Month: May 2017

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

What Am I Going to Do With This?!?!

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Me with a childhood portrait

“It’s so big I can’t even scan it!” said my husband.

Dear Reader:

Downsizing, I think, is a lot like writing; both exercises require one to discard what is not beautiful or useful. Brutal elimination of the extraneous is a painful process. But hard work and commitment offer the potential to create a deep sense of satisfaction and true pride. My husband and I are collectors and we’ve been alive for over half of a century, so when we moved two years ago into a  home, half the size from our previous home, there were a lot of items we were forced to hold in our hands and decide to keep or donate.

Back in the days when we had little money, we could measure the depth of a friendship by the willingness of a person to help us move. You see there were many, many, many heavy boxes of books and anyone who knew us, knew that! So, if someone turned up on moving day, we knew we had a true friend. Books are still a shared passion for us, but, thankfully, we can afford to hire big, burly young movers.

I started the process of downsizing a year in advance and thank goodness for that! When my friends ask for advice, that’s the first thing I say:  Get a head start!  The act of purging builds on itself. It’s kind of like losing weight; you lose one pound and you’re more motivated to lose the other four. It does take a lot of time, though. You have to develop a rhythm. It’s easy to decide the fate of some things. Yes, I’ll keep every love letter my husband ever sent me. There are a lot as we had a long distance relationship while he was away at UC San Diego  and this was before cell phones and laptops (I’m very old!)! The closet took forever as I tried on each item of clothing and modeled it for my husband. The kitchen was a nightmare.  I’m a wanna-be chef so through the years I’ve purchased many small appliances that promised to help me achieve my culinary goals. Sad to say many of them were never used.  Bye, bye panini maker, waffle maker and food processor! I was forced to acknowledge that I’d never make a crepe or a donut. I did keep my large roasting pan only to discover on our first Thanksgiving in the house that it was too big for my new oven!

My second suggestion is to recruit the help of an honest friend. You know the one who knows how many cake plates you have and isn’t afraid to ask why you need all of them. Self talk is also very helpful. This can be of the silent variety or you can run it past your four-legged furry friends. It goes something like this: “When was the last time I used this? Am I sentimentally attached? Is it really fab or really handy?” Finally, if you’d like to buy a book to inform, motivate and support you, I offer the following recommendations:  It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff  by Peter Walsh and the hugely popular primer by Marie Kondo,  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Today we are happily living among our very carefully curated collection of things. My husband and I have never been, nor will we ever be, minimalists.  We still have a lot of stuff, but it’s all good stuff! Oh, and about that portrait…the frame is gone, but the picture  remains in a large art box filled with my daughter’s early masterpieces.

Best,

Michele

P.S. I can still find room for small dachshund shaped items and most anything in the color of petal pink.

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Grief and Loss

Mean Mothers

Dear Reader:

As we drove home from Southern California yesterday, my husband asked me, “Does Mother’s Day upset you or make you sad in a way?”

I knew exactly what he meant, but the question still took me by surprise as I was quite happily surveying grape orchards and remembering the events of the weekend. If you know me from my blog, you know how proud I am of my daughter and the close relationship we share. If you are one of my dear friends, you begin every visit with the question, “How’s your daughter?” I love talking about my daughter. I simply adore her. She is my single greatest source of pride.

So, why should Mother’s Day in any way upset me? Well, the answer has to do with my mother. She died three years ago on the morning after my daughter had major surgery at Stanford Hospital. In life, my mom had loved being the center of attention and so the timing of her death seemed appropriate.

One of the nurses heard me take the emergency call from my sister and she became immediately quite concerned about my state of mind. My daughter was scheduled to spend four days in the hospital, but she would need continuous home care for several weeks. The doctors and nurses, my husband and I soon realized, were training us to take care of her at home. Her release would be determined not only by her condition, but also by our ability to care for her. The hospital chaplain was alerted to our situation and within the hour began appearing at our door. My husband shooed her away several times while I snoozed, but she was determined to talk to me.

“Ah, good, you’re eating!” she exclaimed as she approached me late that night in the cafeteria. “I’m Dusty, the hospital’s multi-faith chaplain and I’m here to see if you’d like to talk.”

Really I just wanted to eat, but I was polite. I thanked her for her concern and let her know that I was tired, but fine, and that I knew exactly what I needed to do:  take care of my daughter.

“But,” she continued, “it’s hard to take care of someone else when you are suffering yourself.”

How could she know that was exactly what I’d told myself for years when I thought about my mother? She was simply unable to be kind or nurturing as she was in pain. The explanation served to protect me from completely absorbing the constant emotional assault she inflicted on everyone close to her. My mother died without having a relationship with me or knowing her only grandchild. “She’s no longer in pain,” I told Dusty and I left her to interpret the comment in any way she chose. I returned to my coffee and eggs as she left finally satisfied that she had done her job.

A week later I found myself speeding down the freeway to attend my mother’s funeral. I paid my last respects to the woman who had created me and who had, I think, helped determine the happy course of my life.

“You know we may not have Natalie if it weren’t for my mother,” I answered my husband.

I missed out on having a strong bond with my own mother; maybe that’s why I finally decided at 35 to throw away my birth control pills!   We all make choices and those choices are often based on needs we may not even consciously be aware of. Maybe I needed a strong mother/daughter bond. I did not have that with my own mom, so I set about to create it with my daughter.

It has been many many years since I felt anything for my mother, but it took time and counseling to resolve issues from my childhood. It seems to me that it is still taboo to speak about one’s mother in anything but appreciative terms, but for those readers who can relate to my story, I’m sorry… and I’d like to offer the following book recommendations: Mean Mothers by Peg Streep and Mothering Without a Map by Kathryn Black.

I’ll borrow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words to perfectly describe my feelings about my life: “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else…”

I am so fortunate to be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my daughter. Happy ending!

Sincerely,

Michele 

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Flowers

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Flowers from my girl!

Dear Reader:

I am lucky enough to be spending Mother’s Day weekend with my daughter! One forgets how good food is in a college town: donuts, pizza, bagels and smoothies oh my!

Best wishes to my dear friend, Courtney,  mother of four girls all under the age of nine, and hugs to my mother-in-law, Mary , who gave me my wonderful husband!

Love,

Michele

Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older, Politics

Alas, We Can Not All Be Supermodels

Dear Reader:

While sitting in a popular, local bar enjoying a glass of wine with a friend, I overheard the gentleman at the next table say:

“Wow it must be hard to be one of those visiting dignitaries’ wives who are required to have their picture taken standing next to Melania!”

CNN was showing footage of the Japanese Prime Minister’s recent visit to the White House.

I laughed and whispered to my friend that I did not know how I managed to endure Sunday’s party as I was photographed many times posing with my young, tall, stunning friends who came to celebrate in my pink shed.

I returned home to google the photos from the prime minister’s visit. Although I could not locate the height of Akie Abe, I’d guess that she is at least six inches shorter than our first lady and I noted that she does not look like a supermodel. But, my research did not stop there.

I was fascinated to read about a very unconventional, opinionated and accomplished first lady. She holds a master’s degree in Social Design Studies and worked for the world’s largest advertising agency. She founded an organic izakaya (Japanese bar and casual eatery) and worked as a popular radio disc jockey (known by the handle Akky).

She has also managed to maintain her own views despite her husband’s position. She became popularly known as the “domestic opposition party” because her opinions were often in contradiction to those of her husband. She marched in the gay pride parade in Tokyo in 2014 and publicly supports the LGBTQ community.

She and her husband underwent unsuccessful fertility treatments and she has publicly stated that she has come to accept the blessings and disappointments in her life.

So, I don’t know her, but I’m guessing that she was unfazed by having a photo-op with a former model. I am however left wondering how our president feels having his picture taken alongside Justin Trudeau?!

What do you think?

Michele

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This picture is a favorite of mine. It was taken a few years ago when I was 10 pounds heavier than today. The contrast of my “womanly” shape with my daughter’s young shape is beautiful to me.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

This is Why You Need at Least Two Friends

Dear Reader:

Yesterday I had a bit of a meltdown. Tears and everything. That doesn’t happen often …especially over something trivial.

I had coffee with a friend and the tears were a delayed reaction to her, well-intentioned I’m sure, comments. I was complaining about the 5 pounds I’ve packed on since I started setting up my blog three months ago, and she had this to say:

You could do better. Look at how well you’ve done with your blog!”

I was coming to the same conclusion on my own, but I wasn’t quite ready to have someone agree. You see I have a really hard time with balance. I’m a 110% kind of girl and I’ve been focused on improving my computer skills and writing blog posts. I haven’t seen the inside of the gym since I started this creative project. (Unfortunately, the pink shed is not big enough for a stationary bike!)

Exercise is something I love to hate, unlike my friend. She is one of those people who live to move, and she was reminding me that I should at least move to live a better, healthier life.

It just happened that another friend sent a text to me in the middle of coffee inviting me to lunch. She may have regretted asking when I showed up at the brink of tears.

“How could I just let myself go?” I sputtered while trying to maintain my composure.

“What? I couldn’t tell you gained weight. Just get back to your spin classes; it’s fine,” she said. And then, “We are having wine, right?”

We ate salads and drank a glass of wine and then because it wasn’t quite time for her to pick up her girls from school, she ordered us cappuccino and a peanut butter cookie to share.

“These things are delicious and gluten-free,” she enthused. I smiled and thoroughly enjoyed my half of the cookie.

I will always be an “eat, drink and be merry” kind of person. I am Italian, after all. And, it will never be my ambition to return to my very thin younger self, but I do feel better when I regularly exercise. And, perhaps most importantly, exercise allows me to eat more and drink more and merry more!

As I suffered through spin this morning, I felt grateful for both of my friends…the one who kicked me in the butt and the one who hugged me.

Thanks Kristin and Courtney.

Love,

Michele

P.S. Both of these women are 15+ years younger than me!