Why I keep Valentine’s Day low-key

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter –  Issue 5, January 31, 2020

by Columnist Tom Blake

There are 3 parts to today’s eNewsletter

                          Part One – Why I keep Valentine’s Day low-key

Recently, a buddy said, “As the On Life and Love After 50 columnist, what plans do you have for you and Greta to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year?”

I think he expected to hear me describe something fancy such as a romantic evening for us at one of the nearby 5-star hotels. Two of them, the Monarch Beach Resort, and, the Ritz Carlton, are within walking distance of our Monarch Beach, California, home.

I hadn’t thought about our plans for Valentine’s Day—Greta and I hadn’t even discussed it–so I replied, “We’ll probably stay home.”

He looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

I added, “We might splurge by preparing a lobster dinner with spinach salad, and sip on a glass of Churn, my favorite chardonnay, topped off with a piece or two of See’s candy. We’ll probably be in the sack by 10 p.m.

  House rule: Maximum two pieces per person per box opening

Surprised at the modest plan, he questioned, “Churn chardonnay?”

“Yup, my favorite chardonnay,” I said. “Seven bucks a bottle at Trader Joe’s.”

I added, “I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. Granted, it’s good for the economy. However, greeting-card companies, restaurants, candy makers and flower shops mount such an overwhelming marketing blitz, I feel it takes some of the romance out of Valentine’s Day.

“Similar to New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day can make people without a mate lonelier than they already are. That’s why I avoid making Valentine’s Day a big deal in my columns. I don’t want the lonely people to feel worse.”

My friend’s questions reminded me that when I was younger, I experienced some lonely Valentine’s Days.

In a column I wrote in 1996, I said this about that day:

“I’ve taken a few romantic hits lately: divorce, rejection, etc. Funny how sometimes life drags us through the gutter before it starts to improve.

“But, even though there’s no one special in my life on this 1996 Valentine’s Day, most importantly, I have my health, a nice roof over my head, and a job where I can eat when I’m hungry (that’s when I owned Tutor and Spunky’s Deli in Dana Point).”

In June, 1998, two years after writing that article, I met Greta, so the “no one special in my life” situation changed.

To Greta and me, every day is Valentine’s Day, so we don’t make a big deal out of February 14. We appreciate very much what we have.

We both enjoy great families, and lots of wonderful friends. And nice readers like you.

I think the most thoughtful thing people can do on Valentine’s Day is to reach out to those who may be spending the day alone. They might be lonely. Invite them to join you and your friends for lunch or dinner. Share the love of the day with them.

And look after them the rest of the year. Loneliness isn’t just a Valentine’s Day reality. It’s year around.

The best thing about Valentine’s Day—it’s a day of giving, just like Thanksgiving–making other people feel special and loved.

Oh, and by the way, a rose or an orchid is always appreciated.

                           Yellow rose from my garden this week

                                   Part 2 – Devastated – Losing Kobe Bryant

I try to always put a positive spin on these eNewsletters. But, this week, it’s been a challenge. On Sunday morning, at home, I was walking down the steps from upstairs, when Greta looked at me sadly. I knew something was wrong. She shared news that rocked me to my core: “Kobe has been killed in a crash.”

Kobe Bryant, to us, was, of course, a person who gave us years of basketball enjoyment with the LA Lakers. But much more than that, he was an incredible human being with ties to our little city of Dana Point. He and Vanessa were married in St. Edwards Catholic Church here. Kobe is a household word in Southern California, especially in Los Angeles and Orange County.

He was kind, humble and loved children. He gave to many charities.

And the eight others who also died in that helicopter crash were all from Orange County—including Kobe’s daughter and the baseball coach at Orange Coast College, and that coach’s family and a few of his friends.

I will never forget where I was when I heard the Kobe news–coming down my steps at home. I’ve never forgotten where I was when Greta informed me about 9-11, or when I was in the engine room of the USS Noble off the coast of Guam during the Viet Nam War when the news of JFK’s passing was announced over the ship’s speakers.

So, excuse me for getting personal today. You are my friends and I wanted to share that with you.

Woman seeking husband # 4

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter –  Issue 4, January 24, 2020

by columnist Thomas P blake

                                         The Champs take over

                  Response to woman seeking husband # 4

Marta wrote, “For the lady who is aching to get married: The best way to find a mate that is RIGHT for YOU is to be you as much as possible. Forget about finding a partner and do what you LIKE, around groups of people that include males, as often as you can, daily.

“When people observe you being happy, they are naturally attracted, they cannot help themselves. Plaster a smile on your face and get going.”

Responses to learning to play Bridge – the card game

Diana, “In South Orange County, California, South Orange Coast Bridge Center…San Juan Capistrano is a great club. I took beginner’s lessons when the club was at the harbor. I was 72 and had never played bridge before.

Have made a wonderful network of friends and play three times a week when at home and on cruises. Totally addicting though, so be warned! Carissa can likely find great clubs where she lives in Arizona.”

Sandy, “It’s never too late to learn Bridge. I am 70 and just recently learned. Go forth and enjoy! I recommend the American Contract Bridge League website (www.ABCL.ORG), and find classes, it is bonding, socialization, and intellectual…even if you are bad at it…you still reap the benefits!”

                                      New Year’s Eve in Dubai – Chris and Tina

I asked our Champs, Chris and Tina, the longest, long-distance relationship couple (5,419 miles) of which I’ve ever known–who spent New Years Eve on a cruise ship in Dubai–if they’d share that experience with us.

Chris wrote, “The ship docked in Dubai on the afternoon of December 31, 2019.The dress code that evening was semi-formal. We met Bruce and Deb, a couple from England we had become acquainted with, for a wonderful lobster dinner.

“After dinner we went to the lounge and listened and danced to some good music. Around 11:30 p.m., the crew passed out hats for the men and crowns for the ladies, and we all went onto the upper swimming pool deck where the big party was going on.

“It was a beautiful night. There had to be 1,000 people up there. The music was loud, the champagne was flowing, and everyone was dancing and singing. It was a great and fun crowd.

“At midnight the Burj Khalifa–the tallest building in the world–lit up. It was a different New Year’s fireworks show than normal. There was a beautiful light display running up and down the building while fireworks were going off from the building complementing the lights. It was wonderful.

Champs  Tina and Chris – after a long New Years Eve aboard ship in Dubai

“There were also four other parts of the city that lit up with fireworks. What a thrill to be standing there, with my arms around my wife, watching all this in Dubai as the new decade began.”

Larry Leach, one of our Champs, graduated two years ahead of me at Jackson High School, Jackson, Michigan. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is a big University of Michigan sports fan. He lettered in golf at Michigan.

Champ Larry Leach – loves the Big Blue
Larry forwarded an email that included 13 “Peanuts” cartoons, by Charles Schultz. Their simple, positive messages are wonderful. I thought I’d share a few of them with you—one at a time, once in a while—to remind us how positive messages can warm our hearts.
73 Years of Friendship
Two Champs – Pam S. and Pam P (Tom Blake’s sister). – who grew up together in Jackson, Michigan – shared a photo of them together in 1947. Now, Pam P lives in San Diego and Pam F. still lives in Jackson; they remain friends and exchange stories. They are Champs and are both married.

                         Champ Pam S. on left; Champ Pam P. on right – still pals after 73 years

Seeking husband #4

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter –  Issue 3, January 17, 2020

by columnist Thomas P Blake

There are 3 parts to today’s eNewsletter

Seeking Husband #4 and another woman asks about learning to play bridge

                                  Part 1 – Seeking husband Number 4

prague bride 2007
Husband #1 in Prague in 2007  photo by Tom Blake

A woman I will call Nellie emailed, “This is the year I will find love and remarry. I’m 72. Time is passing me by. I like being married; I’ve just had some bad luck. This time around will be better.

“I’ve been divorced (my third) from my most recent husband for almost two years now. What do you recommend I do to find the guy who’ll be perfect for me, before my time runs out?”

My answer to Nellie: “As my favorite sports announcer of all time, the late, great Keith Jackson used to say, “Whoa Nellie!

Before you search for hubby #4, I think you need to understand what happened to your first three marriages.

Were there similarities or patterns from the marriages? Were your ex-husbands abusers or womanizers? Were they controlling or non-loving or as the Eagles sing in the 1975 classic song, Lyin’ Eyes, ‘with hands as cold as ice?’”

(note: Link to Lyin’ Eyes is at the end of today’s eNewsletter)

Also, the second thing you need to do is make a list of the qualities you seek in a mate. Might be 8 or 10 items or more. But don’t make the list so strict or inflexible that you eliminate a person who would be a good mate for you but they fall a little short in a category that isn’t a deal breaker for you.

In my book, Finding Love After 50. How to Begin. Where to Go. What to Do, I devote an entire chapter on this important step.

“And why do you feel the “need” to be married again?

“I can’t stress enough how many woman Champs are on their own and creating a great life for themselves. They have outside interests—hiking, biking, volunteering, traveling, going back to college, gardening, writing a book or studying their genealogy, and while most would enjoy having a partner, they don’t wait for that to happen. What they do have in common: having women friends with whom they enjoy social interaction.

Many say they would rather be on their own than repeating their histories of divorce and unhappy partnerships.

Perhaps you can self-analyze what happened to those marriages. You may even discover you may have contributed to their demises. Or, you may need to seek professional help to figure out what happened. But find out what makes you tick and why you made those marriage decisions.

Are you so afraid of being alone that you’re willing to rush into another relationship or marriage? That might fail because it’s just repeated behavior. Geez, the ink isn’t even dry on your last set of divorce papers.

Many Champs tell me they’d love having a partner, but they see no reason to remarry. After all, they say, at our age, they’re not trying to start a family.

So, Nellie, I’m not trying to be harsh on you, just realistic. Don’t focus on finding another husband. Instead, focus on you and having a meaningful purpose in life, and, establishing lots and lots of woman friends.

                                        Part 2 – Too old to learn to play bridge?

Carissa from Arizona emailed:

“At age 68, I’d like to learn how to play bridge. Seems like a great way to meet new people through a card game, plus just about every community has bridge players.

Would you ask your Champs a few questions for me?

  1. How old is too old to learn bridge?
  2. What’s their best advice for novice bridge players wanting to improve their skills?
  3. In my community, there are people advertising classes to teach bridge. Are classes necessary? Or, should I go to my nearest bookstore and read how to do it?
  4. How best to find a bridge partner?
  5. How best to find a group of bridge players that is best suited to my skill level?

Tom’s response: Too old to learn? No, in fact, it’s great for keeping the brain working. My Mom played bridge until she was almost age 99 and she was sharp as a tack.

Last year, Greta took beginner’s bridge lessons on a cruise we were on and most students were in their 60s and 70s. So, you are not too old. Lessons are necessary and would be better than learning from books as there are new conventions (methods of bidding) introduced often.

I suggest taking one of the lessons or classes in your community. Have you checked with Meetup.com? And Senior Centers?

When you begin to take lessons, the answers to questions 4 and 5 will almost automatically be answered.

I’m certain some Champs will have sage advice in responding to your questions.

                         Part 3 – Meet and Greet in Dana Point 

The first 2020 Meet and Greet for people age 50-plus will be at Tutor and Spunky’s Deli, 34085 Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point, California, 92629, on Thursday, January 23, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. No admission cost. Complimentary appetizers, beer and wine, $5 per glass.

                             Link to Lyin’ Eyes by Eagles 1975

1975 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a duo


Combating loneliness and social isolation

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter – Combating loneliness and social isolation

By Tom P Blake  January 10, 2020

What’s worse for your health? Smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being isolated with little or no social interaction?

According to the December 2019/January 2020 AARP The Magazine, which arrived in our mailbox on Tuesday, both are equally bad for your health.

That observation was one of many in an article, written by Lynn Darling, titled, “Is There A Cure For LONELINESS?” Covering five pages, it’s the longest article I’ve ever read in any AARP magazine.

The article is like a short encyclopedia on how loneliness and social isolation affect older Americans. It covers in depth the causes of loneliness and what research is discovering about its effects on health. For a better understand of loneliness and social isolation, I highly recommend our Champs read it. I was surprised at the extent of the isolation problem among seniors.

But I want today’s focus to be positive: on what people can do to lessen loneliness and social isolation.

Our April 6, 2018, eNewsletter was titled, “The key to overcoming loneliness and the blues.” In that article, Champs made significant suggestions on how to deal with loneliness. Their comments were so helpful, I am repeating some of them today.

Here are excerpts from that eNewsletter:

Thyrza, California, said, “I think loneliness and social isolation happens to any age, gender or what have you in life. I was very lonely when my parents moved me with them away from my friends.

“I felt a touch of loneliness when I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom. Now at my age, a widow living alone, loneliness still creeps in. It does not bother me as much as when I was younger with my responsibilities as mom and wife.

“Loneliness affects everyone, but I learned that freedom to do what I want with my life released me from that feeling. I know it will always be part of one’s life but the freedom to act to get out of the loneliness rut is to be embraced. Embrace loneliness and know when to release the feeling. It is just a feeling anyway.”

Jackie, Tampa, Florida, emailed, “Loneliness is the biggest challenge for me as a single. I don’t mind eating out or traveling alone, but sometimes it would be nice to have a companion to share the experiences with.

“I don’t have many female friends who are financially able to travel or go out much. And I’m not a spendthrift, but I would enjoy spur-of-the moment road trips or dinner and a movie with a friend.”

Esther, Brooklyn, New York, “As a single woman, retired teacher, with no children and little family, I understand how loneliness can be a destructive force if not addressed. To avoid loneliness, there are several things I do:

-Maintain contact with a small group of close friends with whom I share birthdays, holidays and life events

-Volunteer at the local library, museum and Botanical Garden

-Work as a private English tutor three days a week

-Interact with people of all ages with various needs. My local college offers a broad lifelong learning program with varied courses, travel opportunities and cultural events. I am an active participant

“Never miss a regularly scheduled appointment whether it be a dental, medical or beauty appointment

“Living in New York City, I’m able to attend many, diverse cultural and social events. The Harbor Fitness, a state-of-the-arts gym near me, offers a fabulous ‘silver sneakers’ program for people over 55. I work out and socialize regularly.

“Through the internet, I keep in contact with old friends and relatives who live far away. Mainly, I do not feel alone. I am busy, significant and connected!”

Jon, Olympia, Washington, “The reason loneliness can be such a problem is we are ingrained with the philosophy that we must have another person in our lives to be ‘whole.’  Obviously, this is not the universal answer, citing the number of people in miserable marriages and a high divorce rate.

“Doing things in which a person finds fulfillment–not solely to be busy and taking up time–can reduce the feeling that they need an intimate relationship with another person. A few close friends can help make up the difference.”

JoAnn, “Get a dog.  Best friend, a laugh and cuddle a day!”

Bonnie, California, wrote, “I have great compassion for those experiencing loneliness; It is debilitating.

“I have been able to mostly escape that condition because I am an only child. Without playmates under my roof during my growing-up years, I had to invent my own fun. Creativity, reading, and writing were my friends.

“Now, at 64, and a single, empty-nester mom, those are also my adult enjoyments. I work full-time as a designer and read and write at every opportunity. I also love to travel solo, because my interests are specific, and I like to be able to pace myself and my energy as I go. For that reason, I avoid travel tours.”

“However, if I was seeking companionship, I would reach out to the cultural community and volunteer as a docent. Or at an animal shelter and offer two times a week to give love to the yet-to-be adopted pets.

“Or, save for a river cruise on the Seine. Always, always have something to look forward to. Open your home to a once-a-month potluck dinner. Drive for Meals on Wheels. (My 96-old uncle still drives and serves others!) Give time at your house of worship.

“Take a free class at a local college. Your calendar will be bursting at the seams with interesting tasks and interesting people and new ideas. And others will be blessed by your contributions.”

Tom’s comment:

To combat loneliness and social isolation, seniors must have more social interaction with people.

Photo of our Ireland travel group from August, 2019 in Ireland. Travel can create new friends and be helpful in combating loneliness. Notice the wide age range. Greta and Tom in front row center. Photo courtesy of Paul Culver.

And that interaction needs to be–as much as possible–face-to-face, not always on your computer or phone texting. However, keeping in touch, via phone or computer, with long-time friends in other areas of the country, is important.

Try to mix social interaction with younger people into your life—kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, for example, or friends younger than yourself can keep you thinking young. That’s very important.

A good way to interact with people is by joining groups. Meetup.com lists thousands of groups and activities and should provide plenty of ideas for people not sure what to do to meet others. My sister Pam, in San Diego, is heavily involved with the Orchid Society there, and maintains multiple friendships because of that connection.

As mentioned above, volunteering—helping others—provides social interaction. And, opportunities to help are endless.

If you are feeling lonely, get out there and make social interaction a top priority.

Your comments are appreciated.

Writing columns and newsletters for 27 years

 On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter – January 3, 2020

  Glad To Be Here – Columnist Tom Blake On Life and Love after 50 column turns 27

In the final eNewsletter of 2019, I asked Champs to send me their questions, comments and experiences.

One woman asked, “Did you study journalism in college?”

Another woman emailed, “Why/how did you start writing about dating? What makes you an expert on relationships?”

I will answer the above two questions in today’s eNewsletter main column.

But first, a third question came from a man. He said, “After 33 years of marriage, I’m getting a divorce. What do you advise I do?”

My answer to him: “Take a deep breath. Are you certain the marriage can’t be salvaged? If you want advice from me and our Champs, you need to provide more details about yourself and what happened to your marriage.”

There are two parts to today’s eNewsletter.

                     Part 1 – Glad To Be Here – Tom’s column turns 27

On July 7, 1994, my first newspaper column was published. It appeared in the South County Lifestyles section of four Orange County Register community newspapers. The column will turn 27 on July 7 of this year.

The answer to question number one above, “I did not study journalism in college. The only writing course I had was while getting my MBA from the University of Michigan. It was a business letter-writing course taught by Professor Mary Bromage. She taught students to write tight, be concise and eliminate unnecessary words.

“So, no journalism school. Instead, I learned to write sitting on bar stools gathering research, while trying to meet women after my divorce.”

That sentence probably needs an explanation, especially for new Champs. Some of my long-time, loyal readers likely are familiar with this story. To them, I apologize for any boring repetition today.

Here’s how I began writing:

On Christmas Eve, 1993, my wife of six years, took what furniture and belongings she wanted from our Monarch Beach, California, home and moved out of my life. I was in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, visiting my 83-year-old mom.

I did not know about the move out. Oh, I knew we had some issues to discuss, but most couples do. I found out the morning after Christmas, when she telephoned me at Mom’s.

On the drive home, I had a notepad in my lap. When you’ve got nine hours to drive, knowing your spouse has bailed out, a million thoughts go through your mind.

Being very careful while driving (I guess back then it was equivalent to today’s texting while driving, not a good idea,) I jotted those thoughts down. The first item on my mind: What about my dogs, Amy and Kira? Were they gone? Were they still there? Had they been fed or left water for two days?

The next item: Why did she leave without us discussing it first?

Although I wasn’t a writer, by trip’s end, I had a mishmash of notes on the notepad. I had no idea those notes would be the start of a writing career.

When I opened the garage door, the dogs barked. They were okay. We were happy to see each other.

A month later, during lunchtime at Tutor and Spunky’s, my Dana Point deli, in front of customers and employees, instead of serving sandwiches, I was the one served. With divorce papers!

That night, I jotted down my thoughts in what had become a soon-to-be-divorced-man’s diary. I wrote, “Today, getting served was the last straw. I’m going to begin dating immediately.”

I was 54 and thought dating would be a snap, with a plethora of single women coming through the deli doors. What a rude awakening. Younger female deli customers wouldn’t date me. In fact, women, regardless of age, wouldn’t date me.

As I sat on bar stools at Brio, Hennessey’s and other local Dana Point singles’ hangouts, looking for love, I’d add the dating misadventures on cocktail napkins, and then nightly when I got home, I’d put the notes into the diary. It was on those bar stools where I started to write.

After five months, I used the diary notes to write a short story. I edited the material multiple times. It was 74 pages. I thought, maybe, I could get the story published.

I sent query letters to The New York TimesPlayboy Magazine and Esquire. No response. The Orange County Register recommended I contact the Dana Point News, the Register’s community paper.

After reading my material, the two women editors—Sherrie Good and Dixie Redfearn–agreed to a meeting at their office.

At the meeting, their opening question: “What do you have in mind for our newspaper?”

I had no idea, so I just blurted out, “Maybe I could do a dating-after-50 column from the man’s-point-of-view.”

They said, “That’s what we were thinking. You are whining and complaining so much about the cost of dating, and being rejected by all sorts of women, we feel the single, middle-aged women of Orange County will have a field day reading your woe-is-me misadventures.”

The first column was titled: “Home alone, with only dogs for company.”

Sherrie and Dixie were right about the anticipated responses from women readers.

The first comment: “Who is this sniveling puke?”

The second: “He complains that younger women won’t go out with him. It’s a wonder any woman will go out with him.”

Welcome to the mid-life dating trenches, Tom.

I wrote for the OC Register and 10 of its community papers for 17 years.

Nine years ago, I was blessed to join the team at Picket Fence Media—the publishers of the Dana Point TimesSan Clemente Times and The Capistrano Dispatch. I am very lucky to have this incredible opportunity to write for print newspapers. How so?

On Tuesday, July 3, 2018, the Boston Globe newspaper published an article by Evan Horowitz titled, “Even fishing and coal mining are not losing jobs as fast as the newspaper industry.”

Horowitz stated, “Nearly 300 English-language daily newspapers have disappeared from the US landscape in the past 20 years…Florida, California, New Jersey, and Michigan have each lost roughly 70 percent of their newspaper jobs.”

So, I’m very fortunate to still have my articles printed by three vibrant print newspapers, published by a hard-working staff.

The number of columns and eNewsletters I’ve written in 27 years—4,000+.

My divorce launched a rewarding writing career. It brought two appearances on the Today Show and an appearance on Good Morning America. I’ve authored four books. And more importantly, it opened the door for me to meet Greta, a partner with whom I’ve shared many incredible experiences in the 22 years we’ve been together.

Tom, Greta and Diane Sawyer, June 8, 2005, on the set of Good Morning America after Diane interviewed Tom

Have things changed on the dating scene in 27 years? Not too much, it’s still more difficult for women to meet men vs. men trying to meet women. New things include romance scams, thousands of online dating sites, more widows, more widowers and catch-phrases like ghosting, bread crumbed and LAT relationships.

Now, instead of writing about dating after 50, which is where the column’s original focus began, the scope includes dating after 60, 70, 80, and even 90.

In answering the second question at the top of today’s article, Am I a dating expert? The answer is no. Our Champs are the experts; I’m just the conduit to readers.

With your help and inputs, in the 2020 weekly issues of this eNewsletter, we’ll explore more changes and relationship issues. And hopefully, we’ll help some older singles meet mates.

As former U.S. Navy Blue Angel pilot John Foley states in his recently published book, Fearless Success, his daily mindset thinking, which he feels has contributed to his success, is, “Glad To Be Here.”

I like that. And I’m “Glad To Be Here” as well.

Former Navy Blue Angel pilot, John Foley, has written a book about how he and other Blue Angels cope with their precision flying maneuvers. Foley begins his day stating “Glad To Be Here.”

Part 2 – January 2020 Meet and Greet

The first Meet and Greet for people age 50-plus will be at Tutor and Spunky’s Deli, 34085 Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point, California, 92629, on Thursday, January 23, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. No admission cost. Complementary appetizers, beer and wine, $5 per glass.