Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Working Longer; Retiring....Ever?

Featured on MORE.com "Working" Channel:

I don't think there's a middle age person right now that isn't having a nervous breakdown over what they're going to do instead of retiring in their sixties. With new surveys showing that most Americans expect to work four more years past the age they planned to retire, the question that comes to my mind is: work at what?

Ironically, just as this cheery news was breaking, I heard from a fellow colleague in the non-profit cultural world who I'm pretty sure had been comfortably retired. The reason? She was looking for work.

Suddenly her phone call turned into a wake up call, and I was envisioning my life ten years down the road: mid-sixties, suddenly a displaced worker, decades of experience, professional qualifications up the yin yang, and I'm trolling friends for a job.

Being the anxiety-prone type, I started making lists months ago pre-apocalyptic phone call. The lists basically boiled down to four ways I could make a living while filling the gap before retirement: work I'm trained to do, work I would like to do (otherwise known as the "dream on" list), work I would be willing to do, and the "last resort" list.

Continued on MORE.com

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Naughty "G" Word

Apparently, there’s a lot of apology flinging these days over the use of a certain “G” word when referring to a multi-sex group or one that’s women-only.

I’m talking about the word guys.

Twice in the same week this came to my attention through work colleagues. One was a woman who had just wrapped up a meeting filled with us estrogen-only types and let the “G” word slip. She quickly made a U-turn saying, “I probably shouldn’t be calling you guys.”

Then there was my friend, Patrick, who was asking a business-related question in an email in which he used the all-purpose you guys. I knew he was simply using verbal shorthand, but he came back a paragraph later and posed the question, “How do women feel—especially those of a ‘certain age’—about being called guys?” I wanted to tell him he would be a lot more PC, and buying a lot fewer Appletinis for women friends he was offending, if he didn’t use the words “certain age.” As for using the “G” word, I assured him that I wouldn’t be spamming his inbox with naked photos of Rush Limbaugh because I’d been misidentified.

I’m sure there are women who will go out of their way to correct anyone using the word guys in their presence, but I’m not one of them. That’s probably because all my parental relatives hail from Pennsylvania where the phrase “yous guys” was the popular label for any group of people. (And on my Italian side of the family, there were a lot of them.) Personally, I thought this was a riot. We never heard “yous guys” in the state of New York. It still is a PA thing, as far as I can tell.

Even though I grew up in a male-dominated household, the word guys, to me, wasn’t male-specific. It was just a faster, more efficient way of calling everybody at one time without having to remember names. Our mothers did it all the time, screaming out the back door: “You guys stop throwing that ball against the side of the house!” Can you imagine Kate Gosselin trying to hustle that brood in front of the cameras if she had to call them all by name? Their fifteen seconds of fame would last until those kids were in their forties.

There was also the more intimidating query that made us all immediately stop dead in our tracks when mom’s voice would appear out of nowhere to ask: “What are guys up to?” Um, not spin the bottle in the basement. Or toking on a doobie. Whatever it was we guys were up to, it ended the minute we heard the voice of accusation. Even if we weren’t doing anything, the insinuating use of the “G” word made us conspirators. If we responded back with some smartass remark—which my brothers in their infinite immaturity had a habit of doing--we weren’t just guys, we were wise guys. In fact now that I think of it, being part of a pack of siblings meant I was lumped in with the guys on a daily basis.

The only place you rarely heard the word guys was the classroom. We were boys and girls, and later, ladies and gentlemen. Or Mr. and Miss if we were facing the principal (which I had some experience with, by the way.) If our teachers had to refer to us as a group, at all, they used the impersonal term “class.” And thanks to Cheech and Chong, no teacher since 1972 has been able to use the word without getting a rendition of Sister Mary Elephant from the crackpot in the last row.

I’m not a linguistics expert, but to me the word “guys” has reached the point of being innocuously genderless, and rolls off the tongue far easier than other possibilities like “all you people,” “the whole lot of you,” or “upright walking homo sapiens.”

There are quick little “safe” terms I find come in handy in a variety of situations. Take “everyone,” for instance. Everyone works well in those sticky business situations where you’re not quite sure what side of the sexual orientation line people fall on and don’t want to risk offending (or outing) the trans-gender CEO. For people who are on a first name basis and kicking back over beer and pizza, I like the more earthy term folks, although this can easily make you sound like you grew up on Little House on the Prairie with the wrong age group. I regret the fact that I live north of Mason-Dixon line because I think the term y’all is close to the perfect group label, whether you’re talking to corn farmers or top brass. And it just sounds so gosh darn friendly. Seriously, wouldn’t international diplomacy go a lot smoother if the Secretary of State started the conversation with, “How y’all doin, today?”

If men like my friend Patrick are worried about offending women, there are more hazardous words than guys that are going to get them skewered on the ends of our spike heels. “Girls” is definitely one of them. Men should never use the word “girls” when addressing a group of grown women unless, of course, your goal is to eat your testicles with a splash of hot sauce. “Ladies” is a borderline term that, in my opinion, has to be used with caution. Certain people like bartenders, hairdressers, and men who still hold the doors open for us—can get away with this and we think it’s charming. Men who use the word “ladies” to address, say, a women’s roller derby team, had better be wearing skates, because you’ll need to make a fast exit. And it goes without saying that only Phoebe ever got away with calling her fellow Friends, Rachel and Monica “her bitches.”

My advice would be, stick with guys. If teeth are bared and slanted eyes nail you to a wall, just say, “Ooops! My bad.” And offer to buy the next round.

Monday, October 19, 2009

New on MORE.com: Reliving Puberty....Again

In the October issue of MORE magazine, editor Lesley Jane Seymour wrote about how midlife is like going back to seventh grade, which to me is the best analogy for this hormone-crazed, anxiety-inducing time of life that I have read in a long time--and so true! Think about it: zits, moodiness, aggravating relationships, hair that seems to have a mind of it's own, body changes that drive you insane.....it's just like....puberty, again!

It got to me to thinking about those things I've had to contend with a second time around that I thought were over and done with by the time I reached adolescence. The story is called "Puberty, Again? No Fair!," and features my Top 10 list of midlife's little horrors. See if you relate!

(PS...It's currently listed on MORE.com's homepage under stories not to miss!)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Midlife Birthdays: Hold the Candles, Please

Every birthday, my brothers and I try to out do each other with funny cards about getting older. But this year, the award for most on-the-money aging sentiment has to go to my sister-in-law who sent this  "Miss Menopause of 1957" card, courtesy of the creative folks at Clayboys (www.clayboys.com).

Despite the fact they seem to come sooner every year, and I anticipate them with as much enthusiasm as my annual mammogram, birthdays in our family are still whoop-dee-doo occasions that demand we stick to rituals, one of which is the "what-do-you-want-to-do-for-your -birthday?" dilemma.

Inevitably, it's my mother who plays the role of party planner and tradition keeper. It seems inherent to our jobs as moms to make sure birthdays aren't forgotten, shrugged off, ignored, locked in a closet, or, God forbid, not acknowledged in some manner we've come to treat as a ritual.

There are upsides and downsides to this whole birthday-celebration -tradition stuff. The first downer is that birthdays remind us that we are, in fact, older than we were a year ago. Really--I thought fifty-three was just fine; why do I have to turn fifty-four? Plus, since there are several family birthdays preceding mine, the conversation at all these other celebrations will get around to the inevitable question I'd rather not think about: "And what do you want to do for your birthday?"

Um--Is kidnapping Harrison Ford for a wild weekend in Paris an option? No? How about frosting all the mirrors in the house so my reflection will look perpetually fuzzy and a bit less wrinkly? Or, here's an idea: a gift certificate for Botox injections. Maybe there's a doctor out there offering a two-for-one deal.

These suggestions will fall on deaf ears. My mother will scoff and say something like: "Wait til you get to be 76!" You bet, mom. I'm going to take that advice to heart and wait. I'm going to wait and wait and wait some more.  I figure if I wait long enough, by the time I get to 76, it will be 2099.

On the upside there are things to look forward to because we do have traditions. There will be a free meal. Either dinner a la familia or out at a nice restaurant. Whatever the final outcome, I don't have to cook on my birthday celebration day. And there will dessert. This is the one time of year I allow myself to abandon my fear of fats, sugar, and empty calories, in favor of something decadent, sinfully rich, and preferably chocolate. I'm not nuts, however. I know that that slice of triple chocolate cake will mean three pounds on the scale tomorrow. Instead, I make my brother order dessert and treat myself to a bite. Or two. Okay, maybe three, but that's my limit.

There will also be presents. Sometimes a gift card; sometimes cold hard cash. Either one is fine with me, just for future reference. Usually my daughter gives me something that comes in a gift bag with tissue paper and a very mushy card that gets me all teary-eyed. I'm all about the gifts.  In fact, it's my opinion that people, in general, greatly under-estimate the glee of a gift.  I particularly love gifts bags because they're like a movie trailer: a hint of what's to come without giving away the whole story.  And it really doesn't matter significantly that the gift is something I already have, have no idea how to use, or is a complete mystery--it's the element of surprise combined with total narcissism. Everybody gives to you on your birthday; no mutual reciprocation is expected like on Christmas.

So my mother and I go through the ritual of deciding what we're going to do for my birthday. We haggle over restaurants. I suggest someplace we haven't been to before and she immediately nixes the idea.

"You won't like it," she says. "It's very Italian."  (Yes, just like my father, which makes me somewhat biased towards Italian food.  If he was Japanese, I might be suggesting sushi.)

"They make everything with cheese," my mother goes on to explain. Which is the real deal-breaker because my mother is allergic to dairy and therefore large quantities of cheese.

I acquiesce to a restaraunt that everyone in the family likes and has enough menu items that don't cause wheezing, sneezing, abdominal discomfort, heartburn, or a need to break out an epi pen. This is our tradition, afterall. If it wasn't, I would be sitting alone in a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant sucking down noodles with some coconut milk spiked tea.

Given the two choices--even though I'm the honored guest at this celebration of my aging--I choose the all-American fare because it will bring us all together. Even though five of my family members reside within a few miles of each other, birthdays and holidays are generally the only time we're able to convene face-to-face.

We email; send photos; connect on Facebook. But it's only in person that I get to see my sister-in-law crack up laughing so hard it's contagious. It's the only time I get to hear how much my daughter looks more and more like me--a fact that is more thrilling to me than it is to her. I can see firsthand that my parents, in their late 70s, are looking healthy and fit, and that their recall of events is far better than mine--sometimes embarassingly so when it comes to the less than admirable habits of my younger days.

My brother will order some kind of artery-clogging dessert so I can get my sugar-fix. There will be cards to pass around the table that will have us hooting like a pack of hyennas. We will be noisy, stuffed, and the waiter will get a sizeable tip. And somewhere between the main course and coffee, my mother will say to my daughter, who's next in the birthday lineup: "What do you want to do for your birthday?" And so the birthday ritual continues. We've just decided to fore go candles. At this point, we're up to double-boxes and the potential for a three-alarm fire.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Locked & Loaded

There are some things that aren't going to change the world, end world hunger, or bring peace to the Middle East. For instance, my ability to replace old, yellowed electrical outlets and switches in my kitchen with bright, shiny new ones.

I'm proud to say there is little in the DIY world that scares me off. Painting. Stripping off old wallpaper. Tearing down old tiles. Replacing door knobs. I've also amassed a pretty decent tool arsenal that even includes a Craftsmen power drill, a laser level, and a rockin' pair of tile nippers. But there's one thing I've steered away from and that's electrical. My fear of getting fried has far outweighed my desire to replace ugly old receptacles in every place I've ever lived. Who notices those things anyway, I rationalized?

But I had just replaced my 1970s speckled, goldenrod tiles in my kitchen with hip, new white subway tiles and somehow the dingy ivory ones just weren't doing it for me. I do have a tool master in the family. My brother, who earns a living crawling around all kinds of creepy places installing alarm systems, is always the one I call when faced with one of these, "I'm not touching this," projects.

But all the parts were sitting there--the receptacles, switches, outlet covers--and I have the patience of a juiced up celebrity on a delayed flight to LA. But that alone wasn't going to convince me I could tackle the hot wire. What it came down to was this: Was I going to let a little fear of 120 volts of electric current turn me into a jellyfish? Hell, no. It was time to face my dragons, so to speak, and grow a pair.

Not without instructions, however. I headed over to my nearby Lowe's and grabbed a book on wiring. It didn't look all that complex and my receptacles were pretty basic: no 3-way lighting; no fancy dimmer switches. Just your garden variety equipment. What complicated matters, was that there are apparently all these variations on the wires inside the box.Who knew?

The other thing I decided was a necessity was a voltage tester. I'd seen my brother use one to test if the lines were hot and figured I wasn't taking any chances. This turned out to be one of the top 10 best investments I've ever made, next to a flat iron and Estee Launder Undereye Coverup.

Like anything that scares the pants off you, the first one is always the one you dread the most. I lined up all my tools--my screwdrivers, needle-nose pliers, my new switch and my new voltage tester. I shut off the breakers.  Piece of cake, I figured.  Getting the stiff copper wires into the right "J" shape to hook around the screws was no less a fete than trying to whip egg whites to just the right "stiff peak" consistency. And then shoving all these wires back into the box was a bit like trying to stuff the entrails back into a gutted fish. Having zilch experience in either of these "manly" tasks, it occured to me that we really should have Eagle Scout training for girls. You never know when you might need this stuff.

Finally, after I'd fastened the new switch in place, I stepped back and smiled. I'd done it. I threw the breakers back on and, with a little trepidation, plugged in the can opener and pressed the lever. There was the satisfying buzz. At that moment I felt like I should be doing some kind of endzone dance. I tasted the triumph that the first upright walking human must have felt when he discoverd how to make something combustible and thought: "I can control fire! I'm a god!" Anxiety, frustration, and relentless perseverance all paid off in one moment of glory.

By the end of the weekend, I'd replaced two switches and three receptacles. They look gorgeous on my new white tiles. The only problem with conquering a fear of doing something is that you no longer have a handy excuse for not doing it. There are all old, outdated electric outlets all over my condo. This is where the thrill of facing fear head-on and the realization that you've just added a new chore to your "to do" list have a pow wow. Yes, I will probably get around to replacing these outlets, but the desperate desire to do them all in one maniacal spree of electric rewiring is, for now, appeased.

Like a first date that you spend all day primping for, the thrill of taking a never-attempted risk fizzles rather quickly once you meet with success. If you're a regular risk-taker who thrives on adrenaline rushes, you turn such fetes into new hobbies. You climb Everest. Race marathons in the desert. Drive race cars at insanely high speeds. That won't be me. I won't be toting around my voltage tester asking people if there's an outlet that needs replacing just to recapture the high of thwarting death by eletrocution. A weekend of bliss is plenty for me.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Self-Preservation in a Jar of Abloene

Hey readers: My newest story on how our faces tell the true story of our age is being featured on, of all things, the "Beauty: Skin" page of MORE.com (tee-hee!) Here's the intro....please follow the link to read the whole story, and if you can become a MORE.com member, please "Like it" or add a comment. Or, you can even leave a comment here on my page. Enjoy!

"I know there are people out there who go around proclaiming that "Fifty is the new thirty." I hate to be the one who puts the pin to the “Midlife Fantasy” balloon, but it's hogwash. Fifty is as much thirty as Pamela Anderson is a "B" cup.

But let's not even push the envelope all the way back two decades--fifty isn't the new forty, either. If anything, fifty is just a new fifty. I was under the mistaken belief, myself, that fifty was something you could choose to be rather than become, and I was wrong. We can fill it, lift it, freeze it with Botox, dye it, spray tan it, and work it out while some ex-Marine orders us to "Hit the floor and give me twenty, probbie!," but it won't make us one day younger than the date on our driver's license.

Since I'm turning 54 this year, I've had some time to come to grips with the fact that fifty isn't simply forty with really, really long credits tacked on to the end. Fifty is different, and this is why: It’s the face........ (Go to MORE.com to read the rest of the story)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dr. Kildaire to Dr. Kill Joy



Once upon a time, I had a major crush on a TV doctor. His name was Dr. Kildaire (NBC, 1961-66). Not only did he have that melting British accent, he was so pretty you wanted to ask him where he got his nails done. Of course, I was all of about seven or eight at the time, but I didn't care. Dr. Kildaire had it going on, and almost made me want to don a little white cap of my own so that I could be eternally surrounded by beautiful British men.

Almost. It took one summer as a candystriper on a post-op ward to cure me of my General Hospital fantasy. To this day, the smell of antiseptic makes me want to run for the nearest bedpan. Lucky for me, I was blessed with extraordinarily hearty genes and for almost 20 years managed to avoid doctors and their sadistic party toys of needles, tongue depressors, and urine sample cups, except for the most necessary procedures. Having my daughter comes to mind. And wouldn't you know, I'd end up being the morning "tutorial" for a rather clumsy intern who apparently had never given an episiotomy before. Lucky me.

My avoidance pattern changed when I hit my mid-40s. I had a case of uterine fibroids so severe that I thought for sure I'd be calling Buffy the Vampire Slayer to ward off the crowds of blood-sucking 13th century aristocrats who were following me like a pack of slobbering dogs. Despite how much I loathed the smell, the waiting rooms, the icy metal stirrups (can't they make mittens for those things?), I went along with my gyno's recommendation for a transvaginal ultrasound. Yes, it's as yucky as it sounds. The good news was--I had uterine fibroids. Well, duh, doc! My next visit went like this: "Get them out, or I will use that device that removes cell samples for pap smears on your testicles!" Needless to say, he scheduled me for surgery. For one of the few times in my life, I wanted to hug everyone in surgical scrubs. Maybe it was the anesthesia.

Then, out of the blue, the internal plumbing started to act up and the next thing I knew, I'm peeing into a cup--one of my dreads, as I mentioned earlier--and sitting in a hospital gown in front of my father's urologist. I really like Dr. G. He reminds me a lot of Dr. Kildaire because he speaks softly and pats my hand in a very reassuring way. But there's something weird about my doctor asking how the "coach" is doing whenever I go in for my quarterly visit. This is my father, the ex-high school football coach he's referring to. I really prefer to stick to irritated bladders and bloody urine, and not get to the level of personal family anecdotes. Somehow, you start to feel like you're exposing yourself to a relative, and that's just plain freaky. He prescribes two daily pills to take, which I do, religiously, because I'm petrified of the cystoscopy he's going to do if I don't take them. Trust me when I say that if you have a choice between a root canal without novacaine or a cystoscopy, take the root canal.

And this is how the descent into malfunctioning body parts begins. First two little brown bottles and then another internal organ goes berserk, and the next thing you know, you're on your way to plastic boxes marked with the days of the week so you remember not to take the yellow pill with the white pill, and that the big fat brown pill gets taken only once a week, not everyday.

This is what happened when my thyroid decided it was bored and wanted more attention. Fortunately, I have an internist who's obsessive compulsive in a good way, and when I came in complaining about chronic chest pains--although deliberately forgot to mention the fact that I'd dropped four dress sizes in about six months because, hell, I really didn't want to fix that--he had blood tests run and, tah dah, declared I had hyperthyroidism. 


Suddenly, I start seeing so many men in white coats, you'd think I'd been picked for some bizarre reality show where the divorced, fifty year old has to choose Mr. Right from a bunch of MDs. Okay, so that would be a sweet deal if it wasn't for the fact that one of these cuties is dosing me with radioactive iodine, another is dilating my eyes to make sure I'm not going blind, and hunk number three is listening to my throat through his stethoscope. I also get sent for a mammogram--God knows what this has to do with my thyroid--and a bone scan, which gets me a lecture from my GP, Dr. Rick, because it shows 25% bone loss. My bad.

So now I add three new brown bottles to my collection, plus a 12-week mega dose of Vitamin D which is supposed to be the new protocol for people who live in sun-deficient areas. According to Dr. Rick, this also has nothing to do with my thyroid, but as long as he’s prescribing stuff, he might as well juice me up with sun-replacement vitamins. Better that than a hip fracture, right?

The upside to my midlife deterioration is that I can now join in family dinner conversations that usually start out about New York State sucking taxpayers dry, how the Bills STILL haven't won a damn game in pre-season, and gradually move on to colonoscopies, arthritis treatments, and my sister-in-law's second (third?) hip replacement. I used to feel like such an outsider. All my parts were in working order; nothing was aching, out of whack, or falling apart. No more. Failure is, in fact, not just an option when it comes to your internal organs, but a sure thing.

So I'm standing here in front of the cabinet that holds my stockpile of drugs and supplements. I realize that instead of taking the one-per-week 50,000 mg vitamin D pill, I was taking it everyday (oops!). Then I couldn't remember if I'd taken my thyroid pill in the morning. Or my Omega 3 fish oil. And I think, damn, am I going to have to go out and get one of those plastic pill boxes? After mulling it over I decide I'm not THAT old. Yet.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Addicted to the Bottle



Hi all! Check out an excerpt from my newest story about choosing to be a bottle blonde over going gray on MORE.com.....

Why I'm NOT Embracing My Gray Hair

More and more women I know over 40 are letting their hair go gray naturally. They say they feel freer and more “authentic.” They’re setting an example for women everywhere that aging is nothing to be ashamed of, and we should kick the bottle and just let it go.

God help me, but I’m addicted to the bottle.

I've been a bottle blonde for about 10 years. I didn't start off being a blonde. I was born with a full head of bushy, dark-brown hair befitting my southern Italian heritage and pretty much grew up looking like Annette Funicello.

Then it happened. Around age 30, the first sprig of gray appeared. I was like, WTF!!—gray at 30? Pluck! Out came that sucker. But you know what happens once you start plucking— suddenly a sprig turns into two sprigs, and the next thing you know you’ve got enough silver on your head to decorate the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
I was having none of that. As soon as the grays started coming in faster than I could pluck, I headed to the drug store and picked up a box of permanent haircolor. Read the rest of the story here......




Sunday, August 9, 2009

Squeezing the Pencil


I was paging through a magazine the other day, when I came across this ad for multi-size feminine "leak protection." The headline explained the reason why I might need variety in leak protection: "Because one style doesn't fit all."

This struck me as hysterically funny and petrifying at the same time. Having been officially menopausal for the past two years, I've been enjoying the freedom from the "pad" that plagued me for more than three decades. And I’m not talking about flimsy little pantyliners that are basically over-sized bandaids. Between fibroids and what seemed like the Amazon River of menstrual flows, I was a mega-absorbant slave. Try pads made for hippos. So to say I was ecstatic when my periods came to a total and complete end is a huge understatement. I wanted to break out the champagne. Dance on table tops. Wail: "I'm free!" from TOMMY, until my neighbors complained. You don't understand, I'd say. I never have to buy a box of Kotex again in my life. Ever, ever!

And then I come across this ad. Ironically, all the people shown in the ad were women. This says to me that, one way or the other, the feminine protection industry refuses to give up its lucrative stake in our uncontrollable body fluids. Think about it: if most women start menstruating around age 13 and menopause sets in between 52 and 54 on the average, that’s around 40 years of tampons, pads, and liners, not to mention all the peripheral products we have to buy because of our hormonal condition. Like Midol. For a good part of my life—and I’m sure yours--I was mainlining Midol. I even took it between periods as a post-hangover treatment, mood-lifter for general crankiness, and a caffeine substitute. Next to chocolate, Midol, I believe, is responsible for less women being incarcerated as serial killers. (That’s a joke…don’t go off thinking I believe hormones make women into criminals. There are times, though, that we’ve all wanted to claw something in a fit of cramps.)

Now, blissfully free of all the products designed to manage my monthly gift from Mother Nature, I’m resistant to any suggestion that I’ll need to return to the pad. It makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it. Do manufacturer’s really understand women’s revulsion to disposable protection products? Yes, we thank God we no longer have to hide in huts with other “taboo” women or shred up old dishrags—which, when you think about it, really were a “greener” option. But that doesn’t mean we enjoy feeling like pre-potty-trained toddlers. No matter how sleek the design, the idea is that we can’t control ourselves. Our short-lived independence from the pad disappears with the first sign of bladder dysfunction. The first, “Oops!”

I don’t know what the alternative is. I’m not in Research and Development. There is, at least, work being done in the pharmaceutical industry to calm over-active bladders to lower your chances of urinary accidents. Again, kind of ironic. They get us with Midol in the first half of our lives, then keep us hooked on anti-urgency meds in the second half. It may not be a conspiracy, but it sure is opportunistic.

I don’t know about you, but I’m practicing my Kegels like mad. Sqeeze the pencil. Squeeze the pencil. Maybe it will buy me a decade or two.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fashion Fouls: The Older I Get, the Easier It Is to Make Them

The other day I was running into the grocery store, and saw a vision of myself fifteen years down the road. There was a woman in an outfit I can only describe as bag lady athletic club. On top: a flowered tank top and Nike jacket; on the bottom, gym shorts over matching floral leggings and sneakers. A fleeting thought passed through my mind: there but for the grace of God and major self-consciousness, go I.

I admit, I’ve never been particularly Vogue-ish when it comes to fashion, but I’ve always tried to avoid outright wardrobe catastrophes. Still, there are moments that I look back on with bemused horror. The neon-pink fishnet stockings I just had to have in fifth grade. Spandex dresses. Strirrup pants. I had them in all the basic neutrals. Knit dancer’s leggings that we wore over shimmery tights because Flashdance and Olivia Newton John made them so must-have. All my past fashion sins are in some landfill somewhere, and will probably still be around in the next millennium thanks to synthetic fabrics. But so far, I haven't publicly embarrassed myself by dressing in inappropriate combinations that suggest some form of disconnection from reality. The fear in the back of my mind, though, is that I could be that woman in the flowered leggings and gym shorts. Maybe not this minute, but someday. It was almost like a premonition.

I say this because the older I get, the less weight I put on what other people think about my appearance. What concerns me now is comfort, sensibility, and all-weather protection. There was a time when I wouldn't be caught dead in clunky snow boots that had more tread on them than a Ford Bronco tire. No more. Going through my mother's hip surgery a few years ago, and living in a region where it can snow in June, makes you think twice about style versus safety. I knew I had entered the practical age the day I brought home a pair of unattractive but sturdy boots. Who would see, I thought? And so what? At least I wouldn't be sprawled on a pavement in designer heels with a shattered ball joint. If wearing thermal underwear over my pantyhose is tacky, you’re right. I’m guilty. But I’m warm.

Somewhere in the back of my head, though, there's a tiny, nagging voice that sounds vaguely like my grandmother. She was a woman with style. Never a lot of money, but definitely style. In family pictures, she always looks pulled together, often wearing a smart hat and carrying a matching purse. My grandmother couldn't conceive of going out in public without lipstick, let alone wear gym shorts to the grocery store. She would have been mortified to be so underdressed.

I like to think I've inherited my grandmother's taste meter, but there are days I look in the closet and wonder, "What was I thinking?" There are skirts at least four inches too short; jeans two sizes too small; tops that show a little too much cleavage (although not necessarily a negative).; shoes that I'll never wear out of fear that I’ll break an ankle. I know I should toss or donate these items that will never again be on public display, but there's a part of me that emotionally clings to the image of the girl in skin-tight denim mini skirt, fitted tank top, and a full body tan. The problem is, I'm not that girl any more. My daughter is.

To age my wardrobe forward is to admit that I'm no longer who I used to be. And if not, then who? I'm not ready for elastic waist slacks and tunic tops despite the fact my body no longer likes being squeezed into curve-hugging clothes. But mentally, I'm not ready to concede. When I look in the mirror, a part of me says, "I can get away with this," while the grandmother-in-my-head says, "Are you seriously going to wear that?"

Some days, I shrug off the scolding voice and throw on the too tight jeans. I may only be able to pull this off one more year, I think, and then it's adios slim fits. Other days, I look around and see women, a decade ahead of me, who are dressing with great panache and I tell myself, Take a cue. One of these ladies, an artist I know who’s pushing 80, showed up at an event in a fuschia leather jacket that looked smashing. My friend Deb has created her own signature style by combining long decorative skirts she brings back from Peru with fabulous, one-of-a-kind jewelry. Gorgeous silk scarves, batik printed jackets, quirky felted hats--they're all finding their way into women's closets who refuse to give into senior frump, and, instead, want to make a statement about who they are at an older stage of life. Not dark, somber, and draped like over-stuffed furniture; but vivacious, trendy, and original.

Even O Magazine is trumpeting “Yes, you can!” when it comes to dressing chic at any age. In the current issue (August), they put the same look on a 20, 30, and 50-year-old. Me? I’m loving the black and white animal print dress with knee high suede boots.

On the other hand, age makes me feel that I’ve earned the right to a little fashion liberation. I’ve never been a suit person so now I don’t sweat the fact that I’ll get by in separates. I sometimes wear socks with my ballerina flats. I’ve even dashed to the corner store for my Sunday paper in flannel pajama bottoms. Okay, they were under a full length raincoat, but still, my grandmother would have died of shame.

Knowing there are women out there who choose dignity over laundry basket diving, I’m reassured: there's hope! I can fend off the temptation to grocery shop in flowered leggings and gym shorts, and avoid the kind of fashion faux pas that make us wince when we see them. Gone will be the cute little sundresses that look better on Barbie. Off to the Goodwill with the tiny tees and size 4 jeans.Some thrifty eighth grader will think they’re cool vintage.

I may need a complete closet overhaul. Which, now that I think of it, could be just what I need: A little shopping therapy to erase my fears of being caught in a fashion disaster moment. That, and constantly reminding myself: No flowered leggings! No flowered leggings!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Drills are Sexy


My nail polish is worn away. My hair is coated in fine white plaster dust. I’m sweaty, and there are pieces of drywall everywhere. I’m on a mission: to smooth down the kitchen backsplash that used to have ugly old tiles so that I can put up snazzy white subway tiles like in my “dream kitchen picture” torn from the pages of Better Homes & Gardens.

Despite the dust, the sweat, and the growing pile of old mortar on the floor, I’m pumped. It’s a DIY Sunday, and I’m locked and loaded with enough tools to build a strip mall.

Here’s a secret guys don’t want us to know and the reason they don’t want us mucking around in their man caves: tools are fun. Not only that, they’re an adrenaline rush. Think about it: with nothing more than a screwdriver you can put up new drapery rods or outfit a bare kitchen wall with shelves. The ultimate high is being able to say: I did it myself. That’s if the shelves are level and the drapery rods don’t pull out of the wall because you forgot to attach the screws with wall anchors. But that’s okay—when it comes to tools, you improve by doing it wrong.

Maybe it’s because I grew up with three brothers, but I’ve never been afraid of tools. My father kept a pretty well-stocked workbench in the basement that, to me, was a subterranean lair of mystery and magic. Girls weren’t privy to the secrets of tools and their power to make things. We were told they were heavy. Dirty. Dangerous. Girls had no business handling tools. Which, for the precocious among us, is just an invitation to touch forbidden fruit.

This didn’t happen right away. I went through my, “Ugh, grease!” period. But when I ended up divorced with a house full of projects, I had to get over my tool resistance, or accept defeat and ask my tool jockey brother to come to my rescue. I hated being helpless.

So I started with a beginner’s set—in cutsey pink that I guess was supposed to make tools more women-friendly. It contained all the basics: hammer, Phillips head screwdriver, regular screwdriver, a small adjustable wrench, and a pair of needle-nose pliers, all tucked into a pink carrying case. You know us ladies: we need things orderly. I got along pretty well with that first set. Pictures were hung; the toilet float was repaired (again and again), assemble-yourself furniture was put together, taken apart, and reassembled in new digs. Eventually, I added new toys to my arsenal: a wallpaper scraper and scorer, laser level, assorted scrapers and putty knives, a heavy duty staple gun, a hacksaw. Every time I decided to undertake a new project that needed some special gadget, my tool drawer expanded. Then it became two drawers. And a couple of shelves in the hall closet.

I knew when I asked for a Craftsmen drill for a Christmas present one year, that I had graduated to a whole new level of toolmanship. Power tools are the bomb. Plug ‘em in and let ‘er rip! Instead of causing calluses on my hands from trying to force screws into wall studs, my powerdrill could zip them in just by pulling the trigger. I soon discovered the reverse mode for taking screws out—a handy thing when you’ve put them in the wrong place.

Knowing your way around tools lets you into men’s inner sanctum of hardware. It can be daunting, at first. My initial visit to a Home Depot was as bone-chilling as walking into Afghanistan. I saw tools I had never seen before—giant, hulking things that belched smoke and could take down an entire wall. Who knew there were different adhesives for different surfaces; that nuts and bolts came in so many sizes (not, unfortunately, a large array of colors); that purchasing a simple thing like a utility knife could be as complex as shopping for a mortgage? (Why does it matter what I’m cutting? Can’t they make one that cuts everything?)

These days I can walk into a home improvement store with the confidence of a woman who knows her way around a tube of caulk. When I go to the paint counter, I remember to ask for my free stir stick and paint can key (the little metal thingy that pops off the lid). I keep my eye on HGTV for killer tricks, for instance: spraying down a wallpapered wall with a mix of fabric softener and hot water will break down the adhesive just as good as the pre-mixed stuff they sell in the store.

So here I am on a Sunday, prepping a wall for a task I’ve never undertaken before: tiling. There will be new tools to buy: a tile snapper, trowel, chalk line, thinset mortar, grout. Yesterday I spent half an hour paging through a how-to book that explained the right way to stick the little plastic spacers between the tiles.

For me, the journey of tools is a bit zen-like. You get in a zone, and nothing distracts you. It’s just you, the tool, and an impenetrable wall. Eventually, you and the tool become one. You slog away at what starts out to be a filthy job, but ends with satisfaction. If that’s not soul satisfying, I don’t what is.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chocolate is Women's Viagara

An excerpt from my most recent post featured on MORE.com, Sex & Love channel.....

"Honestly, I can’t think of any crisis in my life that hasn’t been improved with chocolate. Bad day at work? Fight with the boyfriend? Hot flashes? Nothing that a dose of the dark stuff couldn’t tackle. Chocolate is our remedy and Ectasy all rolled into one luscious legal substance. Chocolate is to women what Viagra is to our men folk—a guaranteed lift whenever we need it. It’s almost as if after God made Eve, he saw the aggravation Adam was going to cause—especially with Eve walking around naked all the time--and decided to create the cocoa bean so that women would have relief for all eternity. If there was any real temptation in paradise, I’m betting you it was a hot fudge sundae or a slice of chocolate cake layered with ganache filling, and not a boring old apple."

Read the whole story here titled: Chocolate: My Viagara in a Tempting Foil Wrapper

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

To Lie or Not to Lie: The Age-Old Age Question

I don’t usually have time to sit around watching TV in the morning. God knows, I barely have time for my eyes to come into focus. But it was one of those mornings I was going into the office late and decided to flip on what my daughter bemoans as my “antique” of a TV set ( meaning not a flat screen, plasma screen, or high definition anything).

My luck that Lesley Jane Seymour, editor of MORE magazine, was a guest on the Early Show (CBS) and was debating the issue of whether women should lie about their age. On the other side of the issue was a youngish online dating guru (their term, not mine). Seymour emphatically argued that people in our society need to get over what amounts to penalizing women for their maturity. The guru countered that there are times—like when you’re trolling for a date online—that a little bit of subterfuge is a good thing.

The male co-hosts seemed to concur. Asked whether they’d be interested in dating a woman over fifty, they all agreed that, while age did have a strong influence on their interest, the idea of deception at the beginning of a relationship was never good. But. Oh boy, here comes the BUT, I thought. Out spewed the one-line stereotypes: “It would be okay if I wanted to spend all my time playing bridge.” Har-Har. “No problem, except she’d probably want dinner at 4:30.” Har-Har.

Lesley Jane and I had the same dumbfounded, you-are-so-pathetic expressions on our faces. Could this be the twenty-first century, and are these attitudes coming from men whose mothers were the first to embrace their sexuality with birth control and thumb-worn copies of Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying?”

Irrational as it may be, the guys’ response, made Seymour’s point exactly. We’re neurotically age-phobic in America. See a fit, vivacious, sexy woman without knowing her age, and you see exactly what she projects. Look at her driver’s license which tells you she grew up when the Kennedys ruled the new Camelot, and watch the excitement fizzle and the you-know-what go limp. No wonder we shave a few years off when we’re putting ourselves out there in the unforgiving on-line meat market. Can anyone blame us for erasing the year we graduated from our resumes? Or telling people we’re celebrating our twenty-ninth birthday--again?

I’d like to say I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I’d like to be seen as a desirable woman at every stage of my life, not just when I’m flush with baby-making hormones. I’d like to blow out every single one of the fifty-plus candles that should go on my birthday cake, instead of the one I allow myself. Forget how long it takes to light that many candles. The point is, I shouldn’t feel ashamed of my age, that my employability is diminished, or that a man will assume I’m ready for the canasta table and in bed by eight. But a lot of times, embarrassed, self-conscious and afraid are what I feel. The upside is, I know plenty—make that millions—of women share these feelings. Our sisterhood of fearless aging is slowly beginning to acquire a face, and it’s relentlessly eeking its way into our mass media where, subtly and deliciously, it’s making a footprint on the backside of out-dated American attitudes. It's one of the reasons I use as my motto: "Life blooms after forty!"

Lesley Jane Seymour’s final choice word on lying about our age was this: visibility. The more women that are seen without the stereotypical dowdiness that so often gets slathered on to us like age-spot remover, the more perceptions are likely to change. So put us on billboards. Splash our faces on 84” high definition TV screens. Pose us on runways. Send us out on bizarre global treks in the Himalayas. We’ll have the last laugh, oh, guru of youthful ignorance. You’ll see.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Too Old for the Job, but Not to be a Formidable Woman!

I just read in the May issue of MORE that actress Isabella Rossellini was canned by cosmetics giant Lancome after 14 years representing their makup. The reason she got the axe? She's--ahem--forty-two. Oh, dear God, a woman who's actually mature selling make-up to women her own age! It's absolutely unthinkable. Well, at least in the cosmetics industry which is, let's face it, built on creating the illusion of eternal youth. Same goes for the movie and TV industries. When they start casting Molly Ringwald as a pregnant teenager's mother, it's time to wave the reality red flag and shout, "What gives?"

Fortunately, most of us don't have jobs that require our faces to be twenty feet high on the streets of Manhattan. Crowsfeet at that size can look like the lines on Mars. It's not pretty, but it's real. We know what crowsfeet look like. We see them in the mirror everytime we brush our teeth. It's not like the cosmetics companies are fooling anybody. And even if Rossellini doesn't feel too irked by the parting--Lancome, as she says, made her a rich woman--it's the principle of giving a woman the boot, or not even offering her the juiciest role/job/title, because her age conveys something that terrifies us--deterioration.

I didn't think I gave a hoot about what Hollywood/NYC does when it comes to casting twenty-year-olds opposite leading men old enough to be their grandfathers, until I was asked at a seminar if I had a LinkedIn profile. I was the one who waved my hand feebly. Well, sort of, kinda. The truth was, I had started a profile--which for all of you not familiar with LinkedIn is a bit like posting your resume on a giant, worldwide bulletin board--and then I hit the wall of anxiety. What if my twenty plus years of experience looks like I'm out of the loop; old-school; a shriveling peach that's one flick of the wrist away from the compost heap? What if my timeline makes a future employer fidget in his/her seat because they're thinking, "Oh, God, hot flashes and menopausal lapses of memory!"

I know this happens. I know it, because I've been on the receiving end of resumes and have reacted to "older" candidates with the same stereotypical reservations. One of our positions was pretty demanding, physically. I remember saying--not even just thinking, but saying--do you think she (the job seeker over forty), is up to it? Ten lashes with a mascara wand to me! We did end up hiring the older candidate who didn't work out, but for entirely different reasons that had nothing to do with her stamina. Still, we're all in a bit of a cultural conundrum when it comes to older women in the workforce. We just don't have a lot of precedents. Even if our mothers worked--mine in her 70s still does a few hours a week at her old place of employment--the work world is a very different place. Technology is a part of every profession, and the rapid pace of change leaves some of us stranded at the back of the pack, panting furuiously and coughing up the dust of Blackberries gone wild.

Our seminar leader, however, encouraged us to get our LinkedIn profiles to 100% completion. 100% means you not only fill in your stats, hook up to some collegues (called your "connections"), and make sure your headshot is reasonably less scary than your driver's license photo, it means you recommend people and ask people to recommend you. When I started asking for, and getting, remarkable recommendations from my friends and colleagues, I
I began to realize that down-playing my accomplishments was, one, absurd, and, two, falling for the ageism trap. I had to tell myself to get over it, already.

I discovered that, instead of being intimidated by LinkedIn and the potential of my over-experience sticking out like week-old grey roots, I could work it for the great "identity mask" it is. In cyber-space, age is relative. If you can walk the walk, and talk the talk, you can be sixteen or sixty. Play around with the cool tools a little (or get your tech savvy teen to help you), and the next thing you know, you've got your own Me Channel where you can never be fired for the lines on your face, or given the axe because your skin has lost its dewey glow.

To me, self-appreciation trumps outer validation when youthfulness is no longer your strongest selling point. When I look at my LinkedIn profile--now at 100% complete!--I don't see a woman afraid to reveal her age or experience. I see confidence and accomplishment; passion and creativity. I'm betting that some intelligent director or smart company CEO will see Lancome's farewell to Rossellini as a golden opportunity, and she'll be off and running in exciting new directions. Sometimes the boot is the very thing we need to propel us forwards.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Queen of My Own Castle

Sometimes you hear the most profound statements when you're doing something totally innane. This morning I was in the pet aisle at Walmart picking out a jumbo size container of cat litter (two cat household), when I overheard a petite silver-haired woman thank another lady in the same aisle for getting her one of the containers she couldn't reach. "I was looking for a man," she quipped, "but I couldn't find one." I wanted to walk up to her and say, "Me either, but I survived pretty well without one." Where did that thought come from? Oh, me. The woman with a pair of anti-social cats and a twenty-seven-year-old daughter squeezed into her tiny, two bedroom condo. Emphasis on HER. "Yep, that's right," I wanted to confess to this total stranger, "I have my own home, my own bed, endless nights of chick flicks, and total ownership of the remote control." I also would have gone on to tell her that this year I'm celebrating my twentieth anniversary as a post-marriage, independent woman. Break out the champagne!

Okay, so maybe I wouldn't have really divulged my personal life story to this poor woman just shopping for kitty litter. Especially one who probably never could have imagined life as an unmarried woman. Even if she had wanted to be independent or had the temperment/ desire/financial capcity to do so, she undoubtedly would have found the idea of remaining unmarried for two decades (and presumably many more), to be, well, sad. Catastrophic even. Oh, maybe there were moments she might have fantacized about the possibility, but, as a woman who probably came of age during a world war, the idea of remaining single by choice would have been incomprehensible. I can reasonably guess at this because I grew up with very traditional grandmothers. If either was alive today, I'm betting they would have been praying novenas for me. Please God, send Elaine a decent man, one who isn't too good-looking so he won't have other women chasing after him. My paternal grandmother, especially, might have gone off in a rant of indecipherable Italian, believing that the only role of an unmarried daughter was to take care of her parents or unwed brothers. That's the way things were. Lucky for me, my three brothers are married, and my parents know I can't even keep a houseplant alive.

It's not as if I planned it this way. Few of us do. But after managing parenthood single-handedly and enjoying several longish, monogamous relationships along the way, I finally came to wonder, isn't this just fine where I am? The day I signed the papers on my condo, I made family history, in a way, by being the first woman to own her own piece of real estate. I was breaking new ground. Taking the path less traveled. Being a pioneer. And it felt really, really good. Well, except for the sleepless nights, the anxiety attacks, and an outbreak of hives, but still, all first-time homeowners go through the pain and agony of mortgage approval. With keys in hand, I suddenly felt a sense of pride and power I'd never experienced before. I was queen of the castle. I had equity. It was a sobering feeling: here I was, just two generations away from standing at a kitchen stove all day, up to my elbows in meatballs and rigatoni.

Fast forward to 2009, and women owning their own homes is no big whoop. My mother is one of them. Many of us--especially with grown children--aren't hankering to give up a portion of our hard-earned medicine cabinets or make room in the closet for HIS stuff. We may choose to, but the expectation that there is a huge void in our lives that needs to be filled by a husband is fast becoming as outdated as silicone breast implants. We have choices.

My friend, Marguerite, who's a feisty little Italian like myself, told me one day that she was dating someone after many, many years of self-denial. She had three kids to raise by herself, thanks to a deadbeat dad, and just never had the time. When I asked her if it was serious, she flicked her hand in the air and said, "I don't care. I'm having a good time, and I don't want to get married again."

In her 1998 bestseller, In the Meantime, Iyanla Vanzant would have called Marguerite's arrangement a "meantime" relationship--one you enjoy in the meantime while you're waiting for the right one to show up. That was encouraging news to women back then who feared divorce after 40 condemned them to a sexless, loveless life.

Eleven years later, the meantime has become "me-time." Not selfishly indulgent, but living life without waiting for something to happen. I have another friend, who bears a freakish resemblance to Annie Leibovitz, who is set up financially so she doesn't have to hold a 9 to 5 job. She spends her time traveling to Peru and other lofty places, fulfilling herself creatively as a photographer. There have been men along the way. She'll even confess that she wouldn't mind finding one to share closet-space with. But if he doesn't show up, so what? She has a full and, I'll admit it, enviable life.

Those of us who breathe a little deeper, stretch a little more broadly, in spaces of our own--lives of our own--usually have gone down the road quite a ways. Some of us may have lost our significant others and simply feel they are irreplaceable, and choose to remain unattached. Others may have started out yearning for the "right one" that Vanzant promised would show up one day, but, as one year passed into the next, chose not to put a time limit on their independence because they've found unexpected joy in self determination. For some, it's professional fulfillment, or the ability to pursue an artistic unfolding. Others find their relationship needs met through friendships, children, romantic involvements that can last a day or stretch into years.

Rules? There are none. Each of us is making them up as we go along. What works for me, may not work for you. It may not work for me a year from now. Heck, I might even find myself falling head over heels for an Australian sheep farmer, and decide to pack my bags and book this life. Okay, he has to look like Hugh Jackman. Small detail.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Meno Brain: "I Swear It Was Here a Minute Ago"



My Saturday morning started off like this: I'm at the checkout counter of one of the local discount stores, rummaging around my wallet for my debit card. It was early, so there wasn't a line, and only one other person waiting (patiently). No card. So I pulled out everything in the bill portion, which, like any woman, includes an assortment of junk. Out came a JC Penney hair salon punch card, my credit cards, a Pottery Barn Gift Card, my car registration, my library card, an expired appointment card for my dentist, and a couple of reciepts. But no debit card.

At this point, I'm just annoyed because this happens all the time: my card gets stuck in between the checks or is facing backwards and I simply miss it. So I proceeded to do a thorough examination--the kind you expect when you go through airport security these days. I went through every zippered pocket, every pre-formed credit card slot, every extra pocket--twice. No card. Now both the cashier and the guy behind me are starting to get impatient. I apologize. And do the same pat-down with my multi-pocket purse. Still no card.

Now I'm starting to panic. Fear of finding my checking account drained is bringing on a cold sweat. I apologize again and tell the cashier I'll have to come back later. At that moment, all I could think about was the total white out over when, where and why I used my debit card. I got in my car and the first thing I did was check between the seats. Nothing. I looked under the seats. Lots of lint--how do you get a vacuum hose under there anyway?--a couple of pennies, a pen, and a map I'd been looking for for months. But no debit card. I checked the side pockets--both sides--even though the card would have had to leap out of hand into the passenger side pocket to be hiding there, but you never know. I did find my watch which was a pleasant surprise, but given the possibility of a drained bank account, I wasn't whooping it up.

Even worse, my brain was now going into spasms as I tried to retrace my steps from the day before. I bought gas, but was that before work or on the way home? I made a bank deposit--definitely in the morning. Maybe the ATM ate my card or I drove away without it. That would be a good thing because at least my bank would have my card. But, wait. I ran out to the local discount food mart at lunchtime to buy bagged salad. Did I use my debit card or cash? And didn't I stop for something else on the way home? What was it? I couldn't remember. That was the cold, hard thruth. I COULDN'T REMEMBER!

The whole time I'm racing home to check the coat I'd been wearing the day before I'm thinking, dementia is setting in! I can't recall what I did only 12 hours ago. So now I'm panicking because I'm going to be both penniless and brain damaged. Long story short---I found out by going to my online account that the last time I used my card was at a Rite Aid to buy some Sharpies. Good news: no other trasnactions. Bad news: the card wasn't in my coat pocket, and when I drove over to the drug store they told me no card had been turned in. I resorted to dumpster diving to go through the garbage bag I had just thrown out that morning to see if I had inadvertently tossed out the card with the junk mail. No dice. My last desperate act was to call my daughter at work to find out if she had borrowed my card for any reason. In panic situations, you start thinking ludicrous things. Of course, she thought I was nuts. She was like: "Why would I take your card?" Well, because honey, the only other explanation is that your mother is losing her mind!

Needless to say, I headed directly to the bank to have my card cancelled. The young teller behind the counter was very patient and deactivated the card without making me get into an embarassing discussion about why I needed it cancelled. He has no idea how much Prozac he saved me from consuming. Or of the mortification I felt for being so reckless/distracted/ menopausal that I couldn't remember putting my card back in my wallet after using it.

This is what an estrogen-depleted brain does. It forgets. It loses track. It turns perfectly clear memories into white noise. It occured to me later in the day, when I finally was assured that no one was enjoying an unexpected shopping spree on my behalf, that if medical science spent less time trying to invent ways to give eighty year old men erections, and more on finding ways to cure menopausal brain lapses, we'd all be a lot better off. Besides, what difference does it make if your hubby or significant other can be frisky well past his golden years if you forget you even had sex? You want to do it again?!?!? We just had sex fifteen minutes ago! No, honey, it's been two weeks.

Honestly, if they can embed a GPS chip in dogs, why can't they come up with something that a woman can attach to anything she's likely to lose? I know, some of you are thinking why not put one on Mr. "I'm Happy, I Have Viagara." You could buy them by the six-pack at Staples. Make them in fashionable colors, and you're on your way to Trump Towers, my friend.

PS: That's my new alter ago, Evie, on top, who'll have lots more to say on midlife in the future!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bikini Madness



Okay, we've all seen Valerie Bertinelli's look-what-I've-got-back body, clad in a teeny tiny bikini. All of us who have ever set--and met--a weight goal understand that this is an unpop the cork moment, and when you're over forty, that means the good stuff.

But let's get real here for a minute, can we? VBert started out unhealthfully overweight for her petite 5'4" frame. She was stressing out over (then) hubby Eddie Van Halen's continuing alcohol problem, dealing with the news of his infidelity; and gorging on jalapeno poppers for self-comfort. That she finally wised-up, went on a diet, and shed the excess pounds in a sane way is worth applauding, and we all did. High five's and you-go-girl. I'm not so sure vowing to get down to "bikini size" by her 49th birthday was an admirable goal. For one thing, she admits that she had to dwindle down her daily calories from 1,700 to 1,200. That's what, a handful of pea pods? She also hired a personal trainer to get her into camera-ready shape. So did Janet Jackson. And Oprah. Need I say more?

What was more admirable, I think we can all agree, was Valerie getting control of her life and wanting to be happy. Reaching for self-confidence instead of a bag of frozen cholesterol bombs. I read Bertinelli's bio--in part because I really did want to know what naughty vices this TV good girl supposedly indulged in--and found a woman like so many of us who substitute food for love. Feeding our stomachs instead of our souls. Of course, we celebrated with Val as the years of poor self-esteem and boundup resentment began to fall away and a beautiful, powerful, vivacious woman emerged. The question is: Why didn't she stop there? Why wasn't she good enough?

Maybe we're still hoping to be Bo Derek's 10 to Dudley Moore's fifty-something rut dweller. Maybe we believe that if we can run down the beach--in slow motion--without our boobs slapping against our bellies and our thighs chafing with every step, we'll be perenially nineteen. Maybe that will make us happy. The sad thing is, I understand it completely.

Last year, I suddenly dropped four sizes while continuing to eat boxes of Tasty Kakes and oily pizza for lunch. I slipped my new(ish) svelte figure into skinny size jeans for the first time in 15 years. I was on a thin-high. That was until my doctor told me I had hyperthyroidism and promptly gave me a combination of beta blockers and Tapazole to stop my metabolism from going at light speed, and, potentially, leading me to lifelong dependence on a defribrillator.

Okay, scary stuff. But I whined. I pleaded. I balked at every pound that appeared each month I stepped on the scale. I went into denial every time I squeezed myself into the size 4s and then settled for the size 6s. Every time I go in for my bi-monthly check-up, I try to look pathetic so he'll take pity on me. So far, he hasn't fallen for it. Drat. The point is, I finally had the bikini body I'd lost decades ago, and within a year, I gradually began to lose it. People stopped remarking on how great I looked. My tummy roll was beginning to creep out over the top of my pantyhose waistband again. But my boyfriend, bless his heart, said: I like you better this way. You were getting too skinny. And I thought: who am I trying to impress, anyway, with a Sports Illustrated bikini figure?

If there's anything about Bertinelli's re-ignited fame we should be celebrating it's that, at nearly 50, she proves that it's never too late to reinvent yourself. That we can be stronger, healthier and more resilient. That we can set even ludicrous goals, and achieve them because we want to challenge ourselves and, and at the end of the day, that's all that really matters. I want to be a published author. They never show your picture from the waist down, anyway.

I've become resolved to the fact that I'm unlikely to see 115 again in this lifetime. Personally, I didn't like the knobby little protusions of my shoulder blades poking through my blouses. But I've also completely overhauled my eating patterns, and have come to accept that an "ideal" body is one that allows us to live most joyfully. I hope when Ms. Bertinelli begins to see the little dial on the scale inching up again, she doesn't bemoan the loss, but (eventually) comes to accept that we are many woman during our lifetime. Some of them will look different than the one before, but each of them has dreams to fulfill. We just have to be willing to move on.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who Designs This Stuff?


Any time I can't come up with something earth-shattering to blog about, or don't have a convenient event occur that sparks a litany of thoughts worthy of sharing, I go shopping. I know. With the economy and all, it's not exactly the PC thing to do just to grease my rusty writer's gears, but I think of it as doing my part to help the American economy.

Also, it never fails to provide me with at least one wow-would-you-look-at-that moment. Like today. I went to Marshall's looking for a new throw for my living room sofa. I needed something light and springy after this interminable northeast winter that started back in October.

While I'm waiting in line at the check-out counter, I spot this display of nylon canvas bags on wheels. This certainly must be a gift unique to women: the ability to immediately zone in on the newest item in a store, no matter how much it's surrounded by sale signs and mini bags of Jelly Bellies. I'm looking at these things, which it turns out are called "shopper bags on wheels," and what caught my attention was how fashionable they were. You had your array of bright colors; a little design motif on the flap. Everything that the well-dressed bag lady could want. And then it hit me: these things are marketed to ME. The woman who has to haul fifty pound plastic grocery bags about 100 feet between my car and the front door of my condo then up two flights of stairs. The woman who no longer has the muscular strength of Xena, Warrior Princess. The woman who would like a little mechanical help in the bag-carrying department, but wants to be stylish as well as practical.

Even though I thought these were pretty nifty contraptions--especially for only $19.99--a tiny part of me seethed. How dare these manufacturer's appeal to my anxiety about loss of muscle tone, higher incidences of hip fractures from falling, and pure feebleness? Then I began thinking about how designers, in general, seem to hit a blank wall when women turn forty and don't pick up the ball again until we're well into our 70s. They just don't know what to do with us! Are we crumbling at the knees, or are we marathon runners? Do we still want to flaunt our sensuality, or are do we fear being labeled "cougars?" Can we handle sexy little thongs, or are we ready for granny panties?

Truthfully, it's a little confusing to us, too. There are days I feel OK raiding my 26-year-old daughter's closet, and there are days I want to look as pulled together as Michelle Obama. I want a high heeled, calf-hugging boot to slog through the winter slush in style, but I also want a super-resilient, ultra-waterproof muckluc that looks like something designed by Big Foot. I want jeans that fit like a glove, but have plenty of lycra to give around my not-so-slim parts.

There are some products out there, however, that deserve a huge round of applause for being tuned-in to middle aged women and their schizophrenic needs at a very twisted-mind time of life. L'Oreal's Root Touch-Up for instance. This is such a ludirously "duh!" product, I can only imagine that it wasn't developed sooner because there are fierce salon lobbyists that fought against the introduction of miniature hair coloring products. My hat's off also to Replens. After two unsuccessful attempts to get a prescription for a low estrogen product that would save my withering vah-jay-jay for under $150--I'm not kidding--I did a little research, and discovered Replens, which is touted as a "bio-adhesive." It's kind of messy, but it works, and only $20 for a tube. Although I've never bought a pair, Spanx certainly tops the list of brilliant, practical, why-didn't-I-think-of-that marvels of design for reining in midlife spread. I can also personally vouch for Estee Lauder's Brush-On Undereye Illuminator. It's not cheap--about $30--but it lasts almost a year, and I've never, ever, ever, found another product that works as well at hiding my queen of the damned undereye circles without getting cakey, crackly, or vanishing altogether. Love it!

How about you? Use a product that you swear by for your over-forty body, face, life?

Chocolate doesn't count. Chocolate, afterall, was invented by God because she knew no man would ever think up a product that made us crave it, lust for it, and be satisified by it more than him.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

It's Hip to Be Grey



A friend asked me the other day where I get the ideas for my blog posts. Like most people, they come out of life, but once in awhile, the perfect phrase or scenario drops down like brain manna from the gods. Case in point: Last week I attended a professional seminar on social media, and the young (ish) presenter told us that the user age for Facebook was steadily climbing upwards, into the 35-44 year-olds. He glibbly called this "greyification." Oh boy, I thought, there's a blog topic just waiting to be developed!

The fact that everyone in the room understood what he meant says something about how we Americans almost universally associate "greying" with aging. Which is strange considering the fact that I know men who are completely bald by thirty, and we don't use the word "balding" as a way of referring to states of degeneration, for instance, erectial dysfunction. I mean, you're not likely to hear this conversation in the doctor's office: Man: Gee, doc, I've been experiencing some balding in my bedroom performance lately. Doctor: I hear a lot of that from men your age, George.

Greyification is an interesting word, when you think about it. It can have positive connations, like the Hollywood trend towards featuring more and more women over forty in plum roles. You could also use greyification to describe the uptick in relationships between older women and younger men a la Jennifer Aniston-John Mayer or Demi Moore-Ashton Kutcher. If Americans had more of the European attitude towards older women, we wouldn't be so perplexed over these couplings.

On the downside, greyification could mean the adoption of what we view, none too happily, as "old people" habits. Like reading glasses. Despite years of squinting to read maps and prescription bottles, I finally overcame my own grey resistance and bought a pair at the dollar store. I figured I better, or else I'd be double-dosing on clonazapam and wake up a week later.

And then there's the hair thing. This is one of those areas where stylists must read from the same manual that says, "sexy hair dos are for young women; dowdy hair dos are for post-menopausal women." There was a time I dreaded going into a salon for fear of coming out with bowling ball head. Even though I would come in with loads of pictures from hair styling magazines, I'd inevitably end up with senior hair. Basic blah. So one day I decided to try a different tactic: I said to the stylist, "I want TV hair. I do alot of PR on camera stuff, so I need something, you know, like Vanna White or Katie Couric." That did the trick. I walked out with the cut of my dreams. It took me two hours to duplicate, but what the hell--it erased ten years from my face.

What I find personally vexing is the attitude that over-forty means it's time to let down our hems, throw on a ratty cardigan sweater, and tie our (grey) hair up in tight little spinster buns. If pictures of Ruth Buzzi doing her infamous grumpy old woman bit on Laugh In are coming to your mind, we're on the same page, sister. Who decides these things? Where is Project Runway's Tim Gunn with his elegant lilting voice saying: Sweetie, what are those sacks in your closet? Show off your curves!

I have a lot of personal experience with mature woman wardrobes, having been a creative director at one time for a retail department store client. At least three times a year, we'd have to shoot ensembles by Alfred Dunner, the mainstay of matrons everywhere. Inevitably, we'd be using twenty-something models, and would end up having to tape and clamp the excess material in order to make the clothes look presentable. I came to dread growing older, envisioning myself in calf length skirts, boxy jackets, and oversize, floral bow tie blouses, all in Pepto Bismal pink. Surgical scrubs started to seem like a reasonable alternative.

But that was twenty years ago. Thankfully, fashion is starting to wake up to the fact that women over forty want to show off cleavage, our hard-won slender legs that we've spent decades on treadmills achieving, and our generous--and apparently appealing--plush booties. But we also have to give a round of applause to our brave sisters who dare to stroll the beach in teeny tiny bikinis, cellulite be damned (Donatella Versace), as if you to say: "Yeah, it's old and flabby. I love me, and so do young European men. Deal with it."

Hmmm. Sounds like a slogan that belongs on a bumper sticker or coffee mug. Orders, anyone?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Naptime Manifesto


I don't know about you, but Sunday is one of those days that calls to me to put down my weary head and catch some zzzzzzz's. Forget the "to do" list. Let the clogged drain go another day. Stop frenetically thinking about my work load.

It's especially started to be less of an urge and more of an inescapeable phenomenon since I passed the half century mark. It's finally starting to hit me that all this bruhaha about fifty being the new thirty was made up by someone with a line of vitamins to sell. My body tells me otherwise. No matter how many really, really important things I have to do--like clean the cat's litter box; take my recyclables out to the garbage--my inner clock tells me it's snooze time.

The fact that the older I get, the more I need some mid-day downtime, came home to me after one of the rare Saturdays I had to work. It was an especially long day that started at 8:30 a.m. when I left the house and ended when I crashed on the sofa at around 3:30. I remember my daughter coming home around that time with a Tim Horton's bag, and the next thing I know, the same daughter was asking me what was in the plate in the refrigerator (left over chicken from my work-related function), and if she could eat it. I said, "Didn't you just come home with food?" And she answered me in that "duh, mom" voice that young people have, "Yeah, that was like four hours ago." Apparently it was nearly 7:00, and I had been conked out all that time.

I bring this up because I don't normally come home and crash for four hours at the end of the day, but by the time the weekend rolls around, all systems seem to want to go into a "pause" mode. I don't think that's an accident. Even God, the diligent designer of the universe, rested on the seventh day. I think there's a good reason for it. I believe the Great Allness was simply pooped and needed a guilt-free, unapologetic excuse to give in to physical, emotional, and spiritual fatique. Take a day off. Nap.

I'm coming to realize that we aren't a culture that allows for embracing our natural life rhythms, and that includes the need to curl up and shut down. Instead of appreciating the benefits of decreased capacity and the inevitable slowing of our functions, we chastise ourselves for sitting around on our doopas (a favorite word uttered frequently by my Lithuanian grandmother), and staring off into space. We associate "not doing" with being slackers, and that's a bad thing. Our little Baby Boomer brains are hardwired to our parents' immigrant work ethics. No slacking allowed.

Except our hard-working parents are now into full-fledged seniorhood and have something valuable to teach us about giving in to our body's inner wisdom. My mother, who's in her 70s, is a perfect example. On Christmas Day, I had the family over to my place. After everyone else went home, I popped in the DVD Wall-E. About midway through the movie, I noticed she had nodded off. She missed most of the movie, which, truthfully, I didn't get at all, but sat through, nonetheless; and when she woke up said, "that was pretty good." It made me think, maybe life is just as enjoyable if you snooze through some of it.

Sunday is a good day to reflect on this coming-of-age aspect of life, I think. We all need to make room for silence, for musing, for "not doing," for naps. If I'm snoring away on the couch, just leave me there. If it's that important, it can wait until I'm fully conscious.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Just Call Me Goddess



It seems to have become a new trend of the entertainment media to showcase women who are "still sexy after 50!" AOL is doing that today. Some expected choices--Michelle Pfeiffer, Diane Keaton, Marg Helgenberger; and some classic faces we just don't see enough of like Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon and Annette Bening.

What I truly love about these photos is that they're obviously not retouched by any of the software technology that can instantly remove crow's feet, fill in those "marionette lines" around the mouth; remove a couple of inches from the jawline, and smooth out the skin to a healthy, pre-teen glow. The lines are there. The sagging of the skin is there. Most of all, age is there.

I just wish it was out there more. On magazine covers (besides AARP), on the small screen and the big screen. I wish stylists and graphic artists would simply leave the crow's feet alone so that the rest of us who can't afford to surgerically de-age see faces we can relate to, and be able to say, "damn, I look good!"

I have to admit, though, that these "mature years" are a conundrum for all of us when trying to describe who we are when we stop revealing ages. For instance, I was walking into my health club one day, and overheard a woman say to her friend, "she's not old, old and not young, young." Oh, I know that lady, I thought--she's me! Somewhere past "peak of freshness" and "prune-faced." Between being mistaken for 35, and presumed to be 80. What are we when we're in that place? Aging gracefully? Well preserved? Youthful in spirit (if not in face)? Do we exude joie de vivre more than mysterious allure?

In our label-mad culture, we tend to fall on words that better describe architecture: we say she's dignified, mature, elegant, composed, pulled-together, has good bone structure, holding up nicely. When we want to skirt the age issue, we hear (and use) euphemisms like "she's getting on," "not a young chicken," "at that age," "not as young as she used to be." We just don't have words in the English language to describe between the pupa stage of our child-bearing years and the full grown butterfly of elderhood. What we get sounds like molting, when what we feel is more like our wisdom coming to the surface. Richness being revealed. Self-knowledge recontouring the landscape of our faces.

I find that the older I get, the more my eyes are drawn to the person inside. Yes, my friends are all going grey. Our skin is losing its dew and taking on the texture of a river bed during a draught season. We're rarely mistaken for our daughter's sibling; in fact, in many ways we feel we've become completely invisible. Except to each other. We look past the bags to see the woman inside. Even the men who love us are capable of doing this, sometimes better than we do, as we stock up on wrinkle creams, skin tigheners, and spot faders, hoping to stall the coming decomposition.

If someone--maybe those who create the phenomenon of Wikis--were to create language for this precarious age of inside out beauty, where would they start? It's a little tricky to jump off from "hot mama" without offending a woman's sense of herself as still exuberant, sexy, passionate, and alive. (That's right, not one foot in the grave quite yet.)

I once had the pleasure of meeting a woman in her mid-80s who had taken up the hobby of writing humorous poems about senior-hood, and was publishing them. When I worked for Barnes & Noble, we hosted several book readings, and she always drew a huge crowd. Between she and I, there was a gap of more than 40 years, and those years in between yawned with a lacky of identity.

I'm open to suggestions. Personally, I like writer Gail Sheehy's term "seasoned woman," although it's not an easy term to use in introductions ( "This is my seasoned friend, Betty."). Too much of a food analogy. But it's on the right track. I would like to see terminology that reflects a blossoming of our integrity, creativity, and wisdom. Words that would complete the sentence, "Now that she's over 50, she's ______________. " I would choose colorful words: mellow yellow, blazing orange, spicey red, cool blue. Or words that reflected more on dynamism, and less on the ability to attract sexual partners: aware, global, centered, a force to be reckoned with, stable, spirited, joyful. Or, as Jane Austen put in the mouth of her character, Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice, Goddess Divine. That works for me.