Reality Bytes

img_1906All I wanted to do was take a picture of a sunset.  I was at the beach with my family, watching the sun sink down into the ocean in a dazzling display of orange and yellow when I reached for my cell phone to snap a quick picture.  I clicked on the camera icon, focused the shot and pressed the button to take the picture.  But all I got was an obnoxious message saying that the phone couldn’t take the picture because I had used up all my storage available for photos.  Which meant that instead of enjoying nature’s glorious display, I became focused on trying to figure out what the heck was going on with my cell phone.

Taking the message at face value (a rookie mistake, I admit), I spent the next half hour or so deleting photos from my phone in order to free up space.  But when I was done and tried to take another photo, the same message came up.  Frustrated, I did what I usually do when I can’t figure out what is wrong with my phone:  I handed it to my son with the request that he identify, and fix, the problem immediately.  It took him less than a minute to realize that the problem wasn’t that I was storing too many pictures on my phone, the problem was that I was storing tons of music on it.  Which would have made so much more sense if I had actually ever downloaded music on my phone, but I haven’t.  At least not intentionally.

It turns out that whenever I plug my phone into my computer in order to transfer the photos to the computer, the computer is reciprocating by generously transferring all of the music it has stored on the I-tunes app onto my phone.  Who knew?  My son deleted the music, and my phone decided that it would, once again, allow me to take pictures.  And I was appropriately grateful until the next time I tried to load photos from my phone to my computer, and guess what?  That sneaky little computer tried to load it right back up with music.  I’m pretty sure I stopped it before too many songs crossed over, but I’m not certain.  Nor have I found the “delete” button that my son used to rid my phone of unwanted songs.

I know that I am far from the brightest bulb on the string, but the fact remains that the more technology advances, the dumber I feel.  It’s embarrassing to have to constantly ask my son what is wrong with my phone, or my computer, or my I-pad.  Especially when he tells me that he usually finds the answer to my question simply by Googling it, which is his way of implying that I ought to be able to figure these things out by myself.  And the sad truth is, I usually do try to figure things out by myself, and only turn to him when I find myself too frustrated and angry to think straight.

I know that technology has brought about wonderful advances in the fields of science, medicine and communication.  But I still wish that the formerly simple process of taking and storing photos hadn’t become so incredibly complicated.  Yes, it’s called a “smart phone.”  But does that really mean it needs to be so intent on making me feel stupid?

My Turn

Whenever I’m having a particularly bad day volunteering at the Humane Society, I will often joke to someone that the committee whose job it is to make my life difficult must have met recently.  In my mind, I envision a group of people sitting solemnly around the table, saying things like, “Well, Ann has finally memorized the door code, so that means it’s time to change it.”  Of course nothing of the sort is happening, there are just times when it feels like it, because there are always all sorts of changes and rules that I didn’t come up with and that I don’t particularly like.

But the Humane Society is certainly not the only place where I sometimes feel that others are setting the standards that I am expected to follow, even when I don’t like them one little bit.  For instance, who decided that in order to be considered physically attractive in our culture, a woman must be slim, long-legged, large-busted and have no hair on most of the places on her body that hair naturally grows?  Real women come in all shapes and sizes, and honestly, we don’t always have the time to shave our legs each and every day.  If I were the one in charge of determining our cultural standards of female beauty, it would be a very different thing than what I see staring back at me from the glossy pages of fashion magazines.

IMG_0430I live in an older house, with separated rooms, light hardwood floors and maple cabinets in the kitchen.  And every single time I tune into a program on HGTV, I realize that my house, my beloved house that my husband and I have spent years renovating, is completely out of style.  Someone, somewhere, decided that we all need “open concept” in our houses, which means that those pesky walls must be knocked down so we can live in one giant, single room, and that all floors must be dark hardwood and that maple cabinets are “so yesterday.”

I’m not sure who these people are who get to decide what’s “in” and “out” for the rest of us, but I can tell you that I’ve decided I want to be one of them.  I want to be the person who determines the clothing fashions, so that I can make sure that the clothes that flatter the aging, pear-shaped figure are the latest trend.   I want to make traditional homes (with lots of walls and original floors) cutting edge again, and I want the authors I like to have their books on the best-sellers list, and while I’m at it, I think I’d like our society to value maturity over youth.

Mostly, I want to stop feeling hopelessly out-of-the-loop because I don’t dress, look, think, or act exactly the way our current culture thinks I should, right at this very moment.  Just for a little while, I want it to be my turn to decide what’s hot and what’s not.

But since that’s probably not going to happen, maybe I’ll just settle for ignoring all those nameless, faceless people who are setting the standards and live by my own values instead.  Sometimes the simplest solution is also the best.

 

 

Missed Connections

Heather and II have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with social media.  On the one hand, I have reconnected with many old friends since I joined Facebook several years ago, and I love seeing what people I haven’t talked to in decades are doing these days.  It’s great to get to catch up with old friends, to share memories, and to see photos of their families.  I no longer have to worry about forgetting most people’s birthdays, because Facebook is always there to remind me.  I have friends who brag about not being on Facebook, and while I understand why they choose not to participate, I sometimes wonder if they really know what they are missing.

On the other hand, I am still an introvert who needs a certain level of privacy to feel comfortable, and I’m not exactly a master of new technology.  I have a Facebook page, but I don’t have a Twitter account, and I’m not even sure what Instagram is.  In the huge pool of social media, I am definitely staying in the shallow water.

But the real problem I have with social media is with its limitations, and I worry about whether we always remember that a Facebook friend is not the same thing as a real friend, and that a “tweet” will never be a substitute for a real conversation.  On social media, we post about what we are doing, where we are, who we are with, and (oddly enough) even what we are eating.  We share photos of our family and friends, our vacations, or a project that we’ve completed, and that’s all just fine.  But the one thing that I have never seen posted (and I would bet that it’s rarely, if ever, tweeted) is the simple question, “How are you doing?”

And that, to my mind, is the difference between friendship and communication in social media, and friendship and communication in real life.  Social media is all about   showcasing ourselves, and usually in the best possible light.  Real-life friendships require true connections, with the chance to tell each other the hard stuff…our self-doubts, our struggles, our not-so-broadcastable moments.  Real communication involves listening as well as talking, with an honest and open exchange of ideas, and the chance to learn from each other.  Most of the back and forth exchanges I see on Facebook involve hateful arguments about politics and religion, and I never see any evidence that the people writing those comments are actually listening to each other, much less caring about each other.

I think that social media is, by its very nature, usually a bit superficial, and that’s okay.  There’s nothing wrong with the casual connections we form there, the chance to catch up with faraway friends, and the chance to quickly and easily keep track of each other.  And sometimes social media is used to tell bad news and to request the prayers and support that help so much during these dark times.   But it will never be a substitute for one-on-one communication, or the real friendships and the deeper, more personal relationships that we all need, and I think it’s important that we remember that.

In the real world, the quality of the friendship matters so much more than the numbers of friends we have, and real communication is never like a Facebook post that is judged by how many “likes” it gets.  Social media definitely has its place, but in my opinion, it also needs to be kept in its place.  And that place should never be center stage.

Middle Age Fashion Rebel

IMG_0189A friend of mine recently showed me an article in the Wall Street Journal which declared that pantyhose are back in style for middle aged women, as long as they are sheer and a natural skin color.  She knew that I had found a dress I might wear for my daughter’s upcoming wedding, but that I was wavering about buying it because it was only knee length, and that meant that I had to either have the lower half of my legs bare for the wedding, or wear a pair of panty hose with the dress.  And I had been told by several people, repeatedly and empathetically, that “no one wears pantyhose anymore.”

Although I rarely, if ever, follow fashion trends, the question of whether or not to wear hose to the wedding did trouble me a little.  As the mother of the bride, I have to walk down the aisle at the start of the ceremony, and be in several of the professional portraits, and I didn’t want to wear anything that might embarrass my daughter.  Originally, I considered solving the problem by wearing a floor length dress with bare legs hidden underneath.  Then I found out that the bridesmaids would be wearing short dresses and so would the mother of the groom, and I thought it might be odd for me to be the only person besides the bride in a floor-length dress.  Also, I am a terrible klutz, so there was a very real chance that I would trip on a long dress, and falling down in the aisle of the church or pitching head-first into the wedding cake is not a risk I’m willing to take.

Although I can now point to the article as proof positive that I am not committing a major fashion blunder by wearing hose at the wedding, I have to admit that I was planning to wear them anyway, even before I read the article.  I knew my daughter wouldn’t really care one way or the other, and I know that I’ll feel more comfortable in hose than I would without them.  It’s not just that I’m sure I’ll get blisters from shoving my bare feet into dress shoes for ten hours straight, it’s also that I have reached the age where I feel that the more of me that is covered up, the better I look.  Hose may be sheer, but they still go a long way towards hiding spider veins, small scars, the bruises I always have from encounters with rowdy shelter dogs and razor burn.

I’m even planning to up the ante by wearing control top panty hose.  My dress is a bit form-fitting, and although I have read that a good pair of Spanx can take five pounds off, I’d still rather wear the hose than a “slimming undergarment.”  (Our mothers didn’t beat around the bush; they just called them girdles.)   I would need the thigh-length one, and I don’t trust it not to show underneath my dress on a day when I might have to do a lot of bending over. I once went to a professional dog show where one of the handlers made an unfortunate choice in her combination of undergarment and skirt length.  The view each time she bent over her dog wasn’t pretty, and it’s definitely not the look I’m going for at my daughter’s wedding.

I think, even at a wedding, middle age is the time to toss fashion considerations aside and to wear what we feel comfortable in and what looks good on us.  And in this particular case, that means I’m wearing pantyhose, whether it’s fashionable or not.

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.

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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.

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.