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

Posts tagged ‘aging’

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….

Where Did My Brain Go?

As long as I’m on the subject of hormones…  I find the second-most irritating symptom of menopause (after the raging emotions) to be the loss of mental function in general.  This is more than being absent-minded – I’ve been absent-minded all my life. 

But lately, it’s like I just go into a “brain-fog” with no warning.  I’ll be driving home from work and suddenly realize that I don’t remember getting off the highway exit, and yet here I am, driving down the side street to my home.  Apparently I drove it safely and legally, as I heard no honking horns or blaring sirens.  But I don’t remember doing it.  It’s not that I was thinking about something else – I wasn’t thinking at all. 

I’ve been in conversations recently, and I’ll suddenly realize that I’ve “tuned out” and I have no idea what I’ve missed.  I’ve become good at using my “interested” face and appearing to be listening – nodding, smiling, jotting a few notes.  But I didn’t hear an entire block of speaking.  Well, I heard it, since my hearing isn’t gone, but I didn’t process it.  Again, it’s not that I’m daydreaming, which I’ve always been very good at – my mind is just blank. 

It’s pretty creepy, actually, to realize you’re losing time (without the assistance of alcohol!).

And even when I’m not losing time, there are moments when I just can’t kick my brain into gear.  I’ll pick up a new bag of (low-fat) chips, start to pull it open, and then just stop.  What was I doing again?  Do I need the scissors?  No, I just have pull it open – and still my hands aren’t moving.  What the hell?  Do I want these chips?  Is there something else I’d rather have?  Is it too close to dinner?  Oh, for crying out loud – open the damn bag!

And choosing clothes for work?  There are days when it’s agony, because I can’t make a freakin’ decision.  Do I want the black pinstripe pants?  Did I wear black pants yesterday?  What shirt should I wear?  Does that pattern go with the pinstripe?  Will it be warm enough?  Maybe not…  But this brown sweater would do.  But then I have to pick different pants.  Do these need to be ironed?  What shoes would I wear?  Do I have trouser socks that match?  No, no – I already had my black shoes pulled out to wear.  I should wear the pinstripes.  Maybe add a jacket over a short-sleeved shirt?  But which jacket?  Does this match??  A-r-r-g-g-h-h!  By now, I’m late for work. 

Never good with names, I now meet people and forget their names within seconds of meeting them.  Even when I’m trying to remember – even when I made up a word-association to remember.  Or I mix up the word associations in an embarrassing way.  For example, I use word association to remember the name of a consultant our company is working with.  He’s tall, good-looking and conservative, and his first name is Don.  So I’ve associated him with Don Draper of Mad Men, and it helps me remember his first name.  But twice recently I’ve referred to him as “Don Draper” to colleagues, who then look at me as if I’ve lost my mind.  And perhaps I have.

So I did a little research, and sure enough, one of the symptoms of menopause is “foggy thinking”, absent-mindedness, short-term memory loss, lack of cognitive ability, etc., etc., etc.  Something to do with hormones (of course), and probably stress.  It can be a vicious cycle, actually.  Get frustrated at the brain-fog, stress out, which makes the brain function more poorly, which cause more stress, which makes the brain function even more poorly, and pretty soon, you’re driving home without remembering the trip, and wearing blue socks with black shoes. 

It’s not all the time – it comes and goes.  Some days, even weeks, I’m perfectly fine (or at least as good as I was before menopause arrived).   And then one day, or string of days, I’m just out of it.  I have to struggle to maintain any kind of focus and momentum.  It’s scary.

The good news is that it’s temporary – once menopause goes along its merry way and finishes with me, my cognitive ability should improve again.  How long will that take?  One article tossed around 3 – 12 years…..  3 – 12 YEARS??????  Oh, come on!!  I have a life to lead in the meantime. 

My husband thinks I’m just careless and should “try harder”, my co-workers wonder what’s happening, my boss thinks I’m not paying attention, my friends and family think I’m losing it and wonder why I let weeks go by without calling or emailing.  How do I tell them I sometimes have trouble remembering just how much time has gone by.  Did I call my mom yesterday?  Or was it last Friday?  Did I talk to her at all this week?  Maybe…but maybe not.   Damn it.

So how do I get better (other than waiting YEARS for menopause to pass me by)?  Most articles agree that three things can help – moderate exercise (oh crap, I hate exercise), a diet that includes many small meals during the day to keep the brain “fed”, and easing up on the stress load. 

Okay – so today I threw new batteries in the Wii and will try to get back on board with morning workouts.  My diet’s been better lately, but can certainly still improve.  And I’m trying to lose the same 20 pounds I’ve been trying to lose for more than a year (down 4 in two weeks), so I’m trying to limit snacking, which now may not be helping my brain.  And stress.  Ah, stress.  Let’s see – major system conversion going on at work, just finished a traumatic and exhausting move, trying to lose that damn 20 pounds that have settled into a happy “meno-pot” in my belly which makes all my clothes uncomfortable, and can’t remember anything.  What stress???  I guess I can get some “down-time” in there somewhere, between work, marriage and church activities.  Maybe get up between 3 and 4 AM to do some journaling?  Try to squeeze a yoga class into my hectic schedule?  A little more prayer? 

Somehow, I have to figure out how to get through these brain-fog spells without losing my job, my marriage, my friends and my sanity.  So I guess I’d better find the time to relax, eat better and exercise.  If I can only remember to do it….and why….and…what was I saying again??

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!

The Search for the Right Bra

Okay, gents, this may be a post you want to skip.  You are always welcome here, and you might just learn a little about the 50-something women in your life, but you probably don’t want to listen to my bra rant.

Ladies – seriously.  We’ve reached a point in our lives where gravity is doing all kinds of things to our body, and our breasts are prime examples of the results.  If we don’t pay attention to our bras, our breasts will end up at our waistline.  I see it far too often, but I never thought it would happen to me.

Apparently, mirrors are not completely truthful, because I did not notice the gradual descent of my breasts until I saw a photo of myself in profile.  It was a holiday photo from work, and ended up on a Christmas card that went to hundreds of clients (oh joy).  And there I was, standing at the end of a row of people, in a lovely, finely knit red sweater.  I felt great the day the picture was taken.  But I was shocked when I saw the result.  What were my breasts doing down there, halfway between where they should have been and my waistline?  That’s when I realized that I should have been paying a little more attention when bra shopping. 

I’ve always been fairly nicely endowed, and going braless has never been an option, so I’ve purchased a lot of bras through the years.  As long as “the girls” weren’t bouncing around too much and I was comfortable, I was happy.  But now I had to figure out how to factor “lift” into the equation.  As in, how high are they?  Victoria’s Secret just wasn’t cutting it any more.  Maybe they need a “silver” section for women like us who need something different from our bras.  I am definitely not ready to disregard comfort, so I had to find a happy medium. 

17 bras stuffed into a drawer...

I have always avoided the soft cup, or formed, bras, because they’re a nuisance to wash, store and pack.  I have 17 “regular” bras in one drawer, but I can only fit 6 formed bras in the same space.  Those nuisances are now the sacrifices I make to have a profile I’m happy with.  It’s worth it.  My personal favorite for a formed bra is Vanity Fair – it’s comfortable, and it survives machine washing (NEVER dry them in the dryer!).  Not only do the formed bras keep the girls up where they belong, but they look awesome under sweaters.  Hey, unless you’re a 44DD, you want your breasts to look bigger (you know it’s true), and formed bras do that, okay?  They’re also firm enough to help prevent the embarrassing situation women can face when wearing a clingy blouse in a cold room (don’t play dumb – you know what I mean). 

Six formed bras in the same amount of space - not very efficient.

I’ve found a few “unformed” underwire bras that “lift and separate” quite nicely, too, including the Olga Luxury Lift underwire bra that has lace lifting panels on the sides that actually do something, and last through more than one washing. 

Once I detected my own sagging breastline, I started paying attention to the profiles cut by other women, and I am frankly horrified by how women take their breasts out into the world.  From the “way-too-bouncy” to the “way-too-saggy” to the “way-too-pointy” to the “are-you-even-wearing-a-bra” looks, a lot of them are just not good.  At all.  

First – wear a bra.  Your hippy days are over, honey – no matter how petite your breasts may be, gravity affects them, and you need to harness them into something.  You don’t want them pointing toward the ground like a hound dog’s nose.

Second – find a bra that fits.  Spill-over is always a bad thing – whether it’s in the front (my cup runneth over) to the back, where our 50-something skin is sagging and bagging in new places every day.  A too-small bra adds layers of body rolls that you just don’t need.

Third – give the girls some lift.  I’m not talking about “wonder-bra” lift, where your boobs are smooshed together to give the illusion of cleavage under a low cut top.  The look isn’t bad, but it’s not worth the discomfort, trust me.  Find a bra that has some extra reinforcement to lift those girls up and make them look respectful.  That’s why I like the Olga bra, but Bali has a couple that have side reinforcements, too.  They just don’t last as well through multiple washings.  Why side reinforcements and not just lift from the bottom?  Because I’ve discovered that fifty-something boobs are very content hiding under your armpits, which is where they tend to scurry if you lift or “minimize” them.  They may be happy there, but it’s not a good look. 

And I just have to throw in number four – for heaven’s sake, look in the mirror HONESTLY before you walk out the door.  Are your girls pointed in two different directions?  Will someone get dizzy trying to figure out which way you’re goin’?  Is one sagging and one lifting?  My hubby laughs watching me get the girls lined up in the morning, but once I’m done, I don’t have to wonder if someone’s glance towards my breasts during the day is a compliment (hey, they’re still taking a second look after all these years!), or if it’s just curiosity (how can I avoid looking at that train wreck where one goes up and left and the other goes down and right?). 

Oh, and as you may notice in the pictures of my two bra drawers – just as every woman should have a pair of red shoes, every woman should also have a red lace bra.  No one may see it when you’re wearing it (don’t be tacky and wear it under a white blouse – you’re not 21), but you’ll know it’s there, and you’ll feel g-r-e-a-t.  Especially if that red bra also fits, lifts and aims!

Trust No One

In the golden days of our youth, we left our doors unlocked and let door-to-door salesmen into our homes.  We trusted people.  But our generation, the Baby Boomers, may have become the most cynical generation in history, and unfortunately, we have our reasons.  The world isn’t always a pretty place.  Bad things happen.  As children, we watched riots and assassinations on TV, and the world didn’t seem quite as golden as it did in the 1950s. 

And now, with the introduction of the World Wide Web, our skepticism radar has to be on high alert at all times.  If it’s not, we are increasingly likely to become victims.  It feels like someone is waiting to scam us, steal our identity, and part us from our money and security at every turn. 

Were there scammers back in our youth?  Sure.  Mostly land frauds – they’d sell swampland in sultry Florida or a lot in a supposed retirement community in Arizona, all based on shiny brochures and fancy documents.  People would then discover that the property they purchased (they usually received authentic deeds), was actually inaccessible, unusable, undeveloped land in some god-forsaken remote corner of the state.  A handful of people may have ended up getting the last laugh in Florida, as Disney sprouted in the midst of that dismal swamp, and their tiny lots actually gained in value.  But many people invested their life savings into a future that was just an illusion.  They’d load up the family on vacation into the big Chevy station wagon to go see their wonderful investment, only to drive out into the desert and discover that the pretty tree-lined community in the brochure was a complete and cruel hoax.

Today, scammers are preying on us, our children and our parents with an alarming array of schemes, often frightening people into paying them or giving them private information.  It’s easy to shrug it off and brag that we’d never fall for such a scheme, but that’s stupid.  Face it – if this stuff didn’t work, they wouldn’t be doing it.  Just the fact that the scams are being run at all means that people ARE falling for it.  We need to be aware, and we need to warn our friends and family members of what to watch for. 

Today, a young friend of mine received a frightening message on her cell phone.  It was a serious voice, telling her to return the call immediately to discuss a debt of hers that needed to be addressed right away to avoid legal action.  A single mom who recently went through a terribly nasty divorce, “Sally” called back in concern.  The man told her repeatedly that he was an attorney, and he gave her the last four digits of her social security number and the last four digits of her bank account.  He knew where she worked.  It was unnerving.  He told Sally that they were pursuing a $400 debt from a paycheck advance loan (which she had never made).  When she started asking questions, the caller became threatening, telling her that if she didn’t pay, they’d serve a warrant on her and have her arrested.  When Sally protested that she had young children, the caller told her she’d better make arrangements, because she was “going to jail”.  By now, poor Sally was shaking and crying – begging for more information.  Thankfully, she was smart enough not to respond when they asked her to “verify” her social security number.  The “attorney” terminated the call with more threats.     

When she came to me, my “scam alert” went on – big time.  I called the number they’d given her, said I “represented” her, and I demanded information.  He immediately got belligerent with me, in a heavy foreign accent.  When I told him I was reporting him to the attorney general, he hung up on me.  I called the local attorney general’s office, and the woman I spoke with assured us that no one could arrest my friend for a debt without providing written notice of the debt, which she could then contest in writing.  She referred us to the Federal Trade Commission’s fraud division.

Our contact there was equally pleasant and reassuring (by now Sally was beginning to calm down), and the woman took a full and detailed report.  She told us the caller wanted to steal Sally’s identity by trying to confirm her full social security number and bank account number. 

My young friend is not a fool.  She’s a professional worker in the office of a major corporation.  And these SOBs were able to reduce her to sobbing in fear and confusion.  I started thinking of how many people they have been able to bully into giving up their personal information.  The thought that they might frighten my mother, my aunts, my nieces, my friends into giving up critical data makes my blood boil.

So consider this my public service announcement, and please share it with others.  Mulder was right – TRUST NO ONE.  Question everything.  The worst that can happen is that you might momentarily offend someone who’s not trying to steal from you.  They’ll understand.   

That call from your sobbing granddaughter/cousin/nephew in Europe/Canada/Texas saying she/he was mugged and has no money and needs a wire transfer right away….DON’T DO IT!  Even if they use the right name and say the right things.  If you think for a second that the call might be legit (it isn’t), then ask very specific questions that only your relative would know (“what color is Aunt Sophie’s house/hair/dog?”).  Then get a phone number and hang up.  Call your other relatives and verify where this person is really?  I can virtually guaranty they’re not in some other country being mugged.

Anyone else who asks you for money?  The internet is as much blessing as curse – check them out.  Google them.  Isn’t that easier than handing over your hard-earned cash or your social security number to someone, no matter how nice or honest they sound?  And be sure to protect your internet data by changing your passwords regularly for email, Facebook, etc., (you are using a different password for each one, aren’t you???), and don’t use your birthday or children’s names as passwords – it’s just too easy.

And finally – do not ever, ever, EVER give anyone your social security number over the phone or online unless you are absolutely 100% positive about who you’re talking to.  Get their phone number and call them back with the info – if they don’t want you to do that, HANG UP THE PHONE.  If they say they’re from your bank and want to verify your information, hang up and call your bank to check it out. 

It’s sad to say, but there are a lot of cruel, evil people out there trying to think of new ways to rip us off.  I’d love to get Sally’s callers in a room for just 10 minutes…the bastards.  But since I can’t do that, I will starve them by announcing their “game” to everyone.  Don’t assume your friends and family won’t  fall for one of these schemes.  These guys are very good at what they do.  But we can be better by being informed.  And skeptical.  Talk to people.  Spread the word.  And be careful out there.

Tools of the Age

The other night, as Hubby and I were heading into the bedroom to get ready for bed, he looked at me and said “Go spend a half hour on your face.”  He wasn’t being insulting.  He was referring to my regular evening routine, which is but a pale shadow of my morning routine. 

I am really not a vain person.  Truly.  I don’t think I wear a lot of makeup.  I prefer to keep things as fuss-free as possible.  But as the years have passed, I have gradually added more and more products to my repertoire. 

Thirty years ago, mascara and lip gloss were all the makeup I thought I needed.  I spent a lot of time outdoors riding horses, so my skin carried a gentle tan nearly all year.  Who needed that heavy, nasty foundation stuff?  Not me!  Au naturale was the way to go.  I hate to admit it, but the only reason I started trying to figure out how to remove the mascara was because I got tired of my pillowcases having two big brown dots on them.  My high class makeup remover?  Johnson’s Baby Oil on a cotton ball.   That was skin care for me at twenty.

Eventually, as my career started progressing and I ended up moving from the factory into the office, I started realizing that I looked a little monochromatic, with my short blonde hair, fair skin, and grey-blue eyes.  So I started adding a little powder blush to my cheeks.  That made my lips look naked, so, once in a while, I wore lipstick, although I hated the way it felt on my lips and usually ended up chewing it off.  Once the horses were gone and I stopped spending so much time in the sun, my natural tan faded, so I started messing with foundations, which inevitably led to my skin breaking out.  The slippery slope had started, and there was no turning back. 

Today, between cosmetics and over-the-counter supplements, I use a whopping twenty different products every day (or at least every weekday).  TWENTY!  What kind of ego-centric woman uses 20 products?  If anyone had told me 30, 20, even 10 years ago that I’d be using 20 different products on and in my body just to reach the bare minimum of presentableness, I’d have laughed myself silly.  And yet here I am.     

Right after breakfast, I start swallowing pills – calcium [1] to keep my bones from shrinking, a “silver” multi-vitamin (just in case) [2], some Claritin [3] for my perpetual allergies, and the newest addition, a probiotic capsule [4].  Probiotics are the big craze now.  Supposedly, they put millions of “good” bacteria in our digestive systems to help us maintain regularity (especially important to someone like me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome – gotta love that classy name).  You’ve seen Jamie Lee Curtis raving about Activia on TV?  Well, this is the same idea, but in a pill that’s (a little) cheaper and (much) easier to remember every day.  My doctor recommended it, so I added it to the morning pill pile.

After the pills, it’s on to brushing my teeth with a special anti-sensitivity toothpaste [5], which prevents me from hitting the ceiling when I eat anything sugary or cold (Sensodyne is the only one that works for me).  Then into the shower, where I clean my face with gentle Cetaphil [6] most days (with a once-a-week scrub with St. Ives Invigorating Cleanser), then out to slather Lubriderm lotion [7] on my legs to prevent reptile-like scales on my skin in the cold, dry winter months.   

And now to the face.  First, I work on the “fine lines and wrinkles” around my eyes by using a nifty little lotion applicator with cold metal rollers that are supposed to help reduce puffiness (Garnier Nutritioniste Skin Renew Eye Roller) [8].  Then the moisturizing serum [9].  This is the one and only area where I’ve managed to find a less expensive generic solution that actually works.  My moisturizer of choice is Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum, but it is pricey, and the bottle keeps getting smaller.  I’ve discovered that the generic Top Care Regenerating Serum has nearly identical ingredients, comes in a large bottle, and costs less.  After the serum, which makes my skin feel like velvet, I’ve recently added a tinted eye cream [10] to reduce the pesky dark circles that showed up about the same time menopause did (Olay Regenerist Touch of Concealer Eye Cream). 

Having never found a foundation I liked, I finally settled for a tinted moisturizer [11] to even my skin tone (Almay Smart Shade Anti-Aging Makeup – must buy anything with “anti-aging” in the title!).  Powder blush had to go a few years ago when I realized the experts were right – the powder settles in your wrinkles and makes them look deeper.  I now use a light creamy blush [12] (Almay Smart Shade Blush).  I still consider myself naked without mascara – blonde eyelashes will do that.  So mascara [13] goes on next (usually Maybelline Define-A-Lash). 

I’m winding down now (how do I make it to work on time?).  Next is deodorant [14] that won’t vanish halfway through the day or halfway through my next hot flash (Degree Clinical Protection).  A little mousse [15] into the hair before I dry it (Nexus Volumizing).  A little hairspray [16] once it’s dry (Nexus Comb-Thru).  A little spritz of cologne [17].  My signature scent, Giorgio, is hard to find these days, but Hubby managed to find a large bottle to put under the Christmas tree this year.  No wonder I love him!  After the perfume, I should be ready to head out the door…finally.  Oops, almost forgot – the lipstick [18] usually goes on in the car, at one of the stop lights on the way to work.  Oh, shut up – you know you do it, too.

The evening routine is modest in comparison, despite what Hubby says.  Remove the whole mess with some cleansing cloths [19], which really were a wonderful invention for lazy women like me (Ponds Wet Cleansing Towelettes).  And a nighttime moisturizer [20] to cap off the day (Garnier Ultra-Lift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Night Cream).  That’s right, folks – it lifts, it fights wrinkles, AND it firms!  All in one magical little jar. 

Good grief.  Now that I look at the list, my bathroom probably should have some “toxic chemical” warning signs on it.  I’m honestly NOT trying to fight aging.  I want to do it naturally and comfortably.  I don’t want to be one of those silly women who looks all pulled and painted and overdone in their attempt to “hide” wrinkles.  But I also don’t want to be one of those ladies whose makeup routine hasn’t changed since they were eighteen.  Aging is a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean we have to take the ride without giving ourselves at least a little help, right?

Twenty daily products worth?  Well, as long as I’m headed out to an office workplace, yes, I’m afraid so.  At 53, I think my skin looks pretty darn good.  I just hope the list won’t grow too much more, or I’ll have to start setting the alarm for 5AM.

Is Fifty the New Fifteen?

Last week, I had a pimple on my ear.  Right on top of the lobe, where the skin is thin, and where pimples hurt.  It was a surprise, but I didn’t think too much of it, and it was gone in a couple days after a few doses of alcohol (rubbing, not liquor). 

But then, a few days after that, I had an itchy spot on my back.  I was wearing an Irish wool sweater that day, so I figured the sweater was agitating my skin.  Then I thought my bra strap might be rubbing or pinching.  Finally, after hours of itchiness, I managed to reach the awkward spot, and I felt a big, round, tender bump.  It was another freakin’ pimple!

The next day, another appeared – right under my chin.  Great.  At least the other two offenders were out of sight.  This one was public.  Enough already.  I should not be dealing with zits anymore!

None of this would be that unusual if I was fifteen.  Or even twenty-two.  Maybe even thirty.  But I am fifty-two years old.  Fifty-two!!  I’m mid-menopausal, for crying out loud – what the hell am I doing getting pimples?  It’s the curse of the Baby Boomers – hot flashes and acne, all at the same time.  Yup – throw in the hormonal mood swings, and we’re just having a party, aren’t we?

And people wonder why women in their fifties are cranky.  Our bodies are turning against us in new ways every day.  Skin is sagging, bellies are popping, periods come and go on a highly unpredictable schedule, we break into sweats in the middle of the night, our heads spin like the Exorcist when the hormones get going, we’re exhausted, and somehow it comes as a shock to our friends and family that we’re irritated. 

Only women our age go through the check-out line with the following in our carts: multi-vitamins labeled “silver”, Midol, “age-defying” cosmetics, Clearasil acne lotion, a bottle of red wine, and a box of chocolate chip cookies for the craving we’re bound to have later that night (why fight it?).  All of those multi-generational products are for us.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this marvelous decade of our fifties is like “This is Your Life” rolled up into ten years.  A woman’s last hurrah before sliding into old age.  Think about it…

Childhood:  Is there anything more childish than a menopausal woman going through our hormonal ebbs and flows?  Tears one minute.  Screaming fury the next.  Totally sane after that.  I have literally stomped my foot in anger in the past year.  Seriously?  Where did that come from?  Aren’t I a little too grown-up for foot stomping?  Apparently not.

Prepubescence:  The preteen years are when girls form close same-sex friendships, and begin to assert their independence and self-identity.  Our fifties are when we have time, after raising our families and establishing our lives, to focus on our girlfriends again.  Our friendships deepen to new levels, as we start sharing our life adventures, and at this stage in our lives, those adventures aren’t always sunny.  Rather than sharing tales of who-talked-to-whom-in-social-studies, our friendships are now dealing with marriages, aging parents, career changes, divorces, adult children.  Instead of sitting together on the school bus, we’re meeting at the wine bar, but the connections are similar, and equally important.  And we giggle even harder now than we did then!  

Adolescence:  We were so happy to leave those stressful teen years behind – acne, romance, betrayal, raging hormones, stressing over our appearance, hanging out with the right crowd, rebelling against our parents, watching our bodies change.  And yet, here we are again – acne, romance (with any luck), betrayal (whether in marriage, employment, friendship, or just in our own bodies), raging hormones, stressing over our appearance (what does “age-appropriate dressing” really mean?), hanging out with the right crowd (political activism, neighborhood ‘clicks’, etc.), rebelling against our parents (or at least at our changing role in their lives), and, of course, watching our bodies change (don’t get me started…).  Yup.  Fifty may as well be fifteen in many ways.

Young Adult:  We may not “relive” our young adult years, but our fifties are when we reap the consequences of those years, good or bad.  Did the marriage survive?  Are the kids okay?  Was there a marriage at all?  If you didn’t have children, are you wondering who will care for you as you age?  Of course, some of us do end up revisiting the young adult years in a very unexpected way as we find ourselves raising our young grandchildren, or having our adult children or parents move back in with us.  And some of us are dealing with parents who are now older and dealing with issues that may require us to step back into a parenting role.  My own mom is very healthy and independent, but many of my contemporaries are not that fortunate, and they equate their relationships with their mothers to dealing with teenage daughters.

Elderly:  Along with looking back, our fifties give us a sneak peak to the future, sort of a prequel to the years that lay ahead.  We don’t have the strength and energy we once had.  We begin the process of adjusting to that new physical reality.  And as our parents age, we experience the realities of aging through their lives.  Suddenly retirement, Social Security, and long-term health care are no longer abstract ideas, but an impending fact of life. 

Yes, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that women in their fifties are living every stage of life at once.  Is it a bad thing?  Not always.  It can be challenging and frustrating and infuriating at times, but it does give us the chance to appreciate the journey we’ve made so far.  We have the wisdom of our life experiences to help temper the effects of the hormonal changes.  I may stomp my feet and burst into tears over some perceived slight, but, unlike when I was fifteen, I have the confidence to know that I’ll get through it and life will go on.  We’ve gained perspective, and as long as we hold onto that perspective, this journey back in time is okay, for the most part. 

But I really could do without the pimples.  Honestly.

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