Category Archives: Lifestyle

Amid Economic Uncertainty, Taking Stock of Personal Finance Chasms Across America

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There are many ways to crack the fissures of the American economy — the impacts are unfolding in real time. Take personal finance in this unpredictable climate for one. Peering into people’s financial accounts on the county level shows the degree to which communities of color lag in creating wealth. In particular, the 161 Hispanic Centers, with their young and growing populations, struggle here.

More than two-thirds of Americans report some form of financial investment for the future, according to Simmons Consumer Research. Across the American Communities Project’s 15 types, 69% say they hold investments. The common link stops there.

Beneath the surface appear obvious cleavages. Whiter, older, rural areas break away from the pack at considerably higher rates: In Aging Farmlands, 79% own investments; in Rural Middle America, 78% do. For these rural areas where the median household income is just below the national average, a mindset of frugality instilled in youth and deepened through experiencing reversals of fortune season to season may be driving these rates; small towns, too, have seen business dry up and people departing for places of greater opportunity.

Other predominately white suburban communities, the Exurbs and the Middle Suburbs, stand at 76%. Exurbs, on the far outskirts of cities, are full of high-earning professionals with the means to invest. Middle Suburbs, found across the Industrial Midwest, are still home to sizable populations of union workers with pensions.

Communities of color, meanwhile, are at the bottom of the pack: In Hispanic Centers, where the median household income is low at $45,800, just 55% hold investments. In addition to having lower incomes and younger, unestablished populations, Hispanic Centers confront the obstacles of documentation status and English literacy, including financial literacy.

For youth-populated Native American Lands, where 31% are under 18, as well as long established African American South counties, the investment figure dips just below the average to 67%; while Big Cities, the most populous, diverse community type with a highest degree of racial and ethnic segregation among the types, clock in at 61%.

As Americans Take Vacation, Where Are They Going, and What Are They Doing?

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Nearly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. travelers plan to take a vacation this summer — many escaping to Orlando, Florida; a historical European city; or a city in the American West, AAA recently reported. This divide between domestic and international destinations comes into sharper focus through the prism of the American Communities Project. So, too, do the differences in Americans’ preferred vacation activities. (Discover what type of community you live in using our interactive map.)

PASSPORT OR NO?

For a majority of Americans, traveling abroad does not appear to be on an immediate itinerary. Just 44% say they have a valid passport, according to recent Simmons Consumer Research data.

The rates are higher in more diverse, urban areas, yet no individual community type crosses the 50% threshold. Urban Suburbs, known for having a highly educated, multicultural population mix, reach 50%, while segregated, diverse Big Cities come up just shy at 48%.

In contrast, Working Class Country, the African American South, and Evangelical Hubs — poorer, more rural communities concentrated in Appalachia and the South — are well below the national average at 32%, 31%, and 30%, respectively. Rural Middle America, full of residents with average incomes and educations concentrated in small towns from Maine to Minnesota, is slightly higher at 37%.

Union-heavy Middle Suburbs, places in the Industrial Midwest hit hard by the globalized economy and more recently by America’s continuing trade fights, reach 40%. Graying America, often in rural areas and home to large numbers of retired seniors of moderate income and education, ticks to 41%.

Running in the middle of the pack are community types filled with educated, global-thinking, bilingual youth. LDS Enclaves, where many of Mormon faith undertake missionary work abroad, post a rate of 43%. Similarly, it’s 42% in College Towns, well-educated bastions where students learn the value of cross-cultural competency and studying abroad is commonplace. Hispanic Centers, home to high numbers of Latinos and youth, many of whom are immigrants, also stand at 42%.

Who’s Sleeping the Most and Least in America?

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Now’s the time when students of all ages are cramming for end-of-year exams through the wee hours. But it’s not just students sleeping poorly—and it’s not just in May. A health problem that’s been building in America for some time, insufficient sleep was classified as a public health epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016—and continues to be a pain point.

Sleep in American Communities

Now that the American Communities Project is bringing its lens to the 2018 County Health Rankings, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program, the ever-present problem comes into sharper relief. ACP found that insufficient sleep is an issue in all 15 community types, but it is a matter of degree.

One group stands out for being particularly sleep deprived: the African American South, often found in more rural areas from Virginia through Texas, where African Americans can make up more than 40 percent of the population and the median household income is at the lowest level of all types. Here the insufficient sleep average jumps to 38 percent. These counties show more evidence of other health problems laid out in the rankings, including high rates of obesity (35 percent) and physical inactivity (31 percent). Among the community types, it also ranks highest in income inequality, signaling socioeconomic distress.

On the other end of the scale are more homogenous places. The sharpest example occurs in Aging Farmlands, where the insufficient sleep rate drops to 27 percent. These counties in the Great Plains are home to about 576,000 people, 92 percent of which live in rural areas. They tend to be the oldest and least racially and ethnically diverse places in America, with more than a quarter over age 62 and 96 percent white. A slower, quieter life without work stress may contribute to better sleeping patterns. Graying America—where nearly a quarter of the population is 62 and older, and there’s also less diversity than the nation writ large—the rate holds at 31 percent on average. For that matter, Rural Middle America, where nearly 22 million people live, clocks in at 31 percent as well. These counties are a bit wealthier, more rural, and less diverse on average.

Sleep deprivation is slightly less prevalent in LDS Enclaves at 29 percent. Since the early 2000s, the Mormon Church has devoted some attention in its publications to the importance of sleep and rest.

Aside from LDS Enclaves and Aging Farmlands, the percentage of people in American communities not getting enough sleep remains above 30 percent on average—underscoring that the problem is justified to merit national attention. In fact, many different kinds of communities hover around the one-third figure. In the affluent Exurbs, 33 percent of residents on average report an insufficient amount of sleep. Hispanic Centers and College Towns, both of which have high percentages of youth, stand at 32 percent. Working Class CountryNative American LandsBig Cities, and Urban Suburbs are at 34 percent.

Why Sleep Matters

Since 2016, the County Health Rankings have included insufficient sleep in a host of measures about one’s life quality and length. The report cites many reasons:

  • “Sleep plays a key role in maintaining proper growth and repair of the body, learning, memory, emotional resilience, problem solving, decision making, and emotional control.
  • Ongoing sleep deficiency has been linked to heart disease, depression and anxiety, risky behavior, and suicide.
  • A lack of sleep can also affect others’ health. Sleepiness, especially while driving, can lead to motor vehicle crashes.”

To obtain a measure, the rankings incorporate a key question from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey: “On average, how many hours of sleep do you get in a 24-hour period? Think about the time you actually spend sleeping or napping, not just the amount of sleep you think you should get.”

Insufficient sleep translates to the percentage of adults who respond that they get less than seven hours of zzzz a night on average. In 2016, about one third of adults reported getting insufficient sleep. In some counties, it was almost one in two residents.

That same year Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time debuted and became a national best-seller. In it, she describes collapsing from exhaustion in 2007.

Concerns About Online Privacy Are Top of Mind Across America

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As data breaches roil the tech landscape and moves to boycott Facebook, Apple, and Google increase, Americans across the country see the lack of privacy online significantly impacting them and those they know. It appears to be a great common denominator in the country’s cultural experience today, unlike many other aspects of life as chronicled by the American Communities Project.

Online usage tracks similarly among the 15 community types. According to Simmons Consumer Research data from July to December 2017, 45 percent of Americans on average went online at home more than 25 times in a given week. (Hispanic Centers were the notable exception with 38 percent logging on that much.) About 17 percent spent one to four hours online at home (but not on email) and 15 percent spent five to nine hours online in their homes in a typical week.

Despite such consumption, just 31 percent of people feel they have “a fair amount of control over information about them online.” This deviates by just a percentage point or two across the 15 community types in the American Communities Project. Aging Farmlands is on the lower end at 27 percent, perhaps because fewer people are online in these places.

In bleaker news, 15 percent of people across community types say they had a negative experience with online info about them while 38 percent say they know people who have had a negative experience. The outlier in this data is LDS enclaves, made up of large numbers of people of Mormon faith. Here 46 percent say they know people who have had a negative experience with their personal info online. The close-knit nature of these communities may help them spread the word faster; their underrepresented religion could make them a target online.

Generally, people feel helpless when these situations happen. Across community types, 42 percent of people agreed that once their personal info is online, there’s nothing they can do about it. The percentages in individual regions range from 40 to 44 percent.

Risk Awareness

To be sure, the latest headlines show that Americans are not fully informed about what’s happening to their personal information online. Simmons found that 55 percent of people believe they understand the risks of providing information online. Drilling down, this number ranges from 57 percent in the Exurbs, home to a high percentage of wealthy and educated residents, to 52 percent in Hispanic Centers, whose demographics are 56 percent Hispanic and 30 percent under 18.

However, just 27 percent said they often read companies’ privacy statements. In most kinds of communities, the figure ranges between 24 and 28 percent. In the African American South, the number hits 30 percent. Perhaps then it’s not surprising that many people weren’t aware Facebook Messenger was scraping their personal information and upset to recently learn that it was happening. In a bit of irony, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded that people who signed up for the company’s app accepted all the terms in its user agreement.

Government Not Trusted

As Congress grills Zuckerberg this week about Cambridge Analytica’s data harvesting of up to 87 million users, it’s worth pointing out that people’s confidence that government can handle the problem is not high. Just 31 percent of people said they trusted the federal government to protect their privacy online, according to the Simmons survey. Aging Farmlands had the least trust at 27 percent. (In the U.S., Facebook has a total audience of 214 million users.)

At the same time, the big tech companies have become a force in Washington, pushing an agenda that includes less regulation. Google’s parent company spent more than $18 million on lobbying in DC last year—more than any other company in 2017. In the same period, Facebook spent more than $11 million on lobbying efforts, Amazon more than $12 million, and Apple more than $7 million, according to opensecrets.org.

With all the data breaches and the government’s laissez faire policies thus far, it seems some people have chosen to take matters into their own hands. Twenty-five percent of people across community types said they are using the internet less because of privacy concerns.

Where People Are Living Their Best Possible Lives

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Schools keep trying to get a handle on it; workplaces are carving out time to address it; meanwhile, myriad media are filled with advice to help people with it. The issue is wellness, and the community where you live seems to play a big role in how it looks to you.

The Well-Being Index from Gallup and Sharecare “measures Americans’ perceptions of their lives and their daily experiences through five interrelated elements that make up well-being: sense of purpose, social relationships, financial security, relationship to community, and physical health,” according to the website.

The American Communities Project sheds light on Gallup-Sharecare’s well-being survey in new ways and shows how people’s perceptions of their lives today and their expectations for the future often vary by where they live.

First, consider how Americans across the ACP’s 15 types view their lives today. On average, 11.1 percent say they are living their “best possible” lives, according to a recent Gallup-Sharecare survey.

But just where are people living their best lives?

Community Well-Being  

In the African American South – the least wealthy of the 15 community types with a median household income of just $35,561 – the percentage of people who say they’re living their best possible lives reaches 14.3 percent. This community type is marked by a diverse population. African Americans compose 40 percent of these communities, and few Hispanics live here.

Hispanic Centers, places where Hispanics make up 56 percent of the population on average and the median annual income is about $42,000, 13.6 percent report that they are living the best lives possible. These communities are often seen as the epicenter of today’s immigration flash points, but at the same time, many are coming to the United States for a better life for themselves and their families. It’s worth noting that Hispanic Centers also skew younger, with 30 percent of the population under 18, which could lead to a more hopeful disposition.

In more homogenous Evangelical Hubs in the South, where 85 percent of the population is white, the numbers also sites above the national average with 13.1 percent say they are living their best possible lives. Again, that’s despite some socio-economic challenges in these places. The median income in them is $39,000, and just 15 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree.

The numbers are a bit lower in Rural Middle America, where 10.5 percent report they are now living the best possible life they can. That may be a bit surprising considering some of the other factors that define that broad swath of counties that stretches from Maine to Washington state.

Although the median household income and college education rate in those counties sits above those of the Evangelical Hubs, Hispanic Centers, African American South, that does not yield a better wellness figure.

And the number for Rural Middle America is largely on par with a couple of much more densely populated and diverse community types: the Big Cities and Urban Suburbs (the wealthiest of the types with a median income of $66,500), where 10.8 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively, say they’re living their best possible lives now. In both those communities, the desire to keep up with more affluent neighbors and friends may push that number lower than for other groups.

Yet it’s the LDS Enclaves (where 31 percent are under 18) and the Middle Suburbs (concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest and 87 percent white) that have the lowest percentages at 9.6 and 9.8 percent, respectively. The Middle Suburbs, in particular, have been more stagnant than the Urban Suburbs and Exurbs and have felt the effects of cumulative layoffs in a variety of industries.

You can see a map of the types here: 

In Many Places, the Future Looks Bright

Overall, the survey found that people feel much more optimistic about their futures. Across America, an average of 26 percent believe they will be living their best possible lives five years from now. In several kinds of places, people are feeling particularly positive. Take the African American South, where 31.5 percent say they expect to experience their best possible lives five years hence.

In Hispanic Centers, that number is 30 percent. Striving for a better life may be one reason for this strong showing. Hispanics are also known for having close-knit families and communities. These social relationships and ties to community are crucial to well-being and can boost their expectations for living their best lives.

In the affluent Urban Suburbs, 26.3 percent say they expect to live their best possible lives in five years. Big Cities come in at 28.4 percent. Both the Urban Suburbs and Big Cities are more racially and economically diverse than other community types; tensions often flare as seen in recent years. Also, people here will likely want to maintain, or even surpass, their current standard of living — and may feel the pressure of higher expectations that comes with living near more wealth.

Room to Improve

It may come as a surprise that the picture looks a little bleaker in the College Towns. Located near colleges and universities, these places are second from the bottom of the 15 community types, with 21.2 percent believing they will live their best possible lives in five years. Some may scratch their heads because such places are home to high percentages of youth and college graduates and widely considered bastions of idealism and possibility.

But along with that potentially brighter future in the long run, many unsettling changes are occurring here: the high cost and questionable value of college; seismic demographic shifts spurring new divisions on campus; wellness concerns about sexual assault, depression, drugs, and screen time; and fears about artificial intelligence in the workplace. It will be important to keep an eye on this group’s well-being, as these counties are the home of the nation’s future economic and cultural leaders. Such gloomy views from these communities may not be a good sign for the years ahead.

White House Project examines, honors the role of innovative women in culture

Christian Science Monitor

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Jill Scott, Kiran Bedi, and other women who work to change cultural perceptions highlighted the White House Project event.

NEW YORK

The culture is getting a much-needed make-over as storytelling pioneers begin to transform the prevailing image of women. Vivid narratives of steely, enterprising female leaders enable women and girls to envision these roles for themselves and help society accept more women at the top of their fields.

That’s the message 400 people – mostly women from foundations, corporations, and women’s leadership groups – heard at an awards dinner hosted by The White House Project on April 7. “You can’t be what you can’t see, and where the problem is is in the culture,” said Marie Wilson, the group’s founder and president, in an interview with the Monitor at the event. “The image of women as wife and mother hasn’t changed inAmerica.”

Her organization sought out a solution: highlight people who are upending this traditional image through their creative works whether it’s in books, television, cinema, or theater because popular culture has proven power. It is part of the nonprofit’s effort to put more women in leadership positions across America.
Interestingly, this year many of the subjects are international women making their way in new and different leadership roles. Typically, those revealing their stories are women, too.

Meryl Streep, a two-time Academy Award-winning actress, presented an award to Kiran Bedi, the first woman in the Indian police force, who starred in the documentary “Yes Madam, Sir.” Directed by Megan Doneman, the film was shot in India over six years as it chronicled Bedi’s trailblazing career.

Bedi first drew attention for fighting back hundreds of Sikh protesters wielding swords while she was a newbie in the Indian Police Service in the 1970s. She irked politicians to the point that she was shipped off to run Tihar Jail, the largest and most corrupt prison in Asia. Gangsters and guards proved to be no match for her humanitarian spirit as she was able to institute spiritual and educational programs that lifted up prisoners’ living conditions. The reforms earned her the Asia Nobel Prize.

Actress Jill Scott was honored for her portrayal of another first among females. Scott playsPrecious Ramotswe, the first woman private detective in Botswana, in “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” on HBO.

Journalist Sheryl Wu Dunn received an award as an author of the bestselling book “Half the Sky,” which she wrote with her husband Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist. Guided by a Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky,” the book describes that the brutalization of women is the signature story of our time, and investing in women is essential to lift countries out of poverty. The authors paint portraits of innovative women in the developing world who have overcome oppression to create new lives by starting schools, hospitals, and small businesses.

Prominent leaders of major American media were among the presenters, including Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times; Geraldine Laybourne, founder of Oxygen Media; and Susan Taylor, editor emerita of Essence Magazine.

The program included a preview of Abby Disney’s upcoming PBS series “Women, War & Peace,” emphasizing women’s role in the post-cold-war period as casualties of war and necessary partners for peace.

It is the seventh time The White House Project has celebrated Emerging Leaders in Culture. This event comes after the nonprofit’s report, “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership,” from November 2009, which showed that women account for only 18 percent of leadership positions across 10 sectors, including business, politics, and media. Events focused on culture are an opportunity to promote the message about the importance of women’s leadership to a wider audience, Wilson said.

The next step it seems would be to bring along more men.

Ari Pinkus is a graduate student in management at New York University.

Women Struggle to Make It as Leaders, Says the White House Project

ABC News

by Ari Pinkus and Maureen White

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In terms of sheer numbers, women now surpass men in the work force, but they’re still lagging far behind their male peers when it comes to cracking those glass ceilings.

Women account for just 18 percent of top leadership roles in 10 sectors, including business, nonprofit groups, law and religion, according to the new report, “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership.”

“Women’s leadership is stuck in every sector of American society at a time when we need their innovation … when we need their talent, and the research tells us [to] bring in the women if you want to change things,” said Marie Wilson, president of The White House Project, the nonprofit organization in New York that produced the report.

 VIDEO: A study finds that women hold only 18 percent of top leadership positions.As many as 90 percent of women and men report being ready to see women in charge. At the same time, people also believe that both sexes are “already leading equally,” which is a misconception, according to the report.

It takes 33 percent of women in top positions for change to occur in the workplace, Wilson said.

“A third women makes it [seem] normal for women to be there,” Wilson said in an interview with ABC News’ Bianna Golodryga. “A third women makes sure that you focus on the agenda and not gender. A third women actually allows women to be themselves and men to be themselves. And what we are looking for is enough women leading alongside men so that both of us can contribute equally.

Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year 2009

“I’d really like 50 percent,” Wilson added. “But 33 [percent] really gives us the edge.”

In pockets of corporate America, it’s far below that number. Among the Fortune 500 companies, only 66 have females on their boards, according to the report. In the corporate ranks, women are known for promoting greater transparency and for being more averse to risk. The bottom line, too, gets a boost when women are at the top. For instance, there’s a 34 percent greater return on equity and shareholders’ investment, according to the report.

 VIDEO: Maria Shriver and Meghan McCain discuss women in businessThis has prompted some firms to consider putting more money in the hands of women.

“You are now having a fund started to invest in companies that have more women on their boards because that is the way to actually be more successful — innovation and as well as money,” Wilson said.

 Government’s Part in Making Progress

Government can play a pivotal role in continuing to move society forward by encouraging companies to hire women and join company boards, Wilson said.

“I’m guessing … that there will be something that comes out that is either punishing or giving enticements, like tax incentives … for people who diversify the boards,” she said.

Wilson, who has spent her career in the nonprofit sector, can’t get over how far behind her sector is in achieving parity among the genders, considering women make up 75 percent of the nonprofit staff. Just one in 10 women are in upper management, while one in five men have top leadership posts, according to the report.

In nonprofit groups, Wilson said, “women still are not earning salary that begins to touch the salary of a man and … they are still not in leadership in the biggest not-for-profits in America. It’s the size of the statistic that gets me.”

At colleges and universities, where women often expect to lead because they outnumber men, the experience is similar. Wilson noted that there hasn’t been a new woman president at a college in the past 10 years, and claimed women faculty members’ paychecks haven’t increased.

In math and science, where there aren’t as many women, Marissa Mayer, a vice president at Google, has made her mark. Just this week, she was honored in New York as one of Glamour magazine’s women of the year for her part in making Google the No 1. search engine.

Mayer doesn’t get caught up in the male/female divide in the workplace.

“I think of myself as a geek there, as a computer scientist, and that’s just great, but really it’s about passion,” she told Golodryga. “We are interested in trying to help people organize information, build new interesting things, trying to innovate. I think that’s the common thread that pulls the experience together for me, as opposed to being a woman.”

Even so, building a strong community of women is a priority at Google, she said. Women At Google brings in inspirational women to give talks. Big names have included Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Diane Von Furstenberg. A day care program for children of Google employees helps mothers make the transition back to work.

New Opportunities for Women to Lead

But in certain industries, the dearth of women is pronounced. The oil, auto and banking industries, as well as the U.S. presidency, have never had women at the helm. At this point, the industry that’s likely to be first to have a female CEO is banking, Wilson said.

“When I started looking at female leadership, a friend of mine from Ghana said that when things get messy, we get to clean up, and I think the banks may be the messiest,” Wilson said.

The economic crisis presents a special opportunity for women to rise to the top, Wilson said. It’s up to society to make the changes so girls can make it there, she added.

“I want little girls to know that they can reach the top, but I want big, grown men and women right now to make sure that I’m telling them the truth,” she said, “because again, we have an opportunity to put enough women in power to where a little girl can grow up and start to lead.”

Gayle King’s Five Small Things That Mean a Lot

ABC News

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Gayle King, editor at large of Oprah magazine, doesn’t sweat the small stuff. She suggests five little things you can do so that you won’t either.

She boils these down to: listening to happy songs, making apologies sincerely, saying positive things, being active, and quieting tempers.

Wake Up to Cheery Tunes

Listening to peppy music early in the morning can put an extra spring in your step all day long. King says she loves the song “Gonna Have a Good Day,” and the Days Inn commercial, “Here Comes the Sunshine.”

“Makes me want to run to a Days Inn,” she said. Happy music “is a very good start.”

VIDEO: Oprah?s Gayle King talks about some worthwhile investments.

Do Moderate Activity

Many people hate working out, but it’s easy to garden, golf or walk for 20 minutes. And that’s all it takes to significantly reduce the risk of psychological distress, according to British researchers who reviewed the lifestyles of 20,000 Britons.

“It sounds like a cliche, but it really is true,” King said. “Something simple that gets you moving will make a big difference in how you feel.”

If You Apologize, Be Sincere

Apologies keep coming these days from Bernie MadoffKanye West and others. But people can sense if you’ve been pressured into it, King says.

VIDEO: Oprah?s Gayle King shares some summer savings secrets.

On the flip side, when you’re truly contrite, it’s very effective, as King learned recently. After being cut off on the highway, she started chasing the person down the road, honking and rolling down her window, she said. But when the lady simply said, “I’m sorry,” and looked her in the eye, King said she believed her and felt foolish for overreacting.

“Something as small as an apology can make a difference,” King said. “An apology works when you feel it is sincere.”

Avoid Negative Words

Positive communication goes a long way. When you want to tell someone something good and something not so good at the same time, it’s always better not to say, “this is great, but….”

“‘But’ tends to negate everything that you just said,” King explained.

Instead, use the word “and” to temper your criticism. Inflammatory words like “stupid” should be kept out of conversation altogether. The focus should be on how the action has affected you.

Finally, use the word “we” in place of “they.” This shifts others’ viewpoints and your own, says King, because “if we’re not part of the solution, then we’re part of the problem.”

“It’s a very small thing,” King said. “It implies we’re all in it together.”

 Defuse Tensions

It’s possible to prevent a spat from escalating into a full blown argument by following the advice of a University of Utah professor who has studied how couples argue. The three keys: Don’t raise your voice, do empathize with your partner, and don’t drag out the fight.

For more tips on small things that can make a big difference, check out the October issue of O magazine and visit Oprah.com.

Walking Moais Foster Friendships and Achieve Health

ABC News

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Every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. like clockwork, Karen Trow is out walking three to four miles with seven like-minded women. They walk briskly along the trail for about two hours, chatting about what their children are doing, trips they’re taking, and how to handle the occasional difficult child.

It’s all part of belonging to a walking moai in Albert Lea in which six to eight people meet and walk regularly to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The walking moai is part of the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project, which helps people make changes to improve their health and life expectancy.

Click here to see the other ways Albert Lea, Minn., is changing for the healthier.

Trow, 66, who is one of the project’s 30 volunteers, says interest in the walking moais has soared lately because “the weather’s good, and we’re doing a lot of promotion.” The town has expanded the walking and biking trails, and the lake’s location in the middle of the town is a draw, she says. Her neighborhood has three groups.

An initial meeting in June helped would-be walkers organize based on common backgrounds and interests. The groups were given a list of destinations to help them get going. The walking continues through early October before the weather turns colder, Trow says.

The AARP also outfitted 3,000 dedicated walkers with pedometers, which count their steps. They get credit for walking each week with their group and receive additional credit for walking with any one of their fellow moai members during the week. Each Sunday, Trow’s group turns in their pedometers.

Walkers tend to be mostly women, and many have grown children. Some couples found couples to walk with from other neighborhoods, Trow says. Groups are on the small side so people get to know one another.

There’s even one consisting of mostly working mothers with children who meet at 9:30 p.m. once a week, Trow says. With all of their responsibilities, some women find time to fit in walking, and when it’s a stretch, it’s common for them to help one another out. “For one of the women, sometimes they have to knock on her door to get her up to walk,” Trow says.

Forging Strong Ties Through Walking

If someone does miss a walk, he or she can join another group instead. The 65 groups have already been set at this point, and each has a character all its own. Someone joining Trow’s group for the night better be prepared to walk fast. “It can be a challenge,” she warns.

For Trow, the walking moai is a welcome break from her day job as owner of Soap Wizards, a company that sells bath and body products. “I look forward to it,” she says.

Walking with her neighbors has also helped Trow forge new strong relationships. “I’m getting to know a lot of my neighbors that I used to just wave to.”

They’ve gotten together for lunch and shared hors d’oeuvres and wine from Sardinia, known for its antioxidant properties, Trow says.

Her neighborhood has become more “cohesive” as a result of the walking moais, she says. For instance, she expects a huge turnout at this Sunday’s picnic “because people have gotten to know each other,” she says.

The word “moai” is Okinawan for a group of people staying together and supporting one another throughout their lives. It could be said that some of these walking moais are beginning to achieve that.

The Best Stuff for Your Summer Staycation

ABC News

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If you and your family are vacationing close to home this summer, these new products tested by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute are guaranteed to make a splash.

For Food and Drink

The institute tested 27 hard- and soft-sided coolers to see which ones stayed below 40 degrees the longest; how easy they were to pack and load, carry and clean; and how well they handled wear and tear.

The Rubbermaid 50 Quart DuraChill Wheeled 5-Day Cooler ($33) scored highest in our tests. With a 75-can capacity, it won’t lose its cool. It held to a safe temperature (under 40 degrees F) for more than 12 hours, and with a larger amount of ice (per the instructions) for five days. Pluses included wheels, a telescoping handle and a drain.

VIDEO: Good Housekeeping points out some of the best products for summer fun at home.

How Much Ice to Pack

Add half a pound of ice per quart capacity of the cooler. The 50-quart cooler would need 25 pounds of ice. Consider a separate cooler for drinks so as not to expose perishables to warm air.

Other ‘Cool’ Coolers

The soft-sided Igloo Playmate IcyTunes ($60) has a lot of fun features. A built-in iPod/MP3 player dock and speakers will lighten your load and your mood. It will also keep 18 soda cans cold for six hours, and the hinged lid and solid base make for easy loading and unloading. A larger Cool Fusion 40 IcyTunes ($150) also performed well.

Safeguard Your Valuables

The institute recommends the Dry Pak Belt Pack ($13), with its hermetic seal, which will protect your cell phone, MP3 player, wallet and keys from splashes.

Keep the Kids Happy

As any parent knows, a portable DVD player is essential for a long road trip. The institute checked the video and audio quality, durability, and battery life of 14 new models. One favorite was the Polaroid 7-inch portable DVD player ($130), which comes with a swivel screen, remote, and carrying bag.

On the Beach

Besides the must-have high-SPF sunscreen, consider bringing a beach umbrella on seaside escapes to help reduce your risk of sunburn. We tested eight of the newest portable shades for fade- and water-resistance, stability, durability and the ease of opening, setting up, closing, and carrying.

The one that scored best in portability was the PortaBrella ($40), which breaks into three parts and collapses to just two feet long when stored in its carrying bag. It’s key for a trip to the beach.

For additional coverage, Add-A-Shade ($16) is an option. The panel straps on to the umbrella you already have. While it’s handy, expect its color to fade over time.