Walk This Way

Male eagle keeps watch on a nearby nest. (Eagle photos by Cindy Gerstl)
Cindy spent about 45 minutes photographing the eagle couple, and came away with some amazing shots. Thank goodness one of us had a great telephoto lens.

My I-Phone and I are having boundary issues.

The phone makes assumptions about where I’m headed, informing me that I’m 35 minutes from home and should take the highway because traffic is light. I don’t want to tell the phone that I’m not going home, nor to a monastery 14 minutes away or a hiking trail in the next town.

I don’t remember the “frequent flyer” notifications on earlier versions of the I-Phone, and most of the time I simply ignore them or chuckle at their incorrect presumptions. (For awhile, the phone always assumed I was heading to a liquor store, making me rethink my relationship with alcohol.)

But now I’m having issues with the I-Phone’s health app. No matter what I do, the I-Phone comments on it and I’m always on the losing end of the conversation. It’s like living with an overbearing parent or spouse, where nothing you do is ever good enough.

My numbers are up in March. Then again, the month has just begun.

“Your step count is lower today than yesterday.”

“It looks like you’re a lot more active today than usual.

“You’re walking more by this time of the day than you usually do.”

Even when it’s trying to be encouraging, it manages to get a dig in. Who knew that a phone could be so critical?

I didn’t ask the phone for its opinion, but it doesn’t matter. Along with my step count, it gives me a running commentary on how I’m stacking up compared to yesterday, last week, last month and last year in everything from steps, active and standing hours, flights climbed and hearing health.

And even when I think I’m doing well, it’s never enough for my phone:

Your step count last week was lower on average than the week before.

Your mileage was lower today than the previous day.

Your average headphone audio levels were LOUD over the last seven days.

It almost makes me long for the days when everyone just walked and didn’t worry about steps. But we’re a results-driven society when it comes to nearly everything, including walking. I’m not sure it’s great, but it’s the way things are since the first Fitbit came on the scene in 2007.

I got an Apple Watch for my birthday last August, and it wants me to hook up a feature that alerts you when you have an irregular heartbeat. I can see the benefit of this, but I’m not interested. I’m an anxious person, and I’d be worried about having an irregular heartbeat. I don’t need more things to obsess about.

I felt a little better about ignoring that feature after consulting my buddy Richie, who is a heart surgeon. When I asked him about the feature, he said, “Unreliable.” That was good enough for me. If a watch is going to send me into a panic, at least I want to know it’s accurate.

Today, nearly everyone is tracking their steps, with 10,000 steps a day being the gold standard. https://blog.fitbit.com/should-you-really-take-10000-steps-a-day/ I know some people who reach their goal just going about their day, but I usually need a 75-minute brisk walk to reach my daily goal.

I don’t always achieve it, but it’s a good incentive to get moving. As a nation, we’re a sedentary bunch, leading to rising levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems. Having a step counter keeps you honest, or at least shows you how much of a slug you are on any given day.

A few years ago, I read that some fitness coaches require clients to have step counters because it’s like having a personal trainer on their wrists. It made sense, so I bought a Fitbit Flex, and then another one when the first one inexplicably broke about a year into the experiment.

Having a Fitbit was a lot of fun. For awhile, I was comparing step counts with siblings and friends, and earning badges for walking imaginary trails with my dog. But there were blips – lots of them – along the way.

The Fitbit always needed to be charged, though I never knew when it was low on juice and it would often be dead after I’d logged the longest hike in my life with no steps to show for it. And you could log steps with the Fitbit just by shaking your wrist (not that I’d ever do something so ridiculous).

I knew one tennis instructor who logged about 30,000 “steps” a day, though many of the so-called steps were from moving her wrist, not her feet. And yes, I may have been guilty of shaking my wrist a few times just to reach the 10,000 step mark some days. Sad, but true.

So I rejoiced when I discovered the I-Phone’s health app, which is like having a built-in step counter without all the hassles. The only hitch is having your I-Phone with you at all times. The other day, I stuffed it into my pants playing Pickleball just to get the steps (4,400 in 90 minutes, by the way).

I shared my frustrations about the health app with my buddies Cindy and Mark while eagle watching the other day. We had to walk from the town harbor to the nesting grounds near Long Island Sound so as not to disturb the eagles, and naturally I’d left my I-Phone in the car.

“Damn, this walk isn’t counting for anything,” I said.

“Why don’t you just put your phone in a drawer if you don’t like it?” Cindy asked.

She has a point, but it’s not that simple. I want to track my steps. I’m a person who needs to be accountable. I just wish the phone would give me the step count and hold the commentary.

For now, I’m taking the bad with the good, opening the little health app Heart to see how I’m stacking up every day. And if it ever gets too much, there’s always the drawer.

But

1-(959) 207-1043 (preferred)

“The Scream” depicts someone yelling. I wasn’t yelling.

The impossible happened: a phone solicitor hung up on me.

I didn’t think it was possible to be cut off by someone who trolls the phone lines every day looking for suckers to foolishly answer their cell phones, but I managed to do it during a drive through New Haven, CT.

And though I try very hard to be kind to people, particularly with the season of Lent upon us, I have no regrets about standing up to someone who has called my phone 20 times over the past week and asking a simple question:

“What do you want?”

“You don’t have to be rude to me ma’am,” said the telemarketer. “I’m not being rude to you. Why are you being rude to me?”

I wasn’t being rude, though I was blunt and impatient. Whoever is behind this number, which pops up as “preferred” on my cell phone, has called me dozens of times, including 13 times on Saturday during a family excursion to visit my son at college. They even called during dinner on Saturday night, though I quickly ignored the call.

As I see it, calling anyone 13 times in one day is harassment. It’s one thing if they’re calling for a charitable cause – I can usually summon my manners and tell them I don’t make donations over the phone. But having your phone ring repeatedly and seeing the same number pop up is maddening.

Like the majority of Americans, I can’t stand phone solicitors and don’t ordinarily answer their calls. In my opinion, they have ruined cell phones by polluting us with unwanted and in some cases, illegal calls. The beauty of cell phones when they first came out was solicitors could not call them. But that changed in 2012, and boy, they’re making up for lost time.

If I see an unfamiliar number, I usually just hit “ignore,” “sorry I can’t talk right now” or my favorite, “please leave a message.” I figure if someone truly has legitimate business with me, they’ll leave a message on my voicemail and I’ll get back to them.

But this solicitor has been been particularly persistent and annoying, prompting me to answer the phone during a 20-minute car trip back from Lowe’s to pick up potting supplies. If nothing else, I wanted to answer the call just to make it stop.

So when +1-(959) 207-1043 popped up again, I answered. The caller addressed me by my first name, which set me off from the start. He’s greeting me by name without identifying himself. I didn’t say “yes” when he said my name. I said simply, “What do you want?”

“Why are you being rude to me?” he said. “I’m not being rude to you. I’m just doing my job.”

“I asked you what you want,” I said. “You called my phone 13 times on Saturday and I just want to know why you’re hounding me. I’m not being rude. Just tell me why you’re calling me.”

(And by the way, repeatedly calling someone you don’t know and not identifying where you are from immediately is being very rude, at least in my book. When I used to call people from the newspaper, I’d always identify myself as a reporter and ask if it was a good time. If it wasn’t, I always offered to call back. It’s ridiculous to assume that a person is free or wants to talk just because you are.)

“I’m required by law to call you,” he answered, still skirting my question. “And I don’t understand why you’re yelling at me.”

“I’m not yelling at you,” I said. “You’d know it if I was yelling at you. This is not yelling.”

And it wasn’t. I was perturbed, annoyed and snarky, but I wasn’t yelling. I know what yelling is. Yelling is what my father and many dads of his generation did when their kids did something dumb. I still remember hearing my friend’s father scream, “How could you be so stupid?” from the road after he dented his car when he was about 16.

His Dad was usually so nice and soft-spoken that it was a shock to hear him raise his voice. But it made me feel better to know other Dads yelled too.

Yelling is sometimes the only effective tool you have to convey feelings of anger and complete frustration. I recently told the Curmudgeon that I don’t think he yelled enough when our kids screwed up, that a little fear of your parents isn’t the worst thing when you do something wrong.

But he isn’t the screamer in the family, I am. And though I try not to do it too often, I know what constitutes yelling.

Yelling is screaming at the top of your lungs when you make an errant golf shot and shout, “Fore!” Yelling is trying to get a dog to stop attacking your sister’s Maltese, which you are pet-sitting and will be killed if anything happens to him, on a hiking trail.

I can yell, and I wasn’t yelling at this guy, who may be the world’s most hyper-sensitive telemarketer. I simply wanted to know why he was calling me, something he seemed intent on keeping to himself. But I have news for him. If he thinks I was yelling at him, he’d better toughen up because there are a lot of people out there with way shorter fuses than I have.

“I suppose you’re going to tell me you’re calling from Social Security and my number has been compromised,” I said.

“I’m going to call you when you are a little calmer,” he said, still refusing to tell me who is represented or what he wanted. “Have a nice day.”

I tried calling the number back several times and no one answered, no big surprise. But he hasn’t called back, so maybe he finally got the message. In the meantime, I’m putting my cell phone on the DO NOT CALL list, something I meant to do years ago. If you haven’t done it, here’s how:

https://www.donotcall.gov

You’re welcome.

Walking With JT

I never understood how vital daily exercise is for prisoners until my own home confinement.

With sheltering in place a way of life for the indefinite future, getting out to take a walk and embrace a change of scenery is the highlight of my day. I look forward to my walk, savoring the sense of freedom it brings to our new normal.

I’ve been walking, or “pacing” as one of my brother-in-law’s calls it, since my late ’30s, crediting it with leveling me out when I’m under stress. I walked the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard at dawn every day when dealing with my fussy and colicky infant daughter, finding it the only source of solace in my day.

And I’ve used walking to navigate other stressful times, including the deaths of my father and in-laws within five years of each other. During one particularly bad patch, I remember walking and muttering different mantras, including “I feel out of control.” Somehow, just saying the words in time with my feet helped.

Someone once told me that nicotine is among the hardest drugs to quit because it can relax or stimulate you, depending upon your needs.

Walking is the same thing for me. I can tune out and shut my mind off by blasting music, or tap into my deepest thoughts and come up with startling revelations in silence on my walks. A lot depends on my mood and state of mind, what I need on a particular day. Lots of times, I have no idea what that is until the walk is over.

I do 95 percent of my walking alone, mainly because I want to escape on my terms and my schedule often doesn’t jibe with others. But there are days that I can’t bear the thought of walking alone, texting siblings or friends to keep me company.

The other day, I called my sister Patty to ask if she’d walk with me, confessing “I’m lonely.” That’s a hard thing for me to admit, though a lot of other people feel the same way these days. And though I’d ordinarily feel pathetic saying that about myself, I was being honest. I don’t remember feeling this lonely or polarized in a long time.

I’ve never been a podcast walker, but circumstances sometimes require a change in attitude. Over the past week, I’ve been listening to a lot of James Taylor on my solitary hikes through the woods with the dog. Something about James’ voice and message is what I need right now: mellow, relaxing, soulful, beautiful.

So when a free Audible book by James Taylor popped up on my Amazon home screen, I immediately ordered it. Called Break Point and narrated by Taylor, it tells the story of his early days growing up in Massachusetts and North Carolina, his love of Martha’s Vineyard and his dysfunctional family.

It also tells the story behind many of his most famous hits, which as a lifelong fan, I found fascinating. In addition, he dishes about being discovered by a famous band and his run-in with one of the most notorious killers of our time. I won’t spoil it for you if you plan to listen.

He packs a lot of information and of course, a few strums on his guitar, into his 90-minute Audiobook. Best of all, he’s a great storyteller, managing to get me to laugh out loud several times, and nod my head at his wisdom. Having the ability to amuse and teach is an enormous gift, particularly during these unsettling times.

And seeing the way he managed to survive tough times and flourish is a great reminder of the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Truth In Avatarsing

Avatar: An icon or figure representing a particular person in a video game, Internet forum, etc.

I’ve never had an avatar. In fact, I only recently discovered that’s the name for the cutesy cartoon depictions that people create for an online presence.

My blogging buddy Waking Up on the Wrong Side of 50 added an avatar to her site several months ago. Though it’s not her actual picture, it gives a glimpse into her general appearance.

People are naturally curious about what writers look like, or what lurks behind the keyboard. After reading several chapters of “The Yellow House” by Sarah Broom (by the way, one of the best books I’ve read in years), I Googled Ms. Broom to get a sense of what she looks like.

I did the same thing after finishing a piece by New Yorker cartoonist Emily Flake, who questioned why she was following an artsy-fartsy hippie family on Instagram. After Flake described herself as dumpy https://longreads.com/tag/emily-flake/, I decided to Google her, reasoning “I’ll be the judge of that.”

(Like many women, Flake is much too hard on herself. I don’t know why women do this, but the self-flagellation has got to stop.)

But back to avatars. Waking recently wrote about being hit upon by a man after he liked one of her Instagram photos, and she liked his. She was incredulous that this guy, whom she has since blocked, hit on her based on her avatar and the fact that she liked his photo.

I wrote saying I’d never had this problem, but some guys look for any opening, even one that doesn’t exist.

But now my curiosity was piqued. I’ve wanted an avatar since my hip neighbor Ken, who works in advertising and is always on the cutting edge of everything, debuted his avatar several years ago. Waking’s post reminded me that like a lot of things, I never got around to doing it.

I went on a free online avatar site and began building a virtual self-portrait. But I quickly moved on to Avachara http://avachara.com because the first had limited expressions that didn’t capture any of my moods, and lacked shoulder length hair with an off-center part.

I moved onto another site after I came up with this one on the first. I look like a crazy bodybuilder, and I’ve never worn a center part, even in the ’70s.

As I see it, there must be truth in avatarsing, or at least some semblance of it. But as I built my image with hair, eyes, eyebrows, nose and lips, I wondered whether I was building an image of what I want to look like, or an accurate depiction of me.

The good news is that avatar faces don’t have wrinkles, sagging jowls or dark spots requiring nightly No. 7 correcting cream. The eyes are devoid of crepy eyelids, under-eye circles, crow’s feet and bags that make you tempted to take the Plexiderm challenge.

For me, the toughest part was the nose and eyebrows. I initially selected a turned up nose that I’ve always wanted, but wasn’t at all like my Irish/Italian schnoz. I had the feeling that my sisters and friends would think, “Is she kidding?” when seeing it, so I returned to the noses and selected a more realistic one.

The other hitch was the eyebrows, making me realize how important eyebrow shape and grooming is to our appearance. I tried out several different eyebrows and none of them came close to my natural brows, which I’ve always tried to tame myself with a tweezer.

I finally chose what I thought was close to mine, but who knows? That may be wishful thinking too.

I had most fun dressing my avatar. It reminded me of when I was a little girl home sick from school. My mother would always buy me Colorforms or paper dolls to keep me happy when I was sick, the only upside to feeling punk.

I loved dressing up the paper and Colorform dolls, making my avatar styling like a walk back in time. I chose a white blouse, black blazer and dark washed jeans, but there were more wild choices, including a French maid outfit. I have no idea who would pick that.

Once built, I showed the Curmudgeon my avatar.

“Does this look anything like me?” I asked.

“She is awfully slim,” he said.

So I got to work on his avatar, which looks a bit like he did 30 years ago. In his younger days, people used to say he resembled Christopher Reeve during his Superman days. (I never really saw that, but he seemed to enjoy the comparison.) Last year, he was mistaken on Hilton Head Island for the golfer Jim Furyk.

I guess time and gravity have a way of catching up with all of us.

The Curmudgeon’s avatar.
Golfer Jim Furyk.

Feeling Our Age

Doing the college thing in your 60s is tiring . . .

I felt a like a derelict over the weekend, stretching out on a cushioned bench in the student center during my daughter’s college orientation.

This was no time for decorum. After six hours of welcome speeches, break-out sessions for majors, chitchatting with other prospective students and parents and wolfing down a catered lunch, the Curmudgeon and I still had two hours to kill before our daughter returned from a tour of Washington, D.C., landmarks.

I suggested returning to our hotel in Old Alexandria, VA, and taking a nap. The Curmudgeon refused, noting we’d spend at least an hour in the car and have to drive back to the hotel after picking up our daughter. At some point, I wondered aloud why college administrators hadn’t put cots in an auditorium for weary parents.

Too tired for more walking and chilled from an arctic blast that descended on our nation’s capitol, we splurged on two hard cover books from a nearby Barnes & Noble and decided to spend our spare time reading. With books in hand, we rushed over to the Catholic University of America’s Student Center and climbed the stairs to the second floor, claiming a 10-foot-long vinyl sofa as our temporary home.

I’m not the type of person to make myself too comfortable in public. There are rules of acceptable behavior and I generally abide by them. I guess you could say I’m modest; some have even called me a prude. One of my brother-in-laws once caressed my sister on a store escalator and was admonished by an older woman: “This ain’t your house.”

I get that, and I generally play by the rules. But there’s a point where exhaustion and exposure to the elements take over, making you do things out of your comfort zone.

And that includes laying on a couch and balling up your coat into a pillow, stretching out as though you’re in your living room. As I read, the Curmudgeon sat at my feet, trying to read but nodding off instead.

In Old Alexandria
One of the things I did was play around with Instagram filters to pass the time. I particularly liked Valentine Eyes, which eradicates crow’s feet. My daughter is only pretending to drink the Curmudgeon’s beer.

And as people passed and tried not to notice us, I thought of how pathetic we looked and didn’t care. Well, I did a little. At one point, I thought someone might call campus security to complain about a suspicious couple sleeping on a couch, but I quickly dismissed it. We looked too old and decrepit to be dangerous.

Sending off a kid to college in your 60s isn’t easy, or at least it feels a lot harder than it did four years ago when my son went away.

First, there’s all the walking. I can tell parents who are veterans when they show up in running shoes. They know that fashion takes a back seat to comfort when they’re on college campuses, and only a fool would show up in heels to navigate all the hills and steps.

But there’s also the general sense of being a little long in the tooth to be doing the college thing, of being the elder statesmen in the crowd. I found myself scanning the crowd and noticing other older parents, in some cases wondering if they were grandparents. And I noticed how young some parents are. One woman looked like she could be her son’s date, a fact I found admirable and troubling at the same time.

The older folks were the quiet ones, biting our tongue when parents asked questions like, “How can I make sure my child is taking his medication every day?” and rolling our eyes when a mother asked four questions during a break-out session for history majors.

You’d think the parents were the ones going to college, not the kids. About all I could think was there’s going to be a lot of letting go over the next six months or this isn’t going to work for either the kids or parents. Like I said, I’m older and wiser this time around.

There were no orientation sessions or “vetting days” when I entered Wheaton College in Norton, MA., in the fall of 1976. After moving me into the dorm and shedding a brief tear, my parents drove off, leaving me to eat my box lunch by myself on the campus’ sprawling lawn adorably named “The Dimple.”

Things are so different today, perhaps reflecting the current trend toward over-parenting in which parents have to be involved in everything, including college orientation. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I’m not so sure it’s so great. I’m a big believer in baptism by fire.

I don’t know how my children feel about having older parents, mainly because I’ve never asked them. But lately, my daughter has been dropping hints that we’ve both seen better days and I can’t really argue. At a certain age, maybe around 60, you reach a point of resignation. You start to think, “Hey, for my age, I’m not doing so bad. Let’s see how great you look when you’re this age.”

***

When my daughter arrived in June, 2001, I was two months shy of 43. I remember being shocked by how much more tired I was than when my son arrived when I was 39. Four years makes a huge difference, especially when chasing around toddlers.

I didn’t think of myself as an old mom, and tried to be as active as possible. My brother-in-law had dated a woman who was adopted by an older couple and he was always telling me that she never did anything because her parents were so old. Yikes. I didn’t want my kids to suffer a similar fate.

I taught my kids to roller-skate at a young age, and disco roller-skated with them on most school holidays, becoming the brunt of jokes among some kids who made fun of my ’70s moves. I taught my son to play tennis, and our daughter picked up running like her father.

But parenting children gets harder as you age, perhaps due to waning physical stamina. If you doubt me, ask anyone who watches their grandchildren for any length of time. Most look like they’re shell-shocked, at least until they have a few days to recover. My father had seven children 11 years apart, and when I’d complain that the younger ones were getting away with stuff that we never did, he said simply, “I’m tired.”

As an “older” parent, you try not to focus on age but sometimes people remind you. When my daughter was still very little, one of my sisters said, “Do you realize that you’re going to be 53 when she’s 10?” Well, yes, I’d done the math, but tried not to think about it.

My mother began having children when she was 23, and was a grandmother by 52. One of my sisters and many of my friends are now grandparents, a concept that’s hard for me to wrap my head around. After all, I’m still in the trenches, driving to orthodontist appointments, discussing comforter options for dorm rooms and jean shopping at Banana Republic.

It’s all good, and believe me, parenting is absolutely the best thing I’ll ever do in my life. Still, I can’t help thinking the cots were a great idea.

Bowl Like An Egyptian

The Curmudgeon at the bowling alley.

When we sent our son to college, we had certain expectations.

We expected him to go to class, do his homework, party mostly on the weekends and learn how to live on his own. We did NOT expect him to fall in love with bowling, though I suppose there are worse things in life.

He sets aside Tuesday nights when he’s home to bowl with his cousin and friends at a bowling alley about 20 minutes away. I think the initial draw was the drink specials, but slowly and steadily they’ve become pretty serious about their scores.

We thought bowling was reserved for home visits until we discovered that he’s bowling at least once a week at an alley near campus in Worcester, MA. One night, he couldn’t get anyone to go with him so he used two alleys and bowled 12 games in two hours. Like I said, this kid is full of surprises.

Why bowling? Why not?

That’s my score third from top. Yes, I was my team’s weak link.
The Curmudgeon calculates scores to determine individual and team winners after the Pickleball bowling party. Like a kids’ party, we had trophies.

It’s a great way to blow off steam and socialize with friends, particularly in the dead of winter when a lot of sports are in cold storage. And it’s probably the most democratic game in the world: nearly everyone has bowled at least once in their life at either a duckpin alley or with the gutters up at a kids’ birthday party.

It should come as no surprise that bowling is one of the oldest games known to man, dating back to about 5,200 B.C. in Ancient Egypt. The game’s primitive roots are obvious: you can just imagine early man picking up a small boulder and rolling it at targets in the distance, can’t you?

Image depicting bowling in Ancient Egypt.

Like our hunter/gatherer and maternal instincts, perhaps a need to look, aim and knock down pins is ingrained in our DNA. It certainly would explain why so many people around the world love to bowl, about 70 billion at last count.

I realized that most people have a soft spot for bowling when I organized a 10-pin bowling party a few weeks ago for my Pickleball friends. I had no idea who’d bite, but within a few days nearly 30 people said that they’d bowl and moreover, were looking forward to it.

Most hadn’t bowled for years, but that wasn’t important. They were looking forward to picking up a ball, rolling it down a sleek oiled wooden floor and seeing how many pins would topple. A simple proposition, but not so easy to accomplish as my dismal scores proved.

Getting strikes and spares is difficult, even with a measly eight-pound ball. And hand-eye coordination is no help when rolling a ball that insists on lilting to the left and missing pins, seemingly with a mind of its own. It doesn’t help that my teammates are criticizing my piddly ball speed, which is visible on the overhead score screen.

“Put a little more oomph in it,” the Curmudgeon screams as I roll my second ball. Seriously? Do I really need to be heckled doing something I do once every decade? Bowling is one of the few things besides writing that I do left-handed. And what I’m discovering is that despite being my dominant hand, my left side is very weak.

The biggest challenge is reminding people when it’s their turn to bowl to keep things moving. I swear some of these Picklers came to socialize and bowl between conversations or sips of beer and wine.

But there are also a few ringers in the crowd. The husband of one of my friends scores an impressive 212, notching the highest score of the night. No real surprise though. He was the only one of the gang who entered the alley carrying his own ball in a mesh sack.

The law firm goes bowling too.

On the heels of the Pickleball bowling outing, the Curmudgeon’s workplace organized a bowling party. This would mean I’d be bowling twice within two weeks, a record for me. I skip the pizza and beer party beforehand at a local brewery – I’ve got enough problems without being weighed down by carbs.

But I’m eager to bowl again. I’m even beginning to get the concept of a bowling league, though I wonder whether they even have leagues for raw beginners like me.

The Curmudgeon wore his interpretation of a funny bowling outfit: a bright yellow Hawaiian shirt from a college reunion 25 years ago and a backwards baseball cap. I’m not sure if it qualifies as bowling attire, but he thinks it does so who am I to argue?

As lanes are assigned and people begin to bowl, I begin to realize the magic of bowling. Everyone lets their guard down, focusing on one thing: getting the ball from point A to B. And the letting up of the guard, even momentarily, is freeing and unifying. As corny as it sounds – and believe me, it does – bowling brings out our inner child.

In some ways, I think that bowling is a metaphor for life: roll the ball with confidence, skill and precision and you score well. Roll it sloppily or with indifference and you’re in the gutter, where no one wants to be.

Thankfully in life and bowling, there’s always a second ball to roll and a shot at redemption. And that’s not such a bad proposition in either case.

In Defense of Facebook

This Facebook video really got to me, making me realize how many special moments were captured over the years.

So here’s the thing:

A lot of people don’t have a good word to say about Facebook, and I get that. Over the years, it’s evolved from a place where we shared photos of our family, friends, celebrations and travels into a collection of shared posts with very little original material.

Scrolling through Facebook is a lot like sifting through junk mail. The ads and sponsored posts drive me crazy, as do people’s insistence on sharing their political beliefs.

I could feel my blood boiling after reading one woman’s post after the State of the Union address, and nearly posted a comment before getting ahold of myself. Anyone who jumps into the fray in a political argument on Facebook is open to verbal attacks and ridicule and I want no part of that.

But just for the record, social media brings out the bully in a lot of people. It’s easy to make fun of people or take cheap shots when you’re hiding behind a computer screen. But consider this: just because someone disagrees with you or supports a different political party does not mean they’re stupid. And suggesting that they’re stupid, foolish or ignorant says a lot more about your character than your support of a certain candidate.

Here’s an adage that summarizes my feelings on the subject:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.
— ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Like a lot of people on Facebook, I trash it: it’s a major time suck, an opportunity for people to post photos of their adventures, brag about their kids, make us jealous with their tropical photos of freshly manicured toes in sand in the dead of winter, and worse still, close-ups of their five-course meal.

But my stance softened when Facebook compiled a video tracing some of my highlights since I joined in 2008. Back in the early days, everyone shared photos of their kids, and I realized that Facebook had traced my kids’ childhood. My daughter was 6 and my son was 10 when I joined. I’d forgotten how many special moments I’d shared: my daughter’s First Communion, my son’s baseball games, my tennis team’s Christmas gathering, and even the dog donning a silly plaid raincoat.

Watching the video to the strains of sentimental music reminiscent of the “Terms of Endearment” theme song brought me to tears. There were so many good memories in that video that I realized that Facebook isn’t all bad. In fact, it could be really good again if people would stop trashing it and get back to what made it great in the early days.

The best part about Facebook are the personal connections. Yea, it’s social media, but it allows you to be in touch with people – however remotely – who you’ve known throughout your life. My Facebook web includes my cousins, distant relatives, childhood friends, former co-workers and high school and college classmates.

I attended a high school reunion for the first time a few years ago because of Facebook. The organizers used Facebook to generate interest and support leading up to the event and it worked. Somehow being part of the process made it very appealing, so I went and had a great time. I’m pretty sure I would’ve sat it out had it not been for Facebook.

Facebook is also a great way to disseminate information quickly and efficiently. Over the years, I’ve used it as I would a newspaper, sharing information so people know about deaths in the family or other pressing matters. Facebook has proved invaluable in this way, sparing families the ordeal of calling distant relatives and friends when a crisis hits. For this, I’m very grateful.

Wishing people a happy birthday on Facebook doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I think it’s a nice thing to do. The only exception to this was when one of my sisters used Facebook to wish me a happy birthday. I told her that I expected a call, and she hasn’t made that mistake again. Yea, I’m her older sister.

Facebook is also a great way to share my blog with readers who wouldn’t follow me on WordPress. In the beginning, WordPress had a button that let you automatically share your blog on Facebook. About a year into it, that changed and WordPress told bloggers they’d have to share their posts by copying and pasting a link to Facebook. “Are they kidding?,” I thought.

Some bloggers didn’t bother after the switch, but I always make a point of copying and pasting. It takes a second, and is a good way to share with an audience who isn’t on WordPress. Plus, I need all the followers I can get.

Like a lot of things in life, people love to criticize Facebook while at the same time checking in with it every day. For me, it’s a bit of a habit: I check it in the morning after I check my email and texts and before I see if there’s been any action on WordPress.

But I think it’s up to all of us to make it a better place to spend (waste?) our time.

What do I mean?

  1. Post some original material. My sister posted a photo of her German shepherd Dakota smiling last week that was a real pick-me-up. Post things that you think will bring a smile to someone’s face.
  2. Stop lurking in the shadows and make your presence known. Yea, we know you check your Facebook page on a regular basis, though you don’t want anyone to know it. Stop being such a voyeur and join the party.
  3. Resist the temptation to post pithy quotes all the time. You’re a creative person: just tell us what’s on your mind.
  4. Stop posting photos of your food.
  5. Continue to use Facebook to poll people. One Facebook friend just asked people for their mattress recommendations. What a great way to get information quickly and efficiently for an expensive item (by the way, we bought a Therapedic BackSense Juno mattress at a high school fundraiser for our daughter’s band trip. It’s awesome.)
  6. Don’t be mean or condescending. Honestly, I can’t believe how rude some people are when making comments on Facebook, particularly on our town’s Facebook page. (See quote above by Abraham Lincoln.)
  7. Don’t take cheap shots. Take the high road, or you will be unfriended.
  8. Be forgiving. One Facebook friend routinely unfriends people when they don’t respond to his posts or wish him a happy birthday. When I went days without seeing any of his posts, I checked. Yea, I’ve been unfriended too.
  9. Don’t be stingy with your likes. Everyone likes to be liked, so take a second and make someone’s day.
  10. As with all things in life, take the good with the bad. After all, it’s only Facebook.

Get Happy

My morning routine: laptop, coffee and my Happy Light.

We’ve heard about tropical parties in the winter, but have you ever heard of inviting people over to bask in your “Happy Light?”

Over the past few days, I’ve invited my neighbor Jim and friend Wendy to come over and sit next to my Verilux* “Happy Light,” which emits broad spectrum white light that mimics the sun. This is about the best I can do in late January in Connecticut, which still feels like the dark side of the moon.

Wendy asked if she should wear her bathing suit, but I reminded her that this is a therapeutic light – not a sun lamp like the one I used in the ’70s to tan before heading south every spring. That light is probably part of the reason I got skin cancer in my mid-40s, and still avoid the sun today.

My doctor prescribed the $40 light box that fights Seasonal Affective Disorder after I complained that I’ve been feeling tired and sluggish since the time change Nov. 1st. He said I should feel more energetic after using the light designed to increase energy, well-being, focus and relaxation. (For more on the Happy Light, visit https://verilux.com)

About the size of an I-pad, the $40 Happy Light sits on a table in my family room and is the first thing I turn on every morning. I can do other tasks like reading, watching TV or writing while it’s on. I don’t stare at the light, which is about 12 to 24 inches from my face. I just occasionally glance over at it as if to say, “Oh yes, I see you’re there. And I’m very happy that you are.”

Jim snagged his Happy Light invitation after he made the mistake of texting me: “Making it through this winter? It’s been mild but long.” He probably sees the glow of the light emanating from my family room every morning and is wondering what’s going on in here.

Wendy got her invite after a clutch of women discussed their problem with afternoon fatigue, and I mentioned my Happy Light. It seems unfair to keep it to myself.

I’ve never been a fan of winter and diminished light, but this year has been particularly tough for me. Like most things these days from flagging libido to crepey skin, I suspect I can chalk some of it up to age. As we get older, we secrete less of our “feel good” hormone serotonin and become more sensitive to cold. At the same time, we become more prone to Vitamin D deficiency.

Years ago, I remember my mother-in-law talking about diminished Vitamin B levels among her friends, hearing tales of them ponying up for mega-shots of Vitamin B12 shots to get more energy. Today, nearly everyone I talk to has a Vitamin D deficiency and takes daily supplements to bring it into normal range.

Vitamin D deficiency is rare in children because most drink plenty of milk and other fortified dairy products. But it’s considered a “worldwide epidemic” among adults, with an estimated 1 billion people suffering from insufficient levels across the globe.https://www.medicinenet.com/vitamin_d_deficiency/article.htm

In the United States, about 40 percent of the population suffers from Vitamin D deficiency, which can cause everything from chronic fatigue syndrome to depression. Since Vitamin D plays a crucial role in immunity, low levels have also been linked to an increase in autoimmune diseases and certain types of cancer.

The Happy Light is part of my doctor’s two-prong approach to fighting my winter blues. In addition to light therapy, I learned my Vitamin D level is woefully low and could be causing my seasonal lethargy and joint pain.

I had no idea my Vitamin D level was so low until I went to my doctor and complained about my joints. He suggested testing my Vitamin D level, noting many of his patients with arthritis had low Vitamin D levels and saw a marked improvement after taking supplements.

It should be noted that my Vitamin D level was not checked during a routine blood test for my annual physical. The doctor didn’t order the test until I mentioned achy joints. If you suspect your level is low or haven’t had it checked for awhile, you might ask your doctor for a blood test to check it.

I was prescribed 1.25 mg (50,000 units) of Vitamin D2 once a week to bring my Vitamin D level into the normal range. After that, I’ll take a 2,000 daily supplement to maintain a healthy level. Always check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

I’ve only taken one Vitamin D supplement, so it’s way too early to tell if it’s going to be a game changer. But learning that my Vitamin D level was low was validating in a way: there was a viable reason for my sluggishness, which reared its ugly head most afternoons.

As for the Happy Light, I’m quite content sitting near it, and am always a little sad to turn it off. I’m a creature of the light, and nothing makes me happier than looking out and seeing a sunny day. But for now, the Happy Light will have to do. It’s not the sun, but it’s something. And right now, I’ll take what I can get.

*I have received no compensation from Verilux for this piece.

Mother Knows Best

Necessity is the mother of invention: ice bags held in place with an old thermal shirt.

I got a FaceTime call from my son in the next room.

“My laptop needs to be recharged and I need you to get the plug,” he said. I went into the family room and fished around before I discovered he was sitting on it.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked.

I don’t ordinarily wait hand and foot on my kids, who are both young adults and capable of doing things for themselves. But my son had his wisdom teeth removed and is taking his oral surgeon’s advice as gospel: lay low for at least two days to prevent dreaded “dry sockets.”

I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone undergoing wisdom teeth extraction because I still remember the procedure and recovery at age 16. My oral surgeon said it would be helpful if I stayed awake during the removal of my four wisdom teeth so I could assist him by turning my head in different directions.

He failed to mention that staying awake involved eight shots of Novocaine in the roof, bottom and sides of my mouth. I remember thinking the shots to my upper and lower palates were the most painful thing I’d ever experienced. Looking back on it now, it’s right up there with an endometrial biopsy, in which a piece of uterine lining is removed without anesthesia. Yea, that smarts.

Extraction day came at the tail end of my son’s final winter break from college. He graduates in May, and would like to move to Boston. I don’t mind too much, but it’s not something I want to dwell on. I like the rhythm of having a kid in college – away much of the year, but still technically living at home – and I know it will take some adjustment. Did I mention that I don’t do too well with adjustments?

+++

I forgot how demanding my son could be until we began driving home on Interstate 95, and I decided to take an earlier exit to avoid a traffic jam we’d seen on the way to the oral surgeon’s office.

“What are you doing?” he mumbled, sounding a lot like Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” with all the gauze in his mouth. “The doctor said I’m supposed to take it easy. Why aren’t you taking the fastest route home possible?”

I flashed back to when he was four and demanded that I turn the car around every time we passed his favorite playground. He was a little tyrant: he once got so mad at me when I told him we had to leave the playground that he bit my upper inner thigh with all his might. Yes, I saw stars.

Truth be told, I’d sort of been looking forward to Wisdom Teeth Extraction Day because it was a chance to really take care of him like I did when he was a little boy. I wasn’t relishing the procedure, face swelling or intense pain he’d suffer, but it was nice to know that he still needed me, if only for a day. At the very least, he needed me to drive him home – something he hasn’t wanted or needed for six years.

At first he tried to affix the ice bags with a belt, but it was a failure on many levels.

Wisdom Teeth Extraction Day puts us in full-on Mommy mode, sending us to the store for soft foods like pudding, Cream of Rice and Greek yogurt. It forces us to clear our calendars: sorry, I can’t work or do anything today because my kid is undergoing surgery and needs me. It’s like when they’re little and running a fever, or have a stomach bug. You’re at their beck and call, counting your blessings that they’re usually so healthy.

Most importantly, WTED puts us squarely in the driver’s seat in terms of our young adult’s well-being: yes, you can brush your teeth, but don’t rinse vigorously; yes, you can have homemade butternut squash soup, but wait until it cools off; no, you can’t go bowling with your friends 48 hours after the procedure. You’re still healing and look like a chipmunk.

I was doing remarkably well ordering my son around for his own good. It was nice to be in control because he’s the kind of kid who’s been disagreeing with me since he was 13. Overnight, we went from best buddies to adversaries, and there were times when I thought he detested me (and he probably did).

I was assured by my Mom friends that this stage was normal and would pass. But it seemed to go on forever, or until about age 20. Slowly, steadily he wanted to talk to me again and hear what I had to say. But the kid still has his own mind and can be stubborn as an ox.

We reached an impasse over bowling. I said no. The last thing I wanted was dry sockets, which develop three to five days after surgery and are legendarily painful. My niece recently had her wisdom teeth removed and was in agony when a dry socket developed. I wanted to avoid that complication, particularly since he’s leaving soon for second semester.

My son wasn’t swayed. He Googled bowling after oral surgery. Apparently, this is a common question among kids having wisdom teeth removed. There were a variety of answers, but apparently it’s not recommended on the same day as surgery. No big surprise there.

He then called and texted everyone he knew with a connection to dentistry, including his friend Drew.

“Drew says it’s fine,” he said.

“What does Drew know about dentistry?” I asked.

“His Grandpa is an oral surgeon.”

“Oh, so I guess that makes him an authority,” I said.

We battled back and forth all day. And then I realized that there’s only so much a parent can say or do. You can kick, scream and threaten to take the car keys away, but ultimately they’re adults and have to make their own decisions.

I told him he could go bowling if that’s what he really wanted to do. But I said I wanted him home by midnight. I wanted to play the Mom card for as long as possible, and hadn’t successfully imposed a curfew in years.

He went bowling and didn’t score well that night, no real surprise given his compromised physical condition. But he did come home a half-hour before curfew, making a point to stop into my room to show that he was home. And though we never agreed on the bowling issue, I think he learned an important lesson: sometimes, mothers know best.

Our New Corolla

Every once in awhile, I fear I’ve got a tiny problem with impulse control.

It manifests itself in different ways, but usually involves shopping and money. I’m usually pretty good at watching my spending – 36 years being married to the Curmudgeon will do that – but there are times when I just want to let loose and buy something without agonizing over it.

Our family room couch is 30 years old, and no longer practical. A 6-foot-long camel back, it’s a glorified love seat, big enough to accommodate three seated souls or one person (usually me) stretched out to watch TV. I realized its limitations when my son’s friend came over to watch a football game: we needed to haul in a chair from the living room so he could sit down.

It’s well made, solid and comfortable enough that we reupholstered it once, swapping its original flame stitch for a more neutral blue chenille. But it’s served it purpose, or should I say time? It’s tired and worn, flecked with fabric pills that I remove with a disposable shaver before company arrives. It’s also sheathed in dog hair, proof that yellow Labrador retrievers shed all year and no amount of vacuuming or lint rolling removes some fur.

I mentioned the need for a new couch and a flurry of post-holiday furniture sales to the Curmudgeon, and was told to forget it. But then I began to make mental notes of times that he’s splurged without telling me: the night he pranced in wearing a new tuxedo that he never mentioned he bought, or the expensive tennis stringer he bought for our son.

It took my son about a minute to break in the new sectional. Ignore the mess on the coffee table.

I then considered a few major home improvement projects that were entirely his idea: the kitchen remodel and the conversion of our screened porch into a year-round sun room. He initiated both projects, which have made our place much more comfortable. But I was supportive. I had no objection to overseeing both projects and supervising contractors.

So I gave his objection to a new couch very little thought. In fact, I ignored it. Sometimes, a wife must take matters into her own hands for the good of the family room.

I enlisted the help of my son to measure the room and the existing couch – a mere 6 feet from arm to arm. And then we measured one side of the room where two striped over-sized club chairs currently sit – about 8 feet. I planned to replace the couch and chairs with an L-shaped sectional to accommodate more people, or as my friend Beth would say, to facilitate “flopping.”

I don’t love sectionals – they’re big, bulky and tend to dominate rooms. But they’re practical when it comes to seating large numbers of people. My mom has a half-circle sectional that seats about eight or nine people and still has room for her dog Maggie. She got it about 35 years ago, long before the dawning of the sectional craze, and it’s served her well.

We have an L-shaped sectional in our sun room that comfortably accommodates my son and about six or seven friends who come over to watch football games. Guys never seem to mind piling together, no matter how old they get.

I went to Raymour & Flanigan, stepping into the furniture giant for the very first time and tried to get my bearings. I quickly asked to be pointed to the sectionals and began inspecting them for style and comfort. Regrettably, most were leather or microfiber behemoths, reminding me of why I don’t really love sectionals.

Our old couch has seen better days.

But then, over in the distance, I spotted the Corolla, a sectional sharing the name with a Toyota and a comedian named Adam. Low slung, sleek and modern, the Corolla is a modular sectional that allows you to pull it apart and arrange pieces any way you want. This is a nice feature for someone who has trouble with commitment in the best of circumstances.

I sat in the corner of the Corolla and put my feet up, asking my salesman Chase about various options. As we chatted, I asked Chase about his weirdest customers, thinking I might be among them. Not even close, he resassured me.

His oddest customers were a couple in their 40s who insisted on making out on every couch that they tried out. They’d sit on the couch, start snuggling and then got busy, trying to reenact what they do on their couch at home. I guess Chase was lucky that they weren’t shopping for beds.

I wanted a chaise at one end of the sectional, but it was impossible because of the small space. So I decided on a large ottoman that could be moved around, or entirely out of the way if need be.

Chase crunched numbers, and then told me to take a seat. He told me he wanted to see if he could get more off the price, disappearing behind a glass wall. I was suddenly reminded why everyone hates furniture shopping: it’s one step removed from car shopping with the negotiating, haggling and promise: “Let me see what my manager can do.”

Chase and his manager Bruce came over and slashed an additional $300 off the price of the sectional, and then Bruce said he could take $20 off the ottoman. I told him to forget it. The nearly $400 cost would put me in the danger zone with the Curmudgeon. I could get away with a certain amount of craziness, but even I know when I’m pushing it.

I’d watched my Dad use this strategy with car dealers – replace the cloth seats with leather at no cost and we’ve got a deal. A seasoned negotiator from Brooklyn, he relished bargaining and was usually pretty successful. But Bruce just stared blankly at me when I said to forget the ottoman.

“OK, then just get the couch,” he said. “You can order the ottoman at some other time and just take it home in your car.”

So much for my negotiation skills. I guess it’s apparent to everyone that I don’t buy big ticket items too often and am a pushover when it comes to deal-making. But that’s OK.

The Curmudgeon is thrilled with the new sectional, proclaiming it perfect after settling on it for the first time. Even better, he didn’t have to spend time furniture shopping, something he deplores more than most people.