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

Posts tagged ‘women’

Most. Expensive. Hot Flash. Ever.

I should have known I was in trouble last Thursday when that pop-up zit appeared on the edge of my lip out of nowhere. Up at 5AM to catch a flight north for work, I stared in disbelief at the mirror. Just when I thought the menopausal acne was behind me… But the road to menopause is full of surprises.

Acne. Mood swings. Bloating. Hot flashes. Mood swings. Exhaustion. Hot flashes.  

Yes, hot flashes can be surprising, as they come and go and change and morph throughout the years leading up to “official” menopause, defined as twelve consecutive months with no “monthly friend” (I’m on a six month roll right now – woo-hoo!!). Not only do hot flashes arrive unexpectedly, but they vary widely in intensity. I’ve had some big ones – rolling heat waves that start in my chest and roll upwards until my scalp was tingling.  I’m talking about strip-off-your-clothes-in-mid-winter major hot flashes (indoors and at home, of course). We’ll be watching television quietly at home, and suddenly I’m flinging off my sweater or sweatshirt in a panic. Poor Hubby barely raises an eyebrow anymore when I start peeling off my clothes. Then the hot flashes will subside for a while, with just the occasional night sweat. Mild night sweats have become fairly routine, but they’ve never been debilitating for me. 

I know I’ve been relatively lucky. I’ve heard stories of horrendous night sweats, where women wake up so drenched they have to change the sheets. Women who had to keep spare outfits in their offices to change into because a hot flash would ruin their clothes. But not me. My hot flashes are just the nuisance type. Annoying, but manageable. Kinda like me. And it was all under control.

After Thursday, I’m not so sure anymore…

It happened at the Charlotte, NC airport Thursday morning. I caught the 6AM puddle-jumper from home to Charlotte (a 50-minute flight) to connect with another flight north to my office, where I was due to attend an important meeting shortly after landing. I was wearing comfortable dress pants and a colorfully patterned, lightweight polyester knit top. I had a 3-hour layover, so there was no hurry as I strolled from one end of the airport to the other. I felt the hot flash begin, and I knew it was a strong one. I was not only hot, I was also very light-headed, felt faint, and my hands were shaking. I stopped, and I started to feel better. Wow. That was a good one. I figured I’d get something cold to drink and I’d be fine, as usual. I stopped by a little tourist shop along the way, mainly because it was extra cool in there. I strolled around a bit, not to buy anything, but just to enjoy the coolness for a minute.

An employee in the shop looked at me rather oddly, and instead of saying “good morning!” or “Can I help you?” he said “Is everything okay this morning, ma’am?” That struck me as an odd thing to say, and then I thought my mega hot flash must have made my face red. I told him I was fine, and decided I’d better go get that cold drink and sit down somewhere.

As I walked out of the shop, I felt something on the side of my face. I put my fingers up to my left temple, and discovered water was running down my face near my scalp. I was covered in sweat. I’m not talking about a soft dewy glow here. I am talking about big drops of water. Dripping down the side of my face. Good lord, the guy must have thought I was crying, or just…well…a crazy lady drenched in sweat at 8:00 AM. I grabbed a tissue and wiped my face. My scalp was sweating. My hair felt damp and limp. Whoa. This was no normal hot flash.

I grabbed a yogurt parfait and a cold drink, and got settled into a seat at a quiet gate. As I sat back against the chair, my back felt cold and clammy. I sat forward and my shirt was clinging to my back. Good grief – I was soaked! I put my hand back there, and sure enough, my shirt was not just damp – it was wet with sweat. The chair was wet. From me. Gross.

I analyzed my options, and wearing this shirt for the rest of the day was not one of them. I had to buy something. I was heading into a meeting less than an hour after landing, and I couldn’t go in wearing a bright t-shirt that said “North Carolina Rocks!” A golf shirt was not dress code compliant. Maybe I could get away with that some other time, but not now – not when I’m trying to convince my employer that I can be away from the home office and still maintain a high level of professionalism.

That left me with two stores: Lacoste (expensive) and Brooks Brothers (more expensive). Lacoste had a sale rack, but nothing on it would work – too clingy, too sheer, too heavy (being warm triggers hot flashes). Why spend $50 on a sale shirt that I know I’ll never wear?

So I went back to Brooks Brothers and spent a ridiculous amount of money on a very nice cotton pinstripe shirt with ¾ sleeves. Beautiful fabric. Lovely tailoring. Very professional. Looks great. It is easily the most expensive shirt I’ve ever purchased. The sales tax brought the total over 3 figures. For a shirt.

All because of a monster hot flash at a really bad time and place.

And that’s the story of my first sweat-through-my-clothes hot flash. I don’t need to have another one. Truly, I don’t. Once is enough.

But just in case, I’ll start keeping an extra dress shirt in my office (and in my carry-on when I’m traveling).  

Because I simply can’t afford any more hot flashes like that one.

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!

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.

Boomers and Their Naughty Toys

It’s hardly news that Baby Boomers are seriously changing the world as we pass through our various life stages en masse.  And a lot of those changes have been good.  We raised civil disobedience to an art form.  We marched on Washington as college students, and now we’re doing it as grandparents, as fervent as ever.

And speaking of grandparents, have you noticed that Boomers are not at all interested in being called grandparents?  Oh, we love our grandchildren dearly, but I don’t think I know any Boomers who allow their grandchildren to call them “Grandma” or “Grandpa”.  No, we’re “Pop-pop” and “Nay-Nay”.  Or “Bubba” and “Gammy”.  Or Papa and Gaga.  I’m “Nana” myself, but I have an excuse – my wonderful grandchildren are courtesy of my husband’s children, and I don’t feel I have the right to be called “Grandma”.  But of the seven grandkids and multiple sets of grandparents, I don’t think there’s a “Grandma” or “Grandpa” in the bunch.  Apparently Boomers are rather traumatized at the thought of admitting we might be as old as our own grandparents always seemed to be.  And in typical Boomer fashion, rather than address a problem, we promptly avoid it by calling it something else.  We’re not old as long as we insist on not being called “Grandma.”

We’ve changed entire industries as we’ve gracefully (or not so gracefully) aged.  Decades ago, the cosmetic companies catered to the young.  Already beautiful, store cosmetics simply enhanced the natural beauty of young women everywhere.  But now, young women have a hard time finding cosmetics to fit their needs.  Everything is marketed to boomers, with a major emphasis on “younger looking skin”, “hydrating formulas” and “reduced lines and wrinkles”.  We Boomer ladies are not ready to be old, and we’re certainly not ready (or willing) to look old!  First, it was products designed for women over 40 – that made headlines back in the day.  Now, most companies have products aimed at women over 50.  And several (including Avon) are actively working on products for women over 60. 

Our drive to remain forever young has also given birth to a booming (pardon the pun) cosmetic surgery industry.  We’ve moved beyond facelifts and nose jobs to laser peels, eye lifts, neck tucks, breast augmentations, and lyposuction.   Cosmetic surgeons can now basically sculpt our bodies – removing a little fat here (tummy), and injecting it there (face, to reduce wrinkles).  Puffy belly and drooping derriere?  No problem – they can pull fat from the front and inject it in the backside.  And my fellow Baby Boomers are lining up for every procedure that can be imagined.  After all, if we’re not going to be called grandparents, we’re certainly not going to look like grandparents!

I know we’re changing the world, and changing industries, and redefining the term “senior citizen”, and that’s all well and good.  I like the idea of becoming a sassy senior citizen, sliding into old like a runner sliding into home base, instead of just toddling there.  But there are some things that were just fine the way they were.  

When I was in my twenties, there were certain stores where you went to buy naughty little toys for the boudoir.   Not necessarily XXX adult stores (ew-w-w!), but grown-up stores where sexy lingerie and silly little things where offered in a discreet manner in the back corner.  But now, Boomers are as in-your-face about our sexuality as we are about everything else.  Watch any television show, and you’ll see the commercials where couples our age just touch each other, and suddenly the music crescendos and the kitchen walls fall away to reveal waterfalls as the they dance in each other’s arms and head off to do heaven-knows-what – as long as he’s taking the right blue pill.  Okay, I get it.  Boomers are still having sex.  That’s cool.  Really.  But do we have to make it prime-time conversation?  Whatever happened to a quiet talk with your doctor, and a quiet drive to the store?  Do we really need it in our living rooms every night?  

When I first started receiving catalogs in the mail that cater to Boomers, like “As We Change” (a favorite), I loved the clothes and shoes and bathing suits designed for women older than 25.  But it took me a while to get used to a fairly large section of the catalog that was openly dedicated to vibrators, lubricants, etc.  Really?  When did sex toys become mainstream?  No plain manila envelope anymore – this stuff is right there in color.  Call me naïve, but I’m like a pre-teen sneaking a peek at Playboy magazine – I’m turning the page upside down, studying the products, and trying to figure out how some of them are used.  A cone?  Seriously?

But the final straw was yesterday’s mail, when we received an innocuous catalog from Carol Wright Gifts.  This is one of those tacky little catalogs where you can sometimes find cute stocking stuffers, toys for the grandkids, or just get a laugh at the “as seen on TV” miracle products (“you don’t need a gym – just use our amazing Body Builder shake weight twice a day for a body like Atlas!”).   So there I am, flipping through pages of flannel pajamas, velour slippers, Pillow Pets, and orthotic insoles.  And there, right on page 16 (and 17 and 48 and 49), are full color pages of sex toys!  Explicit sex toys.  Really explicit.  With “lifelike skin” (double ew-w-w!). 

This is all in the same mail order catalog that sells Bissell sweepers, waterproof bed pads and a walker with a food tray attached.  On one page I can buy a Magic G or Rabbit Bleu (look it up if you want – I’m not explaining).  On the next, I can order a pretty woven blanket with a poem about daughters.  On one page I can buy a turtleneck dickie.  On the next, I can buy a mechanized one.  Puh-leez!  Do we really need to be able to buy our sex toys from the same place we buy our dog toys?

I know we Boomers are a progressive bunch, and we love to talk and share and hold hands and tell everyone what we like and don’t like.  But there are some things that really can remain in the closet (or bottom drawer, or whatever).  I’m not judging, but I simply don’t want to know that my friends might be using these things!  And I pity the poor parents with young children who may stumble across an innocent-looking catalog like this….that’s a conversation that no parent wants to be forced into having.  I’m not railing against the products.  I just don’t need them showing up in my mailbox unannounced. 

We may think our parents’ generation was prudish, but sometimes a little decorum and discretion is appropriate.  The constant Viagra commercials are bad enough, but I dread the day I see a commercial in prime time for the Amazing Butterfly Kiss.  Some things just need to stay in the bedroom with the lights dimmed, don’t you think???

Boys and Their Toys

Zero-turn mower (no, that's not my house in the background!) {photo: Joseph Barillari}

What is it with men and power equipment?  Have Ryobi power drills replaced swords and spears as symbols of a man’s prowess?  Do men think women are impressed when they wield a “saws-all” and cut a hole through a wall?  And you gotta love the way they swoop in when they see a woman trying to use power tools.  “Oh, let me get that, honey.”  “Honey, you’re not holding it right – let me take it.”  “You’ll never get it done that way – let me do it.” 

In fact, most wives learn pretty early on that the easiest way to get our husbands to do something that’s been on our “honey-do list” for days (weeks, months, years) is to grab a power tool ourselves and fire it up while they’re nearby.  Oh, there may be a curse word or two, but trust me, in the end, the job will be completed…by the husband. 

Disclaimer:  My own Hubby is sometimes conflicted in how to balance our roles, but to his credit, he usually falls on the more enlightened side of things.  Some of my sweeping generalities here are based on other guys I’ve known in the past or have worked with, and other womens’ husbands.  My own beloved at least tries to let me do things on my own, but he still gets twitchy when I grab the Ryobi. 

I don’t think for a minute that guys grab tools away from us because they’re all that concerned for our safety (although, I must admit, I can’t be trusted with any sharp objects, and Hubby knows it).  I just don’t think they want us to learn how much fun they are.

I lived alone for more than fifteen years, including ten years on my own horse farm (with a house that was a hundred years old).  So I had to learn how to make a few basic repairs.  Simple little things like…patching the roof, snaking the pipes, fixing the toilet, thawing out the sump pump, driving a farm tractor older than I was, bailing water out of the basement by hand…just a few little things every girl dreams of doing someday.  So Hubby took on a wife who didn’t expect him to fix everything, and a wife who had her own opinions on how to fix things.  That has occasionally led to some….uh….stress, but overall it’s been a successful match in handling day-to-day tasks.  He refers to my occasional proclamations of “I can do it myself” as my “I am woman, hear me roar” moments, but I think he quietly appreciates that we share the workload.

I’m not in love with running the snow blower, but I can certainly do it when he’s not around.  I’ll bundle up in twenty layers, and I’ll waddle into the garage and open the door.  I spend a few seconds staring at the snow-covered driveway in annoyance.  I’ll push the choke three times and start hauling away on the pull-start rope.  If it doesn’t start on the first pull, I’ll warm the air with a few four-letter words.  If it doesn’t start on the second, I’ll graduate to 5- and 7-letter words, because I know I’ve only got one pull left in me.  But once that sucker starts, I’m off!  Our driveway is three cars wide and 90 feet long.  It’s a bear to clear, but I can do it.  When I’m done, I’m tired, and aching, and usually still annoyed, but I also have a sense of accomplishment and independence that feels pretty good. 

And maybe that’s what guys love about their power tools.  They really do make you feel powerful.  That’s their little secret.  That’s why they snatch them out of our hands so quickly.  It’s not about the operator, it’s about the machine.

I discovered this recently when I finally learned how to drive the “man-machine”, which is what I’ve dubbed Hubby’s new zero-turn lawn mower.  I could drive any lawn tractor around, and I’ve had some doozies, including a big old clunker on my farm that I bought at a garage sale – it would smoke and backfire regularly, but it got me through my last couple years of farm life (before I came to my senses and sold the farm and tractor).  I was even okay driving a 1950 farm tractor and operating the bucket loader on the front.  But just because I could do it didn’t mean I loved doing it, and I was more than happy to let Hubby take over the lawn duties once we settled in suburbia.  And as long as we had a lawn tractor, even the one with the big 4-foot mower, I knew I could help out in a pinch. 

And then he got the man-machine this year.  Hubby coveted this mower for three years, because he drove one at the golf course where he worked part-time.  You sit in front of the engine, not behind it.  And you sit directly over and slightly behind the mower.  No steering wheels here – these things drive with two handles/levers/arms that operate independently of each other.  That means if you pull the left lever back, you turn left.  If you pull the left lever back, and push the right lever forward, you turn left really fast!!!  I’m talkin’ throw-you-off-the-machine fast.  The least little movement on those levers, and you are careening into the garage wall, or the car, or over the top of that little maple tree behind the shed.  Hubby is a zero-turn master.  Me…not so much.  I was more than happy to let that be a man-job.  Until we realized that I would have to mow the lawn at least a couple times while he was out of town this fall.  Uh-oh.

Hubby gave me an impatient lesson last week (I didn’t come that close to hitting the car on my way out of the garage).  I tried to ignore his protests and shouted suggestions and anguished expressions as I ran zigzags around the yard.  You see, I was thinking the man-machine needed a man’s firm hand to steer it.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that the key was subtlety.  A light hand on the steering levers allowed you to move around the yard with ease.  Push them forward together, and you go faster – cool.  After a few herky-jerky attempts to mow around some shrubbery without mowing it down (Hubby’s face was priceless!), I figured out the man-machine.  And I liked it.  The neighbors were watching me, and that must have been admiration I saw in their eyes as I wheeled around and spun that mower in a (relatively) tight circle to head back the other direction.  I felt awesome!

I now know the secret of men and their toys.  The toys are fun!!  And the toys are cool!!  And they don’t really require any special “manly” skills.  Okay, men have got more practice running drills and operating zero-turn mowers than we do.  And they often have more upper arm strength to hold that power tool and its heavy detachable battery pack steadier than we can.  But the reason men love those toys is because they get a heady sense of power and accomplishment from using them.  Women should give it a try more often.  And if by chance you don’t like it, just act like you’re going to drop the tool, or bump it up against the wall, or tell him you think you stripped a screw.  He’s sure to grab the power tools away from you with a tsk-tsk and take over the task.  And he’ll be thrilled to have his toys all back to himself again.

She’s Havin’ a Heat Wave….

You know, I used to think those t-shirts were so cute that said “It’s not a hot flash, it’s a power surge!”  Yay for women!  That’s what I thought.  What a healthy, charming, and sharp-witted way to look at one of life’s major changes.  “I’m going to get myself one of those shirts when the time comes”, I thought. 

That was then.  This is now.  And now I’ve decided that telling women that hot flashes are empowering and fun is a lot like when parents used to tell their children they were going to an ice cream party when they were really headed into surgery to have their tonsils removed.  Why do we insist on lying to each other?   There is nothing empowering about a hot flash.  Yes, it’s a marker on the way to a new stage of our life as women, and that’s a transition that should be honored and acknowledged, blah, blah, blah.  But a power surge?  Hardly. 

There is nothing powerful about standing in front of a group of 50 business people as I did two weeks ago, about to make an important hour-long presentation, when suddenly I felt the telltale mini-wave of heat (I usually get a warning shot like that before the big one hits).  Uh-oh.  I braced myself for the next tide of warmth, and tried to ignore it with a happy smile and ice-breaking banter with the group.  But how was I supposed to handle the water dripping down the side of my face?  I’d brush it away quickly, and another would appear.  I’d brush that away, and another would be soon be there.  I shed my jacket, knowing I probably looked nervous to the group, which wasn’t exactly the impression I wanted to leave them with.  How could they know that my body temperature felt like it was hitting 110˚?  As I wiped away the fourth or fifth drop of sweat from near my left eye, I realized I had to say something, so I mumbled a few words about having “something in my eye – sorry!” as I tried to continue with some semblance of dignity. 

For several years now, I’ve been relieved that hot flashes didn’t seem to be a big issue for me in perimenopause (that stretch of years just before the real thing).  Yes, I had the very occasional hot flash, usually brought on by nerves or being in warm temperatures.  But they were quick little things, and just a minor inconvenience.  What was everyone complaining about?  The worst one I had until very recently was after a shopping trip on a raw winter day.  The store had been warm, and I was wearing a heavy winter coat and scarf.  By the time Hubby and I got home, I was boiling from the inside out.  He went out to get the rest of the grocery bags from the car, and by the time he came back in from the garage, I had shed coat, scarf, sweatshirt and turtleneck, and I was unpacking groceries in my bra as the snow swirled outside the window.  I just put up my hand and said “hot flash”, and he walked away chuckling.

But now that I’m in the midst of the real deal “Big M”, I’m learning exactly how difficult hot flashes can be.  I have days now when I cycle in and out of hot flashes twenty times or more.  Jacket off, ice water, grab a book to fan myself with.  Then I become totally chilled, and put the jacket back on and grab a cup of coffee.  Which then sets off another hot flash, and jacket off again…  Well, you get the picture.   It’s irritating, distracting, and exhausting. 

While some women describe becoming completely drenched in sweat during their hot flashes, I (so far and usually) just develop a sheen of sweat on my skin.  Normally, my skin just feels like I’ve been outside for a while on a really hot, humid summer day. 

Sometimes I am caught off guard by a full hot rush of heat that will cause me to start shedding clothing desperately (which is interesting when I’m in public…) and send me on a wild search for ice, ice water, a cool breeze, anything!  But normally I get a little warning shot first that lets me know what’s coming.  It’s a little spurt of warmth that just washes over my body in a flash.  I now know that it’s a signal for a “big one”.  Sometimes the real hot flash starts in my chest, and radiates up and out across my upper body.  Sometimes it starts at the top of my scalp and flows downward.  It feels like my thermostat has gone completely out of control.  If you’ve never had one, you really can’t believe how fast your body can heat up.  It’s like having my own little personal furnace, with the knob turned up to “high”.  It’s actually pretty impressive.  So for a minute or two, I’ll be boiling.  And then, just like that, it’s gone.

On a not-so-good day, those hot flashes just roll over me all day long.  On a good day, it will only happen 2 or 3 times.  Usually right after I’ve taken my beloved scalding hot morning shower.  And again after a cup of hot coffee (especially in the afternoons), and again in the evening while I’m relaxing.  One neat trick I’ve learned in the morning is that my hair dryer has a “cold” setting, so I can cool my body down with my hair dryer before getting dressed – it works – honest!

And at night?  Oh my Lord.  I have a small throw blanket folded on top of the blanket on my side of the bed, because I’m usually cold, and Hubby never is.  Over the past few months, that throw routinely goes flying in the middle of the night, as I wake up drenched in sweat.  I fling off the regular blanket and sheets, and just lay there, waiting for it to pass.  If I fall back to sleep right away, I’m sure to wake up 30 minutes later because now I’m cold from not having any covers on.  Then I pick up the throw blanket from the floor and start all over again.

Scientific studies have indicated that the primary reason that menopause can cause irritability and forgetfulness is not because of a particular hormone, but because of these night sweats that wake us up over and over at night.  Don’t believe it?  You try sleeping night after night in a room where someone turns the heat up to 95 and then down to 55 every other hour.   And stop laughing – it’s not funny.

Power surge?  Really?!?  A co-worker told me this week that she had hot flashes for a period of ten years.  I almost wept.  If mine keep up that long, I’ll be locked away in a padded cell somewhere, babbling incoherently from exhaustion.  I just hope it’s air-conditioned.

Women Dress For Women, Silly!

A few days ago, a co-worker told me that his wife was going out that evening with her friends for a “girls night out”.  He shook his head as he commented that he didn’t understand why they always got all dressed up “just to have dinner together.”  I just laughed and said “Silly boy, women dress up for other women, not for men!” 

And let’s admit it – it’s true.  We worry far more about the opinions of our female friends than our men when it comes to fashion, don’t you think? 

Even back in high school, we watched the girls’ magazines to determine how to dress.  Why?  Because we wanted to fit in with what was “cool” at the moment.  My favorite outfit ever (sadly, no pictures) was an outfit that featured crushed robin’s egg blue velvet hot pants and a creamy satin top, with a long, hip-length velvet vest to match.  It was a dressy outfit (seriously!), and I wore it with cream-colored lace stockings, off-white sandals, and a long, swinging necklace.  I was groovy in that outfit, let me tell you!  And while my boyfriend (Ken – what a sweet kid) may have appreciated the hemline, he surely didn’t care about the time I’d taken in color-coordinating the ensemble.  For example, he didn’t care, or even know, that it was “robin’s egg blue”, but my girlfriends did.

If we really dressed for men, we’d still be wearing hot pants and mini-skirts today.  They never would have let us stray into midi-skirts, and then to the 80’s “office girl” attire of plaid skirts and blouses with bows under our chins.  Did we then turn to those “Dynasty”-inspired suits with football player shoulder pads for the opinion of men?  I doubt they were impressed. 

Even in those “meat market” bars of our single days, where we admittedly dressed with a particular goal in mind….when we weren’t checking out the guys, we were checking out the other women and assessing the competition.

Of course, I know that the correct response to who women should dress for is to say that we should dress for ourselves.  Bunk.  Yes, comfort is important, and more so as we grow older, but still….   The days I “dress for myself”  (baggy pants, rumpled loose shirt, baseball cap, old sneakers) are the days I’m mortified to run into someone I know at the grocery store.  My mortification is proof that I’m not really dressing for myself after all. 

No, women follow the fashion trends because we want the acknowledgement of other women.  When a man comments on fashion, it’s usually no more than a “nice dress”, or the ever-generic “you look nice.”  But when our fellow women notice an outfit, we get far more detailed feedback:  “That color looks great on you!”, “Pretty blouse – is that silk?”; “I love that outfit – is it new?”, and our favorite – “Fabulous!  Where did you find that?”  Why is that the favorite?  Because it allows us to display our shopping prowess among our peers.  Very similar to the guys bragging about how they beat par on the country club’s toughest hole – the story has to be told with a bit of bravado.

My husband scolded me once for telling another woman that my dress, which she admired, had been found, tags still on, at the church rummage sale for $5.00.  After she gasped and praised me, we giggled together over for my great bargain.  But Hubby thought I should have told her I found it at an expensive department store for far more money, as if there were shame in buying something on sale. 

I tried to explain to him that, unlike a man’s preoccupation with how much they spent, women honor bargain-hunting skills.  She admired that red polka dot dress far more because I’d found such a bargain with it.  “Can you believe I found this on the sale rack at Macy’s for 80% off?”  “Oh, you like these slacks?  I got them at Kohl’s for 8 bucks!”  When we get a great buy, we’re not only seen as fashionable by our women friends, but we’re also seen as wise shoppers.  Skilled hunters, if you will.

To be clear here – I’m not saying that every morning I stand in angst, trying to decide which outfit I should wear to impress women at the office.  Good grief, I barely have my eyes open in the morning, much less being able to function at that kind of level.  No.  I’ve made my purchases, and have a closet full (over-flowing actually, with two sizes of everything, but I digress….) of clothing that I know meets the standards of acceptable fashion.  So I guess I really am dressing for myself at that point, but that’s because I’ve already selected the clothes based on the women I see in fashion magazines and on TV.  I’m not a clothes-horse, but I have enough style to get by.  I don’t fret about what other women wear, but I notice.

Of course we dress up for “girls night out”!  We fuss over our clothes, our shoes, our purses.  We check our hair and make-up, too.  We may do the same for dinner with our husbands, but they see it as us “looking nice”.  Our friends observe us as a complete package – “Oh, my God, where did you get that bag?”; “Did you just get your hair colored?  It looks great!”;  “Those shoes look fabulous with that dress! Are they the ones you got on sale last week?” 

Somehow putting this in writing makes it sound just a little shallow, but it’s not.  It’s reassuring to us to know that we have our “woman” act together, even after all these years.  That’s empowering.  It’s good to know that we’ve got each other’s backs (while we covet each other’s handbags).  Thanks, girls!

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