Friday, May 15, 2015

White Hot & Red Faces



A few months ago, during the longest winter in recent memory (which in my case is just a few months ago) my body clock decided to ramp up the hot flashes. On one hand, nothing wrong with a little extra heat during a record-cold winter. On the other hand, we had recently changed over our oil heat to gas and added insulation throughout the house, so extra heat was not terribly welcome. The flashes were too hot and too frequent. If I had been able to turn them into a super power and melt the five feet of snow in our driveway, I might have been a little friendlier to the ever-present volcanic blasts. But, no. Hot flashes do not melt snow. They do not burn calories. They only make the sufferer look as if she has just emerged from an overly long session in the sauna and that’s never a pretty look.

So, how to manage these gusts of fiery heat?  Drink wine, of course. (When isn’t that a good idea?) None other than the New York Times itself reported that, “One drink a day in women who are not at risk for alcohol abuse may be beneficial for the heart. Red wine in particular contains a substance called resveratrol, which is classified as a phytoestrogen and has estrogen-like effects.”

Wine is like estrogen. I’m not going to argue with the New York Times.

Although the recommended lifestyle changes are to “Avoid hot flash triggers like spicy foods, hot beverages, caffeine, and alcohol,” this clearly paves the way for wine as a hot-flash solution, as I am pretty sure alcohol refers to bourbon and tequila. Probably not vodka; vodka is a vegetable.

So, after months of research, I am here to help. The following is a selection of Wine Pairings to help with as many instances of menopausal tribulations as possible. I figured two for each category, because, let’s be honest--we’re not really worried about bouquet and tannins right now, are we? Please know, that in the interest of science, I will continue my research as long as necessary. Anything for womanhood.

White Hot & Red Faces: A Guide to Menopausal Wine Pairings

Let’s start with the obvious:
Hot Flashes
·      Hot to Trot Red Blend - I couldn’t resist this one: Why? The name. Also, it is a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon and other red varieties and I figure the more resveratrol-bearing red skins, the merrier.
·      Neige Apple Ice Wine - It has ice in the name (and the method). What could be bad about that? Also, it has apples in it, so you get a little more fruit, too.

Irritability
·      The Prisoner Wine Company Prisoner 2013- Obvious, right? You feel like a prisoner in your own skin, don’t you? Have a glass of wine...you’ll feel better. Maybe wear stripes, too.
·      Rhiannon Red 2013 - Put on some Fleetwood Mac and take yourself back to a time when life was simpler (and by simpler I mean not so many annoying people around).
  
Forgetfulness
·      Flip Flop wines - (You didn’t really think I’d forget this one, did you?)  I paired Flip Flop wines with Forgetfulness for the helpful alliteration...Flip Flops For Forgetfulness.  Also, if you forget your favorite wine, there are many to choose from: A reliable Chardonnay, a friendly Cab Sav and a Pink Moscato for when you’re feeling frisky. Alliteration galore!
·      Bogle Essential Red - Because it’s essential, you might remember it.

Weight Gain
·      Cupcake Vineyards Riesling- you really have to go with a white wine for its lower calorie count, so choose this one. You get your wine and a cupcake all in one.
·      Champagne - your choice. Champagne has fewer calories than most reds or whites and you might as well celebrate the fact that you haven’t hit anyone over the head with a wine bottle yet.

Loss of Libido
·      Opici - Or anything that comes in a 1.5 liter bottle or box. Make sure you and your spouse or partner drink most of it and you’ll both fall asleep and forget about having sex.

General fatigue
·      The Chook Sparkling Shiraz - it’s sparkling and it’s red...doubly good for you, right? Bubbles are so good for cheering you up.
·      Mulderbosch Rose 2014 or Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Rosé  - Both of these are good choices to perk you up a bit. The Vinho Verde is slightly effervescent and I added this one because it’s good and I like to use the word effervescent.

Good luck, ladies. You’re welcome.

Monday, April 20, 2015

57 years young

As many of you know, my daughter Annie and her little family are currently living with us. To not admit there are some adjustments would be to flat out lie about how easy it is to live with your children after they've moved out (several times) and moved back in again. But, mostly, it is.  We probably would feel that way anyway, but the icing on the cake is that Angelo and I get to hang out with our grandson Luca almost every single day. That is one of the best gifts ever. And the cherry on the icing is that, at 3-1/2 years old, Luca makes quite an obliging slave.

I realized this one winter evening months ago when I was happily ensconced in "my chair" in the living room. Before bed Luca often plays for a little while while we finish up from dinner.  I played the elder card and went to sit down and relax. I could reach the lamp next to me, but I needed a little more light in the room. Luca was playing on the rug next to the floor lamp behind the TV stand. The switch is also on the floor, so I asked him, "Lu - do you think you can turn on the light switch behind you?" He needed a little instruction, but within seconds he had accomplished his task and looked quite pleased with himself. 'What a wonderful gift I've just given him,' I thought to myself, 'the feeling of accomplishment.' So I gave him that gift every chance I could.

"Luca, can you turn on the lamp again?"

"Luca, will you put this in the garbage for me?"

"Lu, see if you can put this book back on the shelf."

And so on and so on. I rarely moved from my chair all winter as all my previous knee-shuddering tasks were taken over by my enthusiastic and helpful slave, er, grandson. He wanted to help me; what was I going to do, disappoint him?

Then, I went to Florida for a few weeks when my Dad was in the hospital. Between me and my two siblings, if we weren't by my dad's bedside in the hospital, we were at my parents' apartment with my mother. I'm not saying that my parents were helpless...but let's just say that with a little extra muscle in the house, I was doing a lot more heavy lifting.

"Cindy, can you open this jar?"

"Cindy, are you sure you don't mind taking the laundry down?"

"Cindy, can you reach that book up on the shelf for me?"

And so on and so on. I was happy that I was able to be so helpful when there was so much during that time that was making us feel so helpless. I was bending down for this, running out for that, and carrying the other things. One day it dawned on me...I was the slave! I was the one whose knees still bent and whose back was still (mostly) pain-free. I could see to drive at night, run the shopping cart back to the corral and drive the car around to the front. I was still the kid.

One evening, soon after I returned home, I took my rightful place in my chair. I lowered my cold, aching, aging body into it and prepared for an evening of reading, catching up on Agents of Shield and enjoying the rest of my Cab-Sav. Luca was on the rug with his zoo animals, and he looked up and said, "Gramma, want to play with me?" I left my chair, switched on the floor lamp and grabbed the elephant and the peacock and sat next to Luca on the rug.

The chair can wait.




Friday, April 3, 2015

In an instant

I was in Florida again a mere 7 days after my previous trip in February.  This is the only picture I took while I was there:
It is a picture of the bus I had to take back to the hospital after returning my rental car to the airport. The company I rented from (Dollar, if you must know) gave me slightly inaccurate information when I made the reservation. They told me if I needed to keep the car longer than I originally scheduled, it would be no problem - just let us know! What they neglected to tell me was that they would also add a $20 late charge each additional day I needed it. So I showed them--I took it back! And was relegated to taking not one, but two buses back to town. That's why I took the picture...to text everyone and let them know I was eventually making my way back. I had about 15 minutes to kill between buses and I was trying to avoid the lady  asking me for bus fare, which I told her--honestly--I only had for myself. (Because I wasn't going to give her a twenty and expect change.) Naturally, she found the fare elsewhere and sat where? Right next to me.

Oh, right...the hospital. My trip to Florida was to be with my family as my dad recovered from a coma. The day after I left from my first trip, he fell, hit his head and began a journey for which there was no map. For all of us.  At the hospital, side effects from the concussion gave him aspiration pneumonia, which triggered the coma. My sister, Susie, was in Florida, wrapping up her own trip and about to fly home when she got the news. She canceled her plans and drove across the state to be with my mom and dad. My brother Richard and I relied on her reports on his progress until we made our own arrangements to fly to Florida, coincidentally arriving within minutes of each other; me from Connecticut and he from California. I rented a car (yep, that one...) and we drove from Tampa to Sarasota Memorial Hospital and found our exhausted mom and sister at my nearly unresponsive dad's bedside, where they had spent most of the past week.

Over the next two weeks our lives changed.  We had all the conversations; honoring advance directives, honoring my dad's wishes, planning for my mom's future. Then, as the respirator was removed and he began responding,  other ones about rehab, affording home care, staying, leaving,  etc. The five of us had been together in recent years, but within our larger, extended family, and for much happier occasions. Operating as the original five in an emergency situation was the family dynamic on steroids. Our common focus was, of course, my dad. Secondary to that was being supportive to my mom, such as we were. We three were so darn supportive, we just kept getting in each other's way, outdoing the next in being helpful and considerate. I offered some imagery to help us keep some perspective: We were all floating in the pool of our love for our dad, but on separate rafts, with separate needs and feelings. Clearly we would probably bump into each other on occasion, but it would just be a slight bump and we could float off in another direction without turning into a big deal. It seemed to work.

On we went, figuring out where to stay (What? It's Spring Break? Who knew?? About a million northerners, that's who.) Hotels were crazy-expensive and we were nomad-like in finding rooms and accepting generous offers. A family friend offered their home and car to me for a few days and it was like a life preserver (to continue with my pool analogy) as it gave me the solitude I needed to process our experience. As much as I could. Friends of my parents' loaned us their car, pretty much indefinitely, while we were all there. A gold, Sebring convertible. They were worried we wouldn't like it.  Our cousins offered a bed and meals and all in all, we were pretty well taken care of. Which was a good thing, because none of us really knew what we were doing except just wanting to be there.

When my dad began to regain his consciousness, but not quite his memories, we hung around him day in and day out, just to catch the next thing he was going to say. He was kind of hilarious, with his curious questions and raspy voice. One day I was Olga, his sister. As far as anyone knows, there was never a sister...or an Olga. I was back to Cindy the next day. One morning he shared with Susie that he was surprised that the nurses brought him his breakfast in French Maid's costumes. We gently suggested to him that it could have been a "waking dream" as French Maid's outfits aren't exactly conducive to effective medical care. We laughed as much as we cried and on the last night before I had to leave--begrudgingly-- to come home, we all had dinner together in the dining room of the rehab facility where my dad finally ended up 18 days after his accident.  Another amazing coincidence because the rehab is in the building my parents live in and is one floor below their apartment. My dad asked us all to hold hands and he expressed his gratitude that we were all able to be there together. He said he was grateful that we all loved each other and that we all liked each other, too. "And not necessarily in that order," he added, with a familiar smile.

It's funny how such a situation can completely take over what you once thought was your life. The first few days I was gone from home, I had occasional tugs of responsibility. But those tugs were quickly brushed away as I turned my attention to catching the doctor or flagging down a nurse. I am lucky because my husband, children and friends took up the slack in my wake when I left for Florida with only a one-way ticket and no idea what was going to come about. The emergency consumed me.

I began thinking about how people's lives can change in an instant, due to accidents and other misfortunes, and all the decisions that are taken out of one's hands. What if we could do that same thing, but mindfully, with purpose? Could I change my life in an instant? Because now that I am back home, the only thing I can really focus on is my next trip to Florida. Not that I've been invited, but I'm planning anyway.  Thankfully, my dad is excelling in his rehab programs and activities. My mom is getting some rest and, although she recently told me, "I kind of miss having you all around to get some errands done," she seems to be doing okay.  But I want to be there and I know that they could use the support.

When lives change in an instant, and often it is due to a calamitous or devastating event that forces us to rally our energy and resources to make sense of our lives once more. All I'm asking is why not do it on purpose? I'm not saying I am going to chuck all my possessions in the back of my Toyota Sienna van and head south...yet. I have to get Angelo on board for that one. But I've got him thinking about it, and so am I.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dreaming of Spring


It has been a looong and cold winter. See how cold it is here? 


This first week of March should be tempting us with thoughs of spring as we fling off our jackets and scarves to enjoy only slightly warmer temperatures. Instead we have mountains of snow that surround us and the forecast continues to display single digits for nighttime lows.  Fortunately, this first week of March also brings a special sale on e-books from my publisher, She Writes Press and its parent company, Sparkpoint Studio. The sale runs the whole first week of March and there are nearly 20 books for only 99cents each. That, dear readers, is a great deal.

Now, during my forced hibernation, I will have plenty to read. Honestly, I prefer the heft and the feel of holding a book in my hand when reading my latest mystery. I just haven’t gotten the hang of holding a skinny little iPad and tapping the edge of the screen when I’m done reading a page. It’s not natural. But I have almost 20 of my sister author’s books to read so I decided to become an e-reader. For the time being, anyway. 

The details of the sale are below.  I provide them for you because I know some of you are in a similar circumstance...cold, snowbound and slightly cabin-feverish. There are so many books here to choose from, but--why choose? Get them all and you've only spent a little more than you would for one book. Throughout the last year as this group of authors has published their books, we've all connected with each other. I don't think it's typical for authors to have such a supportive network of colleagues, but we do. Each author brings a unique voice to our virtual conversation and generously contributes ideas, knowledge, resources and encouragement to the group. 

Please give these books a read. I just know you'll find a new favorite or two. And if you do, leave a review or comment for the author. She'll appreciate it. 

Happy Reading! 



Sunday, February 15, 2015

In the Cards



My Nana's collection of friends over the years was like a collection of teacups; delicate and fancy, simple and practical.  Over the many decades of her life, her friends had arrived through some kindness she had shown them or that they had shown her. Her gratitude in enjoying her friends was a tangible thing and no time proved that more explicitly than her birthday. On the few occasions that I happened to be visiting around the beginning of April, I would see card upon beautifully decorated card displayed around the window next to the table where she sat and played cards and smoked Camels. There were piles on the table where she drew and painted on the Florida porch and, usually, dozens stuck into her address book, so she would know whose birthday was coming up, to return the gesture. It is a vague memory, but a solid one: My Nana had a lot of friends and they all showed her some love on her birthday. 

So I knew what my Mom was referring to the other night when I told her that, after a day of babysitting Luca, I checked in to my Facebook page and saw over a hundred birthday wishes from friends...and counting! She said, "Who are you? My mother?" 

I am a lucky birthday girl. The postman dropped off several traditional birthday wishes in the form of greeting cards through the mailslot in my kitchen door, but, in addition, I received over a hundred Facebook greetings on my birthday this year. This has never, ever, happened in my life before. My birthday comes in the winter and nobody wants to go out into the dark and cold, and if they do, they're buying Valentines so they don't get in trouble with their significant others. This new phenomenon--getting tons of wishes for my birthday is amazing and humbling. I know you're supposed to say that so as to appear appropriately gracious, but I'm not kidding...I am humbled. 

Of course, with the Internet and Facebook, it is very easy to virtually pop over to someone's Facebook, LinkedIn or email address, type out a little greeting and go on about your day. If you happen to forget things like birthdays, Facebook (and a dozen other apps and functions) will remind you. Facebook will even suggest that you send your acquaintance a bouquet of flowers or a cup of coffee, like some irksome, electronic personal assistant (as if you hadn't thought of it yourself. And would have if you weren't so busy...). 

Birthday wishes are fun. Birthday wishes are sweet. Birthday wishes are one of those things that take literally seconds to complete, but have the power of turning an entire day around. That's why it is so important to value them. Think about it: having people in your life who stop and declare for all the Internet to see their affection for you by sending a written greeting to acknowledge your birthday is big. And? Humbling.

Friends are collected through the ages.  As far as I can remember, Nana always spoke with love and affection about her all her friends and acquaintances. She talked about this one's wonderful baking skills or that one's gorgeous garden. If Nana were around today, Facebook would have broken with all the wishes she would have received on her birthday. For me, I heard from my "oldest" friend (a girlfriend from junior high school) and one of my "newest" friends (we haven't even actually met yet...but we will some day!)  Madeleing L'Engle said, "The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been." Or in many cases, the friends.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Voicemail Challenged

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trimline_phone.jpg

How can I be 56 years old and still be uncomfortable leaving a voicemail on the phones of people or companies I don’t know? My words tumble out awkwardly and hesitant as if I’ve never left a message in my life.  I feel like I end up saying the dumbest things and when I hang up, my face is usually all balled up in a pink-hued cringe. 

I recently left such a voicemail at an inn where I was only trying to make a reservation for the weekend. Just make a call, speak to the nice innkeeper, get a room, hang up.  But the nice innkeeper didn’t answer. He or she was busy. Or off for the day. Or in the bathroom or ordering Spanx on the internet or God knows what else.  All I know is that  no one was there to take my carefully rehearsed call. I knew what to say when they answered. When they didn’t, I was at a loss. Suddenly, I had no personal vocabulary or professional presence. I was a babbling idiot who ended up wishing them well and NOT leaving my phone number so they could get back to me, as was clearly instructed in the message.

Oh, god...do I have to call back again just to leave my number?

When I was growing up, the phone in our house was in the kitchen, like most everyone else’s.  Was it there because it was the woman’s job to answer each ring, like some properly apronned secretary? Was Mom supposed to take messages while scouring the sink or rotating the roast? There may have been an extension in my parents’ room, but I wasn’t allowed on it. On my 16th birthday, the best gift ever was my own phone. Not my own line, like some of my friends, just an extension, but who cared? It was a maroon trimline and I felt like the prom queen.  I didn’t actually have that many people to talk to, but in case A Boy called, I could chatter away all night long in private. But if that Boy called while I was out, I would have never known. (That’s probably when they all called, now that I think about it.)  If no one was home, the phone went unanswered and unheard, like that tree in the forest.  

I don’t recall when telephone answering machines started showing up plugged in next to everyone’s Ma Bell, but I feel like it wasn’t until I was a single parent…and woman… in the early 90s. It was a terrible time to get a telephone answering machine because then exes could leave unpleasant phone messages that make you smash what little glassware you have in your home.  In addition, the home answering machine introduced an entirely new kind of anxiety for the single gal: The Did-He-Call Syndrome, triggered by a small, red, hopefully flashing, light. I hated that damn light. My messages were usually from my mom, my ex or Columbia House music club. (I think I still owe them money…) I always called my mom back, I never called my ex and I continue to this day to ignore Columbia House. This is probably when my Voicemail Anxiety began.

At some point in my personal telephone history, I realized I started to count on people having answering machines so I could leave whatever pertinent information I had to relay and could avoid talking to people. Speaking on the phone has never been a favorite pastime of mine, so being able to leave a message  rather than enter into a long conversation about, well, anything, was preferable to me. I got my first cellphone 15 years ago, the month that I went back to school. I thought it was extravagant, but Angelo thought it was imperative that I have it since I would be driving to Massachusetts up to three times a week for the following two or more years to earn the degree I was after.  I have to admit, it did make me feel both fancy and safe, but I don’t think I made one call on it the whole time because I was worried about the rates.

So, if I am so hip that I acquired each and every new telephone technology practically upon its arrival, why does having to leave a voicemail give me sweaty palms and an empty brain? I suspect it is texting.  When texting, and its ungainly cousin “texted,” became the bleeding edge in communication, I embraced it. Communication without opening my mouth? Brilliant! Writing is what I always wanted to do anyway! I’m in. I can avoid making a phone call by sending a text? Done.  My brain switched over eagerly and immediately, without so much as a CUL8R to the voice-message-composing cells I once may or may not have used to their fullest potential.

So, I know you’re dying of curiosity. Yes, I have a reservation. Yes, I had to call and fumble through another embarrassing explanation of my previous message, but at least they didn’t block my number.

Yet.

Monday, January 12, 2015

It's my body and I'll cry if I want to...



I can go days without looking in the mirror. And then, something drastic happens to direct attention to your image and terrible things start to happen. You start to notice things. Bad things. This is what happened to me...but first, some background.

Many years ago, I watched Barbara Walters on one of her television show incarnations and she suggested that if women raise their arms above their heads, it lifts the breasts and any other sagging skin in the area so that it doesn’t look so saggy anymore. I wondered how I could walk around with my hands in the air all the time without looking silly. And then, after a time, I forgot about it.

Until the last wedding I attended. (Yes, it’s another daughter’s-wedding/terrible-photos lament) My step-daughter sent me the link to her wedding photos, all 542 of which I could look at online at my convenience. There was plenty of ooohing and ahhing at the really beautiful bride and groom shots, but naturally, within minutes, I had zeroed in on the pictures in which my arms looked like hams hanging in the butcher’s window. In several shots, there we all were, the mothers and aunts of the happy couple on the dance floor thinking we were so hip dancing to funky music when clearly a song came on that required us all to fling our arms into the air with apparent abandon. Repeatedly. There seemed to be more shots of this dance than were really necessary.

These kinds of photos give evidence to many things, most importantly: we don’t really look as cool as we think we do when we dance. The second thing, almost as important: Barbara Walters was wrong. Lifting one’s arms in the air, particularly for the less-toned of us, does only this: the elasticity-less arm skin drapes down the humerus onto the radius and ulna as if it were melting wax. It was both a disturbing and fascinating observation.

Being confronted with the droopy skin on my arms forced me to look in a mirror that reflected more of me than my face.  And now I finally get what Nora Ephron was talking about when she wrote about feeling bad about her neck.  I feel horrible about my neck! When did this happen, this weird shift of fat and skin, this wrinkling, this discoloration? My head looks like one of those children’s books where you can spin the paper wheel and exchange heads, like having a dragon head on an elephant body. (That’s just the first image that came to me.) There seems to be a very clear demarcation between the top of my neck under my chin and the bottom of it near my throat. I am only lacking metal bolts in my neck to complete the loveliness.

Two things surprised me about discovering that my body was starting to look very different than the image I have in my head (which is circa 1986): the first is that it obviously happened without my noticing it at all.  The second thing was how disturbed I was when I did finally notice. It wasn’t a fling-myself-across-the-bed-wracked-with-sobs disturbed, but the specter of mortality did hang over my head for the rest of the day. I was really surprised at how much it bothered me. I’ve always felt that one of my better characteristics (in my opinion...don’t ask anyone else...) is that I have little to no vanity about my looks. (No shock, says everyone, we’ve seen the clothes you choose to wear.) I am vain about a few of my features; my long blond(ish) hair, my blue(ish) eyes and, believe it or not, my feet. Everything else is so difficult to manage and maintain that I have found it easier and more comfortable to just let it do as it pleases. Proper nutrition, exercise and rest, while not optional, are all different for each person and I do the best that I can.  I completed two 5Ks this year, didn’t I?

It’s aging, you know. It happens. People age differently. My husband is the oldest of three brothers and he has a head full of black hair, with only the slightest graying at his sideburns. His middle brother has gone all gray and the youngest has the least amount of hair of all. (Don’t let them fool you; men have just as much trouble with their aging image as many of us women. My husband was complaining to me about the wedding pictures, too, and said he just doesn’t look the same in the pictures as when he looks in the mirror. To test it out, he took a picture of himself while looking in the mirror. It took me about 20 minutes to stop laughing.)

I recently saw a picture of Michelle Pfieffer in a magazine and she looked, in a word, fabulous. She is only a few months younger than I am.  Did I have a few sour grapes to lob at her? Of course I did: She probably has a trainer, a cook, a stylist, a beach house, money to spend on treatments, hair, makeup and lighting.  She probably doesn’t walk around with her arms up in the air, either.  But, you know what? It doesn’t take Hollywood to make a woman my age beautiful. I have friends who look just as stunning as Ms. Pfieffer and without all the trappings. I’m not going to say who, I’ll just let you all believe it’s you...because it could be.