Another Year Older, But I’m Not Complaining

Another year has slipped right through my fingers.  Another year of feeling the ravages of time in every creaking, Aspercremed joint, another year of watching gravity turn a pair of sock puppets and a belly button into sweaty dance partners, another year of accepting the shocking truth that the crinkly old gal staring back at me from the mirror isn’t someone else.

It hasn’t been an entirely bad year, though; in fact, nestled in between some of those what-the-hell-happened-to-me moments have been some pretty gosh-darn-wonderful days. I went on a 250-mile bicycle ride with friends. I went deep sea fishing off the Florida coast. I spent the holidays with my sons in California. I stood in peaceful wonder before dazzling sunsets, I hiked in giddy anticipation to hidden waterfalls, I tiptoed in joyful abandon through fields of wildflowers, and I drank a lot of wine. I’m chalking up this past year as a winner.

The calendar tells me I’m another year older today, and even though it would be easy to spend this day wallowing in cookie-laden self-pity, I’ve decided to save all my whining for another day and focus instead on some of the groovy little things that bring me joy.

And some of those things are . . .

  1. Eating grilled chicken, bacon and pepperjack sandwiches on thick, toasted bread (with a side of cheesy fries—even better!).
  2. Encountering salespeople who go out of their way to be helpful (like the Walmart checkers who automatically give me the competitor’s lower prices, even though I haven’t asked and wouldn’t no the difference).
  3. Listening to James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and Queen.
  4. Watching cloud reflections skittering across still blue water.
  5. Getting second chances.
  6. Having an acupuncturist, massage therapist, and athletic trainer who are all intent on making me feel better.
  7. Munching on movie theater popcorn.
  8. Finally digging out that popcorn kernel from between my teeth.
  9. Traveling to new places—and the anticipation leading up to those travels.
  10. Lounging all day in my pajamas (sorry, Mr. UPS).
  11. Knowing that, as long as Sarah Palin is alive, I’ll never be labeled The Most Annoying Woman on the Planet—and that, despite my many faults, at least I’m not a narcissistic, blithering buffoon who believes that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing any voters. (I’d be even more joyful if those two would shut their traps.)
  12. Getting in and out of Walmart in record time—finding everything I need, not getting stalled by a quagmire of carts blocking every aisle, magically getting in the fastest line for a change, and not encountering Creepy Cart Guy.
  13. Holding hands.
  14. Seeing what amazing young men my sons have become.
  15. Sitting quietly in front of the fire pit with a glass of wine in my hand and sweet memories on my mind.
  16. Feeling good after a hard, sweaty workout.
  17. Playing with my goofy dog.
  18. Watching Cardinals baseball (only 70 days until Opening Day!).
  19. Burrowing into cold sheets and snuggling up to my extra-long, down pillows.
  20. Using my library card to discover new authors.
  21. Using Uber to successfully navigate strange cities.
  22. Smelling carrot cupcakes baking in the oven (my birthday treat!).
  23. Driving down winding country roads and enjoying the scenery.
  24. Getting recognition for my writing and my photography.
  25. Finally adjusting my internal clock to retirement and “sleeping in” until 6 almost every morning.
  26. Having an open heart and an open mind—and believing it’s better to be naive and kind than cynical and hard.
  27. Meeting friends for Friday night pizza and laughs.
  28. Walking around the park on a sunny day.
  29. Accomplishing something that I previously believed I couldn’t.
  30. Seeing karma and cosmic justice combine forces against the bad guys.
  31. Wandering down a deserted sandy beach.
  32. Lying in bed listening to an approaching thunderstorm.
  33. Coasting downhill on my bike.
  34. Soaking in a hot whirlpool.
  35. Taking a photograph and knowing it’s beautiful before I even load it onto the computer.
  36. Hearing Roger Miller singing “Trailers for Sale or Rent” on an oldies station and being reminded of long-ago days with my dad.
  37. Getting hand-written notes in the mail.
  38. Eating a meal (any meal) that someone else has cooked.
  39. Growing my own vegetables and herbs.
  40. Receiving an unexpected gift.
  41. Marking off the last item on my “to do” list (and making myself wait until the next day to start the next list).
  42. Re-reading passages in a novel because they are so beautifully written.
  43. Chocolate-covered strawberries (chocolate-covered anything, really).
  44. Warm scarves and mittens.
  45. Cake donuts, jelly beans and peanut butter M & Ms.
  46. Air travel (I’m serious!).
  47. My readers.
  48. Senior citizen discounts!
  49. Daisies.
  50. Over-sized sweatshirts.
  51. Back rubs.
  52. The Game of Thrones.
  53. Hot fudge sundaes with caramel sauce.
  54. Balmy days in January.
  55. Early-morning fog blankets over the valley.
  56. And puppies!

According to an old Guatemalan proverb, “Everyone is the age of their heart.” If that’s true (and surely it is), then I can’t be a day over 39, regardless of what that blasted calendar and that crinkly old gal in the mirror want me to believe. So, just for today, I’m ignoring both of them—it’s time to crank up Queen and put those cupcakes in the oven because it’s a beautiful day to turn another year older and a beautiful day to be alive.

fallingwaterslowres

“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.”— Frank Lloyd Wright
(photo © Karen Eubank)

32

“I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”—Bob Dylan
(photo © Karen Eubank)

hodgsonlowres

“Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”—Franz Kafka
(photo © Karen Eubank)

Christmas2015

My greatest joy of all . . .
(photo © Karen Eubank)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Aging, Gratitude, Photography, Simple Pleasures | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

What We Really, Really Want

It’s 3 a.m. and I am wide awake—again. I untangle from my sweat-soaked sheets and stumble blindly into the bathroom for the third time since crawling into bed just a few hours earlier. There’s no need to turn on the lights; I’ve made this middle-of-the-night journey thousands of times in the last few years, and I’ve learned the hard way to keep the path obstacle-free and to avoid being accidentally spooked by the baggy-eyed, pillow-creased, rat’s nest reflection in the mirror.

Some younger women may fantasize about sexy, shirtless firemen who will fulfill their wildest dreams (you know, cooking dinner AND cleaning up the kitchen afterward, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, cleaning toothpaste globs out of the bathroom sink), but as for me, I’d trade images of every sexy dude on the planet (and his culinary and cleaning skills, too) for night after night of cool, dry, uninterrupted sleep. Maybe I can’t speak for all my sweaty-lipped, flushed-faced, sleep-deprived sisters, but I’ll bet there are a few out there who would gladly make the same exchange. And since we’re fantasizing anyway, we might as well fill those fantasies with a few more dollops of wishful thinking.

This is what we want (what we really, really want) . . .

We want the senior discount–but we want you to ask if we qualify instead of just assuming that we do. Let us believe for a few precious moments that we don’t really look that old.

We want AARP to stop bombarding our mailboxes with membership applications. We signed our husbands up for AARP years ago, so we can reap those same benefits without actually admitting that we’re eligible.

We want a way to bottle the hot flashes of summer so we can release them in January and February to lower our winter heating bills and thaw the frozen pipes in the basement.

We want our adult children to answer our computer questions without being impatient or condescending. (“Hey, Mr. Smarty-Pants, I taught you how to tie your shoes and peepee in the potty–both of which took a tremendous amount of time and effort–so don’t be getting snarky with me if I don’t immediately know who my ISP is, how many bits my OS is, or how to convert RAW files to DNG.”)

We want Amazon to make same-day drone deliveries of chocolate chip cookies and bottles of wine when we’re in the middle of a menopausal meltdown.

We want whoever deemed the “dad bod” as sexy to give the same designation and respect to the “mom bod.”

We want industrial-strength (but still comfortable) bras that will take our previously-perky-bosoms-turned-dangling-sock-puppets and put them back where they belong—with no excess spillage out the back.

We want peppy little 20-somethings who tout the advantages of make-up free days and who insist they will grow old gracefully to just shut up.

We want our gynecologists to stop retiring–and to stop referring us to replacements who are younger than our own children. (Imagine lying on your back, staring at the ceiling, and attempting to make small talk: “So, who was your favorite Ninja Turtle?”)

We want our husbands to understand that (sometimes) our idea of getting lucky is finding our car keys in the first place we look for them–and that, when it comes to their idea of getting lucky, there’s a very thin line between not enough, just right, and “For the love of God, would you just be done with it so I can go to sleep!”

We want movie producers to cast leading men from our generation opposite leading ladies from our generation—instead of women who are 30 years their junior. Think Michelle Pfeiffer, think Meryl Streep and Holly Hunter and Julianne Moore—not 20-somethings Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence. And while we’re on the subject of movies, we want those same producers to realize our generation of women has more expendable income than any other (translation: we can buy over-priced tickets to your cinematic endeavors), and we can be entertained without the prolific use of profanity (we hate the f-word), violence (we’ll pass on the blood and gore) or nudity (naked 20-somethings just don’t do it for us).

We want just a few more days with our mothers so we can ask all the things we didn’t get a chance to ask and say all the things we forgot to say—just a few more days to show our love and let them know that, despite numerous, early indicators to the contrary, we turned out okay.

We want age-defying moisturizers that actually deliver what they promise—creams that fill  in all those craters and crevices and destroy the evidence that we spent the 70’s slathered in baby oil and iodine.

We want the people who make tear-away warm-up pants for athletes to make tear-away nighties for us so that when we’re in the steamy throes of a hot flash (you thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you?), we can have cool-down relief in .02 seconds.

We want to remember why we walked into a room, what was on the grocery list we left lying on the counter at home, the names of our children on the first attempt, when and why we stashed $87 worth of coins in a Walmart bag under the bed.

We want to weigh what our driver’s license says we weigh.

We want hairs to stop disappearing from places where they’re expected to grow–and to stop sprouting in places they should never be.

We want the men in our lives to understand that when we say, “I’m fine,” sometimes we really are—and sometimes we really, really aren’t. And we want them to intuitively know which is which and to respond accordingly.

We want those same men to assure us that all the other women our age look much older than we do (brownie points if they can also say—with a straight face—that some of our younger friends look older than we do, too).

We want our health insurance plans to pay for deep-tissue massages, cosmetic overhauls, wine tastings, and gym memberships. Since we no longer need birth control prescriptions or pre-natal care benefits, this is only fair.

We want all clothing manufacturers to use uniform sizing. If we can hold our breath and successfully zip up a size 6 in one store, a size 6 in the next store shouldn’t be trapped around our cankles.

We want manufacturers to stop using tiny, blurry print so we can read labels, tags and packages without pulling out a super-duper magnifying glass.

We want to be invited to Friday night shenanigans, but we want them to start early and end early so we can be in bed early.

And we want everyone to stop telling us that we look “pretty good for your age” or that we shouldn’t be doing that/saying that/wearing that “at your age.” The first is not a compliment, and the second is pretty much a guarantee that we will, in fact, do/say/wear whatever we dang well please (even if we wouldn’t have before you told us we shouldn’t).

We’re not totally selfish and narcissistic, we women “of a certain age”; we’ve devoted decades to taking care of our families instead of ourselves, and we still dream of world peace, of an end to childhood hunger and debilitating disease, of a presidential candidate who doesn’t make us queasy. But sometimes, ahhh sometimes . . . we just can’t help fantasizing about zero-calorie cheesecake and half-off coupons for tummy tucks. I could go on and on, but it’s time to massage some Aspercreme into my aching joints, chug-a-lug my morning spinach and blueberry protein smoothie, try to figure out why my cars keys are in the refrigerator, and attempt to button my jeans.

What conditions exist in your fantasy world?

4

“I don’t believe in aging. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun.”
—Virginia Woolf

mist flower

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”—Albert Einstein

barn4

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
—Dylan Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Aging, Beauty, Health, Humor, Men, Sleeplessness | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments

Embrace the Goodness

This moment—and this one, too—is filled with beauty and hope, love and joy. If you look closely, you will see all that goodness swirling around you in the faces of family and the actions of strangers. If you listen carefully, you will hear it in the laughter of children at play and the chorus of songbirds at dawn. And if you fling open your heart and your arms, you can send it gently seeping into the lives of others as easily as fireflies dancing on a honeysuckle breeze.

Despite all the recent negativity, hatred, bickering and discontent, there are countless reasons to embrace the goodness of this moment and this world—and countless reasons to smile. (C’mon, I know you can do it.)

Right now,

Someone, somewhere is having the very best day of her life. And she doesn’t realize that even better days are to come.

A baby is giggling over a never-ending game of peek-a-boo.

A determined young man is proving the doctors wrong, one trembling step at a time.

Volunteers around the world are building homes, digging wells, planting food plots, donating clothing and blankets—all to better the lives of people they’ve never met.

Grown men are dogpiling on the playing field after a come-from-behind, winner-take-all victory.

Someone is zipping into a pair of jeans she hasn’t worn in 15 years.

Long-lost friends are gathering in a reception hall, laughing at shared high school memories.

A co-worker is bringing doughnuts to the morning meeting just because.

An elderly woman is smiling contentedly while petting the beloved little dog napping in her lap.

Little girls are skipping down sidewalks while little boys are pushing Tonka trucks through mud puddles.

A long-married husband and wife are holding hands in a darkened movie theater.

A young mother is feeling the first flutter-kicks of her unborn child.

Someone is retrieving a long-awaited passport from the mailbox, dreaming of all the places she will go, while someone else is reciting a citizenship oath to the United States, dreaming of all the opportunities that await him right here.

Someone is pushing herself to previously impossible physical limits—and then just a little beyond.

Little ones are baking chocolate chip cookies with their grandma.

A teenager in love is making a wish on a falling star.

A Good Samaritan is changing a flat tire for a stranded motorist.

Cherished friends are reuniting at an airport—hugs, tears and laughter all around.

Two 90-year-olds in a nursing home are exchanging wedding vows.

Mothers and fathers are witnessing their children’s first smiles, first words, first steps, first training-wheel adventures.

A thoughtful man is writing a heart-felt, handwritten note for a kindness extended to him.

A stranger in the grocery store is complimenting another woman’s sweater, hair style, eye color, children—without realizing the compliment is the first kind words she’s heard in a long time.

A protective big brother is chasing away his little sister’s nightmare demons.

Someone is hearing the word “benign” while someone else is rejoicing that her final chemotherapy treatment is behind her.

A stranger in line at the drive-up window is paying for the order of the people behind him.

An excited young man is preparing for his first day of work at his dream job.

Another young man is singing along to his favorite song on the radio, much to the delight of other drivers waiting at the stoplight.

Someone is kneeling to help pick up the contents of a spilled bag.

A former student is stopping by to say thank you to a teacher who made a difference in his life.

One gentleman is holding the door for others, while another one is giving up his seat on the subway.

A woman is marveling at the sunrise, letting the brilliant colors fill her with peace and hope for the day ahead, while someone else on the other side of the world is standing in awe of a spectacular sunset, feeling all the day’s worries sinking into the horizon.

A customer service representative is going out of her way to be helpful.

A kind soul is donating bone marrow to a stranger.

A five-year-old is presenting a dandelion bouquet to his precious mommy.

Friends are gathering for their weekly celebration, enjoying pizza and drinks but most of all each other’s company.

A mother is counting down the hours until her grown sons arrive for a much-anticipated, long-awaited visit (that mother is me—one more sleep!).

I’ve had my share of bad days, just like everyone else. I’ve cried an ocean of tears. I’ve succumbed to anger, allowing it to consume my thoughts and control my actions. I’ve suffered through the heartache of unthinkable tragedies. But I have learned the tears I shed accomplish little, while the anger I hold onto is self-destructive. And I have learned that heartache—even though it may leave lasting scars—still eventually heals.

Through it all, I have also learned that I almost always have the power to choose whether my days will be good or bad simply by what I choose to focus on. And for that reason, I choose to focus on all the beauty and hope, love and joy—in this precious moment and in this magnificent, marvelous, perfectly imperfect world—and I refuse to let hatred and negativity cloud my vision or steal my sunshine.

Nope, not gonna happen.

edit13lowres“You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.”
― Cheryl Strayed
(Full moon setting over Bull Shoals Lake)

edits“Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.”
– Michael Leunig
(A freedom rose in my garden)

edit 1“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” ― Henry David Thoreau
(The sun setting over Bull Shoals Lake)

18“Hatred paralyzes life, love releases it. Hatred confuses life, love harmonizes it.
Hatred darkens life, love illuminates it.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Fuzzybutt Falls in Northwest Arkansas)

ox-eye daisies low res“In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

edit 1

With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy? –Oscar Wilde
Happy Independence Day from the U.S.A.!

Posted in Advice, Beauty, Gratitude, Kindness, Love, Photography, Simple Pleasures | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

I Would Never Say That

The other night I was reading aloud to my husband an annoying Facebook post one of my friends had made. Very little clouds my mostly sunny disposition these days—and this particular post really had nothing to do with me—but it still had my blood pressure thundering and my fingers twitching to strike back with lightning speed.

“You should tell him to . . .,” my husband advised.

“I would never say that,” I replied. “I might think it, but I would never say it.”

And so I took a deep, calming breath and tucked my twitching fingers into my pockets where they could do no harm. But that exchange made me think of a whole slew of comments that my deliciously wicked little brain might concoct but that my timid little tongue would never have the courage to roll out for anyone else to hear. I’m not that brave, but I don’t think I’m that mean, either. And even though I may frequently be tempted to lash a verbal whip at others, just as often my unspoken commentaries (seasoned with a liberal dash of sarcasm) are directed at the cranky old lady in the mirror.

If you know me well, you might occasionally be able to guess the thoughts straining to slither through those tightly sealed lips—you might guess, but you will never actually hear me say . . .

“Do you think you could inch a little closer into my personal space? Your beer and Fritos breath is absolutely delightful, and your spittle spray is oh-so-refreshing!”

“You can’t be serious. The movie is always better than the book.”

“Gee, I love looking in the mirror and seeing my grandma looking back at me. Check out that sexy, sagging jawline! Look at all those lovely little eye crinkles! I can’t wait to see what other physical changes the next ten years will bring!”

“Honey, that dutch oven trick was so funny! Do it again! Do it again!”

“I know you just finished your cigarette, but could you hurry up and light another one—and be sure to blow your smoke in my face again? I’m really starting to like that burning sensation in my eyes and throat, and I love the lingering aroma of your menthols in my hair!”

“Of course, I would give up every brain cell I have if I could just look like Megan Fox. Wouldn’t you?”

“Time to go swimsuit shopping! My self-esteem is in need of a strong crushing, and by my calculations, if I do 500 crunches and 300 squats and lunges every day (and twice on Saturdays), I should be ready to squeeze into that baby without too much excess spillage by Labor Day 2016—but if I buy it now, I can try it on every day and add body shaming to my daily weight loss regimen. Fun, fun!”

“Go Cubs!”

“Could you talk a little louder on your cell phone? My husband and I were sharing a quiet dinner until you sat down at the next table, and your angry tirade against that dumbass boyfriend is so much more entertaining than the conversation we were attempting to have.”

“Yippee! I got picked for jury duty again!”

“Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be a few inches shorter and a few pounds heavier!”

“Of course, I value your opinions on marriage and parenting. In fact, I’m so honored that you’ve decided to share your wisdom (without my even asking!) that someday—when you are finally married with children of your own—I’ll return the favor.”

“Do you think if we started an online petition, we could convince all the morning ‘news’ programs to include more in-depth, thought-provoking stories about the personal lives of celebrities? Seriously, why would they waste precious air time with stories about the earthquake in Nepal or the plight of the honeybee when all I want to know is Kim K’s thoughts on marriage and her step dad Bruce—or the latest battle in the prank wars between Ellen and Matt?”

“Please don’t swat at those blood-sucking, disease-carrying mosquitoes in my presence. Those mosquitoes are some of God’s tiniest creatures, and they have just as much right to be here as you and I. And as for that copperhead over by the wood pile, give me a minute to fetch a shovel—and we’ll re-locate that adorable little serpent to the neighbor’s yard.”

“This retirement gig isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and I think I’ll go back to work. Alarm clocks, countless meetings, unrealistic expectations, stress and exhaustion—yep, I miss it all.”

“That mammogram was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Can you smash ’em one more time just for kicks?”

“It’s amazing how you can drive 20 mph below the speed limit and ride your brakes while going uphill. I know those 15 drivers lined up behind me are probably cursing you, but I applaud your exercise of extreme caution—well done!”

“I’m so excited for the next presidential election! So many great politicians have already announced their candidacy, and I can’t wait for all the positive campaign ads to dominate the air waves so they can help me decide who is most worthy of my vote.”

“No, no, really . . . I don’t mind that you’ve taken my lunch out of the faculty refrigerator (again). I hope you enjoy my turkey club sandwich—it looked really yummy when I assembled it this morning. And I especially hope you enjoy my homemade brownies since I included a special ingredient just for you (but you might not want to venture too far from the faculty bathroom for the rest of the afternoon).”

“You’re right–it’s none of your business. But, please, do go ahead and ask anyway–I want you to know everything about me and my business so that you can decide for yourself which juicy tidbits to embellish and whisper to the rest of the world.”

“M’am, you go right ahead and dig through the bottom of that over-sized purse in search of your jumbled wad of coupons—and by all means, let that under-worked cashier sort through your wad and eliminate the expired ones while the rest of us lined up behind you fidget quietly. Oh, and now you have to dig for the three competitors’ ads so you can do some price matching, too? No worries . . .  I’m sure none of us have anywhere else we have to be . . . you take all the time you need while I expand my intellectual horizons with these National Enquirer headlines.”

Okay, maybe I am that mean. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that I won’t give voice to such thoughts—just the fact that I actually think them may be enough to warrant an attitude adjustment for this cranky old lady. Therefore, I hereby sentence myself to a weekend of solitary confinement . . . in the woods somewhere . . . next to a roaring waterfall . . . where the wildflowers are dancing on the breeze and my twitching fingers can tap rhythm on the glistening rocks. Yeah, that ought to do it.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
—John Burroughs

1Falling Water Falls, near Ben Hur, Arkansas . . . 

14Woolen breeches (I think), growing in the woods . . .

7A roadside cascade near Ben Hur, Arkansas . . . 

1Ox-eye daisies, my favorite wildflowers, on a roadside near my home . . . 

 

Posted in Flowers, Grumpiness, Humor, Photography | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Baffled and Bewildered … Again

Every time I think my wisdom is finally starting to catch up to my years, little events in my personal life and bigger ones in the crazy world around me suggest I still have much to learn and even more to understand. My own lack of common sense and occasional lapses in judgment are well documented, often embarrassing and proof (in epic proportions) that I’m not so smart after all—and if that seems doubtful, you obviously don’t know me well, so take a few minutes to go back and read this post from a few years ago for clarification. You’ll see.

But as ridiculous as some of my actions are, the actions of others can be downright baffling—and can often leave me shaking my head in bewilderment.

Why, for example, do fans celebrating their team’s victory and protestors angry over a policeman’s actions or a jury’s decision both think looting local businesses and setting vehicles ablaze are appropriate responses to their emotions? I understand the emotions, just not the outlets for displaying them.

What exactly is the icloud, where is it located, and why do so many female celebrities have naked photos stored there? They apparently aren’t worried about the very real risk of having those photos “hacked” and shared with the rest of the world, but why have they uploaded naked photos of themselves to begin with? Did their mothers or grandmothers never advise them that stashing Polaroids under the mattress was a much safer alternative? (And I’m not judging–or admitting anything, either.)

Why do some people think that telling a woman over 50, “You look pretty good for your age,” is a compliment? Here’s a better idea: Leave out “pretty” and get rid of “for your age.” Even better, change “good” to “amazing, beautiful, gorgeous” or “the most stunningly exquisite woman on the face of this great planet.” Sure, we’ll know you’re exaggerating slightly, but we’ll still appreciate the effort, and you’ll walk away knowing you just made some old lady’s day.

And why do so many people think it’s okay to “body shame” others? None of us are perfect, and very few of us are completely satisfied with every aspect of our appearance, but we certainly don’t need others—especially strangers online who know nothing about us—to critique what they perceive to be our flaws. The anonymity of the internet may have made such shaming easier, but it will never make it right, and those hateful comments say much more about the critics than they ever will about the criticized.

Why would anyone run with bulls, bungee jump off bridges, dive in shark cages, wrestle alligators, or jump off mile-high cliffs into a watery unknown? Can their adrenaline rushes only be triggered by those death-defying moments when they thumb their noses at the Reaper? Thank goodness it takes nothing more than a short bike ride to send my endorphins humming in jubilation, and if I truly feel the need for a death-defying experience (which I don’t), then I’ll just schedule myself an appointment with the dentist’s drill. Although, if I thought wrestling an alligator would make me forget all about that toothache, then I might be tempted to flex my muscles and give it a go.

Why would any self-respecting person share unsavory family secrets on a television program or a social media network? Does the need for attention and the hope of vindication override any concerns about keeping private things private?

Why do some people intent on taking their own lives feel it necessary to take others along with them? A lone gunman, distraught over offenses real and imagined, massacres precious school children before being gunned down himself. An estranged husband, angry over a wife’s departure, kills their babies before killing himself. And a co-pilot, perhaps battling inner demons, flies an airplane into a mountain, murdering all those on board. I can certainly empathize with the depression these killers may be feeling, and I realize if they are over-wrought with despair they may be unable to think clearly “in the moment,” but what about in the days and hours leading up to such travesties—what arguments do these people use to justify the taking of innocent lives?

Why is it so easy for men—and so hard for women—to shop for jeans? In fact, I’m guessing most men are like my husband and don’t even do the shopping for themselves, relying on their wives to pick up a couple pairs and knowing that no matter what, those jeans will fit just fine. My husband has worn the same size jeans for 30 years, which doesn’t mean his physique hasn’t changed—it’s just a matter of whether his belly fits snugly under the waistband or flops nonchalantly over it (he’s happy either way). And I’m guessing most women are like me—making several trips to several stores and trying on at least 15 different sizes and styles before heading home empty-handed and vowing to lose 10 pounds of booty fat and belly blubber before suffering through the next dressing room degradation.

How is it possible there are still people who forward chain e-mails (and most of those people seem to be in my address book)? Have they actually received the promised good fortunes afterward, or do they actually know someone who suffered the threatened dire consequences after refusing to forward? And do these people believe it’s safer to risk annoying all their friends and family than it is to hit delete and tempt fate?

How can companies, in good conscience, charge shipping costs based on the number of items ordered instead of by the weight of those items? It isn’t fair, I tell you.

Why do some people defiantly and flagrantly disobey the “20 Items or Less” sign in the Walmart express lane? I feel guilty when I accidentally unload 21 items (“I’m so sorry—I overlooked that tube of ChapStick buried beneath the 12-pack of Charmin.”), but the customer in front of me yesterday unloaded 41 items (yes, I counted) and then glared belligerently at me and the cashier as if she expected one of us to challenge her. (This mousy pacifist challenges no one, particularly belligerent Walmart women.)

Why is it so hard for some individuals to count back change? In a fast food restaurant recently, I thought I was being helpful by giving the young girl working the register $20.16 for my $14.16 bill. She accidentally keyed in the wrong amount on the register, and even though she was able to open the drawer, she was unable to calculate how much my change should be. I attempted to tell her that she owed me $6, but instead of taking my word for it, she called for her manager and explained the problem. And then the manager—I’m not kidding—pulled a calculator from her pocket and punched in the numbers before determining that, yes indeed, my change was $6. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident.

Why do some drivers putz along at ten miles an hour below the posted speed limit in the passing lane on a four-lane highway—and seem oblivious to the angry stares and gestures from drivers zooming past them on the right?

Why do people feel the need to leave their mark on natural landscapes or historical landmarks? We often spot names, initials and crude comments etched or painted onto the rock bluffs overlooking “our” gorgeous lake—why did someone think it necessary to spoil such simple beauty? Even worse, on a recent visit to a nearby Civil War battlefield we noticed that “Kevin” had carved his name into the base of a monument honoring Confederate soldiers—a despicable sacrilege, in my mind. I wish all such despoilers could suffer the same consequences as the American tourists who were recently arrested for etching initials into the Colosseum in Rome and are now facing hefty fines. That would teach ’em.

I realize there are no easy answers to my questions, just as there are no easy explanations as to why I still have trouble operating the television remote control, why I always exhale completely and suck in my gut before stepping on the scale, why I honestly believe voicing my deepest fears will jinx them into reality, or why I continue to supersize my french fries and sneak M & Ms and jelly beans even when I know I shouldn’t. We all have our share of silly eccentricities and inexplainable weirdness (some of us have amassed a little more than our share), and we all have an ample supply of bad days when common sense eludes us and poor decisions abound. All that really matters (I think) is that we focus on being happy and kind, gentle and respectful, and, whenever possible, smart. Simple, right?

But what do I know?

3-30-15
blue bluffs lowres-2
daisy5 low resI may not know much, but I do know that using my camera to focus
on the beautiful world around me brings me happiness and peace.

 

Posted in Humor, Photography | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

The Good Ol’ Days?

A Morning in My World, 2015

I awkwardly maneuver my stiff, creaking limbs off the pillow top mattress, and then I stumble to the bathroom counter to insert my contacts so I can see walls and doors before I run into them. I pick up the remote control to turn on the morning news for background noise, unplug my cell phone from its wall charger, and power up the computer to leisurely scroll through emails and Facebook messages from scattered children and friends. I munch on a handful of heart-healthy almonds while my cholesterol-lowering oatmeal cooks in the microwave, and then I mix up a protein fruit smoothie in my handy dandy Magic Bullet. I do a little online shopping—and I even remember to log onto my bank account to check the balance before submitting my request to PayPal.

After an hour of sweaty exertion in my never-ending quest to massacre fat cells, I take a long, steamy shower, use the blow dryer and curling iron to style my graying locks, generously slather firming and lifting lotions and age-defying make-up into all those annoying little lines and wrinkles, whiten and brighten my fading smile with my electric toothbrush, and then spend more time than I’m willing to admit searching for clothes that will camouflage both my burgeoning belly and my bounteous booty. Then I leisurely stroll out the door. I set the car’s seat warmer on high, ask Siri for directions to my destination, and then tune into “70s on 7” on commercial-free XM radio.

I am old(ish), but I am relaxed and content. And as The Carpenters serenade me with “Yesterday Once More” and Barbra Streisand “lights the corners of my mind” with “The Way We Were,” I drum my fingers against the steering wheel, blast my scratchy alto for no one else to hear, and find myself reminiscing about those “good ol’ days” of long ago.

But do I really want to disconnect, unwind, and travel back to a simpler time? And did that simpler time even exist, or is it just a nostalgic figment of my imagination (and possibly yours, too)? How easy it is to romanticize and idealize the past, to judge it based solely on our favorite memories while conveniently overlooking the not-so-pleasant ones. It wasn’t all good (at least, not in my world), and even though the good is most frequently the main attraction on the movie reel in my mind, every once in a while some little something will trigger a very different memory, and I’m reminded that the “good ol’ days” weren’t always that good.

A Morning in My World, 1998

I sluggishly pound the sleep button on the alarm clock for a second time—just nine more minutes, please. Didn’t I just fall asleep a couple hours ago? I remember staring at the clock late into the night, aggravated with Zac’s habit of forgetting about math homework until bedtime, frustrated with my never-ending pile of papers to be graded, and worried about Lucas’s cough that seems to be getting worse. It’s not going to be a good day.

I hop out of the shower and catch a glimpse of flabby thighs in the mirror. I really need to start exercising one of these days. I grab a Diet Coke and Ding Dong before sitting down for ten precious minutes of relative calm and quiet while I listen to the morning news and pencil today’s “to do” list. And then breakfast is served—Fruity Pebbles or Pop-Tarts—take it or leave it—I don’t have time for anything else. I leave all three boys to wake up around the kitchen table while I try on and cast aside half a dozen outfits that are too tight, too big, too wrinkled, too recently worn—and then settle on outfit number one.

Fourteen-year-old Zac is in a panic because I forgot to wash his basketball uniform for tonight’s game (a make-up game I’m just now finding out about). I throw the uniform in the dryer for ten minutes to “freshen” with a couple Bounce sheets and assure him no one will notice. Ten-year-old Sam is upset because he can’t get his shoelaces perfectly knotted (all four ends must be the exact same length), he can’t get his hair perfectly styled (damn that little cowlick), and he can’t find the permission slip for today’s field trip. I re-tie his shoes (that’s close enough), smooth the cowlick with a spit-rub, and remind him I put the permission slip in his backpack last night. Six-year-old Lucas will be in a tizzy later when he can’t find his other shoe, but right now he’s still sitting in his pajamas in front of Cartoon Network—and still coughing. I check his forehead for fever (there is none), spoon him some more cough syrup, and tell him to get his butt in gear.

We head out the door—already five minutes late for the twenty-minute drive to school. After settling an argument on whose turn it is to sit in front (“We’re late! Just get in the damn car!”), I pop in an Eagles CD, hoping for a “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.” It doesn’t work. I crank up the volume, trying unsuccessfully to drown out the backseat bickering, and then opt for screaming and threatening instead. Two minutes of quiet are interrupted by Zac’s timid voice: “Mom, I forgot my math homework.”

I slam the car into reverse and fly back home, lecturing on responsibility—loudly and colorfully—the entire way. The rest of the ride is endured in silence, and three young boys exit the car with heads down. Twenty minutes later the school nurse calls to tell me Lucas has a fever of 102 and needs to go home.

I am frazzled and stressed and the worst mother in the world.

A Morning in My World, 1976

I bounce out of my lumpy, discount-store twin bed, and because I’m too stubborn and vain to wear my glasses, I stumble blindly to the bathroom across the hall. I glance into the mirror, where even I can see the puffy remnants from last night’s fight with my boyfriend. I put the stopper in the tub (there is no shower), bend over the side and stick my head under the faucet to wash my hair before climbing in for a quick bath. I run a comb through the tangled mess and leave it to dry on its own (there is no hair dryer), and by then my sister and brother are banging on the door.

I head to the kitchen where Mom is sitting in her navy blue housecoat, coffee cup in one hand and Alpine cigarette in the other. I pour a Tupperware tumbler of sugary cherry Kool-Aid and a bowl of preservatives-laced Apple Jacks (there is no microwave for a quick fix of anything healthier—which I wouldn’t eat anyway). Mom inquires about my swollen, bloodshot eyes, but what she intended as motherly concern I interpret as “none of your business” grilling, and one face slap later I stomp into the living room to pout in private (stomping and pouting being perfected pastimes of mine). I want to call my best friend to complain, but the only phone is hanging on the kitchen wall, and I won’t go back in there. I stare through angry tears at the stupid antics of Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans on the only available television station before it’s once again (finally) my turn in the bathroom.

I don’t waste time on make-up (only old ladies wear that silly stuff in futile attempts to hide their age), and one last glance in the mirror reminds me I’m once again headed off to school with tears in my eyes and a stress headache building momentum between my ears—and fears that my first-period Algebra II test will suffer the consequences. But my tight t-shirt and hip-hugging bell bottoms reveal a flat stomach and a firm derriere, so at least I’ve got that going for me (priorities, you know).

I pull out an Encylopaedia Brittanica to check a few facts for my history report before grabbing my books and leaving the house, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge my mom’s teary goodbye—while feeling guilty for making her feel bad and then being angry with myself for feeling guilty.

As I spin out of the driveway, the Blue Moves advise me that “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word”; I punch the radio dial and then Roberta Flack is “Killing Me Softly,” so I slam in my golden oldies Beach Boys eight-track and let the “Good Vibrations” wash over me. On the way to school I stop at the Donut House where I supplement my cereal and Kool-Aid with half a dozen glazed goodies, hoping the added sugar will improve my mood, boost my brain power, and maybe, just maybe, provide enough calories to create those curves I desperately crave.

I am self-centered and miserable, but I ace the algebra test anyway.

****

When I reminisce about my teenage years, I typically think about date nights and impromptu dance parties, softball games and football rivalries. I think about girlfriends who stood by me, teachers who challenged me, and parents who didn’t understand me but who loved me just the same. And when I reminisce about my boys growing up, I think about the excitement of trophies earned at spelling bees and science fairs and robotic competitions. I remember the thrill of baskets scored, bases stolen, and races won. Most of all, I remember a house brimming with buddies and days overflowing with silliness and laughter and love.

So what if my mind glosses over the inconveniences and frustrations, the heartache and pain of days gone by? It’s not necessary to dwell on such negativity to know that sometimes I was a crummy daughter, and sometimes I was a lousy mother–but most of the time I wasn’t (and I hope my mama and my boys would agree). The “good ol’ days” may not have always been so good—but they were still pretty darn great.

Maybe not as great as today, but still . . .

boysOne of those “good ol’ days” from a few years back (photo by Sam)

 

Posted in 1970s, Aging, Parenting, Regrets | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Older than Zip Codes–Yep, That’s Me

Tomorrow is my birthday, and I will be 55 years old. Fifty-five. Years. Old. The double nickel. Halfway through my fifties and skidding downhill toward my . . . I can’t even say it.

Holy cow. How in the heck did that happen? Wasn’t I a young 45 just last week–and a frisky 39 the week before that?

I’ve always thought of 55 as a speed limit I seldom obeyed, not an age I looked forward to attaining. My grandmothers were 55, and they were old–cropped gray hairstyles, support hose wadded around their swollen ankles, dentures soaking on the nightstand. I color my grays, I don’t wear hose (and my ankles are the skinniest part of my body), and all my teeth are real–so that’s not me, which means I can’t possibly be that old.

And yet, somehow, I am. In fact, I’ve been on this earth longer than Legos (which first appeared in 1962), zip codes (1963), the Ford Mustang and acrylic paint (1964), astroturf (1965), and hand-held calculators and microwave ovens (1967). Thankfully, Mr. Potato Head, birth control pills, McDonald’s and Barbie pre-date me (all 1950’s inventions), or else I’d really be depressed.

I can take a small degree of comfort in knowing I’m not alone, though. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in three Americans are now over the age of 50 (out of our way, whippersnappers). And the women among us are expected to live to age 81, which means (with any luck) I should have at least another 26 years ahead of me–but since that doesn’t sound like nearly enough time for all the things I have yet to do, I’m banking on about twice that much.

I also feel a generous degree of satisfaction in knowing that the previous years–although more numerous than I would like–have still been good ones, filled with laughter and love and beauty that far outweigh the aches and pains and heartaches. I’ve even learned a few lessons along the way, and so to celebrate my double-nickle birthday, here are 55 of them.

Fifty-Five Things I’ve Finally Learned:

  1. Middle-age is more than anything a battle against gravity–and the only sure-fire way to win the battle and return all body parts to their original positions is to walk on our hands.
  2. There is nothing so simple that I can’t do it wrong–repeatedly. And there is almost nothing so difficult that I can’t do it right if I really try (although you probably don’t want to volunteer to be my first surgery patient or dance partner).
  3. I’ve visited a lot of really cool places with many more on my “must see” list, but my favorite place in the entire world will always be my own bed.
  4. I need to create–and so do you. Find your passion, follow it, and share it with the world; you will bring happiness to others and fulfillment to yourself. And if brilliant ideas wake you in the middle of the night, drag your sleep-fuddled self out of bed RIGHT THEN and put those ideas on paper, or you will be tormented in the morning by tiny whisps of brilliance that you can’t quite recall. Trust me.
  5. Forays into nature may torment me with ticks and chiggers and poison ivy, but they will also reward my efforts with peaceful sunsets, wondrous waterfalls and delicate wildflowers. I’ll take the bad with the good, scratch until I bleed and be happy.
  6. Despite how sweet and inviting they may seem, Sara Lee, Little Debbie, Mrs. Fields and Aunt Jemima are not my friends but rather evil temptresses intent on doing me bodily harm. Granny Smith, though, is the real deal.
  7. Stop looking in the rear-view mirror and focus on the road ahead. There are still a lot of hills to climb and grand adventures just around the bend. Lay off the accelerator, tap on the brakes and slooow down. Take note of all the marvels that surround you. Ponder. Dream. Imagine. Enjoy.
  8. “One size fits all” never fits short, chubby gals.
  9. Forgiving yourself and loving yourself are unbelievably hard and vitally important.
  10. People who ask for an honest opinion usually don’t want an honest opinion.
  11. It’s never too late to make new friends who can expand our worlds in refreshing and glorious ways.
  12. Acid-washed jeans will never be in style again–and those pint-sized ones taking up space in the back of my closet will never again fit my gallon-sized butt. (What’s wasting space in your closet?)
  13. An hour-long, deep-tissue massage is worth every moment of face-flushing, sweaty-pits embarrassment caused by lying exposed and vulnerable in front of a stranger.
  14. People believe what they want to believe, no matter how much evidence to the contrary.
  15. Surround yourself with beauty every day. Light the candles, put flowers on the table, open the blinds and let the sun shine in. Feel the grass beneath your bare feet, pat the dog by your side, read words that nourish your soul, and listen to the melody in your heart.
  16. There is absolutely no topic worthy of a phone conversation after 9 p.m. (unless it’s from a son announcing an engagement or a grandchild–hints intended).
  17. A warm, sunny day in January is a rare gift not to be squandered indoors.
  18. Somehow it is possible to eat like a bird, exercise like a madman and still gain weight like a pregnant hippo.
  19. Drinking 64 ounces of water in a day will generate roughly 15 gallons of urine, necessitating approximately 137 trips to the bathroom–and even though you would think those 137 trips (17.6 miles, give or take) would result in immediate and tremendous weight loss, they don’t.
  20. Anyone who never doubts his beliefs or changes his mind is probably wrong a lot.
  21. Putting off a difficult encounter only allows it to inflate into a torturous mental monster. Tackle the difficult stuff early and be done with it.
  22. Everyone is somebody else’s weirdo (including you–and me).
  23. Comparing myself to others is stupid. There will always be someone younger, prettier, smarter, kinder, thinner. Everyone I meet will be better than I am at something, and the only person I need to be better than is the person I was yesterday (and sometimes even that will be a struggle).
  24. Those who are cruel to others are almost always unhappy with themselves.
  25. Some things are always worth splurging on: comfortable shoes, down pillows, grass-fed beef, good toilet paper, and long vacations.
  26. No matter how badly I feel saying no, sometimes it’s the only possible answer if I have any chance of successfully meeting other obligations. (And my own mental health and physical well-being need to be two of those obligations.)
  27. There are too many great books out there to waste time stubbornly trying to wade through a terrible one–put it back on the shelf and move on.
  28. Those who are capable of laughing at themselves will never run out of things to laugh about. Just on previous experiences alone, I have enough material to keep me giggling for at least another 30 years.
  29. In the time it takes me to accurately spell and punctuate a text message, it would have been quicker to call.
  30. The tighter the jeans, the bigger the muffin top.
  31. If I surround myself with unhappy, negative people, I will eventually become one of them. And that’s not who I want to be.
  32. Sometimes the smartest people can do and say the dumbest things.
  33. The people with the least to give often give the most.
  34. Don’t sit too much–sitting kills. Get off your butt and move. I’ve spent too much of my one precious life anchored to a recliner instead of exploring this great big, beautiful world, and it’s time to make amends.
  35. Immediately after I’ve slowly and clearly vocalized the spelling of my last name, 95% of people will still spell it wrong.
  36. No matter how many times my mind declares, “I will NOT get sick,” sometimes my body has other plans.
  37. Whenever possible, take the stairs. Just don’t hold onto the railing–do you have any idea how nasty and germy that thing is?
  38. Feeling “hot” after 50 usually has nothing to do with physical appearance and everything to do with an impending menopausal melt-down. And thanks to those same menopausal melt-downs, it is entirely possible to pack on 10+ pounds one night while sleeping–and then lose half of it (but never all) the next sleepless night in a tangle of sweat-soaked sheets.
  39. Foot-stomping, door-slamming, curse-muttering temper tantrums won’t fix a locked-up computer (but that doesn’t mean I won’t still indulge in them).
  40. When I exercise, I hurt. When I don’t exercise, I hurt. I might as well exercise and hope that my heart will be happy now and my muscles will join the party someday.
  41. Swimsuit shopping should be done early enough in the day that water weight bloating has yet to set in but late enough in the day to justify the downing of at least two glasses of wine to numb the physical pain and emotional devastation of squeezing 50 pounds of belly blubber into 2 ounces of nylon and spandex and then looking in a mirror.
  42. My life won’t end just because I don’t know how to program the DVR, change a flat tire, drive a stick-shift, or fold a fitted sheet.
  43. There is no greater honor and no greater reward than being somebody’s mama.
  44. Grand intentions don’t mean squat. If you think about doing something nice, do it. If you want to say something kind, say it. If you wait, the opportunity may never arise again, and someday you will regret all the goodness you didn’t share. Again, trust me.
  45. Not everything is worth fighting over. In fact, very little is.
  46. The cheeseburger inside the wrapper looks nothing like the cheeseburger on the commercial.
  47. Eight hours of continuous sleep–uninterrupted by a snoring partner or midnight bathroom treks–is sheer bliss.
  48. Some people deserve to be smacked in the face with a shovel–but just because they deserve it doesn’t mean you should do it (but you can still gain a small measure of satisfaction in fantasizing about it).
  49. Standing at the bedside of a dying loved one is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do–but also one of the most important.
  50. When the expected attire for an event is unclear, it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.
  51. Regardless of differences in race, age, gender, religion, politics, backgrounds, we all have something in common with every other person on the planet. Nurture the commonalities.
  52. The best way to grow is to occasionally do something that scares the hell out of you. (And today I will be doing just that.)
  53. Most ailments can be lessened with a loving hug, a hot shower, a long nap, a leisurely walk or a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
  54. Use your brain, listen to your heart, and trust your gut–especially if all three are telling you the same thing.
  55. Be yourself. I am not cool and never will be–and I’m okay with that. I wasted too much energy when I was younger trying unsuccessfully to be like everyone else, but I finally learned it is so much more satisfying, liberating and fun to be my own nerdy self.

The years may have stolen my smooth, wrinkle-free skin, youthful metabolism and perky you-know-whats, but in exchange they’ve given me increased confidence, peace and creativity (with just a touch of wisdom thrown into the mix). And that trade-off has been totally worth it.

The coming years still have much to teach me, and I will embrace the opportunity. And as I wave farewell to 54 and face life as a 55-year-old, I will try to focus less on that dang number and more on the fact that I feel good–happy and peaceful and excited and strong and vibrant and lucky.

Especially lucky.

 I have a thing for sunsets (and the symbolism of that does not escape me) . . . 

jansunset
January17-32015
1-14-15-3

And flowers . . . 

mum low

And sweet white wine. Cheers!

wine

Posted in Advice, Aging, Gratitude, Humor, Photography, Simple Pleasures | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A New Year’s Resolution I Can Keep

Like most of you, at the end of every year I spend a lot of time reflecting on the year gone by and at least a few minutes planning for the year ahead. I hope, I dream, I wish, and I resolve to make all kinds of monumental changes in my life in order to give those hopes, dreams and wishes a fighting chance. I convince myself that, with enough commitment and determination on my part, the new year will be better than the old–I promise.

I can remember one year (only one) when I kept my New Year’s resolution for the entire year and was thrilled with the results. Most of the time, though, by the second week of January I’ve already given up on those resolutions, and by the first week of February I can’t even remember what those resolutions were.

But this year will be different (I promise). This year I’ve decided on a resolution so important that I can’t possibly ignore it and yet so simple that I can’t possibly fail. In fact, it’s such a perfect resolution that you may want to claim it as your own, too.

In 2015, I resolve to make more mistakes.

Now, I know mistakes can sometimes be bad–like the time when I was still teaching and walked down the crowded high school hallway with the back of my dress tucked into the top of my pantyhose. Or the time I pulled a hot glass dish out of the oven and poured a cup of cold water into it–and sent pot roast, potatoes and shattered glass spewing all over the kitchen counters, ceiling, walls and floor. Or the time a few years back when I was driving just a little too fast as the temperature was dropping and the rain was falling–and totaled my son’s car on a patch of black ice and a nearby fence row.

Every one of those mistakes led to a valuable lesson learned. I will never again leave a restroom without determining that all clothing is properly positioned, I now know better than to pour cold water onto hot glass, and I won’t even think about driving someone else’s car when the roads are bad.

But those aren’t the kind of mistakes I’m hoping to make in 2015.

I have spent too much of my life being timid and fearful and safe. I have missed out on countless opportunities to learn and grow, excel and shine because I have been too afraid that my efforts might not be enough. I haven’t been willing to risk imperfection or–even worse–to encounter failure, and so I have often convinced myself that it is easier and better not to even try.

And that was just plain dumb. (Have you been doing the same dumb thing?)

Mistakes are evidence of effort–of getting off the couch, stepping away from the wasteland of social media, taking a deep, soul-nourishing breath, and confronting fears and insecurities head-on. And making mistakes in the coming year will be proof that I’ve at least temporarily stopped listening to that negative, little voice whispering in my ear: “You can’t. You shouldn’t. And you won’t–because you don’t have the guts.”

I want to make more mistakes in my writing. And in order to do that, I have to write–which is something I haven’t been doing enough of lately. No matter how hard it is (and, believe me, it is hard), I want to force all those words swirling and swarming in my head onto the computer screen where they can shimmer and dance. And I want to hit backspace and delete however many times it takes until I find the perfect word, until I can successfully attach that perfect word to another one, until those words blend into sentences, paragraphs and chapters, until I can finally be satisfied with the beauty my blundering missteps have created.

I want to make more mistakes in my photography. I want to shoot and shoot until the photos in my camera match the visions in my mind–realizing that if the first 200 photos of the same scene are all wrong (wrong lighting, wrong composition, wrong depth of field, wrong everything), then it’s okay to mumble and stomp and swipe at frustrated tears, but then I’d better pick up that camera and try again because the 201st photo may be superb. And I want to stumble my way through the darkness, swallowing my fears of tangled poison ivy vines and angry copperheads and cottonmouths, shooting thousands of times (I don’t think hundreds will do) until my mistakes suddenly transform into breath-taking images of full moons and star trails and far away galaxies.

I want to make more mistakes in my body-building efforts. I want to push this old body to new limits, accepting that too many lunges and squats, curls and presses today may result in too much pain and stiffness tomorrow–but that the day after tomorrow will probably be better. No matter how wimpy and clumsy I feel in the gym (surrounded by men and women half my age and ten times stronger), I want to keep trying and failing and trying again until my gluteus maximus is greatly minimized, until my quads and obliques are rock-solid and until even Michelle Obama would be forced to admit, “Dang, Girl, I want your biceps!”

And I want to make more mistakes in my quest to add value and substance to my daily life. I want to squelch my fears and be open to new experiences, realizing that some of them will be horrendous failures and tremendous wastes of time but that others will enrich my spirit in extraordinary and magnificent ways. I want to squash my timidity and be open to new relationships, realizing that some people may immediately condemn me as boring or wacky or weird but that those few courageous enough to stick around will find me to be a lifetime friend, a faithful ally and an entertaining accomplice–and I will find the same in them. I may be momentarily vulnerable (and terrified), but I’m willing to bet I will end up stronger and happier than I’ve ever been.

In 2015, rather than trying so hard to avoid mistakes, I want to embrace them as opportunities for personal growth and cherish them for the life-altering power they possess. And maybe if I keep making mistakes, others will benefit from them, too–maybe others will find laughter or comfort through my words, joy through my photos or even inspiration through my actions.

And that would be pretty darn cool.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me, brave and beautiful readers, what are your New Year’s resolutions?

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful
than a life spent doing nothing. – George Bernard Shaw

10

I love the simple beauty off waterfalls.

12-25-14Craig

One of the last sunsets of 2014, taken on Christmas night.

 

Posted in Fears, Photography, Regrets, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Christmas Greetings from Grumpy

Stressed. Exhausted. Frazzled.

Yep, that’s been me.

Grumpy. Grouchy. Irritable. Demanding. Snippy and Surly and Sullen.

And that has been me, too–or so my husband has claimed. And although I haven’t been particularly fond of his observations, I have to admit he’s probably been right.

“Why have you been so grumpy?” he recently asked. “After all, you’re retired. You have all day to do whatever you want–not like the rest of us who actually have to go to work.”

True, since I’ve retired my days usually are much more carefree than they used to be. The last seven years of my career were especially hectic and stressful and looooong, so I feel I’ve earned those carefree, “livin’ in the sunshine, zip-a-dee-doo-dah” days. But maybe all that sunshine has made me soft, and all that hippie chick peace, love and joy I’m always bragging about has left me incapable of internalizing stress like I used to. Before, I could tuck away every annoyance with no tell-tale proof of its existence other than a clenching jaw and rocketing blood pressure– but lately every little grievance, every minor mishap seems to send me into a blubbering tailspin.

Sometime around the first of December my zip-a-dee-doo-dah suddenly vanished. Maybe it got buried beneath a stack of to-do lists. Hidden behind mountains of dirty dishes. Stuck in a traffic jam in the Walmart parking lot. Accidentally wrapped inside present #37.

Maybe I didn’t have to “work” every day leading up to the holidays, but I did have to

  • shop for the perfect gifts (until weeks of frustrated online and on-foot searching led to I-give-up-just-put-something-under-the-dang-tree gifts),
  • wrap all those gifts (thousands of hours of excruciating drudgery),
  • plan all the meals (and make repeated trips to the grocery store for forgotten must-haves),
  • clean every nook (and locate inconspicuous crannies for hiding away all the displaced clutter),
  • drag boxes and boxes and boxes from basement storage so that a Christmas tree (and every other conceivable surface) could be adequately adorned, and
  • make cookies and candies, appetizers and meals that took hours to prepare, minutes to consume, and more hours to clear away the crumbs.

And I’ll bet you did the same, didn’t you?

And you’d do it all again, wouldn’t you?

I know I would.

But I also know I have to get a handle on my frustrations (and emotions), especially after an incident a few days ago when I walked out of Walmart empty-handed and fighting back tears.

I’ve always felt empathy for sales clerks, particularly around the holidays. In my much younger days, I worked for two years as a cashier at K-Mart–back when there were no scanners and all prices had to be manually keyed in, back when there were no computers and all change had to carefully calculated in the cashier’s head. You think the lines are long now? I remember working those dreadful days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the check-out lines stretched all the way back to the shoe department and customers disgruntled over the long waits and the sold-out Charlie’s Angels dolls took out their frustrations on the poor little cashier (me). Because of that experience, I try to be considerate toward anyone working retail–but my last Walmart experience really tested the limits of my kindness.

All I wanted was to buy a few fish to take home to my aquarium. I was prepared for the mile-long hike through the packed parking lot (I needed the exercise anyway), and I was prepared for the dazed crowds (they had just as much right to be there as I did). And I accepted–at first–when I couldn’t find a sales clerk to help me (they were probably all busy helping someone else). I walked from the fish tanks back to the automotive department before I even spotted a blue-shirted clerk at a cash register, and I waited patiently in line behind two other customers just so I could ask her to call for someone to help me in the fish department. She apologized and immediately got on the phone, and as I was walking back to the tanks, I heard the intercom page: “Associates, customer needs assistance at the fish tanks–assistance at the fish tanks please.”

And so I waited in front of the danios and tetras. For almost ten minutes I waited, and no one came. I pulled out my cell phone, looked up Walmart’s phone number, and called.

“Walmart of Mountain Home. How may I direct your call?”

“Yes, I’m actually in the fish department inside your store, and I’ve been waiting for someone to help me.”

“I’m so sorry, m’am. I’ll page again.”

I heard the call go over the intercom again, and so I waited. And waited some more. Afraid to wander too far away, I scanned the nearby aisles and saw no one who could assist me. After another ten minutes, I called the store again, and the same woman once again answered the phone.

“Walmart of Mountain Home. How may I direct your call?”

“Yes, I called earlier, and I’m still waiting for someone to help me in the fish department.”

“M’am, I’m so sorry. I’ll page again. My apologies.”

After another ten minutes, I decided I just wasn’t meant to purchase fish that day. I was frustrated that I had wasted so much time, but I wasn’t angry–until I walked away from the fish tanks and spotted one sales clerk stocking shelves a few aisles over and another sales clerk laughing with a third sales clerk just one aisle beyond that. I had heard the page for assistance (three times), and so they all must have heard it, too, and yet not one of them could be bothered to help me? Whose job was it to grab a net and swipe a few little fish for a little ol’ lady who had waited so patiently?

I could have approached any one of the three as I was exiting the store, and I’m guessing that any one of them would have finally helped me, but by then I was struggling to keep the angry tears at bay. I made the mile-long trek back to my car, threw my purse into the passenger seat, slammed the car door behind me, beat my hands against the steering wheel and spewed a long, repetitious string of highly unoriginal curse words.

And then I ruined a perfectly good temper tantrum by laughing.

Are you really going to let something this trivial ruin your day? Seriously? Don’t you have more important things to worry about? And don’t you have more important things to be grateful for? Woman, you are messed up. Take a big swig of your iced tea, break into your emergency stash of peanut butter M & Ms in the console, and get hold of yourself (and while you’re at it, quit talking to yourself, too). 

I wish I could say that reality check put an end to my grumpiness, but my husband would testify otherwise. It did, however, help me to gain a little perspective and to breathe a little deeper. It also reminded me of the importance of finding time–even during the crazy busy holidays–for all the activities that relax me and allow me to build a reservoir of inner peace to draw from when I really need it. I love riding my bike, but I can’t remember the last time I pedaled my way into a sweaty oblivion. I love reading and writing, but lately I’ve been returning library books unopened, and I’ve sorely neglected my writing projects. And I love losing track of time behind the lens of my camera, but I’ve barely picked it up in weeks. In the mad rush to please everyone else, I have neglected to add my own needs to a single “to do” list.

That all ends today. My boys have already returned to their busy lives, and my Christmas holiday is over–and so it’s time to get back to normal. I don’t regret all the energy I spent preparing for their visit (that’s what mamas do), I loved every precious minute of my time with them, and I already miss their beautiful faces and their heart-warming laughter–but I’m ready to chase away the invading quiet with some much-needed “me” time. I may never cook or clean again (or shop for fish at Walmart), but I am going to read and write and pedal and shoot–and I’m probably going to nap and soak, too.

I hope all of you are having a joyous holiday season, surrounded by an abundance of delicious food, fortified by the blessing of good health, and embraced by the love of family and friends. And if you, too, have been a little stressed trying to meet the needs and desires of everyone around you, then I hope you will soon make the time for whatever activities relax and restore you. Once in a while, it really is okay to be selfish.

Put the zip-a-dee back in your doo-dah and have a wonderful day!

christmas cactus

My Christmas cactus in bloom . . .

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A peaceful winter sunset . . . 

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A moment of peaceful reflection for Mr. and Mrs. Claus . . . 

12-20-14

Merry Christmas from my goofy family to yours!

 

Posted in Advice, Christmas, Grumpiness, Photography | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

I Have More Important Things to Worry About

My husband claims if I don’t have something legitimate to worry about, I’ll make something up. And as much as I hate to admit it, this is one of those very rare, exceedingly annoying instances when he is right.

“You worry too much! Everything will work out! And even if it doesn’t, your worrying about it isn’t going to change anything–so just stop it!”

Yeah, okay. I’ve been a champion worrier for half a century, but since you’ve now told me to stop approximately 17,587 times, I will. Yep, just like that. I’ll crinkle my nose, click my heels, cross my arms and blink my eyes, and all my worries will magically disappear.

I wish.

Some of my concerns are valid ones (in my opinion), based on consuming (some might say obsessive) love for my family and friends and previous run-ins and near-misses with disaster. So I lie awake at night not only replaying previous terrors but also imagining countless worst-case scenarios that will most likely, almost definitely, never happen. But there’s still a chance . . .

Even worse, though, are all those worries I “invent” when the more pressing ones are taking a momentary breather. I can’t help myself. (“Yes, you can,” says smarty pants spouse.) What if there’s a copperhead lurking underneath all those leaves between the back door and the car? What if global warming is real? What if pesticides finally kill off all the monarch butterflies and honey bees–and what are those same pesticides doing to our food supply?  What if I unintentionally hurt someone with my words or actions? What if I get hit by a car while riding my bike? What if the stroke that claimed my mom’s life decides to victimize me as well–or even worse, what if the dementia that destroyed my dad decides my feeble brain is easy prey? What if those two guys in the driveway wanting to sell me frozen steaks really just wanted to find out who was home? What if the six-ounce chocolate chip cookie I just devoured converts overnight into ten pounds of wiggly, jiggly blubber around my already overcrowded middle?

You get the idea. (Heck, you might even know the drill.)

But despite my constant need to have something to fret over, there is one thing that has yet to register on my anxiety radar–and probably never will.

Ebola.

That’s right. Even though the media have been doing their usual, irresponsible best to generate a firestorm of fear and apprehension–with much of their leading “news” stories on the subject based on broad speculations and sweeping half-truths–I’m just not buying into the hysteria. Am I being naive? Maybe–but I doubt it. After all, these are the same people who, in the last decade, have also pushed the panic button on swine flu. And bird flu. And E. coli. And SARS and Anthrax and West Nile virus.

But, surprisingly, I’m still here.

Ebola is a horrific disease that has claimed thousands of lives and caused tremendous heartache in the tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa where the lack of education and proper medical care contribute to the rapid spread of the disease. The first recognized outbreak of the Ebola virus was in 1976 in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In that outbreak, 318 persons were diagnosed with the disease, and 280 (88%) of them died. Since that time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than two dozen outbreaks of the disease, with almost all of those outbreaks small in number and located in isolated areas of Africa. In fact, during the entire 38-year recorded history of the disease, only two deaths have been reported as non-African in origin (both of those deaths due to laboratory contamination, both in Russia, one in 1996 and one in 2004).

The current Ebola outbreak is the largest in history. As of October 31, 2014, 13,540 cases of the disease had been confirmed in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with 4,941 of those cases (36.5%) resulting in death. Outside of those three countries, the CDC had confirmed 27 travel-related cases elsewhere, with 10 of those cases resulting in death–and none of those cases leading to a single death of the victims’ family members, friends or chance acquaintances.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the possibility for transmission isn’t there, but because the disease has been studied since 1976, we know that, with the proper precautions, transmission can be prevented with a few safety precautions. According to medical professionals and the CDC, Ebola is not spread through air or water but rather through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with

  • blood or body fluids (including urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola,
  • objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus,
  • or infected fruit bats or primates (apes and monkeys).

Although some of my friends would like to convince me otherwise, I have no reason to believe that members of the medical community or the staff of the CDC are involved in some widespread government conspiracy to withhold information or generate misinformation. Seriously, what would be the point? And since I, as well as the overwhelming majority of Americans, have no intention of traveling to West Africa, have no intention of handling blood or body fluids of Ebola patients, and have no intention of handling or eating bushmeat, I feel safe in believing that fear is a much greater contagion and that most of us truly have more important things to worry about. I don’t disagree with logical precautions being taken, and if I were a healthcare provider, I would want assurance that my employer had up-to-date (and enforced) protocols in place for the diagnosis and treatment of Ebola (and all highly contagious diseases, for that matter), but for the rest of us . . .

So far, in 2014 one person–Thomas Eric Duncan–has died in the United States from Ebola, after traveling from Liberia already infected with the disease. Of the more than 40 people who had contact with Duncan before he was put in isolation, none contracted the virus. And the two nurses who did contract the virus from him during his hospitalization have since been cured. However, in 2011 alone, the CDC reported that

  • 596,577 Americans died from heart disease,
  • 576,691 Americans died from cancer,
  • 142,943 Americans died from chronic lower respiratory disease (including emphysema),
  • 128,932 Americans died from stroke,
  • 126,438 Americans died from accidents (including motor vehicle accidents),
  • 84,974 Americans died from Alzheimer’s disease,
  • 73,831 Americans died from diabetes, and
  • 53,826 Americans died from influenza and pneumonia.

Instead of allowing the media to alarm us over something that most of us have no reason to fear, perhaps we should be more concerned over our own complacency and negligence in dealing with the familiar, but still very real, threats to our well being. Sometimes disease is unavoidable, and death eventually takes us all, but most of us could do a much better job of protecting our health and prolonging our lives. Instead of worrying about the almost non-existent possibility of contracting the Ebola virus, maybe we should spend a little more time worrying about the junk food we gobble mindlessly, the hours we spend decaying on the couch, the bad habits we refuse to give up, the flu shots we refuse to get. (I’m guilty on all counts.)

There’s no doubt we live in a world fraught with dangers, some of them recognized and avoidable and some of them hard to see and beyond our control anyway. But we also live in a world of infinite beauty and joy and magic. If we allow our fear of the dangers to govern our actions and consume our thoughts, then we risk missing out on all the goodness that abounds. If we focus so much of our attention on our fear of dying, then we forget to live–and that may be the greatest tragedy of all.

Advice from this champion worrier? Let common sense be your guide . . . and move on. And that’s advice I intend to follow myself–just as soon as I polish off these cookies, check my blood pressure, and scan the driveway for copperheads.

Some of your hurts you have cured,
And the sharpest you still have survived,
But what torments of grief you endured
From the evil which never arrived.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

big springs cabin2
big springs tree
mingo 1

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