Cleaning in the Buff? Maybe Grandma Was On To Something

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This is the only hat I own with a feather in it. I may or may not have been wearing it this morning.

Warning: If the idea of midlife nudity scares you, you might want to turn back now.

Maybe it’s because I am now 50, but I find myself thinking about my female ancestors quite a bit lately. I come from a long line of strong women, and most of them, I am not ashamed to say, were quite the characters in their time. Today my thoughts are going to my great-great grandmother, who lived a long and interesting life. Family lore tells that she had a gift for knowing the future, but that is a story for another time. Today my thoughts are going to her housecleaning habits.

I am told that on cleaning day, she went about her chores, in the buff, except for a hat with a feather in it. This story has always amused me and I have been impressed by her confidence. As I turned 50, my mom referred to me as “Feisty.” I’ll take it. I commented that the same could be said about her and our foremothers. I also wondered if they were always as feisty as they were when she and I knew them. From the brief history I know, I doubt it. I think that these women likely hit a certain age and decided to do things their way from that point forward.

Back to Great Great Grandma. Of course I would wonder about her strange cleaning habits and wonder why.  Here are some of my theories:

She was just a little eccentric. We all have our own little quirks and ways of doing things. This was just her way of demonstrating her individuality.

She was guaranteed to get (almost) everyone out of the house. (I suppose her husband may have stuck around.) No one wants to see Mom or Grandma in that state and anyone who has tried to keep a house clean knows that it is much easier when there is no one there to make messes where you just cleaned or to have to shoo out of the way.

She hated to do laundry. It is a part of the process to get dirty when you clean, thus creating more laundry. Washing a body takes less time than washing clothes. Or maybe she just wanted that one moment of knowing that all the clothes were clean.

She was always hot. So. Freaking. Hot. (Those of you in the area of 50 know what I am talking about.) Cleaning is a physical, sweat-inducing process, especially when you hate it and want it done fast. This morning, I went to clean the kids’ bathroom. Now this is usually their task, but we have company coming and I was pretty sure it was not up to my standards – I was right and the task took more time and energy than I expected. And I was overheating. When I finished that one and went on to my bathroom, I couldn’t stand how gross I felt anymore and stripped down, since I was getting in the shower when I was done anyway. Hmm, maybe she was on to something. Naked cleaning is surprisingly refreshing.

Family stories are fun to listen to and wonderful to share. Sometimes we find that we have things in common with distant ancestors, whether it be physical attributes, common talents, skills or interests, or even similar mannerisms. I love knowing that so many strong women came before me. Women who were not afraid to speak their mind and buck conventions. I am proud to be their daughter, granddaughter, and niece and to look at the next generation and see the seeds of feistyness there as well.

 

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Midlife Revelations Found in the Wilderness

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Last week I had a much needed break from everyday life.  We spent three rejuvenating nights camping in Shenandoah National Park, where my cell phone got only spotty service, and the questions of the day included where to hike and where to go for dinner (we didn’t completely “rough it”). We hiked a bit each day, but there was plenty of time to relax and ponder. Though I did spend some time thinking about and taking notes for an upcoming project, I had time to contemplate life in general and came to some conclusions about an upcoming birthday.

I knew from an early age that I wanted to have a family young and especially now am happy with this choice. While I was too busy with life to even consider the relevance of previous milestone birthdays, I am looking at 50 with anticipation. Yes, it is a big number, but I look around and see how much opportunity still exists, as long as I slow down and pay attention. This camping trip reminded me how important it is and will be to regularly unplug and just be. While doing just this, I realized that this birthday really is different.

For my entire adult life, I have been a mom. I have looked at things through a mom’s eyes. Everything I did had a potential impact on my children. Now, my actions cause barely a ripple in their lives. I am confident that they don’t need me, at least not in the way they once did. Now my role is more to observe and advise them and to discover what else the world has to offer. Spending a few unscheduled days gave me the opportunity to think about life and to gain a new perspective.

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I noticed more bounce in my step last week, a newfound sense of freedom. While one might expect me to be more cautious than when I was young, instead I feel more adventurous. I gleefully climbed among boulders on cliff sides, seeking the best view on each hike we took (and making my husband nervous in the process). Each step made me want to take another, to see and experience more. This is not a crisis; there is no rashness to my actions. I am well aware of my physical limitation. In fact this encourages me to get in better shape so that next time I can go further and do more.

Along with this sense of adventure comes a refusal to listen to those who say I can’t. I’m not going to listen to those who may tell me to act my age, to buy into the “shoulds.” I am going to live my life even if it goes against the norm. Up until this point,  I have followed the rules, now it is time for me to make them for myself. I skipped over the party years; I was mommying in my twenties, not out at bars, staying until “last call” and dancing on tables. I’m not saying I will do that now (though I’ll leave the option open, if I find the moment is appropriate), but I don’t really care what people would say if I did. Again, this is not a crisis – I have no desire to go back in time. I am quite content here at (almost) 50. I have the wisdom and the confidence to know that age is just a number, that it does not limit what one can do. And I am finding that there is quite a lot that I want to do.

Another side effect of my half-century status:  I now have zero tolerance for bullshit. Though I believe I still have many years ahead of me, I acknowledge that there is an end. At this point in life, I don’t want to waste time on things that don’t matter. I don’t want to spend time on petty issues that divide people. I don’t have time for hidden agendas or playing games with emotions. I will always strive to be kind, but there is no need to read between the lines with me. If you want to know what I think, ask me; don’t try to divine my thoughts based on my actions (or lack thereof). If I have offended you, tell me. Since there is much I want to do, I can get hyper-focused and be rather direct in my dealings with people.  Sometimes people make things much more complicated than they are. I don’t want to waste time with misunderstandings.

As the generations below me are adding members, I am also thinking of the strong women who came before me, those who showed me that a woman can do and be anything she wants. I am thinking of the example I want to be to my children and hopefully to their children. Though I know there are still must-dos in my future, I am looking ahead to a great many more opportunities to do what I want to do. I am looking at 50 as a new beginning, a time to discover new dreams and work to meet new goals. I am looking forward to seeing how much I can do.

Old People Have All the Fun

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I recently went to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. At one point in the movie, Yiayia is dancing in the street, dressed rather oddly.  This made me laugh, perhaps more than it should have and I leaned over to my daughter to warn her, “That will be me in 30 years.” Later that week, we went to a college performance of music inspired by Disney movies. While the band played an arrangement of “Bare Necessities,” I thought (as I frequently do when hearing live swing music) of my grandmother and her love of dancing. I thought it would be wonderful if she were there to enjoy it with me and wondered if she would have tossed convention aside and danced in the aisles in appreciation of the music. I continued my daydream that we would all join in and how much fun it would be for spectators and musicians alike.

If you know me, you would realize how fanciful these thoughts are. I am and always have been a rule follower and generally shy from the spotlight. I love to dance, as long as no one is watching. I wonder if as I age, this will change, if much like my verbal filter has started to fail, my self-consciousness will begin to fade away.

Pondering this more (yes, sometimes I think too much) I realize the blame for this rests on societal expectations as well as my own insecurities. Why do we concern ourselves with what others think? Maybe because sometime people tell us what they think, and it is not always kind. There are expectations of how people are supposed to behave and, like it or not, our age (or the age we appear to be) influences these expectations.  A tantrum is understandable when one is 3, it is shocking when one is 8. In the same way, an older person can get away with speaking her mind or bending the “rules,” while one who is middle aged is expected to behave.

I guess as I approach my second half century around the sun, I am considering age more and what it means to me. I was raised to respect my elders and value the contributions they have made. I think that if one has lived well, there are certain privileges that come with the territory. I know many people fear the big 5-0, but I am ready to embrace it. My future is very different from my past, in some ways, I will have more freedom and I plan to enjoy it. Years ago I discovered the Red Hat Society, a social club for women over 50. Based on a poem, the idea is that the women get together, wearing a purple dress and a red hat. This type of zaniness sounds like fun to me, anyone want to join in?

And So The Dinosaur Years Begin

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I am turning 50 this year and am beginning to see disturbing signs. Despite the fact that I am college-educated and see myself as an intelligent person, I am more and more being frustrated by what I don’t know, specifically with regards to technology. This is amplified by the ease with which some other people pick these things up.

I remember as a child being puzzled at my grandparents’ difficulty with technology. It was all rather simple. Technology made things easier.  I know that these things come easiest to those who are younger; I have been tech support for my parents who, although they use computers regularly, sometimes need a little help. There are some programs I need to relearn each time I use them, since I do so infrequently, but computers and technology don’t scare me. I use them regularly, so why am I now struggling with what the rest of the world seems to find easy? The joke about asking a five-year old to help is no longer a joke, so it is not at all funny.

My first experience working with computers was working with my college newspaper. I was handed two floppy disks and sent to the computer lab with printed instructions:  insert the DOS disk, turn on the computer, wait, insert the PC-Write work disk, create a file and start writing, then save and remove disk. By today’s standards, this was a lengthy process. At first, I was a bit intimidated, but it was really pretty straightforward and easy. No problem.

After college, I worked for a computer trade magazine, where we wrote about what was then very cutting-edge technology: the idea that computers made by various manufacturers were now able to work together. In our office, we used Digital computers and their proprietary word processing and in-house email system. Unlike most companies, our email transcended our building and was connected via phone wires to other offices throughout the country (we were very cutting edge). Although I had no computer background, I was able to write about hardware and software and connectivity as well as industry standards and protocols. I will admit that I didn’t always fully understand the more technical information, but could ask the right questions. I saw my role as a translator for the office managers, to help them understand the new technology in simpler terms. The tech guys (at this time, it was pretty much just men) were happy to answer my questions and I got positive feedback when the articles ran. Basically, they were happy that I “got it” and could get the information out to the people who made the purchasing decisions.

Fast forward a couple decades. Most houses have multiple computers (plus tablets, smartphone, smart TVs, etc.). These are all meant to make our lives easier. They are, in theory, simpler to use. They are, supposedly, more intuitive and can be customized for your individual wants and needs. (We even have SmartFridges now!)

Like many other people, I use a computer every day. In fact, I am at my computer for a large part of almost every day.  I use it to write, research, read, communicate with people, edit photos, and most recently, create and update my website. This is where I have hit a wall.

I have always been independent and have a “Do It Myself” mentality.  If I don’t know how to do something, I am willing to learn. I want to know how to do things, how to troubleshoot and fix things myself.  Right now though, I am overwhelmed. I keep telling myself that I can do this. I understand the basics of computers. I can follow directions, but lately it seems like crucial steps are missing. I read directions, which tell me to complete Step A, then Step B, Step C. Next you move on to Step D, but if you don’t have X, Y or Z, you need to click here, which takes you back to Step B. One afternoon I found myself in a seemingly endless loop and had to call in my own personal tech support, who, unfamiliar with the specific program, asked me some questions I did not have the answers to. (Which somehow made me feel both more and less stupid.)  Ultimately, the problem was solved, but not without gnashing of teeth and feelings of inadequacy.

I am starting to think the problem is the “intuitiveness.” What is intuitive today was not so twenty years ago. My kids have taken to telling me that I am “cute” in a way that is not quite so condescending that I hear “You are stupid.” To them, Snapchat is intuitive. To me, it is not. I keep staring at the screen, tapping and swiping until something happens, and I hope I will notice what I have done so I can repeat the process (usually this means I wait until the kids are around and ask them to show me).

Keeping up with technology today feels like playing a game where the rules keep changing. Of course this is a part of life: things change, they always have and always will. However, the speed at which they change today is difficult to keep up with. New apps and programs are developed each day, and older ones are upgraded and improved.

Technology has of course generated its own language. This is not unusual; most disciplines have their own terminology, those terms and phrases that the general population doesn’t use. In fact, most people don’t even know specific terminology for say, composing music or welding pipes, or those used in farming or medicine. And people in specialized fields generally don’t expect others to know and understand these terms. But technology is different. The language of computer technology has permeated society. It is everywhere.

Years ago, adults had no need to keep up with the current terms. Youth have always had their own phrases, and keeping them separate from the older generation was the norm. But today, when you hear young adults using unfamiliar terms, they may be relevant. They may be words that you are expected to know, that will be a part of your job, instead of the youth slang previously used merely to befuddle older people or make them seem out of touch. Now we have to figure out which ones are relevant and which we can ignore.

Many people carry multi-functional, personally-customized computers around with them every day. Social media has brought technology to the forefront and the ability to “Google” anything means that people can further customize their systems. This I think has created a society that accepts this as the norm and people have started to assume everyone else has the same basic knowledge. If not, “just Google it.” But how do you know what you don’t know? How do you learn when the “basics” aren’t so basic?

This made me think about a teacher I know who had students write detailed directions on how to do something. The example provided to them was how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For the purposes of this exercise, nothing was to be assumed. (It was actually best to think of Amelia Bedelia as being the reader.) This was a challenge for many students.  The point of the exercise of course, was to develop better writers, ones who would not make assumptions about their readers.

When you are writing a “how-to” in particular, you want the reader to understand and be able to follow the steps. When you start off promising “5 Easy Steps” they darn well better be easy for your target audience. Making people feel stupid is not a good way to attract a following, and it is simply not nice. Until I find that easy tutorial, I’ll keep muddling through, and grumbling.  I’m getting older, but I’m not ready to disappear or surrender yet. Expect this dinosaur to hang on a while longer.