(Posted by permission of Suzanne Braun Levine. This piece appeared first in the Huffington Post on Nov. 7, 2013.)
I spent last evening at dinner with my “post-50 posse” (that’s what I call that special group of special friends in my eBook You Gotta Have Girlfriends). We have been meeting once a month since 1989, and over the years we have come to count on each other more and more, until, like almost all the women I interviewed about their friendships, “I couldn’t have gotten through it without them” — “it” being any of the challenges, delights and disappointments of navigating a new stage of life.
Back in my thirties I didn’t have time for friends. I was too busy with work and family. But since I have entered the age of self-discovery and adventure — anthropologist Margaret Mead called what feels so good about being over 50 “post-menopausal zest” — I have made new friends, reclaimed long-lost schoolmates, and rediscovered people whose lifestyle (late nights, lots of travel, dating) made it too hard to stay in touch back then. I can’t imagine the rest of my life without them.
That is just one of the reasons I would never want to be 30 again. Thirty is so good riddance. Fifty and beyond is where the action is. I have yet to meet a woman who wants to trade her life at 50 or 60 for an earlier one. Sure, I’d like to have my waist back — and my memory — but weighed against all the rest, it is a no-brainer.
Why would I never want to be 30 again? Let me count the ways:
I am happier now. I have become much better at taking things as they come; no longer does a minor mix-up ruin my whole day the way it would have in the past. Several recent studies confirm that we get happier as we age, because of that mellowness and ability to roll with the punches. In fact, according to neurological findings, as we get older, the brain literally filters out minor annoyances and disappointments. Who needs them anyway?
I’m less popular now. I used to be a people-pleaser. As soon as I found the voice to sing the “I don’t care what people think” anthem, I was off and running — talking back to anyone who was putting me down, taking advantage of me, or just wrong. I now take pleasure in being disliked by people I don’t like. It’s a refreshingly honest state of affairs.
I’m more forthright. I have figured out that I can take the truth and, even more important, I can tell the truth. Well, sort of. I’m still working on not sugar-coating bad news, disguising criticism as faint praise, and laughing when I really want to tell someone they have hurt me. Every time I succeed I feel closer to my goal — authenticity in everyday life.
I have let go of my prized collection of grudges and disappointments. I used to be the one who never forgot a slight — to myself or anyone I loved. So much so that I often found myself seething with resentment long after the offended party had forgiven and moved on. I just can’t be bothered with stale, old baggage any more.
I find other ways to spend my personal time than watching my body deteriorate. Unless it means sharing a good laugh with my friends. I like my body for what it can do and for being healthy and strong; back then it looked better and could do more, but, the truth is much of the time I liked it even less.
I am making a fool of myself. Dignity doesn’t seem such a priority any more. I am told that you don’t really lose all sense of shame until you find yourself frolicking with a grandchild, but I am getting there, trying out uninhibited behavior just for the fun of it — I sign up for a chanting (as in “Om”) workshop — and taking risks without feeling that my whole being has failed if they don’t work out.
I cherish the glass half full. I have a coffee mug that says “Today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.” The precious moments in the day; my husband’s lovable qualities, which seem so much more important nowadays than the flaws; my own spirit and skills — and my “post-50 posse” — are all gifts I count every day.
As we often hear ourselves say about our circumstances, “It’s better than the alternative.” Even if the alternative is to be 30 again.
— Suzanne Braun Levin
Suzanne Braun Levine is a writer, editor and nationally recognized authority on women, families and media. She was the first editor of Ms. magazine (1972-1988), and the first woman editor of the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review. She reports on the ongoing changes in women’s lives in her books, on television, radio, at lectures and on her website. She’s the author of four books, including You Gotta Have Girlfriends — A Post-Fifty Posse Is Good For Your Health.
I am one of those people who posts pictures of things that I am either cooking or eating on Facebook. Yes. I am THAT person.
This modern way of sharing a meal replaces the old-fashioned get together. Although this type of sharing is a necessity of modern life due to our chronic over-scheduling and far-flung friends and relatives, it’s also useful for hiding our mistakes. You see the delicious end result, not the destroyed kitchen it took to create the dish, or the five times I got the recipe wrong before I finally hit on the magic combination that made it edible.
I am not someone considered a “natural” in the kitchen. That title is held by my older sister, Mignon. No matter what she decides to cook, the food looks magazine perfect, is delicious and is prepared correctly the first time. Always. Culinary perfection in a way most of us stumbling around the kitchen trying not to burn the pot of water we left on to boil would aspire to, if only we could remember why we put the pot of water on to boil in the first place. I have had open pouting fits because she made one of her heavenly (and HEAVY) cream cheese pound cakes, and either due to timing or the cake being for someone else, I couldn’t get a piece. She is the only person who can cook liver that I will actually eat, and one Christmas she served up a re-imagined banana pudding that has the entire family begging her for it at every holiday.
I am not a terrible cook, but I know my limits. So long as I keep it simple, the kids don’t end up eating sandwiches or cereal for dinner due to my attempts at creativity. My disasters are numerous and legendary. Just ask the kids. Take the steak I killed the other night. Yes, I know it was dead when I bought it at a huge markdown from the store, but I delivered the cheap cut of meat (it was hugely marked down for a reason) to a second death by way of what was supposed to be a short stint in the oven that wasn’t quite short enough. When I pulled the steaks from the oven, I’m not sure what alarmed me first: the strange smell, or the way the steaks had curled up in the middle of the pan, as if recoiling from the marinade I had put in the pan to keep them moist. The steak knife met with a great deal of resistance as the meat absolutely refused to be separated from each other, and the first taste reminded me that I needed to clean my daughter’s sneakers for school the next day. The kids tried the steak, and managed to set a record for spitting it out without ever chewing it.
Mercifully, it’s not always that bad.
The saving grace for me has been cooking shows. I am a visual learner, and watching people do things while they explain what they are doing goes a long way in making sure I actually understand the process, as well as giving me an idea of what each step is supposed to look like. I can’t tell you how many times I have followed a recipe only to end up with food that looks more like it came from the Cartoon Network than the Food Network or the Cooking Channel. Before America’s Test Kitchen on PBS taught me how to make a bechamel sauce, add cheese, choose whatever pasta I wanted to use, then bake the whole thing in the oven, I was still making boxed macaroni and cheese, my daughter’s favorite food. I have now attained bad-ass status in my daughter’s eyes because I don’t have to use the boxed type anymore; I can cook what she likes from scratch. If the ability to make my kids favorite dinners, or heck, even make something they will eat without complaint or mysterious frowns, gets me hero status, I’ll take it.
My son, Damani, is turning into quite the cook himself. He’s also a visual learner, and by watching me, figured out what not to do in the kitchen, as well as how to make sure at least some things go right. He took a summer course from a chef at our church and performed work study in a Marriott Hotel kitchen. He has the added benefit of YouTube for learning to cook new dishes, and a knack for adapting recipes if he doesn’t have every ingredient he needs. He also has a unique gift of being able to taste a dish and not only guess the ingredients, but how to prepare it. I found out about this trick with a breakfast casserole I had purchased from a convenience store. He took one bite, told me what was in it, and after I bought the food needed to re-create the dish, he made a better version of the casserole, and it is now a staple on weekend days when we are going to be particularly busy.
Just so you know, I do not cook on Mother’s Day. I buy the groceries needed for my special dinner, then tell the kids what I want. This past Mother’s Day, I found steak on sale (not a cheap cut, just on sale), fresh broccoli and potatoes. I didn’t have to give my son much direction, my daughter happily helped out, and the dinner pictured was the result. It was every bit as delicious as it looks. I describe myself as an average cook, but my son is turning out to be quite the superior cook. To the point where he and I can switch off cooking duties during the week, and I never have to worry that the food will be inedible.
I love it. And I’m so glad he didn’t learn it all from me. Then I’d be worried.
— Erica Washington
Erica Washington is a 41-year-old self-described geek who works for The City in Southern California. In her spare time, she hikes, wrangles two children with ADHD, does lots of church stuff and blogs about how finding things in her apartment is an all-day task. She blogs at House of Perpetual Distraction and tweets at @SouthBayGeekGrl.
I had a wonderful motherhood moment the other day, the kind of thing you hesitantly confess to during a baby shower. The expectant mother laughs good naturedly, but you quickly realize she’s thinking…what a psycho, I will not be that mother! Sadly, I never thought so either. Really, it’s quite amazing our children make it to adulthood with us mothers around. Or perhaps it’s just my children.
Now, when people ask, “What’s your worst parenting moment?” I can ditch my old stories.
All I ever wanted was a smoothie. And as usual, it was a hurry hurry early morning. And dear husband was gone. He had flown to Baltimore, had just called to tell me all about his morning run past the White House, Smithsonian, war memorials, a few members of Congress who were still not balancing the budget, past the Lincoln Memorial to do a few fist pumps. Hmff.
I, however, was having my own morning run. Fist pumps included. The same run most mothers have between the hours of 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. It is the one that looks like dear mother shaking shoulders, turning on bedroom lights, singing annoying good morning sunshine songs, putting cold hands on warm stomachs (it works well). And then down the stairs to stumble around, letting the dog out, making lunches and snacks, finding papers you never signed, calling up the stairs (no yelling!), calling down the stairs (yelling!), hurry up, let’s eat, bags packed, hair combed, backpacks found, shoes, underwear, feeding dog. …Yes, it was that kind of morning run, not the serene one outside by myself.
Life would be much better with the smoothie; it always is. So I grabbed all the fixings for a top-notch special: lime, beet, carrot, apples, pear, spinach, avocado, strawberries.
From the fridge I also grabbed a small glass cup of smoothie left over from the previous day when some sneaky child had put it in the fridge for “later.” I dumped it in the Vitamix and left it there to drain, to save every last nutritious drop.
To multitask I filled the sink with soapy water (yea, the dishwasher is broken AGAIN!!!), called up the stairs a few more times, told Paige that school really was fun, she just needs to find the fun, and please don’t cry because it was going to be such a fabulous day!
I peeled the carrot and the beet and threw them in the Vitamix, added everything else and finally, turned it on. Crunch, crunch went the frozen vegetables; whir, whir went all the fresh fruits. For some added benefit I added chia and flax seeds. In less than a minute, we had smoothie-liscious.
I pulled out the five glasses, filled them to the top, and told the kids to chug it quickly before the train pulled out.
Nelson gulped first. “Mom, I think you added too many chia seeds.” He licked his lips, made an incredulous face.
“Drink it,” I said. Don’t even think about foolin’ this Mama. She’s on to you and your crying wolf ways: ”Mom, this milk doesn’t taste right — it’s spoiled!” they say almost daily, after they’ve left it too long and it’s grown slightly warm.
There was that one time it really had spoiled and I had made them drink it anyway, before actually tasting it. Ooopsy.
Anyway, Nellie did what a good Nellie boy does and chugged his smoothie down.
Brynne was doing her hair in the bathroom so I brought her smoothie in and told her to drink up. “Hmmm,” she said, taking a drink. This is Brynne language for: some concoctions are just better than others.
I went back into the kitchen and took a large slurp from my large glass. Yum! Pause. Hmmm. There was definitely something a little off about this smoothie. It tasted…gritty. It felt like I was actually chewing on tiny little pieces of something. It tasted like…ocean sand. Like…glass. My eye caught the sink.
The last 10 minutes of my life flashed before me.
With horror I realized there was no small smoothie glass cup from the day before, sitting in the sink waiting to be washed. I suddenly recalled how I had started the morning smoothie: By putting the small glass cup INSIDE the Vitamix to drain.
And had never taken it back out!
I ran to the bathroom and lifted the glass out of Brynne’s hand. ”You don’t have to drink this,” I said.
“Um.” At this point I should have changed the subject, but the truth was just too delightful.
“Well…I accidentally put a glass cup in it.” Why I divulged this information I do not know.
“Nelson!” Brynne, the loudest child in the world, yelled. ”Mom put a glass cup in the smoothie!”
Nelson looked at me and back to his empty cup. “So I just drank glass?”
“Yep, I think you did, buddy.”
“Great, mom. I’m going to die of internal bleeding.” Please not today. We have our last soccer game under the lights tonight…it’d be real inconvenient….
“Let’s go to school!” I said briskly.
While they found shoes and talked about drinking glass, I dumped the entire, very large amount of smoothie outside on the overgrown lilies. Oh, it hurt. You know how I feel about my smoothies. It was a slow and painful death.
What a beautiful beet color it was…carrot, avocado, apples…all wasted…blended with ground glass. I also paused right there in the kitchen to stare at the Vitamix. What a marvel — in 60 seconds a glass cup was pulverized!
Off to school we went. And then worry began to attack. My cheeks began to burn, my heart began to pound. It is a common technique in mystery novels to poison your guests with ground glass. Shards are far too noticeable and cut your throat and esophagus to pieces. Ground glass, however, is undetectable. By the time we arrived at school I was having a full-blown panic attack.
I said a hasty good-bye (school is FUN, Paige, it’s FUN! Find the FUN today!), wondering if this was the last time I would ever see them walking around like normal children should. I suddenly loved them even more. I especially watched Nelson walk away. He was the only one who had drank the entire smoothie. Was he going to keel over at any moment? What would husband say?
Should I go in and talk to the nurse? But how would I even start to explain? Hi, I just fed my son ground glass, is that okay? Like a coward I raced home, trying to comfort self that the glass had been spread amongst a large vat. He couldn’t have gotten very much. Run, Mama, run — find that Google search to exonerate self!
I found a blog post recounting how one boy’s mother had a mean neighbor who poisoned their pet dog with ground glass. They came home to find their sweet puppy dead, foaming at the mouth. This was incredibly unhelpful.
Then I found a snopes article explaining the origins of ground glass as a poison. Crush into fine powder, surreptitiously add it to something your victim will ingest and then watch your victim fall to the floor, writhing in agony. I could totally see Nelson doing this at school. I about pulled my hair out.
I began to recall all the accidents harried mothers had. My mother had always been so sure to tell me about these incidents — toddlers drowning in toilets, mothers leaving infants strapped into car seats in hot cars, mothers reaching into the backseat, turning their head for just a second — oh, I’ve heard them all. And all of them were accidents. Nonetheless, they were mothers who had just been too harried and busy.
Snopes quickly got to the point, thankfully, before I was fully hyperventilating and breathing into a brown paper bag. Fact or Myth: Ground glass is a poison. Verdict: Myth. Other quick Internet searches confirmed the same until I was finally breathing without the bag.
I watched the children carefully the next few days, especially Nelson, who, except for his normal moodiness, seems to not be suffering from glass poisoning.
I swear, I was just trying to make a healthy smoothie.
So, I have been an especially attentive mother ever since. I’m sure I will grow weary of such attentiveness. But for now, eyes are on the road. We are NOT in a hurry. We drink only cold milk. Floss? Check. No glass in smoothies. Crisis averted. For now.
— Amy Makechnie
Amy Makechnie is a freelance writer, sports nutrition consultant and the mother of four children who she tries to keep alive with nutritious vegetable smoothies. More of her amazing mothering skills can be found on her blog, Maisymak. She is in the querying stage of her first novel and collecting fabulous rejection letters for her thick rejection letter scrapbook. “It’s really lovely,” she quips.
I received a lot of really nice gifts for Christmas last year. I am still trying to get some of them open!
My granddaughter gave me a new curling iron. It was in a plastic box inside another plastic box. I borrowed my son-in-law’s pocketknife to try to open it but it wasn’t sharp enough. I grabbed the kitchen scissors out of the sink, but they had turkey skin on them so I gave that up for the moment.
After trying to open the curling iron and giving up, I unwrapped “The Devil Wears Prada.” It was on my “wish” list. We agreed to watch it after presents were all opened. The movie was in a box that normally holds 10 reams of paper so I wouldn’t guess what it was. Inside that box were several other boxes, some bricks and a bunch of old magazines! Way down inside I found the movie. Yay!! I love that movie! We set it aside to watch later.
I gave my grandson a box of “army men.” He loves coming over to my house and playing with what seems like thousands of army men that he keeps in a box in the den. This Christmas gift added another very large platoon to an already large enough army to take over the world. We had to go out to the garage to get a hammer to loosen the lid and then inside the plastic box (that we almost broke) were a bunch of soldiers wrapped in yet another layer of plastic and foam. He, being a determined little kid, kept us entertained for about an hour while he managed to rescue his army men from their packing. I now have army men all over the house — little bitty army men that the vacuum cleaner doesn’t like!
When it was time to settle back and watch “The Devil Wears Prada,” my granddaughter opened the outside wrapping. Then she took the cellophane off the next layer of what I guess is protection from theft and slit some things on all four sides with her fingernails. Then she opened the final packaging. She tried to get it out to slip it into the DVD player and there was some kind of a snap thingy that held it in the packaging! She became totally frustrated and stomped off to the bathroom to try her new lipstick.
No one else wanted to watch the movie bad enough to wrestle with the snap thingy so we played a Josh Groban CD (opened the year before), lit the fireplace, had a cup of steamy hot chocolate and let the army men attack. We agreed to watch “The Devil” when we have the patience to wiggle the snap thingy until it releases the movie. Listening to Josh Groban was probably a better decision anyhow. Josh and the fireplace calmed our nerves and the evening was beautiful, even if we couldn’t get half of our gifts unwrapped.
But this year, all I want is a nice poinsettia to put on the coffee table! A tin of chocolate covered almonds would be great too! Nothing wrapped, please!
— Caroline O. Reid,
Caroline O. Reid, a writer in Bakersfield, Calif., retired twice — once from an executive administrative position for a major oil company and then from a part-time position in her daughter’s consulting business. She now spends her time writing, submitting queries and reading rejection letters. She has been published twice in Chicken Soup for the Soul and wrote a humor column for a now-defunct local newspaper called The Northwest Voice. She freely shares her opinion in many published letters to the editor in the Bakersfield Californian.
W. Bruce Cameron’s newest novel, The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, is a 2014 nominee in fiction for the prestigious Kirkus Prize. The book is described as “laugh-out-loud” mystery and “the perfect vehicle for a wild joy ride.” He is the New York Times’ best-selling author of A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey and The Dogs of Christmas. He has written for TV (the show “8 Simple Rules,” based on his book) and with his writing partner, Cathryn Michon, writes screenplays, including “Muffin Top: A Love Story,” which will be released in November.
The first time I saw it, it was by itself, sort of brownish black in color. I was quite surprised to to have it attach itself to me, and I decided immediately it would have to go. There was enough going on in my life right now. For instance, getting old. The funny thing about that is that I don’t remember getting there. All of a sudden I was. Or am.
Sure, I had gradually grown used to being called Grandma from a number of laughing, wiggling little clones in perpetual motion that my children kept adding to their households.
The first time I got that title I was only 39, and no one considers that to be old. It was fun, in fact, when people thought I was the mother. But as I said, those years went so fast I didn’t see them slip away.
One of the signs of getting old that brought the truth to light was when I decided to stop coloring my hair and wear it short. In a little while I looked like a slightly melted snowball had permanently nested on my head. On the upside I noticed that my wrinkles didn’t seem as prominent as they had with my darker hair. I decided to keep the snowball for awhile. But all is vanity someone once said.
Maybe it was my imagination, but I began to notice that whenever I was driving, cars behind me seemed obsessed with racing to get in front of me even though I tend to drive a little bit over the speed limit like every one else. That never happened when my hair was long and brown. Do they automatically think white-haired people drive too slowly?
The next thing to bring my attention to this state of the elderly was that I could see better when the newspaper was several feet away from me, or even on the floor. After a while reading a book with my arms stretched out so far got a little tiresome. I succumbed to a pair of drugstore reading glasses, not wanting to admit or pay for an extravagance I was sure I would only need occasionally.
That, of course, changed the day I wore one navy and one black shoe to church. I also thought it particularly strange when the waistbands on my skirts and slacks all began to shrink while the length of the clothing items stayed the same. And the day I couldn’t see my knees while putting on my shoes, I seriously thought of changing my motto “Life is short — eat dessert first.” My sister unwittingly encouraged me by saying that fat was only deep skin. I decided then, that I could at least hang onto my backup motto, “A chocolate a day is really okay, but two is even better.”
Then I started to do dumb things. I told myself not to tell my children lest they consider putting me in a nursing home. There was the time I stopped at a gas station, paid for my gas and promptly drove off to do errands. I had to do a bit of talking when I returned to the station to get the gas I paid for. On more than one occasion I put a cup of water in the microwave to make tea and upon opening the door found that I hadn’t even turned it on.
The worst one was when I left my billfold in the top of a grocery cart in broad daylight and didn’t miss it until I was all the way home. It was a total of 50 minutes from the time I left it and the race back to retrieve it, all the while praying it would still be there. The Lord blessed me, for amazingly, it was in the cart. I told myself these incidents were all due to preoccupation, but try as I might, I couldn’t think what I was preoccupied with.
Now, I had to deal with this unwanted visitor. My thoughts went back to when I was a little girl watching my dad shave. I never dreamed I would one day have the same nuisance in my old age. Whoever heard of a woman with whiskers? Except maybe Barnum and Bailey. Is this, too, a part of growing old?
It only took a second to pluck it, but as time went by it multiplied, and the task of removing them grew into a lot of minutes each day. I finally resorted to a razor. That was not the way to go. They grew quicker and with more vengeance. I now had an idea of what my dad went through, and I didn’t appreciate it any more than he did when on occasion I nicked myself and had to walk around with a tiny dot of tissue on my face. I’m slow breaking into new ideas, as a T-shirt of mine says, “Traveling 33 RPM in an Ipod World,” but I must check into something else to delete whiskers.
My sister laughed when I complained about it. She had been dealing with it herself. She said she just thought of them as stray eyebrows.
— Lenna C. Wyatt
Lenna C. Wyatt, of Scottsdale, Ariz., has written dozens of short stories, many with O. Henry-style endings. She’s nearly finished with a mystery and continues to work on an archaeological novel about the first 2,000 years of human history.
All of us have fond memories of Thanksgiving get-togethers with family and friends. It’s just like the old days, when we watched “Walton’s Mountain.”
People we have not seen in a year or more come over with an overnight bag and a side dish; then, we all sit around, eat, talk, bicker, bring up all the reasons we only see each other once a year; and actually fight over the Pope’s nose — “Naso del Papa,” also known as “the part that goes over the fence last.” I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a Vatican dispensation for calling it the Pope’s nose. I never broached the subject in a confessional. Why spoil everyone’s fun?
Murphy’s law kicks in, and someone forgets to add the egg to the pumpkin pie mixture and it turns out runny. We drink the recipe (in our case, a keg of beer in the garage), a fight breaks out, the Yorkie takes off with grandma’s dentures in its mouth, one of grandpa’s suspenders ends up dangling off the piano, somebody screams in the bathroom about sitting on cold porcelain, and Uncles Harry and Dick are still arguing about whether Canadians eat Bald Eagle, rather than turkey, for Thanksgiving — on a tip from Canadian humorist Gordon Kirkland, who originated the idea. This is a typical American traditional Thanksgiving party (and everyone worries about whether or not the kids will behave).
This year, in preparation for the annual holiday fiasco, Uncle Harry Googled all the Canadian web sites trying to find Bald Eagle recipes. “Their Thanksgiving is in October,” he said. “If it’s out there, I’ll show him!” he bellowed.
Here’s another interesting tidbit to add more fuel to the fire — the Enrique Iglesia half-time performance during the Miami vs. Dallas Thanksgiving Day football game last year. I can still see Uncle Dick in his Dolphins mascot hat, munching on a leftover wing, singing “I Like It,” while pouring himself and mascot “Flipper” a beer.
I was looking over Uncle Harry’s shoulder online today, and found something of interest — a video on YouTube, “How to Pick Out a Tender Butterball.” They were blindfolding folks outside Macy’s to pick out the tenderest turkey.
Watch yourself at the mall.
— Rose A. Valenta
Rose A. Valenta is the author of humor books, Sitting on Cold Porcelain and Dueling Microphones, and a weekly humor column called Skinny Dipping — the skinny on current events, life, sports, and politics from a humorist’s perspective. She is the membership chair of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC), a director of the Robert Benchley Society and a regular attendee at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
Leslie F. Cox recently published her first novel, Bless Y’alls Hearts: When Momma’s A Tarnished Southern Belle. One Amazon reviewer described her writing as “Erma Bombeck meets Lewis Grizzard.”