First Dog Walk of the Day

Our little black pup Rufus, sleeps in Molly’s bed. As I’ve already told you, I don’t share my bed easily although when my daughter is away for the night I allow him to sleep at the foot. He tries to sneak under the blankets because Molly lets him snuggle under hers but I’ll have none of that, thank you.

I’m on morning dog-duty. By 6:30 or so I hear the double scratch and thud of his paws hitting the wood floor as he jumps off her bed. That’s my cue to get up fast and open Molly’s door before he leaves a puddle by the door of her bedroom. He can be a little bratty like that.

Thus I get out in the early hours of the morning. And a little bit out of myself as well. I appreciate stepping  into the breaking day. I look at the morning light, the new growth, taste the air and in a sleep daze, watch Rufus explore the same old shrub. This morning, off in the sky to the South I saw a large bird that glowed white in the sunlight or maybe it actually was a white bird. Perhaps it was an egret.

This morning I was wearing pajama bottoms with ducks on them, my bare feet stuck into really ugly old UGGS, a belted black jacket and a scarf wrapped around my neck although it was not cold after all. My hair was unbrushed but there are just 3 houses facing a wood on the street we wander down and all of us neighbors have seen each other in every mood, hour and season over the years. I don’t feel self-conscious. A perk of getting old.

Rufus knows the morning jaunt is a short one and turns back towards the house after taking care of business. By then, the kettle is boiled and I make tea.

Marking the Years Together

Last week I celebrated a decade birthday. Yes, Medicare sign-up is just around the corner for me. I’m good with that. And because I have no (knocking wood) aches and pains, I am not moaning about aging.

Birthdays give us an opportunity to be seen in the spotlight just briefly enough to be fun. When complete strangers find out it’s your birthday they acknowledge you. They take a second look, maybe give you a piece of cake, a pat on the back, buy you a drink. Even if only for a moment, there’s a fuss over you. It’s your day. I wager most of us like that.

Personally, I appreciate these milestones – a launch into what’s next in this adventure? Yes, yes, I know death is hovering even closer now, but we don’t know when we’re going to croak anyway – and as the inevitable approaches, I worry about it less. Maybe when my number comes up I’ll be clinging like a parachutist to the edge of the plane changing my mind about the leap, but for now I’m okay with imagining the end. That too is part of the great mystery of nature and spirit. Certainly another, ‘what’s next’? Don’t get me wrong, I love life. Even through the shit times, I have loved life. Now things are good for me so I’m very glad to hang around sharing the joys and more reluctantly, the sorrows of this planet. I’m happy to mark my birthday and I love how my community, past and present, rallies round to cheer.

Facebook sucks in many ways but I enjoy the cyber-celebration. No buying booze or making food or cleaning the house before or after and nobody feels like they have to buy you a present. Friends from across the decades and oceans reaching out with a wave to say – hey! I see you! I remember you! I love you! Who doesn’t like hearing people tell you that they care about you, that they miss you, that you’re important to them? It’s like a little mini version of a memorial service except we get to hear it all. Every message and greeting I received made me remember time spent with each of you, wherever and whenever that was. All precious memories and connections.

Of course I wish we could beam up into each others lives to share a cup or a glass and a proper catch-up. When this is possible and happens, I cherish such celebratory meet-ups more than I love a party. To really talk rather than the too-short chat possible at a party. I like parties too but prefer the one-on-one where it’s quiet enough to really look at and listen to each other. To hear about joys and sorrows, share memories, to remember why we decided to stay in touch in the first place. To spark, for an hour or two, that fire again.

Truth is, there is more of an urgency because with the passing years, days seem to disappear and losses come faster. It shouldn’t be so hard to see the ones we care about but distance and schedules and inertia get in the way. I am grateful for what seems an incredible and rich abundance of people I love and feel loved by. Here’s to all our birthdays – to celebrate that we were delivered into this world and then, remarkably, connected, came to like and maybe love each other. What magic!

Thank you for reminding me on my birthday about all this love – for the gift of our connection somewhere in this incredible journey we’re on. At the end of the day, at the end of the night, it’s all about that connection, all about shared love don’t you think?  I’m grateful for and nurtured by yours! XO

Where We Are

A question constantly hovering in and out of focus in my life has been WHERE? Right out of college, my focus was a place to live as an artist – where could I work as little as possible so I can make my art? I ended up in Kyoto. As I crept towards thirty, my diminishing egg count led me out of Japan in search of where I might find a man to have a family with. This led to an interesting, adventure filled quest. I can tell you, years in NYC did not  lead to success on that front. It took a few more years until the ‘where’ of raising a family – with the man I met and married in Sarajevo, would pop up.

The first year of Molly’s life, we moved 4, yes, 4 times – from her birth in Italy, 2 different parts of Croatia, arriving in Connecticut just days before her first birthday. We came here mostly by happenstance and here, I still am.

This year I enter my 6th decade and guess what question has been popping up? I am not alone in this: the topic is a hot one with my peers. Where to grow old? It’s happening so we let’s figure out if we’re in the best place to do that the way we want to. As much as any of us have control over this. This is certainly something of a first world problem and I say that only with some snark. Here in our wealthy nation, there is only a paltry social system and many of us do not have generations of family to absorb us with love and care. So how much better are we, really? It’s a lot to burden one kid with though I know she loves me, I hope not to need much besides just that.

So I think of the practical stuff: can I continue to afford living in the wealthiest corner of Connecticut? Mine is a charming old and drafty house but still and probably forever, owned more by the bank than by me. The guy who came to clean my ancient oil burner the other day, wished me luck that I might get another year without it breaking down. ($8K for a new one?) Will this house still work for me as I get creaky? Like the bedrooms and one bathroom at the top of the stairs. Yeah, I can’t believe I’m even thinking about this stuff – but there you are. (Are you too??)

Anyway, is this where I still want to be? Mostly I think yes. Although this span of Connecticut is crowded, the landscape suits me. There’s a good mix of accessibility of urban and nature joys including the Long Island Sound minutes away. I am not a mountain gal, I need to be close to a where salt water meets sky.

But wait a minute! Am I really ready to give up the notion of myself as being worldly and adventurous? There’s something about anyone who has ever led an expat life – a longing, an itch even – that never really goes away. Adored friends who live very far away and places across the world that somehow still feel like home – I want to see and spend time with them all again. For me that includes Jenny now in Australia, friends in Kyoto and cafes in Italy. Granted – those places are gorgeous and easy to love – but both also felt almost weirdly familiar when I lived there. I felt like me there, as if I had history there – even before I really did.

What’s that about? Why do certain landscapes, places feel like ours? I am not a desert person but my dear friend Paula feels a spiritual connection to the Southwest. When we drove across country in our early twenties, I witnessed her recognition, her joy when we got to Taos New Mexico. As if she’d arrived home although it was her first time there. I could barely breathe in the arid heat and while impressed by the beauty, was happy to get back on the road and our journey further West. And when we arrived in the San Francisco Bay area where we spent the summer, I fell in love with it. The light made me feel like I was in the South of France and every breath of air flavored with eucalyptus and brine, felt nourishing. I’d live there – at least in my memory of place.

But in the end (pun sort of intended), as we move in and out of our days, we’re all always here aren’t we? I find that a comfort – don’t you?

Did you search for your place or did you just land there? Where’s your ‘where’?

Around the Corner

I’m sitting in front of my glowing wood stove grateful for this gloomy, rainy day. Sunny would have been fine too but on days like this, I feel license to do inside things. If it were more beautiful outside I’d berate myself for not going for a walk or at least pretend to clean my messy garden. But there’s a chill and keeping an eye on the log situation becomes an important task. Not that it’s really very cold – but there’s my excuse for sitting here on a Saturday afternoon.

Ruminating is valuable and lately I feel pressed to do more of it and to pay closer attention to what’s going on both in and around me. Besides, tomorrow’s my birthday and certainly a significant reason for reflection, as if I need one. Mind you, I don’t bemoan any additional years on my downward, post-50 slope. As far as I know, it’s better than the alternative. I love life and am very curious about what the future might hold – even as I reflect on the past.

This year is full of personal landmarks. Twenty years in the same job, twenty years since I bought my house, and twenty years since my mother died (when she was only 6 years older than I am now). And this May, Molly graduates from college. All of this feels momentous, rich and significant. For these twenty years I’ve maintained this sometimes challenging balancing act of stability through some significant insanity. And here we are, pretty rock-steady, my kiddo and me, both wondering about what the future holds.

As I listen to Molly ponder her next steps, I wonder the same. Sometimes I’ve felt paralyzed by the challenge but lately, I’m inspired and feel almost giddy with a sense of possibility. All I need to do is just carry on to the next corner to see what’s there, right?

And plan the party.

A Winter Walk at the Beach

beach benchI sit a lot, don’t you? And now, with winter cold and my aging dog, I move even less. For 14 years, Tetley has enthusiastically forced me up and out a few times a day. Alas, he is fading. The days of him pulling me the long route up hills for a real work-out, are over. Now I can barely cajole him half a block. I anticipate heartbreak ahead…

Tet

But enough of that – it’s just that Tetley is content to sleep and last Sunday, I too could have lolled on the couch with the newspapers all day.

But I needed a good walk – to move my bones and get my heart pumping —  hours of sitting at work, at home, in the car, makes my hips ache. Although I love moving through the world by foot, on a wintery day when I don’t have to do anything, I’m often content to never step over the threshold. But look…

beach sandTen minutes drive from my house, I get to walk here!

Unlike this frigid weekend, last Sunday was balmy for February, the light squinting-bright. I walked alone, breathing and thinking and enjoying the crunch of snow, sand and the squish of mud underfoot. I walked down to the shoreline so I could hear the lapping waves. I passed fewer than 20 other walkers. We greeted each other with bright smiles as if we’d landed in Charlie’s Chocolate Factory together – a shared glee at being here on a February day.

sunny viewFilling my lungs with the cold sea air and the light, oh the changing light! Why am I not up at 5:30 every morning to walk briskly around this sweet course, breathing deeply, absorbing the beauty and peace in this city where I landed by accident, 20 years ago? Or at least at 5:30 PM when I’m done with work and catch a sunset while I’m at it. I should do that.

trees beachSometimes I think about venturing back out into the wide-world again, to find a warmer, less expensive life maybe? Maybe. Then I recall that when I wandered the globe I longed for a place. On this Sunday walk, with a surge of joy, a breath of cold winter air, an earful of seagull screams, I recognize – I am here. And for now, it sure will do.

Where do you walk?

Aging with Vinegar & Honey

Olive kitteridge

What does it say about me that I love the ornery, razor tongued Olive Kitteridge? I loved her in Elizabeth Strout’s engaging book by the same title and I love her as played by the superb Frances McDormand in the HBO series. Olive, lives in a gorgeous, small seaside town in Maine. The rocky, rough setting is the perfect backdrop for Olive who is kind of awful. No, wait: she’s really awful. She’s mean to her sweet husband, to her kid, to everybody. But I love her even as she makes me flinch. I don’t really know what to say about that except maybe she reminds me a tad of me — were I not to self-censure. And she definitely reminds me of how my own mother could be.

The other day ran into someone who worked with my mother in the real estate business more than 30 years ago. She said, “Cathy was a nice woman.” this former colleague said. I responded incredulously, “Really?” And she answered, “Well, you know…”

Don’t get me wrong, the woman clearly appreciated Cathy, probably got a kick out of her since she was smart as a whip, had integrity and wit and I know for a fact, shared the same leftist social consciousness as this former colleague. But nice? Not an adjective I would use to describe my mother. Nor myself.

19JPKITTREDGE2-articleLarge

But, I’m trying. I’ve learned to curb my tongue in order to keep jobs, avoid fisticuffs in the subway, road rage incidents on the highway and just because – life is better without meanness. Our’s is not a home of fights – we are mostly kind to each other and when we’re not, we call each other out on it and quickly make amends. I am proud of how kind and empathetic my daughter is and she always help keep my nasty, devil-side in check. And frankly, it’s just easier to go to sleep at night without the guilt and regret of some verbal dagger thoughtlessly delivered during the day.

Olive has a soft spot for the broken ones – the drug addicted mother and her son. And she grows, eventually recognizing – at least within herself, the mistakes she’s made, the time she’s squandered. And in the end, she learns to love a little better (though still in her prickly Olive way). Now that’s inspiring. As we age, it seems we just become more of what we are. Late-life transformations, even slight, are rare. So there’s the challenge to pay attention to who we are now, decide if that’s who we want to be, and if not — get on with the work of changing.

Have you read Olive Kitteridge or watched the HBO series? Do you hate or love her?

Another Season

Perhaps it’s these first whispers of autumn: the dying garden, changing leaves, cooler nights, but this last weekend of summer has me pondering the passage of time. Another summer is gone in a finite number of seasons any of us get.

SAM_0430

I’m contemplating aging here, not bemoaning it. Even as I note the passing years, I confess that I feel pretty much like the same person I’ve always been. A wee bit wiser and certainly more content but otherwise, the same gal I was at say – 18?

When I look down at myself from inside of me, I don’t think I even look all that different because I see the same casual hippie wardrobe: jeans, sweatshirts and practical mostly ugly shoes. I’m a little larger, but not by much. Ha! I’m not seeing my mirror-self, I’m looking down at me sitting in this chair. It helps not to spend more than 5 minutes a day in front of a mirror — you can ignore the decades. In the morning, I spend seconds scrawling eyeliner on so I look less like a naked baby mole. While brushing my teeth, hair or washing hands, I may search my face for flaws that might be another squamous or basal spot I’ll need to get sliced off. While dressing, I give myself a quick glance to check my clothes are not too wrinkled and that my buttons are in the right buttonholes. But that’s about it.

So I easily forget that I’m sagging a bit around the jowls and my hair is silvery. I’ve never been particularly vain and am certainly much less now. Perhaps I’d enjoy being more of a looker than I am – but I don’t miss the catcalls from my youth. I don’t mind that I’ve become ‘invisible’ to jerks. To everything, a season after all and that one, perhaps the least interesting, has passed. Most importantly, my bones don’t ache much and I’m healthy. So far so good.

Here’s one of things I cherish most about where I am in my life: how interesting it is to be inside of me. My internal life. How fascinating the inside us humans are with our minds, our hearts, our spirit – what mystery! I love being able to reflect on the whole crazy history of me so far. The 15 year old girl who couldn’t wait to escape home, the traveler, the artist, the searcher, the worker, the reader, the gardener, the friend, lover, the mother. All of my incredible years are here in the present with me, right now and still more story to live.

tet glasses

On this other side of 50 where I am today, I don’t grieve my lost looks or mistakes (ah), I think mostly about the possibility of not having enough time. I start to feel greedy. There are no guarantees on the time front. Beloved Tetley is getting old in dog years and every day with him feels like a gift. I look at R and feel grateful we got to flash forward from our youthful passion and lost years and found each other again. There are moments when it seems no time has passed at all –  the same only better.  I imagine the life ahead of my sweet daughter and want to be there too.

None of us know how many days we get, do we? Not really. As another season passes, I look a little longer in the mirror and remind myself to savor today, to hope for tomorrow and to love.

A Rock and a Dive

SAM_08301.jpg There’s a spot about 20 minutes paddle from shore, where the Sound pushes into and out-of the natural harbor between two islands. Depending on the tide, we sometimes get buffeted in a crash of waves. Pulling our paddles in, we gleefully surrender to the splashing. If the tide is low, we yank the boat across the crunch of shell and stones to the other side. We like to pause here and stare alternately at the horizon and into the surf. Sometimes we pick up treasures. On Sunday, this rock caught my eye.

photo-43 Doesn’t it look like it’s part of something much bigger, like a chunk of a cliff or something? I reached down and lifted it away from the round stones surrounding it and said to R, “I wonder if anyone has ever touched this before – and will anyone again?” I held it a moment longer, thinking about time and wondering how it ended up where the waves meet, then let it go torpedoing in slow motion down to the bottom. I waded on, thinking I might swim.

I’m not a big swimmer. Last summer I barely got wet. But the place and moment seemed magical, the water crystal-clear, inviting. Wading up to my torso, I flinched as the water lapped against my belly – so cold. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back to the sky enjoying the warmth of the sun cooled by a breeze. I didn’t really want to get wet – this felt too good. But I imagined myself floating-in rather than just looking at the water and the part of my body already submerged, felt invigorated. I opened my eyes. Looking at the surface of the water, I willed myself to dive in – and didn’t.

Why? I wondered at my reluctance. Why not duck in for a swim? Because I felt comfortable and warm and safe, my hair was dry and I didn’t have a towel. I hesitated because I knew I’d be shocked by the cold. Even though my discomfort would quickly pass into pleasure, I did not move.

Have I become a hobbled by comfort? I wasn’t always this way – I have lived on the edge — traveled alone, moving to other countries, a war zone, marrying an addict. Okay, I didn’t really know I was doing that last one. And perhaps that’s what happened. Maybe I lost trust in my judgement about risk, became hyper-aware of the repercussions of launching willy-nilly into adventures. Perhaps the years of hanging onto the roller coaster of my life took its toll, making me staid. Or is this just an expected symptom of getting older like grey hair and wrinkles? I know, I should, I want to – resist.

My mental chatter grew noisier than the churning of water until I stepped deeper and, feeling like I was being gently pushed, dove beneath the surface. A frozen blanket of silence enveloped me as I pushed myself through the current, finally coming up for air with a gasp. Laying back into the gentle waves, I floated.

The next morning, the stone was atop my computer. R had retrieved it from where I’d dropped it back into the sea. There it was, a reminder of time, of going beneath the surface and something bigger than itself.

Over the Hill

My birthday is this week. Again. Since I slipped over to the downward slope, everything goes so much faster. Once again, it’s time to celebrate. But didn’t we just do this?

March 9

I’ve never been particularly coy about my age, but this year’s number does sound a little shocking when I say it. I’m how old?! It’s hard to believe. And I cannot ignore how our society perceives this number. I am increasingly less employable with every year. My age group has the most difficult time getting hired and most of us, still need to work. Retirement? Ha! So I better hang on to my job. And how many years left there? In a bookstore? While I still feel confident in my company’s ability to survive the Amazon storm, I’m also not stupid. And as my bones become brittle, will I really be able to hauling boxes of books to schools? Oh yeah! Students are, or will be soon, using tablets so I won’t have to, right? So much to keep up with! If only I could get paid just to keep reading. I’m so good at it.

Red Leaf

And then there’s the memoir I’m writing that I hope to sell to a publisher. Yes, I’m still working on it and it’s becoming a better book — really. But have you looked at the back flap on any book jackets lately? New authors are (attractive) youngsters. Who wants to read about the adventures, the romance, struggle and resiliency of a geezer? (Okay, I know I’m not quite a geezer – I just like that word.) But publishing, like much in the world, is the realm of the young. First time fifty-something author? Not so many of us.

05383a260d10a9e0927ec52c5d3e43dd

And I can’t ignore the physical dimensions of aging. I know there are things that I can do to look younger for my author shot – like color my hair. But since I suck at maintenance I’d soon end up with one of those skunky-stripes across the top of my head – right up there with crazy-clown lipstick as a bad look for an older woman. See, it’s not that I lack vanity, I’m just realistic. Besides the fact that coloring my hair is not what I want to spend my time or money on, better to look like a sea-hag from behind. When I turn around I can get the reaction “oh, she looks good for her age” rather than have the hair of a sixteen year old and a face of a, well, 55 year old. I’d rather hang onto my silver strands than risk that cringe factor.

snow tree

At this point, as long as nothing major fails in the body department I’d like another 3o years or so. Preferably with the ones I love. I know that’s a tall order – the people we love don’t always stick around and that’s heartbreaking.  I won’t even go there (for a change!).

I don’t mean to be depressing. I am not depressed, rather, I’m contemplative. We humans are a marvel of nature and in nature, everything has a season and all that. I’m glad to be here to keep marking the seasons.  I’m not horrified at the prospect of aging. I embrace it and intend to do it as well as possible. Like the New Year, I think of my birthday as time to take stock. Where and what do I want to be doing in X number of years from now?

crocus

Oh, never mind all that. Better to savor the moment, seize the day. Pay attention. That I can do. Cheers and happy birthday to me. And while we’re at it, happy birthday to you too – it will be here before you know it!

Denial at the Dentist

“Anything been bothering you?” my dentist asks every 6 months. I am a diligent brusher and flosser and the good result is that I have been cavity-free for years. Since the dentist usually has her hands in my mouth when she asks the question, I simply answer in a guttural negative.

The fact is I’m lying. One of my lower molars on the left side of my mouth is sensitive and sometimes aches. I chew mostly on my right side and often worry my ancient filling with my tongue. This has been the case for years. And years ago, she pointed out that this tooth had a slight crack and I’d probably eventually need a crown. Money was tight then, so when she told me the probable cost I balked.

This news, along with once enduring an excruciating “scaling” procedure, has made me ultra-vigilant when it comes to my mouth. I am also determined not to be like my mother whose teeth were a mess because of her lack of  mouth-maintenance. She claimed she had a phobia of the dentist. I vow to not ever let my mouth get the way hers was in the last years of her life. Besides, research indicates a link between gum disease and heart disease.

And yet, there I go, lying to the dentist. And it’s no longer because of money. I feel dismay at a big bill from the car mechanic but I still fix the car. This is my body we’re talking about. But I also have dentist-fear. I hate the image of what I vaguely understand they do to your tooth: grinding it down to a nub and attaching the fake bit on, right? Ugh. No, I lie about my discomfort because I’m chicken and it doesn’t hurt quite enough.

But recently, I’ve decided I better act now. One day, it might be the money again. Bless Barnes & Noble, I currently have great coverage – including dental. A good chunk (oh, my poor tooth!) of the cost would be covered. And so I am prepping myself to bite the bullet (!) at my next visit and answer the call of my molar.

Acknowledging my dental-denial has reminded me of how I behaved for years; my avoidance of dealing with the painful truth. I convinced myself things weren’t really that bad and surely they’d get better. If distress was not perpetual – day-in and day-out – I ignored it. I am an easy mark and could be distracted by sweet talk and what proved to be only hollow promises. Anything to avoid conflict and anything rather than give up on the illusion of the happy family.  This used to be me. It’s not uncommon – mostly women do it – dismiss our pain insisting we’re okay, really we are. Excuses, rationalizing reasons for other’s bad behavior. Anything to avoid giving up on the one we love. Chewing on the other side to avoid confronting and dealing with the pain of taking the steps to end it.

But I’ve learned over the years, that even after the most terrible pain can come incredible serenity and bliss.

And at the dentist office, I’ll just ask for lots of Novocaine.

Who do you lie to?