TIDBITS Blog Archives

An Old Story

In my story, “A Walk on the Beach With my Aunt,” a rather dissatisfied middle-aged woman, Rebecca, learns some surprising lessons from her upbeat centenarian aunt, Abigail. In response to Rebecca’s question about her aunt’s secret to healthy longevity, Abigail responds:

I say ‘thank you’ to the One who gave me life every single morning when I open my eyes. And then I go out and celebrate life with my morning walk on the beach. The beach inspires my art; I still paint just about every day. That’s my passion, and I would recommend having a passion to everyone. For me, it’s part of living a fulfilling life and it energizes me.

Old couple dancing

In the course of Rebecca’s conversation with Aunt Abigail, it becomes increasingly clear that her aunt’s amazing health and happiness stem from her attitude, not just good luck. Aunt Abigail demonstrates, as she shares her life story, that she embodies traits such as optimism and gratitude, staying active, keeping connected with her family, and remaining passionate about her work as an artist. Rebecca is surprised to learn that her aunt has struggled with some real challenges in her life, but her tenacity and her optimistic attitude have afforded her great resilience. In the real world, personality traits like those exhibited by Aunt Abigail are highly correlated with health and longevity. Let’s take a look at what we can learn from individuals, like the fictional Aunt Abigail, who have lived for at least a hundred years.

While advances in medicine and healthier lifestyle choices have contributed significantly to greater longevity throughout the world, and some people just have good genes, people who are still living at a hundred and beyond appear to be generally happy people. In showcasing a relatively large population of centenarians at one Midwest senior facility, the centenarians were interviewed about their lives—and life choices. They all reported having had very happy marriages. One centenarian couple was still enjoying life together. They spoke of their strong work ethic, their interests, and their close ties with family and friends. Another midwesterner, Marion Hunter, was a supercentenarian who attributed her longevity to dancing throughout her life.

Regions of the world where people live the longest are known as “blue zones.” A National Geographic Fellow and journalist, Dan Buettner, has researched this phenomenon. He pinpoints some prevalent traits exhibited by older individuals in these blue zones. These include daily walks, daily short naps, and having at least three close friends who can be relied on for emotional support.

Much scientific evidence also demonstrates the power of the toothbrush (and dental floss). The risk of heart disease and dementia, among other age-related diseases, can be significantly reduced by regular brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental exams and cleanings. This is because good oral hygiene removes (or prevents) chronic low-level inflammation that can negatively impact on the immune system. The American Dental Association recommends twice-daily brushing and daily flossing. A Scottish study found that those who brushed twice daily had a significantly lower heart-attack risk than those who only brushed once a day, and a much lower risk than those who didn’t brush at all.

A 2018 Harvard study found that five habits are significantly correlated with longevity. These include eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking, and not drinking too much alcohol. The Mediterranean diet, in particular, seems to be associated with promoting health and longevity.

Getting a good night’s sleep (7-8 hours) on a regular basis has been shown to facilitate healthy immune functioning, essential for healthy longevity. Andrew Steele, a scientist who authored Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old, stresses the importance of all that shuteye. He asserts that sleep is like “spring cleaning” for the brain; it flushes out toxins such as those associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological syndromes.

Tremendous advances in the field of aging biology have allowed scientists to employ methods that can slow down the aging process at the cellular level. As the twenty-first century continues, we can expect much more progress in this field. The probability of a significantly higher percentage of the population aging well, and even becoming super-centenarians (reaching the age of 110), is in sight. In the meanwhile, we all can do our part to give ourselves greater odds of someday celebrating centenarian birthdays.

And, like those centenarians—and super-centenarians—who still shine on the dance floor, let’s hope we’ll all be dancing to 120—and beyond. 


  1. Cory Stieg, “The Surprising Habit That can Reverse Aging–and Other Science-Backed Strategies,” Make It, March 28, 2021
  2. “Centenarian,” Wikipedia
  3. Cory Stieg, “Researchers say the Probability of Living Past 110 is on the Rise–Here’s What you can do to get There,” Make It, July 17, 2021
  4. Steve Brandt, “Obituary: Supercentenarian Marion Hunter Danced Through Life,” Star Tribune, August 23, 2016

“As American as Apple Pie”

In my story, “Pie in the Sky”, a wedge of apple pie on a business flight leads to an enchanting surprise for Derek Smith, a successful young bachelor. Apple pie is Derek’s favorite dessert, a delicious slice of Americana he enjoys every Thanksgiving at his grandmother’s table. But he has no idea how his desire for apple pie will change his life.

We are familiar with the expression, “as American as apple pie.” Yet this darling of American desserts was not always American; even the tasty apple wasn’t always American. Apples are native to Asia (originating in the area of modern-day Kazakhstan), not to America (with the exception of crab apples). Over time, apples found their way into and throughout Europe. In one form or another, apple pies have been around since medieval times. In the fourteenth century, the pastry portion of the pie was just a receptacle in which to hold the apple slices and not meant to be eaten. Back then, sugar was scarce and very expensive; the apple desserts were sugar free. The lattice-style pastry we know today was first created in fifteenth-century Holland. By the middle of the sixteenth century, sugar had become more available and affordable, and the pastry shell was now meant to be eaten. Europeans loved these delicious apple desserts.

Apple pie
Apple pie baked by the author. Photo © Ariel Lepor

In the seventeenth century, European colonists, all set to set out for the New World, were not about to give up their favorite fruits. So they brought apple-tree cuttings and seeds along with them on their journeys. But the soil in America was not well suited to growing these apple trees. Grafting would yield apples more closely resembling the ones from their European past. But grafting requires work and dedication. It was far easier to just throw seeds around (with unpredictable results) or to rely on crab apples (suitable for cider but too sour for eating) native to America. And there were farmers whose religious backgrounds categorically prohibited grafting, anyway. So, whereas there were some apples appropriate for apple pie, they were far from plentiful. Preserving whatever apples one could find, would help; by late in the eighteenth century, Dutch immigrants to America brought their method for preserving apples. Around this time, German immigrants contributed their technique for making flaky pastry crusts. Armed with this new information, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery in 1796. Her cookbook contained the first apple-pie recipes published in the United States.

Over time, as the country expanded westward, Americans planted apple trees—lots of them. Settlers were offered one hundred acres each, with the proviso that they plant fifty apple trees and twenty peach trees. By the nineteenth century, Americans were growing over fourteen thousand different varieties of apples; many were perfect for pie. Easy to prepare and affordable, apple pie was now a staple of the American diet, eaten for multiple meals throughout the day, and on multiple days per week. It was served as a side dish or even as a main dish (with cheese). By 1902, all this apple-pie eating led one man to assert that it was time to cut back on apple-pie consumption. Well, a New York Times editor who heard this was quick to defend his favorite food. In his editorial, he wrote: “Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents the calendar of the changing seasons. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.” In 1926, another article in the same publication proclaimed: “The Tourist Apple Pie Hunt is Ended: American Army Abroad Has Failed Again to Find in Europe ‘the Kind They Make at Home.’” Though this assertion is dubious, it solidified the view of the apple pie as a symbol of American ideals like motherly love, purity, wholesomeness, and the comforts of home. It soon became associated with nationalism and patriotism. Hence, the often-repeated line heard from American soldiers during World War II, “I’m fighting for Mom and apple pie.”

Though apple pie originated in Europe, its storied history eventually led to its becoming fully integrated into American culture and cuisine. The blending of culinary contributions from a variety of national backgrounds, among other factors, led to the apple pie’s emergence as the classic symbol cherished by millions of Americans today.

And Derek Smith, savoring his apple pie aboard that fabulous flight, was never more thankful.


1. Emily VanSchmus, “The Historical Reason We Associate Apple Pie With the Fourth of July,” Better Homes and Gardens, October 16, 2022

2. Meagan Peoples, “How Apple Pie Became the Epitome of American Patriotism,” The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, October 27, 2016

3. “Apple Pie History,” What’s Cooking America

4. Lauren Cabral, “The History of Apple Pie,” Back Then History, May 11, 2021