Fifty Years of Technology

My first public relations job after college came with a workstation equipped with an IBM Selectric Mag Card Executive machine. In the 1970s this was the equivalent of leaving a simple bicycle outside only to find a stick shift European automobile locked to the bike rack on your return. 

Marquette University’s College of Journalism still used manual typewriters. The Milwaukee Journal where I did stringer reporting had manuals. I saw a few electronic typewriters, maybe even Selectric, during an internship. My first, professional job was with an engineering company owned by a husband and wife. I was their first PR department. The executive secretary presented with this $3,000 or more marvel said she would leave before she used the thing. Of course, the new college graduate was the logical place to stash a purchase that didn’t work out. 

The machine had a selection of font balls, so it was possible to jazz up a document. It had a magnetic storage card to store what seemed like an amazing amount of work, about one printed page. There was a correction ribbon. Overall, the start of desktop publishing. Except no one knew that phrase. 

I battled that machine for almost a year. Learning engineering lingo and understanding the company’s products was a steep curve for someone used to covering suburban governments for a newspaper or writing press releases and speeches for a healthcare nonprofit. The wife-owner was my manager, and she had all kinds of uses for the fancy typewriter including menus for her garden club, invitations for fundraising dinner parties, their son’s class papers. I spent hours and hours teaching myself how to use the fancy Selectric. I hated the machine, and the job.

Through decades of desktops and laptops, of cables and wi fi and Bluetooth, I’ve figured how to use the next generation of technology. I probably master about ten percent the capability of each computer, printer, or apps.

Last month I turned away from replacing a fitness tracker with another fitness tracker and bought an Apple Watch. It is an unbelievable piece of technology. I can receive and answer phone calls, text messages, alerts. It pings when it is time for me to breath, stand, move. I know the current temperature, air quality, and UV. Eventually I’ll figure out how to turn off some of those amazing, but useless, features and figure out why I can’t change to other albums in my account or listen to audiobooks when I walk. No rush. 

Grudgingly I should probably thank my first employer who threw me overboard into technology without a life jacket. 

Aging with Gusto: I’m Trying

Several years back, while serving on the board of the Vital Aging Network, I helped develop Aging With Gusto, a program designed to help people develop more positive views of aging and live their own lives with gusto.

Research shows that people with more positive views of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than those with more negative views.[1] What’s more, people who perceive their elder selves as a burden to others tend to view their lives as less valuable, which in turn increases their risk of depression and social isolation, both of which have proven to be “silent killers” for older adults.[2]

I felt like I was doing pretty well when it came to living with gusto—I was working less and enjoying life more—but then COVID came along and all my gusto got up and went away-o.

So did the me I knew…and liked.

That me juggled a lot of things at once, effortlessly kept track of deadlines, friends’ birthdays and bill due-dates. She walked 10,000 steps a day, volunteered often, went to yoga on Saturday mornings and loved getting together with friends, even if it meant driving across town in rush-hour traffic.

She also traveled. In 2019, she spent February and March in Panama, May in New York City and much of that summer and fall at a rustic fishing resort near the Canadian border. In 2021, she was set to spend March and April with her sister and her family in Los Angeles, but that trip was cut short due to COVID. So were other travel plans.

And now, roughly 18 months later, I’m no longer she.

My hair, which I used to color blonde, is now gray. My face has new wrinkles. My skin, once taut, is now crepe-y. And while I know these changes took time to develop, it feels like these changes occurred practically overnight while I was quarantining due to COVID.

And the changes aren’t just on the surface. Last summer, after walking became so painful I stopped doing it any more than was absolutely necessary, I was told I need hip replacement surgery. With elective surgeries advised against at the time, I’ve put it off, which is why, when friends invited me to walk with them (one of the few things that felt safe enough to do), I declined.

Instead, my friends and I did a few Zoom calls. Then, because looking presentable wasn’t high on our lists, we talked on the phone. Eventually even that got to be too much, in part because many of us were dealing with some big stuff. Not used to being together 24/7, my partner and I were struggling to get along. One of my sisters and her husband almost lost their business. One friend had pancreatic cancer. Another had a husband with a brain tumor and a son who nearly died from alcohol poisoning.

Living through—and aging—during a pandemic has caused so many of us to reprioritize. As a result, rather than traveling and enjoying many of the other out-and-about activities that we enjoyed pre-pandemic—we are busy taking care our relationships, our livelihoods, our health and the health of our loved ones. No one can blame us; it’s the right thing to do.

But the pandemic has made everything more difficult, more urgent, more immediate. And more solitary. In the process of caring for ourselves and our loved ones, we risk isolating ourselves from support we may desperately need. Doing so can be costly: one study says isolation increases the risk of death by 29 percent, another that loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.[3]

So, I’m working on reclaiming my Aging-with-Gusto mindset by being more proactive in maintaining my own social connections: I’m calling at least one friend or family member each day and sending at least five cards each week. While these are small things, I know from being on the receiving end that they can make a difference. Plus, it’s one thing I can do no matter what is happening with COVID. I call it Gusto Lite, but at least it’s a start.

What are you doing to age with gusto? Please share.


[1] https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-832261.pdf

[2] https://www.mylifesite.net/blog/post/positive-aging-changing-mindset-growing-older/ 

[3] https://www.artandhealing.org/isolation-and-loneliness-fact-sheet/

Summer of Just Enough

In a recent yoga class, the teacher suggested a meditation on the idea of enough. Not scrimping but having what you need. The opposite of greedy excess. Just enough. I’ve been thinking about that often in this odd summer of highs and lows.

In June, much of what I’d longed for during the long, oppressive COVID winter seemed within reach. 

Summer’s simple pleasures beckoned. Sunup at 5:30, sunset after 9:00. Walking early. Flowers everywhere. I’d plant my vegetable garden, visit the farmers market, and go to the beach.

Even better, I could be with family and friends easily, outdoors. Take a modest driving vacation.

I could contemplate more ambitious plans like visiting my siblings and extended family in Ohio and Wisconsin after two years apart because of COVID.

We had the joy of our younger son’s June wedding and the afterglow of our older son’s May wedding.

So many good things!

As June turned to July, those big helpings of happiness were tempered by sobering swallows of reality. High temperatures and humidity smothered the Twin Cities for weeks on end. Walking and gardening became chores I scheduled for early morning or close to sunset when the air was cooler and the breeze picked up a little. 

Cosmos and zinnias are hanging in there despite drought.

The beach, farmers market, and outdoor gatherings with family, book group, and my writers’ groups remained carefree and fun despite the weather.

July’s high heat and drought shrank Minnehaha Creek and crisped lawns. Hazy smoky air from western and northern wildfires shrouded the Twin Cities. What have we done to the climate? Why aren’t we doing something about it??

Less visible but equally scary was the delta variant’s arrival. “Maybe we’ll need to wear masks again,” became “Damn. We have to mask up.” With that realization came the sludge of past fears and present worries about risk. Ugh. 

While driving to see family in Wisconsin and Ohio, I’ve been masked and careful. Hugging them and talking naturally—in person, like pre-COVID—has felt so good. I’m so grateful we’re all still here.

Wisconsin prairie

As August swings into September, the weather has moderated a bit, but distant wildfires are still burning and the delta variant is more widespread. My worries about climate and health persist and I consider: have the summer’s highs outweighed the lows? Have they been enough? For me, yes. It’s hard to argue with the joy of happily married sons, the addition of wonderful daughters-in-law, or the pleasure of sharing a good meal with the family I’ve missed. All’s not right with the world, but my portion of well-being is enough.

Ohio porch

Vacationing with Young Adults

It started a year ago with an email, “Jody, look at Cabin 9. We could bring the dogs and maybe Crystel and Juan could bring a friend.”

Our first friend trip was to a 3-bedroom cabin near Walker, MN on Leech Lake in August 2020. Juan chose the bedroom furthest away from his parents. I’m guessing it had something to do with me saying, “If I hear any noises coming from your bedroom, I will embarrass you.”

The trip was a success. We shared meal prep and cleanup, evening board games, tandem biking, and driving a 22’ Sea Hunt 225 HP boat for the first time.

When Jody asked if they would like to do a winter cabin trip, both kids enthusiastically said, Yes.

This time, it was a rented house at Heartwood Resort in Wisconsin. Again, Juan chose the furthest bedroom from his parents.

We seemed to have the recipe for success: a friend, the sharing meal prep and cleanup, board games, cross country skiing, and dogs.

Mount Rainier was our most recent friend trip. Six of us in a 30ft RV with the dogs for eight days. Crystel and her friend chose to set up a tent outside of the RV. Juan and his friend had the space over the cab.

There weren’t any board games this trip, although I had packed a cupboard full. After hiking Crystal Mountain and Mount Rainier, cooking and cleaning, our energy was zapped. On the last day before our long two-day drive home, the kids took an Uber into Seattle for an adventure. Jody and I stayed back for much needed R&R with no teenagers.

As the kids have aged into young adults, Jody and I have made the transition as well. It has been a pleasure vacationing with Juan’s girlfriend and Crystel’s boyfriend.

Our future travel plans include a month in Florida in February 2022 and a trip to Yellowstone in July. Of course, accommodations for all.

We do hear comments from others that at some point the kids will stop wanting to travel with us. I’m not concerned. Crystel asked me the other day if I was interested in backpacking in Europe. If Jody and I keep paying and having accommodations for all, this arrangement could go on for some time. And, when it stops, we will make the transition.

When Death Becomes a Mystery

We know that we are going to die. We read about death in the newspapers. People we know and do not know. Obituaries are posted on social media.

The further away a death is from me the less I question it. It’s just a fact. People die.

But then Sam Spratt died. He was 25 years old. On Wednesday, May 19, 2021, he was in a car accident and died at the scene. He was our neighbor and Juan and Crystel’s caregiver for over four years. Death suddenly became a mystery to me. Why did Sam die? Was he done living his life? Did he accomplish all that he wanted? My world instantly felt less safe. I was nervous getting in my car. Now I knew I could die. If Sam could die, I could die.

There is no more do-over for Sam. What he did in this life is done. Or is it?

Sam’s funeral was overflowing with young, middle-aged, and old people. Friends, neighbors, relatives, high school classmates. Attendees spoke about how kind Sam was. How understanding. The deep conversations they had.

Juan and Crystel experienced the same with Sam. Sam was 12 years old and the kids were 5 when he started nannying for us. Monday to Friday he came to our house while Jody and I were at work. He even spent an occasional overnight when Jody and I were out of town.

Sam and our children became a familiar sight throughout the Richfield community and parts of Edina. For years they pedaled their bikes to dentist and orthodontist appointments, Tae Kwon Do, swim lessons, movies, library, restaurants, bowling, swimming pool and the neighborhood parks. Sam took on the additional responsibility of Juan and Crystel’s friends for play dates in our backyard swimming pool.

I was compelled to write a blog post about our experience with Sam when I read a parenting book that warned against having a teenage boy babysit – the children would be at risk.

With intention, Jody and I welcomed Sam into our home and into our lives. We were blessed to have this teenage boy responsible for our children’s safety.

On Easter five weeks before he died, Sam walked down the street to our house to visit with Juan and Crystel. He was planning to come to their graduation party in June. “He wouldn’t miss it!” he said. The three of them chatted as they would do, cajoling and teasing each other. Juan and Crystel were ‘his kids.’ He had taught them how to read, made sure they brushed their teeth, and that they weeded the garden.

Now he’s teaching Juan and Crystel about death, grief, and loss. How to navigate when a loved one is no longer with us.

His death continues to be a mystery to me. I’m still asking questions. Still pausing my mind when I pass the area where he died.

Sam was right, though. He did show up for Juan and Crystel’s graduation. I finally looked at Juan and Crystel’s picture boards at the end of their graduation party. Juan had many photos of himself, Crystel, Jody and me on his board. Prominently displayed in the center was a photo of Juan, Sam and Crystel.

I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day.

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I nurtured two souls, Sam can say. I gave them my heart and they gave me theirs. To that end, I taught them love for another.

Sam Spratt October 17, 1995 – May 19, 2021.  Never forgotten.