Hey – we may as well have fun as we go sliding into old age, right?

Archive for the ‘Life in General’ Category

From Cursive to Twitter…

Have you ever seen those lists that are sent around telling of all the changes our parents saw in their lifetimes? Most of the changes tended to revolve around travel – from horse and wagon to the Model T to having a car for every member of the family. They saw travel move from trains to airplanes to super-sonic jets to space shuttles.

While transportation may have defined the changes our parents saw in their lifetimes, I believe communication methods will define our generation.

Yes, our parents went from telegrams to phones for communication. And some, like my 86-year-old mom, are pretty proficient on computers. But just look at what we baby-boomers have seen and mastered since childhood.

Our phone was on a party-line when I was growing up. For any youngsters (younger than 50) reading this, that means there were 3 or 4 households sharing a phone line. When I picked up the phone, I might hear our neighbor Lucy chatting to her sister about the latest family news. And so I’d have to wait to call my best friend, Cindy. Waiting – what a concept these days, eh?

Of course, that waiting went both ways – when Cindy and I were lucky enough to get the phone line after school, the neighbors would have to wait while we talked. And they’d wait. A lot. My parents received a few complaints about it, if I recall.  

Microfiche Reader

When I started working for a living way back in the 70’s, my employer copied all of their orders onto microfiche for filing. Microfiche was a little plastic card that would hold negative images of the orders. They were too tiny to read with the naked eye, but when you put the microfiche into a reader, it would be magnified, like magic, and you read it on the screen. This was the same “technology” used by libraries to keep copies of newspapers, etc. I thought it was pretty cool.

Then the first fax machine came into the office, and I knew that surely this was the most amazing communication tool ever. I mean, I was standing at a machine in New York, feeding a paper into it, and a copy of that same paper was simultaneously appearing in an office in Minnesota, where someone else was standing by to read it! We couldn’t get any more instant than that, could we? Side note: Do you remember how creepy that thermal paper felt from those old machines? Eww…

Ten years later, I sent an email (on the great and wonderful World Wide Web) to Hubby’s cousin in Ireland, and I got an answer within an hour or so. It was amazing. I can remember turning to Hubby and saying “I’m having a conversation with Ireland right now! For free!”  This new Internet thing was awesome.

And then the floodgates opened. Web pages. Newsgroups (remember those?). News online. Blogs. Streaming TV shows. Netflix. WiFi. Texting. All very cool, very timely, and very cutting edge.  

And now there’s social media. Where we actually participate in the action, in the conversation, in the world. My Space (is that still around?), Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Instead of the world just using technology, the technology is actually shaping our world.

I’ve reconnected with friends and cousins via Facebook that I hardly ever had contact with. I was found on Facebook by my afore-mentioned best childhood friend, Cindy (an event worthy of many tears of joy). I’ve shared in births and losses and celebrated and grieved with people from all over the country and around the world.

Is there a lot of nonsense out there? Oh, hell yeah! You can’t believe most of what you read or see online. Verify everything. Two or three times.

But is social media providing a way to connect with people around the world that we never even imagined as children? Again, hell yeah!

I watched the presidential debates last month with Twitter open on my iPhone. It was a blast! It made it feel like I was watching the debates with the whole world. The comments were real-time, and varied from enlightening and insightful to hilarious (especially Chris Rock) to offensive (some nut railing against “Zionist America” every two minutes) to just plain stupid (and the winner is…Donald Trump!).

Social media is like sharing a really cool party line with a few million of your newest, closest friends. Take last Saturday evening, for example. I had myself a real-time chat with Jim Cantore.

Yup. That’s right. The weather dude. He and I are tight now.

Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but we did have a “moment” via Twitter. One weather geek to another. He posted something about TWC naming winter storms. I responded with how silly I thought that was. He responded nicely (be still my heart!!!). I responded back. And he responded to me AGAIN! That, in my book, is a conversation. A light-hearted one. With one of my favorite personalities. In public (the guy has over 163,000  followers). While I sat on my sofa watching TV.

That’s the kind of communication we have available to us these days. I’m trying to keep up without letting it consume me. I have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn account (I’m just beginning to figure that one out), and most recently, a Pinterist account.

I’m not sure I understand the value of Pinterest, but I once thought that about texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc. So we’ll see…

And what’s next? I hesitate to even guess. After all, I’m the one who thought a thermal fax was magical.

 

 

Beginnings Always Start With “Good-Bye”

So here I am.  Unemployed.  Getting ready to start my own business.  New home.  New state.  New lifestyle (I’m learning how to say “y’all”!).  New friends.  New church.  A whole new life.  At 54. 

Beginnings are exciting.  And stressful.  And fun.  Beginnings are full of potential – the sky’s the limit when you’re beginning something new. 

But before you reach that point where the yellow brick road stretches out before you and your ruby slippers, you first have to say “good-bye” to something.  Even Dorothy had to say good-bye to Kansas in order to find Oz.  And then she had to say good-bye to her friends in Oz to return home again.  Something has to end before something new begins.  And many of those good-byes are hard.

Sometimes that ending comes without notice.  Like Dorothy in her flying house.  Or people facing disasters like storms, earthquakes, fire, and floods. 

When that happens, it’s just “BAM!!”  Welcome to your new beginning, ready or not.  What you had is gone, and you have no choice but to pick up and move forward, my friend.

But many new beginnings are our choice.  We realize we’re in the wrong place, and we make the conscious decision to start fresh.  Maybe a new job – good-bye to the old one and our co-workers.  Maybe a new home – good-bye to the neighborhood and memories.  Maybe we start exercising for a new body – good-bye to those bad, yet comfortable, old habits.  Maybe we decide to eat differently for better health – good-bye Twinkies.  Maybe a new spouse – sorry, I got nothin’ for that one, since I have no intention of doing it, ever.  But I suppose it means saying good-bye to a home and memories and dreams. 

My new beginning has been a l-o-n-g time coming.  The joke is that I’ve had the longest good-bye ever.  You know that’s true when people start looking at you and saying “I thought you were gone!” 

Our move started almost four years ago, when Hubby and I decided that we wanted to be living full-time in eastern North Carolina.  I won’t bore you with all the sordid details, but we put our custom-built “we’ll stay here forever” New York home on the market just as the real estate market collapsed.  After dropping the price and switching realtors multiple times, the house finally sold for far less than what we paid for it.  During this process, I got a promotion at work, and ended up in the midst of an insanely stressful computer system conversion.  I wanted to see the project through to fruition, and frankly, I wanted to collect those paychecks while we renovated our North Carolina house. 

So the furniture moved to North Carolina without us last year.  We stayed in New York in a small semi-furnished apartment generously rented to us by a good friend.  As the weather turned colder, my retired husband took one look at the pending snowflakes, and moved his butt to the fully-furnished and newly-remodeled North Carolina house without me. 

My employer eventually agreed to let me try working remotely from North Carolina last spring, with lots of traveling back and forth.  It didn’t hurt that they were about to flip the switch on this new computer system and they kinda needed me (timing is everything). 

That arrangement was exactly what I’d asked for, and I loved working from home, but it only resulted in stretching out the inevitable.  I couldn’t move into my new life because I was firmly anchored in the old one.  The first thing my NC neighbors said to me whenever they saw me was “so, are you here for good yet?”  And every time, I had to answer “no, I have to go back to NY in a few weeks.” 

Finally, my employer mercifully brought my half-here, half-there existence to an end by announcing that they were replacing me, and asking me to train my replacement.  Awkward.  And painful.  Partly because my replacement is going to be good.  And that hurts just a little. 

New beginnings require good-byes, and those good-byes finally came last week.  The warm-hearted good-bye parties, gifts, notes, speeches and astounding expressions of appreciation for what I had accomplished truly humbled me.  They also made leaving feel very real.   I suddenly wanted to cling desperately to this comforting “old” life where I was paid so well and people liked me and damn, I was good at it! 

It was painful and yes, I cried like a baby on the last day.  It was messy.  I’m a very sloppy crier anyway.  Plus I’m smack dab in the middle of menopause, so once the tears started, they just didn’t stop.  But you know what?  I was leaving a nice life and good people and a great career.  It was a good-bye that deserved a few tears.

I’m past that now, and I’m ready to BEGIN.  I literally hugged my house when we got home Friday, and did a crazy happy dance in the driveway.  My neighbors greeted me warmly.  I emptied my suitcases and put them away for hopefully a very long time.  I had a great phone conversation with the fabulous friend who’s hopefully about to become a fabulous business partner, and we started making plans for the future. 

So farewell, my dear New York friends and family – we’ll stay in touch via this blog, Facebook, Skype, email, and even the old-fashioned way – by phone.  And I’ll visit once in a while (after winter passes).  But my new life has begun now, and I’m ready to step forward.   

It’s a new beginning.  Reinventing myself as I approach my 55th birthday.  Figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.  Starting a new career in a new home in a new state.  Risk…and hopefully reward. 

The good-byes have been tough, but they’re part of moving forward.  And that’s what life is all about.  Change is always part of the deal.  

Lessons Learned: Setting Limits

Did you miss me? Well, shame on you if you didn’t notice that it’s been four long months since I sat at a computer and thought about my blog. Hey – I’ve been busy, okay? 

I’ve already told you about my relocation project, otherwise known as the longest-lasting move in history, and my complete disgust with packing and unpacking boxes. Unfortunately, I wrote that a bit too soon, because the moving process (from NY to NC) had been dragging on and on. It may sound whiney of me, but I frankly just couldn’t deal with blogging on top of everything else. Topics floated by, and I thought about writing about lots of things: living in a different state than your husband, living in temporary quarters that are more like your first apartment (borrowed furniture and all) than that contemporary, professionally-decorated home you just sold at a loss, friends helping out in a pinch, exhaustion, changing careers, the importance of a creative inspiring environment to write in, exhaustion, planning the future when you don’t know what’s coming, saying good-bye to old friends, saying hello to new ones, exhaustion, becoming southern, road trips, exhaustion, exhaustion, exhaustion, and exhaustion. 

At 54, I’m not old (just sliding into it…). But I’ve decided I’m definitely too old for the chaos I’ve been dealing with for more than two years. 

Should we move? Let’s move! Wow – a buyer’s market! We found a great southern house at a great price – let’s buy it! What do you mean the vacation condo won’t sell? What do you mean our northern house won’t sell? The market collapsed? We own three houses? The condo sold – move our stuff out of that. The house FINALLY sold. Yay!

But…I can’t afford to leave my job right now to start all over again. So let’s move all of our furniture there, and rent a partially-furnished northern house at a great price from a pal. A house on a busy, noisy street. A house that’s attached to a professional office, and we share the kitchen with the office staff during the day. It’s fine. Tiny desk crammed into a corner of the living room that doesn’t inspire. Retired Hubby moves to the south on his own and golfs while I stay here and work all winter. No problem. Take the dog. Leave me here. It’s fine. Really.

Okay, time to make a job decision. I can’t live 750 miles away from my husband any longer. Negotiate a deal with the boss – they’ll let me try to work remotely. Say good-bye to life-long friends and family. Drive my remaining belongings south. Hi, Hubby, remember me? Drive back north to work a few weeks on an enormous work project, stay with a gracious friend, and drive a borrowed company vehicle that has 163,000 miles and a duct-taped hood.

How in the world did I become that loser that drives around in a beat-up old van begging friends for a place to stay for a few weeks? I’m a 54-year-old professional woman in a high-level position with a prestigious company, for heaven’s sake. And here I am, camping out on a borrowed bed, with a duffel bag of assorted clothes and a dresser covered with wine bottles.

Yeah, I’m exhausted.

But at least I was mature enough (a/k/a old enough) to know that I would surely give myself a nervous break-down if I didn’t set some limits. Dial back on volunteer work. Dial back on hobbies. Dial back on the blog.  I had to let some things go. Like this blog. Deal with it.

One benefit of being older and wiser is that you recognize when you’re over-committed, and you do something about it… like say “no”.  There’s only so much energy to go around, and I had to recognize that I was adding too much unnecessary stress to my life by trying to be everything to everybody. It’s one of those lessons that tends to come with age and experience. In other words, we (especially women) usually have to learn this lesson the hard way, by over-extending and finding ourselves tired, bitchy, sick and ineffective at everything we’re trying to juggle.

But the move is winding down, and I’ve missed the blog (even if you haven’t missed me, you ungrateful -_ _ _ _s!).  So I’m going to gradually step it up and see how it goes.  My generous friend has a lovely extra space for me to use that is soothing and inspring, and I can definitely feel my creativity crawling back to life in these surroundings as I tap-tap-tap on my new laptop.  So I’ll give it a shot, and you can let me know how I’m doing. 

Just be kind.  Because I’m still really very tired….

Lessons Learned: Winter Comforts

 

Driving Home Last February

Let’s face it – we Baby Boomers have learned a thing or two in our 50 – 60 years on this planet.  Some of us have learned them through experience (both pleasant and bitter) and some of us have learned them by observing others, or being taught by our parents or others.

And Boomers growing up in the Northeast have learned how to cope with cold weather.  We remember the happy winters of our youth, when snow was nothing but fun.  When metal “saucers” were the high-tech alternative to the sharp bladed wooden Flexible Flyer snow sleds.  When we thought nothing of bundling up and heading outside to play for hours in the snow.  After all – we didn’t have the myriad indoor options of today’s youth, with 500 television channels and computer games and such.   The modern marvel of my youth was the snowmobile, which roared into popularity in the late sixties.  I grew up racing my snowmobile (a Rupp…) around the frozen lake with my friends.  Instead of using a game controller to pretend to drive a vehicle, I actually drove one, and learned early how to change a spark plug and fill a tank with gas.

Of course, as I’ve gotten older, I’m increasingly less inclined to play outside in the snow.  My primary goal in the winter these days is just surviving it warmly and safely.  Some new and dear friends (love it when that happens!) recently moved to the frigid north from a much warmer clime, and I’ve been advising them on how to adapt to our winter weather.  Here are some both old-fashioned and modern marvels I’ve recommended to them (and now to you) to make winters easier to bear:

1.        Thinsulate.  This wondrous lightweight material from the geniuses at 3M™ is used in everything from boots to coats to gloves and hats, and it is wonderful.  Outer clothing no longer has to weigh 25 lbs to keep you warm – Thinsulate™ can do it while weighing only ounces.  My personal favorite – Isotoner gloves lined with the stuff.  Warm, yet stylish and practical – you really can pick up a penny (and handle a credit card and juggle your car keys) with your gloves on.  Yes, they’re pricey, but they last for multiple winters of daily use.

 

2.       Anything made in Canada.  What can I say?  Our neighbors to the north know how to make warm clothing and good boots.  If you’re looking for warm outerwear, you can’t go wrong with product made in Canada.  I have a pair of Canadian winter hiking boots that have lasted nearly 20 years and several trips to Ireland, and my tall Canadian leather winter dress boots are heading into their eleventh cold season. 

 

3.       Anything from L. L. Bean.  When they tell you a coat will keep you warm to 10 below, they mean it.  Their clothing wears like iron, and is usually machine washable.  Their Polartec® fleece vests are the warmest things I’ve ever seen.  Super thin, they layer perfectly (and invisibly) under a winter coat, and they really hold in your body heat.  And L. L. Bean is one of the few companies to offer good down coats in full lengths.  I never understood the logic of a warm down jacket that left your tender butt cheeks and thighs exposed to below zero wind chills with nothing but a thin layer of cotton or wool dress pants for protection.  Down coats aren’t pretty, but they’re effective. 

 

4.       Heated mattress pads.  Okay, I was very late discovering this one, and I have to say that I was an absolute fool for not knowing about them sooner.  A heated mattress pad is nirvana.  Our current rental home is not well insulated, and the master bedroom is the coldest room in the house.  When hubby was traveling in November, I was going to bed wearing warm socks, a flannel nightgown, my chenille robe, and layering three blankets over myself in bed.  I was beginning to picture Hubby finding me smothered under 50 lbs of layers in my attempts to stay warm.  Then someone mentioned using a heated mattress pad.  Who knew?  I turn it on an hour or so before bed, and the sheets are nice and toasty by the time I crawl in.  Then I turn it down, and set it to turn off a few hours after I go to bed.  So I fall asleep nice and warm, but stay asleep in a healthy cool bed (researchers say sleeping in a cool room is better for you).  This is true bliss.  If you live anywhere cold, you need to buy one of these.  Right now.  And it has dual controls, so I can make my side of the bed snuggly warm, and Hubby, who generates his own heat naturally, doesn’t have to deal with it.  A warm bed and marital peace.  Sweet.

 

5.       Hot toddies.  Medical research claims that cold weather doesn’t cause colds in humans.  That’s hard for us Boomers to accept, since our moms constantly told us to bundle up so we didn’t “catch cold”.  But perhaps it’s not the frigid temperatures that make us sick, but our lifestyles during this season.  We lock ourselves up in hermetically-sealed buildings all winter long – at home, at work, at the mall – creating virtual Petri dishes where viruses can hop from one person to another.  I’ve known I’d catch this cold I’m currently suffering from since mid-December, when it first began its progression around my office, my church, and through the family members we visited at Christmastime.  I threw vitamin C at it, and zinc, and now “real” cold medicine.  But the best thing for a cold (or at least the most enjoyable), and a true sign of winter’s arrival, is a good old-fashioned hot toddy.  More specifically, my hubby’s hot toddy.  Boiling water, a shot of Irish whiskey (Michael Collins is my choice), a dollop of honey, and a splash of lemon juice, all combined in a large mug.  Drink it as fast as you can (at home, just before bed).   You’ll soon be sweating, and then you’ll be sleeping.  And when you wake up, you’ll feel better.  Or at least well rested.  And if you don’t drink alcohol, well then, I’ve known people who’ve made toddies without the whiskey, and they claim it worked.  I’ll just take their word for it. 

With the proper tools, winters can be bearable.  And at the proper age, we become wise enough to avoid winters.  This will be my last winter in the northeast.  It’s been fun, but I’m outta here.  I’ve enjoyed the survival skills I’ve shared.  But I’m headed south after this one, thank you very much.  My old bones can’t take it.  And I’m eager to learn new skills at staying cool rather than staying warm.  Someday maybe I’ll share those here…

Hello, 2012!

I can’t really say that I was sorry to see 2011 leave.  It was stressful year. 

We (finally) sold our house and completed the first phase of our move to North Carolina.  Packing boxes, unpacking boxes, settling into a very temporary rental house that is reminiscent of my first apartment thirty years ago, complete with cheap and/or borrowed furniture.  It’s been an adventure. 

I said good-bye to some dear friends in 2011 – dear friends who were my age or younger – a sobering part of growing older.  These friends all left this earth far too soon.  While I blogged about losing Donna and Billy, just this past week I’ve also said good-bye to both Betty and Steve.  It’s even more tragic that Steve’s death was due to alcoholism.  Younger than I, he just couldn’t defeat the demons that cost him his career, his marriage, and ultimately his life.   

And we added the happy stress of a new puppy, who has unexpectedly grown to the size of a small pony and threatens to become a dog of Marmaduke proportions and adventures.  Even now, as I type, Tully is prodding at my elbow and whining to be taken for a walk, which I’ll have to do if I expect to be able to finish this post, so excuse me……….okay, I’m back.  Welcome to my world since Tully entered my life.  It’s all about her.  All the time.  Really.

I avoid making detailed new year’s resolutions, because they’re just a recipe for failure, depression and frustration.  It’s so easy to rattle off a list of goals on January 1st, and they seem so reasonable at the time.  Lose 20 pounds.  Exercise daily.  Stop eating sweets.  Organize my closet.  But by January 31st, like the vast majority of people, my resolutions have fallen to the wayside, and the mere thought of them makes me feel like a fool.  And who needs that?

So, for the past few years, I’ve gone to setting “themes” – one-word goals that I try to frame my year around.  I’ve used “de-clutter” (moderately successful), “focus” (moderately successful), and last year it was “finish” (not so successful).  But the joy of one word resolutions is that failure isn’t glaringly obvious, and they can still help me set and meet smaller goals through-out the year.  I don’t know if I’m any better at finishing things than I was a year ago.  But give me a break – it’s tough to change a life-long habit of being a starter. 

Today’s the day I have to set my theme for 2012. 

Drum roll, please – the word for this year (for me) is – “fearless”. 

2012 will be a year full of changes.  Moving out of state.  A new career (and possibly a job hunt for a new employer – yikes!).  Making new friends in a North Carolina.  Leaving dear friends behind in New York.  Settling finally into our new home.  Maybe even starting a business of my own.  Or writing more (for money).   

This year – I will be FEARLESS!  I will push myself to do things that scare me.  I will push myself out of my comfort zone.  I will do my best to not worry about failure.  And if I fail at something, I’ll just get back up and FEARLESSLY try something else.  One example is the new look for the blog – a change was long overdue.  Hope you like it!  I’ll admit that’s a baby step when it comes to change, but it’s only the first day of the year.  Give me time to build momentum.

I tend to not be terribly bold in general.  Some people might find that surprising, because I can fake it pretty well.  But I have that female-born-in-the-fifties angst about drawing attention to myself and being in charge of my own fate.  Too much Ozzie and Harriet when I was growing up, perhaps.

Will it be scary to act so boldly?  Yup. 

Setting a resolution of “fearless” doesn’t mean “fear-free”.  It means acting fearless, taking bold action.  And I can do that.  I’ll reinvent myself, or better yet, find my true self, in a new home in a new state.  Instead of struggling to finish that first novel, I’m going to start a new one, and the story is already kicking around in my head, getting ready to hit the page.  I’ll figure out how to make a living somehow, in a way that doesn’t stifle me. 

How?  No clue.  But I’ll figure it out as I go.

So tell me – what would you do in 2012 if you were truly fearless?  And what’s stopping you?

Hormones Gone Wild…

I cried at a movie trailer last week.  You know, those two minute movie previews you’re subjected to in the theater before the real movie starts? 

And I am not talking about having dewy eyes or a little sniffle.  I’m saying that, less than 15 seconds into this preview, tears were welling up, and a few seconds after that, they were pouring down my cheeks.  I tried to stop it – told myself how stupid it was – tried to think about something funny to stem the tide – but it was no use.  So then I tried to at least hide what was happening by lowering my head.  But when Hubby glanced over, he couldn’t miss the tears that were now running down my neck and into my décolletage.  And he started snickering.  Which made me giggle.  But I still kept crying those big crocodile tears, laughing harder all the while.  Mind you, this was a trailer for “War Horse” – a Spielberg movie about, you guessed it, a horse in a war.  One shot of the horse snorting majestically, and I was reduced to tears.  Yes, I love horses, but this was stupid.   

You might think that I was shocked by my inappropriate and spontaneous emotional reaction, but I wasn’t.  I’m used to them these days.  And so is my husband. 

Hormonal mood swings are nothing new for me, but they used to at least be so predictable.  Hubby and I both knew that I was more likely to burst into tears over some imagined insult during that “time of month.”  Or perhaps break into hysterical laughter that I couldn’t stop.  Those few days every month often had me dancing on the edge of some form of hysteria, and opened the possibility that in the middle of the calmest, most normal conversation, my tone would abruptly change and I’d be lashing out verbally or stomping off to the next room in a huff. 

As I explained to Hubby when I’d see his confusion, it truly wasn’t something I could control.  I  hear the sharp words and sudden anger in my voice and literally wonder where the heck it came from.  It’s like being possessed.   It’s not a fun feeling.  But it was reliably predictable.  Watching the calendar helped, because if I knew when to expect those over-reactions, I was able to control them more successfully.  

But now that I’m in my 50s, all bets are off.  There is no predicting.  My period shows up whenever, which means my hormones ebb and flow whenever, too.  There is no “time of month” anymore, because I can go two or three months without having any actual period, but with multiple hormone surges showing up at random times. 

This makes for some interesting scenarios – like sobbing in the theater… over a preview.  It leads to totally irrational anger and responses to the anger.  I’m serious – I’ve had drivers cut me off on the highway, and I’ve actually considered ramming them as a possible response.  Of course I wouldn’t actually do that, but the idea that it is now one of the possible options running through my head (alongside flipping them the bird, honking the horn, giving a dirty look, etc.), is a shock. 

I remember my mother bursting into tears and sobbing over spilling a can of tuna fish into a basket of laundry when I was a young girl.  That’s not a happy thing to have happen, but it certainly didn’t warrant the anger and frustration and anguish that she displayed.  But now that I’m about the same age she was at the time, I understand it completely.  I can see myself having the same exact reaction.

A woman gave me the wrong change the other day, and, while I didn’t think I was angry about it, and it’s not something that would normally make me angry in the first place, I caught myself saying “I gave you a ten dollar bill” in a suddenly sharp and forceful tone that clearly said “you stupid idiot”.  I closed my eyes for a second and took a breath – then I smiled extra wide and thanked her profusely when she corrected the simple and harmless mistake, trying to make up for my nasty tone.  But I have no doubt that she muttered “bitch” under her breath as I walked away.  And who could blame her? 

Remember those old western movies and TV shows from our youth that always seemed to have a story line revolving around nitroglycerin?  It seems like someone was always taking a wagon past the Ponderosa or the Big Valley ranch with a tiny bottle of innocent-looking nitro that was at dramatic risk of exploding if it was dropped or jostled too much.  Yeah, well, that’s what menopausal hormones feel like.  Everything’s innocent and calm, and then BAM!!! – hormones gone wild.

Since my periods have been totally random for 2 or 3 years now, with no sign of stopping permanently anytime soon, I’m guessing my hormones are going to be raging for a while longer. 

Maybe I should have cards printed up that I can hand to innocent bystanders that say “I’m sorry for the over-reaction you just experienced – I’m mid-menopausal and I can no longer control or predict my hormonal responses.  It’s not your fault – but it’s not mine, either.”

My poor husband.  I know he loves me, and while he tries to be understanding, there are times when my wildly fluctuating moods frustrate and, even worse, hurt him.  I hate that.  So I continue to drink soy milk and whatever else might help, and I wait for these hormones that have been with me since my teens to just move on.  I’m too old to be this hysterical.  Hopefully I can manage to keep myself in Hubby’s good graces (and out of jail!!) while I work my way through this interesting part of the aging process.

On Losing Friends…

There are many things that are a natural consequence of growing older.  Our hair turns gray.  Our skin wrinkles.  Our bodies slow down.  We find ourselves having more and more conversations over dinner with our friends that revolve around what medications we’re taking for various our maladies.  We start worrying intensely about retirement.

And we start going to a lot more funerals.

At first, most of the funerals we attend are for the previous generations.  It starts with our grandparents, then some older aunts and uncles, then sometimes it’s our own parents that we’re grieving for.  Those losses are tough.  It stinks.  We miss them.  Yet it feels like the natural flow of life – the ones who were here before us leave before us.

But right about now, in our fifties, we start losing friends.  Friends our age.  And that doesn’t feel natural at all.  Yes, we may have lost a few unexpectedly when we were younger.  Those are shocks, and even wake-up calls that life on this earth does not last forever.  But we are able to “justify” losses when we’re younger as being the exception rather than the rule.

But now – – – now we start seeing how fragile life truly is for our very own generation.  We start seeing each other more often in funeral homes instead of at happy hour.  We plan the carpools to get to the memorial services.  We bring casseroles to the house.  We meet for dinner after services to commiserate and be together.  We’re becoming “old hands” at the grieving business these days.  And that just sucks.

I don’t like going to calling hours and comforting the young adult children of my friends.  My heart breaks that their dad won’t be there to walk them down the aisle, that their mom won’t be around to give them advice about colicky babies, that the unborn children of these young people will never know their grandpa or grandma.  I don’t like seeing the elderly parents of my friends, facing a loss that no parent should have to bear.  And I really don’t like seeing broken-hearted husbands or wives, left alone at the stage of their lives when they were just getting their freedom back.  The stage of their lives that they’d been saving and planning for through-out their marriage – the empty nest, the retirement community, the trips and adventures.  The stage of life that I’m in right now.

Two weeks ago I lost a friend and co-worker to a stroke at 56.  Billy was just the nicest guy.  I mean he was truly, genuinely, completely nice.
Always smiling, always cheery, always a kind word to say as anyone walked by his workbench.  He could take a tired or battered piece of wood or leather furniture and bring it back to life – not just life, but renewed life, like-new life.   His workbench immediately became a flower, picture, and poem-covered shrine the day after his death.  Before that, he had decorated it with pictures of his family, notes from children, his favorite golfers (he loved the game) and funny cartoons.  He had put little reminders about work product written on masking tape and stuck onto the front of the shelves on his bench – “NS gets reboxed!”, etc.  But one little piece of tape with three words on it summed up his approach to life “Do Unto Others”.  That was the one that made me cry, and smile.

Tomorrow I say good-bye to a friend from our boating days, who became a friend for life.  Donna struggled with escalating heart problems this year, but her death last week at 61 was still a shock.  We had just spent some time with her over the holiday weekend, watching fireworks together, laughing and drinking and goofing around as always.  Eight days later she was gone.  We used to tease Donna about her “cleaning
frenzies” on the boat, jokingly calling her “Martha Stewart”.  While our husbands golfed in the early mornings, Donna and I and another friend would gather on the back of her boat with our coffees and books in hand, listening to NPR and chatting while the sun rose higher over the lake.  We vacationed together several times.  Donna had an enthusiasm for life and a penchant for laughter that I will truly miss.

Two months ago it was a former co-worker, John.  Months before that was another co-worker, Ray, whose wife is a friend.  Before that
was the brother of a another friend.  The parent of another.  I’m starting to create a “funeral wardrobe” to have at the ready at all times.

And I know that this trend won’t be getting any better as years go by.  Somehow I hadn’t really thought about the toll this would take – the losses so keenly felt when they’re contemporaries.

Making plans for the future is wise, but we can’t forget to enjoy the journey while we’re in it, instead of holding back for that magical “someday”
that just may not arrive.

The other lesson that has struck me is that I need to tell more people how much I appreciate them. I know it sounds corny, and it’s one of those things we tend to always say but never do.  But I want to mean it this time around.  It breaks my heart that I never told Billy how much his smile and his over-the-top-of-his-glasses gaze brightened my work day.  Even on the holiday weekend, when I knew that Donna’s health was failing, I didn’t look her in the eye and say “thank you for being my friend.”  Maybe that would have seemed melodramatic or even morbid.  But I should have said it anyway.

I hope you’ll join me in looking around your life and really seeing the people that make a difference, even if it’s just the laughing girl behind the counter at Panera who remembers your name and your favorite breakfast sandwich.  Tell her how much it means to you.  Tell your friends, and your family, and don’t worry if they give you odd looks or ask if you’re okay.  Make sure your spouse hears how much they’re appreciated.  You’ll feel better for knowing that they heard those words.

‘Cause frankly, you really just never know what tomorrow will bring.

Gravity Continues Its Pull…

I think gravity may be our biggest foe as we age, particularly for women.  The pull of this dastardly planetary force wears on us, and relentlessly drags our physical features into a downward angle.

I can blame myself for the extra pounds I carry, even though I still harbor some resentment to my menopausally decreased metabolism. And I know it’s my fault that I’m not in better shape (who has time?!).  But what do I do about the sagging, drooping, jiggling and flapping caused by our arch enemy – gravity?

It started with my chin(s).  Where the skin used to be taut under my chinline, it now sags and wrinkles and folds.  In fact, I feel like my whole face is somehow sliding downward into my neck.  How else do you explain where all that extra skin came from?  Why else would I feel the downward pull on my cheeks that leaves me looking like I’m perpetually frowning?  A co-worker stopped me a few weeks ago and laughingly said “I can always tell when you’re having a bad day!”  That wouldn’t have bothered me that much except for one thing – I wasn’t having a bad day.  I examined myself in the ladies room mirror a few minutes later and realized sadly that my apple cheeks were looking more like the loose bags that apples are sold in.  Apparently my skin was no longer able to hold my face up over my cheekbones, and I was developing a “hound dog” look.  Come to think of it, maybe that same phenomenon is happening to my “other cheeks”, too, as my derriere starts sliding down into my thighs…

Since that day, I’ve been making a conscious effort to pull my cheeks up (the ones on my face) and lift the corners of my mouth a little bit all the time.  Not into a fake, scary smile, but just enough to work those lazy muscles, and to keep folks from stepping back in fear of a non-existent bad mood.  My hope is that I can coax my facial muscles into accepting this “half-grin” as the new normal, staving off the pull of gravity.  But I suspect gravity will win eventually.

If I were given a choice of any free cosmetic surgical procedure I wanted, I think it would be the so-called “lifestyle lift”, where the extra skin that gravity has collected under my chin is pulled up into my hairline, giving me a single chin again and a markedly more youthful appearance.  I don’t know if I’d go through with it, but it would be tempting.

Hmmm.  I may have lied just now….  I don’t know if gravity’s pull really started with my chins or if it was my breasts.  Surely they’ve been fighting gravity for a long while now, and they’re losing.  If it weren’t for a good bra, the “girls” would be closer to my waistline than my neckline.  But at least I can stuff them into that bra and keep the gravity-defying illusion alive as long as I’m clothed.  But lying in bed on my back?  Yeah, well, let’s just say that my back  is clearly where the girls are trying to sneak off to.

But the newest affront from gravity made me gasp in amazement this weekend.  I was looking at a digital picture that had been taken of me with a group of friends a few weeks ago.  In the photo, I was smiling nicely, my chins didn’t seem too pronounced, and the sleeveless top I was wearing was a good color and style choice for me.  I decided that if I cropped the image, it would make a nice Facebook profile picture.  So I cropped a tiny square and was adjusting that window over my upper body in the photo, when I noticed something alarming.  There was something terribly wrong with my upper arm!  Was that dirt?  No.  A bizarre shadow effect from facing the sun?  No.  Was the satin fabric of my blouse reflecting a pattern onto my skin?  No.  I zoomed in for a closer look.  Oh. My. God.

Gravity's pull appears on my upper arms. Yuk.

 

It was the flacid skin of my underarm, sagging in defeat to gravity’s calling.  Crepe-like, folded in tiny lines being pulled downward, looking like elephant skin.  On my arms.  My ARMSMY arms.  My 53-year-old arms!  It looked as though I’d pulled a big leg of baggy pantyhose up over my arm and let it hang there.  A—r—g—h!!!

So this is how it’s going to be.  My skin will not only lose elasticity in my face (at least the cosmetic ads warned me about that one), but it will lose elasticity everywhere, drooping ceaselessly towards the Earth.  If I were in a more macabre mood, I’d probably see some correlation to death in there, returning to the primordial soup from whence we came…..

Are there ways to fight gravity?  We can’t always wear long sleeves, after all.  To a point, yes, it can be fought.  Exercise (God, how I hate that word) can make a big impact.  Tight muscles tend to generate tight skin.  And those scary sagging upper arms can definitely benefit from the simplest of workouts – curls and lifts with free weights.  That means it’s time to dust the barbells off (again) and start using them (again) and vow to stick with it this time (again).

Hey – I didn’t come to be Sliding Into Old feet first and laughing by being a patsy.  Gravity is pulling on me, sure, but dammit, I can fight back in this tug-of-war!  Can I defeat an entire planet full of gravitational pull?  No, I’ll admit I can’t.  But I can sure as hell try.  I don’t ever want to see those flabby old-lady wrinkles on my arms again in a photograph, at least not until I’m eighty.

Maybe long sleeves aren’t such a bad idea after all……….

Why Do Our Faces Need Hair, Anyway?

I plucked a hair out of my nose a couple days ago.  A hair.  Out of my nose.  That just isn’t right.  I thought nose hairs were a guy problem!  And let me tell you something else – it hurts to pluck a nose hair…a lot.

I had dinner with a dear friend earlier this week who’s the same age I am, and we got to talking about the wonderful mid-life process that leaves us staring in the mirror many mornings exclaiming “what the hell is that!?!”  And it’s usually a new wrinkle, a new layer of wattle on our neck, or new hair where it simply doesn’t belong.

I’ve noticed lately that I’m growing less hair on my legs and more hair on my face.  Really – the leg hair is getting thinner and growing more slowly than ever.  Being a natural blonde (yes, that’s right – born blonde – gotta problem with that?), I’ve always had a few advantages in the leg area.  My brunette friends bemoan the need to shave every single day to keep their legs clear of dark hair.  Even in my younger days, this was just never a problem – a little bit of blonde hair on pale legs doesn’t show.  And these days, I don’t even worry about it unless I know for sure that I need bare legs.  Which, with these spider veins creating treasure maps up and down my legs, happens rarely, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

Sadly, as my legs become smoother, I have no shortage of hair in other places now, such as my face.  Sometimes I think I’m trying to grow a furry face warmer.  Again, the hair is pale and nearly invisible, unless the light hits it j-u-s-t right.  Then surprise!  A wooly covering of blonde hair.  On my face!  The bathroom lights tend to really highlight the shimmering growth, and I try to convince myself that it’s the harsh lights that are the problem, not my face.  But I also worry that, even in normal light, other people can see the growing problem (pun intended). 

The soft, short facial hair is one thing.  But those scattered sturdy, thick, flat-out whiskers are another matter entirely.  There’s no hiding a hair with the thickness of a pine needle.  I have two of them, although only one is truly persistant.  The other tends to only pop out once a month or so.  But “Bert” lives along my jawbone, and he just keeps coming back – I’ve shaved him, I’ve chopped him, I’ve cursed him, and I’ve plucked him a hundred times (ouch), but he persists.  I’ve developed a habit of brushing my face with my hand regularly to check the status of said whiskers.  If something pricks my finger, I know I have a whisker growing.

But there have been situations where I’ve missed their appearance, and have come home to discover with some horror that I had a big old whisker sticking prominently straight out of the side of my face, or perhaps off the edge of my chin.  Nice. 

My girlfriend expressed some frustration that her friends didn’t tell her that she was sporting a whisker one day at work, and I agreed.  But then I started thinking about it – how exactly would one do that?  I have no problem saying “hey, your shirt tag’s sticking up”; “hey, you’ve got a piece of lint on your dress”; “hey, you’ve got a run in your tights”.  But I don’t know if I could say “hey, you’ve got a big whisker growing out of your chin.”  Could I?  Would I want someone to tell me that?  I guess I would, but yikes.  That’s mighty personal – almost like telling someone “hey, you’ve got a unibrow.”  I wonder what Emily Post suggests for that social conundrum…

This whole “sliding into old” thing is definitely an adventure, and some days are far more challenging than others as we travel through this new territory.  And now I’ve plucked a hair from my nose – a blonde hair that was curling happily out of my nostril one morning. 

Which is doubly annoying, because I can’t get the hair on my head to curl to save my life!

I’ll Get Around To It…Later…Maybe Tomorrow…

Do I know people who are worse procrastinators than me?  Yes, but only a handful.  I’m pretty extreme.  Example?  I started writing this post more than a week ago, and had to absolutely FORCE myself to sit down and finish it today (and who knows – I still may not get it done).

The April issue of Real Simple magazine has a terrific article on procrastination, written by Amy Spencer (FYI – it’s accompanied in print by the best illustration on the topic I’ve ever seen, by Paula Scher).  This article wasn’t the usual blame game.  You know – those articles that basically make you feel like a lazy schlub who wouldn’t be a procrastinator if only you tried harder.  Write a list, break big jobs into little jobs, reward small accomplishments….yeah, yeah, yeah – I’ve heard it all before.

Spencer’s article focuses on the science behind procrastination, and explains that those of us who wait are not just being lazy.  Our brains are actually wired for procrastination.  It turns out everyone’s brain has two main sections. 

The limbic system works without us really being aware.  It makes us pull our hand away from a hot stove, sidestep a big patch of ice in front of us, come indoors from the rain.  The limbic system protects us from pain and turns us toward something pleasurable.  Like a puppy determined to please you, it directs you away from the “pain” of doing a boring or difficult task because it knows you might be unhappy, and will distract you with pleasurable alternatives. 

The prefrontal cortex is the taskmaster – it figures out how to do things and keeps us on track.  It measures a situation and helps us make decisions.  But it is not automatic or intuitive like the limbic system.  It turns out the prefrontal cortex is a relatively new part of the brain, and is even considered by some to be what separates us from other animals.  It’s not as strong as other parts of the brain.  It needs direction.  I’d sum it up this way – the prefrontal cortex plans, while the limbic system reacts.   

Our prefrontal cortex says “you should clean the kitchen,” and the limbic responds by saying “Wouldn’t you rather read that new magazine?”  “Fix a sandwich?”  “Check your Facebook page?”  “Watch a movie?”  “Oh, look! A squirrel!”

My limbic system and prefrontal cortex have apparently developed a close partnership over the years, so I use my whole brain to procrastinate.  My limbic system pulls me off task, and when I realize what’s happening, I put my prefrontal cortex to work thinking up excuses of why it’s a good thing to do.  “I won’t be so tired tomorrow.”  “I’ll dive into it tomorrow right after work, and that still gives me plenty of time (if nothing goes wrong).”  “I really do need to do some more research/preparation/practicing first.”  “I work better under pressure anyway.”  “What could possibly go wrong?”

The hopeful part of the Real Simple article is that our prefrontal cortex can be strengthened.  It will never become an unconscious response to situations (at least not for me), but we can control when to put it to work.  We can force our mental planner to take charge for a while and help us get things done. 

And that brings us back to those tricks and tips that I hate.  My prefrontal cortex is very, very good at making excuses (it’s had plenty of practice), and it is also very good at seeing through a to-do list and “rewards”.  I think rewards are the funniest approach to procrastination.  Gee, I’m going to let myself have an ice cream after I get this blog done.  Really?  There’s ice cream in the ‘fridge?  Why don’t you just take a little break right now and enjoy it, and then you can finish the blog as soon as you’re done…

The article suggests doing the worst thing first.  Well, duh.  That’s way too logical.  If I decide to do the worst thing first, I’m dooming myself to an entire day of excuse-making and time-wasting.  A related tip is to make the job smaller.  Yeah, it works, but my limbic system is on to me.  It will allow me to get three of four little jobs done, and then it lies in wait for the fourth.  And the battle is on – one hour to get three tasks accomplished, and a day and a half to get through the last one. 

But there were a couple of good tips mentioned that I’ve tried with some success in the past.  The tried and true is to make a commitment to a third party.  Ask a friend to hold your feet to the fire because you have a job that needs to get done this weekend.  Ask them to call and check in to make sure you’re staying on task.  Give your boss a due date for a project, even if he/she didn’t set one.  Guilt is a powerful motivator, and you won’t want to let your friend or boss down, or have them think poorly of you.

Another good tip is timing yourself.  I used to do this, and I’ve gotten out of the habit. Instead of telling myself “I’m going to organize my closet today” (a monumental and painful task that will surely keep my limbic system busy), I can set my cell phone alarm to go off in 30 minutes, and tell myself “when the alarm goes off, I’m done.”  The idea is that the concept of perpetual motion will keep you going forward after the alarm rings, and even if it doesn’t, at least you got 30 minutes of work done.  It works.

And the primary suggestion is to avoid interruptions.  When you have a limbic system as strong as mine (have you noticed how proud I am of my procrastination skills?), avoiding interruptions is nearly impossible.  But the article does suggest a few intriguing online tools to help control web surfing, or at least track it and get a realistic perspective on how much time we’re truly wasting.  I think I’ll give them a try.  I should probably do that right now. 

But first I have to proofread this post and publish it.  And then I should reward myself with some raspberries and yogurt.  And I have to finish the laundry.  And then I might watch my favorite TV shows.   And I should call Mom.  I can check out the sites tomorrow night.  But I’m meeting a friend for dinner tomorrow and won’t be home until late, so it will probably be Tuesday.  I have a church meeting Tuesday night, but I should be home in time to go online.  And if not, there’s always Wednesday………….right?

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