Monday, September 6, 2010

Pool Police

I live in what I like to fondly refer to as the "Little Condo in The Suburbs." The Little Condo complex has a pool which I used to visit as often as possible back when I didn't have a kangaroo-size belly pooch that I relied on my trustworthy tankini to hide. These days, not so much. Last weekend, though, we up yonder were sweltering in yet another 90 degree day--an anomaly in these parts--so I decided the hell with it and squeezed myself into my floral spandex two-piece with the intention of a leisurely afternoon dangling my feet in the water with a good book.

That was until I spottted the "Beluga pod" had the same idea. The Beluga pod is a group of elderly ladies--and by elderly I mean obviously old enough to be collecting Social Security and spending half the year in Florida--that comes out on especially hot days to stand neck deep in the water with their little bathing caps and simply bob around. I call them the Beluga pod because they seem to all know each other and have some kind of code for these meet ups that involve kvetching and bobbing.

None of this really bothers me because (1) I enjoy a little kvetching--you find out what's really going on at the Little Condo by eavesdropping on the Beluga pod and (2) I will one day be a Beluga and I decide I should learn their ways.

So despite being momentarily disappointed that the Belugas were in residence, I found myself a plastic chair and settled in with my Banana Joe's 45 SPF and Anne Lammot book. And then it happened--I got hit on.

My worst nightmare shows up in the form of a wrinkled old codger named Joel. I'm no stranger to Joel. In fact, anyone who's ever visited the pool at our Little Condo in the Burbs knows Joel. He and his wife, who are both of some immigrant stock that uses a lot of vowel sounds in their language--Russian, Yugoslavian, Polish, I'm not sure--used to be pool dwellers. From Memorial Day when the pool opened until Labor Day when it closed, Joel and the missus would be there in their aluminum chairs, noon to 5:00 p.m.

What I knew about Joel was that he was the self-appointed pool police. I found this out during one of my rare visits to the pool a few years after I'd become a resident at the Little Condo, and Joel shuffled over to me and in his clipped Ruski/Slavic/Polish accent asked, "You live here?" (Which sounded more like You leeve hir.") "I do," I told him nicely.

This wasn't convincing enough for Joel. "Where you live?"

Dutiful me, I pointed to the building just on the other side of the chainlink enclosed tennis court (the no one uses, by the way). "Right over there,"I said.

He eyed me suspiciously. I was obviously lying just so I could crash the pool of a condo complex because it looked so cool and inviting. "How long?" he asked.

"How long what?" I answered, starting to feel like I was being frisked. As far as I knew, Joel's next move could be a pat down.

"How long you live here?"

"Three years," I told him, glancing over the rim of my sunglasses. Joel was tiny, but scrappy. I decided he had probably spent his career at the Chevy plant or in the steel mills. For all I knew, he could have been Russian mafia and was simply living undercover at the Little Condo. In any case, he looked like he could take me and besides, my parents taught me to be respectful of belligerent old people.

"People try to come in who don't live here," Joel enlightened me in his broken English. "They come from that place across the street." (The "Not Little Condo.")

Satisified, he shuffled back to his poolside throne next to Mrs. Pool Police where they engaged in some unintelligble argument with a lot of hand waving.

Apparently, Mrs. Pool Police is no longer with us. A part of me wonders if Joel might have offed her one night during a heated round of Jeopardy and hauled her out to the condo dumpster one cold, dark night. In any case, Joel was alone. I didn't notice this at first when I settled myself in for a little uninterrupted reading time. But suddenly, there was Joel shuffling up to my chair.

"You leeve hir?"

I knew the drill. "Yes, right over there," I said pointing to my corner building that overlooked the pool.

"You a very pretty lady," Joel crooned sweetly.

Oh, for the love of God. This exchange got the attention of the Belugas who, I sensed, were all too familiar with Joel's attempts at replacing Mrs. Pool Police. "You like to go to dinner? I take you to dinner. Saturday night."

I politely declined by telling him I didn't do dinner. Ever. I wanted to ask him want happened to his wife. I wanted to say, "I know you stuffed her in the dumpster," just to derail the conversation, but I held my tongue. Who knows where I might end up.

"You know Florida? I have a house in Sarasota. I take you." Joel said. Smooth talker, I thought. Trying to intice the ladies with dinner and a side trip to his palatial estate in a senior complex on the Gulf Coast. Where's Betty White when you need her?

"Sorry, I can get to Florida all by myself," I said, doing my very best impression of a cordial but bitchy airline attendant.

He finally gave up and shuffled back to his chair. The Belugas were paddling around shaking their heads. Then a darkly toasted blond with tatoos on her arm marched over to Joel and gave him the business. "Leave her alone," she ordered. "She just wants to read her book." Stillness hung over the pool. I could feel the sweat dripping down the back of my tankini top.

"Who are you, the pool police?" Joel asked.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Red Sauce

Note: This essay was written for a workshop I took at Chautauqua with writer Ann Hood and read before a live audience at the Friday Brown Bag Lunch presentation that Ann gave on August 20. It's not my usual light and whimsical writing, but the point of art is that it pushes you to expose parts of yourself you don't normally want to expose--especially in front of strangers. My hope is that by pushing I become a better writer. --Elaine

For an Italian, my father exhibited uncharacteristic restraint except for two occasions: any time he was watching football and when he cooked. Then, my father’s full emotional range would burst open like roasted garlic smashed under a knife to extract its pungent pulp. Nothing unleashed his vocal chords more than a referee making a bad call against our local team, the Buffalo Bills, and nothing expressed love like a perfectly developed pot of red sauce, slowly simmered all afternoon until it reached a consistency where you could nearly stand a spoon upright. The way other fathers opened their arms to relieve the shame incurred by playground bullies or the rejection of dismissive boyfriends, my father encircled the people he cared for with lasagna and meatballs. Where words failed him, food never did.

For most of my life, my father’s cooking served as our means of communication: when he cooked, he loved. When I ate, I loved him back. Our symbolic system of tortellini for heartbreak and eggplant parmesan for encouragement meant that we could avoid the messier use of language or, messier still, physical demonstrations of feelings. For me, it had become a habit; for my father, I think it was simply familiar.

My father inherited his vocabulary of food from a family that included nine brothers and sisters and 41 cousins. They shared not only blood, but soil, having their roots is the same impoverished Italian village carved out of the rocky Calabrian hillside, and the common language of food—as sustenance, tradition, family glue.

Home was a crowded three bedroom rowhouse nestled beneath a coal hill in Shamokin, Pennsylvania. My grandmother reigned over three stoves--one electric, one gas, one coal burning--and a garden that would make Mario Batali weep with joy, where she grew peppers, oregano, tomatoes, and zucchini. A chicken coop sat in the middle of the garden, and it was on the concrete patio, shaded by a leafy grape arbor, that I learned my grandmother’s skill at slaughtering her own poultry.

Whenever my father talked about his childhood, he said times were hard, but they always ate well. On Sundays, tables were laid end to end on the patio to accommodate caldrons of thick Italian wedding soup dotted with tiny meatballs and bread dumplings; platters overflowing with pasta and roasted chicken or spicy sausage; and the whole Verano clan sitting shoulder to shoulder, arguing over who made the best homemade wine.

My father revered the meaningfulness of sharing food so much that after he retired, he assumed the role of coordinator of family reunions where the central—and primal—purpose was to eat from early in the morning until sunset.

At the end of May, my father suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, seemingly drifting off as he took an afternoon nap in his loungechair. My youngest brother and I stood vigil outside his house waiting for the undertaker to arrive. Sitting on the front porch steps, I caught the delicate, familiar scent of red sauce laced with fresh basil, garlic and romano cheese. I said to my brother, “I smell dad’s sauce.” My brother believed it was the neighbor who, in an act of sympathy and shared grief, put a pot of sauce on the stove that my father most likely had given to her. I realized as I breathed in the rich fragrance, so filled with memories and unformed words, that the language my father had spoken all along was as direct and comforting as a longed for embrace. Maybe, in my father’s vocabulary, you could even say goodbye.        

Monday, August 23, 2010

I'm Back!

To all the wonderful readers who have been following my posts, both here and on, I'm still alive and well! The early part of this year started out with a family health crisis and then my father unexpectedly passed away. I'm working my way back to writing and just finished a week in a personal essay writing workshop with the wonderful Ann Hood (The Red Thread, The Knitting Circle) at the Chautauqua Institution, just an hour and a half from where I live in western New York.  I was additionally blessed by being given the honor of reading one of my essays prior to her Friday brown bag lunch presentation (see photo). Life is beginning to bloom again! I hope to be adding more wit and wisdom to soon!

PS--I apologize if your comments go unpublished. Sometimes when I receive them, there is nothing but a series of numbers. I have no idea what this means. If someone can explain it to me, I'd be thrilled!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Revising Happily Ever After - MORE Magazine - For Women 40 Plus

Revising Happily Ever After - MORE Magazine - For Women 40 Plus

Fun new tool on Google Toolbar lets you share any website -- like on your blog! Here is the whole version of my essay, "Revising Happily Ever After," on Would love to hear your own versions of happily ever after or just what you thought of the post. ~EH

MidLife Reality: The One Body Part You Can’t Get “Fixed.” | MidLifeBloggers

MidLife Reality: The One Body Part You Can’t Get “Fixed.” | MidLifeBloggers

Happy to share my post: Older. Grayer. Wiser. on MidLifeBloggers. Great comments! ~EH

Sunday, April 4, 2010

 All these stories of women and their straying husbands made me start wondering: What ever happened to "happily ever after?" I wrote about it for the whole essay, "Revising Happily Ever After."

Here's a teaser:
We all know how the story goes: The beautiful princess, who is suffering mercilessly at the hands of some witch of a stepmother, a pissed off fairy or spinsterly step-sisters, meets Handsome Prince who immediately falls head over heels in love, and they live happily ever after. Every little girl of my generation grew up knowing these damsels and their perfect outcomes, then we dutifully introduced the same scenario to our daughters through Belle, Ariel and Jasmine. Stronger, more independent women, sure, but the story always ended the same way. And they lived happily ever after.

Then—oops!—we come to find out that our handsome princes missed a few chapters, or added some variations of their own, turning happily ever after into media frenzies as their infidelities reached greater and greater levels of unprincely behavior. Continue reading....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Older.Grayer. Slower.

There's nothing like sitting in a technology workshop with a room full of Gen X-ers to make you realize that old is not just a state of mind. This was the scary realization I came to this past week.

Forget all the attempts to persuade myself, otherwise: the hair color that hides my tell-tale grey roots; the anti-aging regimen that keeps my face from collapsing like California along an earthquake fault line; the chrome-colored trenchcoat that makes me feel youthful and more or less hip.

Outwardly, I can convince myself--and pretty often the general public in the right light--that I have stalled the biological clock. And then it happens. I'm asked a question that forces me to prove that no matter how young I may feel or even look on a good day, my brain is functioning on decreased capacity. I’ve begun to understand there’s a new meaning for the term “gray matter.”

The workshop was a two-day, twelve hour intensive on how to use a program called Joomla to create websites. Piece of cake, I thought--I can do HTML code in my sleep; I should be able to manage this without staring blankly at the computer screen when asked to download and unzip a file. Everything was going fine until our instructor decided it was time for a "quick review.” To my mind, this is the equivalent of playing "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" buck naked in front of your colleagues, and without the big money prize as motivation. Personally, I've never been good at group Q&A's, even with all my brain cells intact. Same thing with brainstorming sessions at work. Fire questions at me in a group setting and I go completely Anna Nicole. Call it "oops anxiety." I'm sure I'm not the only one who goes mind-numb under stress.

This time, though, it wasn’t anxiety keeping my tongue still. It felt more like my brain was a vast jar of peanut butter and whatever I was trying to get at was stuck all the way down at the bottom.

Okay, I thought, maybe it’s just info overload, which was my lame attempt to salve my growing inferiority complex. But the thick-brain symptoms continued for the rest of day and into day number two. It’s not that I didn’t know the answers; it’s just that I seemed to need a few nano seconds more than everyone else in the room for the information to leap across my synapses and form intelligent language. I decided it was more prudent to stay mute rather than embarrass myself by answering “eggplant” to a question about top menus versus main menus simply because eggplant was the first thing that popped into my head while the actual answer was lolly-gagging around my neural network.

Then came the moment-of-truth event I’d been avoiding—I asked a question.

“What if I don’t want a module to show up on all my sub-pages?”

Our instructor Brett who, enviously, has all of his brain cells in perfect working order said: “Where would you go to manage your modules?”

My notes is what I wanted to say. But since he was standing right behind me, expecting me to brilliantly maneuver my pointy arrow over to the correct tab that would prove I knew the answer, I could hardly be blithe. It took a few moments of anxious lip-biting, but I finally and insecurely said: “The module manager?”

That’s when it hit me: inside my fifty-four-year-old head was an octogenarian brain. Age may have made me wiser, but it had also made me feel like a conspicuous idiot in a world of rapid-fire data access. For me, it wasn’t just an intellectual awareness, it was also an emotional one. I grabbed my lunch and went out to my car where I sat crying into a handful of napkins. Even worse was that I resented feeling distraught about it. So I couldn’t grasp complex information as quickly as I used to. What was the big deal?

Well, the big deal was this: a lot of things about aging sneak up on us gradually: wrinkles don’t suddenly appear on perfectly smooth faces; our bodies don’t speed along one day and tremble on shaky legs the next. Aging gives us time to adjust to the changes that take us from one stage of life to the next. Aging tends to be, thankfully, slow.

But there are climatic moments—like scenes in a movie where everything changes when a shower curtain is drawn back and the knife blade comes into view—that leave you gasping and clutching at the arms of your seat. Fear, anxiety, distress, all come exploding to the surface.

Ultimately, the fact that my cognitive abilities are slightly more sluggish isn’t a major crisis. It’s not even enough of a crisis to make me tear into the Reese’s peanut butter cups that are stashed in my carry bag to sell for a fundraiser. Although I’m tempted. It’s just one of those “getting older” things I’m still trying to accept semi-gracefully like all the other changes this time of life brings.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Women Mobilizing for Peace

A wonderful story I read about in the April issue of Family Circle featured Patricia Smith Melton and the website/organization she launched called Peace X Peace (pronounced peace by peace). The mission of Peace X Peace is to act as "an inclusive global network of women-focused e-media, with interactive commentary, fresh analysis, and from-the-frontlines perspectives. We engage, connect, inform, and inspire individuals and amplify women's voices as the most direct and powerful ways to create cultures of peace around the world." Do something that makes a difference....join! Go to their website at Peace X Peace.

Weekend in Kitchen Rehab

Yesterday, which was a beautiful, sun-filled Saturday and perfect for washing the salt and muck of winter off my car, (which I didn't do, by the way), I decided not to switch on the TV as I usually do every Saturday morning. The recent cable rate hike has me so infuriated that I've finally decided I'm ditching the cable and will rely on my high speed internet, DVD's, and maybe even that antique of news and information...the daily paper.

Saying and doing, however, are two different things. Breaking myself of the automatic habit of bringing the world into my home with just the press of a button is not unlike choosing to forsake material life and enter a monastery. There's a moment of fear that you've been entirely cut off from the world and somehow you're going to go crazy crackers from the silence. What brought me back from the brink was reminding myself of the 72 bucks I spend every month on a service that basically provides me with background noise.

I further vowed to refrain from turning on the tube until I really wanted to watch something. Instead, I would focus intently on one project, and not the laundry list of "should do's" I try to accomplish in the 48 precious hours I have away from the weekly grind of tasks and projects of my job. I decided to focus on the kitchen.

The thing about cleaning anything with focused attention, is that the more you clean, the more dirt you seem to find. I rarely, for instance, get down on my knees to see what's going on at the base of the cabinets. I don't partly because there is yellowed plastic baseboard molding that runs around the entire perimeter of my kitchen which I'd like to just rip up and can't afford to do at the moment because that would entail doing something about the mismatched self-stick tiles on the floor. So I normally don't look below cabinet level unless it's absolutely necessary.

Yesterday I looked. For a second I thought, "Where is Extreme Makeover when you really need them?" Not in my kitchen, that was for sure. So I hunkered down with the dust pan and brush, a sponge and three different cleansers--one just didn't seem to do the trick--and had at it. Now I have really clean, but still ugly yellowish-beige baseboards. I'm not sure what I accomplished except to feel the smallest bit of satisfaction in having paid attention to this gross and neglected place that seems to be the dumpsite for all the refuse I don't want to look at. Like a lot of areas of my life. Emotional, mental and psychological junk that I prefer to be ignorant about because if I recognize it, I'd have to clean it up.

But, like I said, you clean one thing and then you notice there's a greasy, grimy drip pan that is glaring out from a pristine white stovetop. Spattered ketchup on the refrigerator door. Kitty litter in the corners. You open the cabinets and piles of plastic storage tubs come spilling out. Somehow or another, the entire kitchen has gone from being a quick sweep of the broom and wiping the down the counters to a full-scale fumigation.

Out came the rubber gloves, the Goo Off, the scrubby sponges, the bleach cleaner. I even tackled the tower of containers, stacking them in neat rows, the mish mash of lids all collected in a little storage bin. I purged the spice cabinet of colored sugars, empty bottles, cupcake liners I wouldn't likely use, and anything I hadn't opened in six months. It's amazing the junk we accumulate, I thought. Even more perplexing is the stuff we don't even recognize or can't remember why we bought in the first place. Like why did I have a bottle of Gravy Master? I never make gravy.

None of this was made easier by the fact that my cat, Misha, was underfoot the entire time. I mopped the floor; he walked on it. I sanitized the counter, he jumped up and started parading back and forth. I filled the garbage bag to the verge of exploding, and he started gnawing on it.

After about two hours of guerrilla cleaning, I felt somehow....lighter. Evacuated. I wondered if that's how people feel  after they perform the prescribed colon cleansing prior to a colonoscopy. Something else I have been ambivalent about from a cleaning perspective, but will, one of these days, have to accept as a necessity.

The only problem now is that my more focused attention has discovered a half dozen new eyesores that I need to fix. Like the horribly greasy drip pan that's beyond scrubbing which means a trip to Loew's to buy a replacement. And the tiny crack I discovered near a doorway that needed to be spackled.  And then there's the molding I've been meaning to install to hide the small gap between the cabinets and the new subway tiles I put up last fall. What started as a way to focus my attention away from the lack of cable TV has become a weekend of rehab.

Not long after I put away the bucket and broom, dumped the garbage, and stashed the rubber gloves, the cat hopped in his litter box and did what all felines do--sent litter flying everywhere. He looked at me in his totally imperious way, and I looked back at him looking equally imperious, and said, "Really?"

It seemed like a good time to retreat to the couch and turn on a Grey's Anatomy rerun.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Temptation 1; Resistance 0

Last Saturday, I had a showdown. It was between me and my arch rival--dessert. Carrot cake, to be specific.

I knew I was going to give into temptation so there was really no fighting it. There are a few things in life I find completely irresistible--weight gain, guilt trip, morning-after regret be damned--and cake is one of them. Given my ongoing thyroid dysfunction, this has become an even greater woe since I know that the cake I indulge in today, will mean weeks of self-deprivation and nightly engagements with my Dance Your Ass Off DVD.

The cake in question was going to be well worth the pain and suffering after the fact. I happen to work for a non-profit organization that has an herb club, and where there are herb clubs, there is food. Wonderful food. And one of their prize recipes is a carrot cake that is so sinfully rich and moist, packed with walnuts and coconut, and topped with a generous slathering of cream cheese frosting, that if God himself offered me the choice between this cake and eternity, I would be hard pressed to turn away from the fork.

Knowing that I and the cake would be having a confrontation, I decided up front that I wouldn't resist. What was the point? I would only end up feeling resentful, deprived, and craving something even more intoxicating and bad for a bag full of fried dough dusted with cinnamon sugar, that in our heavily-Polish populated area of Western New York are called fasnachts, and only come out during the Lenten season. Carrot cake can at least claim some nutritional value. Fried dough; not so much.

And besides, I rationalized, allowing myself to really enjoy the cake was in keeping with my self-renewal project of embracing contentment, inspired by Lisa Graham McMinn's book "The Contented Soul: The Art of Savoring Life." (2006) For me, there are several areas of life made especially for nurturing contentment, and one of them is food. Whether it's the growing of what we eat, the artful preparation, or the mindful savoring of something we enjoy without gorging ourselves beyond the point of satisfaction, food can be a source of pleasure and even a soul-filling experience when there is a food we greet with eager anticipation, savoring every molecule of flavor with abandon and guiltlessness. And it gives us an opportunity to be thankful for the skillful hands that create such gastronomic delights for the senses.

I succumbed to the cake, not without a small amount of remorse, which, by the way, quickly passed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Good Works of the Week

I'm always on the look-out for grassroots organizations that are helping to improve the world we all share. I came across a tiny little tidbit in a recent issue of Redbook about a tremendous group called Bead For Life which is turning the artistic skills of impoverished women in Uganda into saleable products, helping to improve their economic conditions. As someone involved in not-for-profit arts, I know a cool craft item when I see it, and I just love these beads!  My hat's off to co-founders Ginny Jordan and Torkin Wakefield for their efforts in getting this organization off the ground. Check out the products available or make a donation on their website

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Curator of the Week Feb. 21 - Feb. 27, 2010 - She Writes

Curator of the Week Feb. 21 - Feb. 27, 2010 - She Writes

This wonderful review was written by Julie Jeffs who's the administrator of the "Bloggers" group on SheWrites. Thanks Julie! If you're a women who writes, she the little widget in the column, right, and join the club!

"I chose Elaine Harrigan’s blog Blooming in Midlife not only for its wonderful writing but because for any of us who are navigating mid-life ourselves, we can find some camaraderie, with a healthy dose of humor and wit. Elaine also shares her posts from her writing for For instance, in a story written for titled “Puberty, Again? No Fair!” in which she lists what she describes as the Top Ten list of midlife’s little horrors including blemishes, body changes, moodiness … you know, all those things we already went through in 7th grade! We can all be thankful that Elaine decided in her fifties to “unleash her voice”; it is a joy to hear, er .... read."

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I've been dragging out the dark colors more these days. And those unfriendly sounds you hear from me in the morning? Grunting. Scowling. Bitching and moaning. And a lot of mourning. Why? My waistline is disappearing.

This is how bad it's gotten: I've traded my obsession with the scale for one with a tape measure. And I cheat. I know that cutting off my circulation is a form of self-deception; that I'm deluding myself into a size six when I'm really closer to an eight. But I look at it this way--if it keeps me from reaching for the slice of chocolate cake or downing a bag of cheedar cheese rice cakes, I'll be healthier in the long run. I just wish I would be healthier with a waistline.

This isn't a fact that caught me off guard; in fact, battling bulges has been a part of my life story since--forever. The words "baby fat" came out of my mother's mouth while I was still pre-pubescent and I clung to that explanation well into my teens. Then suddenly one summer between my sixteenth and seventeenth birthdays, the baby fat melted and, tah-dah, I had a waistline at last! You better believe I flaunted it, sister.

You wouldn't think this was such a big deal unless you saw my father's side of the family. Waistlines were not in the genetic code. They're Italian, afterall. Spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread, stuffed rigatoni, lasagna along side the Thanksgiving turkey....this kind of diet doesn't make for hourglass figures. But, still, I craved one. And until I got pregnant in my late 20s, I somehow managed to keep a whittled waist despite blue cheese burgers, double stuffed subs, Burger King chicken sandwiches--fried not broiled--slathered with mayo. Oh, to be 25 again and have a metabolism.

By the time I hit my 30s, I lucked out. America was discovering step aerobics, Jane Fonda, and wearing sweatbands as a fashion accessory. I was merciless. Three nights a week of one-hour workouts courtesy of the school community education program. Circuit training at the health club. If I had known then that this would probably be the last time I'd ever squeeze into a size three, I would have posed for more pictures.

Then came the earthquakes. A divorce, single motherhood, a bankruptcy. Bing, Bang. Boom. Even though I was an emotional wreck, I never ballooned to outrageous proportions. Still, for the first time in my life I had to shimmy into a girdle to control the overflow of tummy flesh. I was mortified. I mean, my mother wore girdles. Even worse, I became petrified that matronhood was just around the corner. You know the look....flabby skin dangling from the upper arms, the doublechin, the saggy boobs, a hefty bag of junk in the trunk. The evidence was all around me. Literally. Around me. It's like that saying, "Denial isn't a river in Egypt." My own version is this: "Middle age spread isn't something you schmear on a bagel." Meaning: There are some things about aging we simply have to accept, deal with, or let it go. 

I'm at the "deal with it" stage. The measuring tape, as looney as it sounds, gives me a visual reminder that my days of fast food feasts and the endless pasta bowl at The Olive Garden are gone. And my frantic anti-girth regimen seems to be having some beneficial outcomes: according to my latest labs, my glucose and cholesterol levels are all below the target range.

Still, I'm hoping there will come a day when I'm ready to toss in the tape and say the hell with it. It might have been in my 60s until I caught a tabloid photo of actress Helen Mirren looking svelte and un-matronlike in a bikini. For the love of God, you post-menopausal women have to stop posing with your clothes off! It's demoralizing.