Am I the Only One Using Bar Soap? Well Maybe Then I Am Getting Old

They told me one day I would feel old, but I just refused to believe them. Age 30. Then 40, 50, 60, now 68. Nope, not old. Grey hair. White hair. Thinning hair. Definitely more hair in my ears and my nose than on the growing bald spot on the back of my head. Still didn’t feel old. Besides, wild ear and nose hair … that’s what small scissors are for.

An expanding stomach. Creaking bones. Getting up at night to pee. Still no significant difference. Hey, I thought, maybe I’m impervious to aging and its supposed incapacitating side effects.

The Decline of the Humble Bar of Soap

But all that changed recently. I had to face the fact that maybe I really am old. What happened, you ask? Well, I still use bar soap. And, according to research from the market firm Mintel, younger adults think a dispenser of liquid soap is easier to use, less messy with no slimy soap dish to clean, and more hygienic. Not only are they thinking that, they’re showing their anti-soap-bar feelings as consumers.

Bar soap sales were down 2.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, even though overall sales for soap, bath and shower products increased by nearly 3 percent during the same period. Usage of bar soap is also slipping and sliding, with the percentage of households using the traditional bar dropping from 89 percent to 84 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Generational and Gender Findings are Clear

It turns out that older men made up the only group clinging to their bars of soap. Women and younger body washers of both sexes were abandoning their old bars for new fancy plastic bottles of liquid soap.

The study reported that while 60 percent of those age 65 plus were happy to keep using bar soap to wash their face, hands, and other body parts, just 33 percent of those ages 25 to 34 were still grabbing the bar.

It also showed that men are also more willing to use bar soap than women. The survey found that 53 percent of men were willing to wash their face with bar soap, compared with 36 percent of women.

I first heard the findings on a my car stereo. Shaken, I rushed home to my apartment to check out their veracity on my computer. The internet did supply more detail. For example, the younger people were using the liquid soap because they were convinced that it had fewer germs in it. But soon I found a buried paragraph that showed I didn’t really have to abandon my green Irish Spring Soap – the only soap for really virile, really manly men.

An epidemiologist told The Huffington Post that while germs likely do live in the damp “slime” of bar soap, they’re unlikely to make you sick. And, since one of my former students Kate Sheppard is an editor there, I know the HP would never print a falsehood. And, my new favorite scientist added, rinsing the soap under running water before lathering with it should solve any problems.

Immediately, my aging fears melted like a tiny bar of my beloved Irish Spring left too long in a running shower. Not only was I not old, I was still smarter than those young whippersnappers with their dubious soap safety claims. Exclusive liquid soap use was simply like arranged playdates and bone-marrow appetizers so popular with Millennials today. So let the young have their ways. But for us Boomers, we’re not going too take it. I’m not going to let the youngsters pry my beloved bar of Irish Spring soap from my cold, wrinkly, but immaculately clean fingers

Everything I Need to Know About a Pandemic, I Learned from Golden Books

This article is part of an ongoing series of life in the Washington DC area during a pandemic

In times of sustained stress, like that now caused by the worldwide pandemic, we often turn back to activities from our younger days for comfort. Maybe it’s eating a favorite breakfast cereal from our childhood. Or watching reruns of old TV shows or movies. It could playing nostalgic games, or completing jigsaw puzzles, or building models.

Such behavior is completely understandable. “Whenever we’re in a stressful situation, we tend to regress,” California-based psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb explained recently in Time magazine. “Going back to a time in our lives when we felt safe and we felt protected is a natural instruct during these times”.

I sometimes return to rereading old classic books that I previously read and enjoyed. And for Baby Boomers like me, one of the series of books that placed many of us on our love-of-reading road is the Little Golden Books.

A few years ago here in Washington, DC, the Smithsonian Museum of American History featured an exhibit highlighting the history and impact of the Little Golden Books, which featured memorable characters like Nurse Nancy and Doctor Dan, Tubby the Tugboat, or Little Pokey Puppy.

After viewing the exhibit, I purchased the book Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book, written by Diane Muldrow, a Golden Books editorial director.

Although written before the COVID-19 crisis, Muldrow’s words in the preface seem even more applicable today. “Our country has faced some hard times of late, and we’ve been forced to look at ourselves and how we’re living our lives,” she wrote.

“We here at Golden Books think there’s a good chance that many of us learned pretty much everything that really matters about life from what we read between those sturdy, gilt-bound cardboard covers.” she added. “After all, Little Golden Books were first published during the dark days of World War II, and they’ve been comforting people in trying times ever since”.

So I  decided to take up Mudrow’s assertion – what would be the top 10 lessons Golden Books might be able to teach us but how to cope with pandemic times. Here are the 10 I chose:

Don’t Panic
Obviously these are scary times. Our concern is elevated because we don’t have the answers we need.  What should we be doing to keep ourselves safe? We need to reopen our economy and get people back to work, but how do we do that safely? When can we go back to school, travel, go to the movies, eat at a restaurant, attend a concert, take a vacation? The list is long and the only honest answer is – we just don’t know. We do know however that panic will only exacerbate our disturbing position.

Keep in Touch 
In quarantine, that is hard to do. But contemporary technology like FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom allow us to keep in contact with our family, friends, and neighbors. Make sure you do that.

Stay Clear of Shady Characters
Just as the pandemic is showing us some of the best of human traits, it is also showcasing the worst. With so many people forced to stay home, unscrupulous characters are using this time on the internet to push untruths and try to entice people to fall for scams. Check and verify everything you encounter on online.

The Simplest Things Are Often the Most Fun

There’s no question for most of us our pre-pandemic lives were hurried and complicated. Now, whether we wanted to or not, we have been forced to slow down and reflect. That reflection should allow us to determine what simple things do bring us the most enjoyment.

Take a Mental Health Day Now and Then
These trying times are taking an emotional, psychological, and mental toll on all of us. We need to periodically recharge. Figure out what would recharge you and do it. Any work will still be there when you get back to it, but you should be better able to handle it.

Always Keep a Medical Kit Handy
Make sure you always have what you need to get through a time of crisis when it’s not that easy to get to a doctor or a hospital. If you don’t already have it, it may not be that easy to obtain. I mean who would ever have thought we would experience a shortage of toilet paper. But don’t hoard. Most say your medical survival kit should be able to get you through about 14 days until you have to restock.

Get Some Exercise Every Day
Gyms and fitness centers are closed, but that does not mean we should let ourselves go physically. In fact, vigorous activity will not only help physically, but mentally as well.

Turn Off the TV from Time to Time
There will always be a place for television and cable viewing in the 21st Century. But like any activity, it can be abused. Strive for balance. You don’t have to give up TV completely, but balance it with other activities.

Crack Open a Book
This is one of the activities that can balance screen time. But with modern advances, you can also get your reading from Kindles or audiobooks. One of the purposes of reading is to force us to create the pictures instead of always having them provided for us.

Do No Harm
In uncertain times, we all are going to make mistakes. But if we make sure that we are being motivated by the central principle of considering ourselves sand others equally, we should be able to minimize any possible harm we may bring to ourselves or others.

A Question of Temperature in a Time of Trouble

This article is part of an ongoing series of life in the Washington DC area during a pandemic

My birthday was today (March 26, 2020). I turned 68 on a day that because of the Covid-19 pandemic was unquestionably the darkest the word had eve seen in my lifetime. Here in our Crystal City apartment, my wife Judy and I have always been well-stocked for most emergencies. We have flashlights and candles. We have a small medical kit. We have a pantry filled with canned goods and non-perishables. We always have a case of water bottles just in case. I regularly had watched zombie movies since my teenage years for tips if any threat turned out to come from the walking dead.

But when Covid-19 came to town, we discovered one thing was lacking – a thermometer so we could take our temperatures. Actually, we hadn’t had a thermometer since our only son Michael, who is now 46, was young. We’ve been relatively healthy over the years and hadn’t needed one.

But now we thought it would be wise to have one in our medicine cabinet.

And so for four weeks, every time we shopped, we checked area drug stores and grocery store pharmacies for a thermometer. We found none. I looked online and found that all those reasonably priced were sold out. I could have spent $100 for a unit that appeared to do everything but cook your breakfast, but I didn’t want to do that.

On my birthday, we needed to go to the CVS pharmacy directly across the highway from our apartment complex. While Judy was picking up what we needed, I checked the shelves, more out of habit than hope.

In the baby section, I finally found what I had been looking for. Four thermometers were hanging there. I called Judy over and convinced her that buying one of the quartet would make my born-day special. And so we gave the clerk $20 for our new prize and even received some change back.

Now if anyone had told me on my birthday say 50 years ago when I turned 18 that when I turned 68 the item pictured below would be my most treasured birthday gift, I would have looked askance and asked 

(1) What are you smoking? and

(2) Can I have some … that must be some powerful stuff  right there? 

But here we are … Strange days indeed

Pandemic Pushes Puzzle to the Forefront

Judy puts the pieces together

This article 1st appeared in Booming Encore

My wife’s fascination with putting puzzles together has always been somewhat puzzling to me. I simply don’t have the patience for such a time-consuming activity.

However, Judy obviously isn’t the only person currently using puzzles as a big piece of their pandemic-forced homebound entertainment.

Judging by sales, jigsaw puzzles are proving welcome relief for individuals and families all over America and sales are skyrocketing.

Brian Way, the owner of Puzzle Warehouse, the largest distributor of puzzles in the country, reports business is up 2,000% compared to this time last year.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Way told CBS News. “As you look down the aisle, we’ve got people getting orders off the shelves to ship out.

Amazon reported in April that “adult jigsaw puzzle” was the 8th most searched term on its website. In fact, at different times this spring, Amazon, as well as Target and Walmart, were sold out of all but the most expensive puzzles.

But that hasn’t deterred determined puzzle put-togetherers. Unable to purchase new puzzles, they took to exchanging puzzles with other avid enthusiasts. For example, Judy has put together a few puzzles belonging to our apartment complex neighbor Mark, who is an administrator with the National Parks Service and possesses a large collection of puzzles depicting scenes of natural beauty and wildlife.

Others have come up with novel technological ways to satisfy their puzzle itch. Hannah Boehm told NBC 7 News in San Diego that she uses the Next Door app and other social media to arrange puzzle swaps. She will leave a puzzle on her doorstep and someone will take it and leave a different puzzle in its place. Boehm says that process allows both parties to maintain recommended social distancing, adding that she always wipes down the boxes and puzzle pieces before she starts working on her new project.

The jigsaw puzzle itself has a long history. The origins of the puzzles go back to the 1760s when European mapmakers pasted maps onto wood and cut them into small pieces. John Spilsbury, an engraver and mapmaker, is credited with inventing the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767.

Initially, puzzles were considered for play and learning for children only, but puzzles for adults emerged around 1900, and by 1908 a full-blown craze was in progress in the United States much like that of today. 

Adult puzzles range from relatively easy (a few pieces) to extremely challenging (1,000 pieces or more).  While Judy tackles her puzzling task alone, our daughter-in-law Shannon, who is currently with our son Michael and our 2 grandchildren Audrey and Owen on a one-year stay in Australia, convinces her family members to join her in the fun.

Or at least that is the plan. Shannon recently got a complex Harry Potter-themed puzzle for Audrey, who is a huge Harry Potter fan. But Audrey moved on to other things, leaving Shannon to complete the complex puzzle.  She said about a third of the 1,000-piece puzzle was black/navy or dark brown making it difficult to determine which pieces went where.

But my daughter-in-law is nothing if not determined. “It’s torture, but I can’t quit now,” she said. And she didn’t. As you can see, the puzzle was no match for her. Despite the arduousness, the fact of Shannon’s determination certainly didn’t surprise her mother, Sue Sullivan. “You always did like a challenge,” Sue wrote on her daughter’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile, back here in America, Judy discovered a fix for her puzzle addiction. A local gift shop in our underground run by a Taiwanese owner has puzzles for sale. And Judy has already gotten so many there that the owner says she can look at the catalog and she’ll order special puzzles for her.

Man, if this stay-at-home lockdown continues, I guess I will just have to come out of retirement and get a job to support my wife’s puzzling puzzle habit. Can anybody out there solve the puzzle of where to find a high-pay, no-work job in a pandemic and an economic depression?