Archive for September, 2010

The “Someday Dress”: Coming to Terms With the Actualities of Life After 40

   Several years ago I dredged up from the depths of my guest room closet a dress, the zipper teeth of which I hadn’t been able to introduce to one another in over two decades. It’s a sleek little number. Fits like spandex through the torso and over the hips, with a hemline that stops a few inches above the knee in a snappy little flounce. A Navy blue flat-knit with a few abstract splashes of red, green, and gold; long-sleeved, v-necked, and puckered just a wee bit above each shoulder, it could pass as a recent purchase. Such are the cycles of fashion.

Well, fashion may be fickle, but I certainly am not. I had collected a baker’s dozen of boxes labeled “Skinny Clothes,” which mocked me from their towering stacks on the shelves in my garage. “Re-use and recycle” is a terrific philosophy, except for the fact that I’d geographically relocated some of these boxes ten times. And then there are my mother’s pre-size-deflation size six White Stag® tennis shorts from the 40s which I wore during a retro mood the summer of my 23rd year. They’re a classic flared, cuffed hem and no-waistband style, surely destined to come screaming back into vogue any time now. I’ve lost track of how many times they’ve crossed state lines. 

The idea had always been to dangle these bits of material inspiration as motivation to return to a set of proportions I claimed for about three-and-a-half years in my mid-twenties. Now, I have a sound intellect; I know that this reasoning is peppered with illogical assumptions. Yet I also sense that there are, out there, multitudes of fellow hoarders – of both size sixes and secret fantasies – who empathize 100 per cent.   

But time does trudge on, and the will to torture ourselves with such tests of reality vs. ego tends to fade in our middle years. It’s also true that, with a few irritating exceptions, our bodies morph over those years in ways we can neither anticipate nor precisely control. (I would swear on my grandmother’s Joy of Cooking that cataclysmic changes have taken place in my metabolism which no amount of wistful thinking or virtual laps on the treadmill will ever reverse.) (more…)

September 29, 2010 at 2:13 am 2 comments

Blissed and Blessed: Advice for the Newly Married

    I am either one of your best sources of marital advice or one of your worst. My emotionally chaotic early personal history suggests the latter, including as it did several mismatched spouses and little evidence that I was capable of learning from my own mistakes. But when God finally got exasperated enough to take me by the shoulders and march me in the direction of an eminently suitable former classmate at our 20 year high school reunion, it was the first wave in a sea change that swept through every element of my existence. It was also the first phase in a long-term relationship that last May marked its 23rd wedding anniversary. 

Having finally discovered what a blessing married life can be, you’d think I’d be a fount of profundity on the subject. Yet at my nephew’s wedding reception a few days ago, I told his bride how moved I was by the loving looks the couple shared during the ceremony, and she replied, “I just hope we’re still looking at each other like that years from now.” My response? “From what I’ve seen today, I’m imagine you will be.” 

How insipid! I might as well have said, “Well, based on appearances, your chances are pretty good.” What I should have had the presence of mind to say was, “That’s not up to chance, it’s up to you.” 

Settled into my easy chair later that evening, I indulged further in the luxury of hindsight and a few gems tumbled out of the treasure chest of experience.  I’ve gathered them here in an imaginary “wish I’d said” monologue, because it truly is all about making choices and setting priorities. “Loving” is itself a choice, not a fluttery feeling in your stomach. It’s a decision you make – and then remake every day of your lives together.  (more…)

September 21, 2010 at 10:45 pm Leave a comment

Bad Change, Good Change, No Change at All

   “It’s just not the same.” That was the observation of a friend who’d revisited the Minnesota State Fair after having lived in Texas for ten years. “I am exhausted, having spent yesterday afternoon breast-stroking my way through a sea of humanity.” That was my observation to another friend the day after my husband and I participated in that “Great Minnesota Get-Together” following our own long absence from the event. 

I used to love the Fair for its otherwise forbidden deep-fried goodies-on-a-stick, and for the delicious people-watching opportunities and free entertainment. But when you can’t even see past the wall of trudging bodies to note which annual attractions you have just been swept by, and when you can’t even walk side-by-side with your sweetie, but must form a single file human projectile to cut a path through the density, it’s overwhelming enough to drain all the fun out of it. 

I also don’t care much for spending eight bucks for a pork chop on a stick or five dollars for half a sandwich. (It seems that paying a hefty entrance fee at the gate buys you the privilege of paying more hefty fees at every turn, once inside.) “Change” in the form of record-setting attendance figures may have transformed the Fair-going experience, but don’t expect to get any back from that twenty you just handed your thirteen-year-old. 

At least the weather was good for our day’s outing, with enough cloud cover to keep the temperatures in the mid-seventies and the need for a sun-shielding parasol allayed – although it might have come in handy as a defense against those aggressive mommies with their armored strollers. Skinned a few toes in that losing battle. 

Today, however is windy, rainy, and on the cold side; either our thermometer is broken or we’ve taken a 40 degree nose dive from last week’s mid-90s. Writing, reading, or cooking. It’s hard to choose between the three as my pet grey day activity, so I do a little of each. My favorite escape literature is Jan Karon’s Mitford series, and I recently treated myself to her Cookbook and Kitchen Reader – a great gift idea, by the way, for you or someone you like a lot. So here I sit, writing about my reading and cooking adventures of this afternoon. 

Since the cool weather invites us to crank up the oven and leave a large, bubbling pot on a slow simmer all afternoon, my menu for this preview-of-autumn day includes my very own Ham and Crowder Peas with Zucchini and Red Onion; a takeoff on Rick Bayless’ Jicama Salad as a refreshing counterpart; and Iron Skillet Pumpkin Corn Bread – the result of applying a few changes of the positive kind to Puny’s cornbread recipe. You’ll have to explore the Mitford series to get acquainted with the charming character, Puny. 

Meanwhile, try your hand at this cool weather menu and start to like the idea of summer – and over-crowded fairgrounds – being left behind. (more…)

September 14, 2010 at 9:07 pm Leave a comment

Stuff My Dad Told Me

   Note: September 6th marks both the Labor Day holiday and what would have been my father’s 90th birthday. I dedicate this posting to his memory.

There I am, a fifty-something woman, sitting in my eighty-something father’s living room, as we commiserate about our mutual hot flashes. Mine arise from mid-life changes and his from hormone therapy for elevated PSA levels, but this is still not a scenario I would have ever predicted in decades past. I wasn’t, in my very early years, much inclined to imagine scenarios of any kind. I did, however, ask a lot of questions.

As a highly inquisitive kid, I had been born into the right family. My father was a well-read, well-educated guy with experience in many areas of work and life, always able and willing to help me come up with answers to that endless flow of queries. 

In the late 1980s, I started a Father’s day tradition of recounting remembered paternal homilies from my youth. Dad claimed no recollection of having shared many of these bits of advice. Funny; they stuck in my mind like bubble gum to the underside of a schoolroom desk.

Following is a small, paraphrased sampling of those “sticky” bits of wisdom, on subjects ranging from grammar to etiquette to mental hygiene.  (more…)

September 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm 1 comment

Tough-Love Letters to a Troubled Teen – III

    Dear Maisie, 

I haven’t heard from anybody down there since you got invited to spend a long weekend with the local authorities, so I find myself piecing together a mental image of what your days might be like during this separation from home. It grieves me to picture you in that unfamiliar, institutional place, but perhaps you have been granted some precious time to think through your past and your present and your future. 

I feel helpless right now. Sort of like when Uncle J. has a severe insulin reaction and all I can do is flutter about and offer orange juice and stroke his neck and provide a cool, damp cloth for his brow. Except I can’t even do that much for you.  And at least with his temporary hypoglycemia, I can watch as he slowly returns to me and that glazed, distant stare begins to refocus, his words gradually starting to come together in full sentences and his mind re-engaging with the world around him. 

With you, I have no idea whether anything I do or say helps – or hurts; no gauge for whether my caring and worrying mean anything in the midst of the turmoil that swirls around you in the form of legal repercussions and family estrangement; no direct contact to allow me a sense of the disorientation you must feel, being wrenched from your daily routine and the cozy nest of your own neighborhood and circle of friends. 

I can only keep writing these weekly letters, as I have for the past few years, since long before you misstepped your way onto the “Down” escalator of self-defeating behaviors, and pray that something will click, and you’ll soon find your way back to us. 

For I believe with all of my heart that you are not a lost soul who has chosen doom for yourself. What nonsense! When all the possibilities of a sunny and contented future lie within such a short reach, why would you? Nothing can be so overwhelming that you and God and your many loving supporters together can’t handle it. 

My prayer and my urgent yearning is that you will release yourself from the drama and the heartache now, rather than later, and choose without delay for tomorrow to be your next bright day.  

                          Love you and miss you always, 

                                             Aunt Suz


September 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm 1 comment

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