I have been cleaning up and cleaning out the back room. It is the master bedroom of my apartment, but has always functioned as a studio — a place where I had my easel and oils and drawing books and pastels and thread and canvas and stretcher bars and papier-maché and beads.
But I am starting to move stuff out. The house in New Jersey has an attic and the attic is to become a working space of mine. I am organizing and gathering and chucking, and between the dust bunnies and crap, I found a cache of memories.
There are notebooks filled with slides of paintings, and drawing books filled with collages. I have photograph books that hold the two-dimensional representation of my three-dimensional papier-mache sculptures that took over my living room in my old apartment. It was so sad because they were too big to come with me when I moved to this apartment. Rediscovering my stash of work reminded me of the years when I would wake up and paint and come home from work and paint and in-between draw, sew, take classes, make collages, and paint.
I pored through my photograph albums and found forgotten gems like this one:
I just cracked up. What a poem! What a poet!
I found a two-page photo spread of a 1996 ski trip to Vermont which included pics of Lo and her toddler sons, a dirty sink, a pot of fondue and a kitchen floor carpeted in bubbles. For some reason I have no recollection of that trip, probably because I don’t ski. I tumble and fumble. Best to forget those embarrassing experiences. But Lola had instant recall. She remembered who made the fondue, how the sink got completely clogged and that someone put liquid soap into the dishwasher, thereby leading to a bubble explosion.
So amidst the dreaded chore of cleaning, vacuuming and dusting, I got to “review” some ephemera of my life at this ripe old age of young middle age. (We are only young middle age, still, right?) I am sure when I again look back, the glow of the past will have an even more burnished lustre, but no doubt that, just like this time, I will be enthralled remembering how much fun I’ve had and how many fabulous people I have known and loved for these many years.
I’ve had a persistent low-grade ache in my right thigh for over a year now. I wrote it off to too much running and not enough stretching, but lately the pain has gotten worse. So I started getting regular massages, switched from the treadmill to the elliptical trainer, and did flexibility exercises hoping to erase the problem, but nothing changed.
Then, like Ebenezer Scrooge, I had a Christmas Eve miracle and revelation.
Every year we host an elaborate Christmas Eve feast featuring all sorts of seafood as well as fresh, crisp-crust bread and exquisite pastries from the local bakery. But to get any of those goodies without waiting on line for an hour, you have to get to the bakery as soon as they open on Christmas Eve morning. My over-50 body forces me to toddle out of bed every night in the wee hours to use the bathroom, so I’m the natural for that crack of dawn bakery run.
When I got there at 5:50 the lights in the main serving area weren’t on yet, but I saw activity inside. My right leg tends to stiffen up if I’m sitting still for a while, so rather than leaping out of the car and running across the street as I would have years ago, I carefully eased out of the driver’s seat and stood for a second to gauge the pain and let the stiffness dissipate. Not too bad – after a couple of seconds it felt fine, and I walked into the bakery with only a slight hitch in my step.
Incredibly, there were already three people on line, waiting in semi-darkness for the women bustling behind the counter to recognize the start of business. By the time I had my three dozen rolls and box of pastries ten minutes later, there were eight people behind me on a line, growing by the minute, that was snaking out the door. I’d dodged the bullet.
When I got home, because of my achy leg and partly out of just plain laziness, I decided I’d carry everything (including my convenience store coffee and newspapers) in one trip.
That took some planning: first I put the coffee on the hood of the car, leaving the house keys hanging from my left pinky. Then I put my left arm around the bulging bag of warm rolls, and with my right hand folded the newspapers under my left arm. I slid my right index finger under the red and white twine on the pastries so the box dangled below my hand, then carefully kicked the door shut using my pain-free left leg.
My left hand was still free (except for the keys on my pinky), so I used that to awkwardly reach down and grab the coffee cup from the hood while still hugging the bag of rolls and squeezing my armpit on the newspapers. I figured once I got up the steps, I could put the pastry box on the side table by the door, take the keys from my left pinky with my right hand, and unlock the door. Mission accomplished!
But my hip had other plans.
I began to climb the steps, but because of the pain I failed to raise my right foot above the riser, and tripped. Because I was walking so slowly, I fell in slow motion. The box of pastries rocked, my finger released the string, and the heavy box slid away across the step, unharmed, as my right hand came down to break my fall.
As my left side came down, I somehow placed the tall Styrofoam cup of coffee onto the porch without spilling a drop. Simultaneously, my arm splayed out and the bag of rolls plopped onto the step ahead of me – remaining upright and jostling, but not dislodging, any of the rolls sticking out of the top. Even the newspapers had fallen from under my arm onto the step in a neatly folded stack.
I stood there, feeling foolish, with the house keys waggling on my pinky.
The Christmas Eve miracle: I’d spilled nothing and was unhurt. The revelation: I’d fallen climbing my own front steps, and could have been badly injured. So I made an appointment with my doctor, got an x-ray, and a week ago was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the right hip. So now I’m officially old, with an old person’s chronic ailment, an old person limp, and maybe a need for an old person remedy: a new hip. We’ll see.
But it’s all good. Like Scrooge, I’m thrilled to be alive — even if it means hobbling around like Tiny Tim.
…for taking the time to wish me Happy Birthday! on Facebook. Especially because I rarely do.
I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I hate it. Except on my birthday, when I love it. My Facebook footprint treads lightly. I seldom “friend” anyone. I only “like” or “comment” if I really know you and you’ve moved me deeply. (Or I’m sipping wine.) If I really want to say something to you, I will call you, text you, or send you a private message.
But this year, on the day after my birthday, I had an urge to publicly thank each of you with an individual reply. But I’m told that’s not cool.
I even wanted to take the time to write a little vignette to each of you — a skip down Memory Lane — about something we did together, but there are some of you that I don’t know.
If I wasn’t such a hypocrite, I would take my birthday down to stay in line with my Facebook disdain — the part that I see as inspiring obligatory comments and unabashed self-promotion among the best of us. But what’s not to love about the dependable randomness of the Facebook birthday?
After all, if I ran into a stranger on the street, and discovered that it was his or her birthday, I would offer an enthusiastic and heartfelt “Happy Birthday!” And I’d give a hug.
And where else, in a 48-hour span, would I be able to stock up dozens and dozens of birthday wishes from people I really miss, people I love and don’t see anymore, people I love and see all the time but can’t get enough of, men that I’ve dated, cousins, old boyfriends, the children of adult friends, adults I knew as children, professional colleagues, old friends, new friends, and even “friends” that I don’t know.
So thank you all again. Given that the Facebook-curmudgeon in me will be back soon, you may not get a “Happy Birthday!!” from me on your birthday. But that doesn’t mean I don’t wish you one.
I’ve turned 60 today. And while I know it’s the de rigueur to move yourself down a few years with each birthday (Happy 35th! Again; 50 is the new 40), I’m gazing into the future — toward 70. Because it’s dwindling. Things are getting serious. Sixty was not imaginable. So it’s time to get over it, and have at it — more than ever.
And I can call myself a sexagenarian. Imagine the possibilities.
So I’m exulting without pause. I’m proud that I’ve made it this far in one piece. And I’m going to pretend 60 is the new 70. So when I’m 70, I’ll really be 60 and I’ll still feel 30, because, in my eyes, I’m always exactly the same. And if that doesn’t make any sense to anyone but me, I don’t care.
An Internet search of “Turning 60,” is rife with old-fogey platitudes. It’s described in more than a few places as the time when “things start to fall apart,” and listing seems to be the genre of choice: 60 Perfect Reasons You Should be Psyched About Turning 60, 10 Things Everyone Should Do Before turning 60, How to Turn Sixty Gracefully: 14 Steps, 60 Thoughts About Turning 60, Six Things to Start Doing When You Turn 60)
So below is my list and some accompanying scholarship on turning 60. I’ve noticed since I had turned 50 (ten years ago), that with each passing decade, clichés are less cliché and more motto:
You’re as Young as You Feel (I’m more 59 than 60.)
It Could be Worse (I could be 61.)
It’s Not Life or Death (Yes. It is.)
Nothing Stays the Same (Goodbye menopause!)
Older and Wiser (Cocktails at 4.)
Keep Your Chin Up (Get fillers.)
Age is Just a Number (I can see 80!)
Keep a Stiff Upper Lip (Never, ever! Botox.)
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder (I see 30.)
There’s More Good than Bad (I will not give up my thong.)
Aging Gracefully (I will not give up my push-up bra.)
This Too, Shall Pass (Even I’m going to die someday.)
Always Look on the Bright Side (Except when there are dimmers.)
Life is Too Short (Amen)
Unlike most everyone I knew, I was single through my 20s, 30s and 40s. Various boyfriends and potential husbands popped in and out, but for too many reasons to articulate, I did not settle down. So now while many of my peers are celebrating 30 years of marriage, divorce, or grand-babies, I am not.
Instead, I settled down at 50 when I met Steve, and that’s the story of a happy ending. But what I really wanted to write about was the gift bestowed by 30 years of singledom.
I traveled a lot and I became very comfortable with having a drink or meal by myself in a restaurant. These days it is never uncommon to see a woman dining alone, but my prior life honed me to feel no self-consciousness when I walk into any dining establishment and sit at the bar and order a glass of wine and a bowl of spaghetti, while everyone else is ensconced in a duet.
I leave knowing Steve is at home, but I so appreciate the sense of empowerment and strength of the independence and freedom that came out of being single for so many years.
And so another new year is upon us. To those of us in the 50+ club, all years that start with a 2 are inherently foreign. When I hear that we are now beginning 2015, it sounds to me like someone saying it’s the 45th of September. It just sounds wrong.
My 91-year-old stepfather has a similar reaction. When I tell him we’re starting 2015 he jokingly puts his hand up and says, “Check, please.”
I’m not quite ready to check out yet, but 15 years into the 21st century, I do sometimes feel like it’s getting close to closing time. Longtime readers of this blog may remember that in July 2013 I wrote that I was resigned to the Hitchcock look of a massive gut for the rest of my life. So when my cardiologist told me to lose weight or have bariatric surgery like Chris Christie, I was initially skeptical that any sustained weight loss was possible for me.
But in order to comply with my doctor’s orders, I started with Weight Watchers in late June 2014. At my first weigh-in I tipped the scales at a hefty 224 pounds. Just about every week thereafter I have lost some weight. Sometimes it was just two-tenths of a pound. But by the end of December I was down to 184, a loss of 40 pounds. I have lost four inches around my waist. But I’m still about 10 pounds from what I initially set as my goal weight, and 25 pounds from the weight that the experts say is appropriate for my height and age. So it’s a process. I saw my cardiologist in December and he was extremely pleased at my reduced size and healthy blood pressure. I have had similar compliments from friends and family.
Weight loss is not a mystery. It involves simply eating less and exercising more. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. I have lost weight by cutting down on sweets and hitting the treadmill on a daily basis. Notice that I didn’t say that I have eliminated sweets. Weight Watchers is not into complete deprivation of anything. In fact, we are encouraged to have weekly treats. The trick is to be conscious of everything we’re putting into our mouth. More candy and cake means more treadmill and weightlifting. So far it’s been reasonably easy to live with.
The new year is the time for resolutions and I am sure that we will be seeing new people at the Weight Watchers meetings in January. Weight loss is a noble goal because you do it not only for yourself, but for your loved ones. But like all things that are worthwhile, it takes some effort. Sustaining that effort over time is the challenge of weight loss. I fully expect that I will gain some weight back some day. But I also know that I can lose it again. I know that because I’ve done it.
My doctor has been preaching weight loss to me for over a decade and until six months ago I was not sufficiently motivated to do anything about it. What changed in 2014? The truth is that it wasn’t just the doctor and his threat of bariatric surgery. In 2014 I became a grandfather, and I realized that if I didn’t start listening to medical advice I was not going to live long enough to see Bryce grow up. And I needed to be in shape to keep up with him. Funny how a baby can change your life in completely unexpected ways.
So I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions other than to try to finally reach my goal weight and stay there (or at least in the neighborhood). Next year at this time I’ll report back. Until then, have a healthy and happy 2015!
If Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, as the song claims, the time following Christmas and New Year’s must be the most dreary.
The days are short and cold (in New Jersey, anyway), and any anticipation of upcoming holiday gifts and celebrations is gone.
Then there’s the Christmas tree, still gaudy and lit for a party that ended last week; a houseguest past its prime.
How long do you leave it up? The traditional date in many Catholic households is January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. But the unofficial date in our house is when the tree starts to die. Once it stops taking up water, or we stop giving it water (it’s a chicken and egg thing), it really starts drying out. So when we see a circular green halo of fallen needles on the floor, it’s time to kick the tree to the curb.
As if blindfolding a hostage, a lot of people put a jumbo white plastic bag over their tree before they drag it out for the garbageman. But what does that accomplish? The tree doesn’t need protection from the elements, and the trash collectors know it’s rubbish whether you bag it or not – it’s just a dead evergreen.
Is the big white bag just a way to avoid extra cleanup, by preventing the tree from dropping dried needles everywhere? I say put one less plastic bag into the world and sweep up after yourself. But hey, I also like the way the vacuum cleaner smells, even a month later, stuffed with those fragrant needles.
Whenever you take it down, and however you dispose of it, the tree disappears, and the ornaments and lights go back in their boxes. We squirrel them away in a corner of the basement, along with the Santa statuettes, metal greeting card holders shaped like reindeer, angels, holly sprigs, candles, and other festive paraphernalia that’s been strewn about our house for the past month.
Thankfully, the Christmas carols and pop songs that have been playing ad nauseum on every radio station, elevator speaker, and department store Muzak track since Black Friday stop dead after Christmas Day, not to be heard again until next November. But in the lull between Christmas and New Year’s, the popular radio stations trot out and overplay a 1980 Dan Fogelberg song called “Same Old Lang Syne,” in which he describes a chance Christmas Eve encounter with an old sweetheart.
The song depresses the hell out of me, mainly because it’s snowing in the beginning of the song. But by the end, when the former lovers have reminisced until there’s nothing more to say and he’s walking home alone, the snow turns into rain. And following that lyric, the song trails off into a lonely saxopohone solo of “Auld Lang Syne.”
New Year’s Eve comes and you have a date or you don’t. You stay up until midnight or not, drink or abstain, and, with varying degrees of conviction, make resolutions that for the most part evaporate like hoarfrost on New Year’s morning.
By the time January 2 rolls around, I’m quietly glad it’s all over, even though this signals the start of months of bleak weather with no major holidays in sight.
But in the end, it’s all good. Whether you’re looking back at the old year with regret or fondness, or forward to the new with anything from trepidation to boundless joy, be grateful – you’re still looking.
My mom reached 87 this year. God bless her. Sure hope she gave me some of her genes!
For much of her life, even before I was born, she could be cold and stubborn, gracious but rude, liberal and conservative, accepting and very judgmental, controlling and demanding, submissive and coy. All with an extremely, self-centered, strong ego and vanity second to none. Your mom too? I sometimes refer to her as a drama queen/diva. She is also one of the more intelligent people I know, and can be extremely generous. Much more than I could ever hope to be. I really do love her. And beneath all of this, she is quite sentimental and emotional. I remember when I was a teen laughing and teasing her as she teared up watching what seemed, at the time, a corny scene in an Elvis Presley movie, of all things. I’ve witnessed her shedding tears many a time at similar instances, which I thought to be trivial, both in movies or real life.
Now some of you may be familiar with the late Jimmy Valvano, a college basketball coach who founded the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Shortly before he passed on, at the first ESPN Espy Awards, he received the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. During his acceptance speech (which you should all Google and experience), he mentioned three things we should do every day: laugh, think, and have your emotions moved to tears (for happiness or joy). I surely think a lot. I try to laugh whenever possible, but boy oh boy can I be moved to tears every single day, even over the most trivial sentiment (except any part of any Elvis movie — never liked any of them). It is, by far, the easiest thing to do.
So many things to bring out our emotions — the fragility of our existence; a child struggling with cancer; the innate goodness of man moved to a selfless act; the beauty of nature; a truly corny Hallmark movie (some real good ones lately); a certain hymn at Mass; a firefighter who perishes attempting to save someone; a daughter hugging her “Poppy” returning from war. So many things. So many things. I’ve shed more of these tears than all those I’ve seen coming from my mom’s eyes. Such a sentimental fool am I. Truly, truly thankful I have those genes from my mom. Truly.
This is a most emotional, sentimental time of the year is it not? Of our life on this orb, yes? Love is the word.
Peace and Merry Christmas. God bless us … everyone.
So, at the age of 10 months, you may have noticed a great deal of unusual activity recently. Your parents have probably been spending more time in stores. When they come home, they wrap colored paper around what they bought.
“What’s up with that?” you may ask.
In your first visit to New York City you probably were wondering why your mother and father took you to see a big tree full of colored lights. And you probably have noticed that your neighborhood also has a lot of these same colored lights around. And you may have seen some people wearing a lot of red, particularly fat men with big white beards.
“What’s the story, grandpa?” you may ask.
OK, here’s the skinny. It’s called “Christmas” and it comes every year at this time. It’s sort of a big deal, particularly for kids like you because — and you better sit down for this — it’s a day that people give you lots of neat stuff to play with and to eat. They even ask you to make a list of what you want and then — and here’s the best part — they get it for you!!
And you know all that colored paper — you get to rip it off and you get to play with it and the box too. You may even want to play with what’s inside. (Although this year it’s probably gonna be mostly things to keep you warm through your first winter in Vermont.)
Now you may be thinking, what’s so special about this Christmas day that makes people act so strangely?
Well, it started out as a celebration to mark the day a really nice man named Jesus Christ was born a really long time ago. It’s called a birthday. You’ll get your own celebration in a couple of months. We’ll call yours “Brycemass” if you want. Anyway, people liked this guy so much that when he was born, strangers traveled great distances to bring him presents. And we continue that tradition today. Only now we give presents to each other. Neat, huh?
Well if getting stuff from your mom and dad and your grandparents, aunts and uncles wasn’t good enough, there’s someone else who brings things to you at Christmas. He lives up at the North Pole. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. Maybe he likes snow. Anyway, this guy is old and fat and always dresses in a red and white suit. His name is Nicholas but everyone calls him Santa Claus. He has a bunch of reindeer and a sled and every Christmas he packs it up with all the toys that boys and girls want and he delivers them while you’re asleep — sort of like the UPS man only without having to sign anything.
But just like the NSA, Santa sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake. He has a database of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. You have to be on the “nice” list to get presents. Word is that you can get presents even if you’re naughty sometimes, just as long as you’re mostly nice. Santa knows that no one’s perfect.
It’s an imperfect world and so people sometimes act naughty. But the thing about Christmas is that people make an effort to be nice. They’re not always successful, but most people try. That’s what really makes Christmas special.
About 50 years ago, when I was a kid, people were worrying about how people had forgotten why we celebrate Christmas and instead were focused on buying things. So a wise doctor named Seuss gave us a story about a Grinch who found out that people could celebrate Christmas without “things.” And an artist named Schulz gave us a story about some kids who get so wrapped up in decorations and Christmas plays that they forget the reason for the season. A boy named Linus reminded them.
Well if Christmas was too much about “things” 50 years ago, the years since have only given us more of the same. We now start “celebrating” Christmas beginning in October. We have a shopping day after Thanksgiving that is so crazy they call it “Black Friday.” What’s worse, storekeepers have come to rely on people buying stuff to excess in the last three months of the year as part of their business plans, and the media makes it almost un-American and certainly anti-capitalist to resist this command to buy.
But we can resist the urge to make Christmas about “things” and I hope that you will. Oh, I know how great it is to get new toys, and you will certainly have your share in the Christmases ahead. But always remember the lesson that Linus and the Grinch tried to teach us many years ago. The spirit of Christmas is not in the decorations, the presents, the trees or even the songs. It is in what you can do at Christmas and every day to assure that there is “peace on earth and good will to all men.”