Savvy Senior

April 20, 2009  
Filed under Aging Parents

savy-sr

Auto Aids That Can Help Senior Drivers

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve heard that there are different gadgets or devices you can buy for your car that can help older drivers. I’ve lost a lot of flexibility over the years and have a hard time getting in and out of my car, and my wife struggles with arthritis in her hands which causes her some problems, too. What’s available that can help keep us mobile?
– Stiff Driver

Dear Stiff,
There are lots of gadgets and devices on the market today that can help make driving easier and safer for seniors. Here’s a breakdown of some popular budget-friendly products that can help with a variety of needs.

Mobility and Flexibility

Each year in the U.S., an estimated 37,000 people age 65 and older are injured by simply entering or exiting their vehicle. If mobility problems or limited range of motion is hampering your ability to get in and out of your car, look over your shoulder to back-up or merge into traffic, or even reach for your seatbelt, here are some items that can help:
•Handybar: This is a portable support handle that inserts into the U-shaped striker plate on the door frame that helps with getting into and out of the vehicle.
•Car Caddie: This is another type of portable handle that hooks around the top of your door window frame giving you something to hold onto while getting out of the car.
•Swivel seat cushion: A round portable cushion that turns 360 degrees to help older drivers and passengers rotate their bodies into their cars.
•Panoramic (or wide-view) rear view mirror: These attach to your existing rear view mirror to widen your rear visibility and eliminate blind spots so you can see traffic without significant neck or body rotation. It also helps during parking.
•Convex (or wide-angle) side view mirrors: These attach to the existing side view mirrors to improve side and rear vision.
•Easy Reach Seat Belt Handle: This is a six-inch extension handle that attaches to your seat belt to make it easier to reach.

Arthritic Hands

Drivers who have arthritic or weak hands may find the tasks of turning the ignition key to start the car, or twisting open the gas cap to fill up, difficult and painful. Items that can help include an “easy-to-grasp key holder,” which is a small handle device that attaches to your car keys to provide additional leverage making it easier to turn the key in the ignition or door. And for help at the pump, a “gas cap turner” makes removing the gas cap a breeze. Another comfy add-on is a “steering wheel cover” that fits over your existing steering wheel to make it larger in size and easier to grip.

Sensitivity to Glare

Aging eyes almost always become more sensitive to glare. A fantastic item that can help is the “Sun Zapper Glare Shield” – a device that clips right on to your existing sun visor to remove sun glare without obstructing vision. It also comes with a special sliding shield that lets you block extra-bright glare spots.

Small Drivers

Most seniors shrink a little as they get older (due to gravity and osteoporosis) and for those who were small to start with, it can be difficult seeing over the steering wheel, or reaching the pedals without being too close to the airbag. Solutions include getting an orthopedic (wedge-shaped) seat cushion that supports the back and elevates you a few extra inches to help you see. Or foot pedal extensions that allow you to reach the gas and brake pedals while keeping you 10-to-12-inches from the steering wheel. These cost around $200 and need to be installed by a professional.

Shopping Tips: All of these items (except the foot pedal extensions) cost under $40, and can be found online at a variety of locations. Some good shopping points include Amazon.com, Dynamic Living (888-940-0605; dynamic-living.com), ActiveForever (800-377-8033; activeforever.com;) and AutoSport (800-953-0814; autosportcatalog.com).

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Cell Phone Savings for Seniors

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,
A few months ago you wrote a column on simple cell phones for seniors. Can you now write one on cheaper cell phones for seniors on a budget? My wife and I have had a cell phone for nearly two years that we rarely use but like having it for emergency purposes. When our current cell phone contract runs out, we want to find a cheaper option than the $40 per month we’re spending.
— Fixed Incomers

Dear Fixed,
For seniors who don’t use their cell phone very often, but still want one for emergencies or occasional calls, your cheapest option is probably a prepaid plan. Here’s what you should know.

Pre-Pay

Prepaid cell phones, also known as pay-as-you-go phones, are a smart, cost-cutting option for infrequent cell phone users — those who talk 200 minutes or less a month. With a prepaid phone there’s no contract, no fixed monthly bills, no credit checks and no hidden costs that come with traditional cell phone plans. And the savings can be significant. Many prepaid plans average less than $10 a month.

How They Work

To get started, you have to buy a special prepaid phone (they cost anywhere from $10 to $200), and then pre-purchase a certain amount of minutes (for talk or text) that must be used within a specified period of time. (Note: If you already have a phone with one of the major wireless companies, you may be able to have it converted to a prepaid phone.)

The amount of minutes you purchase ranges from 30 up to 1,000 and typically must be used within 30 to 90 days, up to a year depending on the carrier you choose and the amount of minutes you buy. (Most plans allow minutes to be rolled over if you add time before they expire.) The prices, too, will vary ranging between 5 and 35 cents per minute — the more you buy the cheaper they are. Your phone will keep you updated on how many minutes you have left, and to add minutes, you can buy them on your prepaid phone, through your carrier’s Web site or store, or your local retailer.

In addition to the pre-purchased minutes option, some carriers offer prepaid plans that charge a small daily access fee (usually $1 to $2) on days you use the phone, plus a per-minute fee. These plans usually offer lower per-minute rates. And some companies even offer flat-rate monthly plans that resemble traditional contract plans, except that customers pay up front and have no commitment.

Where to Shop

All the major wireless carriers (T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T) offer prepaid plans today including a host of other companies like TracFone, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Cricket and many others. To find and compare plans visit PrepaidReviews.com, an independent site that rates and compares all prepaid providers and provides links to their Web sites. You can also find prepaid phones at retail stores like Wal-Mart and Target, or at wireless walk-in stores. And to help you choose a plan, visit BillShrink.com (for free) or FixMyCellBill.com (for $5). Both sites will give you tailored recommendations after you enter in your estimated cell phone use, but they don’t compare all prepaid carriers.

Senior Discount Plans

If you are currently using Verizon or AT&T and decide to stay with your contract plan, you can cut your monthly costs by switching to their special senior service plans. These plans are available to customers age 65 and older providing 200 anytime minutes, 500 night and weekend minutes, and unlimited in-network calling for $30 a month. Sprint offers a similar plan that’s available to everybody.

Emergency Only

Another option you should know about is 911 cell phones. These are free, emergency-only cell phones for seniors and victims of abuse. Contact your local law enforcement agency to see if there’s an emergency cell phone program near you, or www.911cellphonebank.org/agencies.asp.

Savvy Tip: If you’re in a long-term cellular contract and want to escape without paying the hefty early termination penalty, visit CellSwapper.com and CellTradeUSA.com. These companies match cellular customers who want out of their contracts with people who are willing to take them over.

Dear Savvy Senior,
My husband and I are interested in taking our two grandkids on vacation this summer and are looking for some good ideas. Do you know of any travel companies that offer special vacation packages for grandparents traveling with their grandkids?
— Unsavvy Traveler

Dear Traveler,
Taking the grandkids on vacation is what the travel industry calls intergenerational travel, and it’s become increasingly popular in recent years. Here’s what you should know.
According to the Yankelovich Partners National Leisure Travel Monitor, nearly 30 percent of traveling grandparents have taken at least one trip with a grandchild over the past year. Vacationing with your grandkids is a great way to have fun and strengthen your relationships, especially if you live far away and don’t get a chance to see them that often.

Travel Companies

Today there are a number of travel organizations and companies that offer specialized vacation packages for grandparents and grandchildren. These are a nice way to go because they plan everything for you, with most activities for the two generations together, but some just for adults so you can get an occasional breather.
Available in all price ranges, these tours are typically designed for children between the ages of seven to 17 or 18, and are usually scheduled in the summer, or sometimes during winter breaks, when the kids are out of school. Here are some top tour companies that will take you and your grandkids on a fun, well-planned vacation.
• Elderhostel: For an educational and relatively low-cost vacation, Elderhostel, the world’s largest educational travel organization for adults 55 and over, offers a wide variety of trips for grandparents and grandchildren, too. Visit www.elderhostel.org (or call 800-454-5768) and click on “Grandparent Travel” for a list of more than 300 vacation plans throughout the U.S. and abroad. Most of the U.S. trips are around five days and costing anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per person, while the international trips typically last one to two weeks costing between $150 and $350 per person per day. These prices do not include transportation to the destination.
• Sierra Club: For the outdoorsy type, the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org/outings; 415-977-5522) offers a variety of affordable “family outings” and “local outings” near you to choose from. They also offer an annual week-long “Just for Grandparents and Grandkids” outing in July in Tahoe National Forest, California. Cost: $545 per adult and $445 per child.
• Grandtravel: This is the first company to send grandparents and grandchildren (ages seven to 17) off on vacation together. Grandtravel (www.grandtrvl.com; 800-247-7651) offers seven to 13-day luxury tours scheduled in July and August with destinations to Washington D.C. and Williamsburg, Alaska, Italy, London and Paris, and New Zealand. These trips are educational (led by teacher-escorts), limited to 30 or fewer participants and expensive, ranging between $3,000 and $7,200 per person.
• Generations Touring Company: This is another deluxe tour operator that specializes in intergeneration travel. They offer a variety of week-long tours to destinations like the Grand Canyon, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. And for sports fans, they have a “Baseball’s Sacred Grounds” summer tour which includes visits to Boston’s historic Fenway Park, New York’s new Yankee Stadium, and a trip to Cooperstown to tour the Baseball Hall of Fame. Costs for all tours range between $2,100 and $4,000 per person. www.generationstouringcompany.com, 888-415-9100.

Consider Cruising

Another popular option to consider is to take your grandkids on a cruise. This offers a safe and secure environment that’s pretty affordable with plenty of facilities, activities and dining options to keep everyone happy. Disney, Carnival, Holland, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Norwegian cruise lines all offer appealing options for intergenerational travelers. To find out what’s available contact a travel agent (see www.cruising.org to find an agent who specializes in cruises) or visit Cruises For Families (www.cruisesforfamilies.com; 877-386-9243).

Retired Engineer Creates ‘Natural Horizons’

April 15, 2009  
Filed under Business

By Phyl Newbeck

John LaRue’s Underhill home looks up at Mount Mansfield and the communication towers that line the ridge. He appreciates what those towers do, but he can’t help but think they’re a bit unsightly. Luckily LaRue, a retired engineer, has the time and the background to contemplate the issue and has come up with a potential solution. His fledgling business, Natural Horizons, is trying to use light refraction to make communication towers and wind turbines virtually invisible.
The Indiana born LaRue moved to Vermont in 1969 to take a job with IBM. He retired in 1993 and began to work on his project several years later. Now 72, LaRue is looking for partners for his venture. LaRue recognizes that Vermont’s ridgelines are the ideal place for communication towers and wind turbines. However, such locations make them exceedingly visible and Vermonters, he said, “prefer a more natural view.” So LaRue sought a way to keep broadcast towers and turbines in appropriate high locations, but make the view more attractive.

LaRue chose the company name because it symbolizes exactly what he wants to do. The goal is to camouflage towers so their presence isn’t detectable. LaRue explained that army camouflage is chosen to help soldiers and vehicles blend in to the background of trees, shrubs, grass, etc. “The colors they choose are relevant to the background they are viewed against,” he explained. However, when something is viewed against the horizon, the background is entirely different.

While one thought might be to paint towers blue, LaRue explained that there are three independent aspects of color: hue, saturation (often thought of as vividness) and brightness. Another problem is that the color of the sky changes with weather patterns and with the arc of the sun so there is no uniform color which would be appropriate. Lastly, LaRue said that even if the sky was blue every day, there is one localized spot – the sun – which changes everything. A turbine looks very different on the sunny side than on the shaded side. His plan uses the light from the sky to circulate around a tower so the sunny side and the shaded sides are not viewed differently.

LaRue explained that we see things because of the light that is reflected from objects. This is based on contrast; how the object is different from the background. While LaRue appreciates those who try to make towers look like trees or other natural objects, his idea goes a step further by using a coating to refract the light in such a way as to render them close to invisible.

Naturally, this is not a simple process. The coating must consist of a minimum of three layers. Although a primer may be the first coat, the next coating will be a “diffuse reflective layer” which spreads light in all directions, rather than directly back like a mirror. The middle layer would be made of transparent material which conducts light, but is not a perfectly smooth surface. Microspheres within that layer would change the direction of light coming in so that it comes out at an angle and envelopes the tower, rather than directly projecting the light out. The outside layer, like the innermost part, would also be something with a lower refractive index. LaRue explained that the refractive index of a material defines its ability to allow light to move through it. He compared his plans with the coating for fiber optic cables, which is designed not to allow any light to come out. In contrast, he sees the ideal coating for towers as something akin to a showerhead which allows some, but not all, light to exit.

LaRue concedes that there are some obstacles to his plan. One is that the effectiveness of the coating would be diminished by sharp angles. The coating would work perfectly on the towers themselves, but less effectively on the turbine blades which have one sharp edge and one rounded edge. LaRue does not believe that the light refraction would pose a problem for animals. Birds, particularly migrating birds, generally fly at night when the coating would not be as effective. Likewise, bats are guided by their sense of hearing, which would not be affected by the visibility, or lack thereof, of the towers.

So far, the towers atop Mount Mansfield are just as visible as they used to be. LaRue has patented his ideas, but is looking for a partner in the paint development business. Advances in that industry have made the possibility of his ideas becoming reality much stronger thanks to new coatings which have been developed. Initially, LaRue thought he would need to work with a powder coating, but improvements in wet coatings have convinced him that they will work, as well.

Even technological wizards need a break and LaRue has the perfect antidote to his high tech world. Six years ago, he and his wife planted slightly more than two and one-half acres of blueberries which they open to the public for picking every July. For LaRue, it’s the perfect break from his high-tech world. “Too often,” he said, “the lives of husbands and wives diverge and they don’t share their work experience, but this is something where we work together, rest together, and make decisions together.” But if they tarry too long in the fields, LaRue is likely to look up at the towers atop Mt. Mansfield and return to the house to further hone his plan to render them invisible.

Olive Oil Gushes With Flavor Possibilities

April 15, 2009  
Filed under Food

bottled-olive-oilBy Caron Golden, CNS

Talk to chef Christian Graves about olive oil, and he gets almost giddy about the variety of oils he uses from around the world.

The average home cook might think one bottle in the pantry is plenty for everything from sauteing to making vinaigrettes, but Graves treats olive oil as a key ingredient in every dish he makes, selecting just the right style of oil to achieve the flavors and textures he’s looking for.

“Most chefs have their favorite brand,” said graves, of San Diego. “If I’m looking at a pasta with olive oil, I would look at it differently than sole with olive oil. With pasta, I would want to use something sharper. With fish, you don’t want to overpower it, so I would maybe look at those with grassy overtones.”

Grassy? In fact, that’s one of the most common adjectives describing extra-virgin olive oil, the highest grade oil due to its low acidity. Young green olives can also produce a bitter flavor —a good thing, as long as it’s not too bitter. There’s fruity olive oil. Buttery. Spicy. It can taste like artichokes or apples. Herbs or almonds.

As with wines, olive oils can have a wide range of flavor profiles, depending on the variety of olive crushed for the oil, the age of the olives when harvested and pressed, the soil the tree is grown in and the method of pressing — cold versus heat, centrifuge versus stone mill.

Different regions in the world produce distinctive flavors that tend to complement the region’s style of cooking. And because of this, no one olive oil goes with all foods.

Peggy Knickerbocker, author of “Olive Oil: From Tree to Table,” recalls the time she brought Spanish olive oil from Granada to a friend in Tuscany. “She tried it, but very kindly told me to take it home with me because it didn’t go with her food,” Knickerbocker says. “Tuscan oil goes with heavy, hearty Tuscan food.”

Of course, everyone does need a basic workhorse oil. For simple sautéing or frying, Knickerbocker turns to a consistent-tasting oil sold by Trader Joe’s, Martini’s Kalamata oil. “It’s cheap, and it tastes good,” she says. “I use it for cooking onions and garlic. Then I’ll finish the dish with a good artisanal oil.”

While the olives’ age and variety determines much of the flavor, how the oil is extracted from the fruit also contributes to flavor and can give you a good indication of its quality.

Both in the Mediterranean countries that produce oils and in California, where 600,000 gallons of oil is expected to be produced in 2009, olive-oil makers pride themselves on the techniques they use. The preferred method is cold press, meaning the oil is extracted without using heat, but there are different extraction methods even within cold press.
Large-scale producers such as California Olive Ranch use a hammer-mill crushing system that works like a meat grinder, using high speed and force to push olives through a screen.

“It evenly crushes the olives into a paste in a manner that allows continuous flow,” explains Alan Greene, the company’s vice president of business development and chairman of the California Olive Oil Council. “We can process 3.5 tons of olives an hour.”

The pulp is then pumped into a malaxor, which stirs it to distribute the water and oil. Then it goes into a horizontal centrifuge, where the water is thrown off and the oil is trapped and collected, to be pushed through a screen to catch more particles. Then the oil is cleaned in a vertical centrifuge, which spins at 6,000 rpm, and sent to stainless-steel tanks for storage.

At Temecula Olive Oil Company, an artisanal producer in Temecula, Calif., the process is a little different — more reminiscent of old-fashioned stone-mill pressing in Italy.

“We’re doing an updated version of the classic olive-oil press,” says owner Thom Curry. “I think it’s the best way to produce oil. It’s gentler and more authentic. It’s the way olives want to make oil.”

Instead of a hammer mill and centrifuge, Curry had two large, stainless-steel mills fabricated to crush the whole olives. (Traditionally, the mills are made of stone, but Curry was concerned about rancidity caused by the porous stones trapping the oil.)

The olives are poured into a large steel container, and the mills rhythmically circle around and, with a sound like rain on a tin roof, crush the olives into a tapenade-like mixture. This pulp is sent through another machine that presses it out to workers who push it onto steel-mesh mats that are then stacked onto a press. Gravity works the oil out of the mash like teardrops — what Curry calls “tears of gold.” The mixture still contains water, so it’s drained into separators and then stored.

Extra-virgin and virgin oils are extracted in the first press. The difference between the two is based on acidity. Extra-virgin has a free acidity of no more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams and has no flavor defects. Virgin olive oil is higher in acidity, with no more than 2 grams per 100, and may have some minor defects.

Second and third pressings, using heat or chemicals to extract more oil from the paste, produce pure, light and pomace oils. These refined oils are fit for consumption but won’t have the flavors of extra-virgin or even virgin oils.

In California, where the first olive trees were grown and harvested by Franciscan monks at Mission San Diego de Alcala around 1800, growers like Curry are testing different varieties of trees to find the right combination of olives to work with. Arbequinos and Missions are among the most popular.

According to COOC executive director Patricia Darragh, California has more than 125 varietals of olives. “That allows us to do single-variety or unusual blends,” she says.

Curry, for instance, has more than 35 varieties of trees and likes to combine the olives for pressing.

What is the optimum flavor profile? Darragh describes it as well-balanced. “It should have three attributes — fruit, bitter and pungent,” she says.

“It should smell and taste like olives. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans are used to consuming bottles that say extra-virgin but are really refined oil with a flat, neutral taste. Good olive oil has a fresh taste.”

FAVA PESTO

2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
3/4 cup cooked fava beans
Grated zest from 4 lemons
1/4 cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped basil
Yields 1 cup.
Crush garlic with salt in a mortar and pestle (or combine in a blender). Add fava beans and mash to a fine paste. Add lemon zest and olive oil, and blend until emulsified. Add a little water if needed. When you achieve desired texture, stir in parmesan, mint and basil. Use as you would basil pesto, on pasta or steamed vegetables.

Nutritional analysis per 2-tablespoon serving: 80 calories, 7 g fat, 1 g protein, 3 g carbohydrates, 0.6 mg cholesterol, 258 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber.

—  Chef Christian Graves

Shoe-Ins for Spring Are High and Low

April 14, 2009  
Filed under Fashion

fashion-shoesBy Sharon Mosley, CNS

Can’t wait to get out of those heavy suede boots and into some light and airy sandals?

Well, we’re all for slipping into something a little more comfortable. And when it comes to footwear for warmer weather, this season’s trends have their highs and lows, according to Meghan Cleary, shoe expert and author of the MissMeghan.com Web site — where she regularly speaks her mind on what we’ll be wearing on our feet.
“There really is a dichotomy going on,” says Cleary, when it comes to predicting this season’s latest footwear news. “Heels are very high,” and she emphasizes high as “anywhere from 5 inches to 8 inches.”
Cleary forecasts that these high heels will continue to soar to new fashion heights as the trendsetters from London to New York strut their stuff in shoes that rise above the middle ground. “There is no better way to announce yourself walking into a room than in 5-inch platforms,” she says.
In her book, “The Perfect Fit: What Your Shoes Say About You,” Cleary writes that stilettos “establish you as an alpha female even before you begin to speak.” She also feels that wearers of high heels can work their shoes into “most any look with ease, well aware of its leg-lengthening, streamlining advantage.”
She urges women who love wearing stilettos to try tailored jeans and T-shirts on weekends or A-line slim-fitting skirts and matching jackets for work. For cocktails, high heel girls look great in a “vampy” ‘40s era, black straight-skirted dress. Her muse? Marilyn Monroe of course.
Modern-day inspiration comes from rocker females like Fergie, Jessica Simpson or Gwen Stefani; they all have their own shoe collections.
But flats are also “hot,” emphasizes Cleary. “When you can’t take high heels anymore, just pull out a pair of very flat flats from your bag and switch out your shoes.” Sounds good to me. Ballet flats anyone? How about doing fashion shoe battle with a little gladiator style?
And while platforms are a major shoe trend, the details are what really make footwear stand out this year, according to Cleary. While many of us may be scaling back on our wardrobe budgets, get ready to be a little flashier when it comes to what you put on your feet.
“Ornamentation is going to be key,” she says, citing embellishments such as semiprecious stones to hard-edged chains to oversized suede bows.
But the heels are just as stylish: “Sculpted heels, contrast heels and heels with exceptional details” will be kicking it up in the shoe aisle and city streets as well. And if you really want to get a little bold with your footwear this spring and summer, step out in bright colors from neons to candy pastels.
But the bottom line is looking good and feeling good whether you’re wearing a pair of killer heels or flip-flops, right? Cleary has a few tips for making your shoes comfortable.
“Use preventative care and tailor the inside of your shoe just for you,” she says. “There are many, many comfort products in the market now, so pad your stiletto up before you ever wear it outside, paying special attention to the ball of the foot and heel.”
In other words, you may want to make an appointment with Dr. Scholl’s in the near future.