say, "This seems illogical, this seems irrational. Red flag -- it is!" And I'd haul him off kicking and screaming to the Alzheimer's Association's best recommendation for a geriatric dementia specialist to be evaluated right away. I'd know not to waste time with his regular doctor who didn't specialize in dementia.

Recognizing Dementia Symptoms Before It's Too Late
The stereotype of a person with dementia (Alzheimer's is just one of many types) is that of someone who doesn't know what they are doing. That's Stage Three, but there is a long road before one gets there.

Dementia starts very intermittently and is generally ignored by families who think that these strange behaviors are just a normal part of aging: Stage One lasts two to four years; Stage Two lasts two to ten years; and Stage Three lasts one to three years. In the beginning, your loved one may have a raging temper tantrum and then suddenly be as sweet as pie. Because there are usually long periods of normalcy in-between, the tendency is to want to forget about the irrational incident instead of seeking treatment immediately.

Statistically families wait four years before they reach out for help -- usually after a crisis. By that time, however, the person has gone through Stage One and is starting into Stage Two already, which usually requires full-time care.

Getting medication for your loved one as soon as you recognize the early warning signs of dementia can slow its progress for two to four years doctors say, saving your family a lot of heartache and money. It will also save our society the burden of caring for so many elders who have progressed into Stage Two sooner than need be.

Consult a geriatric dementia specialist for the medications that may slow the progression of the dementia: Aricept, Exelon, and Reminyl.

HSAs Make $ense

Many Personal, Professional Reasons Health Savings Accounts Are For Women (and Men too)

Besides being good for their companies, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) address several needs simultaneously for many women and their families.

Besides offering an extremely flexible approach to tax and retirement planning, it also provides economical healthcare coverage particularly in two-career marriages and can ease the burden of single-parent households as well. 

The HSA program has two parts: a high-deductible health plan (which usually costs less than other health plans) and a tax-advantaged, portable savings account for payment of current medical expenses which builds like a Medical IRA.

One important feature is that a spouse or dependents covered by other insurance may not be able to participate. However, an individual may still be able to use another family member's HSA funds to pay for their qualifying medical expenses tax-free.

Other Advantages

The added bonus is that monies paid by companies to fund HSAs for employees are pre-tax dollars and do not get reported as income for employees. At the same time, HSA monies can pickup copays not picked up by spousal healthcare plans.

For company owners, this means a double savings --- they can deduct the amount paid for their own qualifying high deductible healthcare plan and they have no personal income tax liabilities for the monies paid into their account. They also do not pay FICA and FUDA on any of payments made for themselves or other employees. For the self-employed, they can deduct the cost of the insurance premium and amount contributed to the HSA.

A major impetus for HSAs was to reduce the soaring rate of healthcare. By making the individual a part of the medical services decision process, HSAs are designed to help manage medical expenses and reduce the yearly rate rise of health care expenses. On average, an HSA insurance policy (called an HDHC plan) will save between 20-30% in premiums.

Retirement Programs Encouraged

Another aim was adding a self-directed retirement offering to the retirement planning agenda. HSAs have the effect of adding another retirement option because the money not spent in any year remains part of the individual's retirement account. 

To encourage companies to teach retirement planning, HSAs are portable. HSA monies remain in the account even if the employee leaves their present employer thereby building up a nest egg. Like 401Ks and IRAs, building a nest egg requires someone to start. Once started, they usually become a permanent part of the individual's savings program.
Another reason HSAs can be helpful to executive women and others, the procedures covered by HSAs monies have been broadened. HSAs can pay for many more procedures than were ever allowed before by government-sponsored programs, for instance, laser eye surgery. (A complete list can be found on www.HSAfinder.com or www.irs.gov websites.)

Some HSA Advantages

To briefly summarize HSAs and their advantages:
§ A way to save money on health care. Sooner or later everyone will have to spend money on health care. But an HSA might help them spend less.
§ A tax saver. Not only does an HSA cover medical costs tax-free, but contributions to the account may nudge an individual into a lower tax bracket. This is particularly true with dual-worker families.
§ A way to pay for health care traditional insurance might not cover. An HSA can be used to pay tax-free for acupuncture, visits to the chiropractor, fertility treatments, therapy, smoking cessation, and weight loss programs - just to name a few.
§ Portable. HSAs can travel with the individual from job to job. He or she always have a right to 100% of the money in the account. 
§ A source of investment income. HSAs are designed so that the individual can always withdraw money when needed. But the money not withdrawn has the potential to grow and accumulate interest tax-free. Many higher income families will pay for medical services with post-tax dollars and leave funds in the HSA to grow without tax on the interest or investment income.
§ An improved retirement account. HSAs function much like 401(k)s or IRAs, but with an important difference. When money is put in a typical retirement account, it's there to stay - an individual could forfeit as much as a third of it in tax penalties if withdrawn it before reaching retirement age. With an HSA, money used for medical expenses, can be withdrawn tax-free. HSAs don't replace current retirement accounts, but they can be a major supplement to retirement savings.
§ Money in your pocket. To participate in an HSA, an individual must be enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). What is different is that payment programs are more liberal. You need to talk to your insurance agent and study the various plan options closely. 

Who Qualifies

Broadly speaking, an individual or family qualifies for an HSA if they are:
§ under the age of 65,
§ not listed as someone else's dependent for income tax purposes,
§ not receiving Medicare or Social Security benefits, 
§ covered by a high-deductible health plan, and
§ not covered by any other type of health insurance plan, except for some significant differences which are listed elsewhere in this article.

For executive women in particular, HSAs offer an excellent approach to reducing costs and improving retirement options for themselves and their employees.

Some of the supplemental policies that are permitted with HSAs include:
- Separate dental and/or vision care insurance, or flexible spending accounts (FSAs) covering only dental and/or vision care
- Discount cards for health care services or products (for example, prescription drugs)
- Disease management and wellness programs, as long as they do not "provide significant benefits in the nature of medical care"
- Employee assistance plans, again if they do not "provide significant benefits" (short-term counseling is okay)
- FSAs or HRAs that pay or reimburse for medical expenses after a high deductible has been met*
- Separate long-term care insurance
- Worker's compensation insurance (through employers) 
- Disability insurance (individual or through unions or employment)
- Automobile insurance (including coverage for medical care in accidents and emergencies)
- Business liability insurance
- Insurance that pays for fixed amount of hospitalization
- Freestanding health insurance for travel (such as flight insurance or automatic travel coverage when transport is booked on a credit card).

Fine Tuning the 6th Sense

Guest blog by Jane Bernard
Author of Fine Tuning: Connecting With Your Inner Power

You were born with 6 senses. Each sense gives you pleasure and protection. Your 6th sense is your intuition, or instincts. It is an inner drive that puts you on the path of possibility. It is the sum of your potential and it is always available. Tuning into your 6th sense can happen quickly but it is at first subtle. When as you trust yourself to rely on your intuition, the insights become more apparent.

Even though we are each unique, we all search for the same answers. Your inspiration, your intuition, your instincts are your birthright. Tuning into your 6th sense is the secret to overcoming loneliness, realizing dreams and finding comfort with your choices. Fine Tuning all of your instincts is the way to tune into your intuition because all of our senses work together. There are practical ways to do this. When you connect to your 6th sense, you focus on your inner strength. You empower your self and tune into your sense of purpose and joy. 

Your instinct is a guiding hand available only to you. However, life is not a cleared path. When you are conscious of your senses, focus on positive thoughts, your goals and what you are communicating to others, then your path will be broadened.

When you feel like you want to get more out of being alive, when you want to evolve, then it could be time. If you are feeling stuck, confused, as if something is not right, then it might be time to tune into your 6th sense. It will guide you to the core of your unique self. When you tune into your 6th sense you find the possibilities and clarity in your life. Tuning into your 6th sense can also give you a sense of control over your life and at the same time, a sense of freedom.

10 Easy Things You Can Do To Make Your Life a Gazillion Times Better

Guest blog by Judymay Murphy
Author of Your Life Only a Gazillion Times Better: A Practical Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

1. Notice how what you put in and what you get out are always linked. If you want to make a fish pie, you put in fish. If you want to make a cherry pie, you put in cherries. Take note of what you have been putting into your life and what kind of pie you've been getting as a result. What steps have you been taking toward having your ideal career, what have you been eating, how much exercise have you been taking, how much time have you been spending with those you love, how many meetings have you been having about new ways to make and invest money? Write up how you have been apportioning your time every day. Remember, excuses do not give you the life of your dreams, inspired, consistent action is what's required. So choose some better pie-fillings than TV shows, burgers and moan-y conversations, choose positive talk, walks and fresh fruits and veggies.

2. Go to the place you spend most of your time, (your office, garden, living room, car...) and notice what is best about that place. Find one way to enhance that aspect, creating even more light, fixing up the view, making it even more comfortable. Now notice what is not working or not feeling good about the space and decide what needs to been slightly changed or radically transformed, perhaps it needs to be re-organized, cleaned, de-cluttered, revamped, to have nature or technology brought in? How will your life be a Gazillion times better through your space being more beautiful, more efficient or more inspiring?

3. Take a minute to work out where your trigger areas are when it comes to slipping back on achieving your goals. Perhaps you are doing great with healthy eating until you pass the pizza restaurant on the way home from the movies, or you are taking action on setting up your company until things get busy in your current workplace, or doing great with saving money until you go into a clothing store, . Once you have identified these danger areas write up alternatives so that you can avoid them; driving home a different route from the cinema, dedicating three nights a week to your new business no matter what is going on at work, leaving cash and credit cards at home when you go to a mall.

4. What needs to be said that you have not yet communicated to someone? Is it telling a parent or sibling that you love them? Is it telling a co-worker that you are no longer willing to shoulder their workload for them? Is it telling yourself that you forgive yourself for something? Is it telling your boss that you are leaving to start your own company? Role-play it with someone and have them act out every possible reaction and notice how you cope with every response. Now say what you need to say in a way that supports everyone, most of all you.

5. Pay attention to how you appear to others as you move through the world. This is not about becoming focused on what others think about you, it is about being aware of the effect you have on people. Is your expression usually blank, hostile, giddy, depressed, edgy? What about your tone of voice? Is it timid, monotone, sarcastic? We are so used to ourselves that we can easily believe we are just neutral and this is never the case. How would you prefer to come across- light, dependable, humorous, responsible, playful, powerful, active?

6. Sit down and name the area of your life that isn't working as well as the others. For some this is relationships, for others it may be career, money, health, creativity, emotions, - you know what it is for you. Take a piece of paper and write an honest account of where you are in that area, taking care not to exaggerate or minimize. Now write up what you are prepared to do to make it an area of strength. Decide on one action you will take very day for one month to turn things around. This could be swimming for 20 minutes a day, saving five dollars a day by bringing lunch to work and putting it in a trading account at the end of each week, reading 4 pages a day of a helpful book, spending 30 minutes a day talking with one of your kids really getting to know them. You will be amazed at how you quickly start to love that area of your life, especially when you start to get great results way before the month is up.

7. Keep going when things seem to be going wrong. Many people stop taking action when they meet with resistance or disapproval from others, or when things don't go exactly to plan. If something doesn't work out the way you had hoped, assess what happened and what you have learned. Immediately take a new and different action to get you to your desired result. It's not a refusal just a delay, and it's the delays and the learning's that strengthen us for making the rest of the dream come true.

8. Keep going when things seem to be going right. The flip side to point 7 is that people will often slow down and stop following a triumph. When you achieve a goal it is important to take time to rest and celebrate and then its time to use the momentum and confidence gained with the last achievement and use it to get to the next level. If you get a promotion, great! Now start to focus on how you can feel even better by giving even more value to the company, how you can start your own investment project for the extra money you will be making, how you can help those around you to adjust to the new circumstances. If you loose weight, how can you ensure it stays off and that you get even more fit and healthy and help others to do so also?

9. Ask yourself every morning, what are five things I can do today, five small steps I can take to make my dreams come true? Have the questions posted up on the bathroom mirror, on your bedroom door, on the computer screen, wherever they will catch your eye. You can take note of the answers you come up with and tick them off the list as you achieve them throughout the day. That night, over dinner, you and your family can share your dream-maker triumphs.

10. Tap back into your real dream, that thing that you promised yourself as a child that you would do. Did you always want travel, adventure, to make a beautiful home, a certain kind of toy, a certain type of friend, a dog, a pony, peace and quiet, to learn more, to invent something, to perform? You know what it is. Take one action right now to launch it into being. Enjoy making your life a Gazillion Times Better. 

Paying for Online Purchases

Guest blog by Jacquelyn Lynn
Author of Online Shopper's Survival Guide

The best way to pay for online purchases is with a credit card. Period. And it's a great idea to get a credit card that you use exclusively for online shopping so that you can quickly and easily review the charges each month and be sure they match what you actually bought.

Paying by credit card online is fast and safe. Yes, safe. Credit card companies are working hard to protect their customers from fraud. Most cardholder agreements limit your liability for fraudulent charges to $50 -- and, most credit card companies don't charge you that even though they can. Recently, I got a call from the security department at Discover questioning some online purchases on my account. The charges had been made on Sunday evening; the call came in first thing Monday morning. As it happened, I had made a couple of online catalog purchases on Sunday afternoon, but there were two charges -- one to an online auction site I never use and another to an online porn site -- that weren't mine (or my husband's, and he has been teased mercilessly by our friends about the porn site charge). Discover immediately closed the account and issued us new cards. It was mildly inconvenient, because we had to take the time to notify the companies that use that account for automatic payments, but we didn't lose any cash.

Another advantage of paying by credit card is that you have additional security because you can dispute the charge if there's a problem, such as if the merchandise doesn't arrive, doesn't work, isn't what you expected, or you returned it and didn't get your refund.

Virtually all online retailers accept credit cards, either as a direct merchant or through an online payment service such as PayPal (more about that shortly). It's a good idea to check to see what payment method the merchant accepts before you spend too much time shopping. Most accept Visa and MasterCard. American Express and Discover charge merchants higher fees than Visa and MasterCard, so some online retailers don't take those cards.

Smaller retailers may not accept credit cards directly but may accept them through online payment services. PayPal, owned by eBay, is probably the best known and most popular online payment service, but there are others, such as BidPay.

Here's how online payment services work: You set up an account with details on how you want to pay (credit card, bank transfer, whatever). When you want to make a payment to a seller that accepts that particular payment service, you just tell the service who to pay. The amount is charged to your credit card or withdrawn from your account and immediately transferred to the seller. If the payment cannot be made electronically, some services will issue a check or money order -- this is most commonly used when buying items from individuals overseas.

You could also pay by mailing a check or money order, but there are some drawbacks. First is the convenience factor, especially if you have to go somewhere to purchase the money order. Second is the time it will take to get your merchandise. Many sellers who accept checks and money orders will delay shipping your purchase until your check has cleared or they have been able to confirm the money order is legitimate. Third, and perhaps most important, is that you have no extra layer of consumer protection with checks and money orders as you do when you pay with credit cards. Banks and money order issuers can't do a charge back the way a bankcard merchant account provider can. And finally, while this is not a particularly common issue, the potential for fraud with check payments is higher than with credit cards. Check amounts can be altered, or the seller (or the seller's payment processing staffers) can use the information on your check (your name, address, phone number, and bank account number) to steal from you later.

Most online merchants do not accept cash -- and you shouldn't pay with cash anyway. Cash is easily lost or stolen, and you have no way of proving how much you sent if the total doesn't arrive. Reserve paying cash for face-to-face transactions.

Another online payment option that is more commonly used with high-dollar purchases is an escrow service. This is where you deposit the funds with an independent third party. The merchant ships when it receives confirmation that the funds have been deposited. When you receive the merchandise and advise the escrow company that you are satisfied, the funds are released to the seller. If you are not satisfied or you don't receive the goods, the funds are held while you resolve the problem with the merchant.

Don't use a debit card for online purchases. While most online payments are processed without a problem, if yours happens to be the exception, using a debit card could give a hacker or scammer access to your entire bank account. While debit cards do offer some security and fraud reimbursement programs, most debit cards do not offer the same level of protection that is available with a credit card.  

Keeping Up with the Scammers, How to avoid online FRAUD and SCAMS

Guest blog by Jacquelyn Lynn
Author of Online Shopper's Survival Guide

When I was writing my book, Online Shopper’s Survival Guide, one of the most intriguing topics to research was the chapter about staying safe and avoiding scams. The creativity and perseverance of con artists and thieves is absolutely amazing. Their efforts have evolved from simple and crude to extremely sophisticated -- and they are creating a tremendous challenge for the law enforcement agencies that do their best to keep up with this new breed of criminals.

What’s sad and frustrating is that in most cases of online theft or fraud, the victim played a role in the process, either by being careless with her own personal information or by unwittingly cooperating with the criminals. Some victims are driven by greed; they think they really can get a lot of money for very little effort. Others are driven by innocence; they really believe that e-mails from fraudsters are legitimate and they politely answer all the questions. Remember, the “con” in con artist comes from confidence -- the fraudster gains your confidence and makes you believe it’s okay to do what he’s asking.

You are your best defense against online crime. You can protect yourself by always staying in charge of your online activities.

One of the most common online crimes is known as phishing (pronounced fishing). Scammers use a variety of methods to trick you into revealing personal information that they can later use to commit identity theft or other types of fraud. Some phishing efforts are obvious, others are very clever.

Whenever anyone initiates contact with you and starts asking for information, do three things:

Stop.
Think.
Stay in charge.

First, stop. Never reveal personal details, financial data, or other private information that criminals could use to commit crimes. When someone starts asking for information, simply stop and terminate the contact. If the request is legitimate, you can always complete it later.

Of course, if you are making a purchase from an online website, it’s okay to provide your name, address, and payment information -- but that’s all. The e-tailer does not need to know how many children you have, your pets’ names, your birth date, where you were born, or your mother’s maiden name. People often use this type of information to create their passwords and scammers know it.

Second, think. Consider what you’re being asked to provide and why. Do you really think your bank and credit card companies are going to ask you to confirm your account information, including account numbers and passwords, by e-mail? They don’t do that. They already have that information. And if there is a legitimate problem with your account, they will either call you on the phone or send a notice by U.S. mail. If you’re not sure, terminate the online contact, pull out a statement, and call the toll-free number on the statement to find out if there is really a problem with your account.

The same applies to lottery and other contest winnings, and any other offer of riches that seems too good to be true. If you have won a legitimate prize, you won’t be asked to pay anything up front to claim it, nor will you be asked for your bank account number so the money can be deposited directly. Genuine prize organizations write and mail checks. If you didn’t enter the contest, it’s not likely that you won. And a total stranger from Africa, Europe, or anywhere else is not going to offer you a percentage of millions of dollars just to get that money into the U.S. If you get an e-mail like that, just delete it -- before you give out information that will allow your bank account to be depleted.

Third, stay in charge. Maintain control over your internet activities. Don’t answer questions just because someone asks. This rule applies to any situation where you did not initiate the contact. Scammers often start out by asking harmless questions and gradually move up to the requests that will gain them the information they’re really seeking. They’ll make you feel comfortable -- or, conversely, they make you believe that if you don’t provide them with the details they want, your accounts will be shut down and you’ll suffer some horrible result. Don’t let a threatening e-mail intimidate you into giving out personal information. The reality is that if you do provide them with the information they want, you’re going to end up being a victim of some sort of crime.

Scammers are smart but you can outwit them if you just stop, think, and stay in charge.

Helpful Tips for Authors

Guest blog by Janice Woods Windle

Following are some tips I feel have helped me become a best-selling author:

o Personalize the process of writing the book. Make it your own. The publishing industry is tough right now, so stick to your guns!

o The book is an art form while it's written and a product when finished--market it as a product. The marketing of books is very competitive.

o Overall, you must have a willingness to travel and spend time with readers. Keep in touch with your readers. They are your fans and advocates. You must travel for a book tour and be willing to do those 5 a.m. interviews.

o Don't hesitate to ask for help from relatives and friends. Ask them to buy books and tell everyone they know about your book. Develop a network from these friendships. This creates your team of people talk up the book. Buddy emails are always a good form of "word of mouth" promotion, too.

o Visit book clubs and other organizations to do readings.

o Tailor the readings to the audience. Junior high girls would want to hear about the stories of strong frontier women, whereas the philosophic society would want to hear about the research process.

o Ask for adequate time to be effective when you are invited to speak. Many organizations do their business up front and try to rush the speaker. Make sure there's a clear understanding of how much time you need.

o Promote each speaking event as a book/author event. 

o CRC's at bookstores should send out flyers and hang posters. You can anticipate an audience for the first 30 minutes. Make the signing no more than an hour. Try to get local media the day of the signing. And newsletter coverage, of any sort, is helpful.

o Bookstore customers have become very jaded. They are accustomed to seeing a book signing each time they walk in the door. Make yours unique in some way.

o Always inform the event coordinator that you want a microphone. Many book events attract senior citizens who need to be able to hear the author.

o Make yourself accessible to your readers and then be prepare for an onslaught of emails. If they care enough to come to an event, you owe it to them.

The Four CONFIDENCES or How to Build Your Confidence

THE FIRST CONFIDENCE 
The first confidence stems from the very fact of being alive—having gender, strength, the ability to run, jump, grow, dance, derive joy from one’s sexuality, from parenthood and the many stages of life. There is a natural confidence that radiates from a person when they are happy, satisfied and carefree. The symptoms of this confidence can be adopted from the outside in, so that a person can become more confident by knowingly acting the part.

The confident act may be expressed in the following many ways:
To walk tall
To smile
To speak loudly and clearly
To speak with conviction
To walk lightly on one’s feet
To hold one’s head high
To have a firm handshake
To be comfortable in one’s clothes
To look the person you are dealing with in the eye.

THE SECOND CONFIDENCE
The second confidence stems from a person’s skills and abilities. The more they can do and the more they understand, the more confidence they will radiate and be able to draw upon in their dealings with others. When I conduct a workshop on confidence I usually ask those present to write down a list of their skills and abilities—as many as they can think of, no skill being too small or insignificant. It always surprises me that the lists are short and I help the participants add to their lists by suggesting that they do have the ability to walk, speak, read, write, tie their shoelaces, eat with a knife and fork, boil an egg, read a clock, drive a car, dance—all of which had to be learned and acquired at some time in their lives. When the lists are finally ready and complete, together we remind ourselves of all the things we are able to do—we produce our own certificates which are then awarded to each person amidst applause and confirmation from the other participants. This is always a most enjoyable part of the workshop.

THE THIRD CONFIDENCE
The third confidence stems from a person knowing themselves and having access to and command of the many qualities they radiate and display.

In this part of the workshop we create a list of all possible qualities that we know and value, such as, for example, care, honesty, compassion, determination etc. We then each choose a quality and attempt to write a definition of it in our own words, according to our best understanding of that quality at that time. In this there is no right or wrong, there is simply each person’s appreciation of each quality.

We then make a word map, finding other words that by association we think of when that particular quality is mentioned. This leads to a whole web of words and phrases. For example, patience could be seen to be associated with waiting, belief, understanding, hope and tolerance. The word map is then added to by associating two other words with each of the five, so, for example, waiting can be associated with reflection and pause, belief with faith and expectancy, understanding with education and knowledge, hope with future and optimism, tolerance with equality and acquiescence. The association game can then continue with these further words being added into the picture, associating, for example, pause with suspension and break, and so on.

Having created this word map, the next tasking is to write a further sentence, phrase, paragraph, description or poem about the chosen quality, using some of the words incorporated in the word map. Using the example of patience, the new definition could be something like this: “Patience is the ability to wait for the right time and the right season—to have the vision and optimism that the future leads to new opportunities and better understanding. It is a leap of faith and an allowance to oneself and others to make the time and space to become the best they can be.”

The most fascinating aspect of this exercise is the comparison between the first definition of the quality and the second, the latter having so much more depth and
dimension.

THE FOURTH CONFIDENCE
The fourth confidence arises from the fact of being born and having a spirit, and is easy to find if you add up the odds against you being the unique you that you are. 

Considering the many circumstances that have come together to make it possible for each individual human to be born onto Earth, how can a person not be confident that they are meant to be here, that there is a reason and purpose for their existence and that Creation wants and needs them to be here—with their unique fingerprints, DNA and characteristics?

There is another trace that might perhaps add to a person’s confidence, if they care to add it up: depending on how old you are, the planet has supported you for as many years, providing energy, air, liquid and solid foods. It is an effective process to sit down with a calculator and attempt to add up how much you have consumed throughout your life—how many loaves of bread, chicken, cows, fish, goats, grains, vegetables and fruits, how much water, tea, coffee, milk and juice? How much air and how much energy? All this has come from the planet and she has supported each one of us throughout our life, asking for nothing in return but providing a firm foundation for our every step. Should this not give us confidence to succeed and cause us to want to pay back for our many gifts?

AND FINALLY
The final step in the process is to bring it all together and ask the following questions:

Why would you want to have confidence? What are you confident about? Why?
Why is confidence a natural quality?

Creating New Lives

Guest blog by Joy Carol
Author of Journeys of Courage: Remarkable Stories of the Healing Power of Community

Prison. There is likely no other word that can bring to mind such frightening images: solitary confinement, overcrowded cells, bars, handcuffs. 

A prisoner told me she felt she was just a number, no longer a human being, that being behind bars was about loneliness, misery, fear. In interviews with prisoners, I've been told to survive inside you have to learn to beat the system, to become a "successful convict." 
In Dublin, Ireland, I visited Mountjoy Prison where in 150 years, murderers, political prisoners, and drug addicts have been confined. In 1984, John Lonergan became Mountjoy's governor. He introduced a humanitarian attitude towards both prisoners and staff. 

For one day, I visited with Governor Lonergan and then spent hours locked behind the metal door of the Dóchas Center of Mountjoy's Women's Prison. I admit when I heard the bang of that door locking behind me I had a moment of bone-chilling anxiety: "What am I doing here? This wasn't a good idea." Inside I was allowed to wander freely and talk with the women. I wasn't certain who was a staff or a "prisoner" as almost everyone wore civilian clothes. There was a sense of community. 
During my time inside the Dóchas Center, I heard many stories, and I learned some special lessons about healing. 

* * * * * * * * * *
A Woman in Mountjoy for Transporting Drugs: 
I've been here for three months because of drug importation. I never took drugs, believe it or not. The father of my children made me do the job. We had a bad relationship so probably if I hadn't done it, he would have murdered me. Or I might have been in here myself for murdering him. 

Everything happened so fast. I knew when I was caught I was facing a long sentence. But I hoped I would get out quickly so I could be with my children. They are small and I miss them so much. My mom looks after them, but she finds it difficult. 

Being in here has helped me. I'm starting to change my life. I've been going to school fulltime and have done computer, speedwriting, and business organization courses. I passed all the classes and will go to college soon. I'm delighted because I will go out on day release. 

The staff encourages me to do things and have been very helpful. They understand I want to have a better life. Now I'm starting to overcome some of my fears and learning about myself. I've never been in any other prison, but I hear stories about them. If I had ended up in a prison that was anything like those, I probably wouldn't have survived. So I'm grateful for this Center. 

I think this place is helping me grow up quicker than I expected and everything is going to work better from now on. I'm a lot more mature now. I'm still young, so I'll have an opportunity to get on with my life. When I get out, I will continue my education so I can get a good job and support my children. Hopefully I will get there. No, I will get there.

John Lonergan, Governor of Mountjoy Prison:
When I was appointed Governor of Mountjoy Prison in 1984, the women's prison was a dark, depressing place with an austere regime.
 
After I left Mountjoy in 1988 to serve in another prison, the B Wing at Mountjoy was refurbished for women prisoners. When I returned in 1992, I was shocked to find it was totally unsuitable for women, worse than Alcatraz - cages, steel bars. Luckily Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the first woman Minister for Justice, took an interest in the issue and approved a new facility specifically designed for women and with women helping in its design. We were determined it would not be known as Mountjoy Women's Prison. Eventually the name "Dóchas Center" was agreed upon - "Dóchas" is "hope" in Irish. 
Before opening in 1999, staff in consultation with women prisoners, drew up a vision statement. It underpins the ethos of the Center: 

We are a community that embraces people's respect and dignity. We encourage personal growth and development in a caring and safe environment. We are committed to addressing the needs of each person in a healing and holistic way. We actively promote close interaction with the wider community. 

Many improvements took place in the Center. The women were allowed to have makeup and wear their own clothes. This allowed the women to hold onto their identity and feel better about themselves. A multidisciplinary group was established to identify the principles for the Center. The concept of community was emerging with emphasis placed on caring rather than containing women. 

It's difficult for people to develop in an atmosphere of mistrust. Unfortunately the philosophy of prison is usually based on mistrust, thus the bars on windows, the handcuffing. One morning a woman was escorted to the hospital in handcuffs. I wondered if we were handcuffing people because of a risk that they might run away or they were a security danger or to reinforce the belief they were bad. When discussed with staff, there were questions about authority and the repercussions if women escaped. Eventually using handcuffs was based on security and safety factors. Now women go to hospitals or courts without handcuffs. This has resulted in an improvement in relationships between staff and the women. 

The Center was designed for community style living without the normal institutional atmosphere of cellblocks. We opted for house units to reflect normal living facilities. There are six houses each accommodating seventy-five women in single rooms with complete sanitation and showering facilities. Each house faces a courtyard and has a communal kitchen and dining room. The gates are open except for the main external one. The women move around freely within the Center and they're not shackled. They experience a sense of trust and freedom even within institutional constraints. They feel happier, and they are more open to education, counseling, and other opportunities. 

We have also tried to eliminate the excessive noise, rattling of keys, banging of gates, shouting. Initially the women shouted at each other and at the staff. But they have learned that things can get done by speaking normally, without aggression or abusive language. 
We hold events to promote "community". Women who have taken examinations are presented with certificates. We stage drama productions with the entire cast drawn from the prisoner population. Every Christmas a communal dinner is held involving staff, befrienders, and the women. We arrange for their children to come. There is much sadness when the children leave. On such occasions, the punishment element of prison strikes home. People don't realize that sadness is a reality of prison. The women are often very sad about the hurt they have caused others, their own loss of freedom, their separation from their children, and their lives of misery. 

Most of the women come from the lowest socioeconomic groups. They are financially and materialistically disadvantaged, and they are poverty stricken in ways such as education, emotional and psychological development, mental state. Many have been abused emotionally, psychologically, physically and sexually. Society doesn't understand how damaging such environments are for those who are forced to live in them. A high percentage is addicted to drugs and alcohol. They are often insecure and have low self-esteems. Most are unaware of their talents and potential. 

To build up the women's self-esteem and development, the Center has a variety of programs. The education unit provides a wide variety of subjects and work-training programs enabling women to re-enter the formal educational system. The welfare service helps them address personal and family problems; chaplains provide spiritual, supportive services; outside befrienders visit on a regular basis; a comprehensive healthcare service is provided; a catering service prepares balanced diets; family visits are facilitated in a comfortable visiting area. Those who work here accept the women as they are, encourage them to use their time as well as possible, and assist them in achieving their potential. 
Often society labels prisoners as being dangerous, useless, and "all the same". But, they are all unique individuals. I can truly say I've never met anyone in prison who was totally bad. I've always found a redeeming feature, some element of humanity, of goodness. They may have been overwhelmed with their dark side, but there was always some light. We are all human beings with the potential to do good and bad. Perhaps some of us are better able to control our dark side. 

We believe in promoting the good in people, giving them an opportunity to do something positive, and supporting them in that. In the process, we help them develop their humanity. If we only emphasize the bad in people we will get more badness out of them. Prisoners need to experience respect simply because they are human beings. Unfortunately, the poor, homeless, addicted, and imprisoned rarely experience respect. They are the people who need it most. But they are rejected and ostracized. Being locked in prison, prisoners have already been judged by the courts and been punished for their crimes. By leaving the judging outside the gate, we can respond to them in a more helpful way. Most people in prison actually feel badly about what they've done. They may appear to be hard-hearted and uncaring, but that's not often true. 

The changes we are making at the Dóchas Center are empowering for the women, but they are not always popular with the general public. The popular notion is that prisoners should be treated like "scum", but if we want prison to help prisoners change and move away from their lives of crime, we must treat them as human beings. 

Has the Dóchas Center made a difference? Of course it has. A chaplain described the changes that had taken place during his time here as a miracle. In the old system, the prisoner was nothing but a number. In the Center we try to understand the person, we involve them in decisions that affect their lives, and we treat them as fellow human beings. They respond positively and many have already done themselves proud. Every human being, young or old, rich or poor, needs to be loved and accepted as they are, warts and all. We are determined that the women in the Dóchas Center are not regarded as the Least, the Last and the Lost. 

* * * * * * * * * *
I will always remember my day in the Dóchas Center - a place of hope. I felt like I had been given a priceless gift. I learned a great deal about believing in people's innate goodness, about not making judgments regarding people considered to be "unworthy criminals", about valuing and treating all people with kindness and respect. 
Like the women in the Dóchas Center, we don't want to be stereotyped or labeled or abused. We desperately want to be trusted and embraced in a place of hope. And we too yearn to be treated as though we are valuable people with great worth. 

As I left the Dóchas Center, I heard the heavy metal door slide open that allowed me to leave the prison. It occurred to me that just by accident of birth I was not staying behind as one of the prisoners. Because I was born into a privileged class and culture, I will probably always have the freedom to step from one world into another - something the women in the Center and in prisons and correctional facilities around the world may never have. As the door banged shut behind me, I vowed to treat people with dignity and respect - especially those who have been disadvantaged by the misfortunes of poverty, cruelty and abuse. 
* * * * * * * * * *
Adapted from Joy Carol's newest book

Valentine Tips

Guest blog by Dr. Jane Drew

Start practicing these tips now and create your best Valentine's Day ever!  And if you're
not in an intimate relationship right now, these tips will be priceless when you are. 

1. Little Things Are Big
Everyday kindnesses build good will in a relationship. Here are examples of thoughtful acts: pouring a cup of coffee, opening a door, clearing the table, saying "thank you," noticing small changes, smiling, looking directly at your partner, etc. Do these things often. You will feel wonderful because you're being generous to your loved one and he or she will feel cared for. These "little" things increase the size of your emotional bank account! 

2. The Magic of Touch
The largest organ of our body is our skin. Something magical and primal happens when we are touched with care -- we feel loved and connected. Remember to put your hand on top of her hand, put your arm around his waist. Just as passionate kisses convey your attraction, gentle kisses on the cheek convey tenderness. Holding hands, foot and back massages, a pat on the leg are demonstrations of your caring. S*e*x is a way to feel both deeply bonded and restored from the stresses of life. 

3. Look for the Best in Your Mate or Date
Studies show that in good marriages a person tends to have an overall, very positive concept of their partner. For example, when a man is rated on various strengths and qualities by his friends and by his wife, the happy wife rates the husband higher than the friends rate him. Look for and focus on the things you love and value in your mate. It makes everything better!

4. Keep the Foundation Strong
There is no doubt about it; we all live very busy lives these days. It's easy to let work, children, the house, the Internet and social engagements fill up every waking moment. However, if you want your relationship to stay strong, you must carve out time for one-on-one time together. How can you do this? You could take fifteen minutes to talk and connect when you both get home from work. You could have a weekly date night, go for a walk, play a game, or sit and talk by the fireplace. But you must keep the foundation strong or, without noticing, the house could weaken and crumble. 

5. Make It Safe
Both partners need to feel safe when they speak. When people are upset, this isn't easy... but here's a plan for how to listen and be heard. Agree to have one person be the listener and the other the speaker. The speaker shares his frustration a few sentences at a time. The listener repeats back only what the speaker has said. The listener keeps asking, "Is there anything more?" until the speaker is completely finished. Then trade places where the listener becomes the speaker. This helps both people slow down and feel understood. Both of you can then see
the other person has a different, but valid point of view.

6. Don't Assume - Check It Out
It is easy for all of us to see a behavior, hear certain words and assume what our partner meant by it (and usually it's not good!) I suggest that you check out with your partner what he meant rather than assuming he didn't call because he didn't care. Try saying something like this (in a calm tone): "I noticed you didn't call last night when you said you would. I felt
disappointed because I wanted to talk and connect. Would you tell me what happened?" 


7. Really Know Your Partner
Everyone wants to be known and loved for who they are -especially by their loved ones. To learn about your mate, pay attention to the details! Know his joys, likes, dislikes, fears and stresses. Find out about and remember the major events in her life. Know how he likes his coffee; know her favorite TV show. Pay attention to how he feels about his boss. One excellent way to get to know your partner is by playing a game called Let's Connect! (See information below.) Each of the eighty cards in this game has two or more questions or mini games... you'll have fun and know your partner much better.

8. No Criticism - No Blame
I've never met anyone who doesn't feel hurt by criticism; it's the human condition. So what can we do when we're frustrated? Stuffing our feelings in doesn't work either! Use this method: "When you... I feel..." In the "when you..." say what the person has said or done. In the "I feel..." use I-statements and talk about the feelings that came up for you -- feelings such as sad, hurt, frustrated, lonely. You are being vulnerable and letting your partner know what is going on with you. The purpose is to inform and become closer. You can also ask for what you want - just make sure it's not a demand (demands just don't work!)

9. Stay Connected
Being loved and connected is easy during pleasant and good times; yet it's even more important during hard times. The connection can be lost when we feel hurt, get too busy or bored. The "silent treatment" erodes connection. Notice when there's a disconnect, then do or
say something to reconnect. Use the speaker/listener method in #3 to ensure safety. If you are upset and need some time away, say, "I need to go out for a walk, but I will be back in 2 hours. I'll come find you and we can talk then." Your partner then feels connected and knows you'll be back to work it out. 

10. Create Your Own Rituals
Couples need a sense of shared meaning. Rituals are a great way to feel a sense of belonging and create meaning. The family gathering every Sunday for dinner is an example of a ritual. Create your own family traditions and customs for holidays. Toasting a loved one with a glass of champagne can be a birthday ritual. I suggest daily rituals with your partner. For example, hug and kiss before you leave for work. Every night before you go to sleep, you could ask each other, "What was the best part of your day?" 

Weaving the Fabric of Our Friendships

Guest blog by Joy Carol
Author of The Fabric of Friendship: Celebrating the Joys, Mending the Tears in Women's Relationships

Have you ever lost a friend and didn't have a clue what happened? Have you and a friend had a disagreement that got blown out of proportion and suddenly you no longer talked to each other? Have you been shocked when a friend stopped communicating with you? At some time, most of us will experience a complication or miscommunication with a friend that may leave a scar on our hearts.

Alice and Ginger were inseparable best friends as they grew up. But when they were in their 40s, they had a conflict that tore their friendship apart. "Ginger and I were very close; we shared secrets and problems," explained Alice. "Not a week went by that we didn't talk. Then Ginger started acting strange. When I sent her e-mails, she didn't answer. If I called and asked to have lunch, she said she was busy and would get back to me. But she didn't.

"One day in the supermarket, I saw Ginger: 'I'm confused about what's going on. Is something wrong?' She just shrugged her shoulders and walked away. Over the next weeks, she ignored me. I finally reached her on the phone and was told we were no longer friends that she didn't want me around. I had no idea what had happened. Eventually I gave up on our friendship, but it was devastating. It left an enormous hole in my life." 

Undoubtedly this kind of break is very painful, especially if one friend decides to end the relationship without providing an opportunity to discuss what happened, what was misunderstood, or what could be changed. Losing a friendship can be as upsetting as experiencing the death of someone close to us. Yet, we rarely speak about it, nor do we feel comfortable discussing how we might deal with such losses. 

Sometimes when a friendship ends, we feel guilty, as if we did something wrong. We may pretend that the break never occurred. If someone notices and asks us what happened, we nervously answer, "we had a disagreement." And, like Alice, we try to change the subject. 

In contrast, when a relationship with a spouse or a lover ends, it's expected that we talk about it and cry about our pain. We're allowed to complain openly about the problems of infidelity, financial troubles, alcohol or drug abuse, and any other difficulties that caused the relationship to end. If we turn on our radio to a popular station, we hear songs about sweethearts getting away, about broken hearts scattered on the road of love. But such is not the case with friendship. Why is it so different? 

In strong friendships, we feel accepted, supported, and loved. These relationships are enjoyable and beneficial. Often, however, the experience of friendships can be confusing and complicated. They can be encouraging or debilitating, trusting or disloyal, joyful or painful. It's baffling that some friendships have the power to sustain people even more than their families do, while others can devastate and destroy.

When friendships shatter, there are other dimensions to consider. Possibly we feel grateful, even flattered, when people choose us as friends. So when a non-obligatory, non-family relationship ends, we may feel like a failure. Perhaps we believed friendships were less complicated and more stable than family or love-related relationships. Consequently, if we reveal that our friendships have ended, we are admitting that we drove our friends away because they saw our defects. Thus, talking about an "ex-friend" causes us to feel vulnerable and inferior.

Usually friendships develop because of shared interests or common values. We choose friends because they appeal to us or they represent the person who we long to be. So when we find someone we think will be our "special friend," it's an exciting and stimulating time. We hope the relationship won't be burdened with problems, and it's only natural that we expect our friend to be supportive, reassuring, and dependable. Consequently we endow friendships with a naïve and unrealistic trust that friends will be available to us as long as we need them. 

But there is no real basis for thinking friendships should last forever. In reality, there are many reasons why they end. For starters, friendships are just as complicated as family or love relationships. Unspoken feelings and needs, envy, competition, personal ambition, unresolved anger, and lack of boundaries can easily wreak havoc on relationships. Friends do move away emotionally and physically from each other into realms of life that might not be familiar or comfortable for both people. Occasionally we discover that our friends are totally different than the people we thought we knew. Sometimes our friends-or we ourselves-find something new and more exciting than what the friendship has to offer and move on. The reasons are myriad.

Without a doubt, the disintegration of a friendship can be painful and sometimes devastating. This loss can leave an empty space in our lives that is difficult to fill. It's unlikely that we'll find another person with the same temperament, personality, even the imperfections, that attracted us and brought about our relationship. 

However, it is possible and beneficial for us to learn how to have healthier relationships, so we won't run the risk of being disappointed, disillusioned, or hurt. Karen, a medical technician in her mid-twenties, explains how this can happen. "Isabel and I met in college and became close buddies; we had so much in common. We laughed and cried our way through boyfriends, exams, graduate work. We were always there supporting each other. We pledged to speak honestly with one another, even when it was difficult.

"At one point, I felt like Isabel wasn't there for me, that she had let me down. But I didn't want to tell her that she had hurt me. I wasn't accustomed to telling women anything negative. Soon I started drifting away from Isabel. I imagined how I would 'punish' her by leaving her. Then I came to my senses. I didn't want to lose her, because she had been a wonderful friend for a long time. How could I replace her friendship? 

"For a while, I avoided saying anything to Isabel. I was afraid I might say the wrong thing and make matters worse. Finally I realized how important it was for us to talk about what had happened and to work things out. So I got the courage to speak with her. I tried not to make her feel defensive, not to accuse her of letting me down, but to tell her that I felt let down. 

"Isabel was more open than I thought she would be. In fact, she was relieved that I opened the door to resolving our problem. This encounter actually strengthened our relationship. Now we're more willing to express concerns and air problems that come up rather than let them simmer under the pretense that all is well. I'm confident that in the future we will share openly our feelings and needs. Certainly my unwillingness to say what I felt almost caused our friendship to fail. I doubt we will ever be in danger of that happening again."

As Karen and Isabel's story points out, developing reliable, workable relationships requires a great deal of effort, courage to be honest, patience, and compassion-for our friends and ourselves. If we add doses of maturity and wisdom to the mix, we will be on our way to more satisfying friendships.

To enrich or improve the quality of our relationships, it's helpful if we recognize and understand what makes friendships more wholesome. Although there are many components that make up an authentic relationship, these three are especially important: 
1. Know and accept ourselves for the people we are
2. Be realistic about what "friendships" are
3. Learn to communicate our needs and feelings in healthy ways

1. Know and accept ourselves for the people we are

To have solid friendships, we first start by becoming familiar and comfortable with ourselves. Self-awareness and self-esteem are key ingredients in all relationships. If we know who we are, either we are satisfied with our own resources and talents, or we can try to improve and enhance them. When we have positive feelings about ourselves, we won't frantically cling to relationships for our self-worth. 

Another valuable benefit of self-acceptance is that we are less sensitive and defensive about criticism, disapproval, negative comments, or rejection. Small problems roll more easily off our backs, and we aren't as emotionally concerned about how we are perceived. We can recognize if harsh comments aimed at us are deserved or if they are misdirected or projected from someone's negative feelings about themselves. 

When we feel comfortable with ourselves, we can laugh at some of our silly reactions and less-than-wise endeavors. An "armor" of humor can protect us from a lot of anguish and grief while giving joy to others. 

2. Be realistic about what "friendships" are

Like life itself, friendships and friends are not perfect nor are they consistent; they have both good and bad qualities. When we know and accept ourselves, we are able to let go of unreasonable assumptions about what friendships should be, and we can appreciate friends for who they are with their strengths and weaknesses. Often what we want to believe is a "friend" really isn't, and it's difficult to determine whether someone is a real friend. True friends are there through good and bad times; they accept us when we aren't our best; they easily handle changes in our relationship; and they are open to talking over things that go awry. Some "friends" are women we've grown accustomed to having around, even though they might not be very caring or supportive. Others are essentially givers of pain and negative energy, but we still think of them as "friends." We need to examine this last category and decide whether to move on. 

Another unrealistic expectation is that our "best friend" can be all things for us. But that's not possible, nor healthy. No one friend, sister, spouse, or parent can be everything for anyone. Often women are disappointed and sometimes dumped, because a "best friend" couldn't meet their needs. Having a variety of friends will keep us more balanced and help us meet our diverse needs. As in every aspect of life, it's better not to put all our eggs in one basket. After all, most friendships do end at some time. Friends move, die, become ill, or get involved in all-consuming activities or relationships that don't allow time for us. So cultivating new friends is a good strategy.

By evaluating and recognizing friendships for what they are, we will find that some relationships are worth putting energy into and others are not worth pursuing. Occasionally no matter what we do, friends exit our lives without our ever knowing why. Such ex-friends may not be brave or mature enough to explain their reasons. Rather than stewing about that or endlessly struggling to reclaim the friendship, it's better to cut our losses and move on. With a more realistic perspective about friendship, we can approach relationships in a wholesome manner and enjoy them for what they truly are.

3. Learn to communicate our needs and feelings in healthy ways

Women who have self-worth are more capable of being truthful about their needs and feelings. Many women, out of their desire to be accepted, appear confused about what they want or need. They say what they think others want to hear. If we inform friends who we are and what our limits are, they likely will enjoy and respect the authentic us more than the counterfeit one. Also we can steer clear of being used by stating a firm no rather than a wishy-washy yes. Of course, we too need to respect our friends' limits and needs.

On the other hand, we may miss opportunities for growth, because we are too easily hurt. The potential to learn something about ourselves can be blocked by overreacting to critical comments or being thin-skinned. If we can openly consider our friends' suggestions and criticisms, we may learn something about ourselves. 

Although airing problems may seem risky, it's better than heading down the road of failed friendships. Talking about difficulties in non-accusatory tones and clarifying misunderstandings without inflicting guilt are healthy ways to resolve complications. Relationships become more workable when we use straightforward words that communicate what we mean rather than "beating around the bush." Friends appreciate not having to guess what we're saying. However, whenever we speak frankly, kindness should be practiced. Brutal honesty is cruel and damaging-and unnecessary. 

Finally, as singer Janis Joplin said, "Don't compromise yourself. You're all you've got." If we know and accept ourselves, are realistic about what "friendships" are, and clearly communicate our needs and feelings, we will have stronger, more wholesome friendships. 

Seven Types of Men to Avoid if You Are Looking for a Mate

Guest blog by June Marshall
Author of The Dirty Seven: Ladies Beware!
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

If you are an intelligent, independent woman looking for a relationship with a man, it takes patience to find someone you can respect, whose heart is open to you, and you can be with without driving you up the wall.

Good mate-material is out there. But, while you are looking, don't waste your time and money on The Dirty Seven.

Underlying Problem: The underlying problem with The Dirty Seven is a kind of selfishness that makes them incapable of giving your needs fair play. They lack empathy (the ability to put themselves in your shoes).

Who are these Guys?

Don't give up your freedom and happiness for these guys. They will always put you and your needs second or last. Read on to see who they are and what you can do about them.

1. ScarMan: Talks continuously about his ex and the past, to the exclusion of everything else, including you. You feel like saying, "Hello! You are out with me!"

If you want to feel first in a man's heart, throw ScarMan back on the dating beach.

2. SideMan: Married or living with someone but looking for some excitement on the side, with no intention of creating a real relationship. 

Walk away and don't look back. He wants to use you. If it takes a lie, he will lie to get what he wants, without a thought for the pain he causes.

3. CrazyMan: Has so many quirks, a hospital wing of psychotherapists couldn't figure him out. He'll drive you nuts if you give him a long-term try.

4. GuyMan: Likes guys better than girls but pretends to be straight. The fact that he is lying to you about it is what makes him one of The Dirty Seven.

Let him go on his journey of discovering his true identity without you.

5. YAPpie: (Young And Poor) have the benefit of youth on their side but not much else: No money and no job prospects. You pay for everything and drive him around too.

Do less for him. He is a species of parasite that survives by living off of women and will move on.

6. OLMan: (Old Loser Man) is the YAPpie, grown older but not wiser. He has not provided for his future. He is looking to you to do that for him. He was lazy, selfish, and clueless in his youth and has remained the same in his old age.

Do not get involved with him until you find out where and how he lives. Go there with him. If he is penniless, especially beware of how he lives.

7. BagMan: Difficult children from different marriages some of whom live with him, multiple alimony payments, and lots of bitterness over past woes are just some of the baggage this man brings to the relationship. 

Give up on him before you are left holding the bag.

Good Guys

Good guys are out there and are worth taking the time to find. The good mate thinks about the "us" before he thinks about himself. The relationship is foremost in his life and he shows you that it is. His life is not about his miserable self, self, self and he wants to do something to make things better in the world instead of being a drain on the system.

He takes care of himself because he has self-respect. Money is not what motivates him. His heart guides him. He lives his life with passion and is not a wound-licking victim or an ego-driven control freak. He understands the territory of love and shares it with you. He appreciates and respects you and you feel a warm glow of happiness when you think of him. He is the exact opposite of all of the Dirty Seven:

· The un-ScarMan: He is not stuck in the past and is here with you, now. He wants to learn about you because he is interested.
· The un-SideMan: He is devoted to you and not lots of chicks on the side. He puts his whole heart into your relationship.
· The un-CrazyMan: He has enough reference in reality to be able to share your world with enthusiasm. He is balanced and rational.
· The un-GuyMan: He is honest about his sexuality and loves you because you are a woman with a woman's body.
· The un-YAPpie: He can support himself and does not expect you to be a Sugar Mama. He has plans and goals for what he wants from life and how he wants to contribute to others.
· The un-OLMan: He has had a life vision and continues to work on it, even when he is up in years. He can support himself and stays young-at-heart, though he has the wisdom that comes with age and experience.
· The un-BagMan: He might have some baggage, as everyone who has lived has, but he does not inflict it on you so that it takes over your life. He has handled it cleanly and fairly so that it does not keep coming back to haunt him and you.

The Open Profile...How To Turn A Browse into A Click...online dating

Guest blog by Judsen Culbreth
Author of The Boomer's Guide to Online Dating: Date with Dignity 

The opening profile is your first and perhaps most important dating tool. Learn how to avoid the mistakes made by 90 percent of searchers and create a profile that captures your strong points and stands out from the crowd. 

User Name

Every word counts in your opener, including your user name. Save Susan6134 for your office or home computer. Your dating "handle" should be anonymous yet descriptive. One study of perceptions in cyberspace demonstrated that selective nicknames or handles influence the impressions others develop of the person using them. These little words count! 

What two or three words fit you to a tee? 

You might want to zero in on an activity or interest, like I did with my online ID, GolfNut. Or consider HappyHiker, NauticalGal, OutdoorLover, WalkingWoman, LineDancer, HistoryBuff, BirderChick, BridgeBelle, or HookedonBooks. 

You may have a fascinating profession to brag about, as did PaleoGal, ArtLady, and Novelist53. Or you may possess intriguing physical attributes, like NordicBlondeBuddy, Blondie, Green-eyedLady, OleBlueEyes, SunnySmiles, Dimpled&Adorable, PolishednPretty, CuteRedhead, and Brown-eyedGal. 

Personality might be your strong suit: HeartofGold, Warm&Lively, ThoughfulLady, Friendly&Affectionate, GreatListener, Spirited&Sensitive, CozyCharmer, FunFran, HappyGal, SueIsNice, SweetnShy. Good, honest humor also gets noticed. I chuckled when I read the refreshing MiddleageOverweightSchoolmarm. 

Banner Headline (Subject Line) 

Most sites have a banner headline with the profile -- a six- to 12-word phrase that offers you a second chance to grab attention and sell yourself. Notice the emphasis on yourself. Don't use this important real estate to describe the person you're looking for. He will find you if you do your selling job. 

Put modesty aside for 15 minutes and jot down your wonderful attributes. If you find that difficult to do, think about how good friends would describe you. What's it like to be with you? Don't guess; ask them. Friends can offer a fresh perspective and may be much more objective about you than you are. 

In your collection of compliments, be sure that there are adjectives emphasizing your joy and vitality -- "love to laugh," "crazy about fishing." At this stage, what attracts is a happy, healthy person who's warm and open to men, and has enthusiasm about life. Here are some more examples: 

PLAYFUL PETITE REDHEAD
LIVE WIRE SEEKS SPARKS
CUTE LADY WHO LOVES HOCKEY
GOOD COOK AND CUDDLER
HAVE YOU HAD YOUR GIGGLE TODAY? 
LET'S HAVE FUN
ATTRACTIVE. ADVENTUROUS. ADORABLE. 
TRAVEL GAL WANTS A PAL

You'll notice that good banner headlines are positive, interesting, and humorous. They keep things light. Donna Frank of Nashua, New Hampshire, attracted now-husband Eric's attention with her headline, "Modern-Day Elaine Seeking Her Seinfeld." 

On the other hand, banner headlines that spook guys are heavy and hostile. Don't make these mistakes: 

Asking too much too soon. Imagine writing a résumé in which you told your prospective employer that you were looking for lifetime employment with a guarantee of happiness. That would be an absurd request from someone you'd never met. Equally absurd are similar banner headlines, such as HUSBAND WANTED, SHARE MY SOUL, or SPEND THE NEXT 20 YEARS WITH ME. So are ones that ask a perfect stranger to be perpetually amusing: EXCITE ME or GIVE ME A LIFETIME OF LAUGHTER. These remind me of the Seinfeld episode in which New York Mets' first baseman Keith Hernandez asks Jerry to help him move. "I hardly know the guy," Jerry protests, and rightly so. Only someone you're very intimate with should be asked to do such heavy lifting. 

Sounding too sexy. You don't want to come across as a cyber-tramp with headlines such as CHECK OUT ROOTY TOOTY BOOTY, LET'S MAKE MISCHIEF, PASSIONATE WOMAN, or 1SEXY LADY NEEDS NAUGHTY GUY. You may be flooded with e-mail, but not the kind you want.

Sounding too romantic. You'll seem naive and vulnerable if you opt for headlines such as SEARCHING FOR MY KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR. Also trite and overused: MR. RIGHT, MR.. WONDERFUL, THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE, ONE IN A MILLION, LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT, HEARTTHROB, PRINCE CHARMING. 

Picking on men. Many women, perhaps inadvertently, allow male bashing to creep into their banner headlines. Okay, maybe in the past you were burned by men, but you need to decide now whether you want to date 'em or hate 'em. If you want a fresh start with an online romance, note that stereotyping men as dishonest and irresponsible is not an attraction magnet. The hostility repels the good guys as well as the bad. Men like women who like men. Check your banner headline for these kinds of subtle or outright hostile put-downs: ARE YOU ONE OF THE NICE GUYS?; BE HONEST; NO HEAD GAMES; NO JERKS ALLOWED; NO CRAZIES, PLEASE; R U NORMAL?; NO MORE B-S! 

Short Personal Profile

It's less than 100 words -- sometimes as few as 25 -- but this descriptive paragraph needs to convey the experience of you. A good way to accomplish that is to divide the profile between your physical description and personality, keeping in mind the two questions you need to answer in this short space: What am I like? What is it like to be with me? Here are a few tips to get you started. 

Physical
Tell the truth. Some sites require you to disclose height, weight, and age right up front. If you've been fudging for a while and can get away with shaving a few pounds or years, you might be okay. But any experienced online dater will warn you that you're risking wrath when you lie. Clever explanations and apologies will not earn you forgiveness if you've wasted someone's time by misrepresenting yourself. When the 50-SOMETHING TENNIS CHAMP I agreed to meet turned out to be 72, the sweet bouquet he brought didn't keep me from leaving soon after our handshake. He'd insulted me by lying. 

There's no reason to lie about your age. Why compromise your credibility when so many online searchers will treasure the years you're trying to hide? Preview sites specifically for Boomers. The big sites, such as Match.com, Yahoo! Personals, or Matchmaker, also have millions of mature browsers and are experiencing double-digit growth in our demographic group. 

Jim Fischer, who started his online search at 49, listed "someone my own age" as his number one criteria. "I was married for seven years to a Gen Xer who was 15 years younger than me," he says. "What a disaster! Her cultural references began with the movie Sixteen Candles and ended somewhere around Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I wanted someone on my level, someone without a tongue ring or tattoos and who could answer, 'Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated?'"

There's also no reason to lie about your weight. Maybe you won't attract the guy who wants a perfect size six. Don't worry about him. You don't need to appeal to everyone. Set your sights on the person you really want to meet. Get his attention by describing yourself in flattering terms, such as BBW (big, beautiful woman), voluptuous, or sensuous size 16. 

When Jim linked to Stephanie, now his wife, "we were both toting some extra pounds," he says. "That's called, 'you get older and you put on weight.' It's just life." 

Use colorful language and humor. Instead of "tall," how about saying you're "long-legged"? The latter creates a more sensual mental picture, like Lauren Bacall showing off her great gams in To Have and Have Not. Instead of "brown hair with highlights," don't you think it would be more fun to meet a "nearly blonde dazzler"? 

The Age Issue
Contrary to popular belief, most mature men don't want a younger woman. Statistically, they tend to marry women close to their own age. But women who age well or look young for their age seem to have the odds in their favor. In his study of marriage-minded men, author and image consultant John Molloy reports that a majority of men over 40 want a woman who is "going to stay in shape, keep her figure, and pay attention to her appearance." Molloy's survey, the subject of his book Why Men Marry Some Women and Not Others, also found that "half the men over 40 who have dated, lived with, or married much younger women would hesitate to do so again."

Personality

Share your interests. The way you spend your leisure time is one of the best indicators of your personality and values. (If you've been too busy for hobbies, you may want to consider rounding out your life.) Write down the activities that show both your playful and serious sides. 

Notice the balance in these short profiles: 

"My smile is contagious and so is my energy. I'm a gym rat, chess player, and volunteer community gardener, and I read all the historical fiction I can get my hands on. Let's laugh together . . ." 

"I've built the kind of life where I can travel and have a good time. I try to walk every morning, and love trips where I trek around the countryside. I think that's the best way to really see things up close, and I can take time to enjoy a magnificent view, whether I just stumble across it or admire it during lunch at a roadside café." 

Notice the lack of balance in this one: 

"Sometimes I spend too much time at work and leave out the relaxing pleasures of mowing the lawn and weeding the garden."

Appeal to your target audience. One of the fundamental rules in sales and marketing is to know to whom you're selling. In this instance, your goal is to appeal to a member of the opposite sex. The key word here is opposite. My gorgeous friend Marion wondered why she wasn't getting e-mail. Here's the line from her opening profile that killed her chances: "My favorite activity is shopping!!! I love clothes." This would be a great hook if she were hoping to land a woman friend. But in my experience, if you give a man a choice between shopping and having a root canal, the latter has a better chance of winning. (The exception, of course, would be helping a woman pick out a bathing suit -- lots of male volunteers there.) 

Too much domesticity can also turn off men. You're not applying for the job of cook, maid, or nanny. Clean out language that pigeonholes you as a housebound Heloise. Check, for example, that your list of activities includes more than cooking, gardening, needlepoint, crafts, and yard sales. You want to appear dynamic in a number of spheres. 

This profile shows symmetry between domesticity and romance: 

"I cook very well, especially if you'll share a good wine and talk with me while I'm marinating the steaks." 

This one reaches domestic nirvana from a man's point of view: 

"I am a very happy, low-maintenance person who enjoys simple pleasures like barbecuing on my deck as I watch the sun set over the golf course."

Offer specific, telling details. Most adults enjoy dinner, movies, music, and travel. It's the distinguishing detail that will catch the eye of your compatible partner. If nothing tastes better to you than a cold beer and a hot dog at the ballpark, say so. (Boy, will you get e-mail!) If you've seen every single Steven Spielberg movie, let the other Spielberg fans know. Tout your uniqueness and expertise with specifics: 

"I was brought up on the Sound and know the waters south of Boston down to City Island pretty well." 

Demonstrate what you're describing: 

"Great sense of humor (think Robin Williams -- only calmer)." 

Or, as Eric Frank had Donna giggling: 

"My friends think I'm funny (I love my friends)." 

One detail you don't want to disclose in the opening profile is information on your family. Keep the first impression focused on you. No distractions -- even lovable ones -- just yet. Save the introduction to your family for the questionnaire or first date. Here's how bringing up the family too early can backfire: 

If you write: He'll Think: 
I have two daughters who are the love of my life. I'll never come first. 
Here's a photo of me with me sister in Paris. Every year we take a wonderful vacation together. This sister is going to hate me stepping in. I see trouble. 
My favorite place to relax is at my family's home in Connecticut. Uh-oh. Wonder what they're like. 

Avoid the negative. I believe honesty is the best policy -- but not the despairing, soul-baring kind of honesty evident below. Would you respond to these women or flee? 

"I'm tired of sitting at home waiting for Mr. Right to knock at my door, and I hate those singles bars. All my friends are married, and I feel like the third wheel. I need a life." 

"I haven't worked in a while because I was badly injured when I fell down a flight of stairs. While I was recovering, I had to cope with a divorce. But now I'm ready for someone who can make me smile again." 

No man in his right mind would want to shoulder that kind of burden. Guys are not online to do a rescue mission. 

Demands can backfire, too. They turn off all men because they make you seem hard to please and testy. Don't say what you don't want. 

"Don't answer this if you're not a gentleman." 

"Game players need not apply!" 

"I only want to hear from someone who wants to make a commitment." 

A more positive approach would be: 

"I would like to meet a friend who also likes to walk for exercise." 

Defensiveness is another form of negativity. There's no need to feel bashful or ashamed about going online. Millions of smart, attractive people -- including the men who'll be scanning your profile -- have made cyber-dating a socially acceptable option. Congratulate yourself that you're healthy, confident, and savvy enough to take control of finding a loving relationship. Don't waste time and valuable words on apologies like these from . . .

The virgin searcher: "Well, I've never done this before and I'm not very good at it, but here goes . . ." 

The resigned searcher: "Nothing but sheer desperation has brought me here. I'm determined to meet that one guy in a million, the one who will fall in love with me at first sight." 

The halfhearted searcher: "My sister talked me into this, and I have no idea what I'm doing." 

Education And Success: The Hot New Ticket
There's a shift in the marriage market, according to University of Texas professor Kelly Raley, Ph.D. In her study of marital preferences, based on data from the National Survey of Families and Households, Dr. Raley was surprised to find that men are most willing to marry women with more education and earning power than they have themselves. "Attractiveness may still be important," she says, "but it looks as if men want women with greater economic resources." 

Another study, from the University of Utah, also confounded researchers. Contrary to predictions, the woman who described herself in an ad as "financially independent, successful (and) ambitious" generated twice as many responses as the description "lovely . . . very attractive and slim." 

Photo

Posting a photo on the opener is a must. Profiles with photos generate 80 percent more responses, according to site managers. Some women say they don't want to be judged by their photos. I would counter by saying that you won't be in the contest at all. "No pix, no picks" is how it's played. Not having a photo with your profile implies that you have something to hide. It's a caution flag. Think about it: Would you choose someone who didn't post a photo? 

If the technical aspects bother you, note that sites now offer step-by-step instructions on how to get your picture online. If you have a digital camera, you're set. You can also get traditional photos inexpensively converted to digital at Wal-Mart, copy shops, or photo stores like Photomax. Some online sites, such as ThirdAgePersonals.com, will do all the work for you -- you e-mail or mail them your photo, and they'll do the posting and/or digital conversion for you. 

Which photo to choose? 

Select a shot that offers the clearest, most flattering view of you. A professional head shot (if not too stiff -- warmth is very important) works quite well. If you don't have one, consider having one made, and see if the photographer could recommend a hair-and-makeup person who can help you achieve a natural-but-gorgeous look. (This could be the best investment you ever make!) 

A photo that shows a hint of location in the background also can be very engaging. But you -- not the mountains, the seashore, or the Eiffel Tower -- must be the star. In fact, your backyard on a sunny day may be all the location you need. Sit in a comfortable chair and ask the photographer to crop in on you from the waist up. Look relaxed and happy, and you've got the perfect pose. 

You'll have a chance to include other pictures with your questionnaire. There you can show off how sexy you look in a ski outfit or what a knockout you are when dressed to the nines. But remember to keep the opening photo clear and simple. If a guy can't get a good look at you, he may skip to someone else. Other photo pointers: 

Avoid old photos. Never post anything more than two years old. 
Showing too much skin may send the wrong message about you. You don't want to attract a bad kind of guy. 
Try to project warmth, one of the characteristics mature men want most. A big smile and cozy sweater signal that you're kind-hearted; sunglasses say cool, not warm. My friend Hildy didn't want her doctorate degree to seem intimidating, so she included a shot showing her holding mother and baby sloths. Half her e-mailers skipped over the Ph.D. part. They wanted to know what the heck she had around her neck. 
Group photos are confusing. Maybe your hair did look fabulous on the night of your high school reunion, but the other folks in the photo are a distraction. Pick another good-hair moment. 
Don't crop your former husband or boyfriend out of a photo unless he won't be missed, because a strange arm around your shoulder that's not attached to a body looks very weird. The trace of an ex also suggests that you haven't moved on from that relationship. Haven't you had a good time since you two parted? 
Save photos of the kids for an in-person meeting. 
Summary Sell-Line

After you've created a warm, interesting picture of yourself and posted an equally wonderful photo, it's time to clinch the click. The fifth step is a simple, very effective two-part sales strategy that will distinguish you from the crowd. 

Offer what marketers call the value proposition. What's 'in it for the browser? What can you promise that will make him click on you and not the competition? Note how well this four-sentence summary sell-line states the value proposition and makes the case for a future relationship: 

"I will be a good friend and ally. I will be tender, responsive, appreciative, agreeable. I will inspire you. I will listen to you."

Copyright © 2005 Judsen Culbreth

Indulge Yourself! 20 Fantastic Ways To feel Fantastic

Guest blog by Jennifer LB Leese

Don't let yourself come last! It's important for you to be able to indulge in things that are just for "you." You deserve it!

Important, how you ask?

Well, it is a known fact that having a relaxing, non-stressful moment in your day will ease your social life as a friend and companion. In doing so, you are more relaxed to deal with family issues such as: the kids fighting and screaming, your husband's personal and work related issues, not to mention all the housework waiting for you at the end of a long and tiring day. 

Ease your family life as a mother and lover and you'll be more productive in your work life. Your boss will thank you and so will your co-workers.

You will be able to think more clearly and you'll find that you are able to handle and to solve daily conflicts that may arise throughout your day. 

We all know that while driving in the car can be very stressful. Did you know that while listening to the radio in your car can be extremely relaxing? You can also get books on tape, or even no music and listening to the wind blow in through your window can be relaxing.
No matter what your job description may be or even if you're a "Work at Home Mom," "Working out of the House Mom," or a "Stay at Home Mom," you should always find a few minutes to cater to yourself. 

One important thing is to keep yourself well-adjusted. What is a well-adjusted woman? The answer of course, is different for everyone! We all do know that a well-adjusted woman isn't a super hero, cartoon character, or a mythical creature. She can't do everything on her own, and she certainly can't be expected to be able to deal with troubling issues with a level head, but she can try!

Even a well-adjusted woman who thinks she has her life together has mood swings, runs out of energy, and still has time to give to her children, her partner and her family. However, a well-adjusted woman should never allow herself to be neglected. In doing so, everyone suffers.
With that in mind, I have taken the liberty to include a few soothing, relaxing and enjoyable ways...for you to "Pamper Yourself."

 1. Enjoy being outside, sit, and watch the clouds go by.
 2. A warm, soothing bubble bath is always nice, any time of the day.
 3.Go for a leisure walk, by yourself or with your family.
 4. How about entering someone else's world for a while? Read a book, such as Ghost by Danielle Steel. Alternatively, watch a romantic, drama, or comedy movie. 
5. Make an appointment at your local salon to have a manicure or pedicure done. While you are there, have your hair shampooed and styled.
 6. I have found that sitting in a quiet room, reading a book to my children is another great way of relieving stress of a hectic day.
 7. Listen to your favorite music for a while, whether it's soft music, alternative, or even rap. Whatever enriches your soul and makes you feel good.
 8. How about going to flea markets or yard sales? You are sure to find something to take home and treasure. On the other hand, turn it into something new.
 9. Calling your best friend is another great way to make yourself feel good. Find out what's new; catch up on gossip or even just talk about old times.
10.Order dinner in tonight. Just sit back and wait for it to arrive.
11. Did you know that laughter is good for the soul? Moreover, that it is very contagious? Laugh and others are guaranteed to laugh with you.
12. Even just the simple task of lighting a scented candle can be fulfilling. Relax; let the aroma take you away.
13. Another good way to make you feel good is to order yourself a gift basket. How about freshly scented bubbles bath basket or even a romantic basket to share with your loved one?
14. Having a make over is very important also. Let someone else turn you into someone new for the day. You won't regret it.
15. Even a small shopping spree can make any woman feel good. Pamper yourself; buy yourself something you've always wanted.
16. Take a day all to yourself. 
17. Making crafts can be very enjoyable also. Start with something easy and build up from there.
18. If all else fails, then make an appointment to have a professional masseuse rub you down for an hour or more. That will surely release your tension. 
19. How about having a facial? You'll be surprised, you will leave there feeling relaxed, fresh and you'll be smiling for hours.
20. Find your favorite place to sit, whether it's at the park, your living room or even at the local library, and try writing about your day or write about whatever comes to mind. 

The key is to find something that relaxes you. Everyone is different. I've talked to some women that feel that kickboxing is a way of relaxing. They say that it helps them become the well-adjusted woman they should be. If you are one of these women, and feel that kickboxing is a great way of relieving tension then by all means, do it! More power to you!
You will have a better outlook on the things around you and in your daily routine. In addition, you will feel as though you are in better health and the people around you will benefit from you pampering yourself.

Dating for Grownups: The Invisible Older Woman

Guest blog by June Marshall
Author of The Dirty Seven: Ladies Beware!
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

Adults and Dating

Most magazines, books, and discussions about dating center on the younger age groups in our population. But everyone in this nation is not between the ages of 16 and 21. We all know women, including ourselves, who have been divorced or widowed after many years of marriage. We also know busy women who bypassed the dating scene as they built their careers. Now these women are out in the dating marketplace. What are they finding? They are finding that they have to be careful about whom they take into their lives. The fantasy and the reality of dating are two different issues. 

Relationship Books

Most books and magazines on dating and relationships deal with the subject of attracting, understanding, or keeping a man. Cosmo with its articles about turning on and attracting Mr. Right, Glamour with its numerous articles on fascinating him in bed, Venus and Mars trying to understand each other in and out of the bedroom, The Surrendered Single, are just a few examples of the many. But what if the man is not worth attracting, understanding, or keeping? The books and magazines do not treat the subject of standards and selectivity because it is too real and sounds depressing. Fantasy sells more products than reality. So we only see the beginning of the fairy tale, not the day-to-day truth of living with another human being. We do not see the stabilized middle of the story, nor do we see the ending, which is often unpleasant.

Movies and TV

The visual media are no different, with superficial TV shows that have total strangers marrying each other based on appearance and the hope of financial gain. Shows like "Who wants to Marry a Millionaire," "Joe Millionaire," "Married by America," "The Bachelor," and "The Bachelorette" do not focus on the actuality of living with someone's character and personality traits on a daily basis. Movies like "Serendipity" show a couple falling madly in love based on a few moments of chitchat at a glove counter. Now their destiny is eternally intertwined. All of these shows and movies display the courtship dances of the twenty-something set but they fuel the dreams of people of all ages. It is "Miss America" meets "The Dating Game" and the nation is entranced by the illusion.

The Invisible Older Woman

Books, magazines, and movies find little glamour in a woman who is past 30, 40, or 50. Thus, we do not see or have a chance to comprehend the true dating experiences of the older woman in mass- market presentations. If we do, that too is romanticized, as in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," where once again we see the elaborate ceremony and what leads up to it, but not the happily- or unhappily-ever-after. The heroine is a whole 30 years old (!) and definitely behind schedule in her culture's marriage expectations. But what about the millions of women who are over 60 and 70, even over 80 and are actively seeking male companionship? The media ignores them. There is something slightly distasteful about thinking of sex and the older woman. 

Landmine Dating

The general population does not know that the incidence of AIDS in people 50 and older is growing at a rate twice as fast as for people younger than 50, according to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (apparently thanks to Viagra). The elderly man cavorts with an infected partner and brings it back to his senior girlfriend. They do not use condoms because they are past the age of pregnancy. AIDS is just one of the landmines waiting to explode in an older woman's face if she enters the dating game equipped with fairy tale dreams of romance instead of an understanding of the realities. 

"There are a lot of men who are over 70, have a lot of money and are out dating a lot of younger women and not using condoms," says Anita Finley, a gerontologist and radio talk-show host in South Florida, where she also publishes the magazine Boomer Times. "They don't get it. They were married and didn't have to use protection for so long. It's so obvious, but they're playing Russian roulette." 

Condo Casanovas

Such behavior, conscious or not, puts senior citizens at risk, say health educators who participate in the statewide Senior HIV Intervention Project in Florida. They cite a widespread use of prostitutes by senior citizens and the presence in retirement communities of so-called "Condo Casanovas," or men who take advantage of an environment in which women outnumber men by 7 to 1. With that level of competition for a man's affection, typically after decades of marriage and a healthy sex life, many women are reluctant to demand that their partner use a condom, experts say. 

Expensive Guys

In The Dirty Seven: Ladies Beware! I describe the seven types of dead-end mates that women of any age would do well to avoid. But one type in particular costs the older woman more financially and socially than any other: He is a related species to the Condo Cassanova, known as OLMan (Old Loser Man). OLMan calculatingly offers his lonely prey flattery and attention, compliments, flowers, and romance. He expects financial gains as his reward but does not explicitly state it. It's just that his wardrobe can use some renewal and he comes up short on money when he takes her out to dinner so she pays. His teeth need fixing and she loves him so much, she'll fork over the thousands to get them capped. He costs the woman socially because her friends feel alienated and awkward when they try to warn her that he is taking advantage. One of his traits is that he wants to isolate the woman from family and friends so he can be the sole influence on her activities and expenses. The family is dismayed when every time they visit Mom, he is there too.

Far-away Mom

Sometimes the woman's family does not live near enough for frequent visits. The family finds out after it is too late that Mom has fallen prey to one of these parasites. After her death they find family heirlooms missing and discover evidence of large expenditures on him. He has been known to sue the woman's estate for breach of promise because Mom promised him money on her death and the heirs have withheld it. Something similar happened to my friend Rachel's mother. In Rachel's own words, "The healing process after my mother's death took on dire aspects. She had been 'dating' or seeing a male suitor, or so she thought. Turns out he was no suitor but a crook, of the worst kind, those who prey on elderly, single women. Once my father died, this guy moved in on her. Trouble is, he turned out to be an extortionist, and cost me an additional 2 1/2 million dollars in estate tax fees. It's a long story, but it had to do with him taking her dancing and telling her she was beautiful and her believing every word he said."

OLMan Example

Robert is another good example of an OLMan. He met Estelle at church. He was looking for a rich widow to take care of him and Florida was full of them. He portrayed himself as a humble man, devoted to God and religion. Estelle was ecstatic. Finally she met a man who would read the scriptures with her and discuss the world of the spirit. She saw the lonely widows sitting in the church with no male companionship, keeping themselves busy with tales of their grandkids and past lives. "I don't want to be like that. I want a guy I can take walks with and share life with. This man is a gift from God and I am going to accept it."

It wasn't long before he asked her to marry him. Nobody else had come around with marriage offers. She said, "Yes." He moved in with her, since she had an upscale condominium on the beach and he lived in what he called his "motor home" in a trailer park.

But after she married him, Estelle found out that he knew nothing about the religion he professed and did not study the scriptures the way he said he did. He could barely read, no less discuss ideas. Now she understood why she had to read the menus for him in restaurants. She thought it was because he couldn't see them. No, instead of sharing life with her, he lay around the house watching reruns of Seinfeld and Mary Tyler Moore, and ordering her to bring him cold drinks. The rest of the time he spent napping and spending her money.  

She felt trapped. She was upset with herself that she had been taken in by his act. He, however, was pleased. He had gotten his quarry and he knew it would be expensive to get rid of him. He outlived her. When Estelle died, her children were aghast at how much he cost the family. In two days, he had already moved on to another woman, in his words, "The prettiest one in the Condo!"

Prevention: Awareness

As with all complex problems, there is no easy solution to the challenges the 50+-year old woman faces in the dating environment. Many factors, including: fear of loneliness, love of fantasy and romance, wanting to feel loved, needed and wanted by a man, and wanting to feel sexually attractive, drive the woman into the arms of the Condo Casanova or OLMan. These powerful feelings are not easily wished away. The only answer is awareness: Firstly, awareness of the health risks involved in this particular age group. Regardless of how distasteful the subject to the youth-glutted media market, people need to be aware of this matter of life or death. Secondly, women must also be aware of the scam artistry of predatory segments of the male population. They must be aware of how many women are victims to their formulaic come-ons. Most women involved with OLMen or Condo Casanovas, in hindsight, prefer a little loneliness now and then to the unhappiness of being duped by a con artist or ending up with a fatal disease. 

Warning Signs: Passing the turkey and the torch. What to look for when you go home for the Holidays.

Guest blog by Jody Gasfriends,VP Senior Care, Care.com

As the holidays approach, I want to share a story with you. It’s the story of a friend of mine, Noreen*-a typical sandwich-generation mom and daughter who had many people and priorities to juggle. But it was at Thanksgiving last year when she realized something needed to change. 

Noreen left home for college 30 years ago. After graduation, she got married, had two sons, and settled into a life in a small town north of Boston. But her roots, along with her aging parents, were still in Western Massachusetts. Among her three siblings, Noreen lived the closest to her folks and was the most worried. Her brother, Tom lived on the west coast and typically chalked up Mom’s forgetfulness and Dad’s driving mishaps as part of getting older. Pam, the youngest, had her hands full with a rebellious teenager and a recent divorce. She had no room on her plate to worry about Mom and Dad. 

So, as Noreen drove – or crawled -- along the highway last Thanksgiving, she wistfully remembered Thanksgivings past. Mom’s famous pecan chocolate chip pie, Dad’s careful carving of the turkey and the children’s delight at watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in their pajamas seemed like scenes out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Noreen also recalled the fractious squabbles that sometimes erupted amidst the merriment. Those tensions seemed far less weighty than the anxiety she now felt about her parent’s safety and welfare, and her siblings’ apparent dismissal of her fears. 

Arriving at her parents’ home, Noreen couldn’t help but stare at the peeling paint and the unkempt lawn. Years ago, she suggested her folks sell the house and find a place to live that was more senior-friendly. Dispelling her concerns, Noreen’s parents quickly dismissed the idea. Noreen, unsupported by her siblings, let the issue drop. Now, she regretted that decision. She opened the front door and got a whiff of something burnt. Turns out it was the turkey. Noreen’s mother was apologetic. She had gotten distracted by the excitement of the holiday. Tom and Pam were busy ordering take out Chinese food and seemed un-phased by the Thanksgiving turkey that had already been tossed. Mom had always been a consummate cook. Now, no one seemed to care that she ruined the holiday meal centerpiece. Noreen also worried about her Dad who seemed unsteady and frail. She asked how he was feeling and he replied “under the weather” but hadn’t seen the doctor in months. As the day progressed, Noreen grew increasingly more concerned. She saw a stack of bills on the kitchen counter, some of them dating back months. She observed Mom forgetting simple things and got frazzled easily. While Noreen did not want to worry excessively or make a scene, things seemed out of sorts and she could no longer pretend otherwise.

Holidays are a time when emotions get stirred up. Like Thanksgiving cranberry sauce and stuffing, our emotions are a mixture of ingredients: Excitement, joy, sadness and stress can all be part of the family recipe. Many adult children, like Noreen, must face a changing reality and confront their own anxiety and grief as their parents lose their strength and independence. These changes are often more prominent around holiday time, particularly for adult children who live at a distance. It is easy to overreact when we see, as Noreen did, bills piling up or a home not properly cared for. At the same time, it is important to differentiate changes in behavior. A newfound tendency to let the house go a bit can be part of normal aging, or it can represent illness and decline. When I later met Noreen for coffee, she told me she worried that the burnt turkey was an ominous sign. I assured her that one burnt turkey does not foreshadow disaster, but a pattern of uncharacteristic behaviors, is more of a concern. 

Holidays can be incredibly stressful. In the midst of all the activity and eating, they can also provide an opportunity to observe our parents as they age. So this season, here is what to look for to determine if your worries are justified and whether there are real concerns about your parent’s wellbeing and safety that need to be addressed. 

• Change in eating habits/weight loss
• Forgetfulness-out of the ordinary
• Neglected personal hygiene and cleanliness
• Decrease in socialization and activity level
• Significant mood changes
• Unexplained dents in the car
• Misuse of prescribed medications
• Mishandling finances


Like Noreen, so many adult children feel they shoulder the burden of worry on their own. Getting siblings on the same page, whenever possible is a good place to start. Sharing perspectives on Mom’s increasing forgetfulness or Dad’s unsteady gait can shed new light on your understanding of the problem. Has it been an ongoing progressive decline or an intermittent reaction to stress or illness? Gathering information, as objectively as possible is the first step toward being an effective caregiver. Unlike Noreen, you don’t have to go it alone. Getting the support and information you need early on can help you navigate the unexpected twists and turns along the caregiving journey.