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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Napa and a Long Life

Now, I don't actually live in Napa but many of my ancestors did and I still have a few relatives there.  I used to joke about the long lives of people who lived there.  My own relatives are no exception.  I used to say my ancestors lived long lives because of Napa - the water and the wine.  I have no scientific proof of this and it really is all anecdotal for the most part.

I have noticed one big trend with my Napa Family line, if you smoked cigarettes, you only lived to be in your 70s.  By in far, many of my direct line ancestors lived to be in their 80s.  There are some illnesses and diseases here and there that cropped up for people, however, and shortened their lives.  I also have found a bit of a distinct difference in lifespan for my German vs. my Irish ancestors.   My German family lived slightly longer lives on average.

So, is it all genetics, luck, lifestyle or Napa?  I'm not sure but in recent months I've come to understand a bit more about how some of my ancestors extended their lives.  While genetics and living in a mild climate play a big part, lifestyle and diet choices do too.

My German family are all pretty slender people.  I've always said that they had great thin genes.  My Irish family in Napa also appears in photos as quite slender.  I suppose that was the makeup of people around the turn of the century.  They were not generally fattened up for the most part and worked hard lives farming and working the land.  In California, you could do that year round with some months being a bit cold, you could still grow winter vegetables and farm the land.

In sharp comparison, my East Coast ancestors lived in the city and did not have farms.  By the late 1800s, my NYC ancestors were coach drivers, grocery store owners, and may have done some woodworking.  By  the 1930s, many of them worked in offices in the city.  My great grandfather worked for the New York Transit Authority (The Subway).  While they did not all have sedentary jobs, they were not overly active.  Some of them were a bit stocky.  Many of that line did live into their 80s.  I suppose that is genetics for sure but I don't know what their diets and lifestyles were like.

Back to Napa....I do know about the diets and lifestyles of my West Coast ancestors.  My German family ate a whole lot of fruit and vegetables.  The old saying "Eat your vegetables!" rang true in my household growing up.  The vegetables tasted even better at my grandparents house in Napa.  Why was that?  I have a few family lifestyle tricks and tips that I've gathered over the years including some that I just found out about.

Recently, my mom told me that the vegetables tasted so good at my grandparents house because my grandma would put butter on them.  Her cooked fresh from their garden green string beans were grown and cooked with care.  To finish off the job, a pad of butter was mixed with them in the serving bowl making them oh so good.

I can honestly remember being at my grandparents house for dinner.  There would be a nice piece of meat cooked with sides of sliced tomatoes, cooked zucchini and green beans.  These were all from their garden.  Yes, there was butter on the cooked veggies and we'd even put a bit of mayo and salt on the tomatoes.  The dinner would be polished off by a salad that we'd eat last.

So, how bad is butter for you?  Maybe it's not so bad when you use it in moderation over fresh cooked veggies grown in your own garden.  Can you count the number of servings of fruit and vegetables at that dinner table?  Mind you, tomatoes are actually fruit.   Also, my grandma loved avocados and those were chopped up in the salad.  Let's not forget the wine.  Everyone had a glass of red wine with dinner (except the kids, of course!).

My grandma, who was German, grew up in a household where the family did subscribe to everything in moderation and eat your fruit and vegetables.   They even owned a fruit orchard.  My grandma and her siblings would have to help pick the fruit.  That was not my grandma's favorite thing to do.  When you are surrounded by fresh grown food, that's what you eat.  It's also what you become accustomed too eating.

Some other details of my family's diet and lifestyle only surfaced recently.  My 87 year old aunt said that she drinks apple cider vinegar in water with honey every morning.  I did not know this about her.  She said that she hardly ever gets a cold.  I hope that I did not just jinx her.

In talking about health, my aunt said that her mother would drink lemon water every morning before she ate breakfast.  She had a continual stock of fresh lemons and would squeeze them into water each morning.  She even took her lemon juice on vacation with her.  So how effective was her lemon juice?  Well, Mary Borchers did live to be 96 years old.  I suppose it was not just because she lived in Napa that she reached that age.  She had wisdom to meet her years on this earth.  By the way, she was all about everything in moderation and tried to live a positive, stress free life.  Mind you, life was hard when she was a kid and she worked hard her entire life from taking care of other people's children and houses, to taking care of her own, and then back to taking care of others.  In her later years, her own children took care of her as it should be.

One final health topic that I'll mention here is about skin.  There have been a few cases of known skin cancer in my Irish Napa family.  My own grandfather had skin cancer removed from his nose and back of his arm when he was elderly.  He considered himself lucky that it was not malignant cancer.  That was not the case for his nephew and for his grandfather, Thomas McLaughlin.  If I am reading and interpreting Thomas' death certificate correctly, he had skin cancer.  Wearing a hat and sunscreen is so very important in my family.  Finding shade at the beach is a good idea too.

Do I heed all of the lessons learned by these examples above?  I certainly need to.  I don't always remember  my sunscreen or to eat all of my veggies.  Part of my New Years' resolution is to incorporate some true lifelong healthy habits as demonstrated by my ancestors.

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