High50 http://www.high50.com/us A global community for people over the age of 50. Reach out. Reboot. Read on. Wed, 04 Mar 2015 11:13:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Why I Tried Ayahuasca, How It Changed My life For The Better – And Why I Don’t Touch It Anymore http://www.high50.com/us/life/why-i-tried-ayahuasca-how-it-changed-my-life-for-the-better-and-why-i-dont-touch-it-anymore-2 http://www.high50.com/us/life/why-i-tried-ayahuasca-how-it-changed-my-life-for-the-better-and-why-i-dont-touch-it-anymore-2#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 11:12:45 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73566
The ayahuasca drink is given during a traditional ceremony in Brazil. Photo from Corbis

The ayahuasca drink is given during a traditional ceremony in Brazil. Photo from Corbis

You’ve probably heard of ayahuasca, a hallucinatory drink from South America, since several popstars and other celebrities admitted taking it. You may even know someone who has, extending its reach as it has from the backpacking community to the the middle classes both here and in the States.   

Ayahuasca is brewed from two Amazonian plants containing the active psychedelic compound DMT. It is taken under the guidance of a shaman and users say it gives them deep revelations and spiritual awakenings leading to positive changes in their life.

But for all those who say it has changed their life for the better, there are people having bad trips and fake shamans in south America tempting tourists with the drink and ripping them off and making sexual advances. There have been a few cases of death. It is illegal in the UK and the US. 


I first came across ayahuasca during the 90s when my twin brother and his wife (who had lived with Osho, the famous Indian guru) would come to Europe and travel as helpers with a shaman from Brazil who was conducting Ayahuasca ceremonies.

The stories of this plant medicine that took you into mysterious deep and dark realms, revealing the shadow part of oneself – including purging and diarrhoea – seemed abhorrent to me, safe in my eyrie home in the media heartland of Notting Hill. This was not a place I could imagine I would visit any time soon.

A few years passed, my marriage broke down and I needed some answers, and I deeply desired a big quest into self-enquiry.

My first time on ayahuasca 

I first drank ayahuasca in the early 2000s with an experienced shaman and musician who is a good friend of my brother’s. We were lucky as there might only be five to a group, so they were intimate affairs and enabled one to journey really deeply. 

My first time was a magical experiences. It was like being in the most exquisite, cosmic, carnival ride in the universe. I laughed with wonder, I cried with an open heart, I wanted to do more…

But that’s Mother ’huasca: she lures you in the first time and then quite often the second time you face yourself, as I did.

I had a vision of a drawer opening out from under my heart. In this drawer was a heart with all its tubes etc pulsating. An angelic voice said to me in a gentle whisper, “You are now going to feel all the pain you have shut away.” I sobbed for about five hours (ceremonies generally start around 8pm and can go on until dawn) deep guttural, physical sobs.

Aya is not for the faint hearted. If you genuinely have an interest to explore your inner landscape, she will find you and the right shaman will accompany her.

What happens at an ayahuasca ceremony

If you go to a circle (as ayahuasca ceremonies are sometimes referred to), honour the dietary requirements: there are certain foods that have to be avoided for five days beforehand.

Go in humbly and respectfully, and know that you can navigate yourself through the Astral realm up to more celestial realms. The ceremonies are often beautiful, with altars and in a lovely setting. These are just the smoke and mirrors, in my experience. From what I’ve seen over the past decade, the key to this work is the follow-through on the insights that are given to you by the plant. 

It’s easy after a ceremony to feel loved-up and that you have gone on an epic hero’s journey. But if you don’t go and slay the dragons that have been highlighted to you in the following days or weeks, you can continue to attend circles and drink but she’ll slowly stop giving you the magical information. 

She is an extraordinary teacher and if you honour her, she will elevate you to a higher level of consciousness.

I have drunk all over the world including South America. It doesn’t matter what location you are in, you just need to be absolutely sure that the shaman is reputable. And generally if the shaman is good, the brew will be too.

Different shamans have different provenances, depending on which country or tribe they are from. In some ceremonies, you are asked to wear white; some shamans give you up to three cups to drink; some shamans divide the men from the women. 

If it’s your first time, don’t worry if you go alone, because you will make many new friends. Drinking ayahuasca with people is like spiritually sleeping with them. You see people bare their souls, and everyone comes together after the magic carpet ride that has transported everyone through the night.​

One of the lovely aspects of ayahuasca is that it’s very music driven and attracts beautiful, talented musicians. Exquisite hymns known as ‘icaros’, which have been downloaded or received by the musicians during ceremony, are sung during the journeying.

Many people become more aware of their musical selves after drinking and they find their singing voices and take up playing instruments.

There’s a saying in the ayahuasca community that “Aya is for everyone but not everyone’s for Aya”. Go in with the innocence and openheartedness of a child, as any resistance might make you a member of The Never Again Club.

Ayahuasca preparation and cooking. All images Wikimedia Commons

Ayahuasca preparation and cooking


How ayahuasca changed my life

One shaman I know says “Pain is inevitable, suffering optional”. This is not a recreational, fun night, unless you like throwing up or running to the bathroom, or in my case being a wreck on the floor sobbing. But when the light of dawn appears, there is such renewed feeling of hope and optimism, you feel rebooted.

But this is a journey between you and Aya; it’s almost irrelevant to anything else that goes on. The shaman with his musicians is there to help navigate you on your journey. They hold a sacred and safe place for you to go deep and discover and heal yourself.

Ayahuasca has been an extraordinary, beneficial experience for me. It has shown me aspects of my higher self, and how to relate to others and the world with compassion, love and forgiveness for those I might have once blamed for my troubles.

I don’t drink it so much any more as I feel she has shown me the way, and it’s up to me now to follow up what I learned on a daily basis. I like what Ram Dass says: “When you get the message, hang up.” 

I’m deeply grateful to ayahuasca as I’ve had some of the most profound, exquisite moments of my life with it. She has led me to be more in touch with nature and to lead a more simple life. As the shamans say to honour and thank her: Aho!’

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Sioned Wiliam, Christine Langan, Sonia Friedman: the women shaping British film, stage and comedy http://www.high50.com/us/life/sioned-wiliam-christine-langan-sonia-friedman-three-women-running-british-film-stage-and-radio-comedy http://www.high50.com/us/life/sioned-wiliam-christine-langan-sonia-friedman-three-women-running-british-film-stage-and-radio-comedy#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 23:02:27 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73479
Entertainment industry. Christine Langan BBC Films wins BAFTA. Sonia Friedman wins Olivier

Christine Langan won a BAFTA in February for BBC Films’ outstanding contribution to British cinema; Sonia Friedman won 13 Oliver awards last year, the most ever by a producer

We are living in a golden age for popular entertainment. The West End is the envy of the world, a place where challenging and provocative plays make money. British comedy has world-beating funny bones, from stadium fillers such as Michael MacIntyre to the Edinburgh Fringe and emerging talent on open door shows such as Newsjack on Radio 4Extra.

Despite regular reports of the demise of the British film industry, with television, video or online streaming variously in the frame to deliver the final blow, British-made films such as The King’s Speech continue to be box office hits.

For the first time, Britain’s popular cultural agenda is set by a triumfeminate, three women of our generation:

  • Christine Langan, 50, head of BBC Films, has just received a Bafta for outstanding contribution to the British film industry.
  • Theatre producer Sonia Friedman, 50 next month, is responsible for West End sell-outs such as the Book of Morman; has taken five plays starring Mark Rylance to Broadway; and picked up 13 awards at last year’s Oliviers. Her casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet brought a whole new audience to Shakespeare.
  • Sioned Wiliam is about to become commissioning editor for comedy at Radio 4, the incubator for television successes such as Little Britain and Have I Got News For You. As a TV producer and former head of ITV comedy, Wiliam was responsible for commissioning nights-on-the-sofa highlights such as Cold Feet, Harry Hill’s Show and Tonight with Jonathan Ross. She won two Baftas, for Cold Feet and The Sketch Show.
Women’s influence on screen and stage

Does having women leading the cultural agenda change things? Langan is adamant it does: “Women make change happen. It’s no stretch for me to think about [using] a female director.

“For every film that works, directed by a woman, that makes a role model for others coming up in the industry.”

A woman in charge also changes what goes on the screen, as well as what happens behind the scenes. “I am more into strong female roles, though I wouldn’t stand in the way of a fantastic male-led narrative. I do naturally promote women in intelligent roles.”

Sonia Friedman is more ambivalent about how much weight to give to gender. In an interview last year with the BBC’s arts editor, Will Gompertz, she said: “I’ve never set out to further women’s issues, or thought of myself as a woman in a man’s world. I just got on and did it, and in that sense I am a feminist.”

She adds that West End plays wanting to address social or cultural issues, must do so artfully and subtly. “There is no room for a soapbox in the commercial sector. If I didn’t make my investors their money back, I wouldn’t be here.”

Although modest about her own influence (“I don’t want to over-egg my role in shaping the national taste”) Langan believes the arts can prime wider social change. She says: “Both Made in Dagenham and Far From the Madding Crowd have women leading the narrative.

“Philomena was another wonderfully rich project that touched people’s lives. The film and the true story it was based on [the role of the Catholic Church in forced adoption in Ireland] led to access to adoption records, and had a cathartic effect.”

How will Sioned Wiliam change R4’s comedy output?

Sioned Wiliam Radio 4 Commissioning editor for comedy

Sioned Wiliam takes up her role this month as Radio 4′s commissioning editor for comedy

When Sioned Wiliam takes the reins at BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra this month, she will be curating the laugher of 5.25 million people a week. Radio 4 broadcasts more than 180 hours of original comedy a year, ranging from quizzes and panel shows to stand-up, sketch shows and sitcoms.

Some of these radio shows are a launchpad for relatively new comic talent to develop their writing and performance. Wiliam’s first book, a Welsh-language novel, Dal i Fynd, is about the friendship of three women who come to depend on each other during one eventful year.

She started writing it in English, but said it felt better when she wrote it in Welsh. “I wanted to write something that would reflect my life as a middle aged woman, and that’s where the idea for the novel came from.”

Wiliam’s comedy roots also reflect the formative experiences of our generation, male and female, growing up in 1970s Britain. “I loved Dad’s Army and so does my son now. We have three generations in my family watching Dad’s Army. The 1970s were a golden age of comedy,” she says.

The future of radio comedy

Wiliam’s exact plans for the future of radio comedy remain under wraps, until she officially starts her three-day-a-week post at the Corporation, but her love of humane, compassionate 1970s sitcoms, and creative engagement with the experiences of mid-life women, provide some clues.

Testosterone-filled quiz shows and the audience humiliation indulged by some stand-ups seem unlikely to be part of Radio 4’s new comic vision.

The future of the arts in Britain

The cultural legacy of our generation are also influencing the arts of the future. Just as Wiliam is sharing the pleasures of Dad’s Army with her son, Langan is introducing her six-year-old to the joys of Star Wars. (Generation X is said to be defined by Star Wars. ) Although currently content with Lego spaceships, Langan knows that when The Force Awakens  is released in December, her son will definitely want to see it at the cinema.

Langan insists that no matter how good home cinema is, it is only aping the experience of the big screen. “Cinema is a magical experience that we’re not going to give up any time soon,” she says. “Our generation is good at it,  we went to Saturday morning pictures, and had our first date there.”

And people going to the West End on first dates or indeed golden wedding anniversaries might soon be able to see more new drama, if Friedman can find more flexible spaces to revolutionise the theatre offer: “Something that I don’t believe we’ve cracked as an industry yet is the new work in the West End. New work that is play-driven, actor-driven. Dealing with subjects, big ideas.”

Thanks to its leading ladies, Britain’s cultural life looks sets to be more exciting than ever.

Far From the Madding Crowd is released on 1 May 2015

Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch will be broadcast live to cinemas on 15 October. Tickets on sale on 16 March

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Career hacks for over-50s: How to find a job you love by knowing what your values are http://www.high50.com/us/life/career-hacks-for-over-50s-how-to-find-a-job-you-love-by-discovering-your-values http://www.high50.com/us/life/career-hacks-for-over-50s-how-to-find-a-job-you-love-by-discovering-your-values#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 23:01:11 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73507
Jobs for over 50s. Job you love. Florist. Photo from Stocksy

We all take our values to work with us, says author John Lees, so being clear on what yours are is important

How to Get a Job You Love. John LeesThe most demanding question you’ll ever face if you see a career coach is not ‘What are you going to do next?’ or even ‘How are you going to get it?’, but How are you going to decide?’ Most people secretly believe that the answer will just come along if they take a test, read a book, or sit at home long enough with the curtains closed and think really, really hard.

The trouble with most of the careers advice we receive as young people is that it revolves around the question ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’.

A more authentic decision might be about what kind of person you hope to be. So, many people, particularly those taking a more spiritual view of life choices, say that the most important thing to consider is who you are, not what you do.

Others will say that it’s self-indulgent to focus on the individual, and more practical to focus on the work that is actually available.

The answer, I believe, is like so many of the most important truths in life, a matter of holding conflicting ideas in your mind at the same time, as the Three Career Circles make clear (made up of knowing, doing and being).


If you are considering a complete change of career it’s worth thinking carefully about the kind of topics you would like to read or talk about while you are at work.

Understanding the knowledge angle of work is also an insight into your motivation, both now and in the future, because it treats each job as a learning curve. Most roles are interesting in their first few weeks or months, but whether a job is intrinsically interesting in the long run is often about how much you will continue to learn and grow.


The activities that take up most of our waking hours have a strong influence on our effectiveness, the outcomes our work generates, and the way people see us.

Remember that word ‘occupation’? A job is what ‘occupies’ our time and attention.

Skills are powerful reinforcers of self-esteem and are the best way of making our values tangible in the world by getting things done. Skills need refreshing and updating, but more than anything else they need to be used. Using only part of your skill set, or using skills you really don’t value very much, can lead to long-term demotivation and cynicism.

Being (and valuing)

The question of ‘being’ is not just about the personality you were born with, but also a big clue about values. During life we also build up a sense of what is important to us. Some of those things are clearly demonstrated through the things we choose to learn about under the ‘know’ heading, but others are deeper still.

Think about the causes or charities you support (whether with time, money or sympathy). What issues energise you? What makes you angry?

Values: the bigger picture

We all take our values to work with us. Your values are expressed in work through the tasks and outcomes you find interesting and meaningful. Sometimes this is on a macro scale: you’re interested in what your organisation contributes to the world.

For others, values are expressed in relationships at work and the way colleagues are treated. Ultimately, you will be more motivated in work situations where the organisation and your colleagues share most of your values.

Values, in the simplest terms, are words which describe principles that you want to live out. Values often describe positive behaviours, for example, ‘doing the right thing’; ‘treating others as you’d like to be treated’. Sometimes it is easier for us to recognise our values when we are confronted with behaviours we don’t want to see, for example: ‘not reneging on your promises’, ‘not having to lie to customers’.

Exercise: discover your values

Values provoke strong feelings, and we often have a sense of what is important or true for us. This can be especially noticeable when you are faced with doing something that conflicts with your values.

Start a notebook page to write down the answers to the following questions. Use the following question sequence to identify your values. Share the results of this with someone you trust and who is interested in your development.

Find people you admire

1. Think of people you admire. Who are your role models? Who do you respect most?

2. What is it about these people you admire? (Think of how they live and work, not just what they’ve achieved.)

3. Write down one or two words which sum up each person, using the grid below. (Some words to start you thinking: modest, risk-taking, self-sacrificing, entrepreneurial, caring, creative, brave, honest, challenging, encouraging, ethical, reliable, consistent.)

Then consider your family members, colleagues, friends, mentors and famous people and write a list of words describing how they live and work. Look at the list, and work out what qualities and attitudes you admire most in other people.

You might want to think about people whose behaviour you find unattractive. What qualities and attitudes in others do you dislike? What behaviours and attitudes don’t you admire?

Then, think about how you want to behave at work, given the choice and how you want your working life to be remembered after you’ve retired.

Look at all the positive values you have recorded above. Highlight the five or six words that matter to you most. Now you have a working list of your values.

Prioritise your list. This list will help you to identify if a job or an employer matches or conflicts with your values.

This is an extract from How to Get a Job You Love (2015-2016 edition) by John Lees (McGraw Hill Education). To win a copy of the book, like our Facebook page and share the Find a Job You Love post

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High50 Luxury Hotels: Escape to The Arizona Biltmore For An Unforgettable Stay In The Desert http://www.high50.com/us/travel/high50-hotels-arizona-biltmore http://www.high50.com/us/travel/high50-hotels-arizona-biltmore#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 17:06:41 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73476 US_Travel_Hotels_Pool Arizona Biltmore_620x349

Hotel name: Arizona Biltmore

When to go: When does visiting the hot Arizona desert sound appealing? That’s right, winter. It’s  pleasantly mild through the winter, with relatively hot days, but chilly desert nights.

US_Travel_Golf Arizona Biltmore


What to do: Ah, Phoenix. This Arizona city often doesn’t get credit for being on the northeast edge of the Sonoran desert – one of North America’s most spectacular landscapes. If you catch the desert in full bloom in March, you’re in for a truly breath-taking sight. You’re also a short drive from the Grand Canyon – this might just be the classiest place to stay on a Grand Canyon visit.

The hotel also has all the activities you’d expect from a Waldorf-Astoria resort – golf, tennis, life-size lawn chess, and hikes through the surrounding desert.

Relaxation element: The level of pampering here is legendary for a reason. You’ve got the entire gamut of hot stone massages, facials, and wraps, along with a complete fitness program – wake up with some morning tai-chi in the desert, or take a yoga or pilates class during the day.

US_Travel_ Arizona Biltmore_Poolside

Pool: Between the hotel’s 6 pools, there is something for everyone. The kids will want the Paradise Pool, with its 92 foot waterslide, while you might prefer the Catalina Pool – Marilyn Monroe did.

Unique feature: First opened in 1923, the Arizona Biltmore is a truly classic architectural gem. It was designed by Albert Chase McArthur with help from Franklin Lloyd Wright, who offered on-site consulting on the construction. The collaboration gave the hotel much of Wright’s signature style, from the feel of the lobby to stained glass windows designed by the famous architect. The hotel is legendary enough to have earned it a spot on The Travel Channel show Great Hotels.

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Scenery details: The Biltmore district of Phoenix oozes swank. You’ll be brushing shoulders with the Ritz-Carlton, and countless multi-million dollar homes. The high-end shopping is fantastic – grab something for your walls (or maybe just a fistful of free cheese) at the Scottsdale art galleries, browse unique Southwestern styles on Fifth Avenue, or hit Biltmore Fashion Park for designer looks.  

Dining: There’s a reason the Waldorf built its name on its food. Don’t leave without having dinner at Wright’s, where architecture influenced by Franklin Lloyd Wright steals the show. A wall of glass offers a stunning view over the gardens, as well as a flood of natural light into the dining area. High Tea in the lobby offers another chance at architecturally delicious dining, as well as tastefully traditional selection of sandwiches and hot and iced teas.

US_Travel_Arizona Biltmore Fire Pit 620x349

Other amenities in the hotel: Exercise your right to Waldorf service by employing your personal concierge before you even get there. Want an order of Jack White’s guacamole recipe and a cup of coffee stirred counter-clockwise waiting for you on arrival? That can happen. The Waldorf also hosts its Unforgettable Driving Experiences here – if you’ve ever wanted to side shotgun in a Farrari 458 Italia while a professional race car driver puts her into high gear, now is your chance.

For more information, visit Arizona Biltmore.

Produced in association with Waldorf-Astoria


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Sixty Percent of Over-50s Would Live Abroad. Here’s How To Buy A Second Home In Europe http://www.high50.com/us/money/second-home-europe http://www.high50.com/us/money/second-home-europe#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 15:37:22 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73464
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Owning a second house in Malaga, Spain doesn’t have to be a distant dream

You adore visiting on vacation, and the dream of living there for extended stays lingers long after you return home.

Whether your dream house is a chalet encased by snow-capped Alps, a farmhouse amongst the lavender fields of Provence, or an Italian villa overlooking the Amalfi coast, a second home in Europe could be more financially viable than you think.

Affordable property prices, a strong US dollar and numerous tax benefits for owning a second home render the idea of purchasing a European pied-a-terre increasingly attractive.

Continental Europe has proven slower than the US in rebounding from the effects of the financial crisis, which has forced many Europeans to sell vacation homes. Combined with a strong few years of US economic performance, the time is ripe to strike a bargain.

With ever-cheaper airfares from the US, strong transport links throughout the region and a mix of world-class cities and breathtaking scenery, Europe is a perfect setting for a second home.

But the real benefits may be financial.

Financial Benefits of a Second Home

The US offers a number of tax deductions for second homes, and for investment properties, in addition to primary residence tax breaks.

Interest paid on a mortgage for a second home, including those outside the US, is a deductable expense, alongside any local taxes. If you are deducting mortgage interest on a primary residence and a second residence, you can claim interest paid on a combined limit of $1.1 million in debt against the two homes.

You can also use savings in retirement accounts to fund the purchase of a vacation home.

The Internal Revenue Service permits the use of money held in certain types of individual retirement account (IRA) to buy a vacation house or investment property, with no penalties. This means you can maximise pre-tax dollars to fund your dream home abroad.

But, this plan must be a self-directed IRA, and there are limits on how much can be used, although there are no geographic restrictions to potential purchases.

Another quirk of the US tax code concerning capital gains can also make foreign property more attractive.

Under US law, a property owner can defer capital gains tax on a sale of an existing property by reinvesting the profits into a subsequent property purchase, explains Miranda Bothe, founder and president of Paris Property Group, a firm that helps foreign buyers secure properties in France.

Known as a 1031 exchange, this means more cash from the sale of a primary residence, existing vacation home or investment property, can be directly injected into the purchase of a foreign property, limiting the tax burden on the gains of a sold property.

“That exchange works for international property too,” says Bothe. “This of course is a particularity of US law.”

American owners can also look to rent out their properties in Europe for short stays to help cover expenses.

“This depends on whether the buyer needs the income to cover operating costs and other expenses, such as a mortgage,” says Bothe.

“For many of our clients, the investment is the long-term real estate value, rather than ongoing rental return. For clients who do need the rental return, they need to be particularly careful to find an apartment that has universal rental appeal,” such as a central location, she says.

When Is The Best Time To Buy A New Home?

A relatively poor economic outlook for the region is depressing property values, and creating an ideal chance for American buyers to secure a bargain.

In Spain, property prices continue to drop, although the rate of decline appears to be slowing. Data from Tinsa, a property consultancy, shows a 3.03 percent drop in Spanish house prices in the year to August.

In Italy, the House Price Index, which charts all housing purchases, was down 0.6 percent in the second quarter of the year compared to the first quarter, and 4.8 percent lower than the same quarter last year, according to the Italian National Institute for Statistics.

Websites including the Global Property Guide and the Association of Relocation Professionals can help buyers find properties and manage the buying process.

But, if it’s the cafe-studded boulevards, sublime cuisine and amazing culture of Paris you’re after, you may also be in luck.

Property prices in Paris fell 1.22 percent in the year until the second quarter, according to France’s National Institute for Statistical and Economic Studies, the ninth consecutive quarterly drop, making this moveable feast of a city more affordable for foreigners hunting a pied-a-terre.

Bothe says the top three most important criteria for Americans looking to buy an apartment in Paris are location, the condition of the building and its historical features.

“The more central the location, the sounder the investment,” she explains.

But, she cautions that potential buyers must be wary of the state of the apartment or building, as renovations may be subject to restrictions.

“While buyers are free to fully renovate their own apartments, a vote of the co-owners is required in order for any improvements to be made to the common areas of the building,” she says.

Where To Buy

“Original wood floors, high ceilings, fireplaces and moulding or beamed ceilings are elements of Parisian period buildings that attract both foreign and local investors and will make the property more valuable at resale,” she adds.

Bothe adds there are a number of areas in the French capital that offer good value for American buyers, depending on their budget and taste for adventure.

“While many Americans flock to the central arrondissements around the Seine, like the first and eighth, less expensive options are available in other vibrant, exciting neighborhoods that are less central,” she says.

“The revamped neighborhoods of the ninth arrondissement have been enticing a number of our international clients who are looking for the quaint shops and tasty boulangeries that are what make Paris living special,” she says.


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Should you spend your pension pot on property? Ten rules of the buying and selling game http://www.high50.com/us/homes/how-to-invest-in-property http://www.high50.com/us/homes/how-to-invest-in-property#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 23:01:48 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73435
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If you find yourself with an empty nest, and therefore more cash, property could the the way to go. Photo from Stocksy

With interest rates low, inflation on the up, and pension pots increasingly accessible (from 6 April it will be easier and more tax efficient to take a bigger chunk of your pension), that most mercurial of markets, property, is starting to look an attractive proposition, just a few years on from the last crash.

Is investing in property really such a good idea? As ever, caution is the name of the game.    

“The property market is unlike it’s ever been before – and a lot of people don’t realise that,” says Kate Faulkner, the author of Which? property books, who has been buying and renovating properties since the 1990s. There is money to be made in property, but the days of buying any property and instantly making money have gone, she warns.

“Today’s property environment is a much more discerning market,” says Neil Woodhead, founder of Ready Rentals, an online resource that provides support to self-managing landlords.

“With heavy reliance on internet marketing, buyers generally like to purchase a property that is in good condition as it can be difficult to raise mortgage and refurbishment costs.”


Smart ways to help your children on to the property ladder

Should you spend your pension pot on property development? “I wouldn’t risk your whole nest egg, but yes, it is certainly worth considering risking a proportion of your pension or finding an alternative way to fund the property development,” says Simon Thompson, director of AccommodationforStudents. He notes that annuity rates, which are at historic lows of around four per cent, are looking increasingly unattractive.

Here are ten tips and pitfalls to consider when looking at the property market.

1. Buying in London isn’t a guarantee of value

One of the problems with stories about house price growth is that, post-crisis, prices aren’t necessarily rising; in many areas they’re recovering.

According to LSL stats, while London is the only region where property prices have beaten inflation since 2004, only half of the capital’s 32 boroughs have recovered at higher rates than inflation.

That said, London remains a fairly safe investment bet, with a three to five per cent annual rise the latest prediction (boroughs tipped for particularly strong growth include: Barnet, Ealing and Lewisham).

Cities such as Nottingham – where at the height of the market you might buy a property for £120k that is now worth £60k – have forecasts of 2 to 3 per cent annually, meaning it could take over ten years to recover.

2. That country mansion may not be the investment bargain it seems

There has been a move away from family focused living, says Faulkner, making it increasingly difficult to sell big, old houses out in the countryside.

“People want to retire to communities; to walk to restaurants,” she says. This shift has boosted retirement villages such as Anchor, which has two new communities in Hampshire on the market and is also getting interest in its Weybridge development.

“We were a little concerned about the level of interest back in 2011-12,” says Howard Nankivell, head of sales and marketing, “but things have started to pick up in the last two years. The market has changed for the better.” In short, isolation is becoming a harder sell.

3. Be extra careful in the buy-to-let market

“It’s a myth that people always make money investing in the buy to let market,” says Faulkner, who labels some of the information available in the space “appalling”.

Someone cashing in their pension for a buy-to-let flat may get a few months’ rent in, but there are often unexpected bills – such as wear and tear and replacement appliances – that come with having tenants.

What the new pensions rules mean for you

The real problem, however, is inflation. “While pension income can be tied into grow with inflation, rental income typically grows at a lower rate than inflation, just one per cent a year,” Faulkner says.

4. Buyers still prefer a blank canvas

People aren’t moving as quickly as they used to. When they buy they want to put their stamp on it, and they want to be able imagine doing so. If you’re selling to this type of buyer, ensure every single room is finished to a high standard but avoid unnecessary flourishes.

“Make sure the property is as clean, bright and fresh as possible and if it is furnished minimise clutter,” says Ready Rentals founder Woodhead. “Neutralise wall colours and carpets and, if unfurnished, dress up a little with pictures, plants, light shades to hide bare bulbs and so on: let the property do the talking.”

5. …but don’t do more than is absolutely necessary

Spending a small fortune doing up a house is only worthwhile if you want to live in it or you want to rent it out and need to abide by the myriad legal rules and regulations.

Faulkner recently sold her mum’s house, which was in good shape but needed rewiring – meaning redecorating – and a new boiler. “We only did the boiler,” she says. “A young couple wanted to make it their own and wanted to redecorate. As long as you’re honest you can come to an agreement – let them do the redecorating. No point putting a new kitchen in but they will want to be warm.”

6. People love to renovate a wreck – don’t be one of them

By and large, there are two types of buyers: those who want to make a house their home, and people who want a wreck to renovate. With a wreck, making it ‘wind and water proof’ is vital, with heating and electrics also worth reviewing, otherwise leave it be.

According to Faulkner, other potential hubs of value for cash-flush investors include: properties where the leasehold has gone below 70-80 years and you exchange based on extending the lease; and homes with fire damage or subsidence issues and you are backed by a good RIC surveyor and builder. If you can get them for a bargain price, selling could prove profitable. 

7. Set the right asking price

This may seem obvious but it’s a common stumbling block. Auctioneers offer properties typically at 25 per cent less than what the buyer wants – if you start too high you’ll simply deter would-be buyers (it may not even get picked up during online searches), but start too low and you won’t get as much as you could have done.

Is your pensions provider ready for you to access your cash come April?

You want as many people through the door as possible; market it for a fair/low price at ‘offers over’. “Compare quotes from estate agents and keep an eye on comparable properties in the area and what they have sold for recently,” says Simon Thompson, director of AccommodationforStudents.com.

8. Spring is the best time to sell

If getting the best price means getting as many bidders as possible then the timing of your sale is also vitally important. And – with winter dominated by Christmas celebrations and summer the school holidays – we are only a few weeks away from most experts’ top tip for sale season.

“Spring is always a good time for the market,” says Thompson, “and if kept in good order to increase kerb appeal, the outside of your property will look better at this time of year. Longer daylight hours also give more opportunity to book viewings.”  

9. Don’t get in to a ‘one more project’ mentality

Investing in property can be addictive – a lot of people just need a project. They have money burning a hole in their pocket and make investments that don’t offer worthwhile returns. The typical renovator-investor might look for a 20 per cent gain. 

To do this, they need to buy a property for £60k, spend £20k on it and then sell it on for just under £100k. There are very few houses available that can offer that value these days, experts agree. “I see so many novices who underestimate the cost of the work and overestimate the price they can get for it so end up over paying for the property and making nothing,” Faulkner warns.

10. Build your own

There has never been a better time to self-build, says Faulkner, who calls it her “number one investment tip”. Financing, plots of land and support are all available, and the government is encouraging councils to help self-builders find plots.

Typically it’s a rule of thirds (e.g. £30k for the plot, £30k for the labour and £30k for the materials), making a house for costing £90k which, if done correctly, can be sold for £120k. That’s an instant 30 per cent return when sold in a market where it can be mortgageable. 

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12 tips for healthy ageing in mind and body, by human behaviour expert Dr John Demartini http://www.high50.com/us/health/12-tips-for-healthy-ageing-in-mind-and-body-by-human-behaviour-expert-dr-john-demartini http://www.high50.com/us/health/12-tips-for-healthy-ageing-in-mind-and-body-by-human-behaviour-expert-dr-john-demartini#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 23:01:43 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73428
Health. 12 healthy ageing tips. Dr Demartini

Get outdoors more and avoid high stress are two of the 12 tips for ageing better

Dr John Demartini is a self-styled authority on “universal laws, human behaviour, health, and psychology and leadership development”. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also an educator, philosopher and international speaker.

He has studied more than 29,000 books and synthesised this vast wisdom into the self-development progammes for which he is best known. Since 1973, Dr Demartini claims to have helped thousands of people with their professional and personal issues as well as found the time to write ten best-selling self-help books.

Dr John Demartini interview. US self-help expert

Dr Demartini: “I have 90 per cent more energy than anyone you’ll meet”

Taking such unabashed self-promotion into account, I went to meet him at a central London hotel with my typically British scepticism well and truly primed. I was determined to bring cool rationality to our chat.

Texan born and bred, with a full head of glossy black hair and a lively gaze that belies his six decades, the doctor spoke with a rapid-fire delivery. He treated my questions as though speaking to a roomful of eager devotees. It felt less like an interview, more as if I’d been granted an audience.

“I have 90 per cent more energy than anyone you’ll ever meet,” he said, when I tried to get a word in edgeways. Forced on to the back foot, I relaxed my guard and simply listened to what he had to say.

To my pleasant surprise, once he’d got the ‘universal laws’ stuff out the way, he spoke with a great deal of common sense. Here are his 12 top tips for slowing down the signs of ageing, mentally and physically.

12 ways to age healthily

1 Decide what’s meaningful in your life and focus on it. It could be family, work or a social cause, but should be something you love which makes you want to spring out of bed to greet each new day.

2 Have goals that you are constantly working towards. Challenges keep people youthful.

3 Don’t get highly stressed. Less day-to-day volatility equals more resilience in the long run.

4 Count your blessings. The more regrets, the shorter the life.

5 Embrace new ideas. Study. Read inspiring stories about people who have done extraordinary things.

6 Eat to live; don’t live to eat. Hedonistic gluttons stuff themselves to fill a void. In the West, there are too many people who are overfed but under nourished. Don’t put junk in your body. Stimulants such as sugary drinks make you crash and burn. And drink the universal solvent: water.

7 Do a service to somebody. Feeling that you’re useful boosts the brainpower.

8 Move your body: walk (particularly uphill), swim, dance, do yoga, and make love, even if you are 100 years old.

9 Get into the sun for a vitamin D boost for the bones. You need 15 minutes a day, from the morning and evening sun, never midday.

10 Practise yogic-style balanced breathing: in for seven counts, hold for seven, exhale for seven, hold for seven, and then repeat.

11 Get adequate rest, which varies from person to person.

12 Have somebody to love, as well as loving yourself, because hugs prolong life.

Dr Demartini assured me that we could all live to 100 if we followed his advice, and I found myself really wanting to believe him. But surely being so determinedly positive must exhaust him at times: does he ever give himself a day off to simply slob around? No, came the reply.

Does he take holidays? No – because he loves what he does therefore doesn’t need a break.

Isn’t what he preaches all fine and dandy for us in the first world while people in less fortunate societies can’t make such positive choices? “You can be a master of destiny or a victim of history,” he said, firmly.

He doesn’t seem to have much truck with ageism or sexism, either. “If you want society to appreciate you, do something society wants,” he said. In other words, we alone are responsible for whatever happens to us.

Despite my reservations (or perhaps it was my British reserve), I left the hotel feeling rather inspired. You could say these supposed secrets are simply nuggets of common sense: age-old wisdoms handed down through the generations and that our mums would have drummed into us.

On the other hand, you can’t argue with the science and each of the tactics has been shown to work, in one study or another.

There were two assistants present during our chat and they invited me along to the doctor’s seminar that evening. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it so my suspicion that there’d be plentiful opportunities to buy his books and DVDs and sign up for courses couldn’t be confirmed.

Perhaps it’s better that way. I’ll carry on keeping an open mind, thinking positively, living purposefully, and hopefully make it to a century – or more.

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Empty Nest? Leave the Boring ‘Burbs Behind And Move Back To The City For A Better Social Life http://www.high50.com/us/homes/why-empty-nesters-are-moving-back-to-the-city http://www.high50.com/us/homes/why-empty-nesters-are-moving-back-to-the-city#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 14:20:15 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73385

After the kids leave, parents are relocating to bustling cities for more freedom and fun

Karen and Jim Richardson were so certain their last home build would be their “forever” home that they had wheelchair-friendly doorways installed. But a few years later, when Jim’s office relocated to downtown Minneapolis, Karen leapt at the chance to explore the burgeoning condo scene in the heart of the city.

After looking at several different types of housing, the couple down-sized from their “forever” house to a new-construction high-rise within walking distance of both their offices and offered something else very much at the top of Karen’s list – a panorama view of the Mississippi River. A year later, when a second new building went up across the street, they swapped their 1,575 square foot living space for one slightly over two thousand.

Too Big for Comfort

In the early 2000s, lots of home owners built big. Dave and Katherine Meyer included. They built their five bedroom, 4,300 square foot house outside Dallas in 2004. “The kids were teenagers and needed their own rooms,” Dave explained, “and with the pool in the backyard, they could have friends over. We liked knowing where they were.”

But when those teenagers left one by one for college, everything changed. “It became clear that we were paying for a lot of things we weren’t using,” Dave, a CFO for a small healthcare company said. “We paid substantial property taxes for good schools we no longer needed, there was a lot upkeep on the pool and yard, not to mention air-conditioning costs for a house that size.”

Dave’s wife Katherine had a more emotional reaction. “With the kids living here it was great, but without them, it just seemed empty, and new people moving into the neighborhood were all younger than we were.” So the Meyers sold to a younger family and bought an upscale townhouse in Dallas. “Most of our neighbors are empty nesters like us, and there’s a very lively residents’ association. We have a better social life here.”

The New Trend

Karen and Jim joined a trend that realtors and urban planners began noticing in the 1990s. “During the ’60s and ’70s people would stay in their houses or go to retirement communities,” notes Robert Bruegmann, an architectural historian. Today, rather than stay in their homes or transition to a retirement community, empty-nesters are leaving the nest with the fledglings.

According to George Washington University School of Business professor Chris Leinberger, it’s that post-WWII generations lived “a more extreme version of suburban life than their parents, adding to the burdens of home and garden care and commuting. The baby boomers’ lots are much bigger and they moved further out. They’re tired of mowing their lawn.”

Depending on whose survey you consult, between 51 percent and 72 percent of people over 50 say they’d prefer city living to the suburbs. The most enthusiastic proponents of urban living tend to be younger, higher income, and still working. Those who prefer staying in the suburbs tend to be older, already retired or planning to, and, since their prime earning years are behind them, more money-conscious.

The Perks of Urban Living

Among the top reasons people give for relocating to the city is transportation. Though most are still working, or have ditched the idea of retiring completely, they are tired of long commutes and time spent in the car. Many two car couples whittle it down to one, and some give up car ownership completely, a savings that offsets the cost of city living.

Giving up the car means more walking – another frequently mentioned benefit of city living, so much so that “walkability” is now included in evaluating a city’s overall appeal. Along with walkability, other valued city fitness perks include parks with walking and biking trails and condo amenities like pools, gyms, and classes.

Jim Richardson, initially reluctant to make the move to high-density urban living, now says he wouldn’t give up his five minute walk to work for the double garage he still sometimes misses.

Richardson’s other reservation about making the move was loss of privacy, but says their high-floor condo is actually quieter and offers more privacy than any of their homes did. 

But the real draw of the city seems to be less easy to identify. Call it bustle. “A summer art fair a few blocks away, the reading group in our building, concerts in the park, a new restaurant to try, says Karen Richardson. “There’s always something going on.” 

The Best Part About Leaving The Suburbs: Freedom

John McIlwain, resident fellow of the non-profit Urban Land Institute, has studied the trend in detail and concluded that what draws people back to the cities “are things like a lively neighborhood you can walk around in. The cafes, quality food markets as well as interesting boutiques and stores are all strong attractors.”

But what cities are doing most to attract newcomers is creating high-density housing that has the feel of a private home, with high-quality materials, more space than traditional apartments, and features like fireplaces and outdoor balconies with fire pits for grilling. It’s home without the hassle – only with better views, amenities and concierge service.

The New Hot Spots

For those re-locating, the sun belt still tops the list, and many warm weather cities are now building urban condos and town homes rather than retirement communities. In the last decade, Las Vegas, Raleigh, Atlanta, Austin, and Phoenix all saw twice the usual growth rate in the 55- 64 year old population. Other cities with substantially above normal growth include Portland, Albuquerque, Dallas, Orlando, and Washington. D.C.

College towns like Madison, Wisconsin and Burlington, Vermont are also popular. While this seems ironic at first take, college students and empty-nesters have similar needs and interests. Cultural offerings like theaters and museums, unique shops, cafes and movie theaters are tremendous draws for both. Since neither group needs a child-centered environment, it’s a perfect fit.

Whether the urban trend will continue to grow or will, at some point, level out remains to be seen. For now, however, it’s a good time for anyone who’s ever wanted a new adventure to jump in and enjoy city living.


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Connected homes: what smart lighting and bulbs mean for your home, plus the best upgrades http://www.high50.com/us/homes/smart-lightbulbs-and-lighting-the-connected-home http://www.high50.com/us/homes/smart-lightbulbs-and-lighting-the-connected-home#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 10:04:49 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73322
Homes_Connected Homes Lighting_Stocksy_620x349

Smart lighting means fewer bulb changes and dimming the lights with your digital devices

Depending on which of the dozen or so contenders for the title of ‘inventor of the incandescent bulb’ you fancy, the lightbulb is between 150 and 200 years old. For most of that period it has hardly changed at all. It’s a glass vessel that contains a thin filament of conductive metal with a high melting point and as little air as the manufacturing process will allow.

Because the vacuums in incandescent bulbs are never quite perfect, the filaments will burn out eventually. You’ll get around 1,000 hours for traditional light bulbs versus typically 10,000 hours for fluorescent bulbs and 30,000 hours for the fancy new LED type.

Old-style lightbulbs are considered quite a wasteful technology now, even if those of us whose eyes are showing signs of wear have a bit of trouble reading newsprint in the gloomy ambit of the newer ‘vegetarian’ bulbs.

The best lightbulb to buy

Consequently, the best choice of bulb right now is something LED based. And once you’ve arrived in the world of 21st-century lighting, there’s no excuse for stopping halfway in.

Smart lightbulbs are here and not just for the sheer novelty of dimming the lighting from your mobile phone. Although that doesn’t stop being fun for quite some time.

There are also economic benefits. While the unit cost of smart bulbs is high enough to make the most prosperous gadget enthusiast wince, the bulbs tend to last for a lot longer than their ‘dumb’ cousins because they’re less likely to be left on unnecessarily (at least once you’re through that first week when you’re playing with them non-stop).

The best smart lighting system to buy

There are already nine or ten different and of course subtly incompatible smart lighting systems on the market right now. There are Bluetooth-controlled ones such as Samsung or LG’s offerings, and Wi-Fi ones like Philips Hue and LIFX.

So which one should you go for? Wi-Fi looks more futureproof than Bluetooth. And for all the virtues of the innovative LIFX system it is – like a lot of hardware made by small start-ups – a touch unreliable for everyday users. The Philips system looks like the current front runner.

Especially if you’re a fan of dystopian drama 12 Monkeys, currently airing on the SyFy channel: Syfy has teamed up with Phillips to give each episode of 12 Monkeys a dedicated ‘light track’. Daft and gimmicky it may be, but as a preview of a new immersive age of entertainment, it’s a big improvement on the flickering experiments of Edison and his rivals.


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The Land Rover Defender vs the Jeep: both get a high-tech makeover but which is best off-road? http://www.high50.com/us/wheels/the-land-rover-and-jeep-get-a-high-tech-makeover http://www.high50.com/us/wheels/the-land-rover-and-jeep-get-a-high-tech-makeover#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 23:01:11 +0000 http://www.high50.com/?p=73329
Wheels_Jeep vs Land Rover_620x349

The new Jeep and its original model

They may have design cues dating back 70 years but the latest Jeep and forthcoming Land Rover are more chic and advanced than ever. The Jeep was originally designed for the American Army during the Second World War and only went on sale to the public in 1945.

Soon after that, the first Land Rover appeared in 1948. British designer Maurice Wilks is said to have got his inspiration from the go-anywhere US Jeep. Anglo-American rivalry over which is the best off-roader has been rumbling on ever since.

The Jeep was later re-badged Wrangler and Land Rover now calls its machine Defender.

However, with the 2015 Wrangler as much a stylish urban machine as practical workhorse, Land Rover is about to hit back with the biggest overhaul of Defender in the company’s history.

Official pictures of the new vehicle are due out this month and the most capable and cool Land Rover ever built will then go on sale in the summer of 2016.

Jessica Saunders, director of programmes at London College of Fashion, says: “Everybody knows what both a Land Rover and Jeep look like but the DNA will change for good next year.

“The concept Land Rover we’ve seen in some photographs suggests a very different machine. It’s still very much a Land Rover but more a style wagon than farm load-lugger.

“The Jeep has changed dramatically, too. It still looks like the original in many ways but the interior and colour schemes are design-led to appeal to a much broader audience.”

Land Rover will have its work cut out with its new model because the current Jeep is among the most serious off-road vehicles available.

Combine that with luxurious interior trim, extra bodywork detailing and some funky colours and you can understand why urbanites are buying more Jeeps than ever.

Jeep 2015 vs the new Land Rover: which is best off-road?

Wheels_current Land Rover_620x349

The current Land Rover. pictures of the new model will be released this month

Unashamedly rugged in world of ‘soft’ roaders, the current Jeep remains more than capable of tackling any terrain. There’s plenty of ground clearance, a switchable gearbox for more traction in mud and those wide, 18-inch alloy wheels.

It still has enough pull to drag a tank out of a minefield but inside are soft leather seats, a premium audio system (you can actually hear!), satellite navigation and automatic headlights.

Those features might sound like standard kit on a lot of everyday cars but remember – both the Jeep and Defender are best known for ploughing across a muddy field while towing a horse box.

While the new Jeep feels considerably more civilised than the current Land Rover on-road, all that is likely to change next summer when the latest Defender is revealed.

The new Land Rover Defender

The car will again be made of lightweight, rust-free aluminium but will also sit on an aluminium chassis for the first time. The outgoing steel frame was the Achilles heel of the current car.

It will feature the latest petrol and diesel engines and mated to a standard, eight-speed automatic gearbox for the first time. Land Rover has still to announce if there will be a manual model.

Inside, expect more ‘premium durability’, the term Land Rover likes to give to equipment that will make the new model even more appealing to city buyers as much as country folk.

Land Rover has yet to confirm details but there is even talk of a soft-top to sit alongside three- and five-door models too.

The company’s design director, Gerry McGovern, has been quoted as saying the new look will be ‘radical’ but much-needed to take the Defender to sales figures of 70,000 a year.

It’s decades since these two off-roaders went head to head but the competition still rages, thanks to modern build technology – and some cool colours!

Old school 4x4s with a new technology

Toyota Land Cruiser The 2015 model comes equipped with go-anywhere ability, plus dusk-sensing headlights, ventilated seats, Blu-ray rear-seat entertainment and triple zone climate control.

Izuzi D Max A long-serving pick-up truck with legendary ability now keeps you comfortable with electrically adjusted seats, a six-speaker hi-fi system and rear parking sensors.

Nissan X-Trail Once an everyday SUV, new X-Trail features DAB radio, touchscreen sat nav, cruise control and a third row of seats

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