Tag Archives: 50s

Naked Ladies!

Does she need a towel?

Does she need a towel?

Whilst noodling around on the internet, looking for interesting blogs by women over fifty, I came across a funny bit about nudity in the locker room. Here’s the link, in case you’d like to read it for yourself: http://betterafter50.com/2014/03/10-reasons-to-wear-a-towel-in-the-locker-room/

I wrote a comment in reply and then realized that the original blog post was from March of 2014. This probably means that my comments of this blog post will never see the light of day—but how could I resist this juicy topic?

What the author of the above article seems to be saying, in a humorous way, is that she is very uncomfortable displaying what she perceives to be age-related flaws on her naked body, even in a setting (gym locker room) where nudity is to be expected, and thus she covers up her body with towels while changing, and she wishes we all would do the same.

I get it; I remember being quite shy about nudity when I was a kid and had to change for swimming lessons. I’d build a veritable tent of towels to keep from flashing any bit of my skinny body at my fellow swimmers. And when I joined the army at eighteen and had to shower in front of twenty other women—well, that took some getting used to. But we only had three minutes to shower during basic training, so I got used to it pretty fast. I remember girls who’d been athletes in high school rolling their eyes at our prissiness; they’d long ago gotten over fear of locker-room nudity.

What I don’t get is the idea, presented in the above blog post, that it’s normal to be ashamed of our aging bodies, and to feel bad about same when confronted with youthful bodies. In fact, I say that exposure to naked bodies in the locker room is beneficial to the sanity of all women and girls. Hear me out.

It goes back to swimming lessons—this time my daughter’s. You see, she grew up in Germany, where I worked on U.S. military bases. Germany is a dark, dreary place during the long winter months, but there are many lovely indoor swimming pool facilities available where people can shed their winter clothes and enjoy some warmth and wholesome exercise. And Germans are (wisely, in my opinion) much less hung-up than we about nudity in locker rooms and saunas. In fact, one must be naked to enter a German sauna; of course, one sits on a towel. I wish my fellow gym patrons in the U.S. would remember their towels and not plump their nude rumps down onto the sauna or steam room bench. But I digress.

While in German locker rooms, my daughter and I saw many, many naked female bodies, from tiny children to very old women. There’s nothing like in-your-face evidence to teach you that the human form comes in a great variety; something you’d never learn from looking at advertisements designed to make us feel bad about said variety. I’m glad my daughter got to see for herself, during her growing-up years, that the idealized female figure currently in vogue—slim hips, flat belly, big breasts, long, thin limbs—almost never occurs in nature. She saw that big, round boobs usually occurr on bodies with big, round bellies and butts. Slim hips and flat bellies usually go with slim, small breasts. We saw tall, gangly women; big, strong women; tiny, wiry women; round, soft women—all of them reveling in the joy of movement and the feeling of the water against their skin. I hope that this first-hand learning experience helped her to have more realistic expectations about her own body, and others’ as well.

Another area where all this nudity is helpful is in our understanding and acceptance of what aging does to the human body. Whether carefully groomed or blissfully unconcerned, every woman over 50 or so showed evidence of gravity’s effects, and time’s. But our German sisters seemed less concerned with hiding that as well. It’s normal, after all, for skin to be looser, for breasts to flatten out or hang lower after having nursed children, and so on. And it’s not hideous. In fact, even the bodies of very old ladies were not hideous. My daughter once pointed out how even the oldest ladies had smooth, white skin on the parts of their bodies that didn’t see the sun.

Really, what I took away from my exposure to all these naked bodies is that, underneath her clothes, no one looks quite as good as advertisements would have us believe, and no one looks quite as bad as our prejudices would have us believe. These naked ladies in the locker room just looked human. And I think it’s very good for girls and young women to understand what’s coming—not so they’ll be depressed, but so they’ll understand that youthful beauty is fleeting, something to be enjoyed when it’s here, but not something whose absence leads to despair. We have so much more to offer than our youthful beauty, and there are so many forces at work trying to convince us, and our daughters, otherwise. And so I say, here’s to naked ladies!

Making Peace with My Belly

This topic holds so much meat—no, not my belly, but my relationship with same. I’m 52 and, like most menopausal women, my belly is swelly. My body has taking on the shape of a kidney bean as my belly reaches ever more insistently for the wall in front of me. When I catch sight of my reflection in lax moments, my belly looks like one of those fruitful domes you see on medieval Madonnas—not the look I’m aiming for.

And yet, when I look around me, I see round bellies on almost all the older women. Being a regular gym-goer, I see lots of naked mature ladies, and most are thicker in the middle than the younger women are; even those over-50s who have excellent muscle tone and trim, firm behinds are a bit thick in the middle. (And those few older women who’ve maintained a slim waist show the effect of gravity in other areas—no one escapes unscathed.) This fullness in the middle seems to be the shape we take on as we age. So why do we beat ourselves up about it?

Perhaps because it’s not sexy. Says who? Well, scientific studies that tell us the exact waist-to-hip ratio that stirs men’s loins, no matter how old they may be. According to a 2001 study, men in Western countries prefer women with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7. (Mine is 0.5229, for the record.)

More magazine, which has lots of good content that I enjoy, relentlessly pushes the idea that we older women must fight against the appearance of age with all means necessary: needles, scalpels, burning chemical peels, rigid diets, punishing work-out routines. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the embracing of our sexy, wise womanhood? After all, the swelling belly of middle age is usually accompanied by swelling boobs as well.

But just try to find a pair of pants cut for a kidney-bean-shaped, middle-aged figure like mine. You will, in the granny department: baggy stretch pants of double-knit with gathered elastic waistbands. Ugh! Just putting a pair on ages you a whole generation.  And what do More mag and her sisters advocate? Spanx! Squish your guts with uncomfortable, confining girdles. Way to accept your body and age gracefully. You go, girls!

So—each morning I search my closet for something that doesn’t pinch and doesn’t make me look like I’m smuggling a watermelon under my shirt. Self-acceptance, good humor, and self-loathing duke it out in front of the mirror every day. My inner drill sergeant plans out my day: exercise routine, diet meals, no alcohol, early to bed, early to rise for more exercise, etc. “Eins, Zwei, Drei! Und vee iss marchink now!”

The endless battle between the pleasures of the flesh and the pleasure of having less flesh—when does self-denial cease to be worth it? I guess if I do plenty of exercise and choose my clothing carefully, I can be a lush, slightly tummified middle-aged mama. That’s a good goal: accept my basic shape, do my best to stay trim and fit with exercise that’s fun, and enjoy life, because life’s too short for dinners of plain broiled fish and steamed vegetables. I want a saucy, delicious life.

And please don’t send me advice on how to banish midlife belly fat. I got it—eat less, move more. Or guzzle apple-cider vinegar. Or avoid white foods.

Here’s the thing: I’m looking for the balance point—that magical place of peace, serenity, and acceptance, of knowing that I’m taking good care of my body, and being at peace with a rounder-than-I’d-like belly. I love to exercise; I also love good food, I love good wine, and I’m not willing to live like a Puritan in order to have a flat belly. In fact, I’m pretty sure that nothing will ever flatten this belly completely. Life is about pleasure, and I want the pleasure of enjoying my life and—is it possible?—loving my round belly. You too, perhaps? If so, please share your thoughts on living the good life with a thick middle.

Singh, Devendra; Young, Robert K. (2001-06-27). “Body Weight, Waist-to-Hip Ratio, Breasts, and    Hips: Role in Judgments of Female Attractiveness and Desirability for Relationships”  Ethology and Sociobiology 16 (6): 483–507.

Wonder Woman Versus the Sproing!

wonder-woman-clipart

Sproing! It happens to every athlete, young and old – but I’ve never been much of an athlete, and up until now I’ve been feeling pretty smug. Seated on the mat, folded over at the hips like a closed book, I had succeeded in comfortably resting my forehead on my knee during my post-workout stretch. I’d done this several times now, a happy result of my seven-month steady gym habit. Look at me! I’m Wonder Woman – defying the limits of middle age. Watch me fly! Watch me – OW!

But I felt better after two weeks of avoiding the lower-back press machine and extreme forward bends, so I tried a “beginners’” yoga class – and forgot, once again, that I am not Wonder Woman. A few days later I found myself in the emergency room, paralyzed with agonizing back spasms. Have you had these? If not, I pray that you never do. It goes like this: your lower back seizes your entire body and mind, as if you’ve just been grabbed down there with a giant staple remover. You know, that metal claw-like thing in your desk drawer? It grabs you with a sharp pain that takes your breath away and hisses into your ear, “Don’t. Move.” But you have to move, right? You have to summon help somehow. So you try a tiny step, only to be clamped again in a vice of blinding pain. Ladies, it’s not unlike strong labor pains, but centered in your lower back. And deep breaths don’t help – in fact, it’s hard to breathe. After two fuzzy days on Vicodin and muscle relaxers, I had to figure out how to fix this.

One of the things I’d been looking forward to doing in retirement was getting into really good shape. Oh, I wasn’t a complete slug during my working years; I’d hit the gym once or twice a week and take long walks when weather permitted, but it was always difficult to force myself to exercise after a long day of teaching high school and then coaching after-school activities. And to those chirpy morning types who tell me to get up an hour early to exercise, to them I say – well, I can’t use such language here. As it was, I had to get up at 5:30 A.M. in order to have time for breakfast, perform my ablutions, prepare my lunch, and gather my work things, including workout clothes. And I hated that alarm clock with a passion; every day I cursed that nasty, insistent beep, beep, beep that wrenched me from my dreams and into another cold, dark morning. One of the most delightful aspects of retirement is the ability to get out of bed when I’m damned good and ready.

But I digress. Now I’m free to fit in exercise more frequently, at a civilized hour, and I have been doing so. I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights, and we read how important it is for older women to perform resistance exercise in order to stave off the otherwise inevitable wasting of muscle tissue that comes with age, and the ensuing bone brittleness. According to Dr. Pamela Peeke, a physician and expert in women’s fitness, women lose about ½ pound of muscle per year after age 40 if they do not engage in regular resistance training. (I recommend her book Body for Life for Women, in which she presents a do-able, gimmick-free fitness program that includes weight training.) Less muscle mass equals a slower metabolism equals a plump, sluggish body and less joie de vivre. And how much fun is it to look in the mirror and see toned, firm arms and shoulders after 50!

Our local YMCA is a wonderful place to exercise. Unlike many commercial gyms, it’s truly a community center, and the clientele ranges from tiny children (in the pool – so cute!) to very old folks maintaining their strength, balance, and flexibility. I feel very comfortable and welcome there. Spin class is very challenging, and I merrily ignore the urgings of the younger instructors to crank it up to gear 15. I challenge myself, keep an eye on my heart monitor, and enjoy the group energy and the great music. Zumba class is an absolute hoot! I love a dance-y workout, and have zero interest in any fitness class that resembles combat – but hey, chacun a son gout. About 60 of us shake it twice a week, led by two young instructors through a series of heart-pumping hip-hop and Latin dance moves. I’m inspired by a woman I see at every class who’s 80 if she’s a day, and who does all the moves – modifying for her range of motion, of course. She’s having so much fun!

A problem with the fitness industry is that most instructors are young and very fit (of course!), and they lack experience in modifying workouts for older exercisers, for larger exercisers, or for people who have limitations due to injuries. “Of course everyone can bend like this,” they say. “Just try a little harder!” Our Y is blessed with some excellent older instructors who never neglect to mention modifications. But the computer is another matter.

Why, oh why, did I listen to that computer? The program is called ActivTrax, and it spits out a weight-training workout, based upon an initial strength test. Well, this computer was impressed with my progress, and told me to set the lower-back press for 110 pounds. And I listened – what kind of fool am I? I’d also been doing some very challenging (for me) ab exercises, heaving myself up on a slant board, waving my legs in the air like semaphore flags, and other foolishness. I’ve since read that an imbalance in the abdominal and back muscles can result from these very-targeted exercises, which can lead to lower-back pain. It’s better for people with back problems to train the whole core with exercises like planks, rather than to zero in on upper abs, lower abs, etc. Now I know.

My wonderful GP doctor, her physician’s assistant, and my equally wonderful physical therapist have taught me a great deal about how to exercise my abs without straining my back. My GP, who is young, slim and fit, also has back problems and will not even do any sort of forward-bending stretches of the type I was abusing when the sproing hit me. Well then! Obviously, I have a lot to learn about a subject, weight training, that I thought I was already pretty well-informed about. And I must face the fact that, at my age, I must take a more cautious approach to exercise. Not that I plan to “slow down,” nor do I plan to restrict myself to swimming – which is what so many advise old folks to do. No, you’ll find me in weight room again, but I’ll be planning my own workouts, rather than following the dictates of a computer program. And I’ll be listening much more carefully to my body.

But I would like a pair of those WW red boots!

In search of Je ne sais quoi

 

Nancy, France, spring 2014

Nancy, France, spring 2014

I’m on a French kick. Lately, I’ve been muttering to myself in French – perhaps because my efforts at learning Spanish are kicking up the French-language debris that lines the foreign-language portion of my brain. And I’ve been looking in my closet and dreaming of simple, elegant, chic ensembles. I yearn for a smaller, well-organized wardrobe based on classic, good-quality pieces like a tailored jacket, a cashmere sweater, a crisp white blouse, ankle-length jeans, ballerina flats, and the all-important LBD. Of course, I’ve seen few Tacomans who dress like that, but so what? Isn’t retirement all about going my own way and discovering my own preferences? I already own enough scarves to bedeck a city block of Parisiennes, and a genuine beret Basque. The classic, slim silhouette of a French femme d’un certain age – that’s what I need to feel bien dans ma peau – at ease, confident, and full of joie de vivre. (See? What did I tell you? French phrases littering the place like autumn leaves.)

This yearning for all things French is largely due to homesickness – not only for Europe, but for who I once was – Madame S., prof de français. Even after I changed jobs and ceased teaching French, I continued to live near France (in western Germany) and travelled there frequently. I’ve been sorting through some photos this week, which is a much more time-consuming process on the computer than it used to be when we just printed up our snapshots and put them into an album – or into a shoe box with the promise that one day we’d put them into an album. In any case, I keep running across shots of the Loire valley, of châteaux I’ve visited there, of my daughter and me in Paris during her senior year of high school, of a long-ago me shepherding students through Paris, or Strasbourg, or Verdun, or even Hagenau, a cute little town in Lorraine that was an easy day’s outing from our school in northern Bavaria. And I found dozens of photos of my mom, daughter, husband and me in Colmar, one of the most beautiful towns in Alsace – crisscrossed with canals, the half-timbered houses with drunkenly-sloped tiled roofs, and windows bedecked with explosions of geraniums – so lovely, so comfortable, so far away.

Colmar, summer of 2012.

Colmar, summer of 2012.

But part of this French kick is also a reaction against the sloppy aesthetic of so many women my age. OK – at the family literacy program where I’ve been volunteering, some of the instructors dress up for work in proper dresses or nice slacks and blouses. Aha – my use of the word “proper” is a clue – my inner snob is pushing back against the laissez-faire approach to personal grooming that reigns here in my new home. I yearn to find a sidewalk café where I can sip espresso and read or write or contemplate deep, philosophical questions while watching interesting people stroll by. I want to be called Madame by a black and white-clad waiter with a cool attitude – instead of being chirped at by a cheerleader type: “Hi there! How are you today? Are you having a fantastic day? What can I get started for you? An Americano? Perfect!”

No honey, it’s not perfect. Perfect would be a place where I could sit comfortably and the waitress would come to me, take my order in modulated tones, and not insist on chirping at me until the coffee is ready. I loathe, despise and abominate chirpiness. And I’m not a cranky pants most of the time – really, I’m not. I find people fascinating – all sorts of people, but I just want a peaceful pause in my day to sip my caffeine and read a bit, or perhaps just stare out the window and watch the passers-by, as they do in France. Sigh.

Loire Valley, Spring 2014

Loire Valley, Spring 2014

A few days ago, I was in a restaurant with my husband. At the next table were a gaggle of women about my age – 50s, some perhaps in their 40s. They were drinking wine and laughing –well, braying and cackling – very loudly. Perhaps they were having a girls’ night out, having a few (loud!) laughs after work. But I got the strong feeling that they were all single – perhaps divorced? They were all well-groomed and dressed in work outfits – expensive-looking, snug pants with dressy blouses. Each one had obviously colored, streaked and styled hair – rather stiff, and plenty of makeup. Each one looked a bit anxious, checking out the room – for possible dates? For the impression she was making? Even though they were having (loud!) fun, they didn’t look at ease, confident, comfortable. They were a bit on edge, checking out the room for the impression they were making.

There’s a sexiness to the French woman that comes from being comfortable, from a firm sense of who she is. She knows herself, and dresses to please; a Frenchwoman always aims to seduire (to charm, to please) – not just men, but all the people with whom she comes into contact. But she has a basic confidence that this table of attractive-but-trying-too-hard American women obviously lacked. And that confidence is sexy.  Even – or especially – older French women, les femmes d’un certain âge, project this sexy, effortless (or seemingly so) confidence, and that’s what I’m aiming for – even here in my new home. Vive l’esprit français – even in Tacoma!

Shopping in the Galeries LaFayette, Paris, 2011.

Shopping in the Galeries LaFayette, Paris, 2011.

Here’s a list of books that I’ve enjoyed on French style and the French lifestyle, just in case you’re feeling a bit Frenchie yourself:

  • Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange, with Sophie Gachet. Such lovely photos! A quick read for a rainy day, with excellent recommendations for a simple, classy French wardrobe, styling tricks, grooming advice, and pages of Ines’s tips for your next visit to Paris – good fodder for daydreaming.
  • Chic and Slim; Chic and Slim Encore; Chic and Slim Techniques by Anne Barone. Thess slim volumes by a Texan show how French techniques can be applied to the U.S. lifestyle with splendid results. Oh, and she has another book out: Chic and Slim Toujours, which contains advice for aging gracefully à la française. I must buy this! Check out her blog at annebarone.com.
  • French Style by Veronique Vienne. Another slim volume with lovely vintage photos and philosophical inspiration.
  • All of Mireille Guiliano’s books: French Women Don’t Get Fat; French Women for All Seasons; and I’m currently reading French Women Don’t Get Facelifts. Her voice is delightful, and her advice practical and oh-so-applicable. Guiliano lives part-time in the U.S., so she knows the cultural and practical barriers to applying French techniques and attitudes here.
  • Fatale: How French Women Do It by Eduth Kunz. Her chapter “Of a Certain Age” is particularly inspiring.
  • French Women Don’t Sleep Alone, by Jamie Cat Callan. Erica Jong called this book “Adorable!” – and so do I. She analyzes that supreme confidence – not arrogance, just self-knowledge and self-acceptance – that makes French women so alluring.
  • All You Need to Be Impossibly French, by Helena Frith Powell, an Englishwoman who makes very perspicacious comparisons between the attitudes and practices of her countrywomen and les françaises. Sharp, funny, realistic.
  • French Toast, by Harriet Welty Rochefort. An American marries into a French family and learns volumes about the puzzling, wise, mysterious ways of the French. Very funny, full of illustrative anecdotes.
  • Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, by Debra Ollivier. A well-rounded look at the attitudes and lifestyle of French women, with many fascinating historical vignettes.

And of course, this list doesn’t even begin to touch on the many French cookbooks that have inspired me, nor on the many delightful works of fiction about U.S. or English women who made the transplant to l’hexagone. Hmm – perhaps my next novel should be about a middle-aged woman in the U.S. who decides to polish up her lackluster lifestyle by living like a Frenchwoman? That could be très amusant.

 

On Free Thinkers and Trends

Trends are designed to make us buy shit. Not literally shit – that’s never been trendy, because there’s plenty of it around. You don’t even have to go to the store to get some (literal) shit – it’s available right there in your home. Or at least on the sidewalk in front of your home. Thanks, neighbor dogs! And cats. And raccoons. No, trendy items are only trendy if they require effort and expense to attain.

I once loved magazines – loved, loved, loved magazines, with their bright, shiny pictures; with their neat little packages of information and inspiration; with their message of eternally-springing hope. I’m speaking of women’s magazines here, the kind with a fashion focus – not, say, Ms. But the raison d’être of a magazine is to get you to buy shit – clothing, “beauty” products, purses, toilet bowl cleaner, fitness gadgets, what have you. And how do the marketers do that, dear reader? You know the answer as well as I – by making you believe that your life is somehow lacking, and that your life will be so much better if you buy this particular shit.  But you’re not – lacking, that is. And your life will not improve if you have in your house any particular consumer item that is advertised in those magazines.

So yeah – lately, the shine has worn off magazines, as far as I’m concerned. I’m just having a hard time seeing past the ads, despite the sometimes-good writing that I find buried between the ads. Have you ever tried this? Take a magazine – whichever type you choose. Flip through it, and tear out any page that has nothing but advertising on both sides. Make a note of how much slimmer your magazine now is.

And blogs! Some of my formerly favorite blogs, sort of online magazines, have morphed into vehicles for selling shit. Writers whose points of view I once looked forward to reading are now more focused on convincing me to buy this blouse, that moisturizer, and that other mascara. Jeesh! If I wanted that, I’d buy a magazine.

Here’s where I lose credibility with some of my younger readers: I do not care what the latest fashion trends are. The beauty of reaching my advanced age, 52, is that I feel just fine about choosing clothing that covers my nakedness, is comfortable, and suits my own ideas about what looks good on me. Are those snazzy-to-me shoes “so last year”? Who cares! Does this hat remind you of your grandmother? That’s your problem! Do the cool kids not approve of my simple, practical purse? Tough shit, cool kids! Who asked you anyway? I use a purse to haul around things that I want to have with me when I’m away from home, not to impress the cool kids.

And really, that speaks to my personal philosophy: You should do the things you do in life because they please you and express your inner essence – not because they might impress someone. It’s a key distinction. I taught high school until recently, and every day I would pass in the hallways clumps of black-clad “emo” types whose carefully chosen outfits carefully toed the emo party line. They made a big point of being “different,” but all in the same way. As I passed, they’d get louder so as to attract attention. They were trying very hard for a negative reaction – from teachers, from parents, from peers. I see people like this on the streets of Tacoma, in their oh-so-similar hipster outfits with the baggy gray beanies, and they’re mostly out of high school, yet many of them are still angling for the disapproval of passers-by like me. I find that sad. Why should you care about what sort of reaction you can draw from perfect strangers? Do you really need me, a middle-aged person, to validate what a badass you are?

Then there was S-, a student in my classes the last few years before I retired. She wore the oddest, coolest outfits, which she often designed herself out of scraps of cloth, old garments, and funky items cobbled into accessories. But she did this to please herself, and for that reason, I was always delighted to notice and to compliment her wardrobe choices. S- enjoyed what she wore, whether others approved or not; she was expressing herself.

I want to dress like that too, now that I no longer have to meet someone’s expectations for what’s appropriate. Not that I want to wear silver lame skirts and tiaras, like S- did, but it’s wonderful to be able to please myself, sartorially. And it’s such a relief to realize that, no matter what event comes my way, I already have something appropriate in my closet. I don’t need any new clothes! Take that, advertisers.

And that goes for electronics – so I’ll say no thanks to an expensive smart phone. I have a computer at home, and I don’t care to snap photos of myself in various locations throughout the day and post them for all and sundry to admire. You like your smart phone? Good for you – enjoy! You think that I’m hopelessly uncool because I don’t have one? Who cares! That also goes for social media. I enjoy Facebook, especially the goofy videos that my friends and “friends” post – that porcupine eating a pumpkin – too cute! And I like to read what distant friends are up to. But I’ve heard that the cool kids have left Facebook behind in favor of Instagram, Twitter, and God knows what else. Who cares! Not I.

I was noodling around on the internet, looking for others’ interesting thoughts on being a free thinker who doesn’t unquestioningly follow fashion, technological, and/or social trends. Most of what I found related to the Free-Thinker Movement – apparently devoted to freedom from religious dogma and clerical control, with past ties to the anarchist movement of the 19th century.  I’m greatly simplifying here, but – in any case – this was not at all what I was looking for. How disappointing! Where were the articles, essays and websites devoted to thinking for oneself in daily life? I did, however, find this good bit from Urban Dictionary website (always a fun read):

Free Thinker

A philosophical viewpoint that opinions or beliefs of reality should be based on science,       logic and reason. Ideas should not be derived from religion, authority, governments or         dogmas.

A free thinker should not reject nor accept any proposed truths of organized religion,           established norms, media, etc. They should determine if the belief is valid based on their     own knowledge, intuition, research and reason. Just because other people believe in it,         doesn’t mean it’s right! Use your own judgment and think critically!

by Autumn’s Modesty, September 19, 2009

Thank you, Autumn! I’ll bet she doesn’t waste much time reading fashion magazines or trolling the mall for external validation. So – here’s to free thinkers. I shall do my very best to be one.

Reflections on Retirement, Six Months In

And now we have arrived at what Germans call  die Zeit zwischen den Jahren, or “the time between the years,” that quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s when we sit back, munch cookies, burp, and reflect on the glories and challenges of the past year, while planning our goals for the next.

2014 was a truly momentous year for me: I retired after a 27-year teaching career; I came back to the U.S. after living in Germany for nearly 30 years; I married a very good man and acquired a most excellent extended family; I made some real progress toward my long-frustrated goals and desires. Holy cow!

Duncan & Rhonda get married

2015 will be the first calendar year in which I’m fully retired – well, from teaching – well, for money. I’ll soon begin volunteering at a family literacy program that helps adults – in this case, mothers – reach their goal of a high school diploma and, for some, preparation for college. There are so many good causes here that need volunteers; a retired person could easily fill her days with satisfying work outside the home if she so desired. I don’t. Part of my transition into retirement has been lolling about in my jammies, enjoying my newfound freedom like a pig rolling in luscious mud. After so many years of doing for others, I’ve been enjoying this unrepentant selfishness. I still wake up most mornings, realize that I don’t have to get out of bed until I’m good and ready, and grin in amazement and delight.

Time is really what we sell when we work, and what we long for during those working years – time in abundance, time to fulfill our plans, write our novels, paint our tableaux, build our homes, explore the world, take care of ourselves the way we’ve taken care of children and clients and students and pets and… And the dominant note of this phase of life – sweet, blessed retirement from daily paid work – is the keen awareness that time is limited. I’ll be active and healthy for – what? – maybe twenty more years? A bit more if I’m lucky, but I’ve also entered the phase of life in which friends my age begin to die of cancer, heart disease, the various ailments that take us away too soon. So I try not to waste this precious, vital time on mindless time-sucks like TV marathons, errands, or too much social media. Wow – what could I have accomplished if I’d take this attitude twenty years earlier?

Recently I spent some time with some people in their 30s and early 40s, and what I took away from that exchange is that they’re terrified – of growing older, of no longer being the cool kids, of losing their youthful invincibility, of entering that slide into – what? What are you so afraid of, kiddos? Clearly, these bright, lovely young people fear some terrible fate that awaits when they are no longer wired in to the latest electronic gadgets, when they no longer dance ‘til dawn, when their knees and backs complain after athletic feats of derring-do. I want to take them in my arms and reassure them that life is indeed worth living past youth – that their older years will most likely be a blast! But they wouldn’t believe me, so indoctrinated are they by the Cool Kids’ Creed. (It must be posted somewhere on some social media site I’m too old and uncool to access.)

So the best I can do for these frightened young people is to give them a good example of an older woman having fun in retirement. I’ve no intention of trying to crack the Cool Kids’ Code – after all, it’s intended to keep my ilk out of the clubhouse, and I would look mighty silly in one of those floppy hipster beanies. But soon these youngsters will venture a look out of the clubhouse and notice that – can it be? – there are older people out there having fun! That’s a good goal for 2015, I think: I shall set a good example of a retired person enjoying her life. Happy New Year, everyone!

 

 

Say No to the Dress: An Older Bride Goes Shopping

In search of a simple dress for my wedding.

In search of a simple dress for my wedding.

I can see it in my head: a slim dress of cream-colored satin, covered with the softest of lace. Little cap sleeves of lace drape my shoulders. The dress reaches to my ankles, so as to show off my pretty satin 1920’s style pumps, and so as not to drag in the damp grass or sand. I know that my dress is out there somewhere. I cannot be the only bride who has envisioned a simple, graceful lace dress for her outdoor wedding.

But I sure haven’t found it yet! What I have found are Little Mermaid confections with hobble skirts ending in a burst of froth; stiff, strapless Barbie gowns more suited for a walk on the red carpet than for a walk down the aisle; and delicate little bodices perched atop what appear to be tulle pot scrubbers – you know, those puffy things we made in the third grade as Mother’s Day presents (sorry, Mom). Or, for the older bride, a dowdy suit, or a sexy-schmexy skin-tight short sheath dress. So not me.

Sure, I know that the bridal industry is just that – an industry bent on persuading brides to spend as much as possible – and I don’t have to play along. In fact, I made my first wedding dress. A skinny 22-year-old, I looked like Glinda the freaking good fairy, but I made it myself! The marriage only lasted five years – he was a wonderful boyfriend, but a lousy husband – and we were both too young for such an undertaking. But the wedding was a fun party; all the aunts, moms, sisters and female friends got together to make a buffet of cold salads, ham, roast beef, and little rolls. The cake was embellished with fresh flowers, and the reception hall was decorated with translucent balloons filled with colorful confetti, which the guests popped as we left to start our short-lived marriage.

The second time around, for my marriage to the wrong fellow I wore an off-the-rack ivory suit with a peplum jacket – pretty snazzy for a civil ceremony with just the two of us.  After a controversial courtship (enraged exes on both sides, lots of gossip and disapproval), we eloped to Denmark, where divorced people like us could be married with far less paperwork than Germany would have required. This marriage lasted twenty years and produced my gorgeous daughter, though it ended badly. Does any marriage that ends end well?

And now I’m heading to the altar for the third time. “Good Lord, woman! Can’t you see that you’re just no good at this marriage thing?” I hear you say. Ah, but I’ve learned a lot from my first two unions – about relationships, about myself, about how to handle conflict, to be patient, to be kind. As a wise old Southern woman once told me, “Honey, everyone’s got something to teach you, even if it’s how not to be.” And I’ve learned a lot about how not to be from my time with hubbies #1 and #2. I wish them well.

And anyway, three’s a charm! (Or three strikes you’re out) My good, good man proposed to me this summer by the light of a full moon, as we watched the ocean waves whisper and murmur below us. We’ve been a couple for three years now, know each other well, and are more compatible than I ever was with my first two mates. This man is the love of my life, the one who sees through me, recognizes my foibles, thinks I’m beautiful when I’m tired and grumpy, and loves me – not his idea of who or how I should be. And I’ll devote the rest of my life to being the best wife I can to this dear man.

But, in order to marry him, I’ll need to find a dress. Where are you, simple lace gown? And we’ll need a venue – not a grand palace, mansion, or winery where we can entertain hundreds with passed hors d’oeuvres and squab with caviar. Just a pretty outdoor spot for the ceremony and a nice place to drink a bit of bubbly and eat a simple meal with a small group of friends and family. We are not wealthy people, nor are the loved ones who will be driving or flying in to help us celebrate. “Don’t cheat yourself – design your dream wedding!” I’ve heard this from websites, well-meaning friends and family- and let’s not even talk about the wedding planners. “Buy, buy, buy! Spare no expense! After all, what’s ten thousand dollars – it’s your only wedding! Oh, that’s right, ahem…”

I’m confident that we will eventually find a pretty place, a simpatico officiant, and that we’ll have a lovely, simple, small celebration with our families and friends. No limo, no swans, no DJ, no ice sculptures, no tower of cake, no hours of posed photos – just a celebration of the sweet love we’ve found at long last. Did I mention that we’re living in Germany while planning a wedding in the U.S.? Wish us luck.

 

In Search of Inspiration

The other day, an old friend asked me why I was writing a blog. Hmm. I started this blog because I aspire to be a published writer of fiction and creative non-fiction. Alas, I don’t do well without some kind of deadline, and the act of announcing my blog to friends and family motivates me to add to it regularly. Then my friend asked what my blog was about. I’m interested in so many topics, and it’s been a struggle to pin that down the main focus for this blog – but here goes:

  1. Fitting the good life into this busy life. As I mentioned in the “about me” bit of this blog, I have a demanding, full-time job, as most of us do, and I find it a real challenge to fit in creative self-expression, exercise, fun times with friends, alone time for contemplation and writing, travel – in other words, all the good stuff – given my limited time, money, and energy. But I refuse to be just a working drudge who spends her evenings vegging in front of the TV. Time is all we have, and I want to go to bed each night having done something that was personally satisfying – beyond doing my best at work.
  2. Doing this age well. I’m currently 51, and am determined to make the most of this decade. Sure, age is just a number, time is a man-made construct, blah blah blah, but this mature, post-childrearing age is new to me, and it presents opportunities that I want to fully explore.

 That said, I’m always looking for role models – women around this age or older who are meeting the above two goals. So, what does it mean to “do 50 well”? The women this age whom I admire and to whose example I aspire are:

  • Fit. Yes, our skin will be looser in our fifties, but there’s no reason why the muscles beneath can’t be firm and fit.
  • Slim – not skinny, but reasonably slim. This depends upon height and build, of course; I feel happy and attractive around a size ten. Getting and staying there is not easy, but it can be done.
  • Well-groomed and comfortable in their own skin. They do not hide their mature beauty behind layers of makeup and stiffly-styled hair, but they adorn themselves in a way that enhances their best features.
  • They behave like ladies in public. No yelling except in cases of extreme provocation, no braying laughter, no squawking, no cursing (see above re: extreme provocation). They are polite. They are kind and respectful to the people they meet throughout the day. They do not behave or dress ostentatiously. They have some class.
  • They dress with flair, be it snazzy, artistic, classic, or modern – but never schlumpy or slutty.
  • They have something interesting to say. They are not walking clichés.
  • They do something interesting and worthwhile with their time – not just shopping, television and gossip.
  • They are interested in the world around them. They think for themselves.
  • They are open to new experiences, but not swept up by fads and trends.

 Your list might be quite different, but if I meet these goals during my fifties, I will consider it a decade well spent.

 In July, I embarked on a month-long visit to the U.S., with stops in the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, Oregon, Tacoma, Washington, and Pacific Beach, near San Diego. From the moment I set foot in Frankfurt Airport, my point of departure, until the moment I settled gratefully back into our car for the drive back home, I looked for these role models: women who look good, show some style, are full of spunk and seem to be enjoying life – the kind of woman I aspire to be. Of course, it’s not possible to tell whether a passing stranger or a brief acquaintance meets all of the above criteria, but I did look everywhere for inspiration. I saw a few admirably fit 50-somethings, some slim and well-dressed ones, some artistic and intriguing ones, and a lot of schlumpy, overweight women who appeared to be doing their mommy and grandma thing on automatic pilot. Please don’t misunderstand me: taking care of children is incredibly important – not just for the children involved, but for all of us. But if that becomes your whole focus, to the point where you neglect maintaining any identity of your own other than generic mommy/grandma person, and when you neglect taking care of yourself, well – that’s a waste of your God-given individuality and a poor example for your female offspring.

 What did I learn from this trip? In my own lovely sister I saw an example of grace and generosity, and I admired again her feminine style and attention to little details. I also admired my old friend’s frankness, intelligence and poise, my aunt’s spiffy style, my mother’s strength and polish, my future sister-in-law’s colorful wardrobe and playful sexiness – so I do have some wonderful role models for female maturity. And from the many mature ladies in Mom’s neighborhood, I learned about the polish that a bit of good jewelry adds to an ordinary outfit. My outdoorsy sisters in the Northwest reminded me of the power of exercise to improve one’s posture, appearance and energy. (I didn’t learn much about well-lived maturity in Pacific Beach, since that area attracts such a young crowd, but it was amusing watching the young girls try to figure out their own style.) And when I returned to Europe, I admired the polish and chic style of some of my German Schwestern, with their tailored, feminine outfits, well-coifed hair and good posture. Our European sisters have a lot to teach us Yanks about how to be a mature woman with style.

 My studies continue…