Because You’ve Got To Take A Chance

IMG_3571Thirty years ago, my husband and I were deciding where to go for our annual vacation.  I was almost six months pregnant, so I was looking into places that would be within easy driving distance.  Then a friend mentioned that she had just returned from Sanibel Island in Florida, and said it was really very nice.  She said there were great beaches, beautiful bike paths and lots of unspoiled scenery.

That sounded great, but I wasn’t sold.  We’d have to fly, and I didn’t know how much that would cost or if my doctor would even allow it.  I had no idea where to stay on the island, didn’t own a maternity swimsuit, and weren’t there a lot of alligators in Florida?  I thought Lexington, Kentucky sounded like a safer bet.  But it did seem sort of silly to choose Kentucky over a beautiful barrier island, and after careful thought and with my doctor’s permission, we booked a condo on Sanibel Island and hoped for the best.

Our flight got in late, and we drove for a long time on a dark, unmarked highway, fairly sure we were lost as we tried to find the causeway to the island. We finally made it and located our condo, only to discover that they had put us in a two bedroom condo which was way more than we had budgeted for, but there was no manager on duty at that hour to switch us.  By that point, we were frustrated, exhausted, and quite sure we had made a terrible mistake by coming.  All we could do was go to bed and hope things would get better in the morning.

Luckily, they did. The morning light revealed that my friend had not exaggerated when she told us how beautiful the island was, and a friendly manager moved us to a nice one bedroom unit with a view of the ocean.  We had a great time, even if I did have to walk the beach wearing a swimsuit that looked like a tent.  Sanibel  is now our favorite vacation spot, and we have been back there too many times to count.  But we never would have discovered it if we hadn’t taken a chance and stepped out of our comfort zone all those years ago.

I need to remember that now, as I tend to want to stick with the comfortable and familiar with my middle-aged self.   But the truth is that almost every good thing in my life is a direct result of going out of my comfort zone and taking a chance on something new.  And almost all my regrets come from the times I wimped out and stuck with the comfortable and easy choice.  As I’m returning from another great week at Sanibel, I’m so glad I chose to come here instead of Kentucky thirty years ago.  And twenty years from now, I want to be just as glad about the choices I’m making now.

Ten Good Things About An Empty Nest

We all know the downsides of the empty nest syndrome:  missing our children, the house feeling too quiet, we have to do our own yard work, etc.  But there are some good things about it as well:

1)  More closet space, and more drawer space.  You may even get a whole room to make over as an office, home gym, craft room, etc.

2)  Cheaper grocery bills.  If you have a son, MUCH cheaper grocery bills.

3)  Guest bathrooms that stay clean for days.

4)  You can go out to eat whenever you want to, and not worry about getting a sitter or a bunch of teenagers descending on your home while you are gone.  And if you have the rest of your meal boxed up to bring home, it actually stays in the refrigerator until you eat it.

5)  A good night’s sleep.  No more late nights waiting for your teenagers or young adults to get home safely.  They’re still out late, but you don’t know it.

6)  Much less laundry.  Sometimes you can go a whole week without doing a load.

7)  Your computer is almost always free, whenever you want to use it.

8)  You can wear what you want to wear, because there’s no one to tell you those are “Mom jeans,” or to say, “That’s what you’re wearing?  Seriously?”  Your husband is the only one who’s going to see your outfit before you leave the house, and he knows better than to criticize.

9)  The only music playing in your house is music you actually like.  No more rap.  Ever.

10)  You get to know your husband again, and if you’re lucky, remember why you fell in love with him in the first place.

Middle Age: The Perfect Excuse

Whenever I can’t lift something heavy or move as quickly as I used to, I blame my middle-aged body, and that’s probably accurate.  But when I trip on the stairs, knock over my water glass as I’m reaching for the salt shaker or take ten swings to sink a putt on a miniature golf course, I can’t honestly blame middle age.  The truth of the matter is, I’ve always been a bit of an un-athletic klutz.

While I was never the last kid picked when we were choosing teams at recess, I was also never one of the first kids selected.  I was usually added to a team when about half the kids had already been chosen, and that was mostly when I happened to be friends with the child doing the choosing.  The only time I excelled in gym class was when we were tumbling, and asked to do something the gym teacher called “knee walking,” which is exactly what it sounds like.  We knelt down, reached behind us to grab our feet and walked across the mat on our knees, putting all of our body weight directly on our kneecaps.  I stood out from the rest of the class because I was able, and willing, to knee walk right off the mat and across the entire wooden floor of the gym and back.  Obviously, I wasn’t the brightest kid in class, but I was definitely the one with the toughest knees.

In high school, I played volleyball my senior year only because it was a brand new sport at our school that very few other girls wanted to play, so they were desperate enough to ask me.  I steered well clear of track and basketball, and the thought of trying out for the pom-pom or cheerleading squads never even entered my mind.  I was just proud of myself for taking gym class all four years and never once flunking out.  In my twenties, I did have a short stint on a church-sponsored co-ed softball team, where I spent the entire season in right field, literally praying that no one hit the ball to me.  Although I did catch a fly ball, once.

But now that I’m middle aged, I’ve realized that I don’t have to admit to being a klutz anymore.  Never mind that I have never been athletic or coordinated:  I’m middle aged, and THAT’S the reason for any and all of my physical deficiencies.  It’s taken me over half my life, but I have finally come up with a believable excuse!  I just have to make sure I avoid everyone who knew me before I turned fifty…..

A Mid-Century Life

I was watching the show “House Hunters” on HGTV the other morning, and the young couple trying to select their new home ended up choosing what was referred to as a “mid-century house” because it had been built in the 1950s.  Which is, of course, the exact same decade in which I was born.  As soon as they bought the house, the couple began a full-scale rehab to bring the incredibly “old” house “up-to-date.”  Needless to say, I turned off the TV.

I’m used to thinking of myself as middle-aged, and even as the tail-end of the Baby Boomer generation.  But mid-century?  That just sounds so old!  Yet there’s no getting around the fact that I came into this world in the late 1950s, over half a century ago, and a completely different era.

When I was a young child, our family had only one car.  We were luckier than most of our neighbors in that my father took the bus to work most days, thereby leaving my mother with a car to use when she needed to go somewhere.  She spent a lot of her time driving not only my sisters and me around, but often the neighbors as well.  I remember many trips to the zoo with my mother and her two friends, Peggy and Rosemary, in the front seat, each with a baby in her lap.  The older children, and there were usually at least seven of us, were stuffed into the back seat.  No one had ever heard of car seats or even seat belts for children back then.

When I was in first grade, the teacher once asked the class what we wanted to be when we grew up.  The boys gave a variety of answers–policeman, doctor, lawyer, truck driver, etc.–but each of the girls answered either teacher or nurse.  As far as we knew, those were the only two choices available to us.  We also wore dresses or skirts to school each day.  Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants, which always made swinging around the monkey bars at recess without showing off our underwear a bit  of a challenge.  Television sets were black and white, and had about four channels which only worked when the antennae on top were placed just so.

When I think back on my early years, I have to realize that it was indeed a long time ago and a very different world from the one I live in now.  So maybe it isn’t such a mystery why I sometimes feel just a little bit like a stranger in a foreign land.  Adjusting to change is a natural part of life, but dang!  Women in my generation have adjusted to more than our fair share, even when most of the changes have been for the good.    So I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a little patience and consideration as we cope with it all.  And by the time we reach the full-century mark, we’re going to be needing a LOT of patience and consideration.  Consider yourselves warned.

Because The Only Constant Is Change

I have to admit that sometimes I get a little discouraged about just how much my body has changed now that I am middle aged.  I’m not nearly as strong as I used to be, and since I walk big, rowdy shelter dogs three times a week, that’s not something I can ignore.  I can’t read normal print without reading glasses, and no matter how carefully I style my hair and put on my make up before an evening out, my double chin is joining me for dinner.

But what I need to remember is that these changes are nothing new, and that my body has actually been changing for my entire life.   Obviously, growing from an infant to an adult involved lots of changes, but it’s not as if I went from having the body of a twenty-year old to the body of a middle-age woman over night.  The process has been slow and gradual, even when I was too busy to pay attention.

I remember the time I got the bright idea to show my young daughter how to do a backward roll, since she had just started taking gymnastic classes at the YMCA.  I squatted down, put my hands palms-up on my shoulders, ducked my head and rolled backwards.  Seconds later, as I was laying flat on my back and wondering if I would ever walk again, I realized that I was past the stage in my life when I could do a backward roll.  I was in my mid-thirties at the time.  My eyesight began to fade in my mid-forties, and the late forties/early fifties brought the joy of menopause.  By my mid fifties, I could no longer lift really heavy things, and eating rich food late at night could lead to very unpleasant consequences.

So although I sometimes may feel a bit ambushed by all the physical changes I have to deal with in my middle age, the truth is that my body has been changing for years, and usually not for the better.  And while I still don’t like all the changes, it does help to realize that coping with with them is nothing new, and that I’ve been doing it successfully for quite awhile now.  I own six sets of reading glasses, spread strategically throughout the house and in my purse.  I’ve bought the discs that let me slide furniture across the floor rather than have to lift it, and I’m discovering that there are all kinds of exercise classes out there for the, shall we say, “maturing” woman.  Because the truth is that this changing body stuff really isn’t anything new, and it’s nothing I can’t handle.  I just need to remember that…..

“With A Little Help From My Friends…”

First of all, I need to say that I’ve been lucky enough to have found some very good friends in recent years.  I’m not talking about casual friends, I’m talking about true friends:  people I can count on when I need help, people who let me express exactly what I am thinking and feeling without judging, and people who encourage me to be the best person I can be.  Their friendship is an incredible gift, and I never doubt how lucky I am to have them in my life.

But one of the advantages of aging is the gift of life-long friends, those “old” friends I have known for most, if not all, of my life.  The awkward teenage years,  the nervous new-mom years, all the way to the “how will I ever survive menopause?” years, these are the friends who have seen it all, or at least most of it.  There’s nothing quite like spending time with people you have known for decades.  They’ve been a constant in my life, and when I say, “remember when?” they always do. Often they add memories that I have forgotten until they bring it up, and then I have a new memory to savor.  There’s something deeply comforting and affirming in those kinds of friendships.

“Old” friends don’t feel the need to impress each other, which means you can talk openly and honestly about almost everything.  They know your strengths, and encourage you to use them.  This blog would not have been started without the almost constant encouragement (okay, nagging, but in a good way) of a friend I met in sixth grade, and I am beyond grateful to her for that.  Old friends also know your weaknesses, which just means they know exactly when to step in and offer a helping hand.

In a world where we are so used to having to “put our best foot forward” and hide our faults, it’s no small gift to spend time with people who accept us just they way we are.  I often joke that I would never use any of my life-long friends as a job reference, simply because they know way too much about me!  But that is fine, as I have plenty of people who know only the public, “surface” me (several have told me how calm I am, which couldn’t be further from the truth) who I can list as a reference if I ever need one.  But those aren’t the people I turn to in times of need, or when something wonderful has happened and I want to share it.

True, life-long friends are the ones who keep us grounded, keep us going when times get rough and are a constant reminder that we are never really alone.  They make the problems of middle age seem so much easier to bear.  And the nicest thing about making new friends is that, twenty years from now, I’ll have even more old, long-term friends.  It almost makes me look forward to my senior years…..

If It Ain’t Broke….

I was reading an article in a travel magazine recently in which the author described some of his fellow cruise passengers as “women who had found their look thirty years ago and were sticking with it.”  I read the sentence twice, and then thought, “Is that me?”  And I had to admit:  yes, it is.

When I was in my twenties, I did try to keep up with the latest fashions and experimented with different clothing styles in an effort to find a look that worked for me.  Even then, I was blessed with a “pear body shape,” which is a quaint way of saying my hips and thighs are two sizes larger than my waist. That meant not all fashion styles suited me (leggings are not a good look for women with short, chubby legs, no matter what their age), but I still managed to come up with reasonably fashionable outfits that didn’t emphasize the wrong body parts.  My look mostly consisted of dark-colored pants and skirts, topped with bright-colored (often blue) shirts and blouses, usually tucked in to draw attention to my waist rather than my hips.

Now I’m middle-aged, and not nearly so inclined to tuck in my shirts.  But otherwise, I dress pretty much the same way I always have.  Every now and then I take a stab at dressing a bit more fashionably, but it rarely works out.  Leggings and long, flowing tops are, sadly, once again in style, and I see many women my age wearing them well.  I can’t wear leggings (see reference to chubby legs in the paragraph above), and have always thought that long, flowing tops make me look like a fireplug.  Recently, I did decide to be brave and try the new styles, so I found a long, flowing top on the clearance rack, bought it, and wore it out sightseeing during our October trip to Charleston.  And I felt just like a fireplug the whole time I had it on.  I added the top to the Goodwill donation bag as soon as we got home.

I’ve decided that there’s really nothing wrong with sticking with a look that I like and feel comfortable wearing.  One of the advantages of middle age is not feeling the need to follow every fashion trend in an effort to keep up with everyone else.  I like darks jeans and slacks, and blue is still my favorite color, so there’s a lot of it in my closet.  And probably always will be.  My look may not be trendy, but who cares?  It works for me.

Thoughts on a cold winter morning….

DSC03771Lately, I’ve been thinking that one of the best things about being middle aged is knowing that the retirement years are finally on the horizon.  My husband’s, that is, not mine.  But if all goes well, he should be able to retire sometime in the next five to ten years.  And that means we will finally be able to spend the entire month of January in Florida, enjoying the sunshine instead of battling the cold, snow and ice of a typical midwest winter.

I’m tired of lying in bed for at least ten minutes after I wake up every morning, trying to work up the nerve to get up and face yet another frigid day.  When I finally do drag myself out of bed,  I bundle up in several layers (long underwear has become my new favorite piece of clothing), warm up the car and head down to the Humane Society to help the other volunteers walk the forty-some housebroken dogs who are patiently waiting for their morning potty break.  In my weaker moments, I think about just not going.   But I know that only means that the other volunteers will have even more dogs to walk, and I don’t want to do that to my friends.  Plus, they know where I live.

So for now, I take comfort in hoping that it won’t be too many more years before I’m spending my January mornings in Florida, where I belong.  I’ll wake up, hop out of bed immediately, put one some light-weight clothes and go for a stroll on the beach, stopping now and then to pick up a pretty seashell.  I really believe that time is coming, and dreaming of it is what keeps me going through this long, cold and dreary month.

In the meantime, if anyone knows how to make an indoor dog toilet, please leave the instructions in my comment section.  Seriously.

Left Behind: technology and me

I’ve spent the past two days trying to update the look of this blog, scanning through endless computer screens of information about sharing, plug-ins, widgets, Gravatars, child-themes and lots of other terms I’ve never heard of before.  While I did manage to add an archive sidebar (that’s a “widget,” who would have thought?) to make past posts more accessible, somehow I also put my Gravatar profile on my “about me” page and couldn’t figure out how to get it back off.   And when I finally did figure it out, it also removed the photo I had so carefully uploaded (I was wearing big, dark sunglasses, of course) as well.  So, I’m taking a temporary break from the struggle to do what I actually understand and enjoy when it comes to blogging:  just writing the posts.

I don’t really know when all my troubles with technology started.  I was still working when computers began to make their way into offices, and I don’t remember having any problems learning to use them.  At the time, I was working in development, generating donor profiles.  And since the profiles constantly needed to be updated, I really appreciated how much easier computers made my job.  Later, as an at-home mom and free-lance writer, I was thrilled to get my first computer since it made writing and editing so much easier.  No more “whiting out” mistakes and trying to find a new word exactly the same size as the whited-out word so I didn’t have to retype the whole page!

Maybe I started resenting technology the first time my computer “lost” a carefully written article.  Or when I had to ask one of my kids to show me how to answer my new phone.  Or the first time I tried to text (in the days before phones had keyboards, and you had to use the phone’s number buttons to punch in the letters.)  I have learned how to use google to find a quick answer to an obscure question, I understand the concept of wi-fi, and I’ve managed to start a blog.  But I’m still not half as tech savvy as my son or daughter.  And I strongly suspect that the average 8-year old has much better tech skills than I do.

And that’s so unfair.  One of the few advantages of growing older is supposed to be gaining wisdom.  Wisdom that you can then pass down to younger generations, who are supposed to appreciate it and respect you for your great knowledge.  But that doesn’t happen when you have to text your daughter while she’s at work to ask her how to turn the sound on your phone back on. Technology may have brought many gifts, but it has also brought one very depressing thing:  the ability to seem both old and clueless at the same time.

So I struggle on, in the hope that someday I will master enough tech skills to feel that I am indeed wise.  Meanwhile, I have to find what happened to that profile picture.  And how to change that ugly orange and brown header to a nice shade of blue.  I’ll let you know how it goes….

Waiting for things to be “right”

I have far too many bad habits to list in this blog (I would have to change the blog’s name to “Stupid Things I Do On A Regular Basis” and who would want to read that?), but I think my worst habit is my tendency to wait to enjoy myself until whatever current crisis I am dealing with is over, and my life is flowing smoothly.  I’ve been on this earth for over 56 years, and my life has never been without some problem or another.  Yet for some silly reason, sometimes I think that I have to wait for everything to be perfect before I can be happy.

When my children were very young, I remember thinking that life was going to be just fine once they were potty trained, able to sleep through the night, and weaned off the bottle.  They accomplished all that, and yet our family life was still very chaotic as they grew older and we juggled school schedules, sports activities, church activities, etc.  And through it all, I waited for that magic moment when things would “calm down” and life would be the way I thought it was supposed to be.

As an aspiring author, I thought that I would finally feel successful just as soon as I published something.  Then I sold my first article to a neighborhood newspaper (called, I kid you not, “The Zip-0-Nine News”) and I realized that didn’t quite cut it.  So I slogged away, selling articles to other, more professional, regional newspapers and magazines, and finally to a national magazine, followed by the sale of a short book to an educational publisher.  It wasn’t much, but I still wish I had been wise enough to take more joy in those accomplishments rather than always focusing on the next sale, which I was quite sure would finally launch my real writing career.

Between my family, my husband’s job, my writing, my friends, and just plain old life in general, there is always going to be some problem that needs to be solved, some crisis that needs to be dealt with and some event that needs to be planned.  And finally, in my middle age, I am starting to figure out that this is how my life is always going to be.  I’m never going to cross that final item off my “to-do list,” or feel as if I have finally “succeeded.”

It may sound corny, but life really is a journey, and learning to enjoy it through all the mess and imperfections is absolutely essential.  I’m not sure why I had the horrible habit of waiting for things to be perfect, or why I still find myself slipping into that mindset every once in a while.  But I do know that it is a habit I need to break if I want to really appreciate the gifts I have in my life.  The road on my particular journey may not always be smooth, but I’m finally realizing that doesn’t mean it can’t be good, right now, even with all the bumps and potholes.  I just have to be smart enough to know it.