How to Beat a Cold

I had not yet fully recovered from a serious case of diverticulitis, when that most hated of all maladies, the common cold, came calling.  This happened to be a very virulent bug, and my immune system is in the pits, so I actually was incapacitated by it for several days.  For me, with colds, this is the exception.  I would rather have a tooth pulled than come down with a cold.  So, over the years, I have developed an arsenal of remedies to help me avoid a cold, or experience only very mild symptoms lasting less than the fabled week it normally takes to get over one.  As we get older, getting a cold seems to become more bothersome and even vaguely frightening.  It could “take hold.”  There’s a very real chance of feeling lousy for a month or longer.  I’d like to share with you some of the things I do to keep the dreaded rhino virus at bay.  Standard to say:  I am not an M.D., there is no known cure for the cold, and these suggestions are meant to help you stay more comfortable, if they do work as well for you as they have for me.  I also don’t mean to promote any given product.  I am passing on information and ideas, as friends do.

The best thing to do for a cold, obviously, is not get one.  There are some things you can do about this.  Two of them I learned from a former boyfriend:  Be rude and obsessive.  It may seem quite rude to tell someone not to bother coming over for a visit, but if your friend has a cold, it may be the best thing to do.  The problem is, people are most contagious just before they know for sure they do have a cold.  You know, it’s during that “Is this a cold or an allergy?” period. Or you might never even see the person who has the cold.  The germs are on the ATM machine or grocery cart handle.  This calls for is the obsessive part.  Especially during cold season, keep washing your hands.  Germs are not so likely to fly through the air and land in your mouth.  More likely, you get the germs on your hands and transfer them to your own nose, mouth, or eyes.  There has been a lot of publicity about this lately, so no more need be said.

As significant as the spread of germs may be, it also seems true that if I am happy, unstressed, and at the peak of health;  someone with a cold can sneeze in my face and I won’t get sick.  Some people “never get sick” and others catch everything that goes around.  This is the mysterious factor of the immune system.  Some people just have good genes, immune-wise, and others don’t; but there are also a lot of things you can do to boost your immune system, both on a regular basis and as needed.  If your diet includes more than five servings of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables per day and no sugar, alcohol, processed or junk food (unlike mine), you may not need to do anything else to boost the immune system.  The rest of us need at least a multi-vitamin.  Most people also need extra Vitamin D and Vitamin C, especially during cold season.  In years past, I have also taken Astragalus supplements during cold season, and it seems to have helped.  You can also take Astragalus daily, starting when you think you have been exposed to a cold, as I did this time.

I was introduced to Airborne by a relative who is a school teacher.  There are also other, less widely distributed, preparations meant to give a jolt to the immune system.  You can get them at a health food or vitamin store.  Airborne is widely available.  It may not be the best, but it has been working for me.  It has vitamins and minerals as well as a few herbal ingredients.  You can take it as soon as you think you’ve been exposed to a cold.  I’ve remembered to do that on several occasions, and didn’t get a cold those times.  Or, you can take it when you start to get a cold, and if the immune gods are with you, you may be able to beat the cold.  I always take Astragalus, Goldenseal, and Echinacea along with it.  Then I gargle with salt water, clean out my nose with a slightly less saline solution, and go to bed.  Often, I wake up without a cold.  That’s what I call “beating” a cold.

It doesn’t always work.  It does work often enough that others have taken note.  “What happened to that cold you said you were getting?”

Well, I didn’t get it.  But sometimes I do.  It’s still possible to have milder symptoms and a shorter period of illness by continuing the same regimen.  If the nose starts to run and I start sneezing, I wash out my nose (There is a proper way to do this, with a neti pot, but I just snuffle up some slightly salty water from my hand and blow it out again, on each side) and gargle with salt water twice a day.  I drink Airborne two or three times a day.  I take Astragalus once a day, and Vitamin C, Goldenseal, and Echinacea three times a day.  As a last resort, I put diluted hydrogen peroxide in my ears.  A friend told me about this and I swear, I’ve had cold symptoms disappear as soon as I do it.  There are a number of herbal teas that bring relief to cold symptoms as well.  My favorite is called “Gypsy Cold Care.”  Put a lot of honey in it and you’ll feel just fine.

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The Dating Game

A couple of months ago, I signed up for an online dating service.  I don’t know what possessed me to ruin a perfectly good life that way.  Well, I do know.  A friend talked me into it.  That’s what they all say, isn’t it?  I was having a great summer – travel to Brazil and Seattle, afternoons spent by or in the swimming pool, tan and blond (an effort to go gray run amok) and feeling invincible.  We were three of us in the pool, and the older of us was telling the other two we’d better get out there and meet people while there’s still time.  Pretty dire.  “Meet people” is a Boomerism, and those weren’t her exact words.  I don’t think she said “catch a man,” but it’s what she meant.  Now or never.  Get going, girls, on the count…one…two…tackle!  Oh, please.

None the less, as I said, I was invincible in those now-past warm months.  I usually do take a dare.  That sounds wild, try again:  I respond to a challenge with a willingness to take risks. I signed up. I chose a service specifically for older people.  The first few times I logged on to the site were discouraging.  Everyone looked so old!  The men seemed to fall into one of two categories: monosyllabic every-day Joes with their ball caps and fishing gear, and the New Age Mr. Perfects, always looking for Ms. Even-More-Perfect.  Narcissus ready to attack Echo for her lack of self-esteem, and imperfect mirroring. Not to mention chipped nails. I knew they wouldn’t even answer my emails.  As for the regular guys, well, I might have to suck it up.

Dear readers, I would like to say that I am doing this for you, but that wouldn’t be the case.  I know you want to know what dating is like after fifty or sixty years of age, after years in a relationship and out of the dating scene.  I know that I have to write about this sooner or later, and I will need some experience.  Seriously, before this I was thinking I’d interview friends for my material.  I am not back out on the dating scene for Boomerage.  I am doing it for me.  Although my last relationship must be chalked up as a total failure, there are elements that I miss:  Someone to share feelings with, to tell the day’s events to a sympathetic ear; someone to laugh with.  Daily hugs.  Dancing at midnight in the kitchen.  I have friends, near and far, mostly women.  Just when I’m feeling alone, the phone rings, and there is one of my friends, eager to know the latest events in my life and wanting to share her experiences.  I get to know that I’m not alone, but it ain’t the same as having a partner at home..  No way, no how.

I finally got some emails from men in my area who weren’t so damn special and weren’t bozos either.  What do you know? I thought to myself, maybe this is OK after all.  I went out on some dates.  I got a hand-shake, followed by more e-mails.  I got a kiss, followed by more dates.  Lord’a mercy, it was working!  I can report first hand on dating after sixty.  My life is getting interesting.

First, let me say, this is something I didn’t envision for myself.  I thought that by this age I would be in a lasting relationship.  I’m willing to bet that other singles my age and older had the same expectations.  Men and women alike, straight and gay, want a secure situation for their old age:  The hug and sympathetic gaze to come home to.  We don’t really want to get dressed up and go out all that often.  It’s too much trouble.  If we were in a long-term relationship, we could mumble complaints to our partner, remind each other to take a nap that afternoon, have someone’s help to knot the tie or zip the dress.  When we are dating, we have to do this more frequently and we are on our own.  Is that tie straight?  Is the dress too tight?  Is what we want to show, showing; and what we want to hide, hidden?

Wardrobe concerns are just the tip of the iceberg.  I have to tell you, dear readers, that dating post sixty is no different from dating at any age.  If anything, it is a bit more nerve-wracking.  The stakes are a bit higher.  More than ever, we want a stable relationship.  The biological clock for pregnancy is one thing.  This is the big biological clock.  We are more vulnerable.  More than ever, we fear a mistake.  We could be abused financially.  A wrong relationship could take us just beyond the age at which we seem datable and attractive.  If we become ill, the person we’re with could fade out or become abusive.  These concerns may not be conscious, but they loom in the background, making the usual dating angst bigger and darker.

You may remember the drill:  Will he call?  What if he doesn’t?  What if he does?  What should I say? If I’m too distant, will he give up?  If I’m too forward and affectionate will I push him away?  Why did she say that?  Does she think I’m stupid?  Is she manipulating me? And so on.  I get nervous before a date, depressed afterwards.  For someone who was on a very peaceful, even keel it’s like buying a ticket for an extended roller-coaster ride.  I’m just not getting the “whee!” part yet.  I am in the white knuckles stage.  Perhaps, after a couple of times around the loop, when I’m more relaxed.  On the other hand, I am getting an opportunity to see into some of my deepest hurt places.  In my world, this is a good thing.  I can process and resolve them.

Dating should be fun.  When I was in high school, I remember it was lots of fun.  People in their twenties seem to enjoy dating.  As mentioned, the biological clock appears to up the ante and increase dating angst for many women in their thirties, while guys are still cruisin’.  This sets up a discrepancy that men apparently continue to carry in their cellular memory – the desperate woman, trying to catch any man at any cost.  A very skewed picture, far from reality, but I think it’s in the mix.

For me, I went through a divorce and was unexpectedly on the dating scene once before, in my early fifties.  My experience then was very different from my present experience.  I took it extremely lightly and had a ball!  My thinking was that the main mistake people make in dating is to take it too seriously and fail to have a good time.  I was not goal-oriented.  I was just out of a marriage.  I was in no hurry to do it again. I went out with men I met through a dating service, old friends, people I happened to meet socially.  They say fifty is the new thirty, and, physically, I felt much the same as I did at thirty.  I had already raised a family.  No clock was ticking for me.  Perhaps I was not serious enough, because I ended up in a dead-end relationship.  On the other hand, I might have landed there anyway.  At least I had fun.

Outta’ the Way, Gramps

Our culture has been youth-oriented since at least the turn of the last century.  There are many reasons for this.  At the turn of the nineteen hundreds, it was still a relatively new country.  Youth and energy were needed to settle a big country, build roads, canals, railroads, telegraph and telephone lines, dams and skyscrapers.  Old, traditional ways, associated with the “old country” in Europe, were being scrapped and new manners and mores invented. We streamlined convention and approached things directly, adopting a manner that is still associated with Americans in business and diplomatic circles.  We had the cocky self-assurance of young people who really don’t know what stumbling blocks may lie ahead.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is associated with aging.  Wisdom profits from our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others, and has the humility to admit to being wrong.  As a nation, we are aging, but our value system hasn’t shifted from a love of what is new, fast, and clever to an appreciation of the wisdom and inner peace that is traditionally associated with age.  We baby boomers are quickly swelling the ranks of the over-sixty population, but rather than using our numbers to insist on dignity and respect for elders, we try to pretend we are still young.  We dye our hair, we don’t ask for discounts at the movie theater, we want to be called something other than “grandpa” or “grandma” by our kids’ children.  We like being told we look younger than our age.  We don’t like being called “old.”

I admit I participate in this.  When someone tells me I look younger than my sixty-five years, I beam and say “Thank you,” instead of taking the braver and more mature stance in paraphrase of Gloria Steinem, “This is what sixty-five looks like!”  Although I’m supposedly on the path to “go gray,”  I still see the hair colorist every few months.  When someone tells me I’m not old, I don’t argue much.  In my private thoughts, I think, “I am much younger-minded than others my age,”  and so on.  Of course, keeping the mind and body functioning on a par with a younger age is a worthy, life-enhancing goal.  Considering all things young more desirable than the wisdom and perspective that has been gleaned over a lifetime is not.

In the workplace, younger people may be faster and have sharper memories.  They also have a handle on the contemporary popular culture, since we idolize youth and encourage young people to take the lead in determining what is “of the moment.”  As throughout the twentieth century, technology plays a part in perpetuating the value of youth over older age:  Young people have, at each generation – not of humans, but of computers – a better handle on the state of the art.  This perpetuates both the youth culture and the hiring practices of the work place.  What is lost is the value of the human skills that it takes a lifetime to learn.

Young people fall in love, but it takes a lifetime  really to learn to love.  Tolerance for others, patience, perspective and other human values invaluable to the work place take many years to develop within us.  Younger people may grasp and incorporate the corporate culture, it takes wisdom to truly think in terms of “we.”  The same can be said of the political arena.  Politicians and corporate types may well be over forty, but the competitive values of our youth oriented culture are the values they reflect.  In fact, as a nation, we are growing older.  Isn’t it time we grew up?

Going Gray

Going gray, for many of us, is no longer a natural process.  It is a decision, and not an easy one.  It is something we, especially women, have discussed and agonized over for years before taking the plunge.  We consult our hair stylists, our friends, our partners, and perhaps our therapists.  Many of us do not even know when the gray hair actually came in.  I, for example, occasionally colored my hair for fun in my twenties and thirties.  When I was in my forties my hair turned from warm brown to a kind of lackluster brownish-gray, and a few silvery strands showed up here and there.  I started making regular hair color appointments.  I’m not sure when, if ever, my hair became definitely gray.

Eight or ten years ago, I asked my hair stylist at that time whether I should let my hair grow out.  “What would you want to do that for?” he asked.  Since then, there has been a growing trend toward gray hair as a fashion statement.  Cindy Joseph, a makeup artist and model, was recruited as a model after she allowed her long hair to go gray.  Now she has developed a line of makeup aimed at baby boomers, called “Boom.” The makeup regimen she has developed is marked by its simplicity and transparency.  “I wanted to do a line that was not about hiding, but was about revealing.” (Sylvia Rubin, S.F. Chronicle, 7/3/11)

In March, newscaster Dana King started to let her hair go grey.  Viewers had quite a reaction to this change, mostly negative, but King went ahead with her change.  She aired a short segment (this time the response was overwhelmingly positive) exploring the choice many women are making to go gray.  The process of deciding to go gray took place for the news anchor over a period of several years.  She said she no longer wished to “contribute to that kind of lie that fosters the impression that women of a certain age have no value.”  (S.F. Chronicle, June 5, 2011.)

I find myself with a similar dilemma.  Since I worked in Older Adult Services fifteen or more years ago, my position about aging has been to celebrate rather than deny the process;  yet all this time I have been coloring my hair.  I am still doing so, but now the color treatments are meant to lead gently to overall gray hair.  Every two or three months, I go in for all-over highlights, hopefully to resemble the uneven, salt-and-pepper  coloring of my hair.  It seems as if I am going blond, not gray; but each time I get highlights, they are a little bit lighter.  I hope my colorist knows what she’s doing:  She seemed very confident about the procedure.  And I can’t wait to see the new, old me!

Attitudes Toward Aging Part II

When I worked for an organization serving older adults in Marin County, I sometimes had speaking engagements.  I was then, as now, a student of Buddhism.  I often opened the topic of attitudes toward aging by telling a story from the life of Buddha:  Buddha was born, as we know, a prince, in Northern India.  While Buddha’s mother was pregnant, there was a prophesy going around that the baby would be either a great king or a great spiritual teacher.  Naturally his father wanted him to be king.  In order to assure this, the king did everything possible to make the young prince feel content in his station.  Siddhartha was showered with the best of everything:  food, entertainment, companions.  He was never allowed outside the palace walls.  Everything was brought to him.

As the prince grew older, he became restless, as young men often do.  He wanted to see more of the world.  He had a close relationship with his charioteer, who agreed to take him beyond the palace gates.  Wearing a disguise, Buddha rode out into the city that essentially belonged to him, and saw it for the first time.

If you have been to India, you know that the city streets are very different from a beautiful, tranquil garden.  Some people were well dressed, others were ragged.  People pushed and shoved, offered things for sale, washed themselves and their clothing at a public well, and so on.  Prince Siddhartha was a bit taken aback and a little excited.  He urged his charioteer to drive on.  After awhile, they passed a man walking slowly with a cane.  The man’s hair and beard were snow white.  “Why is the man so slow?”  Buddha asked his driver.

“That man is old,”  answered the charioteer. “If you live a long life, that is what happens.”  Soon they passed a man being carried on a stretcher.  A woman walked along side, wiping his brow.   The man was very thin and pale.

“What is wrong with that man?” Buddha asked his servant.

“That man is sick,” the charioteer replied.  Buddha had never seen sickness.  He was upset to see such suffering.  Less excited and a bit troubled, he told the driver to go on.  Soon another man was carried by on a stretcher, but this time the man’s face was covered as well.  Instead of walking along side, the wife followed the stretcher, weeping.

“What’s wrong with that man, is he also sick?” asked  Buddha.

“Sire, that man is dead,” replied the charioteer sadly.  “Sooner or later, we all must die; kings or beggars, rich or poor, foreigner and citizen alike.  Everyone who is born eventually dies.”

The Buddha was quite troubled by now.  All this had been kept from him.  “My parents – will they also die?”

“Yes, and when your father dies you will be king.”

“And, I, myself…  I will die?”

“Yes.”

Siddhartha told his driver to return to the palace.  His mind and heart were troubled.  So this was life.  Poverty and struggle, old age, sickness and death.  Life was far different from the perfumed garden in which he had been kept ignorant of the inevitable truth.  Just outside the palace gate, they passed another man.  Thin and white haired, he looked neither sick nor troubled.  He sat on a mat, cross-legged, with downcast eyes.  “What is that man?”  Asked the prince.

“He is a saddhu, a meditator and spiritual seeker,” replied the charioteer.  Prince Siddhartha could see that the meditator was not troubled by the conditions of life, while he, a powerful prince, had no inner peace.   He resolved to leave the palace and become a spiritual seeker.

Today, we in the West live in a situation similar to Buddha’s life as a prince.  We are distracted by food and entertainment.  We normally keep ourselves quite sheltered from old age, death, and serious illness to the extent that these are relegated to specific institutions.  Sick people are in hospitals.  We might visit, but then we go home and leave it to the nurses to bathe, feed, and care for them.  Older people live in seperate communities, and death is swept under the rug.  Just as Buddha’s father tried to do, we live in the illusion that old age and death will never come.  The cost of this denial is that  we are unprepared when old age does come.  We face a difficult adjustment.

Also, like the young Buddha, being unaware of the suffering in life and this life’s inevitable end, we fail to find meaning.  It was the awareness of suffering that led Buddha to his search, and its conclusion.  The answer he later found was that the suffering of life can and does have an end.  This end is achievable by all. The shift that ends suffering is within ourselves, not in the external world. There was no way he could have realized enlightenment by staying inside the palace gates.  Pure awareness can not arise from self deception.

Attitudes Toward Aging

Getting older, it has been said, is not so bad considering the alternative.  Many people would not choose to age if there were no such consequence; yet if the only alternative were to have to retain the same mindset as we had when young, many people would still prefer to age.  Several of my friends who gathered in the clubhouse today said that they would not want to be seventeen or twenty-five again.  Adolescence and young adulthood certainly have their angst.  I suspect that if we really thought about it, we may not want to be thirty-five or forty again, either.  Once adulthood is in full swing, the angst has gone considerably underground, but it is still there.  We are at the top of our game, but to stay there, we can’t stop running.

With age, we stop running.  The level of true self-worth goes up, the false ego softens.  This happens naturally and sometimes with a sigh of relief.  Often the shift follows a series of losses.  I mentioned in my last post that recent research tells us old people are overall happier than younger people.  If youth and attractiveness were really as important as the imagery everywhere present in our culture suggests, this wouldn’t make sense.  In fact, many of our attitudes toward aging, and death, for that matter, reflect a huge shadow projection of our youth-oriented culture.

Other cultures don’t necessarily share our bias against aging.  When I was traveling in Asia, One of the first questions people asked to strike up conversation if riding next to me on the bus or at a restaurant was, “How old are you?”  Although I had heard about this, and even though I prided myself on having a positive view of aging, I was automatically taken aback by this questions.  Cultural conditioning has taught me that this is an impolite question.  You don’t ask a lady her age!

Instead, we might ask someone “What do you do for a living?”  How polite is that, when you think about it?  It’s almost like asking someone how much money they have, since we all have some idea what various professions earn.  People in Asia rarely ask that question.  Of course, in Asia, being older is nothing to be ashamed about, just the opposite:  It is a matter of pride.  One has that much more living experience, greater wisdom, and the strength to survive.  It is as if with every passing year one has earned a higher degree in the University of Life.

A man in Jamaica once said to me, “Life is full of little holes.”  So it is.  At each age, something is less than satisfactory.  Childhood, supposedly carefree, is burdened by a lack of self-determination.  Adulthood is burdened by the responsibilities of parenthood and making a living.  The retirement years, while relieved of some mundane responsibilities, is burdened with a loss of physical strength.  On the other hand, life is an amazing journey and filled with delight at every age and stage.  People who have lived longer have had more opportunity to become the best we can be.  It is something to be proud about and something deserving the honor and respect of others.

When I refer to myself as old, people immediately respond, “You’re not old.”  They mean, I guess, that it’s not yet time to give it all up and sit quietly in my rocking chair.  But when is it ever time for that?  When I say I’m old, what people should say is, “Congratulations!  You made it!”  Hopefully I’ll live to be older, but let’s face it, I may not.  They don’t give you social security and medicare because you’re not old.  I’ve survived childhood.  I’ve survived youth.  I’ve survived intoxicating substances.  I’ve survived parenthood.  I’ve survived uninspiring jobs and cranky bosses.  I’ve survived taxes.  I’ve survived travel.  I’ve survived graduate school.  I’ve survived marriage.  I’ve survived crossing city streets numerous times.  Aging is not a bad thing.  It’s a great achievement.

Sagging Flesh

Our culture is so youth oriented that we focus on how old we look much more than how old we feel.  Suppose I look twenty years younger than my actual age, but I can’t get up out of my chair and on to the dance floor with the “other”  forty-year olds?  Is that better than grey hair, wrinkles, and awesome moves?  I think that, once again, men have an advantage here.  A guy can have some character in his face, greying temples, and still be damned sexy, especially if he has got the moves.  Women feel compelled to nip and tuck, Botox and dye, spend millions on cosmetics that purport to do all kinds of things.  We can be so caught up in artifice that we forget about the real things:  Enough sleep, appropriate exercise, good food.  Happiness.

I hope my male readers will forgive me a few words to the ladies:  A few days ago, I was talking with a couple of my “girl” friends and one woman complained about her sagging boobs.  “They never were like that!”  She insisted.  “They were gorgeous and perky!” Another woman said that our friend was just wearing the wrong size bra, a fact I could easily confirm for myself since the bra was visible through our friend’s white blouse.  I also wore the wrong size most of my life and read an article only a few years ago that explained bra sizing.  Basically, if the back of the bra climbs up your back, the bra is too large.  This refers to the diameter of your chest directly under your breasts.  It does not signify the extent of your endowment.  That’s the  cup size.  When you get the right size bra, you will probably have to go up at least one cup size.  For example, if you have been wearing 36C, you might change to 34D.  You will be surprised how much more comfortable, and how much better supported, you will feel.

Pendulous breasts, which no doubt are one of the disappointments of aging for many women, has not been an adjustment for me.  Mine were always that way.  As a teenager, it was a major problem in my insecure teenaged mind.  My boobs hung there on my chest like overripe mangoes.  They didn’t pop up perkily like posies.  The search for the best, most supportive bra took up a lot of attention much of my youth and my adult life.  Of course, I was buying the wrong size.  But I bought expensive bras with lots of wires for support.  The wires would eventually come out of their casing and poke me under the arm just when I was making a presentation in class.  It was something I suffered with quietly, like heavy menstrual periods.  (Bear with me, guys, I’m almost through)  The poking wires, blood stained panties, and twisted pantyhose were indignities to suffer in silence.  Now it’s the indignities of getting older:  being unable to read signs and menus without digging for my glasses, being unable to run upstairs, being wary of driving at night or traveling alone, being essentially invisible .

Though they may be at some advantage, men suffer the same indignities.  My former husband used to get so frustrated with his reading glasses, he’d throw them across the room.  The choices are rarely advantageous, it’s the lesser of two evils:  bifocals or changing glasses for different tasks.  I actually stopped reading for pleasure for a while.  Reading was not pleasurable when I had to go find glasses and get used to the feeling of them on my face.  Later on, I got acclimated and started reading again.  Recently, I’ve noticed my night vision is not as good as it once was.  It becomes more difficult to sit in one spot for a long time, especially a spot without a cushion.  One stands up and wobbles about for a moment, feeling stiff.

In spite of all this, recent studies suggest that older folks are generally happier than young people.  Now that’s interesting.  We have lost many things – people, possessions, professional identities, health and strength.  We have less time on the planet to anticipate and many things behind us.  For these reasons and more, the instances of depression among older people is high, yet overall we are happier.  Perhaps it is the fact of the losses in itself  that brings about the happiness.  We relax about things.  We realize we aren’t our bodies, our houses, our cars, or our professional identities.  How could we be?  They are gone and we are still here.  Thank goodness for that.