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Celebrating life

Jim Shannon published a memoir, Celebrating Life: An Audacious Marriage, as a way to say good-bye to his wife, Sallie Jo. The author has been a steelworker, bartender, control chemist, personnel administrator, teacher, librarian and Peace Corps volunteer.

Starting over parenting

My husband and I chose to become parents again after raising our first two children. A rabbit did not expire nor did the stork deliver a package to the wrong address.

Because we adopted our newest daughter, I also did not have nine months of preparation for sleepless nights from the side effects of pregnancy — a compressed bladder, nausea, etc.

One night, I was peacefully sleeping undisturbed and the following up every hour. The pictures of my husband and me from those days show sheer exhaustion. We are both smiling broadly, which shows our blissful emotional joy, but deep, dark craters under our joy-glazed eyes tell another physical side.

Our daughter was 19 when her title as youngest child was stripped from her by the addition to our family of her newborn sister. We would pass each other in the hallway, her coming home from a night of youthful partying and I heading to the kitchen to warm a bottle or back to bed with my newborn, snuggled contentedly in my arms.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Mom?” Christie asked. I would just smile that all-knowing smile that a mother possesses when all is right with her world and she is exactly where she wants to be and knows that nothing will convince the person on the other end of her sanity.

While my husband and I are not alone as older parents in today’s world, it has given us some moments.  I would suggest these helpful hints for all starting-over parents:

• Take naps.  Nap anytime the baby does and if you have any luck at all, this child will still be taking naps until the age of 18. You still won’t catch up on your rest, but hey, you chose this!

• Ignore those who will inevitably call you the baby’s grandparents: Color your graying hair to minimize this situation but remember you will have to give up precious nap time to do so.

• Understand there was a reason most humans have children at a young age. You will never have the energy and stamina to keep up. Become adept at faking it.  Remember that your patience and knowledge more than make up for it.

• Apply for handicapped parking permits. You will need to park closer as it is really hard to carry that baby to and from, let alone you need a master’s degree to figure out how to open and unfold those newfangled, combination strollers.

• Find young parents for friends:  Your friends have already been there, done that, and don’t want to do it again, and you will need support and co-op babysitters.

• Search libraries for a book on sibling rivalry: No, not normal sibling rivalry but the jealousy of an adult sibling for the new baby. Parenting magazines don’t deal with this issue

• Realize you will never convince the older children that you weren’t stricter on them — you were and rightly so. Parenting is always a learning process, even when doing it over.

• Most importantly:  Make an appointment with a therapist soon, if for no other reason than to talk to someone without using the words “goo-goo” and “no-no!”

• Do enjoy parenting with the confidence of having survived it the first time around, and kiss that special spouse who was brave enough, or arguably crazy enough, to begin all over again with you, following  hearts and not society’s restrictions.

And to my partner in crime who chose this path with me: Love you dearly, hon.

— Beckie Miller

Beckie Miller began writing after the death of her son who was robbed and murdered in 1991. She has served as chapter leader of Parents Of Murdered Children (POMC) in Phoenix for the past 20 years and has won numerous awards for her service to crime victims. Married to husband Don for 41 years, she has three children — “one who soars in heaven,” son Brian who died at age 18; a daughter Christie, 36; and a daughter Kimberlie, 16. “Writing not only saved my life through an emotional roller coaster of a grief like no other, but it gave me an avenue to sing my son’s silenced song,” she says.

The family mix

The Family Mix: Essays on Family Life from Midlife Mixtape is a collection of best-loved essays on family life by Nancy Davis Kho that originally appeared on her blog, Midlife Mixtape. Parenting, school days, home life, pet ownership: Davis Kho tackles them all with a sharp eye, self-deprecating wit and the occasional ’80s music reference.

Shrinking from the truth

The average woman will spend any amount of money, suffer any discomfort and believe any ad that promises to make her more beautiful.  Leading today’s trend are “shaper garments.”

Reducing garments are not new. In great grandma’s day, a fashion-conscious woman clung to the bedpost while another adult planted a firm foot in her back and heaved on her corset strings as though a quarterhorse anchoring a maverick for branding. The goal was a figure nipped at the waist like a vinegar cruet, even at the risk of an attack of the vapors.

In 1957, Playtex introduced a two-way stretch latex rubber girdle with molded garters that clung comfortably as a second skin yet left no panty line. Tiny perforations in daisy designs allowed rubber to adjust elasticity and trapped flesh to breathe. And trapped flesh certainly was.

Once on, bridging from hipbone to hipbone, allowing no hint of tummy bulge, it was painless so long as I swallowed not a single extra bite. Otherwise…agony.

I recall after a lunch that included raw carrot strips I was in such pain that for 30 minutes I lay on a hard bench in the women’s cloakroom with my girdle rolled down below my hipbones before I returned to my desk.

Because a Playtex girdle cost roughly half my week’s salary, I could afford only one. Every bedtime I hand-laundered it, patted it dry with a towel, and spread it out to dry overnight. If it was the faintest bit damp, such as after sweating (and in New York most summer days were humid), no amount of baby powder would ease it on. So I wore it all day like a prosthesis, removed it at bedtime or after I was certain I would be staying home.

Toward noon of a humid day, the dampened powder clumped, acting like rosin, chafing beyond belief at waist and thighs.

The latex was powerfully elastic yet vulnerable to fingernail puncture. The tiniest nick could outrun a snag in a sheer nylon stocking. Thus, it had to be rolled down, every inch liberally sprinkled with Johnson’s baby powder, stepped into, and gently unrolled toward the waistline a little here, a little there.

Though pink and sweet-smelling as a freshly bathed baby, over months of wear it gradually turned gray and adopted the odor of stale air leaking from a tire — until the day it would split and fall off taking along nylon stockings.

In 1961, I made the acquaintance of pantyhose and my future husband. He hiked my Playtex girdle to the nearest garbage can and forbade me to replace it. I happily complied.

Inexplicably, after decades of pantyhose convenience and comfort, as well as the acceptance of bare legs in the office, now women are rushing to adopt the latest torture device — Spanx — advocated by fashion and Hollywood’s red carpet.

Essentially a tube of industrial strength elastic, Spanx have two improvements over the Playtex girdle — they won’t split, and they let skin breathe. Just pulling them on gives a woman a strenuous full body workout.

In one Youtube video, a slim young woman grapples with her Spanx as she strives to stretch them up to her waist. Midway through her protracted contortions her buttocks project like a shelf over the Spanx waistband. By fancy manipulating, she trapped flesh into a semblance of womanly charm without dislocating a wrist or elbow. By contrast, wriggling into tummy-control panty hose is effortless.

Then last week I saw a TV ad for arm shapers, sheer elasticized sleeves to be worn under regular garments to “reduce unwanted arm flab while providing a smoothing and compressive effect.” Velcro tabs attached to bra straps at the shoulders hold the sleeves in place.

Don’t ask me to believe arm shapers stabilize batwings, or Spanx appear to reduce excess pounds.

But it’s worth a try.

—  Claudette Sandecki

M. Claudette Sandecki, 77, began as a writer by penning letters to the editor of various newspapers. In 1988, she was invited to write a weekly column, “Through Bifocals,” for The Terrace Standard in Terrace, British Columbia. She aspires “to write funny like David Sedaris or Dave Barry.”

Only the good dye young

(Amy McVay Abbott’s humorous essay originally appeared in The Broad Side. Reposted by permission.)

As we age, parts of us change color.  We want our teeth to be white, but not our hair. We want our arms and legs sun-kissed and bronzed, but certainly no brown age spots on our faces. It is a problem we women “of a certain age” deal with every day.

A few weeks ago I was visiting my father who lives in a retirement home. Another resident saw me in the hall and asked, “Are you a new resident?

This is my life now.  I have been eligible for AARP for five years and have earned the right to buy the senior portions at Bob Evans.  I consider myself young, even if the fine folks at the grocery store ask me every week if I’m eligible for the senior discount. In my mind, I’m about 37.

Notwithstanding my “50 is the new 30″ outlook on life, about four years ago I gave up coloring my hair to see what God hath wrought.

I can’t afford $80 every four weeks for the Magic of Being a Blonde.  I had my own sorry history with Color-in-a-Box and decided to let it go.  Within eight weeks, I was quite gray — well, let’s call it sexy silver.

Genes are, frankly, not my friend except in the area of skin and hair. My maternal grandmother and mother both aged with beautiful skin and silver-to-white hair, and it appears I’m on that journey.  With her beautiful white hair in a bun, my grandmother was mistaken for Maria von Trapp in Stowe, Vermont.  She loved the attention and did not correct the mis-identification.  Had she been asked to sing, her cover would have immediately been blown.

My mane began to lighten when I was in my late 20s. I colored my own hair for many years, except for the nine months I was expecting. (Hide those hospital-with-baby photos.)

Coloring your own hair is a challenge. Women who say, “Oh, it’s so easy” are lying or have a sister-in-law who is a stylist.  Mark my words.

And while the hair gets whiter, the teeth go in the other direction. I’ve never been blessed with sparkling white teeth like those Chiclets Suze Orman sports. My choppers were already yellowing when the orthodontist pulled off my braces in 1968. Yes, I am a coffee drinker, and I know this compounds the issue. Without the pleasures of white sugar, flour, and real Coca-Cola most of the time, don’t try to take my coffee away from me.

So what to do? On a friend’s suggestion I recently tried activated charcoal capsules, a homeopathic fix. My friend emptied capsules of activated charcoal in a paste or “slurry.”  This may be an old wives’ tale, but I’m an old wife. Apparently the charcoal is quite corrosive and removes plaque.

I’ve never tried to open a capsule before.  There must be a trick to it, but I didn’t know it, so I cut it open with cuticle scissors. Surprise! Immediately after opening the capsule, black stuff was everywhere on my white countertop. “Activated charcoal” is code for “black tar that sticks to everything.” I opened another pill, enough to make a paste. Leaning over the sink, I put my brush into the ebony stuff and rubbed it against my ivories.

Having worn braces — both upper and lower bands and a face bow —  for five years, I brush well.  Apparently too well, and with too much vigor.

Are you aware that if you are brushing  with an inky material, said inky material may fly over the walls, the mirror, the sink and the counter top?

But, that wasn’t the end of it. In the mirror, I saw black teeth, a black tongue and black lips. And silvery white hair. I brushed and brushed, and the black came off my teeth. This might be the secret of the activated charcoal. Is it possible your teeth are so tarred with the charcoal that you brush and brush like you’ve never brushed before, resulting in the cleanest teeth of your life?

White hair, black teeth, not exactly progress. Want to hear about my sunless tanning experience last October for boarding a plane to Italy?  The sunless tanner tech said to me as I went out the door into a rainstorm, “Don’t sweat and don’t get wet.”  Telling “Don’t sweat” to a post-menopausal woman is like telling a rooster not to crow.

As for my legs, they are normally so blindingly white that small children hide their faces when they see me in my Capris and summer sandals.  Last October I was the hit of the crowd round Rome’s Trevi Fountain with my streaking skin.

Silver hair, black and yellow teeth, white pasty legs and arms — I think I’m the “thing” in the saying, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

— Amy McVay

Amy McVay Abbott is an Indiana writer whose column “The Raven Lunatic” runs in a dozen newspapers and magazines. Amy specializes in health writing, with a passion for rehabilitation and disability issues. She also enjoys writing about politics, travel and the arts. Follow her on Twitter at @ravenonhealth.

Dan Zevin

Dan Zevin is the 2013 winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor.  His latest book, Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad, along with his previous one, The Day I Turned Uncool, have been optioned by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. He has followed his readers through each phase of life, from post-college coping (Entry-Level Life) to tying the knot (The Nearly-wed Handbook) to developing a disturbing new interest in lawn care and wine tastings (Uncool). And that was all before he had kids.

From the powder room

Marriage is give and take. But sometimes it’s hard to take without your girlfriends. As humorist Janie Emaus knows, they bring the tissue, a good bottle of vodka and a much-needed perspective to help through the rough times. Her essay, “Confucius Say: When Shit Hits Fan, Girlfriends Bring Pooper Scooper,” appears in the newly published anthology, You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.

Call for entries: digital storytelling

The Online News Association, the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, and the University of Miami’s School of Communication have issued a call for entries for the 2013 Online Journalism Awards, emblematic of the best in digital journalism.

The deadline for entries is June 21. Click here to enter. Winners will be announced in October.

Nine of the 29 awards come with a total of $37,500 in prize money, courtesy of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Gannett Foundation, including a new $5,000 award honoring the best in Watchdog Journalism.

This year, non-English entries will be considered in all categories.

“Some say journalism is in trouble, but we think these awards show the opposite is true,” said Joshua Hatch, OJA chair and senior editor for data and interactives at The Chronicle of Higher Education. “When we look at what’s happening on digital platforms — from the creation of new user experiences to the power small organizations have in reaching large audiences through their important work — we’re thrilled by what we see. And now that all of our awards are open to entrants of all languages, we can’t wait to discover even more innovative work and share it with our community.”

Reflections of Erma