GratiTuesday: So long, fifties, it was fun!

Tomorrow, I will no longer be in my fifties. A new year and a new decade of my life begins. I’m not even sure how long I can legitimately claim to be “middle-aged” anymore (although I suspect that I’ll cling to that designation until my dying breath).

60 cupcake

At least up until today, I’m not too freaked out about this milestone birthday. Tomorrow could be a whole different story, but right now I feel optimistic. At 59, I’m generally healthy and happy, and I have no reason to think this will change when my odometer clicks over to 60.

My fifties started out not with a bang, but a whimper… mine. On the day of my 50th birthday, I had a 4-hour meeting with a client that required a 3-hour drive each way. I felt sorry for myself the whole day and my mood was only slightly brightened when my husband greeted my return with a hug and a kiss and a homemade cake. Poor me.

Fortunately, that inauspicious start was not a harbinger of things to come over the next decade. I soon left that good but uninspiring job for a better one which allowed me to learn a lot of new skills, work with some amazing people who became much more than colleagues, and gave me a strong sense of career satisfaction. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to work for a great company and with some outstanding individuals.

My fifties included quite a few travel adventures, including a trip to Cuba that I had dreamed about since I was in my thirties. I also got to explore parts of the United States that I hadn’t been to before, and re-visited other areas that warranted a second – or third – look. I am so grateful that my husband, traveling companion, and best friend are all wrapped up in the same package.

I took up a few new hobbies in my fifties, including blogging and photography. I am grateful for the generous help and encouragement I’ve received from others as I struggle to improve. I’m also grateful for the plethora of free, or nearly free, classes and seemingly limitless online resources that have helped to shorten my learning curve.

Of course, my fifties contained a few bumps and bruises along the way. Four years ago I lost my beloved 92-year-old father after many years of failing health. As sad as it was to say good-bye, I am so grateful that I had him in my life for so long. I, along with my brothers, had the privilege of caring for him as he declined and I am profoundly grateful that I was by his side to surround him with love as he slipped away.

My fifties is also the decade that I shut the door on the 8 – 5 world and opened the mystery door labeled “retirement.” Although it has been less than two years since I stepped over that threshold, I can’t say that I’ve ever had a second thought about that decision. I am grateful that I was able to leave work on my timetable and while young enough to experience the joys and take advantage of the opportunities retirement offers.

So, tomorrow I’ll celebrate the beginning of a new decade. I don’t know what it holds for me, but I’m grateful that I get to be here to say “hello, and welcome.”

Sitting on the deck of bidet

Like many Americans, I was first introduced to bidets when I traveled through Europe. It took me awhile to gain the required coordination and I never felt completely comfortable using one. The challenge was, after using the “regular’ toilet, I had to, with pants still down around my ankles, shuffle over to the bidet to experience the cleansing wash of water focused on my nether-regions.  I remember feeling rather silly but certainly fresher and cleaner. Once back home, I don’t think I gave bidets a second thought. I was 28, what did I know?

None of the bathrooms on my European travels 30 years ago were this nice, but you get the idea. Image from archiproducts.com
None of the bathrooms on my European travels 30 years ago were this nice, but you get the idea. Image from archiproducts.com

Over the years I’d see them in higher-end homes, but, even if I was tempted, I certainly didn’t have a bathroom big enough to hold two toilet-sized fixtures. Besides, bidets really seemed like an extravagance that was unnecessary in my life.

Then, several of things happened that helped to change my mind:

  • As I’ve gotten older there have been things other than just my skin that have, let’s just say, loosened up.
  • Unlike the bidets I found in Europe in my twenties, there are now toilet seat-integrated bidets — sort of a “one-stop-shop” for you to plop. What used to require not only a bathroom large enough for two fixtures but also extensive re-plumbing now takes up no extra room and can be installed in a few hours by a handy homeowner.
  • A dear friend whose opinion I value greatly speaks of her integrated bidet in terms that can only be described as worshipful adulation.
  • And, well, Costco.

After doing some, um, product testing at my friend’s house and a bit of online research, my husband and I began to think that getting a bidet might not be a bad idea. Then, we saw the integrated seats for sale at Costco and figured the time had come to shit or get off the pot buy one. Now, we are converts.

Do you still have a conventional toilet? I shake my head in pity for you.

Is your toilet seat as cold as ice when you first sit down? My naked bum is welcomed by a soothingly warmed seat (especially nice for those middle-of-the-night sojourns).

When you are finished doing the deed, do you reach for dry toilet paper that (let’s be honest here) doesn’t do the job very well? Then, you use more and more tissue (at the risk of clogging up your plumbing) trying to remove all evidence? My tush is treated to a cleansing warm-water spray that leaves me feeling fresh and clean.

Ah-ha, you say, at least I don’t end up with a wet end! Well, actually neither do I: after my bidet completes the rinse cycle, it finishes up by gently blow-drying my derriere with warmed air.

Oh, did I mention that it has a remote control?

The Seat of Power in our house.
The Seat of Power in our house.

I admit that our bidet has totally ruined me for regular toilet seats. Although not a fan of using public restrooms anyway, I now have an even stronger incentive to keep it together until I get home. If these things were portable, I would have taken ours with us on our recent road trip. Having to use conventional toilets for three weeks straight was almost too much for my tush to tolerate.

Sales in America are tiny compared to the rest of the world but these integrated bidet seats are slowly gaining acceptance. There are several manufacturers (Kohler, Toto and Brondell are just three) and a variety of features available in different price ranges. As consumers start to appreciate the advantages of bidets (including better hygiene care for the disabled and elderly), I’m confident that they will become mainstream here too.

In the meantime, to those of you who haven’t promoted your potty yet, what are you waiting for? Relieve yourself of that seat that just sits there and treat your gluteus to maximus luxury. I guarantee that your bum won’t be bummed.

59 Candles

I hate my birthday. Actually, it’s not so much my birthday – as a child, I loved the attention and getting presents – it’s the month that my birthday falls in that I dislike.

Growing up, I was always so envious of my friends who had birthdays in late spring and summer. They got to have beach parties, and pool parties, and parties in the park. Because my birthday is in January, my parties always had to be held indoors. It was cold outside and sometimes wet; not exactly party weather.

HB4Not only is my birthday in what is often the coldest month of the year, it is in early January… just days after the holidays. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard a version of this joyful birthday greeting: “Oh great, it’s your birthday. Jeez, we just had Christmas and now I have to think about your birthday?” Um, sorry?

 

Fortunately, my parents always made a big deal about my birthday, just as they did for my two brothers. I never had to open a combined Merry Christmas/Happy Birthday gift or was made to feel that the timing of my birthday was inconvenient (after all, it was kind of their fault, right?). In fact, it was the year they forgot my birthday that I knew something was terribly wrong and my brothers and I needed to step in and become their vigilant care givers.

In just a few days, I will enter the final year of my fifties. The year I turned 29, 39, and even 49, didn’t have much significance for me. Those 365 days ticking down to my next decade didn’t seem like they were leading to anything terribly transformative. For some reason, 59 feels different.

According to several dictionaries, “middle age” is considered to span between the ages of 40 and 60. Before turning 40, a person is considered to be a “young adult.” Once that person turns 60, according to the definition, he or she has now reached “old age.” OLD AGE?? I can’t speak for everyone in my age range, but I certainly don’t feel like I’m just one short year away from being of “old age.” I have a lot of friends who are several – some who are many – years older than I am and I don’t consider them to be of “old age” either.  Some are still working and some are retired. They travel, they volunteer, they are involved with their families, friends, and their community.

I wonder if we need to create another definition for the years after 60. I’m not in denial that, at some point in the future, “old” will be an apt description of my age, but it sure isn’t what I’d define myself as being now, or a year from now, or, I hope, for many years to come.

Over the next 365 days, I might put some thought into coining a new phrase to describe the years following my 60th birthday. Even better, I think I’ll just continue to be active, engaged, creative, and connected, and let my reality define my age.

Resiliency

Even those who deny climate change (or, at least the impact we humans have had) must have a hard time ignoring the wild swings of weather conditions the United States—and the world—has experienced over the last several years.

Those of us on the West Coast are in a severe, multi-year drought while those in other areas of the country have endured record cold temperatures. Now, I’m reading news stories about torrential rain and flooding on the East Coast.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Here in San Diego, fire crews are just finishing battling nearly a dozen individual wild fires that burned around 26,000 acres and required over 125,000 people to evacuate. Although California has had wild fires throughout the state’s history, this mix of low humidity, triple-digit temperatures, and hot, dry Santa Ana winds in May is most unusual… and troubling. No one is naive enough to think that we’ve seen the worst of it. This is just the earliest start of our fire season in decades. What we used to brace ourselves for in September and October could now be a threat year-round.

Our home was well away from the fires, but, along with so many others, we watched the scenes of the firestorms on the TV; cheering the heroics of the fire fighters as they battled the blazes in their attempt to save homes and lives. Because of their efforts, “only” around 70 homes were destroyed and no lives were lost (contrast that to 2003, when 2,232 homes were destroyed and 15 people died, and 2007 when 1,500 homes were lost and 9 died).

Now that most of the fires are fully contained the focus has switched from fighting the fires to mopping up and surveying the damage. It is heartbreaking to see the bewildered faces of people standing in front of what once were their homes. It is the same look seen after the devastating hurricanes, super storms, tornados, earthquakes, and so many other recent disasters we’ve witnessed.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

As I look at photos of the fires’ destruction, I wonder how the people who have lost their homes will be able to bounce back after such devastation. Most of them say—and it’s true—that it’s only “things” and they are lucky to be alive, but I know how much all of the “things” that are in a home can make us feel safe, connect us to our past, and help us define who we are.

A word that I am hearing more and more in the aftermath of these disasters is “resilience” as it relates to systems, nature, and people. Andrew Zolli, the author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back described resilient systems as being able to “sense and respond to their own state and to the state of the world around them, compensate or dynamically reorganize themselves in the face of novel shocks, decouple themselves from other fragile systems when necessary, fail gracefully, and have a strong local self-sufficiency.” I think much the same thing could be said of people who are resilient.

I don’t believe that we either are or are not resilient. Some who are perceived as fragile by others can exhibit great resilience when faced with a personal challenge or devastating loss. Others, who may appear to be strong and stoic on the outside, might not be able to bounce back as well. Not everyone reacts in the same way to traumatic and stressful life events, but there are steps we can take to become more resilient in the face of adversity. A resilient person will still experience difficulty or distress, but their resilience can influence their ability to recover, persist, or even thrive amid disruption.

We all experience traumas in some form, whether because of a natural disaster, the loss of a loved one, the ending of a relationship or a job, or because of health challenges. What is important is to develop the tools—behaviors, thoughts and actions—now that will help us when we are faced with adversity. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), these attributes can be learned and developed by anyone. In order to increase our ability to be resilient, the APA suggests that we foster these important personal foundations*:

• Cultivate caring and supportive relationships, both inside and outside the family
• Nurture relationships that create love and trust, provide role models, and offer encouragement and reassurance
• Develop the capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
• Maintain a positive view of one’s self and confidence in our strengths and abilities
• Develop skills in communication and problem solving
• Learn to manage feelings and impulses

We all will face increased challenges as we age; the death of loved ones, decreased physical capacity, perhaps a serious illness or even a natural disaster. Building our resilience now will help us better respond and adapt.

heart2

“If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces”

– Shane Koyczan

* This list paraphrases a list from the APA’s brochure The Road to Resilience.

Opening Our Minds to Skepticism

All too often, we read stories about people who are duped by scammers. Sadly, the victim is often elderly and, tragically, large sums of money – money that they can’t afford to lose – are frequently involved.

As my late father’s physical and mental health started to decline, I worried about him falling for the various come-ons he received in the mail and on the phone. He had a good, analytical mind when he was younger, but I could tell that his aging brain was becoming less and less able to discern fact from fiction. Fortunately, I was able to protect his bank accounts and credit card before anything happened so he and his finances were safe.

Scams_Computer

Scammers continue to devise more sophisticated and devious ways to separate people from their money, but there are still plenty of victims responding to notices of large lottery wins, promised riches from Nigerian princes, and a variety of phony phishing emails. My innate skepticism will help protect me from falling for these scams now, but I worry that when I am much older, will I still be able to avoid being taken advantage of?

The same critical thinking skills that make me disregard offers that are “too good to be true” lead me to question much of what I read on the Internet and in social media. I can always count on a handful of “friends” posting items on Facebook or forwarding me emails (along with protestations of outrage) with a story sent to them by some equally outraged person. Most don’t pass my “smell test” and, after a quick search on various fact-checking sites, the stories turn out to be just that, stories.

I don’t think these people are stupid or especially gullible but when they read something that fits very neatly into their political or ideological mindset, they tend not to question its authenticity. This is how hate, lies, and rumors are spread; one unquestioned falsehood at a time.

Tennis Shoes

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” Mark Twain

We live in a society of people who self-select their news. If one source’s slant doesn’t lean in the right direction, simply choose another that does. We also tend to socialize, and even live in communities, with like-minded people. That way we don’t have to question our beliefs or, God forbid, alter them in any way. I guess this makes us feel smug comfortable in our convictions, but does it make us better citizens? Does listening to only one side of a story before deciding on its merits support our intellectual integrity? I think most would agree that it does not (although we still do it because, really, it’s others who need to open their minds, not us… right?).

Non-critical thinking makes us more vulnerable to scammers. If we trust a source so completely that we never question its accuracy, why would we question the authenticity of an “exclusive offer” from the same source (or one of its advertisers)? Even better if the offer is also couched in language that supports our biases. If we are distrustful of something or someone, are we not more likely to respond to something that reinforces our paranoia suspicion?

Less incendiary, but maybe in some ways worse, are the “innocent” but untrue items that are re-posted virally. If the poster had done some quick research or applied simple logic, they would have realized that the story doesn’t make any sense. In this category are those emails/posts that promise riches/good luck if you continue the chain (and usually include dire warnings if you don’t), and urban legends like entering your ATM PIN backwards will summon help. Although new myths are being created all the time, many have been around for years and are repackaged and posted over and over again.

When we get in the habit of using magical thinking in place of critical thinking, we make ourselves more vulnerable to hoaxes and fraud. Best case, we just irritate our friends and end up looking stupid, but worst case, we open ourselves up to scammers and thieves.

Recent studies have shown that changes in the brain as we age make the elderly more trusting. The negative “gut feelings” a younger person might experience aren’t felt as strongly by an older person. For this reason, we must be alert when caring for an older adult to protect them from unscrupulous individuals and businesses.

Fortunately, there are things we can do as we age so we aren’t as likely to become victims. We can actually practice our critical thinking skills, learn to be more analytical, and train our brains to question when something just doesn’t ring true.

The enemy of scammers and hoaxters is common sense, questioning, and research.

Be their barricade, not their bridge.