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

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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.


Friday, December 12, 2014

So, Miami?


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I treated my husband to a short walk down my memory lane this morning. It is to his credit that he didn’t allow his eyes to glaze over or his snoring to interrupt my story. I told a tale of visiting Miami as a child, actually Hialeah, but we might have driven through fancy Miami beach--just to see it. I helpfully listed the Florida relatives we visited and their relations: Uncle Bert, who married Minnie and had sons Clayton, who married Norma and Junior, who married Betty. Also, Aunt Mabel who never married after her husband went down in a plane during WWII . . . and on and on like that. I know--you’re about to snooze, too. I’ll move on.

The detour came up while I was talking about taking a trip to Miami.  I think I’ve only been the one time and that memory is dim, but I may have been trying to justify my plans. None of those relatives even live there anymore, although there’s an aunt I’d love to catch up with in North Palm Beach. My parents and several cousins live over on the west coast of Florida and inland, but for some reason I had Miami Beach in my sights.  As I talked out loud about it, I began to understand why: I really don’t know anyone there.

Of course I love to visit friends and family, particularly when they live in warm, sunny places and have guest bedrooms. What’s better than that? However, my brain kept dragging me off to warm, sunny places in which I couldn’t send a friendly email to anyone suggesting they might enjoy my company for a few days.  I think I began looking up airfares the day I came across a rant on a woman’s Facebook page that complained quite dramatically that she had been drained dry of giving to others and was going to, basically, run away because she was sick of all the takers around her. (No worries, dear readers, it wasn’t any of you. I was creeping strangers' Facebook pages. I know. It's a problem.) I thought she was quite melodramatic about the whole thing and naturally her tirade garnered dozens of messages from her friends, ranging from the sympathetic (“Don’t forget to be good to yourself”) to the equally dramatic (“Don’t move! I’ll be right there! Please be safe!!”) “Ho-hum”, I thought to myself, “so self-serving” and I moved on to the pages of other people I don’t know who might be more positive and entertaining.

Soon after, though, I began visiting Expedia on a daily basis and getting familiar with Google maps-Miami. But it wasn’t until this morning, when I hijacked my husband’s usually solo morning coffee to share with him my plans for a trip, that I realized what I was doing. Depletion from giving my all was showing itself, and hopefully not in as whiny a way as the Facebook lady’s did.  My subconscious, savvy vacation planner that it is, was nudging me to flee to places where I didn’t know anyone so I could take a break.

Life may be a little more stressful than usual, but it’s not like there is anything unmanageable happening. Much of it is wonderful stuff--like I get to have my grandson living with us again for a while. Plus, I like doing things for my family and my friends. But stress is stress; it takes energy to do even the fun and wonderful things.  And, not that men can’t be givers, but it’s usually women who end up providing the support, legwork, comfort and hors d’oeuvres in any given situation. So, I guess I don’t have to go to Miami to take care of myself, but I do have to remember to take a little vacation every once in a while to recharge myself.  Not just remember, but actually do it. Close the door to my room and read for a half an hour. Stay a little longer at the office and creep strangers’ Facebook pages. Take a drive all by myself.  (And don’t offer to pick up milk and eggs! Wine is okay though.) 

Sneaky subconscious. 

Aunt Minnie, Nana (Helen) and Aunt Mabel formerly of Florida, currently in Heaven (most likely).


Monday, November 10, 2014

Fifty is the new Fifty: The Flip-Flop Philosophy


A while back, I expressed my feelings about a continuing education postcard I received with the promise that 50 is the new 30!  Personally, I am fine with being 50 and I wouldn’t want to be 30 again, new or otherwise. Being 30 for me was fraught with difficult decisions and the fear of the unknown.  Being 50--or over 50 like I am--is like finally getting past a bad traffic jam and onto the wide-open highway.

The reason this blog (and my book) is titled Flip-Flops After 50 is because I am exploring the evolving attitudes and perspectives of aging...as I age. The main theme seems to be: life is different at 50. (I know. That sounds obvious, but bear with me for a minute . . .)  Call us what you like--baby boomers, seniors, slow drivers--we older folk make decisions based on an entirely different perspective than someone in their 30s.  We have the breadth of our decision-making history to consult which contains a whole lot more information than those young whippersnappers who think buying a car without 4-wheel drive in New England is a good idea. (Why yes, my daughter is looking for a new car, why do you ask?) Our decision-making history has the span of time and experience to inform us--whether we heed it or not. We have the ability to make extremely insightful and well-thought out decisions and we have the freedom to make dumb mistakes over and over.  How we handle those decisions is part of the beauty of our age; we accept the responsibility and deal with it or we simply forget about it.

I remember how angry I used to get when applying for a job or some other responsibility and the phrase, “you don’t have enough experience” would slap me in the face. It was the ultimate Catch-22; how was I ever going to get any experience if no one would give me any? I actually still think it’s a stupid rationale for young job seekers, but now I understand the concept a little more clearly. It’s not experience in knowing about a particular field that matters, but experience in knowing about yourself.  Why spend years educating a teacher or an accountant only to tell them at their first job interview, “You don’t have enough experience.” What were all those classes and tests for? I have known enough young teachers who are more than adequately prepared to do the job of teaching; some even better than a veteran teacher. The experience they need, of course,  is not how to plan a lesson or deliver content - that’s fresh knowledge they possess. It’s the knowing how to finesse a parent-teacher conference or navigate a new administration where they are wet behind the ears.  And that only comes with experience...of age.

I’ve always said, “maturity is a wonderful thing.” (Just ask my kids. They’re sick of hearing it.) But it’s true. There are times when there is nothing you can do with a 20-something except sit back and wait for a few months or years to go by. Then watch those youngsters figure out how to make sure they have insurance or buy the car with 4-wheel drive.  At 50+ we’ve probably got all those things taken care of. Now we can just enjoy the ride.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Baba-Day


“You seem a little bit mad.”

Words from a slightly worried spouse? Nope. An inquiry from a concerned friend? Nah. These six little words came from the mouth of my nearly-three-year-old grandson, Luca.  The setting: his bedroom. The task: getting him to take a nap. My response? Well, never mind what my response was. When he utters phrases that should be coming out of the mouths of much older--and perceptive-- people (I’m not naming names here...) I can’t help but fight back a chuckle. But quick as I think I am at masking my amusement at his constant pokes at my reserve, I know the jig is up. He’s on to me. He always has been. He always will be. I guess I’m just fine with that.

Let me back up. I began the day bathing with diaper wipes. (Honestly? It wasn’t horrible.) Luca had an in-school field trip at his school, but it wasn’t his regular school day so he was invited to come anyway and bring a family member of his choice. Me, obviously. We had to be out of the house by 9:45 a.m., hence the improvised shower.   Actually, my usual Wednesday toilette consists of a lot less attention because Wednesday (formerly known as Baba-day when Baba was my nickname) is the day I babysit Luca while his mom does her one full day at the office. Typically we start the day with a relaxing breakfast of chocolate chip cookies and milk served in a tiny espresso cup while everyone else scurries around us trying to get out the door. We stay in our comfies until an orange juice spill or the lure of digging for worms outside prompts us to change our clothes.

But I have to tell you, a day is about as much as I can do alone these days with this often non-stop toddler. I heard tell of a woman who is babysitting her toddler granddaughter 5 days a week and she is as old as I am. I don’t know how she does it unless she’s mastered the Jedi mind trick. (“These are not the toys you’re looking for.”) On a day like today, when I had to be dressed and somewhat odor-free in order to go out and be among other adults, it can be slightly draining. I can’t believe that we got out of the house, over to school for the Critter Caravan, ate a little yogurt in the car, made a quick stop at Canfield Corner for a bouncy ball, picked up Papa from work, drove to the playground for a few spins around the new playscape and headed back home for lunch.  So far, so good. Until I set a bowl of buttered pasta in front of Luca. He put both hands on it, swiftly raised it above his head and dumped it on the counter.  Suddenly it was naptime and he became the most intuitive child in the world. 
"Shhh...don't tell Mom I was in the front seat!"
However, I still don’t think I am as stressed as I was raising my own kids, because Luca isn’t my kid. His parents can stress about whether or not he gets into a good school (he better) or plays football (over my dead body).  Children need parents to set boundaries, make the right decisions and help them become fine, upstanding citizens. Grandparents, still parents by definition, have a certain latitude that is intrinsic to the kind of parenting that we get to do. I don’t think it’s simply aging that has changed my parenting energy; I still have boundaries and expectations, but I’m definitely more relaxed about it all. Luca and I have a kind of intuitive friendship as well that I cherish, and hope will continue on throughout our relationship.  So, when, from his carseat, Luca insists that I send a text to his Mom to come and rescue him, as I drive home the long way in an effort to get him to nod off, I realize that maybe a nap might be good for both of us.