The joys of getting used to ‘doing without’ in a lousy economy . . .

I don’t know about you, but the state of the state in these United States has found me worshiping something new — something I never expected I would embrace; something I would have chuckled about picturing myself doing just a few years ago.  I now love to save money, and I am not at all sure I will ever revert back to the consumer I used to be. Now that has got to worry big biz-a-ness, because I think there are a lot of people out there like me.

There was a time in my life when I had a housekeeper, had my hair professionally colored and cut, was a Level II customer at Nordstrom, had my eye peeled for the next car I wanted to own, and ate out a lot.  That wasn’t very long ago, actually.

Cleaning the house isn’t so bad when your kids are grown and gone, since all the messes only belong to one or two people at this stage.  So I have formed new relationships with my trusty mop, my loyal dust rag, my hard working vacuum cleaner and my reliable bathroom spray.  I clean, therefore I am. And it occurs to me that I don’t have to ‘pick up’ the house and throw things in closets before a cleaning lady arrives. Amazing.

As for the rest, I still can’t cut my own hair, but I save myself the $90 I used to spend coloring it every five weeks by doing it myself.  My shopping status at my favorite department store meant that I received a great little perk – I could get free shipping on anything because I had spent so much there during the year. But that was two years ago.  How about now?   I have forced myself to fall back in love with the clothes in my closet, gotten a few things altered and shop regularly at Marshall’s when I need a fix.  There.   I said it.  And I did not turn into a pumpkin. My gawd . . . I almost feel as if I have turned into my own frugal mother who is probably up there in heaven nodding her head as she sees the transformation taking place in me….

As for cars, I drive a lovely little sports car with nearly 135,000 mile on it, the highest mileage car I have ever owned. So I make a point to have it regularly serviced (now that is money well spent). I also wash and wax it myself. Yes – I am that eccentric 50-something woman sitting on her driveway detailing her wheels on a Saturday afternoon. I have even learned the art of buffing my car’s sleek metal with an electric polisher.  The shine puts a big smile on my face and I can probably open my own car detailing company when the economy improves.  I guess some chicks can give wax jobs and others just get them…

The eating-out thing had become an expensive habit and it’s safe to say that the return on investment can be cruel.  The lighter our wallets became by indulging in this, the heavier the numbers got on the digital scale in the spare bathroom.  In response to this, I have become an expert at fruit and veggie smoothies, a chef de cuisine with salads, and suddenly remembered how to roast my own chicken. Remarkable.  Thanks again, Mom.

In case you think I am boasting at this point, perhaps I am. But I can get humble very quickly. I still can’t resist getting my Starbucks latte a few times a week.

Let me keep something sacred. It’s the polite thing to do.

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A new eBook: Climbing St. Friday

They say everyone has a book in them somewhere.  The one that has been strolling around inside my head for forty years (okay, I am definitely dating myself…) is finally here — now — in all its digital download splendor, at SmashWords.com, an eBook web site designed to permit you to read books online as well as by way of every kind of down-loadable format you can think of.

Climbing St. Friday is a coming-of-age story that chronicles a year in a young girl’s life that forever changed her. It is a poignant look at an age of innocence set against the backdrop of a foreign country controlled by its military forces.  The eighteen year old girl that arrives on a huge ship in the Greek port of Piraeus the summer of 1970 does so with an excitement equaled only by her wander-lusting father, who completed his own odyssey to the ‘old country’ at precisely the same age in 1938.

Deciding how to and when to present this tale was not easy for me. I knew that if I waited too long to tell it, my memories of that time some four decades ago might not be as complete.  But just as you may have a strong memory of an event or time that serves to define a chunk of your life, I felt it was time to tell my own.

I see this completed work as a work of nostalgia, humor, and history all at the same time, hearkening back to an era when ‘peace would guide the planets and love would steer the stars’ in a rapidly-changing world. The sweetness of growing up in a fun-loving but tightly-knit family served as the cliff-top from which I spread my wings and took flight. Once I took that first step, however, I knew I would never view life from the same perspective again.

I hope you’ll take the time to peek inside this little eBook and sample it, download it, and/or review it. It will be available through most well-known booksellers soon and I encourage you to be among the first to preview it. Someday it may also be in print but I’m in no rush and have no plans to self-publish.  My wish is that it evokes some feelings of watershed realizations you may have had in your own life, reminds you of a more innocent time and above all — makes you smile.

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Dena Kouremetis is the northern California area director for WhyMyKid.org, an organization that works with schools, businesses, colleges, associations and senior communities to spread the word on identity theft safety.  Now the #1 crime in America, ID theft already affects 1 out of every 3.5 border state residents.  These eye-opening educational workshops are FREE.

Contact Dena at 916.984.1049 to find out more about setting up an ID theft safety training workshop at your child’s school, your place of business or your organization.

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The one and only Alfred Hitchcock: ‘And now a word from our sponsors…’

Eloquent, suspenseful, quirky, and eminently entertaining; these are the words I would use to describe Alfred Hitchcock, one of the elder statesmen of the intrigue-film genre of Hollywood.

Boomers of all ages were among the youngest to become entranced by his talents, but may be among the most ardent admirers of his work. The rekindling of my interest in this master storyteller and director was sparked at a recent writing conference, where budding and veteran writers of all ages converged to hear guest lectures and to participate in fascinating workshops on the art and craft of all manner of writing – for print, cyberspace, stage or screen.

One such workshop, conducted by San Francisco Bay Area-based film critic and author Gil Mansergh, revealed secrets behind many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films; his use of storyboards, his frugal production techniques, and the flavor he lent to his films because of his own childhood experiences, etc.

Some little-known facts about the Brit who kept us guessing:

• Alfred Hitchcock was once questioned at the French border by a suspicious customs official. When Hitchcock had indicated his profession as “producer,” the official demanded, “And what do you produce?” “Gooseflesh,” Hitchcock coolly replied.
• In his childhood days, Alfred Hitchcock was remanded by his father to the local police station for being guilty of some youthful missteps. The constable, without further ado, locked young Alfred up for ten minutes. Then he released him, but not without lecturing the young boy on the wages of crime. This was a life-changing experience for the ten-year old Hitchcock, and he became frightened of the police from that day on. If you study his films, you’ll find that nearly all contain members of a police force in their storylines.
• The idea of being harshly treated or wrongfully accused is frequently reflected in Hitchcock’s films. Hitchcock’s mother would often make him stand for hours at the foot of her bed to admit his guilty behavior. These experiences would later be employed for the portrayal of the character of Norman Bates in the movie Psycho.
• Hitchcock never sat with the crowd to watch his films. “Don’t you miss hearing them scream?” he was once asked. “No,” replied Hitchcock. “I can hear them when I’m making the picture.”
• Making movies was a family affair for Alfred Hitchcock. In 1926 he married Alma Reville, an assistant director and screenwriter. They first met when Hitchcock has a lowly studio position while Alma had already been elevated to film editor. Once his star began to rise, he was to gain more confidence and began courting her. The couple worked together from then on– she was a screenwriter on Shadow of a Doubt (1943). The two had one daughter, Patricia Hitchcock, who also appeared in several of his movies: Stage Fright (1950), Strangers on a Train (1951) and Psycho (1960).
• Amazingly enough, Hitchcock never received a prized Oscar statuette. He did, however, receive the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award (the producer’s entire acceptance speech was comprised of  the words, “Thank you”) at the 1967 Oscars and went on to accept the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1979. His native Britain also made sure the film legend was properly acknowledged by naming Hitchcock a Knight Commander of the British Empire in 1980.

When I returned from the writer’s conference, I was eager to revisit several of Hitchcock’s films, including one of my all-time favorites, North by Northwest. Again, I sat mesmerized at his camera angles, the scope of his sets, and the development of the screenwriter’s characters. This particular film used nearly all of Hitchcock’s favorite themes; threats by the police, the wrong man, the icy blond, larger-than life locales and interestingly enough, a HUGE use of erotic and even homo-erotic sexual tension only hinted at in his earlier works.

Wanting more Hitchcock, but in smaller bytes (I could have watched his films all day), I then dug up his 1950s TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, from among the selections on Netflix’s downloadable menu. Here was the king of suspense in all his glory, introducing his one-hour segments while using clever ways to cut to commercials. “And now you shall hear an illustrated lecture on the virtues of our sponsor’s product,” he says in his slow, polished, inimitable delivery.

The vignettes, boiled down to only about 35 minutes with the elimination of 1950s’ television lengthy spate of commercials, contained drama, humor, and intrigue but employed Hitchock’s trademark use of everyday people who place themselves or are wrongly placed in compromising positions.

In one such segment, a couple is at wits’ end trying to figure out how they will survive when the husband finds himself between jobs. Then they devise a plan for the wife to disappear for seven years, long enough to be declared dead, in order for the couple to fraudulently claim a $25,000 life insurance settlement. Dogged by a suspicious insurance investigator, the main character nearly goes crazy trying to prove that he did not kill his wife, nor did he have a girlfriend on the side as a motive to do so. When seven years is up and the husband has purposely neglected even secretly seeing his wife so as not to arouse suspicion, the wife returns to him unexpectedly. Instead of being relieved that they would now be safe, she demands a divorce, claiming she has moved on with her life and has another lover, whom she wants to marry. Having sacrificed so much for so long, he is so enraged that he kills her on the spot and buries her in his backyard rose garden.

On the day the husband is to appear in court to hear his wife declared dead, the insurance investigator reappears, admitting that he had indeed been outwitted by his insured, who kept up the life insurance payments during those seven years and was now about to collect. The story ends with the insurance investigator picking up a garden spade in the backyard, volunteering to help plant more roses as the guilty main character is supposed to leave for the legal proceeding. Cut to commercial.

‘Hitch’ then appears for a final commentary, reassuring his audience that the wife did indeed receive a proper burial, just to tie up loose ends for us all. He then concludes the segment with, “When I come back seven days from now, I shall be here to tell you another of our fairy stories for grown-up children.”

A loyal fan of this rotund, balding producer-director who will forever have changed the history of filmmaking, I know without a doubt I am among the ranks of those grown-up children . . .

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A day when youth was not wasted on the young

It had been planned for this past weekend for nearly a year and now it was over. I had involved myself with Capitol City Young Writers ( CCYW), a fairly new non-profit organization that gives young people a mentoring venue for creative writing, and I (feeling like a kid myself where writing is concerned) was giddy over the prospect of attending and helping out.

It was the group’s first-ever conference, held at a campus-like private school in woodsy San Anselmo, CA. Rock-star authors, journalists, radio personalities, songwriters and all manner of scribes came together to inspire youthful would-be poets, novelists, columnists and playwrights for an entire day. The air was absolutely electric with anticipation.

Even though the conference was geared to young writers, I listened intently to keynote speaker James Redford as he told his own story about having two liver transplants and becoming a screenwriter writer as well telling of the kind of life he had led as a movie star’s son. I had my photo taken with Peter S. Beagle, who became a best-selling author for the first time at the tender age of nineteen after having his first novel, A Fine and Private Place, published. He then gained worldwide recognition with The Last Unicorn. In addition to this, there was a drama professor from Stanford University who gave an acting lesson, a radio personality from NPR who, in his career had interviewed everyone from past presidents to famous artists, and a nuclear physicist who now writes about things as far ranging as science vs. religion to bringing up teenagers.

It was an amazing experience not only for the kids, but for those of us who had never been in such illustrious company as well. An interesting phenomenon about the kids who attended, however, was the advanced way in which they expressed themselves – even those as young as 12. I  began to wonder how they were received by others their own age when they spoke in fairly adult-like fashion.

In this setting, the kids were the real stars. Some of them knew the cinematic anthology and film secrets of Alfred Hitchcock. Others could verbally illustrate the use and beauty of satire, and still others understood how storyboards are used to write a novel. I was literally blown away by their contributions to the workshop discussions as adults sat all around them, often slack-jawed. I kept thinking to myself how much I would have benefited by a seminar like this if one had taken place near where I lived as a child.

On my drive home, I pinched myself for having been a part of this day. The sun set on my back as I headed east to California’s valley, and I felt more than a bit guilty for not staying longer to thank all those who attended. But then I realized that this was only the beginning, not only for the young people who attended, but also for the organization itself.

I believe that it is indeed our solemn duty as adults to find ways to encourage the generations that follow to keep writing alive and to elevate its worth. I reasoned that no matter what form it takes, communication and the literary arts are what we leave behind like golden artifacts – whether the words take the forms of print on paper, an electronic download on an iPhone, a link on the Internet or an outrageously entertaining new play or movie. Our youth are our future novelists, musicians, journalists and playwrights, offering us a respite from the stresses and challenges of everyday life with their contributions to the literary world.

So the next time you run into a budding scribe, instead of telling them you have no time to read their story or essay, read it as if you were receiving a prized orchid whose young roots are forming underground. Be encouraging, be tactfully honest, but never, never be brutal with your assessments. The future of the literary arts may just be in your hands.

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Pushing 60 and taking aim

It had to be seen to be believed.

Take one late-50s politically correct chick, complete with moussed hair, high heels, skinny jeans and a designer jacket on and plop her in the middle of a gun safety class. Set this at a local sporting goods store somewhere in the nether-land between the California Valley and San Francisco and you would have a picture of my recent experience.

I am there at the behest of my semi-conservative husband who plans to buy a firearm for domestic personal protection. I grudgingly consent, since I would rather have knowledge of the weapon than face the prospect of having it in my home and pleading complete ignorance of it.

The class runs for approximately two hours — one hour to teach its attendees about the proper use, disposition and storage of a firearm as well as describe the most common varieties of pistols; the other hour to shoot them within the facility’s concrete-clad firing range using the knowledge just introduced.

I look around me. A middle aged couple that looks like a pair of accountants sits across the opposite table. Several young, expressionless single folk are there as well, asking no questions whatsoever. This worries me. Another couple at our table is animated, but the female uses an expletive when accidentally hurting her hand as the unloaded sample handgun nips the fleshy part of her hand as she cocks it.

The female instructor is a 65-ish pistol packin’ mama, a retired military nurse, approximately 5 feet small and well versed on her subject. She proudly shows us her pride and joy — a purple (it comes in colors..) semi-automatic .22 with a laser site.   As she describes how to ‘drop’ an intruder, my stomach turns and the expression on my face reflects the conflict within.  By the time she describes the most effective locations in which to place a bullet, my heart rate has increased to new levels.

I ask a few questions, such as what statistics had been gathered regarding the number of accidental shootings or wrongful deaths occurring in homes where people lawfully keep firearms. I’m sure I saw someone roll his eyes. Although I get a fuzzy answer, somehow I feel better having asked. And when the subject of “the government establishing more gun control laws designed to impede on our civil liberties” comes up, I am obviously outnumbered as the only Democrat in the room.

I stay silent on it, since all those around me will soon have guns in their hands.

By the end of the classroom portion, the instructor is humoring me. She can tell that I feel like the proverbial fish out of water and assures me that knowledge is power and that the more I get to know the weapons and how to properly use them and treat them, the less intimidated I will be by them. I nod hopefully.

Just before we head to the store’s basement firing range a huge ZZTop clone of a man walks in to punch his time card. “This is Fred,” says the diminutive instructor. He is the ‘range master.’  “Gee, I like your tie, Fred,” she says as she spies it dangling over a sizable midsection. He smlles, grunts and leaves the room.

Soon we are divided into two groups — one group has never before touched a gun; the other has, at one point in their lives, laid waste to a paper target or otherwise. I am one of the three ‘special’ people who would be singled out as a gun virgin, which suits me just fine.

“You know I’m gonna write about this,” I tell my husband skeptically as we enter the elevator that will take us to the firing dungeon. He laughs.  As the doors open, I look to my left. A toothless man sits atop a bar stool and flashes me a big grin.  A time warp has just placed me in a wilderness scene from Deliverance.  I swear I can hear dueling banjos.

My tiny Annie Oakley sequesters me and the other two rookies into a small, narrow firing chamber, motioning for me to take the middle stall.  By now I have stuffed gummy bears into my ears, fitted plastic-and-rubber ear muffs over my David Yurman earrings and am straining to see through some very hazy safety glasses.  She hands me my first weapon — a single action .22 that looks no different from the kind used in the old west. It is heavy and awkward in my hand as I lace my pink-and-white manicured talons through its smooth metal musculature. “Load it!,” she orders, and I quickly dump an entire cache of bullets in the tray in front of me. They were tiny and rolled in every direction, making me feel like an idiot for not knowing which end was up as I de-boxed them.

As she points out how to rotate and place bullets in each chamber, the impending reality of shooting a gun for the first time is suddenly looming large.  “Got it loaded?  Great.  Aim for the bull’s eye and start shooting!” she says.  I lean back, as if I am trying to distance myself from the weapon. I cradle my gun-toting hand with my other hand and take aim.  I hit the paper!  By shot # 6 I even got close to the middle. I am encouraged to lean in instead of backward and my next round is even more accurate.

The little lady knows what to do next. She hands me her purple gun. It’s lightweight, sleek and sexy. I look through its laser site and spot the green dot as I aim it at the bull’s eye.  I hit three shots directly in the middle. A huge smile comes over my face. She knows she’s got me.  I have suddenly become Annette Bening in American Beauty, taking thrill at the pop of each shot. I send for my target paper to inspect it more closely before sending it back to decimate it further.

By the time our hour is up,  have learned how to load the gun’s magazine and hit the center of my target dozens of times — even more than the young man in the next stall. I am high as a kite.

“Can we come back and practice? That was FUN!” I ask my other half.

I can’t believe I am hearing myself says this.

“You betcha,” he answers.

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Creating your own ‘culture of security’

“Be afraid. Be very afraid,” is a movie line everyone can recall. Fear, however, can be abated when you get more information and begin to take steps to feel more secure.

Picture this:  You’re being pulled over by a patrol car and you just want to kick yourself.  You weren’t speeding, but you know you should have gotten that broken taillight fixed more than a week ago.  So you wait nervously after having handed over your driver’s license, registration and insurance card, for the cop to hand you a ‘fix-it’ ticket.

But it’s taking forever.  Suddenly two more highway patrol cars join the one behind you, and an officer gets out with a police dog on a leash. What the *** is going on?

Several officers are now at your driver’s side window asking you to get out of the car, turn around and place your hands on top of the vehicle.  All this for a broken taillight? No, they say.  There is a bench warrant out for your arrest on drug charges.  They’re kidding, right?  You’ve got the wrong person, you say. There has been a mix up!  “Yeah, yeah,” says one officer.

They may be able to clear this up, but not before you’ve been taken off in handcuffs, processed, possibly incarcerated and you feel as if you’re in the middle of a nightmare.

Identity theft is a very lengthy and ugly ordeal, next to impossible to reverse and often requiring years to fix. To make things worse, it may cost you thousands of dollars to fight.

How does identity theft occur? It occurs when an identity thief obtains your social security number, bank account numbers, birth date, driver’s license and other pertinent information. After they steal your information, they can easily order your birth certificate online, since it all leads back to you.

Identity thieves can wreak havoc not only with your DMV records, credit cards and financial profile, but can also work as you in other states keeping the IRS at your heels. What’s worse, these criminals can layer false information on top of your Medical Information Bureau records (what insurance companies use to determine rates, insurance risk, etc.) by using your social security information or medical card, putting you at risk should you be taken to an emergency ward alone and unconscious.

ID theft is an insidious crime. Here are some tips on saving both your identity and your sanity.

Order your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. You are allowed one free credit report from each of these agencies every year. Check your credit report carefully and close any accounts you no longer use.

  • Avoid carrying your checkbook with you unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Guard your social security number, birth date, and your mother’s maiden name with extra care.  Guard your children’s ID just as possessively since a child’s pristine-perfect, long shelf-life ID is worth a lot more than yours.  Find out if their schools or daycare centers have taken steps to become compliant with the body of laws that pertain to ID safety by having gone through the required training and if not, insist that they do.
  • Avoid putting paid bills and anything that contains personal information and your signature in your home mailbox. Instead, take them to the post office or hand them to your mail carrier. If you work outside of your home, bring them to work and drop them in the mail slot at your work.  Thieves rob unlocked mailboxes, sometimes dressing as mailmen in broad daylight.
  • Purchase a good crosscut paper shredder.  Shred all old documents that have any information about you, as well as bank records, tax records that are no longer needed and any offers, especially credit card offers that come in the mail. A safe bet is to shred any paper with your information on it that you no longer need.
  • Never trust an email that asks you to click on a link from a company that may have any information about you. Instead, open your browser and hand type in the website URL you are familiar with, not the one in the email, if you believe you need to respond.  To be even safer, call the institution with the phone number you already have on file. This rule applies to more than just banking information. Never click on links inside an email from eBay, Paypal, your ISP provider, or the IRS.
  • Don’t take surveys via telephone. If people call to ask you to participate in a survey, the person calling is getting a lot of personal information about you that is none of their business. Politely state that you aren’t interested, have them agree to take you off their list. Then hang up.
  • The Social Security Administration sends out a statement every year with your information. Check it carefully to make sure it’s accurate.
  • Do not add your social security number, phone number or driver’s license number to your checks. If the information is required by a store, you can always write that information on the check manually.
  • File a dispute immediately if you find something amiss on your bank account or credit card statements. You can file disputes up to 60 days after something is not correct in most states; but after that, the money is gone forever, even if it was a fraudulent transaction.
  • Look for a prominently placed certificate or proof that your doctor’s offices, hospitals or clinics have had the mandatory training to protect your medical records. If you see hundreds of medical files with no locks on cabinets, piled on unattended desks with records piled high or available for the plucking from file holders outside each examination room, it may be a sign that they have not yet complied with the FTC laws regarding ID theft.

And always thank a store clerk who asks for your I.D. when you use your credit card. The thoughtful store clerks who do ask for I.D. are acting as a safety net for you and are watchdogs for your finances. Be thankful and happy they are willing to do their job correctly and take the time to ensure your safety.

ID theft is now the #1 crime on the streets, surpassing drug crimes. The average adult “2-pack” (driver’s license and social security card) goes for a measly $150-200, but can cost you thousands of dollars in anguish, lost work time and hundreds of hours of lost sleep.

The Federal Trade Commission is now requiring ALL businesses of one or more employees to mandate identity theft safety training for their employees, whether full-time, part-time, contract or temporary workers in order to create a ‘culture of security.’ Why businesses?  Because up to 85% of ID theft takes place in the workforce. Even more training is required for ‘touch point’ personnel (payroll, front office staff) if the company is considered a creditor (defined by the FTC as any company that accepts payment for services rendered at a later date), called Red Flag Rules training. These rules have been on the books for several years, but enforcement (up to $3500 per file if a data breach occurs) of Red Flags has been delayed FOUR times by Congress. It’s only a matter of time before enforcement becomes the rule and companies can potentially feel the fallout from and ID breach. The time to prepare for it is now, since experts agree that is is only a matter of when and not if something like this will occur. The FTC is more likely work WITH a company that has taken the appropriate steps than with one that has buried its head in the sand, hoping nothing bad will ever happen.

The best way to help avoid the stomach acid of having someone else use your ID is to be alert and on the lookout. Once your ID is stolen it is routinely traded and used up to 37 times, potentially making this a chronic problem for your AND your family for years to come. Just go ahead and Google ‘identity theft’ articles on the Internet and be prepared to spend days sifting through the horror stories if you’d like to see more.

Punishment for identity thieves seems to be next to impossible to achieve, since there simply is no ID theft police. The only way you can really protect yourself is by taking the steps needed to help prevent identity theft from occurring.

Visit FTC.org for more information on the body of laws that pertain to this topic. To arrange a meeting to discuss identity theft safety training for your workplace, doctor’s office, child’s school or credit-linked institution (mortgage company, credit union, or even real estate broker), please contact me at 916.984.1049. We provide this service at no charge to employers (we can explain how). And if you are interested in obtaining ID theft protection and restoration services (licensed investigators do all the heavy lifting to get your ID back to normal) for you and your family, please contact me.

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Singing can revitalize both body and soul

For many of us, there are few more exhilarating accomplishments than vocally creating the sounds of a composer’s musical score.  The thrill of singing begins when you’re little and a teacher or youth choir director encourages you to match the sounds you hear with your voice. When this is done at an early age, children can mimic the sounds they hear, just as they can easily learn nursery rhymes, foreign languages and, unfortunately, some adult words you’d rather they forgot.

I have been involved in choral singing since elementary school, singing songs like “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go…” a my second grade teacher led our little voices with great enthusiasm.  As a teen, I began playing guitar to accompany myself as I sang Peter, Paul and Mary’s Leaving on a Jet Plane, making my dorm mates cry over their boyfriends back home.  By age 21, I joined my church choir, learning the beautiful Byzantine minor tones written hundreds of years ago and more contemporarily arranged for soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices.

Most recently, I began singing in adult choral groups that required auditions, which can be a slightly rattling process. It was then that I realized how much work a conductor must do to make a rag-tag group of adults with voices of different colors, ranges, and abilities sound like a cohesive, melodious union able to perform the works of Bach, Handel and the like.

So what about us midlife adults? What can choral singing do for us?  New research suggests that choral work might be just what your body wants.

According to Victoria Meredith, a University of Western Ontario professor, participation in choral music leads to increased respiratory function, improved overall health, a heightened immune system and improved brain function. Meredith also concludes that performing in a choir “can keep you younger and healthier for longer,” pointing to similar studies that found people who sing on a regular basis require fewer doctors’ visits, are less prone to falls, don’t need as much medication, and are less likely to be depressed. She used the school’s adult choirs as a “live research lab” and concluded that group sing-alongs may offer the benefits of exercise without the humiliation of sports bras and tank tops.

Meredith’s research with four choirs, whose members varied in age from 18 to 84, spanned two years. Her investigation looked at everything from breath control and vocal range to anecdotal information such as whether or not the choristers felt happier or more aware of their bodies when they performed.

“Individual participant responses included such comments as: ‘Singing keeps my mind more agile,’ ‘Singing increases the amount of joy in my life’ (and) ‘My breathing is better – even after lung surgery,'” says Meredith, noting that the observations align closely with those of George Washington University’s three-year study on the impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on older adults.

Though Meredith remarks that many of the documented benefits of singing are “of a psychological nature, related to being part of a group with shared goals,” researchers have also discovered compelling evidence for physical advantages. A disease-fighting protein called slgA was found to increase by 150% during choir rehearsals and 240% during performances.

John McMillan, a Canadian musician and choir director, may be living proof of the power of song. Since he began performing choral music 13 years ago, McMillan says he gets sick less often, has more energy, and feels generally happier.

“When (a show) goes well and you feel like you’ve positively affected other people, it affects you, too,” says McMillan, 28. “I feel rejuvenated after a performance – kind of like my soul has been revitalized.”

Source: M. Harris/Canada.com

Singing is good for your health!!

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