Still Writing After All These Years


Honestly, I never really planned to become a blogger.  When I majored in English all those years ago, I just wanted to publish a few books for middle grade children and hoped that they would be successful enough to earn me a modest income.  I thought I liked the way the publishing world worked at the time:  I would spend long hours writing and editing my manuscript, then send it to publishers until I found one that accepted it, at which point it would be their job to handle the marketing and sales.  My job would be to receive the royalties and get started on my next book.  It seemed like a good plan at the time.

Sadly, things didn’t quite work out that way.  My articles sold, but my books didn’t—except for one young adult novel which was accepted by an educational publisher. The rejection letters just kept coming. It didn’t take long before I began to doubt my writing skills, especially when I went to bookstores and read the books that actually were being published.  Clearly, the books I wanted to write and the books the public wanted to read were two very different things.  As the years went by, I found myself spending much less time writing, and more time pursuing different interests that didn’t require coping with quite so much rejection.DSC00181

But then the blogging world exploded, and I couldn’t help but see that there might be some advantages to writing one.  I could choose what to write about without worrying whether or not a publisher thought it could be commercially successful. The downside was I wouldn’t get paid for writing, but hey, I was certainly used to that!  I’m naturally cautious and a bit of a procrastinator, so it took me a while (and the steady encouragement of a good friend) to work up the nerve to actually start the blog.  But finally, four months ago, I started “Muddling Through My Middle Age.”  (Did I mention that all the good titles were taken?)

And I’m so happy I did.  As a middle age woman, it gave me confidence to realize that I could still start something entirely new and stick with it.  And although there was just a little rejection involved (It did hurt a bit to realize that some of my friends had no interest in checking out my blog.   I mean, if they had opened a bakery, I would have bought at least one cake), I soon got over it.  The blog turned out to be a great way to connect with others who were also dealing with the trials and tribulations of being middle aged.  Friends and strangers have left positive and insightful comments both on the blog and on my Facebook page, which is the only place I advertise it.  My list of followers is growing slowly, but steadily.

For me, the most important thing is simply that I am writing again, and enjoying it.  I’m glad I finally realized that it was okay to let go of my old dream of publishing lots of children’s books and try a different form of writing instead.  I think all of us need to realize that sometimes we have to be flexible when chasing our dreams, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Just find a way to do what you know you are meant to do, and don’t sweat the details.  Trust me, it will work out.

My Very Own March Madness

IMG_4757If I was forced to spend and entire weekend watching sports, I would choose to watch basketball, since it’s one of the more fast-moving sports and I mostly understand the rules.  Luckily, no one is forcing me to do any such thing, so I am largely ignoring the televised March Madness basketball on TV (unlike my husband, who is glued to the set) and having my own personal version of March Madness instead.

My version has nothing to do with basketball, and everything to do with the arrival of spring.  By mid-March, I am so ready for spring that I can hardly stand it.  I love seeing the daffodils finally blooming in my back yard, and the first little buds beginning to appear on trees and bushes.  And when we get the very first truly warm day, I am convinced that the cold weather is finally over and that summer is just around the corner.  And that’s where the “madness” comes in.

Because I never learn.  Each year, I get hopeful all over again.  I think our yard will always look as nice as it does in early spring, before the weeds/drought/grubworms, of summer have had a chance to do their dirty work.  I believe this will be the year that my allergy medication will finally work and the tree pollen won’t give me a sore throat, runny nose and itchy eyes.  I’m sure that the mosquitos and all the other nasty bugs won’t be so bad this year, and that this will be the year the whiteflies don’t attack my tomato plants.  Worst of all, I dare to hope  that this is the year I’ll both fit into and look good in my summer shorts.  Even though I never do.

I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.  If that’s true, then the term March Madness really does apply to my yearly reaction to the beginning of spring.  I tend to have the exact same hopes each year, even though they always prove to be far too optimistic.  The frantic housecleaning (because of course my house won’t just get dirty all over again), the optimistic plans to eat all meals this summer on our patio (because it never gets hot, humid and buggy in St. Louis in the summer, right?) and the careful unpacking of summer clothes that haven’t fit properly in years are all part of my annual spring tradition, and probably always will be.

It’s just my own personal March Madness.  And I’m pretty sure I’d be better off watching the basketball tournaments.

Sometimes It’s Okay To Be Different

I was wasting time on Facebook the other day, aimlessly scrolling down my newsfeed, when I saw a post about working mothers.  The point was basically that working mothers need help and understanding, rather than judgement, from the stay-at-home moms, and was followed by the usual long stream of comments.  I should have known better than to read them, but when I’m trying to avoid my “to do” list, I never ignore a perfectly good distraction.  So I found myself reading the predictable comments where working moms accused the stay-at-home moms of being cliquish, over-priviledged and unambitious, while the stay-at-home moms accused the working moms of putting their career before the well-being of their children, not being involved in their children’s schools  and being condescending to those who stayed at home.

Sadly, none of this was new.  The same arguments and accusations were being tossed around when my own children were small, which was a long time ago.  I found it depressing that so many young women still hadn’t learned to simply respect that mothers tend to chose what is best (or necessary) for them and their families when they make their career and child-rearing decisions, and that it’s not helpful to trash talk those who make different choices.  Depressing, but not surprising.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect mothers of young children to be respectful and considerate of those who make different choices and have different beliefs when so few other people show respect and consideration for those who are different.  We live in a society where attacking beliefs that are different from ours has become the norm.  If someone’s political or religious views are different from ours, they are fair game for any ridicule or criticism we can heap upon them….or so it would seem from watching cable news shows, reading the letters to the editor in the newspaper, or reading the comment sections on Facebook or internet news posts.  The message seems clear:  only those who think, look and act just like us are acceptable.

Personally, I find that message unacceptable.  Of course I like my own opinions best; who doesn’t?  But I’ve lived long enough to realize that I don’t want to limit my relationships to people who always agree with me.  I have friends and family from almost every religious point of view, and definitely from every political point of view, and I value all of them.  My only requirement is that they don’t attack my views, and that I don’t attack theirs.  We may discuss our different beliefs respectfully, or we may just tactically “agree to disagree,” depending on the issue and our personalities, but we can, and do, stay in relationship with each other.  At our best, we even learn from each other and grow a little bit wiser and a little more tolerant.  Sometimes, I’ve even managed to admit that I might be (gasp) wrong…just once in a while, of course.

Not all the comments following the post about working mothers were negative.  Several suggested that the best thing to do was simply realize that all the mothers were doing their best to be good moms, and to stop judging each other and start trying to be be nice to each other.  They pointed out that a little understanding and kindness can go a long way.  Call me naive, but I couldn’t agree more.

A Fair Trade

DSC00174I really believe that looking into a mirror and thinking, “who is that old person?” is something that every middle aged person has done at one time or another.  Some of us do it on a regular basis, if not daily.  But the reality is that the older we get, the harder it is to identify with the image we see reflected back at us, especially in a well-lit bathroom mirror that emphasizes all the wrinkles and sags.  Middle age means no longer looking nearly as young as we feel, and knowing that it’s only going to get worse, not better, from here on out.  Talk about depressing!

Luckily, middle age brings other, more positive, changes than just the physical ones.  My body may be aging in all kinds of negative ways, but my sense of self is actually improving.  I have a very good memory of my childhood (which is kind of amazing, since I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday), and one thing I know very clearly about my early years is how hard I always worked at “fitting in.”  I paid attention to what the other kids wore, what games they played, and what they thought, and did my best to imitate that so that I wouldn’t be excluded.  Later, as a teenager and young adult, I did pretty much the same thing, doing my best to make sure that I looked and acted as much as possible like everyone else.  It wasn’t always easy, and I certainly didn’t always succeed, but I can honestly say that I spent a lot of time and energy trying to be the person I thought others wanted me to be.

I can’t say exactly when “fitting in” stopped mattering so much to me, because it has been a gradual process, and one that I am still working on.  I’m sure reaching middle age had a lot to do with it, because the issues women deal with in middle age (menopause, empty-nest syndrome, aging parents, etc.) are a constant challenge to our self image.  Somewhere along the line, I have stopped caring so much about what others thought of me, and started caring a lot more who I really am, and who I really want to be.

It’s possible that this change is just a natural part of the aging process, now that I am at a point where I have to make intentional decisions about what I want to do with the years I have left.  Or maybe I’m just a slow learner and it’s taken me this long to learn what is really important in life has nothing to do with conformity, and that the people I actually care about have no problems accepting me just the way I am.  But whatever happened, I’m grateful.  I may not always recognize the old-looking woman who looks back at me from the mirror these days, but I am getting to know the “real me” a little better every day.  And that’s a trade-off I can live with.

One Dog At A Time

IMG_0282People often ask me how I manage to cope with volunteering at a large, open-admission animal shelter.  “Isn’t it just too depressing?” they ask.  “Don’t you want to take them all home?  And how can you stand knowing that not all of them get adopted?”

I’m no fool.  (I may not be overly bright, but I really don’t think I’m a fool.)  I’m a middle-aged woman with declining physical strength and limited financial resources, so I’m well aware that I won’t be able to single-handedly save all the dogs that wind up at the shelter.   Beyond that, I know I won’t be able to even make a dent in the huge problems that come from pet overpopulation, or animal abuse and neglect. There are too many people willing to take out their frustration and anger on animals, and even more people who thoughtlessly discard pets who have become inconvenient just like so much garbage.  Sadly, people who work or volunteer at animal shelters become far too familiar with the darker side of human nature.

What I have learned to do is concentrate on what I can fix.  I can take a shelter dog out of its run for a nice walk, giving it a chance to potty outside of its run, get some fresh air and sunshine, and, if needed, a chance to learn some basic manners to make it more adoptable.  I can show a dog who came to the shelter knowing only abuse or neglect from humans that people can also be kind and loving.  I can make a dog’s stay at the shelter less stressful, and when it does get adopted, I can feel a little satisfaction in knowing that I was a small part of that process.

It’s partly a “one dog at a time” philosophy that keeps me going.  I try to concentrate on that fact that I am helping this dog, right now, and believe me, the dog lets me know it appreciates my effort.  Most dogs like to go for walks, but shelter dogs absolutely LOVE to go for walks, and they don’t try to hide their enthusiasm.  But what really makes it possible for me to keep heading down to the shelter, even on the days when I find it a bit too overwhelming and depressing, is the fact that I’m not alone.

Sure, I can take pride in knowing that, on my own, I am able to walk and help a small number of shelter dogs.  But the good news is that there are lots of other volunteers who are doing the exact same thing.  I’m just one of a large number of people who are willing to spend their time helping shelter dogs.  And when enough of us show up on the same morning, we can get all the dogs on the adoption floor out for a walk (with all the accompanying benefits), even when we’re full and there are over 70 of them. By working together and supporting each other, we are able to help a whole lot of shelter dogs, each and every day.

So whenever I find myself getting discouraged by the huge number of unwanted, abused or neglected dogs that need help, I try to remind myself that what is really important is that I simply continue to chip away at the problem by doing what I can, when I can.  As an individual, all I can ever do is give my best effort.  But I am always so very thankful for all the other individuals who are also giving their personal best,  by doing what they can, when they can.   Because together, we manage to accomplish amazing things.

My Middle-Age Bucket List

DSC00171I’ve never been a fan of the idea of having a “bucket list,” mostly because I don’t like the idea of having a set list of goals that I need to reach before I “kick the bucket.”  How am I supposed to know now, in my middle age, everything that I still want to do with my life?  And what am I supposed to do when I finally cross the last item off my list?  Just check myself into the nearest nursing home and wait for death?  I think not.

But I am a natural procrastinator, so I do see the advantages of having some actual goals for the second half of my life, as long as they are appropriately fluid and on-going.  After giving the matter some thought, I finally came up with a bucket list I can live with:

1) Travel somewhere new as often as possible.  It doesn’t have to be far, as there are lots of interesting places I’ve never visited within a two-hour drive from my home, but it does have to be somewhere I’ve never visited before.  Discovering someplace new and wonderful is a joy I’ll never outgrow, and few things match it for making me feel young again.

2) Once a month, do something I haven’t ever done before.  It doesn’t really matter what it it is….just be brave and get out there and try something new.  Not everything will end as badly as my attempt at water-skiing.  (Note to self in case I ever try that again:  keep your feet together when the boat pulls you up out of the water.  Doing the “splits” on a lake is just as painful as it sounds.)

3) Try to make a new friend at least once a year.  I’ve heard people say they don’t want any new friends because they can barely keep up with the ones they have now.  And while I understand that from a time-management aspect, I am not willing to limit myself to the friends I already know, no matter how much I value them.  (And that’s a LOT!)  But some of my favorite people are those I’ve only gotten to know in the past few years, and trust me, they’re worth the time.  When it comes to adding good people to my life, I believe there’s always room for one more.  Always.

4) Never, ever stop thinking of new goals and new ways to make sure the second half of my life is as interesting, fun and meaningful as I can possibly make it.  Because when I’m not willing to do that, then perhaps it really will be time to find that nursing home….

That’s Just Not My Style

One of the distinct advantages of being middle aged is having seen so many trends come and go that I no longer feel the need to follow any of them.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a decorating trend, a new clothing fad, or a new food that all the best chefs are crazy about, I’m not jumping on the bandwagon unless I actually like it.

When I was in younger, I did tend to follow new trends, believing that what was new and wonderful today would stay that way well into the future.  Young people can be very naive that way.  I can remember when I thought white zinfandel was the best wine,  popcorn ceilings were cool, huge floral borders were pretty, and worst of all, that I actually looked good with my hair permed.  (I didn’t…see photo below.)   It’s cringe-worthy now, but at one time it was all very much in style.

Coleman Application_page 3 1

I’m not so easily fooled these days.  Chefs may be putting fried eggs on everything from hamburgers to salads, but that doesn’t mean I have to order them.  I still believe fried eggs are for breakfast, to be served with toast and bacon.  And while I enjoy bacon, I only eat it with the afore-mentioned eggs, in a sandwich, on a pizza,  or occasionally on a cheeseburger (for those times when I want to consume a week’s worth of calories in just one meal.)   Just because it’s become trendy to put bacon in everything from jam to ice cream doesn’t mean it belongs there.  I remember spending hours in the dressing room during my early twenties, trying to stuff my pear-shaped figure into the stylish “boy-cut” jeans.  Now leggings and ultra-tight jeans are in style, but I don’t waste my time trying to find a pair that looks good on my chubby little legs.  Straight-cut is still good enough for me.

I’ve lived long enough to know that I have the right to evaluate each and every new trend that comes down the pike, and to only join in when I want to.  Those of us who are middle-aged remember the avocado-colored appliances, the sunken living rooms and the “flocked” Christmas trees of our youth, so we know that just because something is called new and stylish, it isn’t necessarily in good taste. We’re still free to enjoy the trends we like.  But when a new trend doesn’t suit us, we can just ignore it, knowing that it will be replaced by yet another fad soon enough.  And this time, there won’t be any incriminating photos floating around.

Can You See Me Now?

I was talking to a friend one day, and she said one of the biggest surprises she had upon reaching middle age was discovering that she had become virtually invisible to almost everyone who wasn’t also a middle-aged woman.  When I responded sympathetically, she exclaimed, “Oh, I don’t mind at all!  Actually, I love it!  I can do whatever I want, and nobody notices!”

I’d heard middle-aged women complain about being invisible before, but being young at the time, I had assumed that they were simply complaining that the men they encountered no longer saw them as desirable.  And I thought, with all the callousness of youth, that they just needed to get over themselves.  But there is nothing vain or shallow about my friend, and she was talking about her work situation, not walking into a party and wanting the men in the room to stare at her with deep admiration and longing.  She meant that, as a middle-aged woman, most of her superiors didn’t really notice her enough to pay close attention to what she was up to, which gave her the freedom to do her job as she thought best without a lot of unnecessary interference. And since she’s both smart and hard working, she doesn’t need or want to be micro-managed.

But while middle-age invisibility may be an advantage in the workplace (although I’m sure it means my friend is also not recognized for some of her achievements), it can feel a bit uncomfortable when it spills over into the rest of our lives.  I once visited a new church three times by myself, slipping in and out of the sanctuary mostly unnoticed.  On the fourth visit, my husband joined me, and that time lots of people came up to greet us.  Once I was part of a couple, people actually saw us.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find that a bit annoying.  And unless I’m shopping in a store that specifically targets middle-aged women, I can usually browse for a very long time without a sales person approaching and asking if I would like any help.  Middle-aged invisibility is not just in our imagination.

So, although I agree with my friend that there are distinct advantages to the freedom that comes from living in a culture that doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to middle-aged women, I think there is also a downside to middle-age invisibility.  Because all of us, even those with a healthy self-esteem, sometimes need a little validation from other people.  We need to be reminded that we still have lots to offer the world, that we still count, and that we are still beautiful, both inside and out.  Which might be why, as we live out our middle years, we tend to spend so much time with other middle-aged women.  They still see our worth, and we see theirs. And sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

Traveling Light


I have never been a person who is comfortable with having a lot of “stuff.”  Maybe that’s the result of spending part of my childhood in a five-room apartment, where I was allotted two drawers, half of a small closet and three narrow shelves in which to store all my belongings, although I have to say that I never felt I needed more space.  Later, when I was heading off to college, my family was also moving to another state, so I had to pack up everything I owned at the same time.  I don’t remember how much I packed to take with me to college, but I do remember that the rest of my possessions fit neatly into two medium-sized cardboard boxes.  And the movers lost one of them.  I took that as a further sign that, in the grand scheme of things, I was not intended to have a lot of possessions.

All I do know is that if life is a journey, and I believe it is, then I prefer to “travel light.”  I don’t want a lot of material possessions weighing me down, especially since I can’t stand clutter or mess.  As far as I am concerned, having a lot of things just means I have to spend way too much time keeping all those things cleaned and organized, and that’s not how I want to spend my time.

But lately, I’ve come to realize that “traveling light” is not just about material possessions.  One of the advantages of being middle aged is that we are just over the half-way point of our life’s journey.  We can look back over the long road of where we’ve been and clearly see what worked, what could have been done better, and what was a downright disaster.  But we can also look forward to a road ahead that is still long enough (if we’re lucky) that we can make the needed adjustments to get us closer to living the life we want to live.  And I think the key to that is also “traveling light.”

I may have screwed up a lot in my life, but that doesn’t mean I have to carry that guilt or embarrassment with me forever.   And like everyone who has ever been in any kind of relationship, I’ve had my share of hurt feelings and disappointments over the years, but that doesn’t mean I have to nurse those grudges for the rest of my life.  That’s just too much baggage, and all it does is weigh me down.  It makes so much more sense to forgive, both myself for the things I’ve done that I’m not so proud of, and others for the times they have unintentionally hurt me, and move on.

With my material possessions, I’m constantly evaluating what I have, deciding if it’s worth keeping or if it’s time to let it go.  And I think that’s the best way to handle my emotional baggage as well:  decide what is good and worth keeping because it enhances my life; and what is no longer worth hanging on to because it doesn’t serve any positive purpose.  Because I really believe that if I want to get the most out of life, I always need to “travel light.”

Quick, Before I Forget….

I’ve been reading some terrific reviews of the new movie Still Alice, but I haven’t been able to make myself actually go see it yet.  It’s not that I don’t think it will be good enough to be worth my time and the price of admission.  I’ve read the book, and it was very good, and I’d kind of like to see how the book compares to the movie.  It’s just that the book struck a little too close to home, because it is about a middle aged woman who suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  And I have a horrible memory, and it’s getting worse all the time.

I don’t know about the movie, but early in the book, there’s a scene in which the Alice, the main character, is out for a jog on a path she has run daily for years, and suddenly looks around and realizes that she has no idea where she is or how to get home. Her memory has begun to desert her, and the rest of the book deals with how she is diagnosed with the disease and struggles to cope.   So now every time I have a lapse in memory, I find myself worrying, “is this normal, post-menopause memory loss?  Or is this just like that early scene in Still Alice?”

To be fair, I’ve never had a great memory.  My family still teases me about the time when I was about ten years old and put a glass bottle of Coke in the freezer to chill it more quickly.   Naturally, I forgot about it, but I did find out that when you leave a glass bottle of carbonated beverage in the freezer too long, it explodes, coating the entire freezer with frozen Coke and shards of glass.  And that your parents will not be happy about it, either.

Then I hit menopause, and found that my naturally poor memory has gotten much worse.  I can forget a word in the middle of a sentence, and in casual conversation I find myself interrupting people far too often.  It’s not that I’m trying to be rude, it’s just that I know I’ll forget the point I want to make if I wait for the other person to actually stop talking.  Recently I was having a conversation with another middle aged friend, and we were desperately trying to think of the word for “kennel,” as in a canine breeding facility.  There we were, two college-educated, somewhat intelligent women, and the best we could come up with was “dog farm.”

So, while I have no doubt that Still Alice is a great movie, I’m still not so sure that I want to see it.  Frankly, it scares me.  And I’ve never liked scary movies.