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How to be 50: How to Know What’s Cool

By Charlotte Latvala

One of the most disconcerting things about turning 50 is that inevitable moment when you realize – perhaps in the midst of your Yoko Ono impersonation at a party – that you have completely lost your ability to judge whether something is amazingly hip or not.

After all, many once-cool things have plummeted from grace. Aluminum siding. Margarine. Bill Cosby.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If it was un-cool when you were growing up, it’s probably super cool now. Such as….

  • Broadway. Then, it was something corny and old-fashioned your parents forced you to go see. Now, Hamilton.

Cats are always cool. 

  • Filming your cat doing weird stuff. If you followed your cat around with your 8 mm as a teenager, you were quite the dork. Now? Still a dork, but possibly one with 20,000 followers.
wall of sound

Vinyl is a work of art. 

  • Vinyl. So passe, once CDs came out. Now? Vinyl is the gold standard of vintage cool. (You’re kicking yourself for getting rid of those three Boston LPs back in 1998, aren’t you?)

Whereas cassettes are just confusing. 

  • Cassettes. Which are apparently the new vinyl. Eight-tracks and picture discs will follow accordingly.
  • Arena rock. Who knew that Journey would have such a long shelf life? We’d love to stop believing, if only we had the choice.

A hippy’s preferred mode of transport on his way home to his tiny house.

  • Hippy life. In the eighties, what could be less cool than an old hippy, clinging to her memories of Woodstock and bralessness? Now, hippies are back. They are “crunchy.” But still hippies.
  • Tiny houses. In our day, bigger was automatically better; the bigger the square footage, the better. Now, dollhouses are chic.

They almost predate electricity. 

  • Crockpots. Filled with disgusting sloppy Joes in the 1970s, they have now been rebooted as “slow cookers” and touted as a way to cook healthy homemade meals without actually doing any cooking.

This is a modern man. 

  • Beards. No normal person in our day wanted to look like a lumberjack or the cough drop guys. Now the Grizzly Adams meets Kris Kringle look simply will not go away.
  • Thrift stores. Who used “thrift” as a verb way back when? Hippies, that’s who. Case closed.





Filed under hipsters, humor, life advice, mid-life, Uncategorized

How to be 50: How to Send Your Kid to College



Your destination. Eventually.

As August drags on and college gets closer, remember that this is a transition for the whole family. But mostly, it’s a transition for you, and four years of Party Central for him. Here are some fresh new ways to tackle this age-old rite of passage.

  • Waste your money on a few last-minute motivational plaques that he will never look at.
keep calm

Vandals will soon replace the second verb anyway. 

  • Refer to move-in day as “Doomsday.” Include it on your calendar, preferably written in tear-stained black letters.
  • For extra drama, take up a few old-fashioned mourning rituals before your child leaves. Send all your friends black-edged photos of your kid. Wear a black armband. Better yet, put on sackcloth and ashes and stand in the town square rending them.
victorian mourning

Yep, that’s you. 

  • Film yourself blubbering incoherently and post on any social media that your child has a chance of seeing.
  • Use this time to reflect on what’s really important, i.e. knowing that the privilege of plastering your kid’s college decal on your car will cost you more than all the cars you’ve ever owned put together.
kent mom

That’s one expensive decal. 

  • Sneak a favorite sibling into your kid’s luggage as a quick pick-me-up when homesickness strikes.

Just like home. 

  • In the car, ask tearfully if he wants to play the license plate game, “one last time.”
  • On campus, be sympathetic to other parents going through a tough time. A good ice-breaker: “Isn’t it terrific that the college doesn’t hold felony convictions against freshmen?”
  • Adopt a spirit of friendly competition. Challenge the parents of your kid’s roommate to a series of zany activities, including competitive bed-making, clothes hanger bingo, and who can say, “Wow, this dorm is way cooler than anything we had,” more convincingly.

Ready, set, hang! 

  • When you hug your child goodbye, whisper “You’re dead to me” in his ear.
  • The second you get home, post 10,000 baby pictures on social media. It will be like he never left.

Because this is how you still see your college kid. 


Filed under college, mid-life, parenting, parents, Uncategorized

How to be 50: How to Shop for College


As August drags on, many of us need to go college shopping. You may remember this fun ritual from your own undergraduate days, when you rampaged through Sears, locked in mortal combat with your mother over whether to buy the neon green or dusty rose colored towels. Never fear, it’s just as much fun on the other end. Follow these tips for a shopping adventure to delight everyone.

horse blanket

If you went to college in the eighties, you had one of these blankets. 

  • Keep reminding your child that life wasn’t soft and comfortable when you went to college; a six-pack of Bud and a hot plate with a frayed cord were plenty good enough for you.
  • Insist on purchasing several items from her college’s “forbidden” list. Assure your kid that “It belongs to my roommate!” is an iron-clad excuse for any misdemeanor.

These are more like friendly suggestions than rules.

  • Go to Bed Bath and Beyond with a six-inch wad of coupons from other retailers. As you present each one, say: “I know this isn’t from here, but am I allowed to use it?” To involve your child, have her stand next to you recording the hijinks on her iPhone.
  • Insist that she buy bedding in shades of green and yellow, because you’re “sure she’s going to be put in Slytherin.”

Your kid is a little Draco.  

  • Encourage your child to have one full-out tantrum in the retail establishment of her choice, for old time’s sake.
  • Burst into Home Depot and demand to know where they keep the bikini line trimmers.

No, not these. 

  • When the cashier announces your grand total, fall down on the floor in a pretend faint. Wave your hand weakly in front of your face and croak “Smelling…salts.”
  • Write passive-aggressive notes on your kid’s brand new white board when she’s not looking.
  • Likewise, take a Sharpie and scrawl “I can see what you’re doing” on her new mirror.

For years, a parent’s best friend. 


  • Confuse her completely by threatening to shop online next year.



Filed under college, middle-aged, parents, shopping, Uncategorized

How to be 50: How to Survive Summer



Sun-In, and sunlight, and you’ll be blonder to-ni-ight. (Because in the right light, blonde and grey are indistinguishable.) 


At 50, you know that summer’s not the non-stop party you were told it was by Seventeen Magazine and Sun-In commercials. We fifty-somethings tend to get cranky when confronted with bugs, humidity, and carefree beach music from days gone by. (Can we please stop pretending there is any reason to ever hear John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John croon “Summer Nights” again?)

To get through this often onerous season:

  • Avoid unnecessary social events. And when your kid asks you why you didn’t come to his high school graduation, pretend you can’t understand the question.
grad robe

Come on, it’s hard to remember every special occasion in the summer. 

  • Develop a chlorine allergy. Pools are for small children and teenagers. If you’re ever overcome with the desire to leap headfirst into cold liquid, I suggest a gin and tonic on the rocks.
moscow mules

Or this, whatever it is. 

  • Take afternoon naps, Gone with the Wind style. Flounce and pout first to make the experience more authentic.
  • Take refuge in the library. Libraries are full of books, to be sure – but they also smell really good. Especially in the summer, with the air conditioning cranked and the water fountain set on mega-cold.
  • Cherish the good things. Like air conditioning. And soft-serve ice cream. And co-workers on vacation for extended periods of time.

Remember, things could be worse this summer. You could be the guy in the fez costume. 

  • Stop shaving. NO ONE WILL NOTICE. Just like in winter. You’re 50, for crying out loud. No one’s examining your armpits.
  • Likewise, let your lawn grow wild. Tell any pesky neighbors or local officials that you are developing a “wildlife habitat,” and make a lot of vague statements about “the environment.”

You say weeds, I say protected species. 

  • When you run into the inevitable construction zones on your way to work, shout inspiring messages in Latin at the road crew.

Carpe this diem, baby. 

  • Mark off the days of July and August in scratch marks, classic prison style, on your kitchen wall.
  • Do your best to get the chorus of “Summer Nights” out of your head, where it has been implanted for the two minutes it took to read this.

    Sorry, readers.




Filed under humor, mid-life, summer, Uncategorized, vacation

Be Honest

First of all, confess your real age. In fact, don’t just confess it – own it.


Fifty is cool. There are fifty states. The 1950s gave us some great Alfred Hitchcock movies and Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Fifty is halfway to one hundred, which was a lot of money once upon a time.

Fifty is a milestone, a benchmark, a goal. It’s one of those hallowed, special, glowing numbers that reverberate through time and space. We celebrate fiftieth anniversaries, not forty-seventh ones.

Besides, everyone can tell how old you are anyway, by countless little clues. Such as:

* You never wear slim-cut jeans.

* If you use the word “hater,” it’s probably in an ironic, poking-fun-at-your-kid way.

* You pile on more scarves than Steven Tyler.

* You can’t remember anyone’s name, and expect people to know who you’re talking about from cryptic references such as “Oh, you know. The one whose cousin was in that commercial.”

* You belong to a book club.

* Your book club meetings are the highlight of your social life.

* You’re seldom seen without a mug of coffee or glass of wine in your hand, depending on the hour.

* You’re prepared for most minor emergencies with a stash of Band-Aids, thread, and hand sanitizer.

* You’re never quite sure which one is Ryan Reynolds and which one is Ryan Gosling.

* You have to pause – only for a second but it’s a definite pause – when asked how old you are.

So stand tall, be proud, and remember that fifty is an accomplishment, not a crime. (Unless it’s Fifty Shades of Grey. But that’s another topic for another day.)

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Welcome to 50

Gentle reader, are you 50? Or approaching 50, or slightly over 50? If so, chances are you’re adrift. Without a guidebook. Without, really, any solid advice for how to navigate a decade that, quite frankly, seem to be ignored in all the “how to” pieces littering the Internet. (How to firm your trapezoid muscles in one easy move. How to pickle 20 varieties of heirloom rutabagas. How to raise genius children who are humble to boot.)

How to be 50?

Honestly, no one expects to be 50. Oh sure, we all expect to live that long – it is the 21st century, after all – but no one imagines what 50 will feel like, when we’re 25 or so. Certainly not when we’re 19. Or even 41.

Because – and trust me on this if you’re not already there – 50 comes as a surprise. One day, you’re 32 and trampling willy-nilly through young adulthood, thinking it will never end, collecting spouses, jobs, kids, homes, and an inexplicable collection of Bruce Willis boxed set DVDs – and suddenly, bam! Your friends are throwing a party that includes black balloons with a cheesy “Over the Hill!” motif. They are comparing hot flashes. They complain about knee discomfort.

How did this happen? you ask. And what do I do now?

Suddenly, everything on the radio sounds unfamiliar. And crappy. You tune to the oldies station, which is playing Guns ‘n’ Roses, for crying out loud. Your kids’ friends look at you as though you don’t exist, because you have passed the age when you could possibly be regarded as human. You start getting worrisome junk mail concerning people “50 and over.” (That’s it? We are specifically targeted by advertisers in our twenties, thirties, and forties – and then, suddenly, we drop off the cliff of middle age into the chasm of “50 and over,” to be lumped in with people in their eighties? Really? And that’s no offense to octogenarians – someday I hope to join their ranks. But I’m not there yet.)

So, you’re 50. Is it time to close the door on life? To give up ever being cool again? Is it ever appropriate to play air drums in the car? Do you give up on your dream of traveling through Europe with a backpack? Do you send in your AARP card and start scouring the Internet for senior discounts?

Oh sure, there are answers out there, you say. There’s Oprah. (When has there not been Oprah?) And magazines targeted toward Mature and Wealthy, offering sneak peeks at $300 jeans and other items that boggle your mind. There are hundreds of financial planning experts with dire warnings about protecting your nest egg.

All of which give us the heebie-jeebies. Because some of us don’t have a nest egg. We’re still getting the hang of being capable adults. Trying to play catch-up from decades spent with small children. Looking curiously at our spouses, who are now 50-year-old strangers who seem suddenly older than the people we married.

Yes, many of us are parents. Grandparents, even. We’ve lived, loved, and lost. Maybe we’ve learned a valuable lesson here and there. Or maybe we haven’t learned a thing.

We’re conservative. We’re liberal. We’re enmeshed in our professions or perennial job-hoppers. We’re black, we’re white, we’re multi-cultural. We’re Christian, Jewish, atheist; we’re everything in between and alongside. But that’s not what this is about. This is about the thing we all share, the thing that binds people of all genders, races, religions, and creeds.

We’re 50.

Come with me, gentle reader, and let’s figure out exactly how to do this thing.

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