Ageless

No doubt about it, there are certain advantages to aging.  And I’m not talking about just the wisdom and self-acceptance that most of us achieve as we grow older.  I’m talking about the fact that old people can get away with stuff that younger people can’t.  For example, when I take 88-year old mother out to eat, she has no problem letting the waiter know the very second she’s ready to order, even if that means calling across the room to attract his attention.  I have yet to see a waiter take offense.  Instead, all she gets is a tolerant smile and sometimes even a friendly pat on the shoulder.  Somehow, I don’t think that would be the response if my mother wasn’t a textbook example of a “cute little old lady.”

Even at age 60, I have found that my age can be an advantage.  I have heard of people who have a “resting bitch face,” but personally, I have always had what can only be called a “resting stupid face.”  Meaning that when I don’t have a specific expression on my face, I tend to look as if I’m just a few bricks short of a load.  And that has served me well, particularly when I pair it with the words, “But I don’t understand.”  I can’t tell you how many people have done what I’ve wanted just because they couldn’t be bothered to explain the rules to someone they believed wasn’t bright enough to understand them.

But now that I have reached a certain age, I’ve found that the only thing better than having a “resting stupid face” is having an old resting stupid face.  If I’m having a disagreement with someone, (particularly someone younger) I have found that my most effective response is to simply stand there and look at them in a perplexed sort of way.  Sooner or later, they tend to give in, even if they do sigh loudly and roll their eyes at the same time.

Still, I’m only human, and there are times when I don’t really want to feel quite so old.  I miss the vitality of my younger days, would give anything to have the perfect eyesight, firm skin and boundless energy I once took for granted.  Luckily, I’ve discovered a fool-proof way to make me feel young again, and it doesn’t require any expensive or painful surgical procedures.  When I want to feel young, all I have to do is spend time with some of my treasured, life-long friends.  Seriously.

Maybe it’s because they knew me “way back when,” or maybe it’s because when I look at them I still see the young person they once were.  But for whatever reason, when I’m with my old friends, the years just melt away and I truly feel young again.  And it isn’t long before I’m also acting as if I was young:  laughing hysterically at our silly jokes, staying up late because no one wants the evening to end, and most of all, feeling that as long as I have my friends by my side, there’s nothing I can’t handle.

Aging does have it’s advantages, but every once in a while, I need my “old” friends to remind me of what it was like to be young…..

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A Change of Season

fullsizeoutput_4c9dAutumn has never been my favorite season, but for some reason, this year is different.  This year I’m actually enjoying Autumn.  Maybe it’s because we finally got a Fall with a lot of beautiful color on the trees, or maybe it’s because we enjoyed a spell of perfect Autumn weather with warm days and cool nights.  It might be that Halloween is fun again, now that I have a grandson among the trick-or-treaters.  (He may not be able to walk on his own yet, but he still looked adorable in his penguin costume.)  It could even be that my mother and sister are hosting the Thanksgiving dinner this year, which spares me the cleaning and shopping frenzy that usually defines my early November.

IMG_4023All I know is that I feel a new appreciation for Autumn, even now that the weather has turned cold and rainy.  I loved baking my first pumpkin pie of the season and have decorated my front porch with pumpkins.  I didn’t even mind packing away the last of my summer clothes and switching them out for the warmer clothes I’ll be needing in the upcoming months.

Perhaps I’m finally learning to live in the moment, and appreciate what I have right now rather than impatiently waiting for something better.  I suppose one sign of maturity is realizing that life is never going to be entirely (or even mostly) perfect, and that if I want to be happy, I need to learn to be happy with the messy imperfections that always make up the here and now.  I need to look around me at what I do have and be grateful for it.  And when I see a problem that needs to be fixed, I have to be willing to work hard to change what I can and also accept that sometimes my best efforts won’t be good enough.

Maybe I’m beginning to appreciate Autumn because I am, at age sixty, in the Autumn of my own life.  And while I have lost much of the strength and vigor of my youth, I am also beginning to understand the gifts that this season of my life brings.  It’s nice to reach the stage where I’m truly beginning to accept (and even like) who I am, especially because that makes it so much easier to accept other people exactly as they are.  Sometimes I do miss having young children at home, but I also enjoy the peacefulness  that an “empty nest” brings.  And it’s rewarding to get to know my son and daughter as independent adults who are happily making their own way in life.

When I was young, I never cared much for Fall.  I missed the warmth and freedom of summer, and was impatient for the Christmas season to begin.  But now I see that there’s a real beauty in this time and I’m more than happy to savor the many gifts of this season.  Winter will be here soon enough, but that’s okay….for now, I’m just happy to enjoy Autumn.

The Best Policy

Ann's photoWhen I was about six years old, I desperately wanted a pair of glasses.  And not just any glasses, I wanted  the “cat eye” framed glasses that were so popular at the time.  My older sister had a pair and so did Susan Breneke, who I thought was the coolest kid in the entire first grade.  I wanted those glasses so badly that I actually lied to my mother, telling her that far-away objects looked kind of fuzzy to me.  (My sister had described her vision problems to me in detail, so I knew just what to say.)  Unfortunately, my mom didn’t rush out and buy me a pair of glasses, which is what I thought would happen.  She took me for an eye exam, and I passed with flying colors.  I never did get those glasses.

I’m an adult now, and I no longer believe it telling lies to get what I want.   But there are still times when I think it would be easier to lie than tell the truth, and sometimes I struggle with being completely honest.

For example, I may want to tell a lie in order to spare a person’s feelings.  I know that people do that for me now and then.  When my husband and I are getting ready to go out, I’ll often ask his opinion of my outfit, sometimes even uttering the dreaded question, “Does this make me look fat?”  The closest he’s ever come to saying yes was the time I had just bought a new dress with lots of pleats at the waist and he asked me, “Have you seen the back view?”  Which was his subtle way of letting me know it made my butt look bigger than Cleveland.

Other times, I’ll hedge a little bit on my honest opinion when I’m talking to someone I know holds completely different views from me on a sensitive subject.  I’ve seen so many people become deeply offended, or even enraged, when someone dares to disagree with them that I’ve become a little too cautious in my responses.  There are times when telling the truth is harder than it sounds.

But I also know that I want to live my life as honestly and openly as I possibly can, and that means that I need to tell the truth about who I am and what I believe.  I need to accept the risk that there are going to be people who don’t like what I say or do, and that the loss of those relationships will probably sting, at least for awhile.  But the fear of rejection doesn’t outweigh the value of being true to my real self.

Like my husband, I need to always temper honesty with tact and sensitivity.  Honesty is never an excuse to run roughshod over someone’s feelings.  But handled correctly, telling the truth is actually easiest in the long run.  I don’t have to worry about keeping track of any little white lies I may have told if I always give an honest answer to a direct question.  If I admit to the many embarrassing things I have done in my life, there’s no need to worry about anyone “discovering” them.

And best of all, when I am honest with my friends and family, I know that those who stay in relationship with me like me for who I really am.  Any way you look at it, honesty really is the best policy.

A Blogger’s Voice

DSC00181When I was young and naive enough to believe I had a good shot at making a living as a free-lance writer, I attended lots of writer’s workshops.  They were always interesting, and some of the tips helped me place articles with local magazines and neighborhood newspapers.  I never did make a lot of money as a writer…my largest claim to fame was a short article in Bride’s magazine and the publication of one (count it, one) children’s book.  Still, I learned a lot in those workshops about writing, and especially about the delicate balance between giving an editor whatever he or she wants and developing my own unique “voice.”

The voice of an author is what distinguishes one writer’s work from everyone else’s.  It is what comes out when a writer taps into his or her deepest beliefs, inner-most fears, cherished dreams, etc.  It communicates the unique perspective of the world that each of us have and that writers share through their written words.  And for me, finding that voice was always a struggle.  I could figure out what my editor wanted and deliver exactly that, no problem.  But writing from my heart was a whole other matter and I never really managed to do it.

Fast forward to almost three years ago, when I started writing this blog.  At first I was terrified of putting my writing on a public forum where everyone and anyone could both read and comment on it.  My inner critic went into overdrive, and I poured over my posts before actually publishing them, searching for flaws and carefully deleting anything that I thought could be offensive or misinterpreted.  Luckily, my readers were a small but polite group who mostly offered encouragement and the expected criticism and rejection never materialized.

I gained more confidence with each post, slowly but surely learning to ignore my inner critic and to put my true thoughts and feelings on my blog without quite so much worry and angst.  I began to write about whatever subject was near to my heart, and I learned that honesty (as long as it is not also hateful or hurtful) is perfectly okay.  It took me a while to recognize it, but I had finally found my writing “voice.”  My blog has brought me many gifts, but that is by far the one I appreciate the most.

Even better, I have discovered that finding my writing voice has actually given me more confidence to speak my mind in person.  I am no longer nearly so inclined to tell others only what I know they want to hear.  When asked for my opinion, it has become almost natural for me to share my true thoughts and feelings, even when I know that others around me will probably disagree with what I have to say.  My old fear of rejection is fading fast, and that’s a very good thing.

I know that not everyone is a writer, but I do believe that everyone has a voice and that  their voice, like mine, deserves to be heard.  And I hope that one way or another, we each find a way to make that happen.

Time Well Spent

Sadly, time is no longer on my side.  Even though I still think of myself as middle aged, I am actually well past the mid-point of my life and fast approaching the “golden years.”  Which means I am always startled (and not in a good way) by what I see in the mirror every morning, and that I have learned to accept that all the hair dye, concealer, push-up bras and cosmetic procedures in the world aren’t ever going to make me look young again.  And I’ve gotten used to that, I really have.  Because at this point in my life, I’m much more concerned with making sure that I don’t waste any of the precious time I actually have left.

A healthy perspective is one of the few gifts of aging, but I think it is a very valuable one.  I no longer believe I can put off the important stuff, counting on a tomorrow that may never come.  If something is important, it deserves to be done now, or at least as soon as possible.  Procrastination is a luxury reserved for the young.

Beyond that, I have a much better sense of what is truly  important.  I used to waste far too much time trying to push myself into situations that didn’t work for me, just because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.  I wasted even more time trying to get the approval of almost everyone in my life, even from people who made it clear time and time again that I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  Now I know that life is too short to waste on people who don’t enrich my life, who aren’t willing to accept me as I am, or who seem intent on trying to shape me into whoever they happen to think I ought to be.

Last weekend, I visited the small town in Kansas where I lived during my preteen and teenage years.  I got together with dear friends I have stayed close to for over forty years, and also got the chance to reconnect with old friends I haven’t seen in far too long.  It was a wonderful weekend full of laughter and memories, and we had a terrific time acting (almost) as silly as we did when we actually were young. And when the weekend drew to a close, we all agreed that we needed to get together again, sooner rather than later.  Because we aren’t getting any younger, and we’re no longer willing to wait quite so long to hang out with people whose company we enjoy so much.

When I was young, I honestly believed that I had all the time in the world to do the things I wanted to do, to spend time with the people I loved, and to chase after each and every one of my dreams.  Now I know better, which could be rather depressing.  But I choose not to look at it that way.  Instead, I have  come to see my aging as a gift that forces me to realize that time is an incredibly valuable commodity, and that I need to spend it wisely.  I just wish I hadn’t waited quite so long to figure that one out.

True Colors

It’s been a week since I banged my eye socket into the corner of my nightstand, and the resulting black eye is still going strong.  I wake up every morning hoping that my “shiner” has finally begun to fade, but one look in the mirror tells me that it’s actually looking worse with each passing day.  (Or as my husband so eloquently put it when he checked out my eye this morning, “Oh, my God!”)  It’s not nearly as sore, and the area immediately underneath my eyebrow is fading to a sickly yellow, but the eyelid itself is still a stunning reddish-purple, with bruises at each corner.  And the dark purple color is steadily spreading underneath my eye, giving me the mother of all eye bags.

Right after the accident, I could hide the worst of the damage with carefully applied make up, but that’s not working anymore.  Unless I’m wearing oversized sunglasses, my black eye is on display for everyone to see.  Some people ask what happened, others maintain a tactful silence, but everyone who sees me can’t help but notice it.

At first, I was very self-conscious about my black eye, and hesitated to go out in public.  But I soon realized that I had only two options:  stay home and hide until the colors faded away, or just go on and live my life, even if I did have an ugly, swollen eye.  I choose to go about my normal life, and learned a few things in the process.

I have always tried hard to look my best.  I dye my hair, put on make up, and try to wear clothes that are at least somewhat flattering.   And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of that.  But having a black eye made me realize that no amount of effort was going to make me actually look good.  And I was surprised to realize that I didn’t really care about that nearly as much as I thought I would.  Once I got used to the idea, I really had no problem just heading out into the world, scary-looking eye and all.

It was actually rather liberating.  I stopped worrying about my outfits when I was getting ready to go out, and stopped getting annoyed when my hair insisted on choosing it’s own style, as it so often does.  I still applied make up, but if I messed it up a little, I didn’t take it off and start again.  For the first time in a long time, I felt very comfortable in my own skin, with no need to hide the flaws.  And I think that is a very good thing.

The irony is that I have always been most attracted to people who are genuine, and who are just as willing to acknowledge their flaws as they are their strengths.  And I have worked hard at trying to live my own life as honestly as I possibly can, putting my real self out there, emotionally and intellectually.  But it took getting a black eye to make me realize that it’s perfectly okay to let people see my physical flaws as well.

So this past week has actually been good for me.  It reminded me that I don’t always have to put my best foot (or face) forward, and that my appearance is such a small part of who I really am.  I’m not saying I’m glad I got the black eye, but I really believe the lesson it taught me was worth it.

Distracted Living

Driving while distracted is a big topic these days, as well it should be.  Anyone who’s been driving down the highway at sixty-plus miles per hour and glanced over  to see the driver of the car in the next lane texting with one hand and sipping a coffee with the other one knows the sheer terror that distracted driving can invoke.  It is a huge problem that has caused far too many accidents, and I believe it continues because so many people pride themselves on their ability to multi-task safely and efficiently no matter what they happen to be doing.  And they don’t find out until it’s too late that they are wrong.

I’m happy to say that I never text while driving, but please know that by saying that I’m not trying to claim a high moral ground.  It’s easy for me to resist the temptation to “just glance at” my phone when I hear the familiar ding of a text because I know for a fact that I can’t multi-task.  And I’m not just talking about while I’m driving, either.  I can’t multi-task at anything, ever.

Sadly, these days the inability to multi-task is fast becoming, if not something to be ashamed of, at least something that makes it hard to cope with the normal fast pace of life.  My computer is equipped with the ability to send and receive text messages, which means that when I’m trying to write a blog post I am often interrupted with a text notification, usually from someone who wants an answer to his or her question this very second.  Since I tend to require complete concentration when I’m writing (I turn off the TV, put my cell phone in another room, and wake the dog if she’s snoring), the interruptions are a problem for me.  I lose my train of thought, and what could have been a stunningly brilliant blog post is lost forever.  Which explains why my blog has yet to win the Nobel Prize for literature, I’m sure.

If I’m trying to cook a meal and someone insists on talking to me, I often forget an ingredient or burn one of the courses.  (Why all those people on HGTV want an open floor plan so they can “be a part of the conversation” while they are cooking is beyond me.)  When I worked in an office, I had notes for everything I did, because the constant interruptions meant I was also constantly forgetting where I had stored my information for a donor report or what the latest procedures for a job applicant happened to be.  I even had a note on how to properly transfer a phone call, and consulted it often.

I sometimes think I might have been a happier person if I had been born before the advent of all this technology, when people had the time to focus on the project at hand without being besieged by constant and conflicting demands on our attention.  I would certainly be more self-confident if I didn’t find myself constantly apologizing for not being able to pay attention to several, or even two, things at once.  But life is what it is, so I just muddle along and trust those who know me best to understand my limitations.

At least I know that I can’t text and drive at the same time.  That should count for something, I think.

Setting Boundaries

A few weeks ago, I had an accident on a boat dock that resulted in a large and deep bruise on my outer thigh.  Even though I didn’t do any major damage…nothing was broken or torn…my leg was swollen and sore.  I walked with a bit of a limp, and I couldn’t stand to have anything touch the wounded area.  And while I thought that I would be back to normal within just a few days, it turned out that my recovery actually took a few weeks. I still have a small and somewhat painful lump, although I’m glad to report that my outer thigh no longer looks like a colorful abstract painting.

The point is, for a few weeks, I wasn’t able to do many of my usual activities.  I still went to the animal shelter three times a week, but I didn’t walk any of the big dogs, and I even avoided the smaller ones that were especially jumpy.   I skipped my yoga class, didn’t ride my exercise bike, didn’t take long walks around the neighborhood no matter how nice the weather was, and in general, made sure that I didn’t put any more strain on my leg than was absolutely necessary.  I was often frustrated by my limitations, and sometimes those frustrations were aggravated by the thought that I was letting other people down.

I worried that my friend who teaches my yoga class was going to be annoyed with me for missing so many sessions.  I worried that my fellow shelter volunteers were going to be unhappy that I wasn’t helping them get the big and rowdy dogs out for their daily walks.  And I worried that the huge decrease in my level of exercise meant that it was going to be even harder to stuff myself into my already tight jeans.

I wanted my old life back.  I wanted to be able to do all the things I was used to doing, and to be able to meet all the expectations that other people usually had of me.  I found myself fretting a lot, becoming anxious and short-tempered, and feeling that I had to constantly remind everyone that I did, indeed, have a sore leg that was taking far too long to heal.

Thankfully, I finally came to my senses.  I realized that while I might not be able to do the things that I wanted to do, and that other people expected me to do, I truly was doing all that I could do at that particular point in my life.  And I realized that by looking for other people to “give me permission” to step back from my normal activities, I was setting myself up for nothing but guilt and disappointment.  Because no one else knew exactly how my leg felt on any given day, or what I could and couldn’t do without causing unnecessary pain or fatigue.  I realized that it was up to me to set my own limits and live within them, and not to pay too much attention to whether or not other people understood or approved of them.

The thing is, we are each responsible for setting our own boundaries, whether they be physical, mental or emotional.  We know what is going on in our own lives better than anyone else does, and we not only have the ability but also the responsibility to decide exactly what we can or can’t do.  That doesn’t mean we ignore challenges or become self-absorbed and selfish, but it does mean that we recognize our own limits and stop apologizing for living within them.  And once we do, we stop being worrying so much about living up to other people’s expectations.

There’s an old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.”  Honestly, I think the same thing holds true for personal boundaries.  Because knowing our own boundaries, and respecting other people’s boundaries, makes for good relationships.  And that makes life better for all of us.

Wear the White Jeans

IMG_0290Like many women, whenever I get invited to an event, one of my first thoughts is, “What in the world am I going to wear?”  So when I received an invitation to my future daughter-in-law’s bachelorette party, my first reaction was to be very touched and happy that I was included.  My second reaction was to start fretting about exactly what I was going to wear for this occasion.

We were going to a nearby historical town to spend the afternoon visiting wineries, and since we would to be outside some of the time, I decided to wait and see what the weather was going to be before I decided on my outfit.  I have reached the age where the more clothes I have on, the better I look.  But I also knew that August can be very hot and humid, and had to take that into consideration.  Luckily, the day of the party turned out to be only pleasantly warm, which gave me more choice in my attire.  I decided that I was going to aim for a casual, yet festive look, with an eye toward maximum coverage.

Pairing white jeans with a light-weight, dressy top seemed to be the obvious solution, but I found myself hesitating, as I always do when I consider wearing my white jeans.  I usually wear dark pants, which help hide the fact that the lower half of my body is bigger than the top half, and was afraid that the white jeans might highlight the fact that my body shape is, in essence, that of a pyramid with legs.  Also, I was afraid that the white jeans might be ruined.  Even though I always drink white wine (the wine of choice for clumsy people), I knew there would be plenty of red wine around, as well as other things that could stain white jeans, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk it.

I think if I hadn’t been rushed for time when I was getting ready, I probably would have made a different clothing choice.  But I didn’t want to be late, so I just threw on the white jeans, found a top with a “busy” enough design to counter-balance the vast whiteness below, and headed off for the party.  And had a wonderful, wonderful, time with my future daughter-in-law, her mother, and her close friends, including my daughter.

Which brings me, finally, to the point of this post.  My white jeans have sat in my drawer for most of this past summer, as well as the summer before that.  I have been too afraid to wear them, because I didn’t have the figure for them and/or that they would get dirty or stained.  So each time I tried them on before going out, I almost always took them back off and put on a different, “safer,” pair of pants or jeans, believing that I would wear the white ones later.

What exactly I was waiting for, I don’t know.  It’s not as though, at age 58, I’m going to suddenly lose a ton of weight or develop “buns of steel.”   If anything, I’m going in the opposite direction, with the needle on my scale moving steadily upward, and the best I can boast at this point in my life is “buns of Jello.”  And yes, white does show the dirt and get stained, but so what?  That’s what bleach and washing machines are for.

The bottom line is that if going to a party that celebrates the fact that a lovely, sweet and intelligent young woman is going to marry my son isn’t worth finally wearing my white jeans, I don’t know what is.  I may be getting old, but I can still learn something new.  And what I learned yesterday is: appreciate all the good things that are going on in your life right now.  And wear the white jeans!

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.