Commentary #80: “You have two ages, chronological and biological. Here’s why it matters”

Aging Quote

Image Credit: BrainyQuote

This article on CNN.com, posted on November 30th, immediately caught my eye.


Your chronological age is fairly self-explanatory – It’s based on your birthday.

Your biological age is a bit more complicated – It’s called someone’s phenotypic age.

Phenotypic: Relating to the observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment.

Remember biology class?

Long story short: Your biological age determines health and lifespan.

Morgan Levine, a professor and researcher at Yale Medical School, worked with her team to identify nine biomarkers in a simple blood test. Some of these biomarkers include blood sugar, kidney and liver measures, and immune and inflammatory measures.

The bottom line: People who have a lower biological age than their chronological age have a lower mortality risk.

What’s interesting about Levine and her team’s research is that your biological age is not permanent. It can be adjusted. Meaning, changing things like lifestyle, diet, exercise, and sleep habits can lower one’s mortality risk and improve one’s biological age.

Currently, Levine is working to provide access to the algorithm online so that anyone can calculate their biological age, and take further steps to improve it.


For more information:

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #79: “Tiny Houses For Homeless Vets Makes A Lot Of Sense”

Today is Veterans Day. I waited to share this story, because I think it’s important.

In Kansas City, Missouri, former U.S. Army Corporal Chris Stout is definitely a hero. In more ways than one. Not only did he serve his country, but now he’s giving back to it. Through the Veterans Community Project, tiny homes have been built in the Veterans’ Village, all for veterans who are struggling with homelessness. Chris and several friends quit their jobs in 2015 to start the project, and it’s been blossoming ever since.

The first 13 homes were finished in January. Another 13 will be done by the end of this month. Each house is fully stocked – Furniture, linens, toiletries, food, and even welcome gift baskets.

However, Chris calls the houses the “sexy piece.” The bread and butter is the sense of community, camaraderie, and connecting veterans to the services they need.

In the interview, Chris stated that eight of the original 13 residents have found permanent housing. They take the furniture with them. It takes about 72 hours for a house to set up for a new resident.

The idea is for veterans to get back on their feet, with as much time as they need based on their goals, and get connected with the services they need. While starting the project, Chris found that many didn’t feel safe or have a sense of privacy with traditional shelters. The anticipated length of stay is six months, but as long as they are working on their goals, they’re welcome to stay as long as they like/need.

Another 23 houses are to set to be done by the beginning of 2019. In addition, a community center is nearly finished, which will have medical, dental, and veterinarian care, a barbershop, and a fellowship hall for group events.

When a veteran walks in, the staff gets to work with their bus pass, housing placement, job placement, legal services, food pantry, clothing closet, and emergency financial assistance. So far, the organization has helped more than 8,000 veterans.

More than 650 communities around the country have reached out to Veterans Community Project. They’re growing in Denver, Nashville, St. Louis, and more. Chris’s goal is to be in every major city, helping veterans with what they need.


Chris Stout has already been recognized as a CNN Hero. He’s in the Top 10. The hero with the most votes will receive $100,000 toward their cause. Voting ends December 4th.


Thank you to all veterans! We appreciate your service.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #78: “T10T: Unexpected Levels of Impact” (Reblogged)

Thanks to Destiny at Howling Libraries for inspiring this post!


Here’s my top ten, in roughly chronological order:

Baby-sitters Little Sister - Amazon

1. Baby-Sitters Little Sister series, Ann M. Martin, circa mid-1990s

  • I can’t name a specific book in this series. There’s over 100 books!! I loved the adventures Karen got into, and how realistic her life was. Her entire family, and neighborhood, felt real to me. Martin also covered a lot of poignant issues in the eyes of a child: Divorce, two houses, re-marriage, school trouble, friendship issues, and more! I was about Karen’s age in the books when I started reading them, so I identified quite a bit with her.

Pleasant Company Catalogue Holiday 1991

2. American Girl Central Series, Various Authors, circa mid-1990s

  • I grew up with devouring the six-book series. I’m slowly rebuilding childhood library. I started with Samantha’s books, then Felicity’s, and eventually read all of them. Molly’s books remain my favorite. However, I feel close to Felicity, too, since her stories are set in Colonial Williamsburg!

Image result for harry potter and the sorcerer's stone book

3. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, J.K. Rowling, circa 2000-2001

  • I was definitely late to the party with reading the Harry Potter books. I remember telling my classmates who had read everything that had been released to that point, “I don’t like fantasy. I’m not interested.” Once I tried it, though, I was hooked. I finished Sorceror’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets by the time the first movie was released, and my obsession only grew!

4. A Walk To Remember, Nicholas Sparks, 2003-2004

  • I’m pretty sure I watched the movie before reading the book. But, it was my first introduction into Sparks and his books. It was sad, but I wanted to read everything that Sparks had written after that. I ended up doing my college senior thesis on his books, so I’m fairly certain his books had a significant impact on my life.

5. This Lullaby, Sarah Dessen, 2004-2005

  • Like Destiny, I was hooked after finishing my first Dessen book. I remember taking out 2-3 books of hers at a time from the library!

Speak - Wikipedia

6. Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson, circa 2006-2007

  • I think I borrowed this from the library? Regardless, I identified somewhat with Melinda, and her struggles. Anderson quickly became another favorite author, and I appreciate her writing and crafting of compelling characters. I’ve re-read this book multiple times, at several different stages of my life, and the impact is the same, every single time.

The Battle of Jericho - Amazon

7. The Battle of Jericho, Sharon M. Draper, circa 2005-2006

  • I don’t remember why exactly I picked up the book from the library, but I loved this book. I laughed, I cried, and I wanted more. Reading this book gave me a glimpse into the lives of African-American teenagers, and I found it fascinating and well-written. I have actively read almost all of Draper’s work because of her storytelling and care for her characters!

Looking For Alaska

8. Looking for Alaska, John Green, 2011

  • This was one of my assigned reading books for my Young Adult Literature class in the spring of 2011. I hadn’t read anything from Green until then, and it was such a powerful book. I thought it was fitting that I took this course during my last semester of college. A lot of the themes resonated with me, and I found myself reading it several times after graduation. Since then, Green has become one of my favorite authors.

Image Credit: www.shapingyouth.org

9. Tornado Warning: A Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on a Woman’s Life, Elin Stebbins Waldal, 2015

  • It was clearly a cover draw when I found it at the library. I remember circling back to it during that library trip before picking it up and taking it home. I cried. It was such a hard book – I felt like I knew Elin and her struggles, given my own with my abusive relationship with John. I was compelled to buy my own copy after borrowing it from the library years later – All I could remember to search on Amazon was the title, and a yellow-orange flower. The copy I own, although used when I bought it, was lovingly signed by the author. It’s a book I will treasure forever.

Prez: A Story of Love

10. Prez: A Story of Love, Margaret Garrison, 2018

  • This book impacted me in several ways. First, it’s written by a fellow P.E.O. sister, which boosted my confidence in wanting to become a published author. She signed my copy, and it’s a really good story. It’s Garrison’s debut novel, and it’s an impressive one. I loved the story, the element of historical fiction, and having a woman break the proverbial glass ceiling in university administration.

Tell me about a book (or two, or five, or ten!) that impacted your life!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

howling libraries

TTT-Big2

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly blog meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week’s prompt was to list ten books with Sensory Memories, and I decided to take it a bit further.

These are ten books that impacted me on an unexpected level, in a good way. Some of them are books I expected to impact me at least a little, but not as much as they did in the end.

These are sorted in order from oldest memories to newest. 🙂

View original post 854 more words

Commentary #77: “There’s a severe shortage of mental health professionals in rural areas. Here’s why that’s a serious problem.”

Mental Health - Quotefancy

Image Credit: Quotefancy

I recently read another CNN article that I felt was worthy of sharing. It was published on June 20, 2018.

Here’s the link to the article:


For years, I’ve been fascinated with the Appalachian region of the United States. Part of it is because my grandmother (Mom’s mom) was raised in West Virginia, and other extended family members have lived in West Virginia and Kentucky, to name a few states.

The mountains are beautiful. Grandma Grace was raised during The Great Depression, and they survived. I have vague memories of visiting Great-Grandma Laura Bethany (whom I’m named after) on her farm in Ripley, and seeing Mom’s aunt’s and cousins in Beckley. These two areas aren’t deep in the mountains, but you can definitely see and feel the hills and valleys.

With all that said, Ripley and Beckley are small, but mighty. Other areas of West Virginia, and other states in the Appalachian region, have certainly struggled with the volatility of the coal mining industry, among other issues. The limited amount of research I’ve done shows years of struggles with poverty, unemployment, access to health care, and more. However, the Appalachian people are steadfast. I don’t want to be prejudicial, but research-based.

Along with difficulties accessing quality health care, and affording that care, mental health care is somewhat tied to that. It’s fascinating, as well as immensely frightening.

When I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in the summer of 2015, I started taking a bigger interest in mental health, including news articles about the topic. I’m grateful that I have a stable job, with good health insurance, and access to good mental health resources and services.

I’ve seen several counselors since I was in college, for a variety of reasons, but the counselor who diagnosed me with GAD was a watershed moment for me. She helped me unpack a variety of issues that were causing significant stress, and in turn, contributing to my anxiety. I’ve been able to better understand GAD, and to work to figure out the best ways to limit and control my anxiety. It’s a daily exercise, but I’m proud to say that I’m not taking any medication, and I’m able to live a fairly productive life thanks to a powerful and helpful support system. I realize that my situation is very unique, and I’m grateful for everything!


The article is packed with statistics. I won’t go through all of them, but the main point is a majority of non-metropolitan counties do not have a psychiatrist, and nearly half do not have a psychologist. The best definition of a non-metropolitan county that I could find is one that does not have a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and has a population of 10,000 or less (Health Resources & Services Administration).

One of the interviewees, a clinical psychologist, pointed out that many rural areas only have generalists, i.e., primary care providers (PCPs), and there’s little to no specialized care. People are left on their own due to a lack of community mental health care, and nearby relevant hospital services.

The services that are available are focused on crisis intervention, not prevention. These services attempt to address the crisis as it’s happening, but nothing is available to prevent the crisis.

In addition to the lack of services and resources, health care funding cuts are exacerbating this problem. Roughly 80 rural hospitals closed between 2010 and 2017. Hundreds more are at risk.

Another problem the rural population faces is isolation. Isolation can spark downward spirals, which can lead to drug addiction, overdoses, depression, and suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), rural areas have a higher suicide rate than non-rural areas, which has been widening since 2001.

This is a significantly complex and challenging problem that can’t be addressed with a single solution. However, there’s one bright spot that is starting to emerge – Telebehavioral health. The article provided the example of a patient in Wyoming “seeing” a psychologist in Pennsylvania via virtual sessions and online portals.

As promising as telebehavioral health appears, the article points out a host of other issues that rural residents face. Access to the Internet is one, being proficient with computers / technology another, and having the financial resources to access these mental health professionals.

To me, there needs to be a series of steps to tackle these issues. I don’t have all the answers, and I try to be as objective as possible.

There needs to be consistent investment in mental health services across the U.S. Every rural area that does not have a psychiatrist or psychologist should probably have at least one of each. The currently practicing doctors should be linked up to the existing mental health services, as well as be / become advocates for improving those services. Continued work to reduce the stigma of mental illness, addiction, and other mental health issues will also be beneficial.

Those support systems that people turn to in the event of a crisis – Family, friends, ministers, chaplains, and even first responders – should also have connections to mental health services. More mental health training for these support systems, specialized if possible, is also a good idea.

Throughout the network of ideas and potential solutions, the idea of making and sustaining connections and cooperation appears to be a common theme. In order to help the neediest residents, everyone involved with helping them should be educated, connected, and cooperative.

Example: Someone in a rural area is struggling with isolation and drug addiction, and overdoses. When the family member calls for an ambulance, the first responders take the resident to the local or nearest hospital. While recovering in the hospital, a series of people work behind the scenes to quickly identify others that can help – Family members, the hospital chaplain, the resident’s pastor, the resident’s primary care physician, and anyone else. Together, this network of resources work together to locate the nearest psychiatrist or psychologist, or even the nearest behavioral health center. The idea is to build a strong support system to get the resident the best mental health services possible.

This is strictly an example, but ideally, there needs to multiple levels of support and accountability for this to work. Every situation is different – Sometimes there’s no family, no primary care physician, difficulty accessing a behavioral health center, among other things. Regardless, if we invest in building these networks and support systems, maybe there can be a shift in crisis prevention, and less crisis intervention.


For more information, check out these resources. Several of these were also cited in the article.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #75: “The war on drugs failed. It’s time for a war on abuse.”

Honor Blackman

Image Credit: AZ Quotes

The headline grabbed me instantly. It spoke to me.

Here’s the link to the opinion that CNN published on their website on Friday, June 15, 2018:


Full disclosure: This was published under CNN’s Opinion section.

CNN also published this Editor’s Note at the top of the page: Natalie Schreyer is a reporter at the Fuller Project for International Reporting, a nonprofit news organization that covers issues impacting women and girls globally. She is working on “Abused in America,” a Fuller Project initiative to cover domestic violence in the United States. Jessica Klein is a journalist and co-author of the book “Abetting Batterers: What Police, Prosecutors, and Courts Aren’t Doing to Protect America’s Women.” The views expressed here are solely those of the authors.


I read this opinion. And then I re-read it. It stuck with me all weekend long. It’s still with me as I finish writing this post.

The comparisons that Schreyer and Klein make are staggering. After reading it several times, it makes complete sense to me.

Sure, I’m definitely biased here. I am a domestic violence survivor. I am an abuse survivor. Neither of these are ever okay. I’ve read several powerful memoirs and accounts of survivors (Tornado Warning), and stories of those who tragically lost their lives (If I Am Missing Or Dead: A Sister’s Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation) over the years. I don’t want to read new ones, if I’m being perfectly honest.

There must be harsher punishments for habitual offenders. The opening story for this opinion both broke my heart and made my blood boil – An alleged abuser has never been convicted of a crime, despite 160 encounters with police in 15 years. Quick math – That’s an average of 11 encounters per year. That’s too many.

One encounter is too many.

It took way too long for the current stalking laws to be enacted, and even now, those laws aren’t necessarily the same in every one of the 50 states (although it absolutely should be). The problem here is there’s a lack of consistency. The power is usually left up to the states, and that’s where many problems lie. Where you live is a huge factor, and it absolutely shouldn’t be that way!

But, what about all these non-violent offenders, in prison for decades on drug charges?

I could write a proverbial book. What the Nixon administration started in 1971 was a so-called “war” that will never be won. Presidents Reagan and H.W. Bush kept fueling the fire. I myself was in the D.A.R.E. program in fifth grade. I vowed to never smoke cigarettes after watching my grandmother, my dad’s mom. She lived with emphysema for more than 20 years. She also had COPD, and was on oxygen since I was a child.

Now, in 2018, our country has been facing the “opioid crisis” for several years. Like the authors argue, “addicts who need medical treatment more than criminal punishment,” is so true. And, sadly, not likely to happen. There is a lack of investment in mental health treatment and addiction treatment. Addicts need resources such as medical intervention, quality treatment facilities, quality therapy and/or counseling, and continued support for as long as necessary to keep them sober, stable, and functional.

Why? We have more people in prison for drug possession than mental health treatment facilities. These men and women (not all, mind you), unfortunately, re-offend and get sent back to prison because they can’t get a good, steady job after being released. Struggling to support themselves and their families, they turn to what they’ve known as their source of income. And they’re stuck in this vicious cycle that doesn’t seem to end.

When I think of an “addict,” I think of someone involved with drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, or crack. The harder, more dangerous drugs.

To think of how many people (many are people of color, too) are in jail or prison for non-violent marijuana offenses makes me incredibly angry. I’ve been supportive of the interest to legalize / de-criminalize marijuana. But, that’s another story altogether.

There needs to be far more accountability on the domestic violence and abuser side, however. The authors pointed to a fascinating report from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which focused on High Point, North Carolina. When the focus was shifted toward cracking down on intimate partner violence, the number of intimate partner murders dropped from 17 (between 2004-2011) to just one (between 2012-2014).

Numbers are powerful. Seventeen murders dropped to one? Wow.

As I mentioned earlier, the current stalking laws took way too long to pass. Now, there really should be domestic violence courts in every state. The script should be flipped – Turn the thousands of drug courts (3,100 quoted in the opinion) into domestic violence courts. Problem solved? Maybe.

I’m not saying to get rid of drug courts altogether. What I’m saying is to shift the balance. Shift the balance of the number of courts, and maybe that will also shift the balance of power.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. I just feel strongly about the issues presented in this opinion. I hope more is done for all victims of domestic violence and abuse. No one deserves to go through the horror, shame, and terror. And this includes women, men, and children. There’s a lot of focus on women, but men and children are abused and violated every single day.


For more information, check out these resources. Many of these were also cited in the opinion.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #74: The “New Science of Psychedelics”

The New Science of Psychedelics

Image Credit: NPR

Many of you know that I enjoy listening to podcasts. One that I listen to regularly is NPR’s Fresh Air podcast.

This week, Terry Gross interviewed Michael Pollan, a world-renowned author. His books have typically focused on food and agriculture.

However, his new book, titled How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, discusses the history of psychedelics, and the “new” uses of them to help treat anxiety, depression, and helping cancer patients face their mortality.

There have been two phases of clinical trials up until now, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved Phase III, which is “testing of drug on patients to assess efficacy, effectiveness and safety.”

In researching for the book, Pollan himself became a “reluctant psychonaut” with LSD and psilocybin (magic mushroom) to see if these effects were real.

I won’t tell you Pollan’s results, but it’s a really interesting process. I recommend listening to the podcast version of the show, as it’s an extended edition, where Pollan and Gross discuss the history of psychedelics, which is so fascinating to learn. It’s amazing to learn how LSD was first synthesized, and how it has had a turbulent history. Pollan also discusses psilocybin to an extent, which is another interesting part of the story.

For me, I was definitely more than a little skeptical. I’ve never used any drugs or psychedelics in my life. I’ve seen counselors and therapists.

However, Pollan lessened my skepticism a bit during his interview with Gross. One of his interview subjects was a woman who had survived ovarian cancer. She was absolutely terrified of it recurring, and she was paralyzed with fear. She found a guide, a therapist who administered small doses of one of these psychedelics, and helped her along her trip. She discovered this “black mass” underneath her rib cage during the trip, and originally though it was her cancer. The guide helped her understand that it wasn’t cancer, but in reality it was her fear and anxiety. During the trip, she commanded the black mass to leave her body, and it did.

When Pollan’s fact-checker called to verify her account right before the book’s publication, Pollan’s original words were something to the effect of “this black mass was significantly reduced after her experiences with psychedelics.”

The woman corrected the fact-checker over the phone and said, “No, it wasn’t ‘significantly reduced.’ It was extinguished.”

Again, some of my skepticism remains, but as someone who has a diagnosed anxiety disorder (GAD), hearing the woman’s story gave me hope. I truly believe these psychedelics helped her.


For more information, check out the following links:


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #73: Thoughts on “Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist”

Evil Genius

Image Credit: Rama’s Screen

It’s time for another diatribe on a Netflix original series!

If you’re interested in other Commentaries I’ve published on other Netflix original series, here are the links:


“Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist” explores the case of Brian Wells, a 46-year-old pizza delivery driver, in Erie, Pennsylvania. Wells was the unfortunate pawn who was forced to rob a PNC Bank in Erie on August 28, 2003. He had extremely detailed notes for the bank employees, demanding $250,000. He walked out with a little over $8,000.

The police spotted him standing outside his Geo Metro, in the parking lot of an Eyeglass World retail store near the bank, and placed him under arrest. As police were calling the bomb squad and assessing the situation, Wells indicated that he didn’t have much time, as a timer was beeping on the bomb.

The bomb was locked around his neck.

In this four-part series, documentary filmmakers interview almost all of the parties involved, from the local police, state police, FBI, ATF, friends of Wells, and several alleged co-conspirators.

Unfortunately, Brian Wells was not available to be interviewed.

As we started watching Part One, I looked at Al and I said that I remembered seeing the news coverage about this case. At the time, in August 2003, it was the last week or so of summer break, right before I started my freshman year of high school.

I remember the “pizza bomber” case.

The reason why Brian Wells wasn’t available to be interviewed for this documentary, 15 years later? While handcuffed, sitting on the pavement in the Eyeglass World parking lot, police could only watch as the bomb around his neck exploded.

The documentary, in the span of about four hours, dives deep into the complicated world of mental illness, and Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. Once a striking woman in the town, Diehl-Armstrong was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, among other illnesses.

For years, Diehl-Armstrong professed her innocence. She vehemently denied she was involved in any bank robbery, or murder plot. She claimed she’d never met Brian Wells. She blamed Wells’ unfortunate demise on several others.

But, evidence doesn’t lie. In the middle of the Wells investigation, another party, William “Bill” Rothstein, called police and told them he found a body in the freezer, and Marjorie (or Marge, as the documentary filmmaker calls her) killed him.

Unlike Making A Murderer and The Keepers, I appreciated how concise Evil Genius was. I think dividing it into four episodes was the right choice. It was well-planned, and well-executed.

Along the way, the interviews conducted were well-done, accurate, and simply fascinating. This is one of those cases where it’s hard to delineate who is and should be involved, law enforcement wise, and how those jurisdictional arguments can hinder an investigation. It shows the need for constant communication between agencies, something that was sorely lacking in several areas with this particular case.

The series also heavily focuses on mental illness, hoarding, and narcissism. Diehl-Armstrong made me sick from the very beginning. To me, she is an evil individual, who is a true narcissist. She only cares about herself, and will place blame on someone else within seconds. She’s angry, combative, and definitely not a nice woman.

It’s sad, really. They interviewed her father, and showed photos of her when she was younger. Back then, she showed immense beauty and immense promise. She’s extremely intelligent, and that’s ultimately part of the issue. She was called a mastermind, and I believe it.

Personally, I believe Wells was an innocent victim. I believe he was simply delivering pizzas, doing his job, and was caught up in an unfortunate series of events that led to his murder that day in August 2003.

However, the documentary looks at both sides – Was Wells a true victim, or was he involved in the plot?

You decide.

At the end of the series, I felt like all my questions had been answered. The right people, I believe, were arrested and prosecuted accordingly. The law enforcement agencies have learned, at least I hope they have learned, that constant communication and cooperation is key. Justice delayed is justice denied.

I thought it was a fascinating subject to explore and discover, especially since it’s been nearly 15 years since Brian Wells was killed. I applaud the filmmakers for choosing to focus on this case, their research, their interviews, and being as unbiased as possible. It’s not easy to do, especially with a case like this, one that got more complicated and convoluted.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂