RE-CHARGING THE BATTERIES
As a transplanted Canadian, Arizona’s extended summer is something to which I’ve never completed adapted. My DNA is coded for seasonal change, and, the older I get, the more my tolerance for the heat lessens. Summer seems never-ending, and I miss the rhythms and the complexity of the wheel of the year.
This heat-season we managed two short trips to much-cooler northern Arizona. One was in May, just as the summer was setting up housekeeping in Tucson, and the second was in early September, when the heat dragged on and my brain was becoming stupefied.
But here it is October, and the evening temps are still hovering in the 80s. My my internal dots aren’t connecting; my synapses have stopped firing. I flatline and become as one-dimensional as a southern Arizona, sunny-and-hot weather forecast. It’s osmosis at its worst. Cranky doesn’t even begin to describe my attitude.
Just as my emotional burnout begins to turn the corner into depression, dipping temperatures in the Santa Catalinas are coaxing colored pigments from the deciduous trees’ leaves to center stage. A trip up the mountain—a short ninety-minute drive from our house—is in order. The uninhibited bright golds, rusts, and reds of autumn never fail to recharge my batteries. We pack up the dogs, a picnic, the camera, and head across town and up the winding Catalina highway, out of desert.
As the car edges above the 7000-foot elevation, the first glimmer of color appears. The golden yellow of the aspens and the crimson leaves of the maples are in full glory. A wildfire of color blazes up the mountainside. There are even a few true oak trees scattered here and there, and their leaves range from a lovely lime green to a burnished deep gold.
Our favorite spot for fall color on the mountain is a ravine/canyon called Bear Wallow. We stop and park off the main highway, and follow the short trail for a few hundred yards of pure, Canadian fall. I collect leaves to press and a few more to use as models to capture in watercolor. There is just enough of a breeze to flutter a kaleidoscope of oranges, yellows, reds, and greens across our path. The air is fresh and scented with pine; small pinecones crunch under our feet. The ravine’s ancient apple tree is sporting a few red apples in its topmost branches.
I feel myself coming back to life. This simple, few hours amidst the trees does more than just dislodge my blocked chi. I feel a rush of creative energy for the first time in many weeks, and I feel ready to start writing again. I’m even ready to tackle my latest passion: capturing birds, leaves, and flowers in watercolors.
It’s a fact that my soul would probably benefit from summers spent in a mountain cabin, but since that will never be the case, I can/will make myself happy with whatever short escapes can be wangled. My husband is usually more than willing to comply. Who wants to have to hide out the summer, indoors, with a cranky wife? Am I cranky on purpose? Shhh….not ready to give that one away.
I've been loving the unexpected number of butterflies flitting through our gardens and skies this year. Post-monsoon flowering shrubs and plants are absolutely shivering with butterfly activity. Such an amazing sight. Makes me wonder why some people squirm at the sight of caterpillars and resent every bite taken out of their plants, but then are thrilled by the colors and beauty of the butterflies in their gardens. A major disconnect in their thinking wouldn’t you say? We humans seem to excel at mental disconnects
My mind couldn't help been tumbling and turning with the butterflies. Watching them I had to wonder whether butterflies remember being caterpillars? Are they consciously celebrating their newfound freedom of flight as they dive and zoom around the garden? If they don’t remember their previous incarnation, that means they are living joyously free of identity baggage? Don’t you wish that applied to us? Butterflies, consciously or not, are the ultimate, self-reinvention success story.
How many people do you know, women especially, who talk about re-inventing themselves, some repeatedly? We all do it to a certain extend. Haven’t you said, at least once, “I’m not the person I used to be?” We change, we grow, we shed our old selves, and go forth and prosper with a new outlook, identity, and sometimes an up-graded exterior. But, based on the number of women I know who are taking anti-depressants and/or talking to analysts, no one seems to truly shut the door on their old selves. We re-invent, and yet still see the old us every time we stand too long in front of a mirror. There she is, hiding behind our eyes, standing in judgement on the new us every minute of every day.
We like to just shut our eyes to our reflections and blunder forward. We drink too many cocktails and post too many memes expounding on the virtues of self-love, being kind, and unconditional personal acceptance. Who are we trying to convince? We go on ad infinitum about what strong women we are, while taking even the slightest criticism to heart, and creeping away to self-flagellate and analyze every perceived, hurtful word. Or, we flaunt our defiance and dye our hair purple to prove our point, while loudly proclaiming how we don’t care what anyone thinks; we are above having to answer to anyone but ourselves. I tend not to buy into that. Goes against human nature.
If we stop judging others, maybe we can stop judging ourselves...maybe. The butterflies were all crawling, munching caterpillars not too long ago, but you don't see them looking back or judging each others newly created patterns and colors. But then...a butterfly doesn't need depth of character to be a successful butterfly, does it? As for us, what we see/show on the surface doesn't even hint at the wealth of humanity underneath. With us, as glamorous as we might try to be on the outside, it's what's inside that matters the most.
We unintentionally reinvent ourselves internally every day. Every bit of new data we absorb affects us, changes us, and revises our perception, even if ever so slightly. However, when we intentionally revise our life plan and/or outlook based on new information (joining a religion, leaving a religion, becoming a vegan, changing political views, leaving a job, moving to Bulgaria, or dropping mucho weight) the fallout can include losing friends and acquaintances, who either won’t understand or accept our metamorphosis. Some will even become resentful if we change from who they need or expect us to be. “Oh…you’ve changed so much!” (like that’s a bad thing?) Think co-dependence and “misery loves company.”
Like our butterfly friends, we each must follow our own flight paths, no matter how dizzying they might be to others, and in spite of judgements. If we don’t grow, we stagnate, and who wants to simulate a skanky swamp? So accept the inevitable process and celebrate change, and if your re-working brings you peace and joy, spread your wings and soar on the currents. Life is too short to do otherwise. Just ask the next butterfly you meet.
LET 'EM TALK
Right or wrong, being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has put me in a very different head space, and I am suddenly comfortable opening the shutters to my world. In that process, and almost by accident, I’ve found myself back on the dance floor, refreshing my beyond-rusty, country-western dance skills. Slipping into dance shoes again has also meant slipping into danceable garments, and finding something to cover my record-breaking, stay-at-home weight gain ain’t been easy. Picture the dancing hippos scene from Fantasia, and no, I’m not exaggerating. It’s that bad. But I’m putting myself out there anyway.
All of which has brought me to a realization. I think I finally have reached a point in my life where I honest-to-God don’t have anything to prove to anyone anymore. While a complete escape from the tyranny of the opinions and judgments of others is still a work in progress for me, more and more I’m able to throw off that weighted blanket with an insouciant shrug, and say “screw it.” This is me. Take me or leave me, it’s your call, because I will no longer mould myself into society’s vision of who I should be or what form my body should take. This realization might just be my true lifetime achievement!
Some of you were blessed with a lack of self-consciousness and tons of self-confidence, and I envy you to pieces. But for many of us it’s a process to let go. Putting oneself out there is scary. Instead of taking a chance on trying something new, we shove our unfulfilled passions to the back of a dresser drawer, lock it, and lose the key. But my point here is, we are all aging, and before we run out of time, it’s important to dig deep and ask what exactly is holding us back from whatever it is we’ve put off or are afraid to do: ditching tailored clothes for hippie/gypsy attire, taking an art class or singing lessons, learning to belly dance or sweep around the ballroom? If you really think about it, what’s the worst that can happen if you try?
You sign up for that art class or dance lesson and discover that everyone else is younger, slimmer, and more talented than you are. So what? No one is going to fire you, right? You won’t lose your income or your home if you aren’t the best in the class. Being a little embarrassed has never killed anyone, and if your peers think you’re crazy, who the hell cares? Hold your head up high, stare the naysayers down, and be that crazy old lady (or man) who gives ‘em all something to talk about. As long as you having fun and expressing your inner diva, all is as it should be.
So, you ask, besides stuffing my no-longer-svelte bod into dance clothes, what have I done to put my money where my mouth is? The process started several years ago when I shoved down all the niggling “you are not good enoughs” and started writing Dancing Between the Beats, a novel grounded in the world of ballroom dance. Eight years later, the year I turned 70, I typed “The End.” By year’s end I was holding those first, soft-cover copies in my hands. Without a doubt, a major high point in my life, but also a big step into the “who does she think she is” limelight of peer scrutiny. It was time for me to hold my head up and develop a thick skin. For someone who has always cared too much about what people think (thanks Mum), why would I put myself in the middle of a race-car track and take a chance of being run over?
Because I was overdue taking a risk and doing something just because I wanted to do it, on my own time, and my own terms, and hopefully have fun along the way. My economic security didn’t depend on my book being a screaming success, neither did my identity. I wasn’t writing to change literary landscape of America; I was enjoying the process. I’m beyond thrilled that so many people have purchased the book. Some readers have great fun with it and thoroughly enjoy it, a few others…not so much. And that’s okay. Every book isn’t for every reader, and I’m quite pleased with myself for actually getting the characters and their lives between two covers, and I get to call myself not just a writer but an author!
Most of you have lived a lifetime of paying your dues and often putting others and their needs first. I will pass on Life Lesson Number 201: life has ultimately taught me that I am no less important than the person standing beside me, and neither are you. So, give yourself permission to stretch into foreign territory, without being constrained by what others might think. Set aside the fear of being judged, of not being good enough, and believe that giving something your best shot, whatever the outcome, makes it more than good enough. What’s important is the unselfconscious, risk-taking act of doing. Find that key to the locked drawer filled with all your “one days” and “I’d love to try this, but…”, and just give something a go. And this time, with whatever you decide to take on, enjoy the process and turn a deaf ear to the judgments, even if they are just voices in your head.
** next up. Trying my hand at painting. This painting was done by my grandmother. She picked up her first oil-painting brush at SIXTY-ONE !
A FROG IN THE BATHROOM
Mum used to say, “A change is as good as a rest.” I was never quite sure what she meant by that. When those words came out of her mouth, she often had one eye on my father. Best to leave that alone, so I’ll just say that, in my experience, a change of scene and routine will do you more good than shutting out the world and napping for three days. You don’t need more sleep; your eyes need to open to a change of scene. In other words, sometimes you just need to find a stray frog in the bathroom to truly know you’re not in Kansas anymore.
I’d hit the too-tired-to-give-a crap stage of mental fatigue. Absolutely everything got under my skin. I didn’t like anyone or anything, including myself. Ask my husband. He’ll vouch for this. My usual outlets (writing, gardening, and photography) had lost their charm. Even Netflix lost its appeal. I’m rarely bored, but a year of sheltering-in-place while trying to stay engaged in life had run its creative course. I was drained and done. But what to do?
The easing up of stay-at-home edicts coincided with our 22nd wedding anniversary, my emotional enervation, and both of us being vaccinated. Remember me mentioning my crankiness and general dissatisfaction with life. It’s well known that I’m not one to suffer in silence. My better half was more than ready to get me a lobotomy, send me to a nunnery, or experiment with few days out of town. Lucky for me he chose Option Number Three.
What? Back to the frog? Okay, if you insist, but in a roundabout sort of way.
We packed up the car, arranged pet-sitting for the cat, strapped the dog into his car harness, and headed up to Sedona. I have to throw in the fact that I don’t like road trips. Not at all. I’m rattled by regular cars sharing the freeway with eighteen-wheelers and too many looney-tunes with driver’s licenses, but as soon as we turned off I-17 and the red rocks of Sedona loomed into sight, I felt my humanity return. The road trip was worth it.
Sedona has trees and a rushing creek, and if you are so minded, vortexes and aura readings. Tucson has heat, drought, and mountain views, and yes, my home which I love, but I know you’ve heard about having too much of a good thing, right? Sedona also has resorts with creek access.
Resorts also offer room service and someone to make the bed! After a year of staying at home, never eating out, and planning and making all the meals, this was Nirvana. And don’t bring up camping please. This lady has had her fill of sleeping in a tent, peeing behind a bush, and drinking camp coffee. Been there, done that, for too many bloody years. At my age and level of joint creakiness, I want a luxury bed and bathroom, and someone who, at the press of a button, is delighted to bring me anything from a cocktail to a lovely breakfast. Add in a deck with a perfect reading corner, ducks on the creek, and a property that includes flower gardens, a creek trail, duck beach, and a frog pond…well, what more can one ask for. Frogs in the bathroom were an unrequested but not unfun perk.
Frogs. Plural. One parked on the wooden floor of the outdoor shower. Almost stepped on the poor little bugger. Since I was, shall we say, not dressed to go out, David rescued Frog Number One and popped him back into the pond behind our cottage. Frog Number Two was hiding in the indoor bathroom the day we were leaving. Cutest little, leggy creature. I coaxed him into a plastic cup, topped it with printed page of room service meals, and trotted him back to his favorite lily pad.
So, heed my words. When lethargy settles in and the cranky-meter needle edges into the red zone—and be honest here, we all know when our tempers are shorter than short—it’s time to switch gears, not hide under the covers. Even if working in a getaway isn’t possible, we all have access to a tree-filled park, some even with small lakes; a botanical garden; a friend’s garden; the zoo; an art gallery; or a coffee or ice-cream shop with a patio. Get creative. Exchange houses, apartments and/or pet-sitting with a friend for 24 hours; pack a snack and drive out of town until all the houses disappear; browse a bookstore or a great thrift shop…. Just leave the confines of those same-old/same-old four walls for a while. Trust me, a change is as good as a rest. And sometimes you just need to find a frog in the bathroom.
A CHANGE OF PACE
Even the person you know the best sometimes resembles the common onion. I don't mean to suggest they might have an unappealing smell or make you cry, but rather that they have many layers, not all of which they are willing to peel off to expose a different "self". A more pleasing analogy might be that most of us are multi-faceted, like precious gem stones. That's much nicer, so let’s go with that one, shall we?
Keeping our many different sides in mind, and for a change of pace, I'm going to share a bit of my poetry this time. Let me preface by saying I don’t consider myself a poet, per se. Here and there I’ve hammered a few things out, but I’m not one of those writers who somehow manage to effortlessly release streams of poetry. That skill eludes me. It’s simply not my forte and, yes, one of these days I will submit myself to what I am sure will be a totally humiliating experience: a poetry class. Anyway, occasionally something flows. The emphasis here is, of course on the word occasionally. So here goes:
Recently I jumped into an on-the-fly Twitter challenge. The theme was
High in Velvet Mesquite.
Untidy eaters on feeder.
Rounded shells on gravel.
Flapping away baby quail.
Fast feet chase doves.
Backyard harmony disrupted.
Remember, I did say I wrote it on the fly. Next is a short poem I wrote a while ago, but it recently appeared in the monthly newsletter for a women’s group. They are generous about including submissions from members:
Dismal Desert Day
Trees tremble, branches shimmy,
sitting-out the dance between gusts.
Leaves toss, exposing pale undersides,
littering stone patios with organic debris--
detritus of the unfinished season.
Sickly sun, bedridden and cold,
hides under a grey comforter of clouds.
Birds fluff insulating feathers,
beaks curved like questions marks,
eyes hooded, awaiting Spring.
Grey lizards lounge on grey block walls,
under grey skies unbroken by rainbows.
Poetry, more often than not, is a writing format that comes to me when life is confusing / complicated / painful, and there seems to be no concrete way to handle whatever situation I’ve found myself in. This next one I wrote many, many years ago when life was a tangle of confusing emotions. I’m happy to state that I eventually pulled myself out of this particular rabbit hole.
heart brimming with joy, a moment ago,
now heated tears hover, ready to flow,
tears turn to laughter, I catapult back,
emotional rheostat so out-of-whack,
self-control failing motivation derailing,
I slide, losing ground, I am coming unbound.
can’t get a grip…
on what’s real and what’s not...
I’m overreacting, why can’t I stop?
a gyroscope, spinning ‘round and around,
into the rabbit hole, head first, upside down.
emotional bedlam gaining momentum,
delighted? depressed? could be anyone’s guess.
heart-stopping emotions confuse and surprise,
my composure, control, just transparent lies.
exposed, too vulnerable and raw,
to avert implosion, I have to withdraw.
So I hide in aloofness, I put up a wall
and try to deny I have feelings at all.
Yikes. Glad I made it through that dip in the road. If you are still with me, and bless you if you are, this short piece was my reaction to the suicide (by overdose) of a young and very loved extended family member. I posted, at the time, on my FB page.
Crystal structure: Symmetry, three dimensions on a lattice.
Ordered perfection. Splitting clean on cleavage planes. Refracting and reflecting light.
Human Structure: Complex, double-stranded molecules.
Weakness planes. Pressure from external stresses darkening and dimming light.
Chemical structure: Opiates, Reshuffle signals in the brain.
Symmetry lost. Darkening matrix of depression. Extinguishing and snuffing light.
Not very uplifting, and I apologize for that, but…. sometimes that’s just what life hands us. So I’ll leave you with one that's just fun, changed a bit from the original that some of you have seen before. Simple silliness.
Push Down and Twist
There’s a tamper-proof top, on the jar I just I bought.
I sigh and I glare, then slash, hack, and tear.
But buyer beware, it’s no worse for wear.
Pushing down while I twist,
nearly spraining my wrist, it slips out of my hand…
now the glass is all smashed.
So, I clean up the mess, feeling rather distressed.
A new movie might sooth, get me back in the groove.
But the new DVD’s, sealed in plastic I see.
The wrapping’s too tight. It puts up quite a fight.
I grab something sharp, to rip packaging apart.
But I stab my own hand, drop the knife,
and it lands, sticking into my toe.
And, what do you know?
The DVD now is bent, and my energy’s spent.
It can’t just be me, who can’t seem to free,
all these things that are trapped,
in protective shrink wrap, that teases and taunts,
flaunting stuff that I want.
My head starts to ache, must find aspirin to take.
The new bottle is sealed. This is too damn surreal.
So I prod, poke, and pry. No matter how hard I try,
I can’t open the top, can’t get the seal off.
I twist and I turn until fingertips burn,
but, the pills they stay sealed.
Wait! A hammer I’ll wield!
Damn… I just broke my thumb, and my hand’s going numb.
Might we discern, as a safety concern,
when frustration mounts, rising blood pressure counts?
Someone listen to my plea, to stop protecting me,
to this unreasonable degree?
Could common sense be the key?
...That's all folks !
Have you noticed giddiness running rampant among friends who’ve had their COVID19 vaccines? It’s contagious. I’ve even witnessed a few honest-to-God giggles, and I definitely sense a collective feeling very reminiscent of being released for recess in grade school. This whole vaccine thing is turning out to be a collective experience—a sigh of relief—that we can all celebrate, independent of political party or social POV (Okay…maybe not if you’re a conspiracy theorist.) It’s the most positive thing that’s happened since we all retired to our collective homes to hunker down for the duration back in March 2020.
My husband and I sailed through both of our vaccines without any side effects, but we were prepared for the worst. I even made Jello and stocked up on chicken noodle soup, both of which are our go-to flu and cold remedies. Oh, and of course, we stocked up on the magic cure for all that ails you: Ice Cream ! Like most of you, I was prepared to endure some flu misery in exchange for even 80% immunity to this miserable, life-sucking, hateful virus. We’ve become a society where guarantees are expected (or we sue), but nothing in this life comes with a 100% guarantee, so 80% immunity is more than good enough for me!
As much relief as I feel, I don’t want to uncork the champagne too soon. I am definitely flirting with optimism again, hoping that the doors that slammed our individual worlds shut will open up a smidgen. I know I can see daylight leaking through the crack. I wonder if any of us expect life and society to spring back to what we knew as “normal” in the pre-COVID days? I think some of that is lost forever, but I do think that most of us are willing to settle for at least a semblance of the old normalcy: family gatherings without fear of contracting or spreading the virus, dinners out, enjoying art fairs, attending movies and concerts and maybe even an in-person class. I don’t want to ruin my positive mood by being an alarmist, but I have to say that I plan to temper my hopefulness with common sense. I’m all about continuing to mask and distance from those I don’t trust to be responsible. And, before you judge, my level of risk may be different from yours, so we’ll all have to venture out understanding that each individual will break out of their cocoon in their own way.
But, to keep the post-vaccine party theme going, breakfasts out and restaurant dinners are definitely part of my game plan. There are friends I want to see outside of the constraints of ZOOM, and new (online) friendships to explore on a face-to-face level. The past year has revealed that I can get by with much less personal contact than I thought, but I’m not cut out to be a complete recluse either. Getaways are back on the calendar as well. My husband, myself, and the dog have a few vacation days on books in May and a few more in September. Fingers crossed please that we won’t get slammed back into lockdown.
So, in the spirit of spring and summer entertaining, I’ll leave you with a fabulous fruit cobbler recipe that you can make for your next get-together. (and if you switch the butter for vegan butter and the milk for almond milk, this cobbler is perfect to share with vegan friends and family)
Rhubarb-Strawberry Cobbler (Click READ MORE for the recipe)
Do you feel pressured to maintain a younger persona than your years, and how do we even define younger? Do you devote hours to slimming exercise and drool over food you really, really want to eat, but won’t allow yourself? I’m speaking mainly to the women here. From what I observe, men are okay with pulling their belts down to release their bellies from restriction, while women jam themselves into more and more perverted versions of “shapewear.” Am I sounding sexist here? Okay then, I can live with that.
I recently watched some old black and white movies from the late 1930s and 1940s. One in particular, called Four Wives (1939) jump-started my current train of thought. In this movie, four young women of marriageable age have joined the race to find suitable husbands. Their father is a widower, and his sister, Aunt Etta, is the mother figure in residence, and it is she who inspired this run-away ramble.
Aunt Aunt Etta is an active, vital part of the household, and based on the age of the father and the girls, she must be in her fifties or sixties at the outside. Now clear your mind of any visual reference to anyone you know today in that age group. Aunt Etta’s 1939 physical persona is presented in a dowdy housedress, unsupported breasts hanging to her waist and feet laced into sturdy, sensible shoes. Her hair is pulled into an untidy grey bun, and I don’t think she wore the lightest touch of lipstick. There must have been something very comforting about these motherly, Aunt Etta types, always wearing an apron and fussing about the kitchen, ready to offer a cup of tea or a re-assuring hug. Their place in life was defined, and they seemed content with the status quo. Back then, if an older woman gained a bit around the middle or her hair greyed, no one thought twice about. Make-overs weren’t offered, expected, or requested.
Based on thickened waistlines and the fashion dictates of the 1930s, there was no mistaking a woman in her fifties for a woman in her thirties. With the exception of Hollywood glamour queens, the average woman dressed “age appropriately.” I remember my own trim grandmother passing on a dress because it was “too young for her.” She came out of an era where the mothers and grandmothers believed they’d had their “time”, and were happy to step aside to let the younger generation shine. Sometimes, when I see women killing themselves to look as good as their much younger daughters, I’m not sure if we’ve really “come a long way, baby.”
So who was better off—women in the mid-1900s who were allowed to let their middles expand and their hair turn grey, or women today who don’t look much different at fifty-five than they did at thirty-five? Which generation is trapped by society’s expectations? It’s wonderful that women today stay active way beyond fifty and refuse to be relegated to the bleachers, but I sometimes despair over what is expected of us.
I have to wonder whether the female Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers are looking younger longer because of improved diet, greater sexual freedom, more gym time, and better beauty products, or is it because more and more woman are turning to surgical procedures, hormone injections, and Botox to prove that sixty is the new forty? Aren’t we still sixty on the inside no matter what we do to the packaging? If it takes tummy tucks, liposuction, and kidney-damaging KETO diets to fit into those size 4 jeans, maybe we need to take a collective breath and rethink.
And along those lines, whose fault is it anyway that cosmetic procedures have become de rigor? Advertisers? Men? Hollywood. Not really. It’s an inside job. We all make noises about how no one has the right to criticize what someone else wears in public—Wal-Mart patrons excepted—but we do, don’t we? We nudge, we tip our heads towards the offender and raise our eyebrows. Little comments are exchanged, and we settle into our slim and fashionable superiority as we adjust our Spanx, or wave away that croissant that now we can’t justify enjoying it in public. Do we walk away happy, feeling deprived, or maybe just a little bit ashamed? Do we wait until we’re alone to sneak that yummy treat, only to obsessively exercise away the extra calories? I’m not pointing the finger here, just posing questions. I’m as guilty as the next person of all of the above, and I’m asking myself why.
After all this rambling, what’s become apparent to me is that none of us will truly be as free of societal constraints as we think we are until we stop judging each other. We will truly have come a long way once we accept ourselves, and each other, for being our genuine, individual selves, without peer pressure to starve or slice-and-dice to fit in. Don’t say it isn’t there. It might be subtle, but judgmental peer pressure is alive and well and living among us.
So lovely ladies, whether a size 4 or a size 12, we are the glue that holds society together, and we need to never forget that. Our aging, child-bearing bodies are to be celebrated, and our collective wisdom is our shield against the shallowness of youth, not gut-restricting shapewear or liposuction. And next time someone offers you a croissant, for God’s sake, accept and enjoy it…and sure, go for a run afterwards if you must.
Photos below: My grandmother at 65 and at 92.
HITTING MY EXPIRATION DATE?
Age may just be a number, but when there’s a really BIG number looming on the birthday horizon, it’s impossible not to ruminate about its significance. So, hang on my lovelies (men included here) while I meander my way along this muddy streambed.
I came across this interesting little tidbit. In 1950 the life expectancy for newborns was around 60 years, and only in parts of the world with advanced nutrition and health care like North America. I was born in Canada in 1949. Since 60 has come and gone, I’ve definitely outlived my original expiration date! I say original, with my fingers crossed, because in later years the global, average, life expectancy was raised to 72.6 years. That number, 72, tucked itself into the recesses of my subconscious. In my forties I took out a life insurance policy that would expire at 72.
When we’re in our twenties, as hard as it is then to imagine getting old, we still entertain expectations of how life would be by the time we reached certain milestone birthdays. As life progresses, reality usually pushes imaginings into the nearest ditch. I know I don’t speak for everyone, but….
By the time I hit 60, I’d long let go of my picture of reaching that “ripe, old age” surrounded by grandchildren and a large, extended family. I actually felt anything but old when I turned 60. Relieved, maybe, to have made it that far after a cancer diagnosis at 51, but not old. The decade between 50 and 60 had been a bit of a bitch. So, by the time I turned 60, I was into living life and ready to make up for lost time, which I started doing right out of the gate. On my 60th birthday, my husband joined me for my first ballroom dance lesson. Jumping on the birthday bandwagon he also arranged for a golf lesson with a pro, and took me on my first ever bike ride along a biking trail. The weekend included a super Italian dinner with our kids (blended family), finished off with a great cake! I was on a roll.
I continued racking up new experiences: the exhilaration (pure terror) of my first snow skiing lesson including a face-plant in the snow (ski lift exit), the nervous thrill of stepping out of my comfort zone to dance in expos and competitions (ballroom & country-western), and the total rush of zip-lining five courses as I tried to keep up with a cousin 20+ years my junior. I made memories travelling with girlfriends. We expanded our family by one additional recue dog and a Humane Society cat. As I continued to hone my writing skills, more stories and poems were accepted for publication. I started revising one of my draft novels. I even ventured back into the classroom, becoming a student for the first time in 30 years. I hit 70 on a high note. My husband brought my best friend over from England as a birthday surprise, and my finished novel was published a few weeks before the end of that year.
So, you ask, if the big traumatic event isn’t turning 60 or even 70, then what the hell is it? Turning SEVENTY-TWO, I say, a little tremulously! That subconsciously feared expiration date of 72 recently jumped out of hiding and started strutting its stuff. The numbers flashed in front of my face like a huge, neon billboard. The words reverberated like being inside Big Ben at high noon. (At least before its bells were shut down for repairs. A hint maybe that I should shut down for repairs?)
It’s always interesting what ends up buried in one’s mind and even more interesting is when it decides to claw its way up to the surface. Bloody hell. Get a grip, woman. Deep breath. I believe I now have all of this angst more or less sorted and under control.
So…statistics be damned. I’m not done yet! (My mouth to God’s ear.) I have books waiting to be read, friendships to explore, writing to tackle, French to re-learn, and wonders to capture with my camera lens. I’m not ready to let go of most of my “stuff” (although I’ve started passing some of it on.) I need to live long enough to outlive my critters and ensure they are loved, but not so long that I outlive my husband. I don’t think I could make it on my own.
I will acknowledge the BIG 72 with a grateful heart, a few regrets I’m coming to terms with, and optimistic plans that extend a few years out. And, damn the diet; however I spend the big day it will include CAKE. Have you seen the viral video where a cake is “carved” via being scooped up with wine glasses. THIS ONE ! I want to do THAT!!
So, on February 2, please raise a glass with me (filled with cake or champagne, your choice), as I venture forward. I’ll banish entrenched old thinking, and toast to being here same time next year to celebrate turning 73. You are all invited. There will be cake.
Top picture in dress always worn to birthday parties. Approx. age 5 or 6. Montreal
cake server courtesy of my friend Jo, who knows me too well.
EVERYTHING'S COMING UP ROSES?
Whether it’s the start of a new year or a milestone like a birthday, we all need a fresh starting point from which we can say, “From this day forward, everything will be better.” My starting point is New Year’s Day, when I open my new, tightly wrapped wall calendar. Each page holds so much promise. My calendar is a threshold to a clean slate: memories to be made, opportunities to grasp, and resolutions to be fulfilled.
However, the older I get, the more I realize that opening up my new calendar only changes the month and year, not life itself, at least not on a human level. The sun will continue to rise and set, the moon will move through its phases, the weather will be whatever it decides to be—all independent of human intervention. As cliché as it might be, the only thing we mortals have the power to change is ourselves and how we react to those around us. Maybe though, if we step into this new year with a fresh attitude instead of the blind belief that, somehow, this year will be better, we might actually generate the change we so want. A simple ripple in the pond can grow into a widening circle.
Change is hard. Recognizing the fact that it’s often ourselves, not the other person, who has to change is harder. Baby steps. We can start small by consciously being kinder and more tolerant. We can be slower to anger and temper our reactions to a perceived slight or cross word. We all have flaws. Yes, I do mean you, but I also mean me. Flaws will show themselves in even the tightest weave, and cutting some slack just might keep the peace instead of causing everything to unravel. I know you’ve all been there. Makes me think about that old maxim I heard over and over from my mother: those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Holds as true today as it did when I was under my parents’ roof.
I think we need to step backward to move forward. What if we raised the bar on our everyday social interactions by bringing back the lost art of civil discourse? We could make a collective resolution to move into 2021 practicing something as ridiculously simple as saying “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. I’ll go one step further and add “excuse me” instead of “what the hell?” or “get out of my way, jerk.” That doesn’t sound so painful, does it? We can learn to bite our tongues, swallowing that critical or defensive thought before we let it fly into the ethers. It’s not a boomerang. You can’t get it back. Stilling our fingers on the keyboard (or thumbs on our mobile devices), and having that second think before we hit ‘send’ could make our small corner of the world a kinder, gentler place. I’m showing my age here, but I truly believe there were fewer misunderstandings when people hand-wrote letters, talked on the phone, or better yet, conversed face-to-face. You can’t insert intonation into a text no matter how many emojis you plug into the message.
Smiles light up our eyes. We can try smiling more underneath our masks, which we all WILL wear because this nasty virus can’t survive without a human host. And maybe, if we are lucky enough to find ourselves with a bit of extra cash this year, we could gift a bit to the food bank, the diaper bank, a pet rescue, or someone you know who’s doing their best but having a damn hard time anyway. Practice kindness and stop judging.
I opened my new 2021 calendar this morning and found a Facebook friend’s dog (one of his Australian Terriers) featured on the January page. Such a lovely surprise. Now to put all my words into action, I must remember to tell him how special that was. Being an optimist, I truly do wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year, filled with joy and opportunities to make wonderful memories. But I stick by my pragmatic guns and have to say that if we want 2021 to be a better year, making it so is on us. Collectively, we can do it.
photo: sun reflecting on the Santa Catalina Mountains, New Year's Eve, 2020
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Thanksgiving now behind us, we are free to let the madness begin. What? Yes, I know the election is over…not that kind of mad/madness...we’ve all had enough of that. I mean the shut-the-bad-stuff-out kind of madness. The good kind that takes over when we jump off the deep end into a pool of holiday magic. Don’t tell me you’re too worn out from election and pandemic stresses to even think about the holidays? Hands over ears ! Not listening! The raw truth is that what you need now more than anything is as much Christmas/Hanukkah spirit as you can muster. So light those menorahs, write those cards, unpack the sparkly tree ornaments, deck the halls, and make a mess baking holiday treats. Let’s laugh in the face of this dismal year and sweep it out with holiday cheer! Spike the eggnog if you must. The show must go on.
This year Christmas might be a bit different, but it will still BE. For past Christmases in this house, we’ve re-arranged the living room to accommodate our 8’ x 5’ train table: three sets of train tracks, three engines and cars, a ceramic village, a skating rink, and an array of village people and critters. And, of course, we always put up an over-sized, fully decorated tree. The house is usually decked out like something between “Whoville on steroids” and “a Martha Stewart Christmas.” Whimsy is balanced with elegance: the crystal Sherry decanter sitting alongside the ceramic bear that my son made in Cub Scouts. This year, because it’s just us, we’ll bring things down a notch, but we’ve still unpacked enough Christmas decorations to remind us that the year is winding down once again, and it’s time for everyday business to shove over and make room for holiday gaieties.
Some things will change this year, but what will stay the same is our joy of this season. Throwing a party might be out, but sharing is still in. Christmas cards made on Shutterfly are getting signed and mailed; we’ve given to Toys for Tots and written a stack of donation checks to charities; some of our gifts to friends and family are already on their merry way; the rest will be wrapped while I watch The Nutcracker and sip eggnog. We’ll have a Christmas this year no matter what. The only thing missing will be the in-person sharing.
One of my favorite holiday memories is a day, too many years ago, when a friend and I helped each other decorate our homes. We set up her village of Christmas cottages and winter scenes first, and then at my house we put out my magnetic skating rink with skaters and sledders and pine trees. We reverted back to two little kids playing house: the ceramic people became real as we gave them life stories and discussed where they might be going and what they were up to. Christmas gave us permission to turn off the adult and become wide-eyed children again. That sums up Christmas for me !
Whether alone this year or in a small bubble, try to remember that while the surface of Christmas might be colorful wrapped packages and twinkling lights, the heart of Christmas is the promise of peace, the spirit of giving, and goodwill towards all mankind. Whether you light candles on Christmas Eve, Solstice, or during the eight nights of Hanukkah, the effect is the same: encouraging light, love and kindness into the world. Every year we believe that enlightenment might happen, that hearts might stay open past the dawn of the new year, and I’m still unjaded enough to believe that we can make that happen. But not if we all don’t try.
So light a candle, wish on a star, open your heart, and let Christmas in.