Category Archives: age

Brain Work

i never used to worry about brain cells, but now it seems that if you’re not busy tapping away at puzzles on your phone or tablet you need to be worried about your brain function. like i don’t have enough to worry about already…

i’m not much for games, especially when i have to shell out money to play games and shell out a lot of money to play “brain games”. i tried some of those free on-line games but they just didn’t interest me enough to continue playing. to me, just figuring something out or learning something new is enough of a game. i guess i’m just one of those people who has to have a purpose for play.

as i read more about the concept of “use it or lose it” to improve brain function, i discovered that it wasn’t so much that it has to be math games or even games, it’s just that you have to use your brain to learn something you don’t already know. apparently you can even get benefit from just watching educational videos.

okay, so i could just watch educational videos, but i kind of do that anyway. i was searching for some other way to improve brain function and improve myself. one thing i did was buy spanish language cds to play in the car and attempt to learn spanish. it’s very difficult. funny things is that when i’m asked to respond in spanish, the first thing that comes to mind is german since i studied german for 6 years. but i’m going to keep on going because i figure if i can memorize all the words to some dumb pop song by repetition, i can probably pick up some spanish.

but, i found another activity that enhances my brain function and contributes something to the world and to future generations. it’s working on transcriptions of hard copy documents for the smithsonian institution.

the smithsonian is attempting to transcribe every hard copy document in their archives so that they can be electronically searchable. the word daunting doesn’t even begin to describe this task. so, the smithsonian is asking for volunteers to help with the process.

i hear you… you’re asking how typing can improve anything in your brain. first, take a look at the material listed as projects – it might seem as though you could mindlessly tap that out in a hour but look at the actual written pages and you’ll see how difficult these transcriptions can be. and how fascinating.

the first document i worked on was a field guide of a specific coastal area of maine. the detail that the naturalist included was both tedious and spectacular. consider that when this was written there was no such thing as photography so the naturalist had to account for every sight he saw: plants, water, rock formations, rock composition, etc. – all in painstaking detail.

the second document i worked on was the diary of the daughter from a farming family. i was interested at the word diary, but found that it was less of a personal diary as it was a detailed recording of each day’s activities along with the whereabouts of every individuals associated with the farm. unfortunately, it was less about the mechanics of the dairy farm, which was why i chose the project.

right now i’m working on the log book of negatives for all photos taken of every item or object in the smithsonian, which will likely take some time since there are over 3 million negatives.

here’s the thing about participating in this process: you can devote as little or as much time as you wish. figuring out someone’s handwriting is puzzle solving in and of itself. there are multiple people who participate on a project so you don’t have to complete it all yourself and the home page of the website lists your user id and recent contribution.

you can transcribe from the original written word or you can review and check for accuracy what someone else has transcribed. and, every week or so new projects are uploaded for participation. an exciting one that i missed was a series of letters between prominent contemporary artists, so i’m on the lookout for any more of those.

no matter what subject matter you’re inclined toward, there is probably a project for you. there are scientist’s journals to transcribe, accounting log books for the math hearted, entries in a burpee seed contest, there are projects about anthropology, entomology, botany, history and more. and if you don’t find something you’re interested in, check back in a few days and see what’s new.

who knows, the contribution you make today may serve as the basis for new research decades from now. you’re not just improving your brain, but some else’s too.

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Filed under addiction, age, science, technology, work

In a Snapchat World, History is Not Your Friend

yesterday, i was trying to create a business envelope in word that i could save as a template and use to print a single envelope or in a mail merge for mass mailings. now, i’ve done this many times, but i hadn’t done it in my current version of word since i was using templates that pre-dated this version. unfortunately, my established templates committed suicide and i was forced to have to re-create them all. creating that stupid envelope took me almost a half hour, which included multiple useless microsoft knowledge searches and a lot of cursing at word programmers.

btw, microsoft programmers must not do any kind of user research. if they had, clippy would never have existed.

here’s the problem: i’m old enough to remember how i always did this in word version #1, but this latest version, in its attempt to spoon feed the user, actually interfered with the logic of how to accomplish the task. i have this issue a lot in new word, whose big brother attitude needs some controlling. yes, i know i can turn some of this nonsense off, but many of the issues are structural, as in what i used to do with one click now takes five.

i’m old enough to have gone through college without a computer of any kind. i typed all my papers on an electric typewriter and took notes with pen in a spiral notebook. in those days, the wave of the future was when some student brought a tape recorder to class to tape the lecture.

two years after i graduated college, when i was working for publishing company, the executives gathered all the employees together and talked about introducing a new thing called a personal computer
those were the days where there were actual debates as to whether you would ever have a computer in your home, because, afterall, what would you ever do with it? there were layout and tech specialists who worked at CRTs , but none of us mere mortals were allowed to touch their machines. now executives were proposing to put a computer on someone’s desk! though they still hadn’t figured out what said employee was going to do with it.

it’s funny to think of now, but those suits mounted a dog-and-pony-show to convince employees to participate in the program and anyone who volunteered to be the first wave of employees with a personal computer would be sent to classes to learn how to use it, all paid for by the company. then they asked for a show of hands. out of a room of a couple hundred people, i was one of a handful who volunteered.

i often tell this story to our kids, which elicits an expected eye rolling, but i like to think that one day maybe they (or their kids) will appreciate the history here.

here’s my point: sometimes historical knowledge is not your friend. anyone remember lotus 123? unless you were one of the first adopters of personal computers, you probably skipped the whole lotus 123 thing and plunged directly into excel. same for the early (non mouse) versions of word processing software where you did formatting using function keys. likewise with operating systems. remember dos? my computer day wasn’t greeted with a lovely picture hand picked for my huge screen, but a blank, black screen and a blinking green curser next to a C:>. no clicking of little icons to get a program running and no concept of an internet that could answer a question in an instant. you want to get something done? program it yourself. same with getting something fixed. user help desk? not a chance.

those of us learning these new software programs huddled together like birds in a storm, trading information in our little underground, triumphant with each little success, always reciting the mantra: save your work! save your work!

i spent many hours and overheated many brain cells mastering early versions of software that has now been streamlined and updated and equipped with user interfaces that make it easier to use without a whole lot of user programming. sometimes it comes in handy to have an old roadmap, knowing the underpinnings may help to wind through a logic pattern, but often it gets in the way.

so when my kids wonder my mom can’t remember stuff i tell them that between the early software knowledge and tv theme songs i don’t have enough room left in my brain.

so much for being an early adopter.


Filed under advice, age, computers, technology

Go Forth and Do but Keep Up the Do Be Do Be Do

ahhhh it’s the time of year for graduations. and with graduations come commencement speeches. quick! who was your high school commencement speaker and what did they talk about? how about your college speaker? thought so. unless you went to a prestigious college where celebrities want to speak, your college speaker was someone you don’t remember. i think mine was a poet. maybe. probably.

the only reason i remember by high school commencement speaker is because i was the high school commencement speaker. even i don’t remember what i talked about but it was most probably lame. surely i had no insight to offer anyone else at the age of 18, except that life is ahead, bla, bla, bla.

what i remember from my college commencement is more what was told to me by my good friend who was graduating too. she even had portraits taken. i never bothered. but her portraits came in handy because she was able to tell me what color our caps and gowns were. i didn’t even remember that we wore caps and gowns, but i do remember the dress i wore.

L spoke at her high school graduation, so i remember that and bill cosby spoke at her college graduation so i remember that too. i have no idea who spoke at e’s high school graduation, but since e was graduating from the business school, her speaker was some big wig from cigna (i think). he talked about sticking with your morals in business and this was after the financial meltdown. it was a short speech.

so recently c played a “song” that was actually the text from a column by mary schmich published in the chicago tribune on june 1, 1997. the title of the column was “advice like youth probably wasted on the young” and the title of the “song” by baz luhrmann “everyone is free (to wear sunscreen)”. the column was wrongly attributed to kurt vonnegut, an error that persists today.

mary’s advice is spot on. i can imagine that graduates hearing the speech would not get it, but i’ve got a lot of years on me now, so i thoroughly get it.

i also thoroughly get steve jobs’ speech from 2005. and though it’s mostly about his history and journey, which is interesting to hear about anyway, it’s the last part of the speech that gets me. that’s where he talks about knowing that he’s dying and making decisions based on that knowledge.

it’s hard, if not nearly impossible, to think about the concept of dying when you’re young, but as you get older, and friends your age start dying off, that’s when it all becomes very real. and the fact that you will be gone should make you want to do everything right now. i know that a lot of people figure it’s too late to start anything new or learn anything new, but i figure it’s probably the perfect time. whatever was holding you back before is probably gone now, or no longer worth caring about.

steve jobs put it best:
“your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. they somehow already know what you truly want to become. everything else is secondary.”

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Filed under advice, age, communication, graduation

Who’s the Mean Girl?

oh boy. it’s not often that i get to relive a version of high school, but that’s what happened at a get-together last weekend. you remember stereotypical high school: snarky, snotty people, rivalries over nothing, power struggles, constant negative talk designed to eviscerate anyone who strays from the “norm”. in short, groups ganging up on an innocent person just because they are different.

or, maybe not.

maybe the person under fire is someone who is offending every else by lobbing out despicable and unacceptable talk. maybe sometimes social justice is a group disallowing racist, sexist, homophobic talk. where is the line between picking on someone and shutting down ignorance and hurtfulness?

we found it.

the line is that in a social setting we generally agree to step lightly on controversial and political topics. the line is that preserving the jovial atmosphere of the group trumps your personal junk. most importantly, when lightly reminded that you are the one out of line, step back and maybe apologize, but mostly act in a civilized manner and more carefully consider what you’re saying. or, shut up entirely.

so the majority of the group is just a bunch of “conservatives” who didn’t want to hear a “liberal” tell the “truth”, right? or the majority of the group was a bunch of “liberals” who couldn’t stomach hearing the “truth” from an “ultra conservative”? neither one.

the truth is that it was a group who recognized baseless offensive talk when they heard it.

so i found myself close to the offending person and the other side of a glass of wine on an empty stomach. i was patient for some time and even tried to ignore this person, but they just continued to go too far. a number of people around me were challenging the offender in a jovial manner, but the message wasn’t getting through. so, i spoke up. and even as i was speaking, as the words were leaving my mouth, i was simultaneously thinking that i the mean girl here, victimizing someone else.

but in the days afterward, the offending person continued to show their true colors, continued with their negative narrative. it got me to thinking again about how life is much more complex than stereotypes and sound bites.

exactly what the ill-behaved person needs to learn.

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Filed under age, manners

Hey kid, want a beer with that sandwich?

just about everyone i’ve met in the past month, has mentioned words like college tuition and high school sports in the same breath with medicare, medicaide, nursing homes, assisted living or settling estates.  the sandwich generation.  (you know, adults who and sandwiched between caring for kids and caring for parents).   

funny thing is, none of us are all that old.  (i hear you… no, we aren’t that old).  but we are squeezed from both ends.  

sad to say, but i feel like C and i were kind of at the beginning of this wave since we each lost a parent years ago (for me, it was my only parent left.  thankfully, C still has his mom).  it’s tough to hear the tales, even tougher to see the strain on our friends faces.     

is this the same as always or are things getting worse?  a combination of having kids later in life, parents living longer and an economy that has made it increasingly difficult for kids to get ‘launched’ might be making it worse.     

there are even multiple definitions of those of us in the sandwich generation. 

  • traditional: those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children.
  • club sandwich: those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
  • open faced: anyone else involved in elder care. 

there were at least six people out of 20 or so at a dinner recently who were either dealing with elderly parent(s) or had just lost a parent.  at work, four out of six people are dealing with an elderly parent with health issues and with kids too. 

it’s a tough time of life.  not just the issue of the tables being turned between parent and child, but a renegotiation among siblings (that often results in reliving childhood rivalries).  heap on top of it work, financial stress of todays’ economic worries and (maybe) kids of your own and there’s a recipe for a personal meltdown. 

so, i’m saluting the sandwich ‘kids’ around me and hoisting a beer in their honor.  here’s hoping they hoist one too (or at least enjoy a day off and a long nap).


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sweet and bitter

november is a bittersweet month.  october and november the foliage in eastern pennsylvania puts on a spectacular show of vibrant reds, golden yellows, rusty browns and oranges set against deep, dark green.  the air is crisp and clean, the energy different from the lazy days of summer.  

the route i drive to and from work is a series of windy, hilly tree-lined roads that have me rubber necking throughout the entire drive (well, not just because of the fall colors, but because i never know when assorted wildlife like deer, raccoons, opossums, groundhogs and foxes might take a stroll across the road).  

and then there’s november 14th.  smack in the middle of the month (almost), a day that changes the feeling of the month for at least that day if not longer.  november 14th is the day my dad died after a long battle with cancer.  this year marked 40 years.  i would not have guessed that all these many years later i would still be affected by that date or the memory or the loss.  i’m a year older now than he was when he died, but in my head on november 14th, i’m a scared kid in a tiny family who lost a parent.  

according to a recent study done at john hopkins, 57% of adults who lost a parent before the age of 20 said that they would give up a year of their lives to have one more day with their deceased parent. i’ll take that deal.  (but i’ll take it only if i know that that day i need to find out everything about him so i have decades of memories)  i was too young to get to know my dad much and have spent the great majority of my life without a father.  

my sister tells me she has hand written letters from dad to her while she was away at college.  treasures.  i have a couple of old pictures of him, a gold coin that he collected and some scattered memories.  that’s it.  that used to bother me a lot, now it’s just a fact. 

the holy card from dad’s funeral has lived in every wallet i’ve had since the age of 15.  it was alone for many years but now it’s joined by a crystal my sister c handed out at my sister e’s funeral and the holy card from mom’s funeral.  

dad’s card is frayed around the edges and the back is yellowed, but it’s still in very good shape considering the number of years it’s traveled along with me.  every november i take out the card and just look at it for awhile. there’s no picture of him on the front, instead there’s a kind of colorful stained glass painting.  (the card was considered kind of modern and controversial at the time.  now it looks very tied to the 1970s)  it strikes me every year that he was born in 1917 and died in 1971.  dates that frame his existence.    

when my sister, brother and i are all gone there’ll be no one else left who knew him in person.  our kids will my pictures and a tattered holy card of a grandfather they never knew. 

they have two other grandparents who were a joyous part of their lives and a grandmother who still is.  

forty years is a long time to replace the bitter with the sweet.  it’s been done, but every november there’s still a twinge. 


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Filed under age, death, Fall, family

Sorry kids, I’m keepin’ the iPhone (but you can have the dog)

i found out late last week that there was a moment in time recently that i was cool.  but i missed it.  now i’m decidedly not cool again (whew!).  but because of it, our kids not cool either.  (eek!) 

what earthshattering event could have caused this? my hairdo?  my jeans?  my love of pink? (oops, she’s too old too)  that i watch jersey shore?  (and yes, i am embarrassed)

 nope.  my iphone.   

the latest declaration of cool/uncool came from martin fichter.  who?  martin fichter, acting president of htc america.  er, um, what? who? (i had to google it).  they make mobile phones.  phones that look a whole lot like iphones except bigger. (and some are even crafted from a single piece of metal… no lie, that was a selling point) mobile phones for windows. enough said.  

anyway, he declared last week that the iphone is no longer cool because old people have them.  this great jewel of wisdom was culled from an impromptu survey of college kids as he dropped his daughter off at college.  (he named the college either as a way to brag about where his kid was going or prove the reliability of the kids he talked to there.  i am not naming said college ) (i had to google it too) the kids he spoke to were using htc phones (like he and his daughter i’m presuming) or seemingly anything other than an iphone.  (i would use a free phone too if it worked like an iphone) he asked why.  one kid declared she didn’t have an iphone because “my dad has an iphone”.  there you have it.  the death of the iphone.   

(of course C has an iphone.  in fact he was the first one to get an iphone. but somehow he doesn’t uncool things.  i guess the final straw was when i got one. i uncool things) 

i wish i had known i was cool while i was cool because i would have enjoyed it.  i had about a whole year of iphone coolness that i didn’t take advantage of.  maybe i would have bought one of those gigantic handbags with all the hardware and the tiny straps, or started wearing thongs or bought leather boots or said things like, “shut up” and “i die”.  or even gotten something botoxed or tatooed.  (not a chance) 

i’ll admit, i’ve tried to be cool at times in my life but these things just don’t work out for me.  i’ve got the pictures to prove it. any hint of coolness i might have picked up has rubbed off on me from being around our three kids.  kids can be useful in this way.  (that might be a reason not to alienate them too much while you’re raising them.  you need them to come back once in awhile to keep you from completely deteriorating)

so, sorry kids for ruining the coolness of you having an iphone by getting an iphone for myself.  but i’m not giving it up.  the dog is still up for grabs.  on second thought, we like the dog too, so you’ll have to settle for the ashes of the old dog. 


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Filed under age, dog, family