HOME ALONE

scrabble

 Much ado has been made about all the things we are supposed to do to help us as we age: daily exercise, take Omega-3’s, create lots of social networks and eat our leafy greens. We know we’re supposed to train our brains by doing puzzles or learning new languages. But here’s the thing: no one talks about the solitude of old age and many of the elderly are now solo.

 Most are not alone by choice. Some have lost their spouses and others their friends. Add to that the fact that younger people simply don’t ‘see’ or interact with them. As a result, they ‘feel’ alone even when they’re not. Now many retired folks will tell you that they value their ‘alone time.’ There’s good reason: they’ve spent the majority of their lives working with or caring for others. Having to “do nothing” is a relief. However, they quickly lose their footing in the bustling world of others. Gone are the carpools, business lunches, golf outings and European vacations. In their place? Not much.

 This year, more than 20% of people over 55 are living alone. That percentage has doubled since 1999. So what does science have to say about that? Who’s going to know if you slip and fall or go off your meds? Pretty much no one and there’s the rub. What’s the remedy for that? While 75% of men over 65 are married, 25% are still alone.  Only 45% of women are married so more than half of them are solo, too!

 Millions of elderly people are now finding themselves, ‘home alone,’ but unlike Macaulay Culkin, no one is going to rescue them if they get into trouble. They are literally ON THEIR OWN. Now some do this with a breeze. Others? Not so much. They curl up in front of the TV, don’t eat well and wither away.  If a tree falls in the forest and you don’t hear it, does it make a sound?  You bet.

 Recently, my husband was out of town for several weeks. I noticed that our Scrabble board was still set up in the den. So, I decided to play against myself. It was quite fun. Not only did I get to use all the letters, there was no scorekeeping, which meant that I won no matter how poorly I played! All along, I kept up a lively conversation with my imaginary partner. Good thing no one else was there or I might just not be home alone but in a loony bin instead.  Well, at least I’d have company.

 

DON’T TAKE IT LYING DOWN!

Sky lying down

 Three unconscionable things happened to me this week and I want you to be aware of them so that they don’t happen to you. And if they do? Take action! The first was a series of phone messages I received from the IRS, informing me that I had done, “something illegal on my taxes and they were going to file suit,” if I didn’t call an 800 number. I knew it was a scam but I DID call that number.

 The woman who answered said that there was, “a problem” with my taxes and she needed my social security number. Over my dead body. I told her that I KNEW this was a scam. My taxes were honestly prepared and I was reporting her to the BBB and the IRS. She hung up abruptly. Imagine how many have fallen for her scam and given out their personal information!

 The second was my AVIS rental at the Denver airport. I prepaid my car online for $149. After an hour wait, the agent had me sign a contract, which totaled $289. “What’s this?” I asked. “Oh,” he said, “You said you were driving to Breckenridge and since that altitude is high, I gave you an SUV because it will handle the drive better.” “I don’t want an SUV. I want my $149 car.” He wrote a new contract. This time, the total was $199. “What’s this?” I asked. “Oh, I added our $50 gas package. That way you won’t have to fill the tank.” “Take off the charge,” I demanded. “I always fill my own gas.”

 When I returned the car with a full tank of gas, my receipt said “$199.” I stormed back to the counter, went straight to the first guy I saw and demanded my money back. He complied. Several days later when I called the corporate office to complain, my 20 year-old daughter overheard the phone call. “Gosh, Mom,” she said, when I hung up. “Are you going to get that guy fired?” “I sure hope so,” I said. “Imagine all the people he has taken advantage of. It’s criminal.”

 The last happened in the Kroger parking lot today. I was waiting with my blinker on for a woman to pull out of her space. Finally, she backed out and as I pulled in, a car raced around the corner, cut me off and pulled into the space ahead of me. Fuming, I jumped out of my car and walked right up to the driver’s door. A man twice my size and half my age, emerged.

“That was rude,” I said. “You saw me there waiting and you cut me off.”

“Yeah,” he said, with a smirk. “I did and I beat you to it. Now, get your damn ass back in your car and don’t talk to me.”

“Don’t you DARE tell me what to do,” I seethed. “You’re a complete jerk!”

 His eyes looked scary as he suddenly started towards my passenger door.  Fortunately, my dog went ballistic and barked at him so loudly that he fled into Kroger’s.  Apparently, at only 10 pounds, she’s scarier than I am.

 Moral of the stories? Stand up for yourself no matter your age or size. If nothing else, it will make you feel better at the end of the day. And who knows, by speaking out you may just save someone else from the same fate.

 

 

 

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL

mirror mirror

 There was an article in the NY Times this week entitled, “Do your friends actually like you?” Research shows that only about half of perceived friendships are mutual. The study was done on 21-34 year-olds. Turns out that while those young people were 95% certain that their besties really were their besties that was only true about 50% of the time. Whoops.

 If this research were done on older people, my guess is that the results would be vastly different. We are not so easily deluded. Time has made us infinitely wiser and more humble in spite of ourselves. Once you hit 50, you likely know the difference between the friend who will visit you in jail and the one who will actually bail you out. (Don’t ask me why this particular analogy is right at my fingertips).

 When I was 5, there was a TV show called, “Romper Room,” which I loved. “Miss Sherri,”** was the hostess on our local station and I was pretty sure that she was my friend. She was sweet, loved kids and always taught us to be, “Do Bee’s.” The best part of the show was at the end. She held up her ‘Magic Mirror,’ “So that I can see all of you at home.” I knew that she could see us because she even said our names like, ‘I see Mary and Jenny and Johnny and Tommy and.” But in all the times I watched, she never once said, “Helen.” Not once, although I often yelled at her, “Miss Sherri, it’s Helen! I’m here. Right here. I’m watching, too!”

 Somewhere between then and now I found my very, best friend. She knows everything about me and still loves me. She brings me up short if I stray and praises me when I follow the straight and narrow. We have no secrets and no hidden agendas. She’s not perfect but some parts of her are just awesome!  We understand and accept each other as we are.  No matter where we are, we are there for each other, always and forever.   I don’t even need to call or text her. I just have to look in the mirror. As Granny used to say, “You can’t ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ if you don’t love yourself first.”

**Sherri Finkbine made headlines in the 1960’s when she accidentally took a common sleeping pill containing Thalidomide early in her 5th pregnancy.  Her doctor suggested a therapeutic abortion, but it was illegal at the time.  She and her husband were forced to go to Sweden instead.  It was determined that her fetus was so badly deformed and damaged from the drug that it would not have survived.  Now in her 80’s, Sherri is the mother of 6 children.   

 

  

 

 

 

FOLLOW THE ANTS. . .OR NOT

 

ants

I started watching ants when I was six and Granny took me outside to ‘observe nature.’ I caught all kinds of insects from the garden and studied them closely. Along the way, I also discovered that one spider in a jar with six grasshoppers is not outnumbered. You’ll end up with one, very, corpulent spider.

 Ants were too small and quick for me. No sooner would I corral one into a jar and go for another, when the first was already crawling out. So, Granny put a sugar cube on the patio and told me to wait. Within minutes, that little, white square was solidly black with ants. I watched fascinated as ants from seemingly nowhere suddenly appeared and swarmed the sugar.

 What intrigued me the most was how they handled obstacles placed in their path. I often laid a twig or stone in the middle of their line to see what they would do. At first, there was always a bit of confusion. Eventually, a few ants went up and over the obstacle. Most, however, went around it, even if it took longer and even if they got confused and ended up back where they started.

 Today, I laid a sheet of paper across the middle of their line. As usual, on either side of it, the ants swarmed together instead of moving forward. Eventually, a few began to crawl up and over the paper. However, they did not go far and always turned back. This was a BIG obstacle. I waited. Finally one, single ant, after several hesitations, made the journey across! He must have said, “It’s safe,” because one, single ant on that side then walked across the paper to the other side!

 10 minutes later, a very, sparse line of ants were making their way across the paper. Where had the others gone? I lifted up the paper to discover a perfect rectangle of ants making their journey around the 8×10 sheet. In fact, they continued marching in that rectangle, with the paper gone, a full half-hour later!

 So, next time you encounter an obstacle, take a lesson from the ants. Be the one who goes over it and continues moving forward. Whatever you do, don’t waste your time going around something that isn’t even there.

PUT ON YOUR GLASSES!!

glasses4

A few years ago, while looking at pictures from a trip to Colorado, there was a gray-haired woman in a red sweatshirt who I didn’t recognize. I knew it wasn’t me. My hair is not that gray and I don’t own a red sweatshirt. Finally, I asked my husband.

“Honey, who is that?” I prodded. “That woman in the red sweatshirt.”

He looked at the photo then looked back at me.

“Are you serious?” he said as if I were wacko.

“Yes, that woman with the gray hair. I don’t recognize her at all.”

“Wow,” he said. “Put on your glasses.”

It WAS me. I had borrowed someone’s shirt because it was cold.

            This also happened some 30 years ago when I received proof sheets from a photographer who had taken my headshots. At first, I thought they sent someone else’s photos: someone infinitely younger and prettier. Nope. They were mine but all were shot at the perfect, flattering angle under great lighting with a plethora of makeup!

          Last week, a 60-foot tree fell in our yard, brought down the power lines and ripped out a portion of our roof. THAT I saw clearly. What I missed was, ‘the fine print’ in our homeowner’s insurance: “You are responsible for the first 6,000 in damages accrued.”

        There’s an old adage that says, “Believe NONE of what you hear and HALF of what you see.” Maybe whoever wrote it realized that things aren’t always what they seem, no matter how they appear. Or maybe he was looking through a pair of squashed glasses like mine above.

       When Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals, he didn’t patent them. His feeling was that, “As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”

      Now the most common eyesight problems over age 60 are: macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. So, visit your eye doctor! Then, put on your glasses! Remember, you don’t have to be old to miss the fine print or not get ‘the whole picture.’ It just means you’re human.

      Tonight, my husband couldn’t find an entire head of lettuce staring at him from the fridge shelf. (Normally, the ketchup eludes him). So, I said, “Put on your glasses, Dear. It’s not like the lettuce is disguised and wearing a red sweatshirt.”      

 

HAND OVER YOUR HEART

 flag

I hung our flag outside today. The older I get, the more memories it carries. My first was at age 10, when I became a ‘naturalized citizen.’ Since I was born in Australia, this was something that I needed to do if I wanted to be a ‘real’ American. I did. As I timidly walked inside the Phoenix courthouse, the flag flapped briskly outside.

 My first question was, “Who is our current US President?”

“John F. Kennedy,” I answered confidently.

 Then, they asked me to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with my hand over my heart. My grandmother, perhaps worried that I might flunk, had also insisted that I memorize the Preamble to the US Constitution, “just in case.” While I can quote it to this day, they never asked.

 10 years later, that same flag was draped over the coffins of all, those soldiers coming back from Vietnam. 10 years after that, our flag waved mightily over the 26 baseball stadiums as I sang, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Never have I felt the awe and humility of being an American as deeply as that summer. 20 years later, I watched our flag go up in flames in Kabul.  

 Real freedom has nothing to do with color or country, gender or age. It has little to do with a piece of cloth sewn with stars and stripes and everything to do with how we think. Since psychologists say that we are prisoners of our own thoughts, we need to choose them carefully. I believe that there are two kinds of freedom: ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to.’ If we have the first, we must use the second wisely.

 Now my dog’s idea of freedom is to bolt from the leash and head straight into oncoming traffic. I have known many people just like her. They’ll take that inch so impulsively that they never make it a mile. So, on this July 4th, don’t take after my dog. Remember the words of a great man who understood what freedom really meant:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  Nelson Mandela

 

TOP TEN CLUES YOU’RE NOT A KID ANYMORE

smiley face2

 

  1. Everything hurts and if it doesn’t you’re just waiting for it to.
  2. “Your Body is a Wonderland,” in every sense of the word. Skin has gone south from your forehead to your ankles leaving a series of tiny, folded wrinkles that you can move around willy-nilly.
  3. Instead of tanning, you become covered with a splash of brown spots right out of a Jackson Pollock painting.
  4. Your teeth get bigger but your mouth gets smaller. (This is likely purposeful so that you will chew better and eat less).
  5. Everyone you see driving is entirely too young to be behind the wheel.
  6. You ask people on the phone to “speak up,” often more than once, and you still don’t know what they said.
  7. Complete strangers routinely ask if you have grandkids.
  8. Your mailbox is filled with ads for retirement homes, nursing facilities and funeral companies.
  9. You’re always looking for ramps.
  10. You can actually make a smiley face with the extra skin around your knees! (Test this by lying on your back and raising your leg in the air.)