Saturday, May 31, 2008

50 and Feeling Great!

My goal last fall was to be as fit as ever by my 50th birthday. That didn’t happen, but there are so many other aspects about my life that are better than ever. Internally, I am happier, more satisfied with myself and calmer than I was in my younger days. My relationships are more precious – my husband whose eyes still twinkle when he looks at me, my teenage daughter who I feared was pulling away but who surprised me with a declaration of how much she cares, the young man who sort of lives with us who gave me a birthday card that I treasure, my family who gathers around with witty conversation and laughter, my friends who will join me today to celebrate my birthday – all are relationships that are richer and more satisfying than I could have imagined twenty or thirty years ago. My work as a volunteer in the adoption community is more personally satisfying than my professional career ever was, even though I also enjoyed that challenge at the time. My commitment to exercise and health is strong and helps me start each day feeling good physically. Yes, it’s true that I didn’t reach my goal of being as fit as ever, but I woke up early this morning with an immediate awareness that I am now 50 – and I smiled!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Every Queen Needs Her Crown

Every Queen needs her crown. Those were the words written in a birthday card I received earlier this week along with a silver crown with the number 50 right in the middle. The friend that sent it addressed the package to “Her Royal Highness, Queen of Debbieland.” (For an explanation of this, see my February 12th blog, Six Word Memoirs.) Upon opening the package and putting on the crown, I stated to my kids that I would wear the crown all week in anticipation of my birthday that is this weekend. Stunned and worried, my eleven-year-old son said, “You aren’t going to pick us up at school this week; are you?” Obviously, he felt he’d be a bit embarrassed by having his mom show up at school wearing a crown, yet two days later when I came downstairs in the morning without the crown, he immediately asked where it was and went to my room to get it for me.

As promised, I’ve worn the crown all week – at home, to the grocery store, bank and post office, out to dinner and to see the new Indiana Jones movie last night. It’s been fun to watch people’s reactions. Most people don’t say a thing (my oldest son says that’s because they don’t want to engage in a conversation with a crazy lady), but many do and those that do say something seem to think it’s fun that I’m proudly wearing my crown and proclaiming my upcoming birthday. My dry cleaner even asked if she could borrow the crown later this year when she turns 50. Would I have done this at 20 or 30? I doubt it. At those ages I was still too worried about what other people might think and I didn’t have enough self-confidence to pull off being “different”. The crown is perhaps along the same vein as the “old” woman in the poem who proclaims that she will wear purple, but that’s okay. I’m happy to be at a stage in my life when I can wear a crown, feel like a queen and not feel foolish about it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Soul Mates

The topic of soul mates came up this past weekend when my husband made a comment about us being soul mates and our 25-year-old niece asked if we really believed in one true soul mate. At the time, I said that I wasn’t sure about the one true soul mate idea, but that I do believe that there are people with whom we connect more closely and that a marriage based on that type of connection is a wonderful thing. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about soul mates. What does the term mean? Is there really one person amongst all those in the world that is best suited for another specific person? Do we put too much emphasis on the idea of finding the “right one”? I have a lot of questions, but not necessarily a lot of answers. What I do know is that I cannot imagine that there is anyone else who would fit with me as well as my husband does. As he said, “I haven’t met anyone that would,” and neither have I.

While getting ready this morning, I asked my husband if he thinks we would have connected in the same way if we’d met later in our lives or is part of our connection that we’ve grown-up together. He laughed and said that he could imagine us meeting at a Ducks’ football game. He said he’d be the person behind me saying, “Lady, will you please sit down! And quit that awful screaming thing you’re doing.” I like to think that my enthusiasm at football games is one of my traits that my husband somewhat adores about me; however, if he didn’t already love me, perhaps he’d find that trait (and many others, I’m sure) annoying rather than adorable. Then again, maybe the reason we’re soul mates is because we find even those little annoying traits to be somewhat adorable.

I read a magazine article recently that made the point: a good marriage is one where both partners feel they’ve gotten a good deal. My husband and I will celebrate our 31st anniversary next week and, one true soul mate or not, I got a great deal and I try to do all I can to make sure my husband feels the same way.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yesterday Regrets, Today Gratitude

The one benefit to thinking about regrets is that you then have the opportunity to put them in their place, in the past, and look, with gratitude, at who and what you are today. Regrets give off negative energy, but gratitude fills me up with positive energy.

As I look at gratitude, I see two different types. One type is the more typical feeling of gratitude for what we have in our lives. For instance, I am grateful for parents who loved me and each other, who gave me opportunities to grow, to be independent and to gain confidence. I am grateful for the intelligence they passed on to me biologically and the work ethic to go with it that they passed on by their example. I was fortunate to marry my best friend at a relatively young age and I am grateful that we, as a couple, have been able to grow our relationship as we’ve grown-up together.

The other type of blessing for which I feel grateful is not for a specific person or event, but for a general attitude or outlook. I believe that much of what is good about my life is because of a basic positive outlook. Was I born with it? Did I learn it? I don’t know; however, I suspect that it’s at least a little of both. I remember having a fairly sunny disposition as a child, but I also know that I worked at learning how to stay positive, how to look at situations as opportunities, not problems. That outlook is now very much a part of who I am and maintaining it usually doesn’t feel like work. I am so very grateful that I have, at my core, a positive outlook.

My gratitude list could go on and on – it’s much longer, and a lot more fun, than my list of regrets. Sure, we’re all stuck with some regrets that we cannot deny or erase, but we can offset those regrets with an abundance of gratitude. When I think of the word regret, I think of slogging down into a muddy pit – it feels bad and it’s hard to make any progress. When I think of gratitude, I think of an upward spiraling air current filled with pixie dust – it looks and feels beautiful and I think I might just be able to fly on it.

I am grateful that I like to fly!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Regrets

With my 50th birthday quickly approaching, I can’t help but look back and analyze where I’ve been so far and part of that analysis must be a look at regrets. While I don’t have many regrets, I do have a few and the one that comes most quickly to my mind is a situation when I was in high school and I lied to my dad. No physical harm came from the lie and I don’t think he ever knew that I had lied, but, in a roundabout way, the lie hurt his feelings and that I truly regret. My kids read this blog so I’m not going to go into the specifics of the lie, but I will say that it was born out of self-indulgence and I learned then that a lie, even one that gets me what I want, simply isn’t worth the possible emotional harm it can cause.

That lie is really my only regret that involves another person. My other, few, regrets revolve around actions I did or did not take for myself. For instance, I regret that I didn’t push myself to write earlier, though I can rationalize that with the idea that I wasn’t yet ready for the exercise. That’s an okay rationalization with probably some truth to it, but I fear that it’s probably more accurate to say that I was too lazy (not normally a quality I associate with myself) to do the work. I also regret that I’ve spent so much time and energy dealing with the weight issue. I don’t regret the result, because I’ve been able to keep myself at a fairly healthy weight against the odds of genetics and environment, but I just wish I could have gotten a better handle on the issue early-on; just think of what else I might have had the energy for!

While this isn’t a complete list of my regrets, it’s all I care to go into. Thinking about regrets is pretty much a negative exercise and I’m not interested in expending much in the way of negative energy. I know there are people who have a long list of regrets and I feel fortunate that my list, even if it were complete, is short, but the good thing about a regret is that it’s an indication of growth: we did or did not do something and we’re now able to see that truth, allowing us to move forward and become a better person, acting in ways that, hopefully, spur gratitude, not regret.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Not Ready or Beyond?

I recently started reading Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. It’s been getting a lot of attention and I’m always open to new ideas and ways to improve myself. I was about halfway through the book when I realized that, not only was I not enjoying it or getting anything out of it, but it was, for me, quite boring. So I set it aside. The next day, I was in a bookstore buying a few books, when a woman browsing in the same section started talking to me. Eventually she asked if I’d read A New Earth. I told her about starting the book and deciding not to finish it. She replied, “Oh, you just aren’t ready then,” and she turned and walked away. What? Not ready? Not ready for what? I found the comment a little offensive, but went on my way. The following day, I was in line at another bookstore which was having a going-out-of-business sale, when I began talking with the woman in front of me about the wonderful bargains. She agreed and went on to point out to me that there were several copies of A New Earth still available if I hadn’t already read it. I gave her my little rundown about not liking the book and, much to my surprise, she said, “Oh, that just means you aren’t ready for it.” She turned from me, quickly finished her transaction and left. I stepped up to the counter, feeling a little irritated by this comment that kept being thrown at me. After all, I consider myself to be a fairly enlightened person with a huge amount of empathy for the other lives sharing this earth. I revel in the beauty of nature. In the past few years I’ve found an inner peace that guides my days. What gave these two women the right to decry that I’m “not ready”? As I set down my books, I made a comment to the bookseller who had witnessed the conversation and he said, “Perhaps it’s not that you’re not ready; perhaps you’re just beyond.” Having always strived to excel, I liked that perspective, but still, the comments continued to bother me, so I went back to the book.

I re-read portions, I tuned into Oprah’s webcast and watched a bit of it, I read an interview with the author and I still don’t want to read the entire book and I still do not see what all of the excitement is about. I can see that the book has some ideas for improving how we live our lives, how we experience the world around us, but, as with many self-help books, the author takes a few points and stretches them out to make an entire book. The short interview had, I believe, as much concrete information as the entire book. I am bothered, too, by the author’s statement early in the book that his book will be life-changing for the reader and, if the reader has already started the journey of awakening, the reader will be further awakened by the book. However, if the reader does not like the book, well, that means he’s just not ready – Mr. Tolle pretty much makes it clear that you must enjoy the book or find yourself unworthy of it. I’ve decided to put the book back in the garage sale bag and take on the bookseller’s viewpoint that I’m not unready or unworthy, just beyond.

Post-script: If you’re a fan of A New Earth, I’m sure that you’re saying to yourself, well, she’s just shown her ego! And I just want to say, that I’m okay with that – my ego and my humanity walk side-by-side and I like the person that, together, they make-up.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Legacy

Last week my husband and I went to a fundraiser for a local children’s charity. Throughout the evening, the question was asked: What will your legacy be? It’s a thought provoking question and one we should all ask ourselves, whether we’re fifteen or fifty. What do we want to accomplish in this lifetime? What are our goals, dreams and ambitions? What do we want our legacy to be? When the question was first asked last week, my immediate response to myself was, I’m happy with what my legacy will be. And I am. I know I still have much to do, many goals to accomplish, dreams to fulfill, but overall, I am happy with what I have done during my lifetime. However, I think this is a question I will continue to ask myself because I want to be sure that I continue to grow, to develop and to achieve. I’d like my legacy to be ever-changing, always improving.

What will your legacy be?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pathetic

Recently I sent a friend an e-mail complaining about this and that: the ten pounds I haven’t lost, the craziness of our lives. After writing the e-mail, I read back through it and added a postscript: I sound pathetic. Her reply, “Well, it’s good to know that you have pathetic days, too.” I realized that, in attempting to keep the message of this blog positive, I have neglected writing when I’m not feeling my best. You could go back and track my negative moods by the times that a string of dates go by without a blog entry. As I listened to my friend say that she was glad I have pathetic days, I realized that it’s been unfair to paint only a rosy picture of this aging process. I try to keep my mood upbeat and to look at the changes taking place from a positive viewpoint, but there are certainly days, or strings of days, when I’m not at my best, when the extra weight truly weighs me down, when others’ demands on my time seem unbearable, when I feel as if I’ve lost myself. It’s times like those when whining to a good friend is more necessary than ever. Sometimes, just putting the negativity into words can offset the feelings and turn the mood around. I guess the lesson I always try to teach myself is that those times are rare, their effect fleeting and it’s just necessary to look forward to the positive times that will, undoubtedly, follow.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Restart Queen

Last fall I told myself that I was going to “up” the level of my fitness commitment so that I’d be my best ever by my 50th birthday, then my back went out in early November and again in December so my workouts became almost non-exist for a month. During that time I also decided to relax my attention to eating well and, as a result, I gained ten pounds. On January 1st, I told myself and my blog readers that I was back on track and that the ten pounds would quickly melt away. Well, that hasn’t quite happened. A string of illness in our family during the first three months of the year followed by our wonderful European vacation and then stress over the adoption conference, taxes, regular family stuff, etc. has resulted in my weight being at an all-time non-pregnancy related high. So, as in the past, I will start again with a new fitness commitment.

It’s tough starting over, though. I am excited and hopeful, but I feel that I’ve been beaten up so many times in this weight loss battle. The difference now is that the few pounds feel like so much more. I’m gaining weight differently as I approach 50. What used to be just a little pudgy in my tummy is now flab around my entire middle! I mentioned this at my Pokeno group last week and the exclamations of agreement around the table were startling. It seems that as we begin this aging process, our bodies respond in new, different and, sometimes, unwelcome ways. There’s a lot that’s great about this time of life: the serenity, the questions of what can be next, the blossoming wisdom; but there are also aspects, like weight gain and distribution, that simply suck!

However, I’m going to hold on to the hopeful thoughts. After all, this could be the time when I lick weight issues for good. It took several attempts to quit smoking before it stuck almost thirty years ago. I’ve had more than several tries at weight loss, but I guess it’s at least good to keep trying. I’ve kept major obesity at bay, I enjoy exercising and it’s better to be the Restart Queen than the Give-Up Grump.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Me Day

Last Sunday a friend of mine cancelled her daughter’s regular Sunday activity in order to have one quiet day amidst their very busy schedule. My friend anticipated it as her “Me Day”. Monday morning she sent me an e-mail, laughing at herself because, even though she had done a few things for herself: watched a TV episode she had recorded, caught up on my blog (Thank-you!) and read for a little while, most of her day had been consumed with activities that we would not normally associate with a Me Day. She washed the dog and her car, vacuumed the entire house, mopped the kitchen and bathroom floors and cleaned the hamster cage. Her Me Day was not the relaxing, stay-in-your-pajamas-and-read-a-book day that she had anticipated. How often do we do that to ourselves? I know that I find it hard to take a day and savor it just for myself. Just like my friend, even on days when I plan to relax, I end up finding things to do around the house; it’s hard to sit back and relax when there is work to be done.

This week I had the opportunity to accompany my husband on an out-of-town business trip. There was a day when he had meetings all day and I had nothing planned. When he said goodbye in the morning, he said, “Have a good day, but I can’t imagine what you’ll do all day.” Well, there I was in a luxurious hotel, lying on a plush mattress with a book and the cup of coffee my husband had brought up to me from the lobby. I didn’t really care if I did nothing more than sip that coffee and read that book for the rest of the day. I had planned to go for a run, but suddenly the comfort of the bed, the quiet in the room, the book in my hands all seemed to call to me more strongly than did my running shoes. So, I did what every person in my position should do, I called room service, ordered breakfast and I settled in.

I did eventually go for a run and, after checking out of the hotel, I spent some time just sitting by the river watching children feed the seagulls and geese, but I did those things on my own time, without hurrying, without worrying about what chores need to be done at home – it was truly a Me Day!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Friends

Long-term relationships go through many stages and that’s perhaps most noticeable in the case of a relationship that begins when one person is a child. Such is the case with my relationship with the young woman mentioned in Friday’s Blog. I eagerly anticipated the birth of this person and I was there to hold her in my arms just hours after she was born. When she was a toddler, she spent the night before Easter with us while her parents had a night alone and we showed her how to hunt for Easter Eggs in the morning. As a young girl beginning to grow up, I gave her a small string of “pearls” – her first. She and her siblings have always been a part of our family. A few years ago, this young woman went off to college and we saw less of her – mostly at holidays and in the summer. When she’s been home and we’re there, it’s always as part of a large group (there are six children in our family and five in theirs). This past Thursday when she and I had lunch together and spent the afternoon touring her college, it was the first time I can remember spending one-on-one time with her in many, many years. I was so pleased to find that the basis of the literally lifelong relationship easily merged into a relationship of friends. No longer is she the baby whose diaper needs changing or the little girl who scraped her knee. She is a beautiful young woman and I loved finding myself in the role of her older, but dear, friend. And how strange to find myself in that “older” role and loving it!

Sometimes the stages of a relationship go unnoticed as we change slowly over time, but sometimes, when the change is the dramatic change of twenty years beginning with birth, the stages of the relationship are blatantly evident. How wonderful to find a new friend, a new relationship, with someone who has always been a friend.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Graduation

I spent yesterday afternoon with the college-age daughter of our friends who are more like family than family. I’ve known this young woman since she was born – I was at the hospital to welcome and hold her just hours after she was born. Now, she is 22 years-old and a college senior. She has another year of school to finish because she’s changed her major and her school, but many of her friends are graduating next week. Throughout lunch we discussed her change of major and how she is feeling about that change and the change of schools, then she took me to the campus where she has gone to school for the last 3-1/2 years to give me a tour and to introduce me to her friends. As I met each person, I’d ask if they are graduating this year and, if they are, what their plans are for after graduation. What a wonderful collection of ideas, ambitions and dreams! I loved seeing the excitement on their faces as they told me of their plans; the enthusiasm was palpable. These are young people stepping out on their own for the first time in their lives. They’ve finished college and now are ready to set their plans into play. As I listened to them answering my question, I realized that we don’t have to save that type of enthusiasm and planning for youth and for big occasions like graduations; we can step into each day with a new plan, perhaps a revised plan, and put that plan into play. I am inspired by what I heard yesterday afternoon.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Changing Faces

My husband and I saw a movie awhile ago starring an actress in her mid-fifties. The actress, while still quite beautiful, was definitely aging. I wondered if she really did have so many wrinkles or if wrinkles were added through make-up for the part. I think she probably does have that many wrinkles.

All my life I’ve cursed my bad genes. I come from a fat family. Very few of my aunts, uncles or cousins are a normal weight. I struggle daily to keep my weight reasonable. Now I find myself feeling grateful for my good genes. I come from a family with very few wrinkles. As a teenager I lamented that my fair skin would not achieve a decent tan. The summer I turned thirteen, my olive complexioned neighbor and I were out in the sun every day slathered in baby oil. I even mixed iodine in mine to further darken my skin. It didn’t help much. By the end of the summer I wasn’t as dark as my neighbor had been in June and my tan was still so pale that, unless I revealed my tan lines, nobody even realized I was darker. I never again tried very hard to tan. Whenever I was in a situation where others were going out to lie by the pool, I’d beg off and find something else to do. I didn’t like to simply lie around all day. I’m not sure if that was because I’m too antsy for that sort of inactivity or if it was a subconscious coping mechanism since I knew the time spent lying in the sun by a pool would bring about disappointing results anyway. Now, when I look in the mirror and see only a few wrinkles, I am so grateful that my skin didn’t cooperate with tanning when I was young. Many of my tanned friends are now showing the results of their years of sunbathing.

I’ve noticed that between the ages of forty and fifty many women’s faces change dramatically. I’ve noticed a few more wrinkles over the past couple of years as well as some loose skin under my chin. I’m in better shape now than I was in my twenties; I’m happy with my life and I feel pretty comfortable about being fifty soon, but I’m scared to have my face change. A friend in her sixties recently told me that she is still surprised by the face in the mirror every time she sees herself. In her mind’s eye, she is still the woman she was in her twenties and thirties.

As little children, our appearance changes dramatically from year to year, but sometime in our teens our features take on the look that we will wear for the next few decades. When I was forty-five, my face had looked virtually the same for the last thirty years. Now, as I see the lines beginning to show and the skin beginning to sag, I am faced with the reality that my face, the face I have known for the last thirty-plus years, is going to be changing dramatically. And it does scare me. My face is the visual expression of who I am. I am familiar with it. I know how to enhance it with make-up; know what products it responds to best. I know how it will look when I make a certain expression. I want to go through these changes gracefully. I want to be one of those women who, though aging, still shine with beauty and class; who adjust to their changing features and learn anew how to enhance them. I want my changing face to be a reflection of the ever-changing, ever-growing person I am and hope to be. I may be surprised when I look in the mirror, but I hope I’m not disappointed.