This month has been busy and productive! Unfortunately, I’ve gotten out of my weekly blog postings habit. However, since it’s the last day of May, I wanted to give an update to my AARP Benefits Badass Challenge.
I entered my contest submission two days ahead of the deadline:
Given that there are thousands of entries and I’m a newbie at videography, I have no expectations that I’ll make it into the top 25, but I learned a lot this month, which was my real goal.
I discovered how valuable my AARP Membership really is! There were many more benefits than I realized!
As I mention in my submission, the AARP Staying Sharp benefit is my favorite and includes so much that it was tough to describe even that one benefit in 2 minutes!
The other benefit I discovered was the AARP Virtual Community Center. Every single day there are live classes – dance classes, cooking classes, virtual travel classes, exercise classes, etc., all for free!
The other skill that I learned was making movies using the iMovie and Canva tools. Both of these tools were free, though I did upgrade Canva for the month to check out some of its cool features.
I’d already taken a class in iMovie, but needed to review a lot of the features. I still have some trouble with text additions with iMovie, but I enjoyed playing with layering and some of the different templates. Here’s a quick “trailer” I made at the beginning of the month:
The other thing I’d planned to do this month was to become a “Grandinfluencer”– a kind of edgy way of saying an older person who influences others with social media.
I’d thought about starting a new season of my Carpe Diem Connections podcast and even created a recording about AARP Benefits. However, when I got to the editing process, I was reminded of how much time and effort it takes to create a podcast episode. It was distracting me from my main task: learning videography skills!
Overall, I feel good about learning more about movie-making and all the great benefits that are available to me as an AARP member!
2023 is my year of learning. Each month, I pick a new “focus” or theme and write a blog post at the end of the month with a summary of what I learned. Learning these subjects is a little bit different when we’re in retirement. We don’t feel the pressure that comes from cramming for finals or stressing about grades. At this time of life, learning is all for the pleasure that comes from continuous growth.
I haven’t picked all my monthly learning topics in advance. There are so many classes I’d like to take, and every month I find more! May was going to be Poker until I got wind of the AARP Benefits Badass Competition. Oh yeah! That is so up my alley!
Do you know where you can find SO MANY resources for learning in retirement? AARP: The American Association for Retired People!
What I’ll Need to Learn to be an AARP Benefits Badass
To enter this competition, I’ll need to create a video (no longer than 2 minutes) about AARP Benefits, specifically the AARP Social Mission Benefits. Holy cow! There are a LOT of AARP Benefits! I don’t know if I could even read that list in 2 minutes! And that doesn’t even cover all the AARP Commercial Benefits.
Judging will be in two phases with these criteria:
Phase 1. (Top 25 are picked to go to Phase 2)
Quality of Video (34%); and
Public Appeal (10%);
Quality of Video (30%); and
Given that I have very little video-making experience, the chances of me even getting noticed are slim. However, competitions are always a perfect motivator for me to learn. They act as an “assignment” in this school of life and I love a good challenge.
The deadline to submit the video is May 29th so I have about 4 weeks. Here are some of the skills and apps I’m going to focus on learning:
The Noel Diary is the worst example of a romantic comedy that I’ve ever experienced. Movies can affect our minds and our way of thinking. (I learned that from the Coursera class about Movies and Memory.)
The Romantic Movie Formula
It’s particularly annoying how sex and love are portrayed in romantic movies.
I get it. Movies are fictional stories meant to entertain. I, myself, love happy endings and resolved conflicts. But many romances follow this very unrealistic formula that goes something like this:
Two gorgeous people meet each other and immediately make passionate love and declare their love for one another. They have some obstacle, which they’re able to overcome. They live happily ever after.
The Noel Diary, listed as a “romantic comedy,” followed the predictable formula. There were so many things about this movie that were unrealistic, cliche, and ridiculous. Frankly, I found it offensive that it was classified as “romantic” and it absolutely wasn’t funny enough to be a “comedy.” I plan to leave a scathing 1-star review.
The main characters, of course, are gorgeous. They “fall in love”even though they just met. And here’s the real kicker, (spoiler alert) they have sex, even though the woman is engaged!
Online dating is NOT that easy at any age
One of the tiny subplots in this movie is that the 70+ neighbor woman goes on her first online date with “Ian.” They return the next morning, clearly a romantic couple. By the end of the movie (which spans a timeframe of a few days) she and Ian are acting as though they’re married! So even with these minor characters, they are gorgeous older people who supposedly spend the night together and are an immediate happy couple.
That does NOT happen with senior online dating, people! (I am at least glad they did show older people who were dating, even if they completely misrepresented how hard it is to find love that quickly.)
Being single is not something to be pitied
Also, another minor point, but at the beginning of the movie, the housekeeper and the neighbor are so sympathetic because the main character, Jake, is single and alone. The guy is super-handsome, rich, and famous. He doesn’t need sympathy for being single! Let’s stop the mindset that being single is something to be pitied!
There’s a whole lot more about this movie that I find disturbing, but I will save that for my 1-star review.
This month I focused on learning about memory and brain health.
Improving memory in retirement is something a lot of us want to do. We want to make sure our brains continue to remain healthy throughout our lives.
This has been the month I’ve enjoyed most so far in my year of learning. I’ve been interested in memory since I was a kid. These days there are just so many resources available to us to help us with memory and brain health!
Improving Memory by Memorizing the US Presidents
So, the goal I picked to demonstrate my enhanced memory skills this month was to memorize the names of all the United States Presidents in order.
There are a lot of memorization techniques that I’m aware of. The easiest technique is The Story Method. You “picture” something that reminds you of each name and then create a story where the pictures interact with each other.
However, I didn’t want to just remember the President’s names. That’s the kind of rote memorization I did in elementary school. This time, I wanted to learn a little history, too.
It was slow-going at first, but by practicing every day, I can rattle through them easily.
Different Types of Memory
I’ve heard this automatic memory be referred to as “muscle memory.” I found it fascinating as a child that I could remember how to play a piano piece just by practicing it enough times. It was as if my fingers knew how to play the piece without me having to tax my brain at all.
The problem would come, however, when I’d come to a certain spot in the piece and not be able to go on. This would be most likely to occur when I was up on stage, performing for an audience. I guess anxiety messes with your muscle memory.
Procedural Memory – enables us to learn and perform skills and actions, ie. Riding a bike, driving a car – demonstrate by doing it, not by describing it.
“Muscle Memory” seems like another version of “Procedural Memory.” However, I’m not sure if being able to recite something (like all the President’s names) without thinking would be considered a form of “procedural memory.” I’ll have to ask Jim Kwik about that.
I’m also curious about which type of memory helps us learn a new language. Learning a second language fluently is something I’ve always wanted to do, but it is much more difficult than simply memorizing vocabulary words.
I’ve heard, though, that learning a second language is one of the best things we can do to keep our brains healthy.
Resources for Improving Memory in Retirement
There are so many great resources available about brain health and memory improvement. This is definitely a topic that I’m going to continue to explore. Here are three resources that I highly recommend for improving memory in retirement:
AARP’s Staying Sharp
AARP’s Staying Sharp Program is an online resource that provides information and activities to help adults over the age of 50 stay mentally sharp. The program covers a variety of topics, including memory, problem solving, focus, and mental well-being. It also offers lots of activities, such as games, puzzles, and quizzes, to help users test their skills and learn new things. The program is free to use for AARP members.
Kwik Brain with Jim Kwik
I’ve been obsessively listening to the Kwik Brain podcast since I discovered it this month. Kwik covers a lot more than memorization in his podcast episodes. I’ve discovered that the brain is instrumental in every function of our life. I hadn’t realized how everything.. our emotions, our pain, our love, our insecurities, our actions.. are influenced so much by the thoughts we have. Many of these thoughts were influenced by conscious or unconscious memories and experiences.
Coursera: Understanding Memory Through Movies
The Coursera class, Understanding Memory Through Movies, has been informative and interesting. I’ve been listening to a lecture each morning, always with the thought: I want to watch that movie! The 5th and final set of lectures have been about memory in older age and have addressed topics related to Alzheimers and dementia. Though these are scary topics, the more we can learn, the more we can arm ourselves with knowledge of how to cope with memory issues.
So here we are on the last day of the month and I’m a little sad that my month of focused brain study is over.
However, my focus in May will be related! AARP is looking for a Benefits Badass! I’m going to focus on upping my game with videos, becoming a healthy-aging influencer, and digging deep into all that AARP has to offer. Whether or not I win the prize, by the end of the month, I will be an AARP Benefits Badass!
This has been one of my favorite Coursera classes. Each lecture highlights a movie. Seamon gives an overview of the plot and then explains concepts from the movie that help us learn more about how our memory works.
I’ve seen many of the movies that are from the course, and it’s been super-interesting to me to dig deeper into the psychology of the characters and the plot and for Seamon to help us understand what’s realistic and what’s not.
First Lecture: Sometimes Life Imitates Art – Film:Fifty First Dates
In the first lecture, Seamon gives us an example of how the movies we see may influence what we believe and affect our brains in unexpected ways.
He showed us clips from the movie, 50 First Dates, in which Lucy (played by Drew Barrymore), suffers from a type of amnesia that she gets as a result of a car accident. Each day when she wakes up she can only remember her life up until the day of the accident (which she doesn’t remember.)
She creates new memories only for a day, but she loses those memories at night when she goes to sleep.
We learn in this first lecture that amnesia doesn’t really work this way.
If Lucy’s brain damage were severe enough to stop her from making lasting memories, she would find it hard to remember anything new for more than a few minutes.
Lucy would be able to follow short commercials on television. But longer stories would leave her baffled and confused, as she would forget earlier scenes.
Lecture 1: Sometimes Life Imitates Art – Film: 50 First Dates
However, shortly after the film came out, there was a patient (known as FL) who experienced a similar type of amnesia as Lucy. The doctors were baffled because the brain scans did not indicate any damage that would cause this amnesia, but also didn’t think FL was faking her amnesia.
They discovered that FL’s favorite actress was Drew Barrymore and that she had seen the movie, Fifty First Dates, before her accident.
The researchers surmised that FL was experiencing amnesia, but it was functional not organic amnesia. The origin of each type of amnesia is different. Functional amnesia has a psychological origin, while organic amnesia has a biological basis.
Lecture 1: Sometimes Life Imitates Art – Film: 50 First Dates
Movies and other media affect our beliefs and our brains
I found it incredible that a movie could affect someone’s psyche enough that it could create functional amnesia. I’m finding that there is so much more that might affect our brains than I realized. And, in turn, our brains and what we think, affects our health – mental and physical!
News, social media, music, and movies will influence our beliefs and our brains!
Coursera’s class about Memory and Movies is very interesting and informative!
There are two types of amnesia: functional (psychological) and organic (biological).
Movies (and other media) can influence us into believing a false reality.
My 2023 Project is to do more focused learning, picking a new topic each month. The 3 topics for the first quarter of 2023 were Purpose, Blogging, and Taxes, specifically in retirement.
For April, my primary topic is “Memory Improvement.” (Stay tuned for my end-of-month summary post.)
One of the awesome ways we have of learning in this modern era is by listening to podcasts. Each month, as my primary topic has changed, I’ve searched for podcasts related to my primary topic. (By the way, listening to podcasts while doing my daily walk, has been a great way to keep me motivated to always get those 10K+ steps in.)
I’ve always been pretty good at memorization and some of the podcasts are specifically designed to help learn and practice memorization techniques. For example, a few years ago, I learned 100 digits of Pi, and this month, I’m learning about the 46 US Presidents (which is also helping me learn more about US History.)
Kwik Brain with Jim Kwik
Even though memorization skills are handy, what I like about the Kwik Brain with Jim Kwik podcast is that the topics he covers are all about Brain Health which is a lot more than memorization skills.
I’ve been so interested in Brain Health that after doing the “Napkin Test” with Richard Leider, I discovered that my “purpose” was to “Have a healthy mind and help others with brain health.” This is exactly what Jim Kwik is doing with his books, podcasts, and coaching!
At the end of each podcast episode, Kwik encourages his readers to leave a review about what they learned. Since I’m always walking while I’m listening, I don’t have a very handy way of doing that, but I’m going to summarize some of my takeaways.
Brain Health Takeaways from the podcasts
Having a positive attitude about aging is one of the most important things we can do to maintain a healthy brain. With all we are learning about brain health, scientists are finding that are brains can continue to improve throughout our life.
There’s a lot left to explore in this area and I’m excited to keep learning! Besides the many podcast episodes I have yet to listen to, I also want to check out Kwik’s books and classes.
Kwik’s podcast doesn’t have ads, and he depends on listeners for reviews and to spread the word, so I wanted to leave this blog post. I’m very impressed with all of his podcasts. They’re interesting and he has a lot of high-profile, trustworthy guests.
Brain health is an important topic at any age, but especially can affect those of us who are in our 60’s and worried about the possibility of decline. I highly encourage anyone who wants to maintain a healthy brain to check out Kwik Brain with Jim Kwik.
The Cherry Blossom Festival is an adventure inspiring awe
Last year was the year of Microadventures. I did some kind of activity or excursion at least once a week that inspired awe. My “rules” were that I had to do it with another person and then blog about it.
This was a wonderful habit to get into and even though I haven’t been blogging about all my 2023 Microadventures, I am going to blog today about a very awe-inspiring excursion: The 2023 Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC.
What makes this a full-blown “adventure” (as opposed to a “micro”-adventure) is that I’ve been planning for it ever since Scotty moved to Washington DC last year! This took planning and travel and was a much anticipated escapade.
I just love flowers, flowering trees, and had heard how gorgeous the cherry blossom trees would be when they were at their peak.
Timing the peak
One of the difficult things about seeing awe-inspiring natural beauty is that it’s difficult to time the peak days, which change from year to year.
Because I needed to make my travel plans in advance, I just estimated the peak to be around early April, and got nervous when this year’s peak turned out to be March 23.
Even though we were there 9 days after the peak, there were plenty of beautiful, full trees. The weather was cool (about 57 degrees) but sunny so the scenery stunning. I absolutely want to make this an annual event (as long as Scotty is living in the DC area). Maybe next year, we’ll be able to hit it right at its peak. Now I feel confident, though, that it’s still worth going even a week or so past peak bloom.
Photos of the Cherry Blossom Festival in historic Washington DC
The Cherry Blossom Trees surround the Tidal Basin of Washington DC’s National Mall. This is where you’ll find all the historic monuments honoring our country’s forefathers.
Getting off the beaten path
The one downside of this adventure were the crowds. Luckily, we were able to take the subway to get to the National Mall, but the sounds of cars honking and whistles blowing (from people who were directing traffic and pedestrians) kind of took away from the audio ambiance.
After getting our fill of the trees around the National Mall, we got back on the subway to the Armory exit and from there took a Lyft to the National Arboretum for more beauty.
The National Arboretum offered up more opportunities for Spring Blossoms. Scotty kept saying they should have a race through these trails. After I’d scoffed at such an idea, we saw that, in fact, there was going to be a 5K in early June when all the azaleas would be in bloom!
It also was the season of bluebells! The vast blooms on this walking trail right by Scotty’s house were gorgeous and plentiful.
All-in-all, this was a super-successful adventure. These early April flowers fill me with joy and I’m so grateful that I was able to experience such a memorable sight with Scotty.
AI Apps are all the rage these days. They can even write poetry!
But you know what they can’t do? Our taxes!
Why, in this day and age, do we not have an app to do our taxes? Yeah, I know about Turbo tax and all the other software out there, but even using the tools, taxes are so unbelievably complicated! At least for me.
This month, my goal was to learn more about managing my money in retirement. My “deliverable” was to do my own taxes.
When I retired a few years ago, I was very intentional about only wanting to spend time on activities that brought me joy. Doing my taxes does NOT bring me joy, so I had been continuing to delegate that task to my accountant.
However, I have plenty of time now and this year my theme is continuous learning. March 2023 would be dedicated to learning more about money and by the end of the month I’d have my taxes done.
Learning about taxes in retirement
Even though doing my own taxes this year was very frustrating, I’m glad I persevered. Here are some of the benefits and things that worked well about doing my taxes myself:
Now I am much more aware of what deductions I can make so I will do better at record-keeping and should be able to lower my tax bill going forward.
I’ll save the money I was spending on an accountant.
I was able to exercise my brain (something that I need more of, now that I’m retired.)
I ended up using Turbo Tax because the service included access to accountants who could step me through the tricky questions and double-check things for me. It was nice to have that service, but I don’t think I’ll need it for future years.
I also went to a seminar at the library and learned more about Social Security and Medicare benefits and how those would be affected by taxes. (I just turned 63 and I’m not collecting Social Security yet, but trying to understand all the tax implications now.)
Playing with AI is more fun than doing taxes in retirement
What did NOT work well for me about doing my taxes is that I really procrastinated working on them. I also did not spend nearly the amount of time learning about money management that I wanted to this month.
There are plenty of resources – podcasts, books, Websites, courses, etc. that are available to help us manage our money in retirement. I was planning on really digging in, but I did the bare minimum to get my taxes done.
One of my distractions was all these new tools and apps that use AI. They are super-cool and impressive! I couldn’t believe that the tools could write blog posts and poems in just a few seconds! It was amazing and also… sort of depressing. Blogging and poetry are two of my only creative outlets.
Experimenting with AI – Poems about Doing Taxes
When I was procrastinating with doing my taxes and experimenting with AI, I asked an app called “Chatster” and Google’s “Bard”, to “Write a poem about doing taxes.” Though they aren’t too bad, I think I could do better.. but I’ll save that for another day.
This is what they came up with:
Taxes, oh taxes, a dreaded chore
A task that I cannot ignore.
With forms and receipts, I must prepare,
To ensure that I pay my fair share.
I gather all my documents.
And sort through every cent,
Calculating what I owe,
And what I may get back, you know.
I enter numbers line by line,
And hope that I don’t make a mistake this time.
For the IRS is ever watchful,
And mistakes can be quite costly, so I’m mindful.
But as I finally hit submit,
A sense of relief begins to hit.
For though it may have been a pain
I know that I have done my duty as a citizen.
Taxes, oh taxes,
How I hate thee!
Let me count the ways.
I hate the way you make me feel,
Like I’m being robbed of my hard-earned money.
I hate the way you make me spend hours filling out forms,
When I could be doing something more productive.
I hate the way you make me feel like I’m always being watched,
Like I’m never free from the government’s grasp.
But most of all, I hate the way you make me feel like I’m not good enough,
Like I’m not contributing my fair share.
But even though I hate you, taxes,
I know I need you.
You’re the price we pay for living in a proper society.
As is often the case, Gretchen and her sister, Elizabeth Craft, provide happiness hacks.. their own and those from their large base of followers.. on everything under the sun. In this episode, they talked about different ways to look around a museum that might make it more fun or enjoyable than usual.
And, as always, they encourage listeners to write in with their own ideas.
My family loves games. While my kids were growing up, I made games out of everything. This was especially effective at getting chores done. Note: A “Beat the Clock” strategy is highly effective at getting chores done quickly, though can lead to some breakage and poor quality.
A “scavenger hunt” strategy is often something done at museums to make museum-viewing more fun for kids. And even for adults! If one isn’t offered at the museum, then with a little research, you can create your own.
The scavenger hunt doesn’t necessarily need to be researched ahead of time. Instead of having a list of what to look for, you can ask everyone to find their favorite piece in each room. Taking a “scavenger hunt” daily walk looking for things that brought me joy was something I did regularly during the pandemic. I discovered so many treasures this way!
My Unique Game at Museums: Guess Favorites!
And this brings me to my own unique idea at making museums more fun. I ask everyone to secretly pick out their favorite piece in each room and also guess what the others will pick.
We then ask each person what their favorite piece is and why. Sometimes people like the colorful pieces or a certain style of art. Sometimes it’s the composition or something unique about the piece.
As we go through each room, we discover more about the taste of the people we’re with. We also discover more about our own taste. What draws us to a certain piece of art? What feelings do we have when we view different pieces?
This “game” is not one where we keep careful track of how many correct guesses we have. (Well, maybe Scotty does. He can be competitive that way!)
It’s not about winning the most points, though. It’s about observing, discovering, and embracing what brings us joy. At the same time, we are learning what brings our companions joy.. deepening our understanding of them.
And sometimes what we learn is that they’d rather stay home and play a “real game” instead of going to an Art Museum.
Note: As adults, my kids still will play these “games” with me that originated in their childhood. They pretend that they’re doing it for my sake, but I can tell they love it. Well, except the one about picking up dog poop. I could not convince them that it was just like an Easter Egg hunt.
If you have expertise in a niche domain you might be able to make money by writing or blogging on an established site.
What does being “retired” really mean? I view it as a time when we no longer have to “work” in order to earn living expenses. Yet, surprisingly, there’s a lot about work that I miss!
I think when we’re in the midst of work stress (office politics, long days, boring tasks, pressure to perform) we fantasize about how wonderful retirement will be. And it is! Most of the time.
But if you’re like me, you want challenge! You don’t want all that expertise and knowledge you’ve gained over the years to go to waste!
Writing about your expertise in retirement has multiple benefits:
You can get a little income (always fun to have a ‘splurge’ fund!)
You can share your knowledge, providing guidance to others.
You can continue to learn what’s new in your field of expertise, which will help you stay relevant in your field.
You can foster connections with others who share your passions, interests, and skills.
You can improve your writing skills.
Write What You Know!
I kind of fell into my freelance writing gigs because back in 2009, I blogged a lot about my field of work (Agile Software Development and Quality Assurance). Exciting, right? I’d gotten laid off from my highly paid QA Manager job. Uggh! This was a terrible time to be laid off! So many of us tech managers were unemployed and it was very difficult to land a new job!
However, a leads group suggested blogging about your expertise in order to increase your credibility and Web presence.
Actually, that blog landed me a job as a Site Editor for an ePublication, SearchSoftwareQuality.com. It turned out to be the lowest paying job I’ve ever had, yet provided the highest professional development of my entire career.
Not only was I able to learn from and network with the best thought-leaders in the industry, I learned more about freelance writing. I was a writer as well as the editor, so I was the one deciding on which articles to accept. And at the same time I was able to keep up with trending topics in Agile Software Development and QA.
Once I went back to a corporate management position, I was able to continue freelance writing as a side-gig.
Getting Started with Freelance Writing – Amber Petty
I was lucky to find the right contacts years ago and know who to go to when I’m up for a “work-related” writing challenge. But it’s much more fun to write creatively! (That’s why I love blogging!) Could I actually get paid for writing about an interest rather than my career expertise?
Curious about how someone new might approach freelance writing, I attended Amber Petty’s free workshop, Write Your Pitch in 30 Minutes. I’d heard about the Workshop from my good friend and fellow writer, Becky, who described Amber as the “BOMB-diggity!”
I was dazzled by Amber and her style! She’s a student of Improv (another one of my wannabe skills) and I just love her bold look and personality. Her writing style’s so entertaining that I even look forward to her marketing emails! (Now that’s a rare talent!)
I’ve been to a lot of these free webinars and I know they always end with an ask to join a longer class. Even though I feel very confident that I could do this on my own, I was tempted to join the 10-week class because I liked Amber so much.
The free workshop was informative and included a valuable spreadsheet with 250 leads of publications accepting pitches!
Amber’s generous heart shines through in the workshop and in the personal interactions she’s had with Becky. Her energy and authenticity are contagious.
So even though I’m holding off on the 10-week class, I’m keeping Amber on my radar. My sense of people (usually spot on) tells me Amber is someone to be trusted to provide high value. If you’re getting started with Freelance Writing, her site is a must.
Note: I don’t get any Affiliate Link credit for recommending Amber. I just agree with Becky… She’s the BOMB-diggity!