The Benefits of Playing Pokemon Go

I always thought the Pokemon franchise was for little kids. Cartoons. Trading cards. The stuff of childhood. If I’m honest, I never paid it very much attention.

Then I placed a little free library in front of my house. We get a lot of foot traffic, so a lot of books are coming and going, which is fantastic. But of course, the goal is to encourage as much reading as possible, so I was casting about to find ways to attract more people to the library, especially younger readers, and one suggestion was Pokemon Go.

For the uninitiated, as you go about your daily life, the Pokemon Go avatar that you create in the game is also walking through a parallel world. If you’re walking down a street, that same street exists there. The difference is that there are pokestops within Pokemon Go where you can receive gifts and gather points. These pokestops correspond to landmarks in the real world. Public art. Historical markers. Starbucks coffee shops. Churches. Playgrounds. And, yes, little free libraries.

Players of this game are drawn to these pokestops. I want them to be similarly drawn to my library. But, how do I make my library a pokestop? Obviously, I had to put the game app on my phone. I did so. But I couldn’t find any way to suggest a pokestop.

After a little bit of internet research, I discovered that you have to get to level 40 in the game to make such suggestions. Well, alrighty then. I guess I’ll play Pokemon Go. Just for the sake of my library, of course.

But who am I kidding? By the time I reached level 5, I was hooked. I enjoy encountering, capturing and collecting the “POKEt MONsters.” Each one is unique. I enjoy visiting the pokestops and learning about places I may have otherwise overlooked. I like being part of this secret, all but invisible world.

And by the time I got hooked, I discovered that Niantic, the Pokemon company, only allows a few countries at a time to suggest pokestops, and the US is not currently one of those. I also discovered that each level is harder to get past than the last, because you have to get an increasing number of points. At this rate it will take me years to reach level 40. I only hope that the people in the US can make pokestop suggestions by the time I reach that point.

The frustrating thing is that I’ve seen little free libraries that have pokestops. How did they get them? I don’t know. If there’s anyone out there who has the ability to create a pokestop, please, I’m begging you, contact me. I’ll give you all the information you need.

In the meantime, I play on. And I’ve discovered that this game has a lot going for it. If I had a child, I would be thrilled if Pokemon Go were a part of his or her life. Here are some of the benefits of playing this game:

-First of all, and foremost, as far as I am concerned, is that Pokemon Go encourages walking. That’s outstanding in this couch potato world we’ve created for ourselves. You need to get out there to visit those pokestops. Also, if you obtain an egg, which will eventually hatch into a pokemon, you have to walk a certain distance to “incubate” that egg. And the more places you go, the more pokemon you encounter. I have actually lost three pounds since I started playing this game, and that’s even more remarkable when you consider the fact that I took a week-long, food-ladened cruise during that period.

-Second, it broadens your horizons. Not only are you discovering interesting places that have been right under your nose this whole time, but you also “meet” people from places you’ve never been. You rapidly discover that the best way to succeed in the game is to have friends with which you can exchange “gifts”. You can obtain free gifts to give to friends at pokestops.

But how do you make these friends? If you’re an adult like me, it would be a little creepy to hit up random children for friend requests. (I’m also hesitant to spend too much time at playground pokestops. It just looks weird.) So instead, I put my Pokemon friend code out there on Facebook and got a few that way. But only a few.

But then I got smart. I googled “Pokemon Go Friend Codes” and discovered this website. From there, I’ve made friends from all over the world. Not a day goes by when I don’t receive “gifts” from these friends, and the gift includes a little postcard from the pokestop where they obtained this gift. As I wrote this, I got a postcard from a quirky little statue in a small town in Portugal. Now, how cool is that? And it’s perfectly safe to make these friends. You’ll never actually communicate with them. They’ll never know your real name or contact information. It’s just fun to get the occasional cyber-hello from another part of the planet. (Incidentally, if you play Pokemon Go, my friend code is 2823 6831 5660. Friend me!)

Pokemon Go teaches you a lot, as well:

  • You can’t win them all. You won’t catch every pokemon you go after. You won’t win every competition you engage in. And that’s okay.

  • You get further in life when you’re part of a team.

  • Organization is important. There is no point in keeping duplicate Pokemon. And there are benefits within the game for getting rid of the ones you don’t need.

  • Diversity is great! The wider the variety of Pokemon you have, the more fun the game becomes.

  • It’s important to plan ahead. Some Pokemon will evolve into cooler, stronger, more beautiful Pokemon, but it takes a little effort and focus to reach that goal.

  • You begin to realize that a lot of people’s weird “migration patterns” are a result of Pokemon Go. Why do people park their cars in that deserted stretch of parking lot all the time? Because it’s a pokestop. That’s also why people often drive into that church parking lot but never enter the church. And it’s why you see parents with kids in the back seat driving slowly through intersections. Hidden world, revealed.

  • When in doubt, do some research. Unfortunately, a lot of the rules and tricks about this game are not spelled out for you. It can be a bit of a learning curve, and Niantic doesn’t explain things well, if at all. But there are a lot of forums on the internet that can tell you all you need to know.

  • Delayed gratification is tolerable. Sometimes you can’t achieve your goals or complete your tasks in this game until you’ve received a particular object or reached a particular level, and that’s okay. You’ll get there. Patience is a virtue.

Perhaps the one downside to this game is that if you do struggle with delayed gratification, there are plenty of opportunities to spend money to get to where you want to be. It’s possible to play this game without spending a dime. It just takes a lot longer. This is a temptation I wrestle with whenever I play.

Perhaps the weirdest aspect of this game is that some people protest that it encourages animal cruelty, because you capture these pokemon, and you can battle with them. But this is a far cry from dog fighting. There is no glorification of blood and guts in this game. And I think that any child who is mentally healthy can distinguish between a cartoon monster and the family pet. Give kids a little bit of credit. Sheesh.

To summarize: A) Please make my little free library a pokestop if you have the ability to do so. (And my bridge, and the statue just north of my bridge, if the spirit moves you.) B) Friend me if you play, and C) have fun while learning stuff.

Oh, and pay attention to your surroundings so as not to walk out into traffic and get yourself killed. Because that’s no fun at all. And I’d really feel horrible if you did.

Pokemon Go

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A Long Term Trek

Way back in January 1, 2015, I wrote a blog post about Paul Salopek. By then he’d been walking for two years, in the footsteps of our ancestors, from cradle of civilization in Africa with his ultimate goal being the tip of South America. He’s writing, filming, and photographing along the way. When I wrote about him in 2015, he was in Turkey. At the time of this writing, he is in Bodhgaya, India. He has a long way to go. I can’t even imagine the state of his feet, knees, and back.

But oh, how I envy his experiences. If you ever want to travel vicariously, check out the stories posted in the Out of Eden website. They’re mesmerizing. I wish I had the fortitude and the confidence to leave all traditional life behind and just walk for years on end, seeing the world. What an adventure.

I think the hardest part about a trek like that, for me, would be the loneliness. Granted, he usually has a companion, whether it be a journalist or translator or a guide, but no single person has joined him for the entire stretch. He’s in it alone. Oh, and currently he has a donkey. Sometimes he has a pack horse.

Either way, I wonder what he will do once he reaches his goal, if he does. Will he want to settle down and root himself in? Will he want to never go anywhere else again? Will he be over it all? Or, on the other hand, will he always be restless and never satisfied by staying put? These are questions I’d like to ask him if we ever crossed paths. (And it does look like he will be passing close to Seattle, someday, years from now.)

I wonder if the portion of his trek through the United States will be jarring and unpleasant after all that wandering through rural third world lands. Will he be anxious to get it over with, or thrilled to have constant access to Starbucks? These are the things that interest me most. Not the trek as much as how the trek has shaped him.

I need to backtrack and read all the posts of his journey and get a better sense of the man. I need to follow the Out of Eden Walk Facebook group. I need to see the progression, the evolution, of Paul Salopek. Because I can.

It’s a rare thing, when someone puts his or her entire life’s journey out there for the world to see. It’s like anthropology through an electron microscope. And what a unique opportunity that is for all of us.

Out of Eden Walk

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Earthing

One of the best things about the advent of spring is that I find more and more opportunities to walk barefoot. I love the feeling of grass under my feet and sand between my toes. I love feeling connected to the planet, especially after long months of raw, bitter, wet, isolating cold.

In particular, I love the grass out west. It’s soft and smooth, like the grass of my Connecticut childhood. In the South, one is forced to live with St. Augustine grass, which is actually lumpy and painful to walk on. That, and you have to watch out for fire ants and snakes and scorpions and hostile plant life. It’s not the same experience at all. (But I do miss walking on Southern beaches! Warm sand, not painful rocks!)

But walking barefoot, or “earthing”, is now being scientifically studied. It comes as no surprise to me that people are discovering that there are actual health benefits to the practice. I know I feel calmer and happier and much more centered when I’m barefoot.

According to this article, scientists are discovering that earthing improves sleep, reduces inflammation, and increases antioxidants. It has something to do with having direct contact with the electrons that the planet produces. It also reduces stress, regulates glucose and heartbeat, and increases immunity. According to this article, walking barefoot also helps loosen tense muscles, relieves headaches, reduces menstrual cramps, and boosts energy levels.

Whether or not these studies stand up to further investigation, I just know, instinctively, that I feel better when I can feel the earth beneath my feet. After all, we evolved to live upon it. Our very existence depends on it. We are meant to be connected to it. I find it sad that our idea of “progress” is removing us more and more from the natural world.

So get out there and wiggle your toes!

Barefoot-walking

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Stepping on Cracks

The other day I was walking up the bridge to work and I realized I wasn’t stepping on any of the cracks. “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” I took that very seriously when I was a kid. I spent most of my childhood convinced that my mother would die at any minute, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything to help that along.

Now I think I avoid cracks out of pure habit. But here’s the thing: As of this summer, my mother has been dead longer than she had been alive in my lifetime. I should be rather used to it after 26 years. I certainly shouldn’t be worried about some silly childhood rhyme.

So, just as an experiment, I decided to step on all the remaining cracks on the sidewalk until I got to the bridge tower. And lo, the sky did not fall. Actually, it felt kind of liberating. I am the master of my own pace! Woo hoo!

Granted, it must have looked kind of funny, because to step on each crack I had to use this weird, lurching gait. And I was kind of giggling, too. I’m lucky I didn’t get locked up.

It makes me wonder, though, if any other aspect of my life is ruled by myths, old wives’ tales, children’s rhymes or simple mistaken beliefs. I’m going to have to watch for that. In the mean time, I’m going to step on every crack I can until cracks, or the lack thereof, don’t loom so unreasonably large in my life.

crack

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Epic Journey

If you read no other blog besides this one (I’m so freakin’ modest), you absolutely must check out that of Paul Salopek on the National Geographic website. He is the man who is taking the Out of Eden Walk, a seven year, 21,000 mile journey from the cradle of civilization in Ethiopia to the tip of South America. Currently he’s walking through Anatolia in Turkey, and his blog entry makes you feel as though you’re experiencing the tastes and sights firsthand.

A seven year commitment to anything in this era of twitter and divorce and all things instant is to be commended, but to do it on foot, all year round, in the harshest of weather… I can’t even be bothered to walk across the street to the mailbox when it’s raining out. I can’t imagine offering myself up for being footsore, tired, exposed, lonely, and vulnerable for seven weeks, let alone seven years. And this is a Pulitzer prize winning writer. It’s not as if he were desperate for work. Amazing. I want to meet this guy!

Following his journey will teach you much about culture, geography, hunger, climate change, politics, history, and war. It will cause you to think globally. I can’t imagine a more epic way to start the new year.

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[Image credit: NationalGeographic.com]

“You’re never too old to live your dreams.”

Thank you, Diana Nyad, for reminding us all of this the other day, when you swam for about 53 hours from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64.

This amazing feat reminded me of the many other people I have heard of who have done incredible things at an advanced age.

  • At my last graduation ceremony, one of my fellow students was in his 70’s.
  • Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 69.
  • Mavis Lindgren ran her first marathon at age 70.
  • An ex-boyfriend’s 80 year old mother recently went white water rafting down the Colorado River.
  • At age 61, and weighing only 99 pounds, Gandhi walked almost 200 miles to protest the British salt tax.
  • My boyfriend’s delightful uncle, in his 70’s, takes advanced math correspondence courses and taught himself how to do stained glass and pottery. He now has his own art studio in his garage.
  • As a Learn to Read volunteer, I have encountered many seniors who have chosen to learn to read for the first time in their lives.
  • Grandma Moses, the renowned American folk artist, did not begin to paint seriously until she was 76. One of her paintings eventually sold for 1.2 million dollars.
  • Reverend Scott Alexander, who lead the church I used to attend, rode his bike 3,300 miles across the country last summer to raise $50,000 and raise awareness about hunger. He is 63 years old.
  • Colonel Sanders was 66 when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa when he was 76, and that’s after suffering in prison for 26 years of his life.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder, of “Little House on the Prairie” fame, did not publish her first book until she was 64, and continued to do so until she was 76.

So when Diana Nyad walked out of the ocean on shaky legs, sunburned, exhausted, and with her mouth full of sores from the salt water, and said, “You’re never too old to live your dreams,” she wasn’t kidding. And to make it even more amazing, she had tried, and failed, 4 times before.

Never give up. If there’s something you want to do, like travel or learn or create, don’t let your age stand in your way. Use Diana Nyad’s mantra: Find a way.

diana

Diana Nyad. [Image credit: nytimes.com]

Every Step Counts

Several months ago, my sister gave me a pedometer. It kind of hurt my feelings. I already know I’m fat. But her skinny little butt had a point. I’m a sedentary person. My job doesn’t help. Trying to get a bridgetender off his or her behind is like trying to shift a very large rock up a very steep hill.

modern_sisyphus_81895

(Cartoon credit: http://www.toonpool.com/cartoons/modern%20Sisyphus_8189)

The pedometer stayed in its packaging for a couple weeks. I’d glare at it from time to time, but that was the extent of our interaction at first. Then one day, I growled, “Oh, all RIGHT. All right,” and I opened the stupid thing, turned it on, even. The instructions said that one should take 6,000 steps a day to maintain good health, and 10,000 steps a day for weight loss. I’d have estimated that I take about 500 steps a day, but after putting it on, I discovered to my surprise that I take an average of 3,500 steps a day, and that’s just going to the refrigerator and the bathroom and back and forth to work. Still not good, but I was thrilled to know that I’m slightly less of a slug than I originally thought. During that week I discovered interesting things. I take 25 steps every time I go from my bed to the bathroom and back. It’s 700 steps from my car to the bridge where I work. Whenever I let the dogs out into the back yard, that’s 150 steps.

After about a week, my competitive nature kicked in. If I park a little farther away at the grocery store, I’ll get more steps. If I walk down every aisle while shopping, whether I need food on that aisle or not, more steps. Before I knew it, I was averaging 6000 steps a day. And guess what. My chronic low back pain disappeared. Imagine that! Then I started marching in place while I took a shower. No, the pedometer isn’t waterproof, and even if it were, I shudder to think what I’d have to clip it to for it to count my steps. No, what I’d do is count as I marched, and then after the shower I’d sit there and shake the thing until it registered the proper number. Then I started marching in place at work, much to my coworkers’ amusement. Every half hour or so I’d do 500 steps. Then 1,000 steps. Another thing I’ve started to do is learn to stop being so darned efficient. I always try to combine my trips. For example, if I know I’m going to the kitchen anyway, I try to grab any dirty dishes I have lying about. That makes sense unless you’re trying to get extra steps. Now I tend to take a separate trip for every utensil, time permitting. I’m proud to say I’m now up to 10,000 steps a day, and my clothes are starting to fit better.

Now, when I DON’T get enough steps in a day, I don’t feel well. Or is it that I don’t feel well and therefore don’t get enough steps? I had a bad cold last week, and I was lucky if I got 1,500 steps a day, and sure enough, my clothes instantly got tighter. But I’m slowly working myself back up. It’s a process. I’m still kind of weak as a kitten, but I’m getting there.

I think the mistake many people make in exercising is thinking, deep down, that they’ll reach this magical pinnacle and they won’t have to do it anymore, so they tolerate it for as long as they can in hopes of reaching that pinnacle, and then give up when they don’t. Actually, it’s a lifelong shift, like it or not, so it’s better to make it a lifestyle adjustment that you actually enjoy and do automatically. I’m actually starting to like the journey enough to continue on it. That’s my goal, anyway.

So thanks, sis, for caring about my health enough to hurt my feelings. I love you.