A Middle-Age High School Musical

I’ll admit it. I’m one of those people who often wishes that in real life, everyone would burst into song and dance numbers, just like in a musical. In a magical, well-choreographed way, not a cheesy, oh-my-god-I-think-this-show-has-jumped-the-shark kind of way.

Street musical scene from Isn't it Romantic movie

You’re eating with family in a restaurant, and all of a sudden, the patrons at the table next to you start to argue. In the middle of the argument, the man stands on the table and begins to sing in a dramatic way about feeling misunderstood. The woman joins in, too. The rest of the patrons become the chorus, and then, the waiters break into a perfectly timed dance, complete with plate juggling.

Too much?

Sorry. Blame it on my 80s upbringing and mormon TV commercials, with the kid who broke Mr. Robinson’s window, and the kids who learned that they are better off to never tell a lie (an even small one!).

Speaking of 80s upbringing, yesterday, I went to the MixTape Tour — a dream concert for anyone who was a teenager in the 80s. Some of the best 80s artists were playing. No, not Journey, though that would have been cool. Okay, no, not Madonna. Not the Cure, not Depeche Mode, not…

New Kids on the Block. It was New Kids, okay?

New Kids on the Block MixTape Tour concert

Plus Salt n Pepa, Naughty by Nature, and two of my 1987-88 favorites, Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. About 95% of the crowd that packed the arena were middle aged women like me, reliving our teen years of big hair, jean jackets, and like, totally awesome music. The other 5%, I am convinced, were men who were dragged along for the ride.

From the beginning to the end, this was no ordinary concert. Every artist in the stage kept encouraging us to join in, sing along, and dance out hearts out. And we did, in a wave of nostalgia and excitement. Sometimes, we even turned toward our neighbors, who were absolute strangers a moment ago, and shouted the lyrics at one another, all while waving our arms and gyrating our hips, in unison with the performers.

It wasn’t exactly a spontaneous musical moment. It was planned, right down to our expensive seats. But there was something incredibly magical about being swept up in a moment of song and dance with tens of thousands of other Gen Xers, waving our hands in the air like we just didn’t care, and taking in one last gulp of the best part of our teen years.

Me smiling in front of an arena

Me, as a teenager at a concert (for the 2nd time around)

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And Now, For the Complete Opposite (aka: Vent)

Vent time.

Because honestly, I am too cheerful and positive to do much venting. I tend to keep it in my own head until the lightning dissipates. But, I feel that this must be expressed.

So the thing is, I do not date. At all. Zero dates. Zero romantic interest. Zero flirting with anyone. Period. I am single, but permanently unavailable.

There are two big reasons for this. The first is that two years ago, when I was healthy and happy and in love with myself and in love with my life, I ventured into the dating zone. And it happened. I ended up in a relationship with the man of my dreams. No exaggerating. He was ideal for me, and we were compatible in every possible way. He assured me that he was not looking for something temporary, or just for sex, and I believed him. I allowed myself to be open and vulnerable, and I fell in love with him.

Then, he left.

But here I am, two years later, and I still love him. And I know without a doubt that there is no other man on this earth who could come close to being as compatible with me as he was. And even if someone could come close, he would not be him. So there’s no point in trying.

Reason two — when he left my life, the pain was unbearable. In fact, it is still unbearable. I still cry, sometimes, to think of his absence. It still dampens good experiences to know that he is not there to share them with me, nor can I even tell him about it. I hate that I ever got so close to him, or allowed him to matter to me, because now I have this painful, horrible lack of him.

Lesson learned: Do not ever allow myself to get close to anyone or allow them to matter to me. I know how that story ends, and it is not happy.

I will never date again. That is a part of my life that is over. Done. Behind me. In the past. No romance. No relationships. And absolutely no sex.

Now for the vent. It bothers me, like really bothers me when people tell me that I need to keep an open mind. Be flexible about this — the one thing that I am not at all flexible about. Keep an open mind, because one day you may meet someone who… (Fill in the blanks).

Imagine if I went running in a high-crime neighborhood at night, because everyone else said it was the thing to do. Yes it’s risky, but so what? It’s fun and special and makes life exciting! Now imagine I got assaulted while out running, and beaten almost to death. When the broken bones were healed, and most of the lacerations faded to scars, let’s see…should I go running in a high-crime neighborhood at night again, especially knowing now what I did not know then? Should I keep my mind open to the idea, because I might not be assaulted the next time?

Of course not! I’m not crazy!

And say I were to go mountain climbing, because everyone else believed that it was the best experience of their lives. Imagine I climbed up high, and was amazed by the view. Wow! Hooked on mountain climbing. Best experience ever.

But then, my rope snapped without warning.

Down I fell, head slamming against the rocks, the fall breaking my ribs, nearly crushing my lungs. Now imagine that months later, when I can walk again and breathe on my own, and life is back to a new, though chronically painful version of normal, people were to say, “You should keep your mind open to climbing the mountain again. It can be a healing experience, to get back up there.”

Hell no.

Seriously…WTF? Oh, because the fall maimed me but didn’t kill me, I should be willing to put my life at risk again, because hey, the next rope may not snap, and I’ll reach the summit?

Forget that! Who needs a summit? I will never go near another mountain. Never touch another rope. I may read about mountain climbing from the safety of my room, but I wouldn’t climb a mountain again if someone were to pay me ten million dollars to do it.

And that is how I feel about dating.

Bend, Don’t Break (aka: Flexibility)

Every athlete knows the importance of stretching. During training or before the big game, you have to take the time to do slow, gentle stretches. You do it to stay flexible. You do it to avoid injury. A tight, rigid muscle is a muscle that may tear.

It’s a pretty natural concept. You see it all the time in nature, too. A palm tree’s flexible trunk can sway with strong winds and stay intact. But put a rigid oak tree in its place, and the same wind storm may snap its branches, or uproot it from the ground.

Palm trees bending in the windBroken oak treeFlexible bends. Rigid breaks.

Really, we can apply the need to be flexible to nearly every part of life. In our careers, for example, it’s important to keep learning, keep pushing ourselves to grow and to expand our skills. The jobs we do today may change in the future. Our ability to perform our jobs may change, too. But if we stay flexible, if we keep our minds open to how we may best adapt when changes come, then we will be more prepared to handle it.

Switch directions

Years ago, I used to be a public school teacher of young children. But then, changes came. I outgrew the work I was doing. I also outgrew the paltry salary it paid. And state budget reductions caused my job, along with many others in my field, to be slashed. I was jobless. I was also overqualified for similar, even lower-paying teaching jobs in the private sector.

Luckily, I was flexible. I had a backup plan — a career field I had been thinking of switching to for years. In my mid 30s, with no work experience in that field, I went back to school, got an internship, and made the jump. Today, I am established in a career that I adore, doing things that challenge and stretch me, and earning a decent salary, too.

Being flexible means being willing to change direction, and considering a new plan when the old plan fails. Your oven breaks just before you’re due to cook Thanksgiving dinner? Fine. You buy a catered meal this year. Or borrow a neighbor’s oven. Or take the family out to a restaurant. Bend, don’t break. Rain interrupts the holiday barbecue plans? Bring it indoors. Turn it into a board game or sports-viewing party. Pull together a taco bar instead of grilled burgers. Bend, don’t break.

Flat eartg

Of course, it’s not possible to be flexible in all things. While it’s healthy to keep our minds open to other possibilities in many things, it’s just as healthy to stand firm in our convictions in some things. Believe in God or don’t believe in God. Feel strongly about your political views. Fight for causes you know inside to be right and just. However, if you just learned that the earth is actually a globe, and that science has proven it in many different ways, you may just want to reconsider your uh…worldview. While you could choose to hang on to those old beliefs you grew up with about the earth being flat, why would you when evidence to the contrary is staring you right in the face? Not all beliefs are worth breaking for. Just saying.

Stay flexible, peeps.

Hey Batter Batter! (aka: Adult Sports)

“Hey batter batter batter, SWING!”

Familiar words from my childhood, which intermingle with the smell of grass, dirt-smeared white knickers, and the heavy feel of cleats on my feet, scraping against the ground. My little league teammates and I sat around in the dugout, chewing Big League Chew bubblegum and, encouraged by our coaches, yelling out unsportsmanlike taunts to the other team.

Go back, go back

go back in the woods!

Your coach ain’t got no spirit

and your team is no good!

I was a catcher. Kind of a lame position to play, in retrospect, since I had to stay in a squat position for most of the game, and had exactly three tasks:

  1. Catch the ball. A lot.
  2. Return the ball to the pitcher.
  3. Don’t get hit by the bat.

I guess I did pretty okay at these. I also did pretty okay at batting. I’m a leftie, and often got walked by pitchers who were freaked out that I was standing on the wrong side of the plate. I was okay with being pretty okay, and I enjoyed playing softball. But softball was nothing compared to soccer. In soccer, you got to run and move and try out cool tricks and, well, do stuff all the time, instead of standing or sitting around, waiting for something to happen.

Even the major leaguers get bored waiting around.

When my kids were growing up, only one participated in little league baseball. My oldest son did tee-ball and coach pitch, and he was also pretty okay. But for him, just like for me, soccer had the louder siren song, so he abandoned the baseball diamond for the soccer pitch.

A few days ago, I decided to give softball a whirl again. A Meetup group I’m a part of was getting together with another group of mostly middle-aged wanna be athletes to play at a local park. It had been many years since I’d played, so I was pretty nervous that I’d play like a total newb. There were no dirt-smeared knickers or cleats, but the air smelled like grass (no, not that kind of grass). It was exactly as I’d remembered it, though the kids were all aged 30-50-something, and the pitcher would keep pitching the ball until you got a hit, so no one struck out.

I played third base, hoping that I’d see lots of action. But the ball rarely came my way, and runners were often intercepted before even reaching second base. So, there was still a lot of standing around, waiting. A few innings later, I was starting to wish I hadn’t skipped my Sunday morning Zumba class. I mean, how on earth did we kids manage to wait and wait and wait in those pre-cell phone days? Oh yeah. Go back, go back, go back in the woods…

Finally, I stepped up to bat for the last time. Each inning, I’d managed to get a base hit, except for one pretty little pop fly to center field that got three of us out and ended the inning. *Groan*

The pitcher lobbed the ball my way, and — CRACK!! I’ve got to tell you…when you hit the ball hard, and it’s just right, there is nothing like the sound the bat makes when it strikes the ball and sends it soaring. Nothing.

I wish I could say I hit a home run. Or even got an RBI. I didn’t But base by base, I got to fly like the wind, until at last, I reached home plate. Boom! That was the feeling I’d been waiting for all morning. The reason why baseball players can stand all the waiting, waiting, waiting. Because when something finally happens, it’s like a thunder strike. Almost as great as scoring a goal in soccer. Almost.

And it doesn’t even matter that I didn’t hit a homerun. Who cares whether I made it home all at once or one base at a time? The point is that, I made it home.

We all Deserve (aka: Movies are for Everyone)

Around a week ago, I jumped on the bandwagon and purchased a ticket to see Avengers: Endgame. Not just any ticket, either. Since I was going to see the highly anticipated movie by myself, I decided to splurge and see the movie in 3D XD. The ultimate film-going experience, with a giant screen and unbeatable surround sound. The price? $19 per seat.

I know. Way too much money. But it was my Solo Date Night. I wanted to have fun luxury-style, with cushy leather reclining seats, extra butter topping on my popcorn, and a frosty-cold cup of Blue Moon beer with a twist of orange. (Because that’s how we do cinema in my neck of the woods).

As the previews were beginning, I was vaguely aware of a trio of people taking their seats just to the left of me. They were a little talkative, but hey, it was only the previews. So I munched my popcorn and settled in, waiting for the movie to begin. Soon enough, the lights went down, and our feature film began.

Somewhere to my left, someone’s voice cut into the silence of the theater. I ignored it. But just as I was getting absorbed by what was happening on the screen, the person to my left began to talk again. And again. This continued throughout the first half hour or so of the movie. I am a patient person. Very patient. But I was beginning to grit my teeth a little. I mean, come on. $19 tickets, people! Don’t we all deserve to relax and enjoy a good movie without one person messing it up by talking through the film?

At first, I tried an innocuous little shh! Usually, that’s all it takes for people to get the hint and clam up. (Although once, the shh approach escalated the situation, and I found myself sitting next to a hostile noisy person who was apparently offended that I was offended by her rudeness). The shh was ineffective. My neighbor continued to chatter. At last, now quite distracted from what was happening on the screen, I whispered to the person to my immediate left, “Can you please ask your friend to quiet down?”

The woman responded with, “He’s autistic.”

Ugh. I immediately felt like the worst person in the world.

Here I was, so focused on my feelings of irritation, and my own sense of what I deserved. But for people with autism, many things, even sounds or lights or touch — things that wouldn’t bother many of us, can cause just as much irritation to them as the sound of one person’s voice in a movie theater was causing me. In fact, for some people with autism, their reactions to such stimuli can be pretty intense.

And deserving? Sure, for $19, I deserved to be relax and be entertained by a good show for a couple of hours. But then, so did the people to my left, including the patron with autism. So do people in wheelchairs. So do families who care for people with autism and other disabilities. We all deserve a break from reality, and movie theaters (and restaurants, and other public places) should not be exclusive spots where only certain people get to spend their recreational time.

Funny how easy it was to tune out the talking and enjoy the movie once I adjusted my attitude about it. The movies should be a place for all of us to sit back, enjoy our buttery popcorn and beer, and slip into a world of fantasy, if only for a couple of hours.

Plastic Planet (aka: Zero Waste Lifestyle)

Happy Earth Day, fellow earthlings!

Let’s celebrate with a delicious meal, shall we? How about some plastic tacos, a plastic salad, and a plastic chocolate cake for dessert? No? Not such a fan of plastic food?

Sadly, every year, an increasing number of sea mammals, fish, and birds are found dead with their stomachs full of plastic. Our plastic. The unfortunate meals we served them when we threw out those plastic water bottles.

According to recent studies, 8 million tons of plastic trash end up in our oceans each year. Plastic, which takes more than 400 years to decompose, is quickly on its way toward outweighing the amount of fish there are in the sea.

“What?” You say? “It’s not my fault. I always recycle our household plastics.”

I get it. So do I. I figured that those mega-packs of single plastic water bottles I kept buying for our family’s convenience were fine. After all, we were always certain to toss them in the recycle bin when they were empty, as we do with all our household plastics.

But according to a recent study, most of those plastics aren’t actually being recycled. In fact, only 90.5% of all plastic waste has ever been recycled. 12% is incinerated, and 79% accumulates in landfills and the nautral environment, including our oceans. (Royal Statistical Society, 2018)

Does that mean it’s hopeless? Is our planet simply doomed to end up like a garbage-infested wasteland, like on the movie, Wall-E? Well, yes, if we earthlings don’t start making different choices. But the good news is that it may not be too late to turn this around.

Many communities and individuals are taking the concept of waste reduction to what many may consider an extreme. They are going beyond producing less waste, and instead aiming to create zero waste.

That’s right. Zero Waste. Empty trash cans. Nothing new added to the landfills and oceans to choke our sea life and pollute our planet. It is a lifestyle that requires some discipline and some participation from retailers and communities in order to be truly successful. Most of all, it requires a change in the way we choose to consume. It’s easy to use paper cups and plastic utensils, then discard them. It’s more challenging to be mindful of the effects of or choices, and to choose reusable dishes instead.

Here are the main principles of a Zero Waste lifestyle:

Reduce — Reduce the amount of waste you create. Refuse to purchase items that you don’t need, or items which may add to landfills. That means saying no to those mega-packs of plastic water bottles and using refillable containers instead. It means choosing to skip the straw in that cold drink. Or, if you can’t live without the straw, buy a set of reusable metal, bamboo, or silicone straws, such as these:

Reusable straws

Reuse — Pack your food items in reusable glass containers, drink from reusable water bottles, carry reusable shopping bags to the store. A goal of mine is to start bringing washable mesh bags to the store and farmers’ market to use instead of those plastic produce bags.

Recycle — If it can be recycled, recycle it. But try reducing and refusing first, so that you hav less waste left over to recycle.

Unsure about how to recycle some things? Try terracycle.com for free programs in your community that help you to dispose of hard-to-recycle items in an earth-friendly way. For example, did you know that you can bring your old coffee lids, snack wrappers, and coffee capsules to your local Subaru dealership for recycling? Check here for you nearest participating dealership: https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/subaru#@38.53979322637243:-121.42445184328136zoom:9 .

Rot — Compost organic waste. And hey — did you know that you can now buy “plastic” eating utensils made from plants, which are 100% biodegradable and compostable? When I can’t use stainless steel utensils, these are my favorite to have on hand.

Maybe we’ll find that going Zero-Waste is just way too out-of-reach for most of us. But in the process of aiming for Zero, we may just find that we succeed in reducing our own impact on the planet.

Duo the Dungeon Keeper (aka: Learning Languages)

So I’m fluent in Spanish.

Mostly. I mean, I can follow the majority of a conversation, and speak well enough to be understood, and read and write in Spanish. Sure, there’s a lot more vocabulary to learn, and plenty of idioms that I’m not familiar with. But for the most part, I’m fluent.

So now what?

It’s on to German! Or I should say, back to German. I studied it for a year in high school, and learned how to say Guten Morgen, and count to 20, and basic words, like girl and boy. The vocabulary of a two year-old, basically. Then a few years ago, our public library introduced free Rosetta Stone for all. Wow! I jumped into German lessons here and there, and managed to increase my vocabulary to that of an almost three year-old.

Then they cancelled Rosetta Stone and replaced it with Mango Languages. Let me just say that replacing Rosetta Stone with Mango Languages is like replacing a Tesla with a 1998 Ford Taurus.

A week ago, I discovered an app called Duolingo. (Yes, I know, I’m kind of late for that party). It’s designed to work a lot more like Rosetta Stone. But instead of costing a gazillion dollars, Duolingo is free!

Except that it’s not.

Yes, you can use the app to study languages without paying any money. But what you save in money, you lose in time. Duolingo’s mascot, a seemingly innocent green owl named Duo, is actually the prison guard appointed to make sure you never escape the Duolingo dungeon.

Duo is very skilled at guilt-tripping you into making sure you log in and study. He is worse than any helicopter mom hovering over your shoulder to make sure you get your homework done. It’s time for your daily German Lesson! Take 5 minutes now to complete it. If you ignore Duo, he’ll let you know. If you need to watch more commercials to earn more health points so you can keep taking free lessons, he’ll let you know. If you drop out of the top ten, he’ll let you know.

My teens pointed out that the internet is all abuzz with memes about Duo and his Duolingo reminder notifications. Here are a few of my favorites:

15 more correct answers, and I release your family!

If that’s not bad enough, once you’re in the dungeon, Duo forces you into the pit, where you must compete with other language learners around the world. Stay in the top ten for your level for the next week, and you’ll advance to the next level! So I pulled on my boxing gloves and tackled my Deutsch lessons each day, eager to discover what surprises awaited me when I made it to the Silver league. Would I get a super-secret bonus lesson? A shiny new badge on my profile? Full health points for a month?

No. All I won was the chance to get on the leaderboard to advance to the next highest league. Apparently, this morning, I dropped out of the top ten, and I’m out of health points. So now I get to watch more commericals just to get to the German vocabulary of a 4 year-old.

I like Duolingo. I think I might actually be learning stuff. Not a lot of German, but plenty of stuff about how to reel people into using your app and trap them there, and encourage them to watch commercials or buy your product (which probably costs as much as the Tesla of language apps, Rosetta Stone). Maybe I can steal borrow some of Duo’s ideas and get rich off of my own app, once I develop one. See? Learning new languages can be good for you.