Is This Really Progress?

A couple of weeks ago, three of my granddaughters were over for the day. I was tidying up in the back of the house and they were all in the living room. My ears perked up after a little while when I realized I heard — nothing. No sound at all.

Now if they were under the age of five, that would be alarming, indeed, but since they are eleven and older, I wasn’t really concerned. I kept cleaning, but became more and more curious, as there continued to be an absence of laughter, conversation, or even arguing.There wasn’t even the sound of Saturday morning cartoons blaring from the television. Just quiet. That may be natural for a mausoleum, but in a house with three girls, it didn’t feel right.

So I went to investigate. One was on the couch, one in the recliner, and one in the swivel rocker. The common denominator was the presence of electronic devices. Each had ear phones; and one was using a kindle, one an iPod, and one a laptop.

I gently suggested they do something physical and was greeted with astonished stares. I checked to see if I had bats flying out my ears, but no, it was my suggestion that had rendered them, well not speechless since they were already there, but utterly disbelieving. Since my fairly recent resignation as Keeper of the World, I decided it wasn’t my job to channel their energies into healthier avenues. Grandmas get to be the good guys, right?

I went in to the kitchen, but stopped in my tracks when I heard one of them speak. And it was like real live conversation, not Skype or FaceTime. I wanted to enjoy this, so I peered around the corner. The headphones were all off and the youngest, Courtney, looking immeasurably sad, was saying to her sisters, “I feel so bad for ‘Suzanne.’” We all knew Courtney’s friend, and immediately asked in unison, “Why? What happened?”

Had the girl’s parents had a tragic accident? Did her aging Chihuahua say Adios to this world? I had almost made it to the phone to call my daughter, when Courtney answered, “Her Chromebook charger broke.” The other two girls nodded in apparent sympathy, empathy even. They understood the depth of this loss. There was a moment of silence, then they all put their earphones back in. I just stood there with my mouth open.

Her computer charger died? When did we reach the point where these devices became our best friends? It was bad enough when they became hobbies, recreation, and entertainment instead of tools and conveniences. Do we now mourn the death of a charger? Will there be services? Will the child go into therapy to learn how to cope with her grief?

I was indignant on behalf of the entire younger generation. Then my annoying sense of fairness kicked in.

Lately I’ve been wondering why I have such trouble maintaining a healthy weight and fitness level. I have read books and articles on every theory from high carb to low carb diets, to eat for your blood type, to reset your hypothalamus,and on and on all the way to miracle herbs that melt off fat while you eat Butterfinger bars and watch Bones marathons. (Personally I would vote for the Butterfinger diet, but all that did was add to the cushioning over my own bones.) I used to be slender and fit, effortlessly, and despite Butterfingers.

Confronted with this computer dependence, as I watched the children sitting on the couch, motionless except for their eye movement and rapid keystrokes, I had an epiphany. Effortlessly? Really? Back in those effortlessly fit days, I cared for children, kept my house, worked in the yard, did laundry, hung things out to dry, ironed a little, kept flower beds, grew a few vegetables, occasionally did some canning, cared for and played with the dog, played with the kids, went swimming or hiking through the woods from time to time, played badminton fairly often, went to the kids’ school and sporting events, did the shopping, and for a time rode and cared for horses. When I added a job to the mix, I didn’t stop doing those things, I just added in doing interviews and going to the newspaper to type in the articles. I would have an occasional sit-down break during the day and a couple of hours in the evening were spent watching television, playing board games, or reading.

Over time, as the kids left home and my duties lessened, my routine evolved to get up, make coffee, and sit on my backside drinking it and planning the day. Then I shower and go to work, where I sit on my backside until lunch. Then I move to the table where I sit and eat lunch then go back to the computer. In the evening, I sit at my home computer and write, then move to the recliner where I sit for a couple of hours reading or watching a movie. Where I used to try to fit in a sit-down break, I now try —and usually fail —to schedule in stand-up breaks. I think I see a connection.

Accordingly, I have devised a five-week fitness plan. First you start with how much you are taking in, then work on your output.

  • Week One: Byte Reduction. Unplug the Internet modem. You may have some fatigue and depression. Just work through it. It will lessen as you get stronger.
  • Week Two: Family Fitness. Build a fire outside. Gather hotdogs, buns, relish etc. Throw all large electronic games onto the fire. Go inside and eat the hotdogs with your family. All at the same time. It may be a bit awkward, as conversation skills have atrophied. Again, work through it.
  • Week Three: Upper body strength. Pick up all the small electronic devices you can hold. Game Boys, DSs, IPods, cell phones, etc. Lift them over your head. Lower them. Repeat: lift, lower. Then hurl them as far as you can, preferably into a lake or river.
  • Week Four: Lower body work out. Gather computers, modems, laptops, tablets. Place these devices into a hopscotch pattern. Young people will need to ask a grandparent what a hopscotch pattern is. Then with all the force you can muster, jump on these electronic hopscotches until the devices are non-functional. You will note that the ending point in hopscotch is called heaven. It may not seem accurate at first, but work through it.
  • Week-Five: Stretch and Tone. Gather land-line phones that plug into the walls. With feet hip width apart, lean forward, stretch, and plug the phones in. If missing phone calls is a concern, pick up an answering machine that is a comfortable weight, lift, stretch, hook it up.

Keep in mind these are just the basics. As you get comfortable with this program, begin to add age-appropriate and/or health-appropriate activities. Young children may try playing outdoors (chase, ball, tree-climbing, etc.) Older children and adults may walk, bicycle, swim, play tennis, garden, etc.. This part of the program may be individualized, as long as you have to make a real effort to find time for sit-down breaks.


It was inevitable, but still I wasn’t prepared. Yesterday, I was automatically given the senior price at the movie theater. I kept the ticket and every so often I look at it to be sure it really happened. Yep. Says right there: Senior. $6.75. The $6.75 part is good. But senior?

Now, I am under no illusions as to my age, but I don’t feel senior. I have no desire to mend fences, lift bales of hay, or do yard work in the blazing sun for hours on end, but it isn’t because I can’t. I just don’t want to anymore. Is that a sign of age?

In light of this, I have begun to re-examine some recent decisions and question my motivation. For instance, I gave up riding horses last year. I thought it was because I had so many other things I wanted to do and had no time. But looking at it from the senior perspective, I can see there could have been a deeper, darker reasoning. Until recently, when I thought about horses, I imagined the smell of hay, leather, and warm horse flesh. I could feel the wind in my hair and would vividly recall the amazing freedom of galloping across a field or ambling down a wooded trail. Now, I can imagine the smell of antiseptic in the emergency room and wonder just how a broken hip would feel.

And while I am examining this truthfully, I have been disconcertingly drawn to the amenities of a local retirement community. Think about it. If you aren’t in the mood to cook – for days on end— there is a dining room. It doesn’t have to come down to cook or eat bologna sandwiches. You have a postage stamp lawn, but you don’t have to mow it. Right there on the premises is a library, a swimming pool, an exercise room, a sauna, and a hot tub. All with no monthly health club dues. You wouldn’t even have to have a car if you didn’t want it, as there is transportation to everything. They even have social outings, groups, and gatherings. You can be a vintage social butterfly or a curmudgeonly hermit, as you choose. And get this: Somebody shows up every other week to clean your house. You can’t beat that with a toilet brush.

The subject just happened to come up with a friend last week. She said we should move in right now. Not only would it be a little bit like our own personal Downton Abbey, the kicker is that we would be the youngest residents there. The youngsters. I can feel my ego expanding already. We’d be junior seniors. I like it.

I think I might really look into it. Just as soon as I run by McDonald’s for a cup of coffee — senior price, please.

Just Say No

It was a kinder gentler time, back in the pre-I.D. era. I was breezing along pretty well I thought. I was alone, but I was also at peace. Then my daughter came in telling me about some guy she had met online. All my antennae went up and the alarm bells were clanging so loudly I am surprised I could still hear her tell me I should put a profile out there. I was warning her about the danger of axe murderers and scalawags the whole time we were deciding what my user name should be. She snapped a picture with her cell phone and, bam, just like that, I had entered the Internet Dating Zone, known now (to me) as the IDZ. My email began to hum with flirts and messages from guys who looked like I was the first woman they had communicated with since they got out of prison. I hid my profile.

I still got email notifications, though, and in a few days curiosity got the better of me and I “unhid” the profile and opened a message from a nice looking gent sitting on a boat. He said I sounded interesting, and he apparently had done little to no time behind bars, so I agreed to meet him for coffee. He was nice, tall, well- spoken and he treated me like a lady. It was some time since I had been anything close to wooed. My former husband thought a date was sitting inside the McDonald’s instead of going through the drive-through, so I am probably easily impressed. After an equally nice lunch the next day, he asked me if he could cook for me the following Friday. With much trepidation, I said yes. We still hadn’t sorted out the whole prison thing. I didn’t think it was something I should ask on the first date.

On Friday, I told my daughter everything I knew about the man, so she would have some idea where the police should start the investigation if I didn’t come back, then I drove to his house. He had big band music playing – not my favorite thing, but soooo much better than Hank Snow – and offered me a glass of wine. I accepted, noted his house was attractive, orderly, and contained no obvious weaponry, and began to relax. We talked, had a lovely dinner (I had last been cooked for in 1989), and went back into the living room. Before I could sink back into the overstuffed leather chair, he decided to play space invaders – my space. He pulled me right up to him, inches from his face. His hands behaved; he made no improper moves, but there I was, able to clearly see the nostril hairs and wanting nothing more than to be either back in that chair or in my car on the way home. So I said, “I really need to move back,” and he released me. We talked some more and he decided I needed to meet someone who would be willing to take the time to build a relationship. Well, duh! I thought that was what dating was. I agreed, and we talked to each other a few times as friends and then he moved back to California, where dating rules are apparently much more lax.

For my part, I went straightaway and hid my profile. Then along came a really interesting email notification, and I caved again. This time, we skipped the coffee and went straight to lunch, whereupon the nice gentleman pulled out my chair and proceeded to tell me how cheaply he could take me out using coupons and specials. After a scintillating discussion about the merits of shopping in bulk at Sam’s Club, I went back to work. And hid my profile.

A couple of weeks later —yes, that’s right — I checked out another one, and this time emailed back and forth with a very witty man. I would have loved to stay pen pals with him, but he wanted to go out. He was kind, funny, and interesting, but after a few dates, it occurred to me he might be interested in developing a relationship. The more I thought about it, the more reasonable I thought the assumption was that people on a dating site were looking for someone to date – regularly. I panicked. And hid my profile. For a year.

A month ago, I was on Facebook and an ad for Our Time popped up. It was a weak moment. My sister had met a lovely man online, and a good friend a little older than me had just met the man of her dreams. I succumbed. The parolees came out of the woodwork, but since this site wasn’t free, I was determined to keep my profile active, at least for the month I had paid for. I deleted the ones that looked like they had just walked out of “Deliverance.” I ignored the ones that expounded on the deep inner joy engendered by cold beer, Nascar, and football. I met a couple of really nice guys with whom I had very little in common, but at least they were regular folks who didn’t catch nutria for sport or anything. I was regretting the thirty bucks spent on the subscription. I could have had a pedicure with that. But I still had a week and a half paid for, so I stuck it out.

Then I talked to a very intelligent fellow who took me to nice places and never once bragged about how cheaply he could get by. I had a genuinely good time, but by the third date, I began to see serious differences in how we saw life. At the end of the last date, I think he was irritated by something. My daughter had dropped my teenage granddaughters at my house as she had to work, so I didn’t ask him in. I did offer a goodnight kiss. Prior to this, he had been quite interested in a proper goodnight. In fact, he was interested in a much more involved goodnight than I was ready to comply with. This time, however, I got a perfunctory air kiss. “What the hell was that?” I wondered, and decided not only was that the end of the line for him, it was also time I stepped back out of the IDZ. God and the Universe could supply a companion if there was ever meant to be one. I quit.

I had some notifications on my email, so I went to the Our Time website. I had four new messages. I debated for a minute, then repeating over and over, “Just say No,” I hid my profile and closed my account without checking the messages. I may have to join Daters Anonymous to keep up my resolve, but I decided this is the end of Internet dating for me. It may be wonderful for some people, but to me it felt like horse trading. When I raised horses, I put them online with pictures that showed them off to advantage and spoke in glowing terms of all their sterling qualities. That’s pretty much what you do with yourself on a dating site.

I thought briefly of posting a picture taken first thing in the morning, with hair standing out all over my head and mascara smudged under my eyes. I could add a paragraph about my propensity to emerge from the bedroom with a mustache, cowboy hat, and Red Ryder BB gun, saying in my best Wyatt Earp impersonation, “Tell ‘em I’m comin’. And hell’s comin’ with me.” If they still want a date after that, there may be hope.

But no, I’ll just leave things alone and let nature take its course. I am not unhappy with my life. It’s just that sometimes it would be nice to have a significant other. Hmmm. Maybe e-Harmony? No! Just say no. Just say no, Just…say. . .

Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’

I’ve fallen out of love.

Or maybe I just slid out. It didn’t actually happen all at once, but I willfully ignored the few scattered clues that the attraction was lessening. Looking back, I guess it was inevitable. There was never any real compatibility. But it was comfortable. That is what drew me. I thought, in the beginning, that it was love at first sight.

We moved to Fairhope together and I had a glimpse then it wasn’t a good fit, but it still felt good. I felt warmed and comforted at a time I needed comfort. Friends commented gently about the unlikely pairing, but I defended my choice. I had chosen solid, sturdy, not based on appearances or even mutual style.

And I enjoyed the relationship. I felt hugged and cushioned, but there was never any real commitment on my part. I made disparaging remarks at the same time I professed my love.

It’s been three years and we made the move to a new house together. I questioned the wisdom of staying together when I bought my house, but I thought I could make it work. Night after night I took comfort, yet always with an eye to something better.

Then tonight, like I had peeled back a skin, or ripped off a mask, I really saw. Stark reality. The flaws I have overlooked are insurmountable to me. Or at least I don’t want to be blind to them anymore. I hate to be shallow but I can’t believe I was ever attracted. So. . . big. Shapeless. I know I’m not dainty myself, but still.

I won’t be rash. I won’t make any changes right away. I don’t look forward to the “I told you so” of my dearest friend, although I know I should have listened to her. And I will have to eventually deal with the empty place if I say good bye. But I know I will fill that space. I will fill it as quickly as I can. But this time, I will go in with my eyes wide open. I will choose wisely because I want to be happy, not just comfortable. And I want it to last.

So I turn away and whisper an unheard goodbye. With still a touch of affection, I add, “You were a comfort, my friend.” Then I turn out the light and walk away from that big, green overstuffed recliner.

The Un-blog

Once upon a time in a life far away, I was a journalist and a newspaper columnist. My column was not political, or philosophical. It didn’t give instructions on how to garden, lose weight, improve your love life, cook gourmet meals, live on a budget, or get out stains with ingredients commonly found in your refrigerator. It was just a danged old column about nothing (to modify a line from Hank Hill’s friend Dale)

After a series of “finding myself” phases where I raised horses, grew tomatoes, studied alternative health practices, and daydreamed about running away to Montana, I returned to writing, this time fiction, but I missed my weekly column. I had moved to a new town, Fairhope, Ala., and had no newspaper connections here. So I came up with a revolutionary idea.

I would write my column, but instead of looking for a newspaper or magazine outlet, I would post it on the Internet for anyone who wanted to read it. A Cyber column. A cylumn, if you will. I told my best friend about it.

“Oh, a blog,” she said, disappointingly unimpressed with my invention.

“A what?”

“A blog,” she repeated, then took me to several sites where other people were already hard at work implementing my brainstorm. Only momentarily daunted, my Pollyanna attitude took this as a sign that my idea could work, rather than proof that I was too late.

When my webdesigner mentioned a blog page, I immediately translated that as “my cylumn.” So here, good folks, I will update you every Friday on all manner of observations, ideas, happenings, people, and thoughts from my life. True to form, my cyber column (blog, if you must) is About Nothin’.