Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mature Panties


I went into a Victoria’s Secret store recently to buy some panties for a gift.  I explained to the salesgirl (she wasn’t old enough to be a saleslady or a saleswoman) that I was looking for something cute that would be appropriate for a young teen.  She took me to a display of bright colored panties in styles ranging from thongs to hip huggers.  She explained to me that the panties were on sale for “5 for $26” – a good price for Victoria’s Secret panties.  She then went on to say, “…and the best part is that you can mix-&-match!  You could buy three pairs for your gift and then get two pairs for yourself.  I can show you the area in the back where we have our mature panties.”  Mature panties!?!?  What exactly does a mature panty look like?  Is it wrinkled?  Does it have wisdom?  Has it been around the block a time or two?  Obviously, that wasn’t what she meant by mature panty, but still, do I really look like I wear mature panties?  A few years ago our niece and two of our daughters got into a conversation at dinner about panty styles and they laughed hysterically about granny panties – you know the ones they were talking about:  white cotton, full cut, fit at the waist.  Now, I won’t go into the type of panties I wear, but they’re certainly not granny panties and I wouldn’t even call mine mature panties.

I recently learned that in Italy it is thought that you will have good luck in the coming year if you wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve.  No granny panties or mature panties for me, but red...I can deal with that!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Santa -- Still Alive and Well


Last night, as my family sat around our family room opening presents, laughing and talking, I found myself sitting back and just enjoying the scene – taking true pleasure in simply having everyone together.  I know there will be a time when we can’t all be together for Christmas so I want to completely embrace and treasure what it means to have our entire family together and enjoying each other.

This year, as I worked on an ornament project that involved twenty-seven years of Santa photos, I had the opportunity to do a lot of reminiscing.  With every photo I worked on, I was reminded of how small our children once were and about how true it is that they do grow up so quickly.  However, even as I nostalgically reminisced about their childhoods and Christmases past, I also realized that the more adult Christmases we are now having are also special.  Decorating the house is easier with a houseful of grown-up types to help.  Grown children shop for Christmas gifts on their own time, with their own money and with their own gift ideas.  Christmas Eve dinner isn’t just a mom’s responsibility; it can be prepped and cleaned up by adult children.  And yet I believe the childhood joy of Christmas still lingers in each of their hearts.  Helping with decorating, they appreciate the work that goes into creating the magic.  Planning for and selecting their own gifts is an exercise in noticing and valuing who each of their siblings are.  Christmas traditions take on the varied personalities of the people they have become.  And last night, when our dinner had been eaten, our Christmas program had been performed and all our gifts had been exchanged, there was no childhood dawdling with the hope of catching a glimpse of Santa, yet I think each of them – each of us, went off to bed with Santa in our hearts.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rockin' the Sexy Look


At a party a few days ago, I had my trusty bedazzled reading glasses perched on my head so that I could easily slide them down onto my nose and read small print – actually, it’s all small print these days.  Throughout the evening I spoke with many folks who were also finding it necessary to resort to reading glasses.  It was a fun, age-deprecating topic that many of us understood.  In fact, when I first went looking for this particular pair of reading glasses in the bowl where I keep my glasses, a guest chimed up, “Oh, sorry, I have a pair of your glasses right here.  I needed to borrow them to read the quiz.”  No worries – I have lots of reading glasses.

While many of the adults among us commented on and laughed about my bedazzled reading glasses, my youngest kids seemed embarrassed that I so blatantly flaunted my visual infirmities.  Not only was I wearing a pair of reading glasses atop my head, but they were bedazzled.  They stood out.  I was trying to joke with the teens about my “sexy” glasses, but all I was getting were eye rolls – that is until one young lady, a friend of my son, gave my glasses a good look, smiled at me and said, “Oh, yeah, Debbie – you’re rockin’ the sexy look.”  Now, some of you might think she was being sarcastic or perhaps even sucking up to her friend’s mom, but I decided to believe she was being sincere and revel in my sexy look.  After all, it didn’t hurt anything to believe her and several of my friends and I felt a moment of joy at the thought that our need for reading glasses could actually be interpreted as sexy.  Several years ago I wrote about men wearing reading glasses and looking sexy, now, I’m happily rockin’ my own sexy look.

Friday, December 9, 2011

MamaVision


After being in Korea for a week, yesterday afternoon I had the chance to Skype with my two oldest daughters.  It was late night for them; my middle daughter was doing homework and my oldest daughter was just keeping her company I guess.  We talked about what they have been up to this week and what their brother and I have been doing.  It was great to see their smiling faces and hear their laughter.  About twenty minutes into the conversation a thought hit me and I blurted out, “Wow!  You two look really Asian!”  That brought on a round of laughter; even my youngest son sitting next to me snickered.  My middle daughter, through her laughter, said, “Mama, we ARE Asian!” while my oldest daughter, also through her laughter, said, “Yeah, well that’s a big surprise.”  After a week of seeing almost nothing but Asians, suddenly their Asian-ness – their looks, their expressions, their beauty – jumped out at me from the computer screen.  We all laughed about my obviously silly statement, but the reality is, while I know they’re Asian, while I’m thrilled that they’re proud of their Korean heritage, when I look at them on a daily basis, I don’t see “Asian”, I just see my kids.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Am I Glowing?


This trip to Korea with the Holt Christmas Gift Team is always a wonderfully uplifting, emotional trip that is a roller coaster ride of tears, laughter and smiles.  Yesterday was no exception.  Yesterday we visited Holt’s Ilsan Town.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of Ilsan; 50 years ago Harry Holt and David Kim began building a community on a hillside north of Seoul that would house children waiting to be adopted as well as those who were, most likely, not adoptable.  Today it is home to almost 300 mentally and physically handicapped residents who live in group homes, go to school, work, establish relationships – basically live a real life.  Our team’s arrival is always the source of much excitement and joy as we bring, and receive, Christmas joy. (see my entry, Folks This is Why I do This)

Yesterday we visited the newly remodeled Memorial Hall where exhibits tell the story of Harry and Bertha Holt and their mission to find families for the world’s orphaned children.  I know the story.  I’ve read about it, watched videos about it.  I’d been to the “old” Memorial Hall, but yesterday’s visit hit my emotional button hard.  I barely made it through the door before the tears starting flowing.  The pictures of children in need; the story of one man who gave of himself beyond what most of us can even comprehend; the woman who became Grandma to thousands of children – the words, the images filled my heart and, yes, I cried.

The visit ended with a trip into the workshop area where residents do piece work for local businesses.  This employment gives the residents purpose, experience and spending money.  As we walked down the window-lined hallway we could see people working on their projects, chatting with their co-workers and, when they saw us, there were often enthusiastic waves and smiles.  We went into the large room at the end of the hall and three young women, all apparently with Downs Syndrome, came up to us to shake hands, smile, hug and talk.  One young woman, who actually spoke a little English, even showed us how she does her job and, when one of our team members tried to emulate her task, she quickly made it clear that he was not doing it properly.  As we prepared to leave, one of the three women came to give me another hug.  Then another one came and the three of us hugged.  Finally, the third woman came over and we had a full-blown group hug – what we call a family hug.  It felt wonderful!

As I walked out of the building I realized that I’d started the morning with tears – tears that washed my face and cleansed my spirit, and I’d ended the day with one of the best hugs of my life – both my face and my spirit glowed.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Today They Will Hold Their Son


Yesterday our Christmas Gift Team group of 30 was joined by a couple who is adopting through our agency and who had arrived in Seoul the night before to pick up their 3-year-old son.  They were supposed to have had a little tour with a college-age volunteer, but since our group was already planning a tour of the Holt offices and the city of Seoul, the agency sent them along with us.  They were introduced to the group and they explained that they were in Seoul for the week and would be meeting their new son on Tuesday (today) and would hopefully be able to take him with them permanently on Wednesday before flying home to their other two boys on Friday.

Our Christmas Gift Team was still getting to know each other since most of the team had only arrived in Seoul the night before, but we’re an enthusiastic bunch, here to learn about Holt’s programs and bring Christmas joy to those Holt serves.  I spent some time talking with this couple who were plopped down in the midst of our merrymaking.  I especially wanted to connect with them about our shared experience of adopting a little bit older child since our youngest daughter was just shy of three-years-old when she came home.  We had a couple of short conversations and one longer one over lunch.  I know they were pleased to be with our group for the day, but as I watched them, I realized that it was quite clear that their reason for being here is very different from ours.  While we were laughing and enjoying the camaraderie of a shared mission, they were anticipating, with both eagerness and nervousness, the meeting they will have today with their son and his foster mother.  They were no doubt thinking of the months of paperwork and waiting they have endured; of the love they feel for a child they’ve never met, of the hopes, and perhaps even the fears, they have for the coming days, weeks, months and years.

When we arrived back at the hotel last evening, as the rest of us headed in different directions for dinner, I saw the couple in the little lobby convenience store.  They look glassy-eyed with jet lag and, no doubt, a big case of nerves.  I’m on my normal Christmas Gift Team “high” and, when first seeing how tired they were, was glad that my emotional “high” staves off any exhaustion (that will come when I return home), but as I said good-bye and wished them well for today, I remembered, with tears in my eyes and a tug at my heart, just what they were going through – in their minds and in their hearts.  I realized that, regardless of what a memorable, meaningful day our team has today, it will not even begin to measure up to the memorable, meaningful day this couple will have.  They may be exhausted, they may be sick with nervousness, but today they will hold their son.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bulgogi in an Earthworm Pot


The title doesn’t really have anything to do with what I’m writing about; it was simply too good to pass up.  When I read the English description of a Korean dish, “Bulgogi in an earthenware pot,” my son thought I said, “Bulgogi in an earthworm pot.”  Needless to say, he was a little appalled at the idea.

Over the last fourteen years, during seven trips to Korea, I’ve noticed slight, but consistent changes, specifically regarding commuting around Seoul.  The streets of the city used to buzz with ultra-small compact cars, much like the Smart Cars that are cropping up in the US.  A sedan was an anomaly.  Now, the streets hum with luxury sedans and the ultra-small compact car is an odd sight.  Traffic signals and signs used to be a “suggestion” for drivers and pedestrians were cautioned to always watch before stepping into a crosswalk because cars had the right of way.  Now, there seems to be a much higher expectation that drivers will follow the rules of the road and that pedestrians in marked crossing lanes should expect to be able to cross safely.  Motorcycles and scooters used to take over the sidewalks whenever it was to their advantage.  Now, pedestrians seem to expect that motorized vehicles will stay on the streets, within the lanes of traffic.  It doesn’t feel as much like Seoul, but there’s still bulgogi in earthenware pots.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Have Guts - Will Travel


Just as I’ve made great changes over the years in how I feel about football, I have also changed my thoughts about flying and traveling.  While I always loved the idea of traveling, I was so afraid of flying that I preferred to keep my feet on the ground and to limit my travels to those that could be reached via cars, buses and trains.  At one point during my banking career, I had been promoted to the newly created position of compliance officer for the bank’s trust department.  The department head wanted me to visit a couple of other banks that had established compliance departments to see how they functioned.  The problem was, the other banks were in San Francisco.  When my boss called me into his office to discuss the pending trip, I explained that I didn’t fly.  He responded, “Well, what the hell do you think you’re going to do?  Take the train?”  That’s exactly what I did.

I did fly occasionally, but I never enjoyed it and with each flight I was convinced that I would die.  I envied friends who could hop on a plane as if they were getting into their car.  I knew the statistics about the safety of air travel.  I knew that my horizons would expand if only I’d fly, but it was so uncomfortable for me that I avoided it whenever possible.  Then, fourteen years ago, my oldest son and I flew to Korea to pick up my youngest son – the same son who is sitting beside me on the plane right now as we head back to Korea.

That first trip to Korea was eye opening for me.  The differences in culture, food, art, lifestyle were so surprising to me that I knew I wanted to experience more and I knew I’d have to fly to make that happen.  My ease with flying didn’t happen overnight, but I eventually realized that I no longer walked onto the plane expecting to crash.  My stomach no longer turned in knots as the hour of takeoff approached.  If someone said, “Let’s travel,” I found myself ready to hop on board.

And now, several years and many trips later, I have attained the ultimate “I’m a traveler” feat.  I have gone from needing to check two fully loaded, to within ounces of their weight limit, suitcases to packing for this trip in the one, now allowed, checked bag and that bag weighed in seven pounds under the limit.  I know that’s still not the same as those who travel with nothing more than a duffel bag on their back, but for me, the transition from not flying to flying and now being able to pack efficiently and lightly makes me feel like I am truly an experienced traveler.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Almost Magical


My husband’s grandmother grew up, and lived most of her life, in the Midwest.  She lived a fairly hard life raising a large family and eking out a living in harsh North Dakota, yet she was also a joyful, loving woman with qualities we’d all like to emulate.  She, too, was a writer and somewhere in her writing she talks about how, if one wants to be happy, it is necessary to find beauty in the small events that occur in our everyday lives.

I have been purposefully working on positive, productive attitudes and goals and, partly as a result, this past week has felt joyful to me, even though there have been challenges and issues to deal with.  One day in particular left me feeling as if I would explode with joy, fulfillment and happiness.  In a Facebook post I described that day as “almost magical”.

On this day I had a long list of errands to run; so long that I’d actually written them out on a Post-it Note so that I wouldn’t forget anything.  My suburban was full, ready for stops at the drycleaners, the consignment store, Goodwill and the computer-recycling center.  I’d gathered together coupons, grocery bags and shopping lists and I’d taken pictures of our front door handles so that I could order new ones at the hardware store.  When I arrived at the store I was greeted by a woman about my age who offered to help me figure out which handles I needed to order.  With the order complete, she said the handles would be available in about two weeks and asked if she could call me when they arrived.  I told her I needed to give her an alternate phone number because I would likely be in Korea by then.  She asked why I was going to Korea and I explained that I was taking my youngest son on a trip with our adoption agency.  She looked at me in surprise and said, “Oh, you have adopted children?”  She then leaned across the counter and said, in almost a whisper, “I placed a child for adoption many years ago.”  A birth mother!  Yes, I know there are birth mothers running around all over, but we rarely know that they’re birth mothers.  For many of us who have adopted children, especially when we don’t have the opportunity to meet our children’s birth parents, there is a feeling, somewhat akin to awe with a little bit of thankfulness mixed in, toward these women who made a sacrifice that, as a result, brought us such joy.  She went on to tell me that she’d been searching for her son, who is now 40, and that she’d located him but that he wasn’t yet ready to meet or talk to her.  Being the open, chatty person I am, we went on to talk about adoption – her story, our stories.  She expressed both grief and hope as she told me her story.  Forty-five minutes later, as we said our goodbyes, she said, “I have your phone number on the order form.  Would you like me to call you if I hear from him?”

I’d walked into that store ready to simply check off an item on my to-do list, but I walked out with a smile, some tears and a full heart.  The unexpected connection between this woman and me was a little bit of beauty that helped me get through the rest of my errands, not with a feeling of chore and drudgery, but with joy and an eye to what else might hold another little bit of beauty.  When I described my day as “almost magical”, a friend asked if I was in Disneyland and I’d responded, “No, just making my own magic.”  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was following Grandma’s advice – I’d found beauty in the everyday.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mrs. Jones, the Doctor Will See You Now


I’m at the point where I have to admit that I am getting older.  For the last few decades, I haven’t changed that much physically (other than the slight or not-so-slight fluctuations of my weight).  But, basically, my body has held to a pretty straight line throughout my 20s, 30s and 40s.  Now, in my 50s, there are some changes.  In 2008 I wrote Changing Faces about the differences I saw in my face, but now, three years later, I’m feeling similar changes in my body, specifically stiffness, inflammation and pain.  I’ve realized that it’s time to get serious about my medical care.  After having a wonderful family doctor from our late 20s throughout our 30s, for the last several years I’ve had the equivalent of medical speed-dating when it comes to my personal doctors.  One left the area, one didn’t return from maternity leave, one wasn’t available to me after a change in my insurance, one thought medical care equaled pill-popping care and one yelled at me in front of her staff and other patients because her receptionist had scheduled the wrong type of appointment for me.  This revolving medical door hasn’t really been a problem, though, because I haven’t had any serious issues so I really don’t go to the doctor very often anyway.  Now, however, I feel the need to establish a relationship with someone who will walk with me along this path called aging.  I want someone who will help me dawdle on the path at the slowest rate possible.  Someone to whom I can talk about the little aches and pains that prevent or limit my physical abilities.  Someone who will get to know me and will look at the entire package, not just the joint or foot that is currently causing a problem.  I’m not asking for hour-long appointments, just a little personal attention and an open dialogue and, for me, that means a degree of friendliness that has been lacking in much of my medical care.

I’ve spent some time recently researching doctors with the hope of finding someone new with whom I could begin to establish a relationship.  One particular doctor caught my eye – female; similar age; new to the area, but loving our brand of liquid sunshine and interested in preventive care and education as important parts of the healthcare process.  I made a get-to-know-each-other appointment and was further encouraged when the scheduling person said, “She’s new to our clinic, but people are saying very good things about her.”  I prepared a short one-paragraph bio about myself, a list of my other medical care providers (OB/GYN, podiatrist, chiropractor, etc.), a list of my current medications, supplements and vitamins and a brief rundown of my recent medical issues and current concerns.  I went to the appointment with excitement and anticipation.  Everything went well with checking in, establishing my records and talking with the medical assistant, then the DOCTOR walked in.  She smiled, put out her hand and introduced herself.  I said I was happy to meet her and asked, “May I call you by your first name?”  A simple question, asked politely with a smile.   For me, calling someone by a title presumes a certain interpersonal distance or reserve – not the type of relationship I’m looking for in the person I want to walk with on this path of aging healthfully and gracefully.  I had determined that being on a first-name basis was going to be integral to developing the type of relationship I was hoping to establish and, frankly, I thought that it was a pretty innocuous request.   Our society gave up using most titles a long time ago.  Most people do not refer to each other as Mr., Mrs. or Miss.  When I was growing up in the 60s it was common for adults to introduce each other using their social titles and last names; I haven’t seen that done recently, except in some foreign countries.  So why do we continue to use titles for doctors?  I don’t get it and I didn’t think it was a big deal to ask to be on a first name basis.  I was shocked at this DOCTOR’s reply, “No I’d prefer you call me Dr. So-and-So.”  She then went on to say that she also prefers to call her patients by their social titles and last names.  Really?  I felt a flashback to the 60s coming on.  I may be 53, but I am NOT Mrs. Dunham – that would be my mother-in-law.  My name is Debbie.  I’d even prefer Deb or Debra to Mrs. Dunham.  Heck, someone once wanted to call me DeDe (the initials of my first and last names) and, though I quickly squashed that idea, I’d prefer DeDe to Mrs. Dunham.

Needless to say, that was the end of that appointment.  My excitement and anticipation were squelched, my current concerns are still unaddressed and I am still searching for a doctor who will walk my path with me.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Not the Girl He Married


One evening last week, as I was puttering around the kitchen in my apron preparing dinner and setting the table, my husband commented that he’s seen me in an apron more during the last two years than in the previous thirty-two years put together.  I laughed at that, but his observation is probably not too far off.  Up until recently, cooking was something I did plainly (as in, What can I throw together tonight?) and out of necessity since there always seemed to be little mouths to feed.  When we entertained or had a large family dinner, my husband always did the cooking.  Now, we work together in the kitchen for those bigger occasions and I’m actually planning and enjoying the preparation process for our regular dinners.

After the comment about the apron, he went on to say, “Cooking, college football…you’re just not the girl I married.”  True, along with a change in my attitude toward cooking, my thoughts on college football have also taken a 180-degree turn.  I went to exactly one football game while we were in college.  I know this because there’s evidence of it in a picture of me in the stands, wearing sunglasses and an awesome brown suede jacket, looking totally bored.  If you’d taken a picture of me at yesterday’s Oregon Ducks’ game, you’d see me wearing a bright yellow shirt and hat (no sunglasses, though I’d wished I’d brought them from the car), standing up cheering and clapping – anything but bored.

So, am I not the girl my husband married and, if not, is that a bad thing?  We married when we were only nineteen; we weren’t yet adults and we had a lot of growing up to do.  We have both changed in dramatic ways, but fortunately the basis we started with has allowed us to grow up together, not apart.  I picture in my mind those trees where the trunks are entwined, each growing on its own, but still growing side-by-side.  While I’ve grown I’ve not only learned to enjoy cooking and college football, I’ve successfully pursued a career and followed that up with a second volunteer “career”, I’ve raised a houseful of kids, I’ve cared for my mother and his through their last days and sat with them as they left this world, I’ve learned what I like and don’t like in clothes, furnishings, music and movies and I’ve realized that all of this growth was created and made possible by the girl I was.  The girl who didn’t necessarily know where she wanted to go, but knew she was smart enough to get there once she figured it out.  The girl who wasn’t afraid to give a graduation speech that made her senior advisor cringe.  The girl who already knew that her heart was terribly tender, yet stubbornly strong.  In those basic “this is who I am” ways, yes, I’m still the girl he married, but I like to think that, in addition, I’m now really so much more!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hot-Flash Seats


When my husband chose a Lincoln MKS as his new car this past summer, he endured more than a little teasing about the switch from a BMW 7-Series to a Lincoln.  Dubbed an “old man’s car” by more than one person, one friend laughed and said, “Geez, my dad drives a Lincoln!”  Well, the truth is, the Lincoln is really a nice car and has many great features (I’d take one myself – in red, not black) and it really isn’t an “old man’s car” though I’ve come to believe that it is, perhaps, an “over-50 woman’s car”.  As a woman over 50, I find that my body does not regulate heat as efficiently as it used to.  I don’t like to call this lack of regulation a hot-flash, though I’m sure that’s actually an appropriate moniker.  I find that this lack of heat regulation, aka hot-flash, often comes about when I’m running around trying to get ready to leave the house.  I often find myself over-heated and sweaty by the time I get out the door.  However, I have discovered a lovely feature of my husband’s “over-50 woman’s car”:  the seat-cooling system!  The opposite of a heated seat, this feature actually cools the seat and the body of the person sitting there.  My husband recently broke his shoulder, so I’ve been doing most of the driving, and I’ve come to love the relief when I can slide myself behind the wheel, push the little blue seat-cooling button and slough off the stress and resultant heat emanating from my body. 

Maybe I should send the marketing folks at Lincoln a letter to let them know they’re missing out by not advertising this valuable feature.  I can see it now: an ad featuring two cars, a Lincoln and something else that doesn’t have a seat-cooling system, both driving down some beautiful road.  Both cars look good, handle well, but then they come to a stop in front of some luxurious-looking building and an over-50-year-old woman steps out of each car.  Both women are dressed to the nines, but the woman who steps out of the Lincoln looks refreshed and lovely while the woman who steps out of the other car has wet sweat marks on her clothes and her damp hair is drooping across her face.  Wouldn’t that be a strong marketing campaign in this Baby Boomer era?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Donuts, Ice Cream and Music

One of the benefits of gaining maturity is knowing that there are some things you like: some styles, some foods, some activities that are simply your personal preferences, regardless of current fashion, style or trend. I have found this true in myself when it comes to donuts, ice cream and music – or so I thought.

There’s a nationally known, local donut store in our area that carries bizarre donuts: bacon maple bars, raised donuts topped with Captain Crunch or Fruit Loops cereals – and those are the mild combinations. I have never been to this donut store and have no desire to go. Give me a good maple bar, with creamy frosting (not the hard, glazed type) and I’m happy. Ditto with ice cream. In an effort not to be outdone by the donut stores, we also have a new ice creamery with flavors such as brown ale with bacon, lemon basil sorbet and honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper. Again, give me a classic, rich luscious coffee flavored ice cream and I’m happy. Then there’s music. I have listened to various versions of rock my entire life. I’m not embarrassed to say that the classic rock station, along with the “oldies” station, is hardcoded into my car radio. I do listen to other types of music occasionally (quiet times or when I’m working at my desk), but normally I prefer to rock out. Recently a friend told me I should check out Pandora and I was appalled. Why would I want an electronic jukebox to pick out music for me when I already know what I like? I like music I know with words I can sing along with (even if my version of the words if often way off from the actual lyrics).

So, I’m set in my ways. I like my maple bar sans bacon and with creamy frosting, I like coffee ice cream or even just plain old vanilla and I like my music to rock -- as I said, “or so I thought.” Two recent developments have caused me to question my set-in-my-ways beliefs: my husband bought a new car and I drove six 16-year-olds to Seattle and back. My husband’s new car has premier radio programming available and one afternoon, while scanning through channels, I came across a jazz station that took my breath away. While I enjoy jazz as background music when I’m working, I’ve found that this station’s music draws me to it every time I get in his car. While I normally like to rock out and sing along while driving, I’m finding that I am truly enjoying the calming sounds of this jazz station. I can feel myself physically relax as I listen. I dread the day when his free trial ends. On the other end of the music-style spectrum, while driving to Seattle and back with the six 16-year-olds, I listened to what I would call rap and dance music for several hours straight. The suburban looked and sounded like some souped-up hot rod with music blaring and girls dancing in their seats. While most of it didn’t appeal to me, there were two songs that kept running through my mind over the next few days. I found myself on the iTunes store downloading not only those two songs but also a couple of others of the same genre.

So, maybe I’m not so set in my ways. Maybe there’s music left to learn. I did go back and try the sea salt caramel ice cream. It was okay, but won’t be on any of my favorite playlists. The bacon maple bar, though? I don’t think so.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Just an "Off" Day?

Last Thursday, as I glanced at the calendar, I realized that I had double-booked myself for that morning. Then, to my astonishment, I realized that I had also double-booked myself for that evening! As I ran into my physical therapy appointment a half-hour later (after quickly dropping the dog off at the vet’s), I rambled out my apologies for being a few minutes late and explained how I had double-booked myself. The receptionist, a sweet young thing still shy of the quarter-century mark, said, “Oh, Debbie, you’re just having an off day.” That evening at a social engagement (which I managed to breeze into after picking the dog up from the vet’s), I lamented about “off” days to a woman who I took to be a few years older than me. She looked at me with a look something close to pity and said, “Unfortunately, it’s probably not just an ‘off’ day; it’s probably what your norm will be like. That’s what happens as we age. It’s all hormonal.” As I thought back on the last few months, heck, the last few years, I realized that she’s probably right. My super-organized brain just isn’t functioning the way it used to and I frequently find myself messing up schedules and feeling fuddled by the numerous activities of our family. I used to be the Queen of organization and juggling schedules; now sometimes I feel more like the Court Jester. Perhaps that’s the answer: laugh at myself as if I am the Court Jester and at least the rest of my body will benefit from the laughter, even if my brain is still working in hormone-mode.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Oh the Games People Play

Recently someone made the comment that I’d given up on writing my blog. I was shocked! I know I haven’t written much of anything in the last few months, but I certainly never looked at it as having given up on writing. I’ve made the excuse that I’m giving myself some down time after having handed off most of my volunteer responsibilities. I’ve said that I feel a little brain dead and need time to recoup. But, when I assess my actions honestly, I have to admit to myself that I’m actually participating in a little procrastination. I’m playing a little game with myself. Sure, this was a busy summer and, now with school back in session, there are new schedules to become familiar with. Excuses, excuses and more excuses. The reality is, I have now freed myself to pursue other goals and objectives – specifically, the goal of pursuing writing in a more professional manner, i.e. getting published, and that’s more than a little bit scary. So, if I don’t write, I don’t have to worry about that – I can just be “busy” with other activities and ignore my dreams. But, here I am, pushing into my mid-50s and I don’t want to ignore my dreams. GI Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle,” and, yes, now I know that I’m procrastinating, and now I need to conquer the other half of the battle – doing. No more games. No more procrastinating. It’s time to organize myself around my new reality and DO!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sometimes it's Easier to Read

It’s been a month since I’ve written anything more than a shopping list. That’s not entirely true, I wrote a three-page instructional paper on the last of my volunteer jobs, but that paper was purely factual – no inner-thought involved. It seems somewhat strange that, at a time when I’ve handed off most of my volunteer responsibilities in order to have more time to write, suddenly I’m not writing. I have been reading, though. I’ve begun to catch up on my stack of magazines and I’ve read a couple of books. I’ve completed the daily crossword puzzle more days than not. I haven’t given up on words, but the fact is, sometimes it’s just easier to passively read. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend the thoughts and feelings rumbling around in my brain simply aren’t there. Sometimes it’s easier to just dip into someone else’s story and ignore my own. I’m confident that I haven’t given up on writing, but for right now, there’s this book on my nightstand…

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

53 and it's NEW Me

I’ve always liked the idea of reviewing my life – what’s wrong, what’s right and planning for what I want to have happen. Even if most of plans don’t actually come to fruition, at least by the act of planning, there are some goals that do become realized. I’ve been thinking about today’s birthday for several weeks, thinking about where I am and where I want to be. During the process, I read in a magazine about a woman who, when she hit 54, looked in the mirror and was amazed at how frumpy she’d become. She kicked her exercise program up a notch, refined her eating habits and now, at 60, looks and feels fabulous. What a timely, inspirational article for me to pick up and, hey, I’m only 53 today – I’m a year ahead of her!

With that inspiration in mind, I thought about this upcoming year and what I want to work on in order to be the best 53 year-old I can be. There are four areas that came immediately to mind: eating (as in less quantity and more healthy), exercise (continued cardio, more strength and flexibility), writing and time for me to do those things that I’ve only been dreaming about. I like a catchy phrase to remind me of my goals, so I played around with the words and came up with NEW Me: Nutrition, Exercise, Writing and Me.

So, what is the NEW Me going to be doing this year? In the area of Nutrition, I’ll be asking myself three H questions whenever I’m confronted with food or the idea of it: Am I hungry? Is the food healthy? Have I had enough? Hungry? Healthy? Had enough?

The NEW Me will also be working on becoming pain free. For the last year and a half, I have had pain somewhere in my body. With continued cardio exercise, more strength training, increased flexibility practice and physical therapy I hope to get my body back to feeling good, not just putting up with pain as a symptom of aging.

The New Me will begin to formulate my thoughts and writing into something publishable. I love the mental process of preparing what I will write as well as the act of actually writing, but the idea of marketing my writing in any form scares the words right out of me. This will definitely be an activity that is out of my comfort zone, but that’s okay; I’m not ready to stop growing.

Finally, or perhaps as a first step, NEW Me will make time for me. I have a laundry list of activities I’d like to pursue, chores I’d like to get accomplished, and goals I’d like to reach. In some ways, the ME portion of this acronym is contained within each of the other pieces, but there’s also more to ME than just what’s NEW.

So, with seven years to go until sixty, but with a one-year head start, NEW Me is already ahead of schedule; NEW Me is excited and NEW Me is going to do just fine.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I'm Walkin', Yes Indeed

I used to be a runner. Actually, first I was a walker, then I was a runner. Now, post-foot surgery, I’m back to being a walker and the Fats Domino song runs through my head as I walk. I miss the movement of running; the action, itself, feels physically freeing. However, I am finding that the action of walking feels mentally freeing.

I’ve walked and/or ran on a treadmill for years in the predawn hour when my husband and I exercise in our basement, but for the last couple of months – ever since I decided that I needed to head in a new direction (see Something’s Gotta Give), I’ve wanted to walk outdoors. No, it’s more than “wanted”; I’ve needed to walk outdoors. I need the fresh air, I need the movement that actually goes somewhere and I need the time for my mind to roll around ideas as my feet roll with each step.

I had planned to go on a long walk this morning, but I woke up feeling unrested and achy, so I’d bagged the idea of a long walk. Now, having written this and imagined my walk as I’ve written, I’m ready to head out the door. I’m walkin’, yes indeed!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why Did I Open My Big Mouth?

I’ve always been somewhat liberally opinionated, especially about social issues. I’m not sure why; my parents believed in equality – to a certain extent, and certainly they believed in fairness, but I don’t think of them as having been very opinionated or liberal. Perhaps it was the reading material I chose as I grew up. This sounds a bit absurd, but I read Ann Landers regularly as a pre-teen and teen and, though she had some “old-fashioned” viewpoints, her advice was pretty open-minded. Then, just as I entered high school, the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective came out with Our Bodies, Ourselves – it became my Bible. I have no doubt that this book played a big part in forming my basic foundational opinions about many social issues.

During my teens and twenties, maybe even into my thirties, I was somewhat vocal about my opinions, but I’ve recently realized that, while the passion of opinion is still strong within me, I’m no longer very vocal. This realization has been eye-opening to me and has caused me to give a lot of thought about why I have become a quietly opinionated person. This all arose when a friend posted a plea on her blog for support of a cause that I didn’t agree with. My initial reaction was to simply close the blog and move on to something else, but the topic was one that I’m particularly passionate about, so I gritted my teeth and typed out a comment, “Sorry, I disagree.” This simple sentence has spurred additional requests for discussion from my friend and, while I like a good conversation as much as the next person, what I have realized over the last two weeks since I gritted my teeth and typed, is that I no longer care to engage in debate-style discussions. I know that a lot of people love to discuss hot topics: politics, religion, social issues, but I don’t and I realize now that this is something that has changed within me as I’ve aged. In my twenties I would have loved a hot discussion – setting out my opinions and attempting to get the other person to see that my way is the right way. Now, and this is all part of this new realization, I’m pretty comfortable with my opinions and, while I’m happy to state them when asked, I no longer feel the need to try and convince others that I’m right – just as I’m comfortable with my opinions, I assume others are with theirs.

I have a great many friends whose opinions on sensitive subjects differ from my own, but I don’t think that’s an impediment to our friendships – perhaps it even enhances the relationships. More than having similar opinions, what I want in a friend is someone with the same basic moral values regarding loyalty to family and friends, kindness and giving, intelligence and interest. When my friend first asked me for more information on my comment, my first thought was, Why did I open my big mouth? Now, I’m glad I did and I’m glad she asked. I’m sure we’ll have a good conversation on this topic and this short little internet exchange caused me to really take a look at myself and how I’ve changed over the years on the subject of voicing opinions. In my opinion, I’m comfortable with who I have become.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Well, That Was Interesting!

I’ve been working out regularly for the last twelve years and I consider myself to be in pretty good shape. I had a bit of a setback last year because of my foot surgery, but since then I’ve been working at getting back to where I was. It was months before I could walk at all and my surgeon advised against running. Once I began walking I noticed that I couldn’t walk as fast on the treadmill as I had in the past. My normal treadmill walking pace was 4.0 to 4.2 miles per hour. After my surgery I had to turn it down to 3.5 and have just recently graduated to 3.8. When walking outside, I have not worried about mileage or pace – just walking. Now I am signed up for a 10k next month and a couple of half-marathons over the following months, so today I pulled my Garmin Forerunner out of the drawer for the first time in a year. I leashed-up the big dog and headed out for a 5-mile walk. In the past my outside training and racing (I don’t really race anyone, just myself) pace for walking was 12-13 minute miles. I was shocked today when I had to push like crazy to get my first mile in at a 15 minute-per-mile pace! I felt like I’d forgotten how to walk. My foot flapped down with each step, I couldn’t remember how to get the heel-toe-push-off movement going. I felt like a big oaf! Finally, somewhere around 2.5 miles, my feet started moving with a nice rolling motion, my body naturally leaned forward a bit and my arms started pumping. I could feel the change and it felt good! I finished my five miles in 1:14 – one minute under an overall 15 minute-per-mile pace. Not as fast as I’ve been in the past, but I don’t think this is the beginning of an age-related decline in pace – I’m not yet to that point. I know I’m still able to improve my pace. I’ll be back out there tomorrow and I expect my body to cooperate well before 2.5 miles! I will however, leave the running for another day…or week…or month.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Forty-seven Years to Go

A woman, age 100, was asked if she had any regrets about her life. She replied, “If I had known I would live to a be a hundred, I would have taken up the violin at forty. By now I could have been playing for sixty years!”

In my mind I had pinpointed today as the day I would seriously set myself on my new course, begin moving toward my new goals. I set the process in motion more than a month ago when I wrote Something’s Gotta Give and I sent out word that I would be stepping down from several of my current obligations. With a three week trip to Italy shortly after that announcement and knowing that plans needed to be made to determine who would step up to take on those responsibilities, I knew that I needed to set my start date out a few weeks. Today is that day.

Last night, after a wonderfully busy, crazy houseful-of-kids Mother’s Day, I looked through my stacks of books for a new book to read having finished my last book on the trip home from Italy. My eye was caught by the title on the spine of one book, Defying Gravity. I had a bit of a “woo-woo” moment when I pulled out the book, looked at the cover and saw the full title: Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women by Prill Boyle. I don’t remember where or why I bought this book (I’m a book-a-holic), but it felt magical that this would be the book I would pick up on the eve of my new life course. Last night I was only able to read the introduction before falling asleep (I hit the jet lag wall), but when I woke up too early this morning I took out my reading lamp to read a chapter while I tried to go back to sleep. I was shocked to find myself weeping through the first story of a woman who became a doctor at the age of 50 and the corresponding discussion of the physical phenomenon of inertia – objects at rest stay at rest; objects in motion keep going in the same direction unless acted upon by some outside force. I wept because I was hit by the truth of this phenomenon in my own life and by the inspiration of knowing that others have either managed to be their own “outside force” or have had an actual outside force thrust upon them and have then gone on to achieve great goals and to see their dreams come true. I wept because I have now released myself from the direction I have been on for years and, though it has been a fulfilling direction, I am so very ready to head in a new, albeit somewhat scary, direction. I’m excited to think about what I will do with my next forty-seven years!

Friday, April 29, 2011

I Wanna Be Like Mike

P.S. (Pre-script): I really want to learn Italian. I’ve tried two different language programs at home, but haven’t had much success. Now, while I’m here in Italy, I’m trying to pick up some of the nuances of the language and I find myself reading words and saying them to myself (in my head) over and over trying to figure out the correct pronunciation. Yesterday, as I was saying the word biglietto (ticket) over and over in my head, I suddenly remembered the topic of the blog I couldn’t remember yesterday! Here it is:

There was a commercial several years ago with a jingle that went something like, “I wanna be like Mike,” that all the little Michael Jordan wannabes used to sing. Little boys who wanted to grow up to be Michael Jordan or at least to be rich, famous and athletically gifted like him. They made layups with their tongues stuck out, they wore red shirts emblazoned with number 23 and they played basketball and more basketball. But for most of them basketball would end up being a sport they could enjoy watching, perhaps even playing in some gym rat fashion. They were really just pretending that they might grow up to be Michael Jordan. Friends of mine took their 8-year-old daughter back to her birth country and watched as she walked along the sidewalk saying jibber-jabber words in the local cadence in an effort to sound like she was speaking her native language. Of course, she wasn’t really speaking the language, she was just pretending. My own daughter, on her earlier trips to her birth country, worked at “blending” whenever we were out in public. She’d sit in a public area or walk down the street mimicking those around her. She was thrilled when nobody seemed to take much notice of her – as if she’d blended right in. Her shining moment was when she was sitting in a crowded waiting room at a train station and an old Korean lady came and sat down next to her and started speaking to her in Korean. She smiled at the old lady, said, “American. Adopted,” and jumped up to come tell me (who was standing out on the platform – a safe distance away so as not to taint her Korean-ness) that she’d blended! She’d blended! Then she laughed at herself because she really had just pretended. As I walk around Italy, I try to say the basic greetings and requests in Italian. I sit at a cafĂ© and hope that I look like I belong there, not like just another tourist infatuated with this beautiful country. From the moment I stepped on this soil several years ago, I’ve felt like I somehow belong here. For years before that I knew that the one language I’d really like to learn is Italian. But, just like the little boy who dreamed of being MJ or my friends’ daughter or my own – both trying out what it feels like to fit in with their birth cultures, my feeble attempts to appear Italian are really, in the end, just another form of pretending. But, just like childhood make-believe, pretending is fun; it transports me to another world, another life. I feel myself slowing down to the rhythms of the local community. So, for now, “Ciao Baby!” – I wanna be like Michelangelo!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Little Reminders

As I started to write just now, I realized that the blog I’d written in my head yesterday has now gone AWOL. I had a title and everything and now – nothing. This is a perfect segue, though, into another topic I’ve been intending to write about and that’s the little issues, the little reminders of aging. Last night as my mother-in-law and I climbed the long, steep flight of stairs from this Italian city’s main piazza to our apartment, my mother-in-law stopped to catch her breath and said, “I guess the problem is that I think I should still be able to do things the way I did when I was your age.” You have to understand that my mother-in-law is not a doddering old lady. She’s active and interested; she plays golf, exercises, travels and has an extensive circle of social contacts. I think she’s a good model for positive aging, but she, obviously, feels she should be able to do more. I’ve thought about the little things that change as we age. Like my mother-in-law, perhaps we have to stop to catch our breath when walking up a long flight of stairs. Like me this morning, perhaps the thoughts that were so concrete in my mind yesterday have simply decided to crawl into a hole in my brain – maybe never to be seen again, but more likely to pop up in the middle of some completely unrelated activity. I’ve noticed even smaller changes. When I get into or out of a car now, I no longer jump in or hop out. I now sit down completely before swinging my legs in – the opposite when getting out. If I don’t, I feel twinges in my back that I know too well can lead to much bigger pains.

Regardless of what I want to believe about how young I feel, the signs are there that the years are marching by. I don’t want to fall into the hole of “getting old”, so perhaps the right path is simply to acknowledge and accommodate these little reminders – stopping for a breath, taking a few more seconds to get out of a car, but to go on living with the excitement and inquisitiveness of my younger self.

Monday, April 25, 2011

No -- Not Pizza

Over the course of five decades I’ve learned a few things about myself: I’m an optimistic person by nature, I like to be in charge, I’m a visual learner and I don’t do well with languages. Being in Italy right now, the language issue has come up a lot. My husband always studies the local language before we travel and he does an admirable job of communicating. I rely on him, hand gestures, a smile and English speaking locals. Most of the time I do okay. Yesterday was not one of those times. Yesterday, my husband, my mother-in-law and I sat down to lunch in a quaint little restaurant on Via Nazionale in Cortona, Italy. We had been there before and the headwaiter spoke lovely English; however, our waiter this time was a much younger, mostly Italian-speaking waiter. My husband ordered first and asked for bruschetta con olio y aglio, toasted bread with olive oil and garlic, as an appetizer. Because I didn’t want to try saying the garlic word myself (Italian g’s are tough for me), I simply indicated that I, too, would like that appetizer. This apparently gave the waiter the impression that my husband and I were sharing lunch. My husband went on to order a pizza, but the waiter seemed concerned about something. I thought he was concerned that the one pizza would not be enough for the two of us to share so I waived my hands and, pointing to myself, said, “No, caprese, per favore.” At this point I thought we were okay. My mother-in-law placed her order and then the waiter looked back at me and said something in Italian about caprese pizza. Thinking he was confused about what I really wanted I said (and these are the critical words), “No. Not pizza. Insalata caprese (caprese salad).” The waiter smiled, nodded and made a few scratches on his notepad. Another successful English-Italian encounter.

A little while later, the waiter returned with my mother-in-law’s food, my caprese salad and an empty plate for my husband. None of us thought this strange since an empty plate is often provided when ordering pizza – in the United States. We should have realized that this is not usually the case in Italy where pizzas are ordered, and served, individually. My mother-in-law and I began to eat our lunch, reveling in the wonderful tastes (Italian food is amazing), while my husband waited for his pizza. He waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, when I had finished my lunch I said, “This is crazy! There’s no way it can take this long to make pizza.” I think the light bulb went off for both of us at the same time. My husband and I looked at each other and said, “No. Not pizza.” I picked up the folded order ticket the waiter had placed at the edge of the table and, sure enough, there was my order and my mother-in-law’s order and then the word, pizza – scratched out. There was no pizza coming for my husband’s lunch. The waiter obviously thought that my, “No. Not pizza,” referred to my husband’s order, not to some confusion about what type of caprese I was ordering. I wondered what kind of man the waiter thought I was married to. He must have thought him to be a complete wimp since my husband had clearly just ordered his pizza and the waiter was willing to let my direction of, “No. Not pizza,” override that order.

A friend suggested that if I lived in Italy for a year I would likely be able to pick up the language simply from immersion. The thought is tantalizing – a year in Italy with the outcome of being able to speak Italian. I’m not sure, though, that a year in Italy with me botching our lunch orders is my husband’s idea of an equally tantalizing way to effectively diet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Last Bite of Bread

In preparation for our trip to Italy, I’ve been reading A Thousand Days in Tuscany, by Marlena de Blasi. She’s written four books about living in Italy, starting with A Thousand Days in Venice – I’d recommend them all! In the book she describes sitting around with two friends late one night and the woman, an older woman, talks about eating bread with olive oil and a glass of wine. She talks about how satisfying it is to eat and drink in such a way that one ends up using the last piece of bread to sop up the last drop of olive oil and then to wash it down with the last swig of wine. She says that we should try to live our lives that same way. In the song Jack & Diane, Jack says, “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.” I’ve seen this happen and it’s sad. When my husband and I renewed our wedding vows almost four years ago, we made a commitment to each other to continue growing, to continue trying new activities, to continue looking for adventure and to do what we can to make sure we’re taking care of our bodies so that we’re able to fulfill that commitment. Part of my decision to venture off from some of the activities I’ve come to love is to make sure that I have time to discover new activities, new loves, new passions. I want to be sure that I have enough olive oil and wine left to wash down that last bite of bread.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Imagery

It’s said that help comes around just when it’s needed or that information drops in our lap just when we we’re searching for answers. Back in February I wrote a blog titled, “Welcome Back, Me” about my return to joy and learning to compartmentalize those issues that had been weighing me down. My last two blog entries were about the need to step aside from some current responsibilities in order to move forward toward my goals and dreams. Yesterday I opened up a book I recently found, The Book of Awakening, by Mark Nepo and the entry I opened to detailed the imagery of carrying our burdens to a door we want to go through, but we can’t open the door with all that we carry. So, in order to get through the door, we must set things down, open the door and then pick up just those items we need before proceeding on through. Just as I used the imagery of stuffing and closing a drawer to compartmentalize some issues last February, I now have this lovely image of a door in front of me – and, let me tell you, it’s a beautiful door – but I’ve been so far away from it and so weighed down that I haven’t even been able to approach it. Now, with my drawer full of issues shut I have managed to approach the door and last week I sent out an email giving notice that, within the next few months, I’m resigning from the most time consuming of my volunteer commitments. I’m preparing to set down that burden (and some others) so that I can stretch out my arm to the handle and open that door.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Paring the Bucket List

Now that I’ve reassessed my responsibilities and committed to pursuing those activities that have been in my “later” file, aka my bucket list, I’ve also realized that I can actually pull things out of that file and simply shred them – things that are no longer goals or that no longer hold an interest for me no longer need to be on my bucket list. I discovered one such activity yesterday. My oldest daughter is participating in her college’s crew team and I’m really impressed with the work she has put in to train for the team and with how much she seems to be enjoying it. I always thought that this type of rowing was something I’d like to take up at some point. I could see myself out at dawn, silently gliding across the water by myself or in sync with my team.

Yesterday I watched my first regatta (that’s crew-speak for competitive event, i.e. game, match, etc.). The temperature was chilly, the skies were gray with off and on rain showers and I have to believe the water was cold and, quite possibly, dirty. I watched the young men and women wade in and out of the water, getting wet up to their hips and knowing that they wouldn’t be changing their clothes immediately afterwards and I watched them stand around for hours waiting for their eight minutes of rowing excitement. As I watched them I suddenly realized that I have no desire to crew – this is an activity that can be tossed from my bucket list. I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it when I was 20 or if the reality, even then, would have dissuaded me, but I certainly know now that I don’t want to stand around for hours waiting for a few minutes of fun. I don’t want to get cold and wet under almost any circumstance and definitely not if I can’t immediately change into warm dry clothes and sit beside a nice toasty fire (preferably with a glass of good red wine).

My oldest son teased me about glibly paring down my bucket list, but he’s not yet 30; he’s young enough to believe that he can do everything on his list. While I have no intention of throwing out my entire list, I know that it’s not likely, even with good intentions, that I’ll do more than scratch off the topmost items, so why leave an activity on the list that I now know I am no longer interested in pursuing. I’d rather pare my list so that I can more easily focus on what I want most. Knowing what I don’t want to do is almost as important as knowing what I do want to do.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Something's Gotta Give

Several elements have been working together lately to encourage me to reassess my priorities, to look at where I am and where I want to be. My husband’s own reassessment of his professional goals, the two Celebrations of Life that we’ve gone to recently and my own aches and pains that remind me that, regardless of how I feel inside, my body is no longer in its prime, all have been causing a muddling in my mind. What I once thought of as my known path now seems to have branched off in some indistinct direction where I don’t know my surroundings and I’m not sure which way to turn. As I’ve thought my way through this I’ve realized that, at 52, it’s time for me to look at how I spend my time and use my energy because if I’m not doing what I want to be doing now, the advancing years necessitate that changes be made before more years fly by and my dreams and desires continue to sit in the file labeled, “Later”.

When I started writing this blog over three years ago I wrote in my profile that I was a drummer and writer wannabe. Well, three years have come and gone and the drum set which sits outside my office door has remained untouched – if it were in my bedroom, it would have become a clothes rack – and the only thing I’ve written has been these entries into my blog. There are some responsibilities in my life that are non-negotiable – our children’s needs, our family’s finances and related bookkeeping. Time spent on kids and family cannot be dismissed; this is time that comes with having the title of “wife” and “mom”, but other responsibilities, particularly those labeled “volunteer” can be eliminated and, after much thought, I realize that it is time to take that step. From the age of 19 to 37 I was a banker, a professional, a working mom. With the addition of the fourth child to our family, I realized that it was time to make the tough decision to do something different; something that would allow me to spend more time with our children. I left the bank and decided to take six months off while I figured out what would come next. That was almost 16 years ago and what did I do next? I stayed home, I took care of my family and I became a volunteer. Now it is time for me to focus on my own dreams. It is time for me to step back from my volunteer commitments in order to free up time for those dreams. This has been a really tough decision for me to make; I like my volunteer jobs. I feel as if the work I’ve done has made a difference. However, I could go on doing these same jobs for the next 20 or 30 years and my drum set would still be sitting there unused and my writing would still consist only of short little entries in my blog. Rock on! Write on! Here’s to new beginnings.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Celebration of Life

A couple of months ago we attended a Celebration of Life after a friend’s dad had passed away. It was a beautiful event with a great display of pictures and memorabilia depicting this gentleman’s life – his childhood, his education, his family, his professions. Friends, family and neighbors crowded into the room enjoying the camaraderie, sharing memories and catching up – the only thing missing was the honoree. I remember looking around and thinking, Wouldn’t he have loved to be here? I was saddened, too, because that day I learned more about his work and his passions than I’d ever known when he was alive. Wouldn’t it have been nice to be able to discuss some of that information with him? To hear his version of the stories being told?

Last night we attended another Celebration of Life. Like the other, this event was complete with a display of photos and memorabilia from the person’s life, with family and friends gathered together – including some who came long distances to be there. The difference between the two, though, was that the honoree was not dead. No, far from it! This honoree threw the party herself in honor of entering her octogenarian years and with the idea that if there was going to be a celebration of her life, she wanted to be around to enjoy it! I like her attitude.

We’re admonished to live life in the present, to use the good china, to enjoy the day we’ve been given, but what about also enjoying those around us, those we care about now, today? I know I did this well with my parents and I do it well with my very immediate family, but I don’t think I’ve taken full advantage of those who it’s more difficult to connect with because of time or distance or what seem like higher priority commitments. I think I’ll make this term, a celebration of life, a mantra of sorts to remind me to not only enjoy each of my own days, but to also make the effort to enjoy, to connect with, to celebrate life, with those around me, those I care about, those I would like to know better – now, today, while we’re all around to enjoy it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Welcome Back Kotter

My husband and I both went to high school in Ilwaco, a small community on the Washington coast. For my husband this was just a place his family moved to before his freshman year, but for me, it was my family’s hometown. Ilwaco is situated at the base of a peninsula that comprises the entire community. Both of my parents were born and raised on the peninsula and my large extended family lived, and many still live, on the peninsula.

Once we went away to college, my husband and I did not go back very often and, when we did, it was always with the sense of familial obligation. While I loved seeing my parents, the visits were not recreational and then, when parents began to ail, the trips became even more obligatory. At some point both my husband and I felt the rotting nature of the peninsula. It’s a damp environment where buildings rot and, it seemed, even people rot. My husband and I ran the opposite direction and fell in love with the dry air of central Oregon. For years, that was our destination of choice. No rotting there.

Even given the negative feelings we had about the peninsula, I have always loved the beach. Because it was my family’s hometown, we visited regularly when I was growing up. I spent countless hours playing on the beach with my cousins and later, when we had moved back for high school, I spent hours walking on the beach, reflecting on the beach and writing on the beach. The ocean draws me in much the same manner that Mt. Hood does. Once there were no more parents to visit and take care of on the peninsula, whenever I wanted to go to the beach we simply went to the Oregon Coast where the ghosts of rot did not follow us. Last fall some dear friends invited us to spend five days with them, celebrating their anniversary at a house they’d rented at the beach – our beach, the beach of the peninsula. We agreed, of course, but we both realized that this would be our first recreational trip in, literally, forever. Even though I still have family here, I decided that, for me, this would be a trip devoid of familial responsibilities. I would go to the beach just to enjoy it. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel “going back”, but my anticipation grew as we drove across the coast range and I began to realize just what this place means to me. It’s not just the ocean. I can get the ocean on the Oregon Coast. It’s this ocean. This ocean that stretches along 26 miles of beach. This ocean that has roared in my ears since I was a child. This ocean that caressed my teenage wounds. This ocean that, I now realize, is at the core of my being. Coming back here has filled me with a mixture of emotions that just about knocked me over by their unexpectedness. I feel a sense of awe, joy and inner peace that I had not expected. I walk outside, letting the salt air wind hit my face, and I physically feel something wonderful happen inside of me.

It’s said you can’t go home again, but maybe the point is that home is never really gone from within you.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Solitude

A few days ago my youngest son asked me what I do all day when they’re at school. I went through my list of chores, errands and “work” (our own family bookkeeping and scheduling as well as a couple of volunteer commitments). He then asked if I wished that they were home with me all day and I responded with a resounding, “No!” I love my children, but the truth is, I love my time alone and I crave solitude.

Growing up I would sit for hours by my bedroom window just looking outside and thinking. I loved walking on the beach and thinking. At night, I would gaze up at the stars contemplating the universe and thinking. As an adult, I don’t feel like I have time to think. Not the type of thinking needed to arrange schedules or balance checkbooks, but the type of thinking needed to calm one’s mind. My nephew recently posted on Facebook that he loves walking beside the Columbia River and reflecting. I was jealous of his ability to take the time for that sort of solitude, for that time to think. One of the reasons I like to write is because formulating my thoughts around a topic forces me to think, forces me to contemplate something more than just who has what appointment today.

I saw a quote in the paper last week that really summed up my need for solitude.

“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.” --D.H. Lawrence

I want, I need to let life rush in!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eau de Bengay -- Tres Sexy!

In my teens I loved the musky heaviness of patchouli oil. Later, in my 30s I leaned towards White Shoulders and, after my mother died, I liked wearing her scent, Emeraude. Now in my 50s, I’ve discovered a new scent. It’s strong, distinctive, has a lot of staying power and is relatively cheap. My new favorite scent? Eau de Bengay!

Remember the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding? The dad in that movie uses Windex for all sorts of ailments and mishaps. In a similar manner, my grandpa used Absorbine Jr. for everything! Scrape your knee? Apply some Absorbine Jr. Muscles hurt? Apply some Absorbine Jr. Ear pain? Drop in some Absorbine Jr. (and blow in a little cigarette smoke just for good measure). My memories of my grandpa are tied up with the smell of Absorbine Jr. just as my memories of my mom come flooding forth every time I smell Emeraude. Now, I’m afraid that my kids might begin to associate me with the smell of Bengay. With chronic shoulder pain in one arm and tennis elbow in the other, I have taken to smearing my upper extremities, morning and night, with Bengay. This morning, when I visited my ophthalmologist, I felt I should apologize for what I know was an overwhelming aroma of Bengay. Portland has a new policy for city workers discouraging wearing scents in the workplace – would the scent of Bengay be included in this policy? A few nights ago, my husband got into bed and cuddled up next to me – ever the gentleman, he whispered, “Oh, Bengay! That’s so sexy!”

There are many adventures that come with being in my 50s; I hadn’t expected that learning to love the scent of Bengay would be one of them.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Late

PS (as in pre-script): Guys, the following may be TMI for some of you, so you may want to skip this one. Better yet, read on and possibly gain a better understanding of women.

There are two ultra-important sentences in a woman’s life that we females all understand: “My period started,” and “My period is late.” They both have a number of meanings. The first, being said by a pre-teen or teenage girl, can mean that she’s getting her period for the first time – a monumental event that changes one’s outlook on who you are. It can also be a flat statement that means, for some, that activities need to be adjusted or curtailed. Finally, it can be said in disappointment during those years when a woman might be hoping to become pregnant or in relief if, during those years, she really doesn’t want to become pregnant. The second sentence can, again, be related to a possible pregnancy and is either a joyful statement, if pregnancy is desired, or a worried statement, if a pregnancy is not then wanted. For women my age, the sentence, “My period is late,” can be the clearest indication that menopause has actually begun.

There are many indicators of peri-menopause that women can experience for years before actually entering menopause: night sweats, hot flashes, dryness, but the absence of a period is a pretty good indicator that one’s hormones have made that big dramatic shift. With the exception of the onset of menstruation in a girl’s early teens and, possibly, pregnancy, the end of menstruation and the beginning of menopause are probably the most significant bodily changes a woman experiences during her lifetime. All three of these events, onset of periods, pregnancy and menopause carry with them enormous changes, both physical and mental. Physically, there are shifts made that one cannot control (at least without supplements) and mentally there are not only the myriad of emotional upheavals that happen because of the shifting hormones, but there are also the inevitable changes in self-perception and social definition – Who am I now?

I don’t know of any woman who won’t understand what I just wrote about in those last two paragraphs and, I thought, most men probably understand as well. I happen to be married to one of the all-time best men around. He’s understanding and patient; he considers my little foibles to be endearingly quirky; I would offer him up as an example for other men who want to be good husbands. And yet, two nights ago, when I cautiously confided, “My period is late,” his response sent me into a total tailspin. He looked at me, seeming somewhat confused, and said, “So what’s the big deal?” WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?!! For me, this confession was laden with meaning. For years, I’ve anticipated this event; I’ve thought about what it will mean. I'm already past the average age for the onset of menopause. Now, possibly, here it is and I’m feeling very emotional and my husband, my best friend, my man asks, “What’s the big deal?”

Once my tears had dried (yes, his question lead my emotions to overflow through my eyes) we had a little conversation about the importance to women of these kinds of changes and I think he better understands what this all means to me so that next time he won’t be asking me that type of uninformed question. Next time, because, well, my period started.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Welcome back, Me!

I am an optimistic person by nature. I distinctly remember the Aha! Moment when I realized that not everyone goes through life with the same outlook I always have. In my previous life as a bank trust officer, I was even nicknamed Pollyanna. Even during periods of grief, I always felt that my most basic inner-self was happy and joyful. However, for the last year, my optimism has faded and my joy receded. Even though I so wanted to feel my heart sing, the music just wasn’t there. As month followed month, I began to believe that I truly had changed – that I was leaving the Pollyanna end of the spectrum and heading toward the Rosanne Barr end. This perceived change was playing havoc with me. It’s tough when you suddenly have to see yourself as a different type of person. I remember when a friend’s husband died unexpectedly and much too early (a much more serious event than any that’s happened to me). She told me that it was hard to now have to look at herself as a single person, not as part of a couple with the dreams and plans that couples make.

As I wrote in my last entry, I recently, unwittingly, found myself taking extra special care of someone in need – myself! Then, I took some advice from my husband about mentally compartmentalizing those thoughts and emotions that have been weighing me down. I mentally put them into a drawer, tucked in the edges that were trying to sneak out and I shut the drawer! Thursday afternoon, as we were driving to our youngest son’s basketball game and listening to the radio, I suddenly felt the music move within me. I felt the joy pushing itself out, creating a crack that grew bigger and bigger. Holding back tears I said to my husband, “I feel like dancing.” I think he knew that I didn’t mean the kind of dancing where you stand up and move your feet. On Friday the crack became a chasm and my inner joy spewed out. I drove around town on a mission of errands wearing a stupidly silly smile on my face. Welcome back, Optimism! Welcome back, Pollyanna! Welcome back, Me!

P.S. Lest this sounds too syrupy-sweet, this past year has changed me – you know, older and wiser and all that, but it’s good to know that deep down, I am still the optimistic person I always believed myself to be.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Taking Care of Baby

I’ve been a wife for 33 years, a mom for almost 30 years. I was an employee for 17+ years and I’ve been a volunteer for 15 years…then there was my mom and my mother-in-law who I took care of through their last days. I run the “family” business: scheduling, driving, shopping, cleaning, bill paying and record keeping – sometimes cooking. I’m currently in the middle of several projects along with thinking about what new path our lives might take as my husband plans his next professional steps. As I’ve mentioned here, I’ve been a bit stressed lately, but I’ve experienced a turnaround (see A New Year by Any Other Name). Sometime throughout this turnaround process, though, I realized that, even before my mind took a new direction, aka a new attitude, my body had already begun the process. After two weeks of what I thought was lethargy, I realized that what was really happening was that I was taking care of ME! I didn’t go into my office except to add the daily mail to the piles of projects and paperwork already there. I worked out more. I took walks and then took naps. I did the things that had to be done – kids to the orthodontist, watching their games, keeping a basic level of food in the house, but I didn’t do anything more. I worried that I was turning into a flakey person, one of those people who commits to doing something, but then doesn’t follow through. Then, late last week, after I’d already experienced my “new year” attitude and was back at work catching up on all that I had let slide, I had one of those Aha! Moments when I realized that I hadn't been in danger of becoming a flake; I hadn’t turned into a lazy person – I was simply giving myself time to renew. No longer having a mother to take care of me, I babied myself and I feel better for it.