Too Many Remotes

I’m old enough to remember when TV’s were massive pieces of furniture that dominated the room. You walked over to the set to turn it on, cranked a dial to pick your channel and that was it. No remotes, no sound bars, no streaming services. If you were lucky, your antenna picked up all three major networks albeit with fuzzy pictures if the weather wasn’t cooperative.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy great shows on premium channels and have no desire to return to the dark ages of TV. However, sometimes I feel like I need the skills of a sound engineer just to operate the damn thing. I recently wanted to watch something on Showtime which I get as an “add-on” with my Hulu subscription. I used to do this by casting from my phone–switch the HDMI input, pull up the show on my phone, hit the cast button, and there it was. (See—look at all the tech words I know!)

But, alas, we’ve gotten a new TV and new phones in the last six months and the rules have changed. I assumed with the new TV I could just go through the Hulu app to watch Showtime and not have to cast. But, no, that wasn’t good enough for the LG TV.  It kept insisting that I start a Showtime subscription WHICH I ALREADY HAD THROUGH HULU.  I kept googling solutions and pressing buttons and becoming more and more frustrated, until, at one point, a shot of the home screen of my phone mysteriously appeared in the corner of the TV. I was ready to throw the remote across the room and give up.

Unless you happen to have a thirteen-year-old in your house, managing TV technology is not for the faint of heart. I eventually got to watch my show, and I think I now know all the steps to make that happen although I need to take deep, calming breaths before I start the process.  Here’s what I learned.

a) “Pairing” devices may also be called “mirroring;”

b) Sometimes giving up and threatening to contact customer service prompts the TV and its assorted remotes to finally relent and allow the cast button to show up on your phone.

c) In order to change HDMI inputs on new LG TV’s, a small droplet-shaped object appears on the screen which you must maneuver onto the correct setting and then hit the enter button before it moves off that setting . If you ever had trouble playing games like that – good luck.

d) Because our amplifier (which dates back to the Clinton administration) is connected to the TV, in order to hear the sound on a program I’m casting, I must shut the amplifier off (using its own remote) and then turn the sound up on the TV using the LG remote, (not the Comcast remote) and then do it all in reverse when I want to return to regular TV. Seriously.

e) There are three remotes on our coffee table and it’s like a game of Russian roulette as to which one you should use to accomplish a task. Press the wrong button on the wrong remote and everything goes black or silent.

After this  traumatic experience, I went upstairs and turned on the TV in our bedroom to watch the late news. The screen was frozen on a scene from a show from the last network we watched. Shouting obscenities through the voice command was not effective. I said to my husband, “I can’t deal with this right now.” He replied, “When it does that, you just have to punch in the number of another channel on the Comcast remote, and it’ll work.” Which it did. Who knew?

No Diet/No Resolution January (with a nod to Laura Lippman)

I just read a wonderful essay by Laura Lippman (the Baltimore-based mystery writer) about how as a 60-something woman, her diet plan going forward is to eat what she wants, when she wants. She  is done with dieting. Be forewarned that the piece is peppered with expletives, but well worth the read.  https://oldster.substack.com/p/whole-60?utm_source=post-email-title&publication_id=469928&post_id=95699994&isFreemail=true&utm_medium=email

I hear ya’, Laura. I was bemoaning my sins of sloth and gluttony at a recent appointment with a new physician’s assistant and promising that I would do my part to help lower my blood pressure. The medication I’d been taking for 15 years needed to be changed, and I felt like I deserved to be yelled at for indulging in too many carbs and not going to the gym every day. She looked at me and said, “Just wait a minute. You are 65 years old and take one medication. One. Your bloodwork is perfect. You take care of all of your preventative health check-ups. You walk and you swim.  Do you have any idea how few patients I see in this office like you? Who are younger, taking multiple medications and doing absolutely nothing to improve their health on their own?”

All right then. I didn’t feel so terrible. And the fact that she was encouraging and positive makes it a little easier to get in that daily walk, pick up the free weights, or substitute a handful of raw veggies for potato chips. From the time we develop an awareness of our young bodies until we reach my age and older, women are bombarded with negativity. Don’t eat this, don’t eat that. Carbs are bad, dairy is bad, sugar is bad (ok, sugar probably is, but like our moms told us—everything in moderation.) And please spare me the recipes for chickpea pancakes and tofu lasagna. Ugh.

We should do Noom, we should do WW, we should find a “life coach” with thousands of Instagram followers, we should spend lots of money to transform ourselves into a mostly impossible and often short-lived standard of perfection, no matter how old we are. I’m not critical of anyone who has benefitted from these programs, but it’s the message that we’re never attractive enough that disturbs Laura Lippman and me. (She puts it more bluntly.) Corporations earn billions telling us we’re too damned fat.

Obesity is a serious health issue, (especially now, sadly, in children and that’s another story)  but there is also an underlying message to those of us whose bodies don’t lend themselves to pencil skirts and high heels that we need to fix ourselves. “Just look at who you could be” comes through loud and clear from the svelte images on our social media feeds as if who we are is not enough. The folks I see leaving the water aerobics class at my gym are not svelte. Some may even walk with canes but they’re in the pool and moving, and most are chatting and laughing as they make their way down the hallway in front of the cardio room where I’m getting in my steps on the treadmill. Those are the images that matter.

So, am I gradually increasing my fruit and veggie intake? Yep. Trying to adjust my attitude about trips to the gym, stretching more and sitting less. Absolutely, and that’s partly because a medical professional reassured me that I was ok, that I was healthy, that I did not deserve to be judged. Good health is a genetic crapshoot, some things are beyond our control, and we do what we can to keep ourselves going. But our choices should be made based on what’s best for us and those we love, not because some talking head on social media says, “You, too, could look like me if only you would stop this willy-nilly enjoyment of food and spend money on my program.” And then if our before and after pictures are not Instagram-worthy, we feel guilty, but the company still has our money, and they’ll make even more when we come crawling back to them.

Laura Lippman and I are too old to buy into the propaganda. We’re over it. Enjoying food is not a moral failing, nor is being a double digit clothing size. We are all beautiful.  

We Need a Little Christmas

Recently, I walked into our spare bedroom in search of something, and there stood the music stand and the little gadget we used to hold our cell phones to record singing videos during the pandemic. I hope we never, ever have to do that again.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am ready for real holidays this year. It feels like it’s been too long since we’ve been able to enjoy December without conducting a home lab test every time we sneezed or coughed. 2020 was horrible. Sitting in front of the TV on Christmas Eve watching services being streamed to empty churches. Recording (with much angst and frustration) a few anthems at home so they could be uploaded to a video our Chorale produced since we couldn’t do a Christmas concert. Putting a still-warm Christmas dinner in plastic containers to take to a nearby relative, who was quarantined in her retirement community. Earnestly decorating the house even though no one was going to see it except my husband and me. And even last year, Covid was still very much here. We sang Christmas concerts masked and barely got them in before a resurgence of the virus that would have canceled our performances. We attended Christmas Eve church socially distanced and with masks but couldn’t sing in the choir because of a Covid outbreak. We were still cautious about going anywhere indoors with other people.

I know, what we experienced was minimal compared to those who lost loved ones and who fought the battle on the front lines of the medical and business community. But if nothing else, the pandemic holidays were a harsh reminder of how much we take for granted. How we assume that we’ll always be able to do whatever we choose and whatever we’ve always done before. Until we can’t.

So this year, I’m ready for all of it. Let’s haul out the holly and sing the Hallelujah Chorus and do whatever else brings the spirit of the season. For us, that means making plans and filling up our December calendar. We’re singing as often as we possibly can, even if it means still donning the occasional mask. We’re attending concerts and saying yes to invitations and welcoming friends and family into our home again.

But the Covid scars remain—the plastic screens at check-outs, the mask requirements at medical facilities, the number of people still contracting the virus which is, thankfully for most, more of an inconvenience than a crisis. All of the holiday hoop-la is still tinged with the memory of the last two years. Which makes me appreciate the season all the more—from its over-the-top commercialism to the humbling and profound faith journey through the darkness of Advent to the light of Christmas.

This year, more than ever, we need a little Christmas.

Some Days I Miss the Freezer Sale

For many years, our church did a massive fund-raiser called the Freezer Sale. Looking back, I can’t believe what was accomplished in that project. We literally cooked every Saturday from early summer through November, producing hundreds of homemade soups, entrees, side dishes, and pies. A small group of us steered the project from menu-planning to procuring ingredients to  marketing the event and managing the financial record-keeping. This all culminated in a sale on the Saturday before Thanksgiving which became a community tradition.  

Like many undertakings of this nature, the Freezer Sale eventually ran its course, and for a number of reasons—burn-out, Covid, changes in the evolution of the church itself—it no longer exists. Toward the end, it was turning into way too much work for way too few people, and then the pandemic sealed its fate. The dozen or so commercial freezers in the basement stand empty and unplugged and are probably on the market to be sold if they haven’t been already.

But on these crisp fall Saturday mornings, I miss coming into the parish hall and smelling onions cooking or chickens roasting or seeing a group of parishioners gathered around a giant trash can peeling apples or potatoes. There was always chatter and laughter and at times, frustration, and griping. None of us were professional cooks or had background in food management, but we just plugged along with the various skills that we had and made it happen. There was a spirit there, a sense of camaraderie, a sense of working for the greater good that superseded all of the challenges we faced. The Freezer Sale provided nourishment for the soul as well as the body.

We told our stories while chopping onions and vented our worries and fears while rolling pie dough. We laughed about the antics of grandchildren and pets while slamming overloaded trays into the cantankerous dishwasher. And after most cooking sessions, we sat down together to rest and share a communion of sorts. Coffee and baked goods after the liturgy of shepherd’s pie.

The Freezer Sale was an example of believing in what you cannot see. We did not see the elderly widow alone in her apartment, savoring ham and bean soup on a cold night. Or the family tearing into chicken enchiladas giving the exhausted mom time to catch her breath. Or that the proceeds from the sale provided a winter coat for a child, a rental or fuel oil payment, or Christmas gifts in a room that would be otherwise empty.

So occasionally I’m nostalgic for getting up early on Saturday mornings and lugging my Kitchen Aid mixer into the church for a mashed-potato-making marathon. Or sitting at the check-out desk, cash box at the ready, waiting for the doors to open on sale day. I miss the people and the knowledge that when one of us grew tired, someone would be there to take the spoon from our hand and keep stirring. And I miss the special grace that comes from showing up, even when you don’t feel like it, and saying, “What can I do to help?”