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

Posts tagged ‘baby boomer’

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: 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…

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.

Lessons On Stuff…

Sometimes life has to hit me over the head multiple times to get a point across.  But as I head into my mid-fifties, I’m finally beginning to understand that most of the “stuff” I’m trying to drag along with me is absolutely worthless. 

I’m not talking about mental stuff (although I’m dragging a lot of that around, too).  I’m talking about actual physical things.  Furniture.  Books.  Clothes.  Art.  Memorabilia.  Chotchkies.  Lots and lots of chotchkies.  A chotchkie (I like that word!) is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a small piece of worthless crap, a decorative knick knack with little or no purpose.”  That, in my opinion, is the perfect definition for too many things currently in my possession. 

I tend to personalize material things, and give them far more importance than they should ever have.  I think I learned that from an early age (sorry, Mom, but you know it’s true!).  Precious “things” have long been saved in our family, and used to decorate every nook and cranny.  Mementoes from vacations, gifts, family heirlooms, clever finds, pretty things, collectibles and things we call collectibles that really aren’t.  I have a hard time parting with any of these items, especially if I’ve had them “forever”.  It feels cruel to me in some bizarre way to discard an item that has traveled through life with me, even if I know I’ll never, ever use it again.  After all, “it’s still perfectly good”. 

To be fair to Mom, it’s not really her fault.  My grandparents on both sides were classic survivors of the Depression, and they frugally saved everything, used it up completely, and even then they wouldn’t part with it.  My Iowa grandparents used bath towels so thin and worn you could literally read through them, while in their closet was a box of plush towels from the famous Marshall Fields department store, a gift from their daughter.  A gift carefully put away for years, because “there was nothing wrong” with the old towels.  They were perfectly good.  When my New York grandmother passed away, we found similar boxes in her closet.  Fancy gifts of bathrobes, towels, and purses, all carefully saved and labeled (“Christmas 1980 – Keith and Darlene”).  Never opened because she hadn’t used up the old ones yet.  This was the generation that didn’t throw anything away.  Ever.

My first wake-up call about stuff was the death of my husband’s 2nd cousin.  Mary was basically a second mother for Hubby, as his own mom passed away at an early age.  Hubby was her sole heir, so we had the task of clearing out her humble 1-bedroom apartment.  Every cubbyhole was filled with her treasures.  While we kept a few things in her memory, most went summarily into boxes and headed off to the Good Will store.  It struck me that all those things that were so valuable to her simply held no practical value for us, and I began to look at my own saved possessions with the realization that when I’m gone, they’d probably suffer the same fate.

The second wake-up call was the task of packing up my parent’s home of nearly sixty years after my father died.  Mom was selling the house, and we spent months sorting and trying to prioritize stuff accumulated throughout a lifetime together.  This one was much more personal – these mementoes were part of MY memories – the things I’d grown up with (and a lot more stuff stashed in the attic that I’d never even seen!).  My first reaction was “save everything!”  And then reality struck – I already had my own house that was filled to the brim with things from my husband’s and my life together.  I simply couldn’t cling to and transfer everything from my parent’s home into mine (not to mention my brother might have something to say about it).  And that’s when I had the epiphany – my memories didn’t live in those things.  My memories lived in my heart, and I didn’t need a 30-year-old coffee mug to remember my dad, nor my old toys to remember my childhood.  I did pretty well at staying true to that epiphany, but there were still way too many “exceptions”.  After all, some of those things might have collectible value, so I had to keep them “just in case”.

I parted with even more chotchkies during our recent move. But as chronicled in my previous post, too much useless crap still moved with us.  And then Hurricane Irene took aim at our new home last week, which was now filled with our most precious old and new belongings.   

I spent that very long Saturday at our rental home up in New York, frantically watching The Weather Channel and surfing the internet for news on our North Carolina neighborhood.  Nothing I saw was good, and it got worse as the day stretched on and Irene pounded our home for nearly 24 hours. 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I started the day stressing over things.  The oak heirloom from the mid-1800’s.  The brand-spanking new entertainment center that spanned an entire wall.  The Stickley dining room set.  The nearly finished custom kitchen renovation.  What if a window broke?  What if the roof gave way?  What if a tree crashed into the house?  All of our STUFF would be ruined!

And then Stuff Lesson No. 3 kicked in.  Houses were flooding.  Trees were crashing down everywhere.  The relentless wind and rain were changing the landscape entirely.  And my friends and neighbors were living through it – riding out the storm inside their homes there.  While I was worried about things, there were people swimming to safety, clinging to roofs and trees, watching their houses literally float away, or burn down, or fill with murky, slimy, muddy waters.  I felt suddenly ashamed of myself.  And again, developed a whole new attitude toward STUFF, and realized how inconsequential it all really is to my life. 

Over the past week, thousands of people in the East are busy stacking ruined things at the curb to be discarded.  And that is terribly sad.  Many of those things can’t ever be truly replaced.  But those people will live on, and they’ll do just fine without the things that a week ago seemed so important to them. 

When my dear friend lost her home to a tornado earlier this year, she was shocked at how quickly she stopped caring about the things in her once-beautiful home.  Dashing to the basement as the house disintegrated around them was a distinctly clarifying moment – her husband and children were the only priority for her.  Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) else mattered to her.  She didn’t mourn the loss of stuff.  She was too busy celebrating the lives that had been saved.

My life would not have truly changed if all that stuff in North Carolina had been destroyed.  Well, there’d be a lot of work and inconvenience for a little while, but fundamentally my life wouldn’t change as long as I still had my family and friends.  Which makes me realize how totally unimportant stuff really is.  Which makes it a lot easier to sort through it and start donating or selling it.  Right now.

Let it be someone else’s treasure.  In this phase of my life, I’d rather my treasures were of the human kind.

Dreaming of Boxes….

I see boxes in my dreams.  Big boxes.  Little boxes.  Boxes overflowing with crumpled newspapers and bubble wrap.  Stacked boxes.  Flat boxes.  Empty boxes.  Heavy boxes.  Piles of boxes.  Everywhere, boxes.

My life reduced to boxes....

While shopping the other day, I heard the sound of someone using clear packing tape – that scratchy, screechy sound it makes coming off the roll – and I shuddered.  

Perhaps it’s my own personal form of PTSD – the result of moving.  Twice.  In two weeks.  Including to another state.  It’s a horrifying fact of life for many Boomers as we downsize and head to warmer climes.  And the current housing crisis is not really helping (but then again, it kinda is).

A long, long time ago (2008), we bought a house

in warm and wonderful North Carolina.  We’d fallen in love with the area while owning a small vacation condo there, and the glut on the housing market was perfect for buying a nice home at a really nice price.  All we had to do was quickly sell our New York house and we’d be heading into the warm sunset of southern living.  Well, that was the plan.  But you know what they say about plans….  The same buyer’s market that gave us a wonderful house in North Carolina made it next to impossible to sell our New York home, which went on the market early in 2009. 

We waited, and we waited, and we waited.  We dropped the price.  We packed away every family photo and cherished knickknack to ‘depersonalize’ the house as everyone tells you to do.  We changed realtors.  I staged the house.  We dropped the price.  We hired a professional stager to reorganize the layout.  We changed realtors.  Again.  We dropped the price.  Again.  We gave up and said “screw it” and put the furniture where we wanted it and let it looked lived in.  We dropped the price.  Again.  And, after a mere 2 ½ years, we FINALLY sold the house.

Naturally, after all this time on the market, the buyer wanted in right away.  So we started packing.  And we packed.  And we packed.  Every waking minute of every day, we packed.  While I was at work, Hubby packed.   Box after box after box after box after box.  How the heck did two people accumulate so much crap?!  Our time frame made sorting a challenge, so we ended up moving a lot of stuff that we certainly didn’t need to keep.

The day the movers arrived in North Carolina with our belongings, the heat index was 108 degrees.  Hubby went golfing (with my blessing).  Landscapers were pruning our shrubs with power clippers.  Our dog was barking non-stop in protest of being shut in a room (which she escaped from several times).  Lowes showed up to deliver new appliances.  And the moving guys were coming through the door in rapid succession, constantly asking the question “where do you want this?”  After several hours, I thought of several graphic suggestions for them, but I kept them to myself.  I definitely felt too old for this effort.

The tipping point came sometime around noon, while all this was happening, and I was suddenly acutely aware of the pandemonium around me and the sweat pouring down my body.  I had a choice of running from the property screaming at the top of my lungs…..or coping.  I took a deep breath, and told myself “This is one day out of your life, Joanne – that’s all.  Just one day, and you can cope with one day.”

As the afternoon ground on, I told one of the movers firmly that I didn’t want him to bring any more boxes into the house.  Boxes were piled everywhere, and there was barely room to move (did I mention that the kitchen and family room were in the midst of a total remodel?).  The poor guy looked at me and wasn’t sure if I was kidding.  He said “But there are more boxes on the truck!”  I calmly explained that those boxes must belong to someone else, because we surely didn’t own enough stuff to fill all these boxes.  He was still staring at me in confusion as I said “those boxes can’t be ours!”  With a smile, he looked at me and said “Lady, you’re the last delivery – it’s all yours.”  I cussed, laughed, and went back to work.

Once everyone left, and Hubby returned, I sat and looked in amazement at how much junk we owned.  And how sore and tired I felt.  And how much I smelled (I was in the shower shortly after that). 

The next morning, we started UNpacking.  And that was only slightly more fun than packing.  Because it involved boxes.  And boxes.  And decisions to be made.  Where to put things. Whether to keep things.  What to give away.  Where to put the empty boxes.  A-r-g-h!  Those damned boxes!!!

Four days later, we were headed back to New York.  Remember I said we moved twice?  The second move involved clothes (way too many) and a very few possessions to a partially furnished rental house in our hometown.  We’re not fulltime southerners yet.  Why?  Well, with all those price cuts on the hosue, I can’t exactly walk away from my steady paycheck to go freelance right now.  So after partially settling things in North Carolina, we came right back to start unpacking BOXES in the rental house.  More freakin’ boxes.  Everywhere.  Including in my dreams.    

I refer to this as the beginning of phase 2 of our “master plan”.  It’s a temporary phase.  Within a year, we’ll be starting a new life in North Carolina.  And this will all be just a fuzzy, messy, exhausting, and box-filled memory.

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.

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!

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