Senior activity to keep busy #4 make your family tree

The acorn does not fall far from the tree

According to reliable research conducted many years ago, ancestors populating the earliest branches of my family tree were fur trappers in Quebec, Canada traceable back to the year 1626 with Jacques Brouillet. How cool is that! Historians have documented our progression from Brouillet to Baptiste and finally to Bernard which is the moniker I wear today. Along the way, one relative was the first pioneer of Beloeil back in the 1700’s, another branch of the family came to the American colonies in 1754 and served in the Revolutionary War, and another included the superintendent of the Elk Point Public Schools from 1887-1892.


The major attraction of family trees is discovering and learning about the roots from which we grew. Who were these people from the past, what kind of lives did they live, and just how far back can I trace my family tree?


With some serious detective work, a family tree search may go back a few generations, maybe even further. But aside from learning names and dates, without some kind of record or story, we will know little of the actual people and their personal lives behind the statistics. What a shame to lose track of our family history.


As we grow older, we become the keepers of our family histories – our memories record the lives of our parents, hopefully back to our grandparents, and provide the substance of their lives, their challenges and dreams and unique characteristics that often find their way on down the line to future generations. A diary kept, early photographs of somber faces (I don’t think smiling for the camera came along until recent days), a mention in a local paper, all are sources of information that fill in the blanks. And all are in jeopardy of being lost or forgotten.


What a wonderful opportunity to add some color to the characters that branch from our family trees, to save for posterity our experiences and memories, to document a family tree with deep roots filled with leaves rich in details of lives lived.


That said, I believe we have found an excellent topic for our senior activities to keep busy #4 – making your family tree.

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance ~ George Bernard Shaw


How to get started


(1)    What do you know? Let’s assume you are 65 years old. You should have many memories, photos, and rich details on the lives of your parents. You should also have some memories and memorabilia concerning your grandparents. Now is the time to start documenting what you know whether in the form of a diary or book you create or folders you arrange. The key is to record those details that will be lost when you are no longer here to share them. Put it to writing.

(2)    What do other family members know? Creating a family tree should be a combined effort and other members are typically happy to add their two cents given the chance. Let your family know that you are endeavoring to document and save their history but you can use their help. Become the collection point for stories, pictures, humorous events, and whatever they have to contribute regarding your shared family history. Everyone wins with this partnership.

(3)    Research – there are many ways to research your family history from visiting libraries and town halls to searching the web. allows you to build a family tree on line for free. They also provide additional information with “hints” based on the names and dates you add as you fill out your family tree. This additional information is available for a fee but can help you to fill in the blanks for those little known family members. does offer a free 14 day trial to allow you to test-drive their service.

You can go to and enter a name with a birth date or range of dates to see what information is publicly available. Or try a name and the town or city where the person was born or grew up. Search for that same home town including specific years of interest. If you know the profession of your ancestor, try the town name plus profession plus a date. You get the idea – combination of names, dates, places, and anything specific to your relative may help you dig up the scoop on great-great-great whoever. is another service that helps you trace your family tree by entering your name, age and state plus you can search for a specific ancestor. There is a charge but again you can sign up for a free seven day trial.

I did discover many offers for “free” family trees but when I clicked on links they invariable charge something for their services, so buyer beware.

(4)    Make your family tree – various software programs exist to assist in tracking, documenting and presenting your family tree in an appealing manner including pictures and video. One available from Amazon for under $40 is called the Family Tree Maker (I have not tried this but the description sounds pretty full features although some reviewers found it a bit complex).

Numerous images of family trees can be downloaded from the web, some free and some for a fee. Using these templates you can fill in the blanks as you build out details of your family history.

Ultimately what really brings a family tree to life and makes viewing it an experience to be savored by all is specific details on the lives of its residents. Great-great grand dad who was a black smith in old New Mexico, who as a boy raced his Appaloosa against a train and ended up tangled in a barbwire fence when his mount shied at the shrieking whistle, who met his wife-to-be when he offered one rainy day to carry her across the muddy town streets, and who chased away a marauding mountain lion with a shovel – THAT is what gets the juices flowing and makes us proud and aware of our heritage. And that wonderful information is exactly what is so easily lost over the years.

As keepers of our family history, we older folks have the opportunity if not responsibility to provide insights into our family and ancestors. Any scraps of information and gathered memories along with historical data we collect can make our ancestors more real to our children and their children. Not just names with dates from long ago but real people who lived and loved and ultimately made us into who we are today.


While the memories are still sharp in your mind, take the time to preserve them.


Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to

Senior travel destination Cabo San Lucas

The temperature in February averages a warm but not too hot 75 with cooling breezes in the early afternoon. Pink, purple and orange Bouganvilla bloom in abundance while palm trees reach upward to the ever blue sky. Locals are smiling and friendly and fellow resort goers forever shine a happy smile your way aware of their good fortune as they share with you this bit of paradise. Cabo San Lucas in Baja California has everything it takes for an inspiring and relaxing tropical escape. And  although known worldwide for crazy spring break antics, local resorts have long catered to senior citizens not missing a beat as growing numbers of baby boomers reach retirement age.

As I write this I am sitting in the Hacienda del Mar in Cabo on my deck overlooking the ocean having just returned from some hours sitting under a cabana on the beach. We spend a lot of our time there reading, resting, looking and enjoying waves and sand and peace. Around me I notice the average visitor is leaning toward the “well seasoned traveler” category with an age closer to retirement than not.

What is it about Cabo and the experience that attracts senior citizens? Is it something in the water? Or is it in the way everyone is made to feel a little bit special? And more importantly, is Cabo San Lucas somewhere that you personally would enjoy visiting as a retiree?

Hacienda Del Mar

There are many hotels and time share units in Cabo some catering to the younger crowd while the others focus on the rest of us. We stay at Hacienda Del Mar as part of a time share but the location also includes a full feature, multiple roomed hotel. The resort is four miles outside the town of Cabo San Lucas and truly self-contained with multiple pools, restaurants, a complete spa, golf courses, and plenty of beach front. Golf carts are ever ready to wheel visitors to destinations anywhere in the complex. And the elevation is gradual from the beach to the farthest rooms with elevators to get you to floors other than ground level.

The location is ideal for us as we prefer to stay on the grounds the majority of our one week trip, typically making one day trip to a local attraction such as Todo Santos (home of the Hotel California), and spending one day in town (making sure to wind our way to The Office restaurant which is in the sand overlooking the harbor and makes what I consider to be the best fish tacos anywhere). Staying four miles away, we are not caught up in the hoopla that is downtown – unless we choose to be!

Keeping busy

We are pretty good at entertaining ourselves but should one require a little creative guidance, look no further. Different hotels offer various options but here is a sample schedule from our visit.

Activities schedule

9:00  Stretching in the activities center

10:00 Water Aerobics in the activities pool

11:00 Blackjack Game where you can learn the finer points of wagering and bluffing

12:00 Ping Pong

2:00 Mexican Bingo where you learn to howl like a Mariachi and imitate the sounds of local wild life as you match your card with the Spanish words called out by the hostess

3:00 Zumba class

4:00 Beach volleyball for the adventurous

Happy hours are staggered throughout the day with different restaurants stepping up to the plate with snacks of all kinds to compliment that perfect margarita. Afterward, eight restaurants offer a variety of fares to tantalize your palate ranging from beach side munchies to all you can eat spreads of local delicacies to a more formal but not too formal dinner atmosphere at Pitihaya on the sea.

Cabo San Lucas town is about four miles down the road and readily accessible via shuttle or taxi. Visiting the town allows you time to wander the harbor where impressive yachts owned by the rich and famous are anchored as well as visit the local hot spots where the spring break crowd cut loose – Cabo Wabo, Giggling Marlin, and of course Squid Row. If you are like us, you may choose to visit these during the day just to say you have been there. But if you are still a little crazy at heart, after hours is when the action really happens.

World renowned for it’s fishing, you will find plenty of boat owners willing to take you out and set sail for a fishing adventure of a lifetime. Or if you just want to take a tour around the harbor, you can visit El Arco with it’s  view the Pacific Ocean from the safety of the Sea of Cortez, set foot on Lovers Beach and walk the 100 yards to Divorce Beach, and see the south most part of the continental US all in a 45 minute jaunt in a glass bottom boat. And if you are looking for a romantic evening there are sunset cruises and dinners made to order.

As you can see, options to entertain are many, the weather is temperate except in summer months, the natives are friendly, and in such a beautiful surrounding you cannot help but feel a little younger. With special attention given to baby boomer visitors and what makes us tick, Cabo San Lucas is a senior travel destination worth considering.

Adios Amigo!

Senior activities to keep busy #3 coin collecting

When I was a little tyke about 100 years ago, I was a collector of many things. From bugs to comic books to marbles and baseball cards, I was a hoarder before being a hoarder was cool! Near the top of my pyramid of collectibles and the focus of much of my youthful attention was coin collecting. I loved to search rolls of coins from the bank ever vigilant for the treasures that I knew were out there. A plain penny roll had the possibility of containing the holy grail of pennies – the 1909 S VDB – and I was going to search until I found it.

Coin collecting is all about the chase. In our sights is a handful or so of personally chosen “must have” pieces that we “need” to add to our collection. We become familiar with the history of each and the relative worth in dollars and cents so we are informed shoppers. And we search dealers, the internet, newspapers, where ever we can to locate our quarry. When we finally succeed and add one find to “the collection”, we move on to the next target. Of course, rarely a day goes by that we do not take a peek at our treasure and smile with a pride and satisfaction felt way down in the soles of our feet.

Coin collecting is a passion. It is a pursuit that attracts young and old alike. There are well known guidelines and shared knowledge that can help you join the ranks of hobby coin collecting. With that, coin collecting is the focus of our senior activities to keep busy #3.

Personal collecting goals

Before embarking, you may want to ask yourself a few initial questions.

  • Do I want to collect international or US only coins? One attraction of collecting coins and currency from around the world is the incredible diversity. Paper money can be colorful and extravagant and having a sample from each country can be a fun pursuit. While diversity is intriguing, understanding exactly what you have across many currencies can be complex and confusing. For that reason, I personally stuck with US coins only. But to each his own.
  • What is my purpose in collecting coins? Is this an investment that I plan to sell at a later date in which case the quality and resale value of what I collect is paramount? Or am I collecting coins for the simple joy of looking at them and sharing with others in which case I can buy what I like versus what has the highest likelihood of selling for more than was  paid.

Coin collecting basics

(1)    How to inspect a coin – when you examine a coin, hold it by the edges never touching the surface directly which could leave fingerprints and oils. Some recommend wearing gloves as an added precaution. To more closely inspect what you have, a magnifying glass is helpful. Some recommend a lower 5X power as well as a stronger 15-20X to check mint marks and such.

(2)    Judging quality grading coins – the condition of your coin is the biggest determinant of its value along with scarcity. Coin grading is on a scale of 1-70 with 70 being a perfect specimen. Grading coins is an inexact science and subject to much debate between buyer and seller as the grade bestowed can vary depending on the appraiser.  Plus there are multiple grading standards and no one is considered the ultimate authority. The best way for you to level the playing field is to use Photograde by James Ruddy which provides sequential photos of every type of regular issue U.S. coin in every circulated grade. To grade your coins, just find the picture that most closely resembles yours. When talking with coin dealers, this at least puts you in the ballpark as to a reasonable grade. I also recommend you visit the Grading By Collectors website where non-expert collectors rate coins amongst themselves to get an idea of just what they have.

(3)    What is it worth? As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and a coin is only worth what someone is willing to pay. The Official Red Book – A Guide Book to US Coins by R.S. Yoeman  is a comprehensive listing of early American coins, regular U.S. issues in all metals, commemoratives (new and old) and territorial gold from the 1800’s. The book includes retail values for almost every grade. Using this along with your Photograde book will help to give you a good estimate of the value of your coins.

(4)    Where do I find collectible coins? Ebay, coin shows, mail order, coin dealers, auctions. If you purchase other than dealer direct, try to contact the seller up front to establish a relationship and feel comfortable with their legitimacy. It also helps if you have laid this groundwork should you wish to return the coin. Auctions are for the experts so play at your own risk. Ebay and the internet typically come with high resolution pictures from all angles giving you a good idea of what you are getting. Check to see if sellers are reviewed by past buyers.

(5)    How to store my coins – keep coins in individual envelopes to store them safely. There are also wooden folders available to collect a series of coins – just insert the appropriate coin into the labeled slot.

(6)    Should I insure my collection? This is a personal choice but can give you some peace of mind. Insurance is not overly expensive and should the collection be stolen, at least you will recoup your financial loss.

(7)    If I decide to sell my coins, how do I avoid getting taken advantage of? The single most important requirement is to know what you have. There is nothing a coin dealer likes more than someone coming into the shop with a box of inherited coins with the seller having no idea what he has and asking for a “best price”. There is no law that says a dealer must pay you any minimum price so you are left to your own knowledge. And in all fairness, the dealer is running a business so if you agree to what he offers you, everyone wins, right? Not necessarily the case.

Take the time to compare your collection to pictures in your Photograde book. Get a general feel for what each coin is worth based upon your non-professional appraisal using your Red book. You may not hit it 100% but you will have a ballpark idea of the value.

When a dealer offers to buy your coins you also need to realize that he is buying them to resell at a later date. Therefore, he will not be willing to pay you the retail list but rather a reduced amount. Since you know the estimated value, it is up to you to decide whether the offer is worth taking. But you are better prepared working from a position of knowledge.

(8)    Coin collecting gottchas – beware:

a.       The coin has been cleaned – collectors and dealers expect coins to show the results of time with dirt and wear. Cleaning a coin takes this away and can negatively impact its value. Never clean is the rule of thumb.

b.      Never “talk over the coin” – you may unintentionally spit on the surface which can lead to spots.

c.       Dipped – the coin has been cleaned with a tarnish remover with results similar to (a).

d.      Whizzed – a whizzed coin has been buffed or polished to give it the appearance of the luster found on a mint coin. Often whizzing is done on a high grade coin to try to sell the coin at a higher grade than it really is

e.      Altered – intentional tampering with a coin usually to make it appear more valuable.  Often deals with the coin’s date or mint mark

The day is done and you sit by the fireplace with an after-dinner Cognac swirling in your hand. As usual there is nothing on the tube so you decide to take a look at that collection of coins tucked away in the cabinet. You open the box and the first coin your eyes settle on is the three-legged buffalo nickel from 1937. Suddenly you feel an excitement build in the pit of your stomach, your heart beats a little faster and for a moment you are twelve years old again with starry eyes and limitless opportunity. This feeling of wonder is commonly shared across coin collectors no matter what age and is one reason this hobby has such a  passionate following.

Oh and look, next to the three-legged buffalo nickel is a 1955 double die penny! What a wonderful evening is in store as the adventure continues.

More senior activities to keep busy in retirement life are in the works. To receive automatic email updates, go to and enter your email address.