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!” 

###

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!

I Love You, George!

A few days before November 3rd, a friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook – I think it was about voting … or something. I know there were words on it. Or, maybe there weren’t any words. Maybe there were just symbols.

I have no idea. All I vividly remember … is that whatever it said was written on top of a picture of Sam Elliott.

And when I read through the comments, I found that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have the slightest interest in the meme’s message. It could have said “Cure Found For Covid-19,” or even more important, “How To Lose Weight While You Sleep,” but the only thing of interest, according to the MANY comments, was Sam Elliott and the wild crushes everyone seemed to have on him.

I get it. I vividly remember my first crush. It was George Harrison. Since he wasn’t as seemingly popular as Paul, I was pretty sure that I, a skinny, flat-chested 8-year-old, had a chance to marry him. Whereas Paul might be slightly out of my reach.

And now that I’m a not-as-skinny-but-still-flat-chested 64-year-old, I still have crushes on stars and rock legends. Like Ryan Reynolds (but I think that’s only when he’s Deadpool) or Michael B. Jordan, or Colin Firth, or Dan Stevens, or Lee Min Ho. It’s fun. It means nothing. And it’s not like I think anything could possibly come of it.

But … I completely admit there’s a double standard.

If my husband ever commented about how incredibly good looking a movie star was, then somehow I’d be sure that she feels the same way and is fueling up her jet right now to declare her undying love to him. 

Thankfully, I have a husband who loves and understands me (and by understands, I mean indulges) … so while I’m wearing the “Itaewon Class” tee shirt featuring Park Seo Joon that he bought me for my birthday …

… he’s kind enough to wear his “Giant Acorn Triathlon” tee shirt. 

And that’s why I love my husband so much … and why I will never leave him for Deadpool.

I’m Just a Singer on a Sofa

I always wanted to be “a singer in a rock and roll band.” I’ve had more fantasies about being in a band than most Americans have about a final word on the 2020 election. Alas, the one time I was in a band (remember my “Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp” gig?) it turned out that my voice wasn’t quite as up to the challenge as my fantasy was.

That hasn’t stopped me. Put me in a car by myself, and I’m ready for my Vocal Eze throat spray and my sound check. But I never want to take the lead vocal. That’s a hard pass. Just like my girl Melanie M. knows, I’ll take the harmony any day! I’ll be a Pip to your Gladys, 

a Blowfish to your Hootie, 

a Crystal Taliefero to your … well, just about ANYBODY!

But this week, I found a way to combine my need to make sure no one actually HEARS me sing with the excitement of being a part of a “band.” Ladies and gentlemen, introducing “The Sofa Singers.”

The Sofa Singers is a twice-weekly online singing event that brings hundreds of people together from around the world to “spark joy and human connection.” Founded by musician, vocal leader, author, and speaker James Sills as a response to global self-isolation during the Coronavirus outbreak, singers register once a week via Eventbrite then use the free video software Zoom to connect with everyone for 45 minutes of simultaneous singing from the comfort of their own homes.

Thankfully, The Sofa Singers encourages you to “sing as if no-one is listening, because they won’t be.” Due to latency (the delay between video and audio) it’s not possible to synchronize and hear all of the singers at the same time. James therefore gratefully keeps all audio off except for himself and his guitar, while the rest of us belt it out and share the stage with hundreds of fellow singers around the world

So this past Tuesday, I went on my first worldwide tour, joining more than 400 people from around the globe (including the US, Canada, the UK, France, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Brazil, Equator, the Netherlands, and Israel) as we sang “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson Five (and although there were probably a few Michaels among the crowd, I was totally Tito!).

What a great way to get through the pandemic, AND fulfill one of my fantasies. 

Now if I can just find “The Sofa Billionaires” and “The Sofa People with Thin Thighs and No Cellulite,” all my fantasies will be fulfilled.

Just Step Right up on the Scale …

“Okay, just step right up here onto the scale, and let’s get your weight real quick, sweetie.”

No matter how gently those words are uttered, you might as well be saying, “okay, let’s just cram this knife right into your neck real quick, sweetie, and see how fast your blood flows.”

I hate getting weighed at the doctor. Unless I walk in there and specifically ask, “would you mind finding out how much I weigh, because I don’t have a scale, a mirror, 4,000 apps on my phone, or clothes with waistbands anymore, so I just can’t tell on my own,” then PLEASE don’t weigh me. 

Unfortunately, my health care practitioners think this is my first (and only) concern when I visit them. My left arm might be hanging off from a chainsaw injury or I may have passed out in the elevator from a fever, but darn if that scale isn’t going to be my first stop.

I remember the last time I went in for my physical. It was a freezing day in December, let’s say around 4 degrees. As you might expect, I happened to be wearing a tank top … under a sweater, scarf, leggings, pants, socks, shoes, a coat, sunglasses, REALLY heavy earrings, and my wedding band. And I had a surprisingly hefty rubber band in my hair. 

“Okay, just step right up here onto the scale, and let’s get your weight real quick, sweetie” my otherwise very understanding and sympathetic nurse requested. 

“Um, do you want me to take off my coat? Or, maybe everything I have on before I do that? I don’t mind being completely naked in this hallway as long as it will shave an ounce or two off the results” I said, horrified.

“Oh no,” she replied, “that’s fine. We WANT to see just how much you can possibly weigh. According to medical research, if we put you on the scale in the dead of winter and make you look right at the numbers, we can effectively humiliate you enough that you’ll spend the rest of the day beating yourself up, buying diet books on Amazon, and scouring the Internet for weight loss plans. It’s a deal we have with therapists, publishers, and software developers.”

And don’t even think about losing weight when you’re a woman over 55. Instead, you’ll find out that once you get to “that certain age,” it’s nearly impossible to lose weight and keep the weight off. I’ve tried everything, but the real joke was the “Intermittent Fasting” trend that has become so popular.

I tried …

  • the 5:2 diet involves eating normally 5 days of the week while restricting your calorie intake to 500–600 for 2 days of the week,
  • the 16/8 method (fasting every day for 14–16 hours and restricting your daily eating window to 8–10 hours),
  • “Eat Stop Eat” (24-hour fast once or twice per week),
  • alternate-day fasting (you fast every other day),
  • and The Warrior Diet (eating small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and eating one huge meal at night)

I gained seven pounds.

Now I’m trying the 5:5 intermittent dieting plan.

I eat anything I want for five minutes, then look for something else to eat for five minutes, then eat that for five minutes, etc.

And next time, I’m scheduling my physical for a hot summer day.

How I’m Surviving COVID-19

We all have our coping mechanisms. COVID-19 and the year 2020 have certainly shown us not only HOW we cope during a crisis, but have given each of us a pocket full of tested strategies that we can pull out anytime things get bad – like when the next virus hits, or when an asteroid is heading toward the earth, or when aliens invade the planet, or when locusts overwhelm the environment, or … Tuesday.

But just in case you haven’t been able to store up enough resilience yet, I thought I would share my TOP 5 COVID-19 COPING STRATEGIES. Be sure you get your grain of salt ready …

  1. A husband or significant other who will (pretends to?) listen – this has been a big one for me, because I’ve come up with a LOT of information and possible cures that I want to send to the CDC and the NIH and all of the drug companies. But thankfully I’m able to run them by my husband who very thoughtfully considers them and kindly tells me I might need to do a little more research before I reach out. But I’m thinking I really should remind them of that time-honored cowpox vaccine, in case they haven’t thought about that.
  2. Amazon or other online stores with FREE SHIPPING – it’s Christmas every day!! You can find some really random things like “Soft Scrub In-Tank Toilet Cleaner” for mere pennies, and they also deliver CANDY. Need I say more?
  3. Therapy – the most important thing you can line up during a crisis is a cadre of great therapists. And since you’re so miserable and depressed at first, it really doesn’t matter how much it costs because you know you’re going to die any day now anyway. Win/win. Since March, I’ve tried CBT, EBT, EMDR, therapy pets, Tarot readings, astrologists, The Amazing Kreskin, The Long Island Medium, and Miss Cleo. I’ve improved all the way from “definitely going to die from COVID-19” to “I may not die from COVID-19” but I do, evidently, need to keep my eyes open for an albino squirrel who’s really my deceased grandfather and wants me to know he forgives me.
  4. Below Deck” or other quality reality TV – Yes, I know what a contradiction it is to be brilliant enough to find the cure for COVID-19 AND be addicted to a reality show. But I really do need something to take me away from all of the deep thought that I’m doing all day! Now, in all fairness, I am only bingeing on “Below Deck ” and “Below Deck Mediterranean” because … puhleeease! Anyone who can cure COVID-19 isn’t going to watch “Sailing Yacht.” Sometimes I feel like Captain Lee and Captain Sandy are getting into some tough situations, and I try to tell them what they should do … but my husband once again kindly reminds me they can’t hear me.
  5. Home repair – this is such a great and practical way to spend time. For maximum COVID-19 distraction, be sure you choose project that:
    1. you’ve never done before
    2. will take much longer than you expect it to take
    3. includes a high probability that you will get into a fight with your husband (note: this is an excellent COVID diversion. You may want to consider picking fights just for entertainment.)

In case you haven’t tried any of these strategies yet, I hope you find one or more of them helpful. And maybe, just maybe, we won’t need them sometime soon!

Have an interesting COVID-19 distraction? Be sure to add it here!

You CAN Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

When I was in school, the LAST thing I wanted to do was learn anything. I was much more interested in being with my friends and having fun. That “fun” ranged from playing “Lost in Space” with my BFF Andrea on the playground in elementary school, to a different version of “Lost in Space” in high school that had more to do with Saturday night parties than 60’s television shows.. But education? … Background noise!

Thankfully, despite all my efforts to the contrary, I landed on a college major that really meant something to me: Mass Communications. What a perfect way for a blabbermouth like me to do just what I wanted to do – communicate … to MASSES!! 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that “lifelong learning” is actually very important to me. I also realized that learning is a LOT MORE FUN when you’re doing it because you WANT TO than HAVE TO! I think that’s why my college education was so exciting for me … I was actually learning what I wanted to learn.

As I’ve grown older and am not confined by time and topics that apply mainly to my work, my choices have become a lot more wide-ranging. A class about computer programming? I’m in. A book about snakes? Rattle me that one, Joker! A course on the Middle Ages? Templars and torture devices … oh yeah!

That’s not to say I remember everything I learn … ha, not by a long shot! But sometimes on Jeopardy, I’ll hear an answer like, “During the Middle Ages, it was thought that women could prevent pregnancy by wearing what around their necks?” and I’ll know what the “question” is! (“What are weasel testicles, Alex?”)

The best part is, there are SO MANY WAYS to learn FOR FREE that there’s just no reason not to pursue ANYTHING that you want to.  Here are a few sites to get your started.

General search

You know you can search for classes and ANY information through any search engine (Google, Firefox, Bing, etc.), but don’t forget YouTube when you want to learn … anything!

The second largest search engine behind Google, with more than three billion searches per month, YouTube is not just a website on which your children and grandchildren watch trending videos like “iPhone 12 and 12 Pro Unboxing!” and “Minecraft Speedrunner VS 4 Hunters REMATCH” (the two highest-trending videos right now … [(confused face]). You can also search YouTube and find free documentaries, video podcasts, movies, and short videos on practically anything you want to learn.

Vetted free college courses

There are lots of sites for free online college courses, but my go-to source is Class Central. Its super-easy-to-use platform aggregates courses from providers like edX, Coursera, and Udacity. You’ll find “the best courses on almost any subject, wherever they exist.” 

Class Central is a search engine and reviews site for free online courses popularly known as MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses. You can find courses, review courses you’ve taken (and read other people’s reviews), follow universities, subjects and courses to receive personalized updates, and plan and track your learning. 

They also publish TheReport, featuring “news and trends in online learning” as well as several lists including “Free Online Learning Due to Coronavirus” (updated continuously) and “Free Online Ivy League Courses,” and a list of 115 courses with certificates that Coursera is offering for free (many “MOOCs” offer certificates indicating – typically to potential employers –  successful course completion and ensuring the authenticity and value of the credential. There is usually a cost for the certificate option).  

Class Central is funded through advertising and affiliate links. They clearly denote ads and sponsored search results, and their affiliate and advertising relationships don’t influence the course listing, nor do they affect user reviews.

Creativity

A great site to explore your creativity for free is Skillshare. There you’ll find an online learning community with thousands of classes for creative and curious people, on topics including illustration, design, photography, video, freelancing, and more. Note: Skillshare also offers a “Premium” membership for deeper dives into many courses.

Cultural and educational

Open Culture, the self-proclaimed “best free cultural and educational media on the web,” scours the internet for the best educational media. There you’ll find “the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons and educational videos you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.” Open Culture is eclectic! I found things like  “Seven Tips From Ernest Hemingway on How to Write Fiction,” “Ezra Pound’s Fiery 1939 Reading of His Early Poem, ‘Sestina: Altaforte’,” “John Wayne: 26 Free Western Films Online,” and “Learn 48 Languages Online for Free: Spanish, Chinese, English & More.”

And speaking of languages

While we’re on language, there are some great sources for free language lessons online. Take a look at Learn a Language, Duolingo, Busuu, Sign Language 101, and Galludet University.

There are millions of sources of free education on the internet (I feel a little bit like Dr. Evil right now … there are probably more like “billions” of them) as long as we’re “not yet dead” they’re right at our fingertips. Let’s enjoy every one of those Jeopardy answers we can still … answer? … ask? Whatever.

Are you f’ing kidding? Oh, and Happy Birthday to me!

I turned 64 a couple of days ago – and like Sally O’Malley would say, “I’m not one of those gals who likes to hide her age.” I couldn’t care less who knows how old I am, because I think I’m doing pretty well for myself. I can still “kick, stretch, and kick” and remember the important things (where I hid that cigarette, where I hid that tequila, where I hid those chocolate covered raisins from Costco, and (sometimes) where I left my cellphone).

So, thinking about this whole “getting older” thing, I decided to take a look at Google to get a feel for what I could look forward to. And according to today’s Google Alert results for “elderly” here’s what’s coming my way:

And the winner:

Really? This is what I have to look forward to? Hell no! I’m not falling for it (and I’m not falling yet either!). I’m going to write this blog and MAKE headlines like,

  • Elderly woman poses as 7-year-old, calls Walgreen’s to demand they let Prince Albert” out of the can
  • 86-year-old former infectious disease expert finds cure for COVID-19
  • Elderly woman tells children, “Keep your $885,000 … I’m spending your inheritance”
  • Those Zumba classes really paid off!” says elderly woman at casino who thwarts robbery with well-placed “kick balls, change” to the groin
  • Elderly Perth man saves four who abandon sinking vessel off Cable Beach in Broome
  • Elderly man swats housefly, transforms into “Jeff Goldblum, Superhero

According to population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2019 (the latest date for which population estimates are available) there are 71.6 million people in the US between the ages 55 and 73 (Baby Boomers) – and just over 55 million age 65+ (no thanks to you, stupid COVID-19). And you just can’t convince me that we’re only dying of viruses, getting scammed by assholes pretending to work for the DOJ, or blowing things up.

This blog is NOT going to be depressing. It’s going to focus on all of the great things about being older and, at times, try to find some humor in the things that aren’t so great. Most of all, I hope it will be a place for you to talk about YOUR thoughts and questions about this time of our lives.

I’ll find experts to answer your questions, I’ll ask your opinion, and I’ll make sure you’re not invisible! I hope you’ll join me for this fun adventure!