Crazy Ladies

Last night I was reading a book in which the 92-year-old grandma was “wearing a pink and orange print cotton blouse with a tissue wadded up in the sleeve, bright blue spandex shorts, white tennies, and stockings rolled just above her knees.”

… to a funeral.

Her only concession after being chastised by her family? She’d be sure to get some black shorts for an evening viewing.

What some might call crazy or eccentric, I aspire to.

I’m not sure when this became my goal, but I have some ideas. 

It might be my memories of my mom who loved nothing more than dressing up like Dolly Parton or any other celebrity to entertain at her annual hospital volunteer appreciation banquet. This was a serious affair – she was the director of volunteers for a large hospital and her banquets often included more than 500 people, including her bosses.

And she wasn’t concerned about what people would think. She was in her 70s, she had confidence, she had fun (and she loved dressing up!).

And while previous volunteer directors gave speeches applauding the work of the hospital volunteers, my mom’s way of doing it was memorable. You never left an annual banquet without being entertained by her imagination and bravery. But despite her showmanship, she had a way of making you feel like YOU were the star of the show. 

I don’t know about you, but I always really enjoy being around eccentric people. Give me a 90-year-old woman who is laughing loudly, wearing neon blue eyeshadow, and talking about her first kiss, and I’ve just found my new role model. 

What is it about people like this that makes me feel good? Maybe it’s because they seem to be living their lives without censure, no longer caring as much about “propriety” and instead focusing on living a life that is authentic to them. Maybe they figure, “I’ve spent my life so far caring what others think of me … I’m going to spend the remainder caring what I think of me.”

No wonder I have crazy-lady aspirations.

What’s Your Theme Song?

I saw this meme on Facebook this past week:

And I took this really seriously. I’m not sure the point of the meme was to cause me this much thought … or anxiety … but I’ve spent the past week thinking about this. Had I taken my education as seriously as I take this question, I could probably compose my own theme song, or explain how one’s choice of theme song has something to do with a mathematical resonation, or even design a scientific experiment explaining how my id, ego, and superego would make different choices.

Fact is, I didn’t pay that much attention to my music lessons, my math classes, or my psychology minor. But lemme tell ya – this theme song question really has me thinking. 

There are songs we remember that are special to us: remember the song that was playing the first time someone asked you to dance? Mine was “Brown Eyed Girl,” and I sang that song for weeks pretending it was about me. The first song I ever danced with my husband to was “Layla,” and even though I snarkily told him, “You can’t dance to Layla!” (he should have known then that I was a smart ass!!) I will never, ever, ever forget that moment. 

But a theme song is a “song or melody strongly associated with someone or something.” And yes, while I do associate those songs with those people, I wouldn’t consider them my “theme songs.”

(Yep, you can see I gave this too much thought!)

First I obsessed over the fact that we probably have many different theme songs for different stages of our lives. Surely my 8-year-old self had a different theme song (“Do You Want to Know a Secret?“) than my 22-year-old self (“Stayin’ Alive“), or my 45-year-old self (“Survivor“) … or my self right now. And even my self right now probably has a long list of theme songs depending on the circumstances. 

But after a week of spending valuable time on a MEME question, that most people answered in seconds, I’ve come up with a (partial!!!!) list of my theme songs.

What’s YOUR theme song? Leave a comment below!

There She Was, Just a Jogging Down the Street …

“… singing Do Wah Diddy, Diddy Dum, Diddy Do. Snapping her fingers and shuffling her feet” … and that’s when she face planted, just as natural as could be! 

That’s what happened Tuesday when I was jogging down the street, headphones blaring some awesome tune from my 60s mix, definitely shuffling my feet, hoping no one was around so that I wouldn’t have to put on my mask, but then noticing those four people standing right there, and blam, next thing I know, I’m flying face-first into the sidewalk.

FLAT. ON. MY. FACE!

When I was a kid, I fell all the time. I thought it was so cool to go flying off my bike and scrape the living daylights out of myself. If it stopped bleeding within 30 minutes or so, I’d keep playing. If it kept bleeding – enough that stitches were a possibility and therefore cool and worth the trouble – I’d go home for a professional assessment from my mom (who was not, in any way, a healthcare professional but was a nervous 50s mom and therefore more likely to think stitches were in order!).

The problem was, she always wanted to “clean” it first. If I was LUCKY, she’d pull out the Mercurochrome and pour it all over injury, leaving me not only my giant abrasion, but lots of red-dyed skin to call even more attention to my bravery when I showed it off at school the next day.

Mercurochrome didn’t hurt. But then there was Merthiolate. Killed the same germs, left the same cool red stains all over you, BUT HURT LIKE HELL!! Oh, how I would pray that my mother wouldn’t use Merthiolate – it took all the cool out of the injury when the treatment would make you cry.

Like my other favorite childhood drug, Paregoric, which was removed from the market because of the opium content, MERcurochrome and MERthiolate were also removed from the market because of the MERcury content and risk of mercury poisoning. Of course, there were levels to consider, but when you fell as much as I did, the likelihood of mercury poisoning probably wasn’t out of the question. 

So back to my recent “senior fall.” Here’s the problem: the minute you fall as a “senior” you don’t typically think, “oh cool. I’m going to have an awesome scar and a great story to tell at school.” Instead, you think “did I just break my hip?”

And here’s why that’s what happens:

  • You’re not seven years old and you don’t go to elementary school anymore.
  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
  • More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling—usually by falling sideways.
  • Women fall more often than men and account for three-quarters of all hip fractures.

And trust me, the list goes on. If you’re 65 or over, just save yourself some time. Don’t bother looking up “Falls in Seniors” – just know it’s bad, and depressing, and … bad.

So, I freaked out for about a few hours, during which I couldn’t stop bleeding because of those damn daily aspirin I take for my “senior” heart. 

And then I “googled” how to prevent falls in ‘the elderly” and found out two really important things:

  1. LOTS of people google “how to prevent falls in seniors” – I bet everyone over 60 does it after the first time they fall!
  2. Exercise is one of the best fall prevention strategies there is. It makes you stronger, keeps you flexible, and may slow bone loss from osteoporosis.

So, I thought about any recent falls I’ve had, and they all had pretty much one thing in common … I just wasn’t paying attention to the jogging AT ALL!!

Just take a look at that second paragraph!!! I didn’t fall because my medication makes me dizzy, or because my balance is compromised, or because my eyesight is bad. I fell because I WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION!!!! Probably the same reason I flew off the front of my bike four million times!!!

So, here are my takeaways:

  1. I’m going to keep jogging – but maybe I’ll try to find a softer surface to do it on.
  2. I’m still pretty proud of my giant scrapes and cuts. 
  3. If anyone has a Paregoric connection, DM me.

Online Scams (or “How I (Almost) Met An American Hero”)

I got a Facebook message recently from Major General Jonathan A. Maddux, the US Army’s Program Executive Officer for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI). 

This man is a real American Hero with awards and decorations including the Legion of Merit with four oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Army Commendation Medal with five oak leaf clusters, the Army Achievement Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the NATO Medal, and more.

And a smart one too … a B.S. in English, Language and Literature, a B.S. in Business Administration in Operations Research Analysis, a master’s degree in Administration, a master’s degree in Telecommunications, a MSST in Strategy from the United States Army War College – and the list goes on! This is one educated dude!!

So, why, I wonder, did he say:

Dear please don’t be offended,you was suggested to me by facebook  so i got attracted by your profile,so i contacteded  you, so that we can know more about each other if you don’t mind my dear [sic].”

For such a highly educated man, this Jonathan Maddux wasn’t doing a good job of pulling out the Strunk & White’s. And despite how much I would actually like to know MG Maddux, I doubt I top his “100 People I’d Like to Meet” list.

You should know this about me: I don’t trust a lot of people (just ask my therapist). But for that split second, I rationalized that maybe this really was Major General Jonathan A. Maddux. And that’s scary – because if someone like me, who makes my husband show me his license for identification purposes, can have that moment of doubt, then imagine how easily a more trusting soul could be duped.

Was it because I was a “senior” that I almost fell for it? Nope. According to a Federal Trade Commission report, millennials are more likely to fall for an online scam than seniors – 40 percent of adults age 20-29 who have reported fraud ended up losing money in a fraud case. Only 18 percent of consumers 70 and older have lost money in reported fraud cases, but when they DO lose, they lose bigger sums than younger victims.

Online fraud, (scams that aim to obtain your personal information – passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers – in order to ultimately get money) probably happens more than you think it does. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) “2019 Internet Crime Report,” 467,361 complaints were received in 2019 – an average of nearly 1,300 every day in the United States – resulting in more than $3.5 billion in losses to individual and business victims (again, in the US, in 2019).

While email is still a common entry point (phishing), fraud also takes place through text messages (“smishing”) and fake websites (“pharming”).

You might laugh at how ridiculous these scams seem, how easily you can see right through them, but the success of many of these scams is their ability to prey on your fears. The fear of COVID-19, the fear of not being able to take care of your family, or just the fear of being alone can open the door to fraud. 

So, having come so close to getting scammed, and as depressing as this is, here’s a list of some of the more typical types of online fraud, with links to (legitimate) sites for more information. 

COVID-19 Vaccination Scams – first, disgusting! Talk about preying on the weak! These scammers may contact you about paying a fee to receive early vaccination access, paying to get on a waiting list, or by saying they are a physician or insurance company asking for personal information for a clinical trial. Want credible information about COVID vaccinations? Click here.

Greeting card scams – “Happy Valentine’s Day! Someone you know has sent you an ecard” – so you open the email (which looks completely legit), and you click on the logo (which also looks completely legit), and you’re sent to a website that is booby-trapped with malicious software (malware) or ransomeware which ultimately can result in your personal information getting into the hands of criminals.

Bank loan or credit card scam – You get a letter that you’ve been pre-approved for a big loan – and then you provide your personal information to cover processing fees (credit card scams also often happen on the telephone.)

Lottery scam – Congratulations! You won the lottery. Your worries are over, you’re an instant billionaire! All you have to do is pay a handling fee (lots of variations on this, but you get the idea). 

Hitman scam – This is just what you think it is – pay up or risk the alternative. And it seems these scammers have taken this even further … in a newer version of this scam, you could receive a letter from “the FBI” saying there’s been an arrest in the (hitman scammer) case, so contact “the FBI” to provide more information so the case can move forward. 

Romance and Online Dating scams – it’s fine for someone to steal your heart. It’s not fine for them to steal your money. More information here on recognizing, avoiding, and reporting romance scams.

Fake antivirus software – “Your computer may be infected with a virus – download this software (or go to this site to purchase antivirus software now).” Close that pop-up window and run legitimate security software you’ve installed on your own device.

Facebook impersonation scam (hijacked profile scam)/ Facebook messenger scam – Facebook is well aware of the scammers out there who hijack accounts, or simply pose as a friend on Messenger, reach out to tell you about the money they just collected from some grant, and how you can cash in on it too. Then all you have to do is give them your personal information, and perhaps a small fee (but what’s $1200 when you’re “guaranteed” $80,000?). More about how you can report Facebook fraud here.

GoFundMe Fakes – On the one hand, it’s nice to know there are that many kind people out there who want to help out someone they’ve never even met before. The problem is that sometimes these stories are fakes taking advantage of your generosity.

Travel scams – Right now, the thought of getting out of our houses and traveling sounds amazing. but watch out for too-good-to-be-true deals that turn out to be fraudulent rental listings, timeshare resales, and fake travel club memberships. 

Event ticket scams – Lured in by great prices or the ability to obtain a ticket to a sold-out event – only to never see the ticket or get to the venue only to find that the barcode doesn’t work, and the ticket is a fake – last year more than 200 reports of ticket scams were received by the Better Business Bureau.

Bitcoin/cryptocurrency scams – This summer, the Twitter accounts of Apple, Elon Musk, Joe Biden, Warren Buffet (a confirmed bitcoin critic!) and other high-profile personalities were hacked giving the address of a (their) bitcoin wallet and promising that any payments made to that address would be doubled and sent back. 

Fake shopping websites – They may be incredibly authentic-looking copycat sites or built-from-scratch sites offering amazing deals, but whether you end up actually buying something (and giving scammers your financial information) or clicking around and downloading malware, if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. (You might remember how many of these sites sprang up playing on consumers’ fears of the Coronavirus.)

Typosquatting – Lookalike domains/URLs (amozon.com instead of amazon.com), that count on our busy lifestyles to overlook that one little typo, hope to fool you into believing you’re on the site you intended, either to defraud you directly from the site, download malware on your computer, obtain your login credentials for the authentic site, or to extort the real domain owner in an attempt to sell back the misspelled domain in order to protect their reputation.

Free Wi-Fi Scams – You’ve probably heard this a million times, but make sure you’re on a SAFE public network when accessing the Internet outside of your trusted network. Either through man-in-the- middle attacks or typosquatting legit Wi-Fi sites (looks just like the name of the site you intended to visit), your login information, credit card information, and other personal information can end up in the hands of criminals.

Loyalty points phishing scam – Here’s an example: you’re contacted via a very legitimate-looking email (or by text) from a representative from your airline rewards program to update your loyalty points program information. You may not only end up giving out personal information, but you may also be giving your points to these scammers.

Job offer scams – Again preying on the COVID crisis, online job scams have increased over the past year, offering remote working opportunities and high salaries. Just pay the fee upfront and give out your personal information. 

Fake Checks, Gift Cards and Overpayment Scams – “Pay your bill by gift card or your utility company will cut off your power.” “Claim your prize (for something you don’t even remember entering) but first, you have to use a gift card to pay fees.” Or someone buys something from you online, sends a check for more than the purchase price, and then asks you to give them the difference on a gift card (oh, and that check they used? It’ll probably turn out to be a fake).

Online Tech Support Scams – These scams seize upon your fear that your computer is not working properly and get you to pay for (unnecessary) tech support. 

Tried and true: The Nigerian scam still rakes in about $700,000 a year. You know this one? Someone who claims to be overseas royalty contacts you to share an investment opportunity. Right, because it’s that easy to get rich.

While these are only some examples of online fraud, and tactics and techniques to defraud online show up every day, the GOOD NEWS is that agencies are making arrests, technologies are being developed to prevent fraud, and there’s a LOT you can do to protect yourself.

“Individuals need to be extremely skeptical and double check everything. In the same way your bank and online accounts have started to require two-factor authentication – apply that to your life,” says IC3 Chief Donna Gregory. “Verify requests in person or by phone, double check web and email addresses, and don’t follow the links provided in any messages.”

It shocked me to (almost) be on the receiving end of a scam. And I’d much rather write about kittens and world peace, but this stuff pisses me off. So if one person can avoid being the victim of fraud as a result of this post, then it’s worth it to write a depressing post.

But unless five-star General Douglas MacArthur reaches out to me from his Arlington National Cemetery Facebook Messenger account to become my friend and then places a hard drive-destroying virus on my computer, I promise I’ll write something funnier next week!

To report an Internet scam, click here

Plastic Surgery Gift Certificates

I got an email the other day from a plastic surgery practice reminding me that if I’m ever unsure what to get “that special someone for their birthday, anniversary, or Valentine’s Day” I should give them the gift of beauty – a gift certificate for “a wide range of procedures, from non-surgical to surgical” that the gift card amount could be applied toward. 

At first, I thought, ooof, how could you give that to someone without them taking it as an insult? Oh man, I can just see THAT anniversary celebration:

My husband:

Me:

Does he think I “need work”?

If so, a $25 gift certificate doesn’t even come close to how expensive this stuff is … (but phew, I did a really good job of hiding that BOTOX receipt).

But if he gives me a really big gift certificate, does that mean he thinks I look like a Picasso painting and need an appointment immediately?

Yikes. This gift is just a disaster waiting to happen!

But wait. Let me be honest. 

While I totally appreciate and applaud women and men who are against doing a little “sumpin sumpin” every now and then, I’m not one of them.

I readily admit that while my skin may look pretty clear, it’s not that way naturally. Instead it’s the result of a tried and true skincare routine that my dermatologist recommended about 35 years ago (and like Queen E, I’ve been faithful to that routine).

And this hair? Guess what? I’m 64 years old … my hair isn’t really this color (just take a look at the two-toned action I have going on during the pandemic). Nope, it’s Melanie’s artistry and experience.

And although you may think that I have naturally smoky eyelids, ha! Fooled you again! That’s makeup! And not just makeup, but hours watching Dominique Sachse’s “Makeup Facelift” (and all her other videos too. She’s amazing!).

Yep, skincare, dyed hair, and makeup. So, are BOTOX, or fillers, or even, GASP, surgery such a big deal?  Well, I don’t think so. 

One thing I’ve learned during this fun time we’re all calling “the Coronavirus Pandemic” but I prefer to call “The Year I Got My Shit Together” is that I’m the same person with my two-toned hair and flesh-colored eyelids that I am when I dye my hair and wear makeup. I’m totally comfortable either way. And the people I’ve come in contact with haven’t told me to return that painting to the museum or stopped letting me shop at their grocery store.

BUT …

I also LIKE knowing that a little moisturizer at night can keep my skin looking healthy. I LIKE watching Dominique’s videos and trying out her techniques. I LIKE going to Melanie and blabbing about what we’ve been doing lately, new television shows, and how I still want to look like Chrissie Hynde.

And I like knowing that if those little horizontal lines on my forehead are bugging me, I know just where to go to get rid of them. And I’m fine with that.

Because the BIGGEST thing that has been reinforced during “TYIGMST” is this: when a virus can cause you a year-long isolation, when lives are lost from disease and hatred, when (you can fill in this blank – there are lots of examples) … then REALLY???? Who gives a damn whether someone has plastic surgery or not, or chooses to have gray hair, or isn’t a size 4, or IS a size 4???

So whether it’s a gift certificate for plastic surgery or a gift certificate to The Cheesecake Factory, the important takeaway here is that you are someone’s “special someone” … and these days, that’s really all that counts.

I Can Do WHAT on My Smartphone?

I like to think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to using new technology to simplify my life and streamline my work. The key words here are “like to think,” because just when I think I’m at the front of the I’m-just-like-the-kids superuser line, something (or in this case, someone) introduces me to a hack that’s been around for about 15 years – and I’m that old-lady Luddite in a babushka, talking about the glory of the days before machines.

So what is this newfangled technology? Get ready: electronic check deposit (and yes, I can hear some of you laughing … but I’ll bet, and by “bet” I mean “hope,” there are a couple of you out there who, like me, haven’t yet joined the check-selfie crowd).

I was introduced to mobile check deposit yesterday when one of my awesome nephews told me to “just deposit the check with your phone.” EXQUEEZE ME? Deposit it with my phone? Okay, yes, I have seen ads about electronic check deposits, but I haven’t DONE it!! I’ve also seen pictures of people giving their personal banking information to strangers in the hopes that those strangers will defraud them and ruin their lives irrevocably, but I haven’t done that either!

Turns out, of all of the possible online banking features, electronic check deposit (you just snap a picture of the front and signed-back of a check on your smartphone and deposit it using your bank’s mobile app) is actually one of the last to catch on. According to a 2018 Harland Clarke “Mobile Deposit Consumer Survey” (the most recent I could find), about 37% of people age 55+ used the feature at that time.

But COVID-19 added a little oomph to mobile banking usage in the last ten months.

In a September 2020 interview with Karen Webster in PYMNTS.com, Mike Diamond, general manager of digital banking at Mitek, said that we’re unlikely to revert to pre-pandemic behavior when it comes to things like going to a bank branch or, God forbid, using a “germ-laden ATM” just to deposit a check. And once banks show consumers how to use mobile check deposit (and illustrate its safety), we’ll all be using the feature regularly.

And all this doesn’t even take into consideration other digital payment channels, like Venmo, that reinforce predictions that paper checks are going the way of … well, paper.

Okay, I think it’s worth a try – according to everything I’ve read, it’s as safe as other online and mobile banking functions. But if you’re going to join me, here are some important considerations:

  • Download your mobile banking app directly from your bank or credit union’s website to make sure it’s the latest version of the official app
  • Only use banking apps downloaded from your phone’s native app store since these can “enforce certificate pinning to avoid man-in-the-middle” attacks which could happen at unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots. (In regular language … certificate pinning is an extra layer of security that ensures that you’re really going to the site you think you’re going to, and “man-in-the-middle” is that asshole who wants to steal your information)
  • Avoid depositing fraudulent checks by only accepting paper checks from people you know and trust (duh)
  • Don’t use public wifi to access your account
  • Use unique passwords and update them often
  • Utilize multi-factor authentication when logging in (like, a password and a one-time code sent to your smartphone)
  • Lock your smartphone using a unique PIN or biometric information (facial recognition, fingerprint recognition)
  • Keep an eye on your account – go through your deposits, interest payments, and debits on a regular basis.

Also, banks may limit the amount you can deposit and you may experience delays in processing and clearing, there may be fees involved, and some types of checks may be excluded. To avoid delays, banks urge mobile deposit customers to ensure their signature is legible (yes, you still have to endorse the check!!), check images are clear (the app will help you with this), and the amount you enter matches the amount on the check.

And don’t forget to submit/send it (according to lots of articles, this happens … frequently!).

Last, they encourage users to keep the paper check until you’ve double “checked” that it has cleared (check images are not stored on your phone) and then shred the paper check.

So, what do you think? Have you used mobile check deposit technology? Do you think you’ll give it a try? Want me to try it first and report back? Send me a check (any amount is fine, but please keep in mind that my bank limits me to $10,000 per month) and I’ll let you know if it works.

Mitek is a software company that specializes in digital identity verification and mobile capture built on artificial intelligence algorithms and allows people to deposit checks via their mobile phones.

Later, 2020!

2020 is almost over, and if there were ever a year in which being “NOT YET DEAD” seems like an accomplishment, it’s this one. We’ve lost loved ones, gotten sick, been scared, stayed home, washed groceries, dealt with “virtual learning,” reimagined two-parent work schedules, and lost jobs. We’re over it.

So when I started writing this blog, I thought I would write about the past, just to get myself out of the “what-a-shitty-year-this-has-been” attitude and back into a more pleasant state of mind. I’d start with the 50s, and although I had only reached age 4 by the end of the decade, I somehow remembered it as being pretty cool. I was ready to write about all the AWESOME things that happened in the past, justify my attitude about 2020, and look forward to the COVID vaccination and a new year!

And then, as it always does when I start looking at the FACTS, I had a nice little meeting with reality. 

I “Googled” the 1950s and, yeah, there were great things like Elvis singing “All Shook Up,” television sets playing “I Love Lucy,” and a booming economy. But while I was shakin’ to Elvis and loving Lucy, my parents and millions of other sentient people (unlike myself) must have been freaking out. Because if it wasn’t bad enough that the Asian Flu pandemic (1957) killed more than 70,000 Americans, parents also had to deal with the fact that polio, a “contagious viral illness that in its most severe form causes nerve injury leading to paralysis, difficulty breathing and sometimes death,” threatened THEIR CHILDREN!!!  

Polio was called “infantile paralysis” because it mostly affected children under five. In 1950, 28,386 severe cases were reported. By 1952, there were 55,000.

Yeah, that’s what they were dealing with. You couldn’t let your children go outside in the summer (IN THE SUMMER!!!) when outbreaks were at their peak. Pools, theatres, schools and churches were closed. Travel was restricted and quarantines were imposed on homes and towns where people were diagnosed.

And here’s a nice little vocab reminder from that time … Iron Lung. Do you remember hearing those words? Maybe it was just my ultra-anxious family, but whoa baby. I sure remember hearing about iron lungs and why they were used, and I was terrified … so I can only imagine how my parents felt!

So, by this point in my little march down memory lane I started to recognize the rose-colored tint I had on the past, especially when I added “Swine Flu,” the second measles outbreaks, HIV/AIDS, whooping cough, and other epidemics. And I hadn’t even TOUCHED on the wars and social injustices witnessed over the six decades I’d been alive.

Maybe I need to adjust my thinking.

If all those awful things happened in the past, why do I remember it as being so great? And so much better than right now?

So I asked my friend Google again, and I got more than 863,000,000 results (evidently the subject has been given some thought!). 

One article in Psychreg gave four reasons that resonated with me:

  1. You look to the past with a sense of certainty that the present can’t provide – basically, we know how it’s going to turn out
  2. As you experience more, it takes more to “wow”
  3. It wasn’t as easy to engage in social comparison in the past – thank you social media
  4. Your perspective of the past has shifted – you have more confidence that you can deal with the things that stressed you in the past, so you tend to look back on them as “they weren’t so bad after all”

Well. 

If the past wasn’t that great at the time, but I could look back on it and think it was fantastic, then would there come a day when I would look back on 2020 with the same positive lens? From doing this little exercise in retrospection, I’m thinking, yes.

But it’s not just that one day I’ll look BACK on all this with a different perspective that makes me feel a little less miserable about 2020. It’s also the fact that I can look at 2020 NOW and think about some of the OTHER experiences this past year brought that were among the best times of my life. 

And according to that same article, here’s how:

  1. “Be able to be comfortable with discomfort. You might not be able to perceive the present moment with the same sense of certainty that you reflect on the past with, but you can improve your ability to be comfortable with the discomfort and uncertainties that the present moment might throw your way.
  2. “Minimise comparison. You’re not here to outdo others, you’re here to live a fulfilling life of your own.
  3. “Manage your expectations. Not everything you do will be the best thing you’ve ever done or the best thing you’ve ever accomplished, and that’s fine. Life is going to have highlight reel moments, and some less than stellar moments.
  4. “Engage in binary thinking. Shift your focus from the quality of what you’re doing to the fact that you’re simply doing it.”

So 2020, sorry I’ve been disrespecting you so much. You really weren’t all that bad.

But COVID-19? I won’t be sorry to see you go!

S&H Green Stamps

Since it ‘tis the season for gifts, my husband asked me recently what I wanted to do with all the “frequent flyer” points we accumulated over the past year from our (my) credit card use. We could redeem them for gift cards, shop at Amazon using the points, or (the worst choice of ALL) just get cash back to be used toward our balance (where’s the fun in that???).

I must have been completely immersed in binge-watching “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” because I told him I didn’t care (thus the “free” golf club that was delivered yesterday). Nevertheless, I felt like he should totally thank ME for the amazing gift (Merry Christmas!) since I was the one who spent all that money on the credit card in the first place so that he could get it. No matter that he probably could have just bought the club for a lot less than I spent getting all those points … I get it, I get it!

And while I love the rewards programs that credit card companies offer, and love getting my $5-off coupon from the hardware store (to use only at the hardware store) and of course love choosing my sample-size foundation primer after spending a million dollars at my favorite “retailer of personal care and beauty products,” the VERY BEST customer loyalty program OF ALL TIME was S&H Green Stamps.

If you aren’t lucky enough to be old like me, let me explain the wonder of one of America’s first “shopper loyalty” rewards programs (for those of you who do remember, please share your memories below!).

Operated by the Sperry & Hutchinson company (S&H) founded in 1896 by Thomas Sperry and Shelley Byron Hutchinson, the Green Stamps program was so large that the company posited they issued “three times as many stamps as the U.S. Postal Service!” (Fun fact, the inspiration for the names “Starsky and Hutch,” the 1970s-era police show, came from S&H Green Stamps.)

Whenever you shopped at grocery stores, gasoline stations, and other retailers who participated in the program (and most retailers did participate), you were given stamps (literally green stamps) based on the amount you spent. They all gave out the same stamps (not gas stamps for gas, grocery points for groceries. Just one, small, green stamp that all retailers provided).

The stamps were issued in denominations of one, ten, and fifty points. S&H provided free collection books, and the stamps were licked and pasted into the books. An entire 24-page booklet was worth 1200 points (50 per page).

Just glueing those stamps into those books was the most fun activity ever. Part of the excitement was all that licking (most likely toxic, 1950s glue) and expertly lining up the stamps on each page. When my mom showed me how you could run the stamps over a damp sponge to make the work easier, I was appalled (probably because the adhesive was getting my 5-year-old self high… but who knew? We were also given Paregoric for stomach aches … and THAT was made with opium. Hmm .. no wonder my childhood memories were so happy!).

I hated the 50 point stamps. It wasn’t any fun glueing one stamp on a page. Especially because with each one-point stamp I would glue into that book, I would think about all of the FREE STUFF we could get. I’d study that S&H “Ideabook” for hours. 

Then my mom would take us to redeem the books at the Green Stamp Redemption Center (for my fellow Richmonders, I think it used to be the West End Antiques Mall on Staples Mill). My mom wanted practical things like the “Health-O-Meter Oval Bath Scale covered with washable, fluffy, hi-pile fake-fur mat in avocado (4 ½ books)” but I was definitely gunning for the “Sniffles Doll (Drinks and Wets) (1 book).” I’m sure my brother and sister had their own wish lists … and I apologize to them for my single-minded fixation on Sniffles! 

And not to rub it in too much to Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z (or even you, you baby Gen Alphas!), but we also used to get free “Golden Wheat” dinnerware in boxes of Duz laundry detergent and Anchor Hocking glassware in Quaker Oats oatmeal boxes. The giveaways were happenin’ non-stop in the 50s and 60s!

Unfortunately, with the 1970s’ recessions, fewer stores offered green stamps and more stamps were required to “purchase” the merchandise. And as other retailers (and airlines) started offering their own rewards programs, the glory days of S&H green stamps ended.

But no matter how great the rewards are at retailers and credit card companies today, nothing will ever replace watching that lady at the grocery checkout tear off just the right number of stamps (five years old and already considering a life of crime … I really wanted those stamps), sitting with my mom glueing them into books, studying that season’s “Ideabook” and especially going with my mom to the redemption center and making our selections together. It was so much more than “free stuff.”

Thinking about you with love, Mom. Thanks for making it fun.

The “Silver Snipers” – Superstars

In the field of counterterrorism, 68-year-old Inger “Trigger Finger” Grotteblad and 73-year-old Rick “Crazy BOOmer” LaRoche are considered among the best in the world. Two-fifths of an elite, highly trained unit, Inger and Rick spend their days doing what most “seniors” wouldn’t dream of doing: diffusing bombs and defending hostages using rifles, sub-machine guns, and pistols; high-explosive, decoy, and smoke grenades; tasers and teamwork. 

Sure, their logo-emblazoned opponents are generally sitting right next to them in an esports arena, and their thousands of spectators are eagerly cheering for the next kill, but that’s all part of the fun when you’re a “Counter Strike: Global Offensive” senior world champion.

While most players in the $1 billion esports industry retire by the age of 29, companies like Lenovo are out to change the demographic expectations of the industry. To that end, in 2017, the company ran an ad in Stockholm, Sweden looking for men and women with no digital gaming experience, ages 60+, to form the “Silver Snipers,” a Counter Strike esports team to compete in the upcoming Dreamhack digital competition in Sweden. (Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is a multiplayer first-person shooter video game developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment.)

I caught up with Inger and Rick to find out more about what motivated them to become part of the Silver Snipers and what message they want the rest of us to know about bridging generational gaps.

“I saw the ad that Lenovo was looking for three women and two men to become a five-person team,” Inger told me. “They didn’t require any experience, only that you knew a little about computers, could speak English, and that you were interested in learning something new – the game Counter Strike.”

“I asked my kids and grandkids; do you think I should try?” Inger told me. Their response was immediate: “Oh yes grandmother – you’re going to be the greatest grandmother in the world.”

“I was in New York when I received a message asking me to send a video in English (the common language among esports gamers). So I took one of my grandchildren down to 6th Avenue and taped from New York.” 

Inger was one of more than 130 women who made the first cut and was invited to “audition” for the team by exhibiting her use of the computer and completing an interview in English. The field was narrowed to five women, and ultimately Inger was one of the two chosen to join the Silver Snipers. 

A retired US diplomat living in Stockholm, Rick La Roche is a more recent addition to the Silver Snipers team – although a highly qualified one. “The Silver Snipers had already been quite successful, having competed all over the world and generating global media attention (WSJ, CNN, BBC. They even inspired plans to make a movie about the senior gaming community).   So when the idea of creating a world championship came up, another team was formed. This time they were looking for Americans over 60, living in Stockholm. I went ahead and applied and was one of the people selected for the USA team – the “United Senior Assassins.”

Circled in red top row: Inger Grotteblad and bottom row: Rick La Roche

A few months after the Swedish win at Dreamhack 2019 (the “United Senior Assassins, Finland’s Gray Gunners, and Germany’s Germinators made up the final four), Rick was asked to “defect” to the Silver Snipers who were then down a team member. (The three other members of the team are Oivind “Windy” Toverud, age 78; Monica “TeenSlayer” Idenfors, age 65; and Anders “BigBang” Nystrom, age 71).

Neither Inger nor Rick identifies with the typical expectations of people in the “senior” age demographic. “There are a lot of assumptions about people our age,” Rick said, “and the goal of our team is to break those assumptions.”

“I’m always curious about new things and not afraid of trying new things.” Inger said. “When you’re an old person you think this isn’t something I can do because I’m too old. I don’t care about that. I do whatever I like.”

Both feel that playing CS:GO has had a very positive effect on them physically and mentally. “Your attention is better,” Inger told me. “You are thinking more quickly, using your brain in another way … you can’t be slow. You have to be rapid in your reflexes. You have to think four steps ahead to play the game and you have to make rapid decisions. You’re keeping your brain alive. And of course, you’re using your hands, and you have to coordinate everything.”

“Prior to diplomatic work, I was in the military,” Rick said, “so I have some real-world experience in this stuff (not that it helps me in the egames!). I’ve found it’s almost like playing a very animated game of chess. Where the avatars are like chess pieces. You’re thinking ahead to create a diversion … there’s a lot of strategy that goes into it.”

For a team that was constantly travelling and competing (including Moscow, Ukraine, Helsinki., and France), and participating in in-person training every other week at Inferno Online (the largest gaming center), COVID-19 has had a profound effect. But to combat the isolation and keep playing, Inger has started a Facebook group for gaming seniors. “More and more people are joining,” she said, “and the media are very interested in us. Many are seniors who had never realized there were other old people gaming. And we’re making friends around the world.”

But it’s not just their fellow seniors that Rick and Inger have reached through their “Silver Snipers” activity. It’s the connection with the Millennial and Gen Z crowd that also excites them and for whom they advocate. “We are passing on a positive image about the younger generations and they are getting a very different image of the elderly.”

“When we talk to young people, they treat us like rockstars,” Inger said. “They think we are so great. We’re old people coming into their community – a community that has been very closed. ‘You are legends,’ they tell us. ‘Can I take a picture with you? can I have your autograph?’’

“People should try this and find out how lovely it is,” she said. “Come see how great the community is and having young friends.”

Rick La Roche concurs: “This is an excellent way of bridging generational fences and promoting greater understanding between these two large demographic groups. The younger generation writes us off, and no one takes advantage of all the expertise and experience we have.” On the other hand, baby boomers tend to write off the game-playing younger generation as time- wasting and disconnected.

“In fact,” Rick continued, “the military is looking seriously at Gen Z kids when they become of military age and at making a concerted effort to recruit them because they believe by that time so much of the war will be cyber-based – and these young kids are ambidextrous, doing many different things at once and assimilating a tsunami of information and making instantaneous decisions.”

“Be nice to young people,” Inger continued, “Don’t be so hard on them for playing. They will be prepared for very interesting jobs and know languages better than we do, and they are meeting people all over the world. They learn how many different people think. It’s good for them and it’s good for you too to stay young at heart. Gamers live about five years longer.” 

And Rick added with a laugh, “which doesn’t sound like much until you’re in those last five years!” 

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If you want to learn more about the Silver Snipers, visit their team website here and follow them on Facebook

Inger also invites senior gamers (and those interested in learning more) to join her Facebook group, Gaming Senior.

And stay tuned for an upcoming “Superstars” article about Rick La Roche (let’s just say there’s a lot of real-world experience in his gameplay!). In the meantime, follow Rick’s blog here.

No Matter How Bored You Are … DON’T CUT YOUR BANGS!

When I was three years old, I was so excited because I was going to be a flower girl at my aunt’s fancy wedding in Chicago. I had the most beautiful dress, the fanciest shoes, embroidered lacy white bobby socks, … and access to scissors.

So of course, right before the wedding I cut my bangs (and as much hair on my crown as I could reach) right down to the scalp.

I think that was the first time I exercised my penchant for personal hair styling – one that has continued throughout my 64 years, much to the dismay of the PROFESSIONAL stylists who are (un)lucky enough to call me their client.

What have I done to deserve the title “Most Challenging Person Who Has EVER Sat In My Chair”? Well, over the years …

  • I’ve straightened my hair (“Hi Melanie, can you suggest anything for these burns on my scalp?”)
  • I’ve dyed my hair colors that were somehow off the official color spectrum (“Hi, Melanie, can you fix this sort-of-purpley-orange hair?”)
  • I’ve “streaked” my hair (“Hi Melanie, can you do anything about the green color in my hair?”)
  • I’ve cut my hair into a shag (“Hi Melanie, can you even out my layers?”)
  • I’ve, of course, cut my bangs (“Hi Melanie, can you make my hair grow?”)

I’ve even had the nerve to deny doing ANYTHING AT ALL to my hair – while sitting right in front of her all uneven and smelling of formaldehyde.

As you can probably imagine, “Melanie” is the most patient person in the world!! She has not only put up with my scary mistakes, she has actually made me look normal despite whatever challenges I’ve thrown her way. And as time has gone by (and because Melanie assured me she’d see me ANYTIME I wanted to do something so I REALLY didn’t need to do it myself!!!!!) I stopped styling/ruining my own hair and have relied solely on her to keep me looking good (keep in mind what she has to work with).

BUT in March the pandemic hit.

… I think you know where this is going …

FOR NINE MONTHS I HAVE NOT been able to see Melanie. And yep, for some reason, EVEN THOUGH I HAVE NO SOCIAL LIFE, ONLY USE ZOOM ON AUDIO, and barely leave the house at all, I’ve felt compelled to “do” my hair. With lots of time on my hands and access to scissors and an entire array of hair products online, I’ve reawakened my inner stylist. (I even tried to buy professional strength keratin online, but was thwarted by the requirement to enter my professional license number … and YES, I totally considered making one up!)

Let’s just say there’s a reason for the pink wig!

So Melanie – get ready. Because as soon as I get that vaccination, I am heading your way!