Ten Optimistic Ways to Look at Aging…Or How to Find a Nugget of Gold in a Pile of Sh*t

Warning: Momma G is feeling snarky.  If you faint at the sound of cuss words and think that life is a Disney movie, you may want to close the page and pick up Reader’s Digest instead.

My sister Robin is having a landmark birthday soon. I know she’s dreading it, because I went through the same thing a couple of years ago.  I’m not sure why we freak out at ten year intervals, but we do. When we hit 30 we mourn the loss of our youth and the days of being carefree twenty-something.  At 40 we ignore the fact that our careers are firmly anchored and our kids are becoming more self-sufficient, and instead concentrate on the crow’s feet around our eyes and gray that appears at the temples.  50 should be a celebration of living half a century.  Often instead of reveling and toasting, we wistfully look back, and wonder why we squandered our youth on things that really never mattered.  And now, another decade has passed and the reality sinks in.  We are never going to be young again.  Ever.

But those of you who read Momma G’s posts know that I am an eternal optimist who believes that in every situation we must find the golden nugget, even if we have to dig a bit to find it.  Here are ten such nuggets.

  1. When we turn 60 people stop telling us what to do. They either think we are older and wiser than they (we are) or old and set in our ways (we are) or it’s just a waste of time since we are old enough to do what we want anyway (and we will.)
  2. photoshoppedWhen we turn 60 people stop remarking that we look tired, and start saying things like “she looks good for her age.” This means we can spend less time on our hair, or makeup.  We can finally let go of the Wall Street myth that tells us we should look like the photo-shopped model who is really only 17 but is playing the part of a 35-year-old who runs a successful business, raises genius children who don’t get messy and has a husband who washes dishes and put his smelly socks in the hamper.
  3. When we turn 60 and buy alcohol we don’t get carded by the kid at the checkout who is young enough to be our grandchild. And if we get a little tipsy (just a little) our kids think we are “cute.”
  4. When we turn 60 people think we are wise, even though we don’t know shit about Snapchat, Vimeo and Twitter.
  5. When we turn 60 our kids think we are hilarious if we swear. Especially if we use the F-bomb.
  6. When we turn 60 our kids think of us as frail and start doing chores like taking the trash out and making sure they don’t leave our cars on empty. My advice? Ride the wave!  Ride the wave!
  7. When we turn 60 it no longer matters who was popular or cool in high school and college. We are all creaky, pudgy, and gray now. The barriers are down and it’s amazing how much easier it is to like each other.
  8. When we turn 60 it doesn’t matter if we dance well or badly. We all look silly on the dance floor, but we don’t care, because we are 60 and life is for dancing.
  9. ladies on the beachWhen we turn 60 we may look like fat old ladies on the beach but nobody judges us, because we are fat old ladies on the beach.
  10. stock-illustration-17749637-gold-minerWhen we turn 60 we realize that most of what we thought were of value- career, money, fame, notoriety didn’t really bring us the happiness promised. But the people we touched- family, friends, strangers in need- they are the jewels of our lives.  The jewels were always there.  We just forgot to look for them.  But the good news is there’s still time to go mining.

Confessions of a Makeup Addict

My name is Garrie, and I’m an addict.

This morning, as I do every morning, I leaned into the mirror on my bathroom medicine cabinet to put a contact lens into my right eye.  It is a struggle, as I cannot see the lens and have to fish around the little well of soaking solution with fumbling fingers.  However, without this lens, I cannot see to apply my makeup, and without makeup, I cannot go to work.  It’s as simple as that.

I began my love affair with cosmetics as a young girl.  My mother used very little makeup; Mabelline cake mascara that mascara jpgcame with a tiny application brush, a compact of pressed powder, and a tube of red Helena Rubenstein lipstick.  When she was busy in the kitchen, I would lock myself in the bathroom, examine each item, smell its contents, and dream of the day I would be old enough to apply small touches like my mother.  On rare occasions, I would try her lipstick, slowly twisting the base, but not too far, least I break the stick or wear down the point.  I carefully applied the ruby-red to my little girl lips, admiring myself in the bathroom mirror while my little brothers and sisters complained from outside the door that they had to pee.  Knowing my mother would never allow her seven-year-old to emerge from the house like a painted lady, I scrubbed at my lips until they resembled swollen strawberries before stealing out the door and skipping off to see if my sisters would notice how sophisticated I looked.

My sisters were not as captivated by the world of cosmetics as I, although Martha-Jean once reported for breakfast with bright blue eye shadow on her lids.  It was the latest fad- all the girls were wearing it- and my older sister bravely and unapologetically brushed it on and sat down to eat her oatmeal, until my mother caught a glimpse of her.  Mom promptly sent Martha-Jean upstairs to wash her face, sputtering “No child of mine is going to leave the house looking like a lady of the evening!”  I didn’t really know what a “lady of the evening” was, but it sounded intriguing.  I would have asked my mother for an explanation, but her face was a bit purple and distorted, and it didn’t seem like the right time for questions.

As I approached my teens, I heard the call from the drugstore counters and began saving my money for lipstick and mascara.  My first purchase was a tube of clear lip gloss that hung from a cardboard display on the drugstore wall.  It cost one whole dollar and it took me weeks to collect enough abandoned change from the floor of the phone booth by the Monson Inn.  1954-EraceWhen the clerk took the tube off the display and placed it into a neatly folded white bag, I thought my heart would burst.  My hands shook as I removed the top of the tube and breathed in its waxy aroma.  From the first application, I was hooked, and the next years were filled with small purchases; Bonnie Bell Blushing Gel, Max Factor Lash Maker, pale Yardley London Look lipsticks, and a wonderful product called Erase, that made my teenage blemishes less visible.  My mother finally realized that her daughters would not be doomed to a life of walking the streets and allowed us to wear eye shadow, as long as we applied it sparingly and avoided very bright colors.

During college I rarely wore makeup- probably because I was always running late for class.  I’d sleep through two alarms, rising with just enough time to pull on my jeans and sweater, brush my teeth, and run from the dorms to the classroom, arriving just in time to slip into the back row.   It was the early seventies and those of us who chose jeans and t-shirts over disco polyester didn’t bother with much jewelry and makeup.  During the years that followed college I became so busy juggling kids and work, that I only swiped on a small amount of makeup when I dressed for church, or to go out for a rare dinner date with my husband.

One day a coworker remarked on how tired and pale I looked.  I went home that night and took a long look in the mirror.  My coworker was right, but it wasn’t a good night’s sleep I lacked.  I knew what to do, and headed for the closest drug store.  I stocked up on blush, mascara and lipstick, and as I opened the packages the next morning, I caught the familiar scents and gently caressed the smooth surfaces with a virgin applicator. I knew my addiction had returned.  It wasn’t long before I graduated from drug stores to department store and Sephora counters.  I discovered mineral foundation and blush, and began collecting various brushes and fancy sponge applicators.  I traded my zipper makeup pouch for a makeup box that is nearly as big as a suitcase.

While I know that my makeup addiction feeds Wall Street’s Barbie doll version of how a woman is supposed to look, I can’t 1950s-red-lipstick-ad1help but feel that dressing one’s face is also an art form and an opportunity for self-expression.  I like to experiment with different shades and techniques, and although the end product looks pretty much the same day-to-day, it’s fun.   It’s an affinity I share with my daughters and some of my nieces, who carefully line their eyes and apply red lipstick that would make their Grammie proud.  Also-and don’t underestimate the value of this- it makes me feel a bit better about the way I look before I face the world, and people are less inclined to remark on how tired I look.

Besides, I’ll never get over the thrill of opening a new product, gazing at the fresh, untouched surface, and drinking in its delightful aroma.  I’m an addict, and I’m not ashamed.

Hello in There

“Ya know old trees just grow stronger

Old rivers run wilder every day

But old people, they just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say “Hello in there, hello”

~John Prine

Sometimes the smallest things can touch my heart in the strongest way.  This is especially true when it comes to lonely people.

When I was a little girl it was not unusual to travel with my parents to the nearby town of Palmer, Massachusetts.  In those days my hometown of Monson only had a few stores, but Palmer was a larger community with bigger stores.  We frequently visited PD Shoes and the Five and Dime store on Main Street, and my mother often shopped for groceries at Palmer’s A&P.

Trips to Palmer were an adventure.  My mother piled all eight of us into the station wagon, where we elbowed each other ancar seatd fought over who got to ride in the front or the “way back.”  There were no seat belts and the baby car seat was an invitation to disaster.  But by the grace of God and St. Christopher, we always reached our destination without disaster, with the exception of the time my brother Scott barfed all over the back seat.

On these road trips I usually watched the scenery- pedestrians crossing in front of the Monson Bowling Alley, mourners at Hillside Cemetery, sheep and horses on Palmer Flats.  Each five mile trip was pretty much the same as all the others.

But one day my mother took an alternate route and passed by the A&W Root Beer stand in Palmer, and the next ten seconds changed me forever. As we drove by, I saw a man in a business suit sitting alone at a picnic table, his lunch in front of him.  He looked entirely ordinary- like any other businessman who might have stopped for a quick lunch on his way to an appointment.  But as I watched him from our passing car, a lump formed in my throat and a great sadness filled my heart.  My eyes filled with tears that I could not understand or explain, so I quickly wiped them away and pretended to be engrossed in looking out the window.  I didn’t dare tell my mother or my siblings.  I could only ponder the moment and try to figure out what would evoke such a strong response in my deepest soul.  The only interpretation I could come up with was the man was lonely.

This was the beginning of a sensitivity I have toward people- especially strangers- who seem to have no one.   I would love to say that I always am kind and conscious of other people’s feelings, but this simply is not the truth. There are many times when I get so caught up in my own life’s events that I fail to recognize the needs in others.  But every once in a while something pricks my heart and without warning, my eyes become hot with tears.

This week was one of those occasions.  I was reviewing a medical chart at work and came across the sentence, “The patient lives alone. She reports that she has not had a visit from her only daughter in over a year.”

These words cut straight to my heart, and that old familiar lump rose in my throat.  I have never met this woman but I think she must ache with loneliness.  Although I am aware that we often make our own unhappy situations, I cannot imagine how painful it is to not get a call or email or visit from a loved one-  to not share a funny story, or talk over a problem, or cry over a lost friend.

I think that loneliness is a silent illness.  Those who suffer from it hide their malady, afraid that they will become the accused if they cry aloud.  Our culture chastises those who are lonely, telling them to join a group, donate time to a charity, give of themselves.  And while this can alleviate some symptoms, there are those people who spend their lives doing and donating, and still crawl between the sheets at night feeling cold and unloved.

So what do we do?

elevatorHere’s one idea.  At work I often ride the elevator, mostly because I am lazy.   But it affords me the opportunity to chat with others on the ride. Most people, lonely or not, board the elevator, look at the door and wait to reach their floor.  I have a habit of breaking the silence.  I ask them what the weather is like outside.  I ask them if they know where they are going when they exit the car.  I look them in the eye and smile at them.  I wish them well when we part.  It’s a small thing- tiny actually- but for just one moment, and it might be the only moment that day, someone stopped long enough to say, “ hello.”

I might not be able to change the world,  but if each reader of this post took one step to alleviate loneliness, and shared it  so others could follow suit,  we could certainly impact those around us.  I invite you- challenge you- to come up with a suggestion and share it in the comments below.  Let’s see how far the ripple travels.

 “So if you’re walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes

Please don’t just pass ‘em by and stare

As if you didn’t care.  Say “Hello in there, hello.”

Hello Judah. I’m Your Grandmother.

On June 21, 2014, I became a grandmother. Abby Johnny and Judah 1

My daughter Abigail gave birth to a beautiful little boy- Judah Gray Wallace. Shortly after his arrival, I rushed to the hospital and was handed a seven pound bundle.  I gently pulled the flannel away from his little face and tenderly kissed his forehead.  I was totally undone.

This morning, I looked into the mirror.  “I am a grandmother.”

grammieGrandmother.  The word evokes images of white haired wrinkly little ladies who dodder around and speak in shaky voices.  It is an image I am not yet ready to embrace, and here’s why.

I have never been a little lady.  I’m five feet eight-and-a-half inches.  Okay, so I’ve shrunk to five seven, but nobody will ever describe me as “little.”  Ever.

I do not dodder.  I stride.  At work I often get on a roll, taking long steps to get from one office to another.  My long arms swing with each step- sometimes so far that I painfully smack them on the door frame when taking a sharp turn to enter my office.  These are not the movements of a doddering old woman.

While I will admit I have more sags and wrinkles than I did thirty years ago, I do not have prune-like skin and jowls that flap when I laugh- at least not when I take off my glasses.  And I do not have white hair.  That gray streak that slowly appears at my part miraculously goes away whenever I visit my hairdresser.

Even though my days of singing in bars and coffee shops are far behind me, I can still carry the harmony to any song played on my car radio, and project across the courtroom when the judge asks CASA’s stand on an issue.

I am strong, and unafraid, and capable.  I come by this legally.

My grandmother did not dodder.  When I was in college she and I climbed the seawall near her apartment, walked a mile down the beach, and when the sand cooled and our shadows grew, walked back home, to enjoy tender pan-fried flounder and creamy potato salad.  My grandmother got her driver’s license at seventy-six.  She visited the shut-ins from her church when she was in her early nineties.  And although her voice shook at our last conversation, the eyes that held my gaze were steady and filled with love.

My children’s grandmother did not dodder. She dug in the soil until it burst with peas, squash and beans to feed the many mouths gathered at her table.  She swam in the ocean, letting icy waves crash over her head.  She read countless stories aloud, transforming ink and paper into living characters that danced through the imaginations of everyone who listened.  She watched basketball with my nephew.  She laughed at my brother-in-law’s slightly off-color jokes.  And although her voice shook, her arms were strong as she wrapped my Elizabeth in a loving embrace hours before she passed into the next life.

We_Can_Do_It!There are no doddering women in my heritage.  They were strong New England women- fearless, energetic, full of fun.  They were unafraid during thunderstorms and blizzards.  They kneaded bread with strong hands, and wiped away tears with soft ones.   They knit booties and sewed flannel pajamas.  They listened to twelve-year-old boys give play-by-play descriptions of football games, and gave equal ear to fifteen-year-old girls describe their back-to-school outfits.   They faced life with courage and enthusiasm, and they faced death with anticipation and confidence.

This is the kind of grandmother I want to be- the grandmother I will be.  Judah and I will ride waves together in the Atlantic Ocean.  We will make mud pies in spring and snowmen in winter. I will sew him flannel pajamas, and make him cookies to spoil his dinner.  I’ll read to him.  I’ll rock him to sleep.  I’ll listen to him complain that his parents don’t let him do anything his friends can do.  I’ll go to his soccer games and his music recitals and lie next to him in the grass to find pictures in the clouds.

We’ve only begun, but we are well on our way to a lasting friendship. He will not remember these first few days, but I judah close upwill. How he snuggles his head into the crook of my neck.  How his little body relaxes when I hold him close and rock him.  How his skin is velvety and his scent is like his mother’s when she was only days old.

Most likely, Judah will grow taller and stronger than I am.   He will think of me as old.  But he will never describe me as doddering, because I have a legacy to uphold.  I’ll be unafraid of thunderstorms and blizzards.  I’ll charge forward, head up, full steam ahead, like those who went before me.  Even if my voice shakes, my eyes will be steady and full of love.  I’ll face life with courage and enthusiasm, and someday, I’ll face death with anticipation and confidence.

Hello Judah.  I’m your grandmother.  Stick with me, kid. We’ll have a blast.

You’re How Old?

This past Monday was my birthday.  I have now lived 696 months. That is 3,027 weeks or 21,184 days old, which comes to 508,429 hours or 30,505,767 minutes or 1,830,346,077 seconds.  Those of you who love to do math have already figured out how many years I’ve lived.  Sorry, but I’m not going to make it easy for the rest of you.

So if I’m so old, how come I don’t feel old?  How come every time I look in the mirror I am surprised to see someone who looks like she should be my mother staring back at me?  It is true that I could have given birth to practically everyone who walks the red carpet, just like it is true that I remember when television was black and white and records were played on a  hi-fi, and the milk man left glass bottles of milk on the back steps.  But I still feel young.  Like somewhere around nineteen.

When I was nineteen I was in college.  I wore the university uniform of blue jeans, body stockings and Earth shoes.  My locks hung past my shoulders and I never wore makeup because I didn’t need it.  I was skinny- less than 120 pounds, even though I am over five feet, eight inches tall.  I could quote Shakespeare and Chaucer, eat pizza at midnight without getting heartburn, and sing notes as high as Joni Mitchell.

When I was nineteen, I sang with my friend Mary.  I would weave silver threads of harmony around her strong golden melodies and together we would entertain long-haired audiences who filled the local bars and coffee houses.   Our music was simple- acoustic and eclectic- and we would cover tunes by The Beatles, Donovan and Judy Collins.  We practiced in lobby of our dorm, our notes tripping down the steel stairwells, and echoing against the cement walls.  We sang for beers and tips and the thrill of hearing the crowd grow quiet when the guitar strummed the opening chords.  We sang because with a few notes, we could wear our hearts on our sleeves.  With a few notes, we could tell a story that would bring a laugh, or bring a tear.  With a few notes, we shared our diaries with those who listened, and by listening, they shared theirs with us.  With a few notes, term papers and tuition were forgotten and the world was as one- just for a few moments.

But I am not nineteen any longer. Although I still wear jeans, I have not owned Earth shoes or a body stocking since 1978.  My fingers are too arthritic to hold down the strings on a guitar, and my throat strains to hit the high notes. These days, I don’t sing in bars and coffee houses.  I sing with the radio in my car and although I can still layer harmonies over melodies, I know my days of singing before an audience are over.  But I still have a need to reach others- to bind us together with those things we all hold in common; love, fear, joy, sorrow.  Words on pages have replaced lyrics set to music.  Instead of sharing songs about lives I have never lived, I write about years I remember.  Days I have endured.  Moments I have cherished.  People I have loved.

Lest you think this story is a sad one, let me remind you that there are perks associated with aging.   Now, when I do something foolish, people hug me and call me “cute” instead of pretending they don’t know me.  If I try to carry anything heavy, or climb on top of a chair to change a light bulb, my kids freak out and take over the task for me.   I like this so much, I may start groaning whenever I have to clean the toilet or empty the trash, in hopes that they’ll take over those chores for me as well.

Younger people think I am old, but older people (and yes, there are people who are older than I) still think I am young.  In fact this morning on the elevator, a white-haired gentleman called me “young lady.”  Perhaps he is right.  After all, I’m only a little over eight years old… in dog years.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Momma G

I have always loved motorcycles.  When I was a small child, my parents were friends with a young couple who wore black leather jackets with white fringe.  They let me straddle their motorcycle and I would dream of speeding down the highway with the wind in my face.  As a teenager, I watched episodes of Then Came Bronson on television and envied the main character’s sense of freedom and adventure.  The idea of motoring across the country with no set agenda sounded to me a bit like Heaven.  In college I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Robert Pirsig convinced me that a romantic life of riding unprotected from the elements was the way to find oneself and become one with the universe.

Then, the summer after I graduated from college, my brother Scott and I went on a motorcycle trip to Canada.  The first day was spectacular, with clear skies and bright sunlight. I still remember how the farms in the Cherry Valley section of New York looked like patchwork quilts and how the golden sun warmed my back through my leather jacket.    We traveled into Ontario and slowly drove along Niagara Falls, where the mist gathered on my helmet’s face shield and shivered the back of my neck.  As the week progressed the weather became cloudy and finally, on the way home, it poured a chilling rain that soaked through our jeans and leather jackets and left us shaking with cold and yearning for hot showers and our mother’s homemade soup.

I had not been on a motorcycle since that summer until last week, when my younger brother Kevin and I took his Harley Davidson through the White Mountain National Forest.  I met him early on a cold Tuesday morning and borrowing my sister-in-law’s leather jacket and helmet, climbed on the back of his bike.  Kevin is a big man – 6’5” and a fire fighter.  He is calm and methodical and I trust him intrinsically.  But as he opened the throttle and I watched the stripes on the pavement blur, it occurred to me that this adventure might be a bit dangerous. 

This had never happened before. When I was younger I never considered the fact that I always wear a seatbelt in my car, but there is virtually nothing between the pavement and a motorcycle rider.  I had never wondered if while leaning into the curves, we might tip too far and catapult to the hereafter.  Before, I could stand on the foot pegs, hands lightly on my brother’s shoulder, while we screamed down a highway at 75 miles an hour.  Now, I tucked my head down to stay out of the wind, and felt my shoulders tighten against the cold.  “Good grief,” I thought.  “I’m getting old!”

It doesn’t take many nudges like that to get my dander up.  Although I accept aging, I do not embrace it, and I do not like reminders that the years are advancing.  I certainly do not like to catch myself thinking like someone who has become settled and safe.  I looked up at the trees rushing by us.  They are painted the colors of autumn now- gold, russet, crimson.  I deeply inhaled, taking in the scent of falling leaves and spicy pine needles. Above us hung a low lying blanket of gray and white cotton batten, which at rare moments would split open to reveal azure sky and spill warmth like melted butter.  I relaxed my shoulders and closed my eyes, feeling the wind on my face.  I remember this feeling.   This is the feeling of freedom.  This is the feeling of trust. This is the feeling of relinquishing control, of releasing to the fates. 

I spent the rest of the day drinking from this cup of freedom.   The mountains were dark and silent, their gentle contours like the folds of a blanket. The foliage glowed in muted pigments.  We took a short hike to Sabbaday Falls and when I teetered on the edge of a wet rock, Kevin held out his hand to steady me.  My mind flashed to days when I held his mittened hands as he learned to skate on Number 1 Pond. “Moments like this,” I thought, “are treasures, to be savored and kept in our hearts for eternity.”

Neither of us is young anymore.  It takes us a little longer to get on and off the bike. We have to stop more frequently to stretch the kinks from our muscles and loosen our aching joints. Truth be told, it took four ibuprofen and two cups of coffee to get me going the next morning.  But for a few hours, we were young and free and maybe even just a little badass. 

Okay… maybe not the badass part.  But definitely, we were free.

Bronson, eat your heart out.

Ten in Ten

This post is going to be short.  I’ve got lentil soup on the stove that’s almost ready to go.  Ten minutes is all I have for today’s cup of tea.

A couple of months ago, I had a birthday.  Truth be told, I would rather not celebrate them anymore, but pretending another year hasn’t passed doesn’t make it so. 

Some people yearn to grow older, especially when they are children.  My brother Rick remarked to me that he used to think time passed very slowly as a kid, but it seems to speed up as he gets older.  I have never felt that time passed slowly.  I view the passage of time much like riding in a car.  If we look straight ahead through the windshield, the scenery draws closer at a manageable speed.  We view what’s ahead, digest it, discuss it and turn our attention to yet another object further in the distance.  But when we turn and look through the side window, the trees and grass zoom past us before we have a chance to appreciate them.  I feel that all my life I’ve been staring out the side window.  To me, life passes like a dizzying dance through the lens of a kaleidoscope.

When I am especially aware of the all too fast passage of time, I often take stock of where I came from and where I’m going.  I will never delight in aging, but I can appreciate some realizations that I missed when I was a younger woman.

  1. Assign less value to material objects.  They’re all going to rust, burn, wrinkle, pill, or dry out eventually.  They’re rarely worth an argument.
  2. Fight for your children.   Hold on to them when they threaten to drift into dangerous waters.   Buoy them with prayer.  Encourage them, guide them, forgive them and love them through life’s storms.
  3. Seek hidden treasure.  The kindest, funniest and smartest people I know were rarely popular when they were young.  Think about this when you are tempted to ignore someone who doesn’t fit your image template.
  4. Find value in the simplest of pleasures.  When I was newly married, an economic crisis demanded that we turn off our hot water heater.  For several months we took cold showers.  I will never again ignore the luxury of having hot water simply by turning on the faucet.
  5. Frequent the library.  There are free books about any subject you can name.  In the library, you are rich as a king.  You can travel anywhere you want to go.  Time has no boundaries.  Your imagination can soar and there is no end to what you can learn.
  6. Search for God.  This will be a life-long journey, but reaps rewards impossible to enumerate.
  7. Laugh at yourself often and at others rarely. 
  8. Spend time with your family while they are here.  It is so easy to take for granted that the people whom you love most will be around forever. They won’t.
  9. Cry when you need to.  Nothing cleanses the soul better than a saline shower.
  10. Acknowledge that The Beatles were right.  All we need is love.

High Heels

Last weekend I bought a pair of high heels to wear to an upcoming party. Not kitten heels, but real heels. Killer heels. Spiky heels that make me tower over the kitchen counter when I wash dishes.

Because it’s many years since I wore heels, I decided I should get used to them, so Sunday evening I wore them while I did my ironing. It brought to mind advertisements from the fifties that showed women wearing shirt dresses and heels while they cleaned their houses. I don’t remember actually seeing real women dress like this when they cleaned, but on TV and in newspaper print ads and magazines they did. I used to wonder why my mother didn’t dress this way. She dressed in slacks and sneakers most of the time. It probably had something to do with the fact that she had eight children and worked a full time job teaching school. I don’t imagine it crossed her mind to put on a simple shirt dress, freshen her lipstick, and slip into black pumps before she scrubbed the bathtub.

There were a few occasions, however, when my mother stepped out of her Keds and into a pair of black stilettos. I used to love to watch her get ready to go out with my father. She removed a tiny glass bottle from a black velvet drawstring bag and daubed Chanel No.9 behind her ears. She dampened a little brush, stroked it across a cake of Mabelline mascara and applied it to her lashes. And she applied red lipstick and kissed me on the lips so I could wear some too. She was tall, and elegant, and beautiful. I wanted to be just like her.

As I think back, my mother was around the same age then as my daughters are now. They too, carefully apply makeup, slip into something black and lacy, and step into heels. They are tall and elegant and beautiful. And they can run in heels.

Not so true for me. I am a jeans and sweater woman. I am practical and dependable and down to earth. I wear long pants to cover my legs and long sleeves to cover my arms. Now on the downward side of my fifties, my feet have carried too many pounds over too many miles. The assault of three inch heels leaves them screaming for mercy and an Epsom salts bath.

By the time I finished my ironing, I questioned the wisdom of my decision in the shoe store.

I’ll probably tower over everyone at the party.

I’ll probably get blisters.

I’ll probably teeter a bit, even before I have a glass of Savignon Blanc.

But nothing makes a woman feel so utterly feminine as a pair of high heels. And right now, I need to feel as my mother did. I need to feel tall and elegant and beautiful. So high heels it is.

Who knows? Maybe my daughters can teach me to run in them.

Just One Thing

One of my children’s favorite books was “Miss Rumphius,” by Barbara Cooney. For those who may not know the book, it is the charming tale about a little girl who tells her grandfather that she will grow up to travel the world and then live in a house by the sea.  Her grandfather agrees with her aspirations, but charges her to leave the world more beautiful than the way she found it.  The story documents her adventures and how she fulfills her grandfather’s edict.


I love the underlying themes to this story:  Live life to its fullest.  Seek adventure.  Grab hold of your vision and make it happen.  Make the world a better place.  Dreams are to be large and full, and in brilliant color- not to be inhibited by fear or self-doubt. 


My friend, Mary, is a Miss Rumphius.  She charges through the world, unafraid, full of expectation.  She samples food. She bathes in hot springs.  She visits worlds I know only by pictures.  With her quick grin and dancing Irish eyes, she always, always, always leaves the world a better place. 


My children are like Miss Rumphius.  They travel.  They have adventures in exotic, far away places.  And because while other children grew up listening to Madonna sing “Material Girl” my kids listened to Peter, Paul and Mary sing “No Easy Walk to Freedom,” they will leave the world a better place.


I, too, wanted to travel the world.  I wanted to live in a house by the sea.  Mostly, I wanted to change the world.  But sometimes life changes our plans, if not our priorities. More a George Bailey than a Miss Rumphius, I travel from my office to my apartment, and occasionally down the aisles of the grocery store.  I visit the sea on warm summer days, but leave when the sun sinks below the horizon.  My life is not adventurous, or exciting, or extraordinary.


Don’t get me wrong- I freely made the choices that have defined my life.  I do not regret trading travel tickets for diapers, music lessons and basketball games.  The world I have carved satisfied my heart’s true passions.  And truth be told, I no longer hunger for travel.  At the end of a long day, I crave the familiarity of my creaky recliner and the scent of my own pillow.  I have seen the rewards of investing time and energy into raising my children.  As I watch them evolve, I realize it truly is a wonderful life.


However, least I become too settled, I need to remind myself that regardless of our lot in life, we all share the responsibility to leave the world more beautiful.  This is not a responsibility relegated only to the young.  Miss Rumphius didn’t start scattering lupine seeds until she was old and gray.  It is up to all of us- no matter what age, what station of life we inhabit. We need not all sow lupine seeds, like Miss Rumphius.  We might sow seeds of hope, like George Bailey. 


As my sister Martha-Jean recently reminded me, the trick is to find out what one thing we can do.  A smile to a stranger, a cup of coffee for a coworker, feeding the hungry, saving the lost. It all starts out with one thing.  And the world becomes more beautiful.

Fifteen in Fifteen

This January, my life was marked by a few major events.  I was a juror in an “accessory to murder” trial.  I turned fifty-five.  My mother was gravely ill. 


Thankfully, the trial is over and my mother’s health is improving.  Unfortunately, I am still fifty-five.


These events and a recent post by my friend Mary have prompted me to take inventory of my life.  This showed itself as a formidable task that I’m not sure I am quite ready to accept.  Where do I begin?  What is important and what isn’t?  Does anyone care about this stuff anyway?


As is my custom when feeling overwhelmed, I decided to start small. Here is my challenge: Without taking more than fifteen minutes, list fifteen things you know.



  1. I know that life and death are not in the hands of man.
  2. I know that nothing feels as good when you are sick as your mother’s hand on your forehead.
  3. I know that as a parent, you will never do it all right and your children will be a reflection of every good and bad thing you did while you were raising them.
  4. I know that nothing beats the smell of clean sheets dried outside on a sunny winter day.
  5. I know that wool mittens knit by your grandmother catch burrs when you go sledding too close to the woods.
  6. I know that coffee and bagels on the beach at sunrise taste better than a gourmet dinner from a five star restaurant.
  7. I know that life without music would be like toast without butter.  You can do it, but why bother?
  8. I know if you worry that something bad is going to happen, it usually will. 
  9. I know that if you don’t worry, eventually something bad is still going to happen.  Nobody goes through life unscathed.
  10. I know when bad things happen, there is no sight as sweet as your siblings’ faces, no matter how quirky and dysfunctional a family you have.
  11. I know that justice is not always just.
  12. I know that driving a new car is a lot more fun than paying for one.
  13. I know that others don’t care half as much about the way we look as we think they do.
  14. I know if you have taught your children how to love, they will be okay.
  15. I know that sleep is great, but waking up is even better.
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