Meeting Myself in the Mirror

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Coco Chanel

“Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve.”

Coco Chanel

 

Dear Reader:

I wish I could sit down over a glass of champagne and talk to Coco. How old was she when she spoke those words? What did she mean? What did she think of her own face at 20,30 and 50?

I first encountered her words shortly before I turned 30 and they inspired a trip to the drug store where I purchased Oil of Olay Day Cream with a SPF 15 and I promised myself that each and every day, rain or shine, I’d slather my face in protection, wash before bed and slather again with night cream.  I’ve done that, with the rare exception.

I didn’t really think much beyond my daily ritual again until I hit 40. I added facials once a month to the budget. Estheticians agreed that my routine was good, but inadequate, so I added a scrub at night every other day.

A decade later, I really wised up. This “getting older thing” was just going to continue, if I was lucky! I decided it was fine to try a product or minimally invasive procedure that was guaranteed to take 5-7 years off my face.  However, after doing the math, I realized I’d still look 50! Then it struck me that no one really cared if I looked 50 or 57, including my husband.

I’m the only one who has to meet myself in the mirror each day.

I found myself reciting those words aloud when it hit me that the truth of them lies not in the literal interpretation but in the figurative one. My life is more than half lived. When I look back on my actions and choices, am I content with what I see reflected back? When I look at myself from this point of view, the mirror is crowded with the faces of others: husband, daughter, Nonnie, brother, friends.  Turns out I did prepare to meet myself in the mirror, but the preparation did not come from a bottle purchased at the drugstore.

Michele

 

 

 

On Marriage

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Panna cotta to celebrate our day!

Dear Reader:

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated 33 years of marriage. We met in high school at the precise time my parents’ marriage was unraveling after 18 years. My mother in law and father in law had already celebrated fifty years of marriage when he died ten years ago.

One can never fully appreciate the dynamics involved in any marriage, but I feel that I am now in possession of a few truisms based on my age and experience. (I am choosing to write about everyday, hum-drum marriages, not those that involve violence, alcoholism or severe mental illness.) Here’s where you can decide to indulge me my opinions…or not!

First, it seems silly to say that “marriage is hard work,” to the extent that everything is hard work: children, friends, careers, pets, housekeeping, gardens, garages, fitness,  writing …LIFE. Anything worth having is hard work.

Second, marriage counseling can be instructive and enlightening. About ten years ago, it seemed likely our marriage would end. I don’t think the counselor saved our union, but two moments from that experience have stayed with me…one in my head and one in my heart. The first seems so obvious, BUT there is Michele World and there is my Husband’s World. These are different places, and, as such, the reaction to any marital event or communication will be interpreted differently depending on which world leader you ask. The second moment came when my husband said that it had felt like we had been swimming alongside each other for so long that it was odd to look up and not see me there. (Lovely sentiment and interesting as I can’t swim!)

Last, yes there are only three (I said a few)! Whenever anyone asks for my “secret” to  maintaining a long-term marriage, I always say the same thing: “Don’t sign the divorce papers.”  I’m sure my parents’ choice to end their marriage shaped my thoughts and I am not proud to say that I was the one who, at one time, felt that leaving was preferable to staying. Thankfully, we both chose to stay. And, ultimately that is the secret…make the choice to stay.

At 57 years of age, the graph of my life would look like that of most people, I assume. It’s a roller coaster ride, and I am grateful and proud that for more than half of it, my husband and I have been in the same car.

Sincerely,

Michele

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.

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.

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!

 

 

 

 

How Old Do You Feel?

 

Dear Reader:

It was one of those moments that just sneaks up on you. It was 5 years ago, but it remains fixed in my memory. It was the day I realized that even though I was the one driving from point a to point b, my passengers were not far behind me. I was sitting in the car pool lane at school with my neighbor in the back seat awaiting the arrival of my daughter.  We had just finished an uninhibited, full-throttle, banging on the steering wheel and backpack sing-along with Adele. I was still “Rolling in the Deep” when my 15-year-old passenger asked. “How old do you feel?” I turned to face her and she continued. “Do you feel as old as you are?”

I was impressed with her question, and I wanted to know where it came from before I  answered. She said that it came from observing her mother closely. Fair enough. She deserved a thoughtful response.

At the time, I was a mere 52-year-old, so in some ways I was still getting used to the label:  “50-something.” I was then and still am in good health fortunately,  but I didn’t really think that was at the heart of her question. I had to tell her that, although I wasn’t really sure what “50” was supposed to feel like, it was very hard to believe that it had happened to me, even though I was along for the entire ride.

“So you are saying what everyone says:  time goes by quickly?” she asked. She’d heard it before and I could only confirm that it is one of those truths that can’t be known…until it is known.

She wanted more than a simple, trite, easy answer though, so I drew a comparison for her. I described “Imaginary 50-year-old Michele.” She’s a better driver. She’s very wise in a very casual way.  She’s less fearful. She’s more organized.

In contrast, “Real Michele” was still a lousy driver and a bit disorganized. She knew what she didn’t know and she did not hesitate to ask for help. She was not unafraid, but she had a greater sense of peace than she could have imagined.

I also confessed that the picture that I carried in my mind no longer closely matched what I saw when I looked at photographs of myself. Generally, I wasn’t bothered by that though. I estimated my imaginary mental picture age was about “35.”

If I were asked the same question today, I’d probably reply in the same manner. I’m now closer to “60” than “50” and I’m sure when that happens it will feel sudden, and I’ll bet I won’t feel like a 60-year-old.  I’m guessing I’ll still be a poor driver and a bit disorganized, but, in my mind’s eye, I will have aged some; I’ll probably look about “45.”

I’ve decided a bit of denial is just fine. I know how old I am, but there’s no reason to dwell on how many years I’ve lived except to marvel at my incredible good fortune. When I want to feel really young,  these things always take me back:

  • Listening to the Bee Gees
  • Driving a fast car…fast
  • Flirting with my husband
  • Swinging, you know, in a swing in the park
  • Eating a doughnut or hot fudge sundae or a piece of cake with special candles

My daughter baked me a cake!

This year I visited my daughter at college the week before my 57th birthday and she and her roommates helped me celebrate. They baked me a cake and used the only candles they had in their apartment, as they had all turned “20” this year!

Michele

What’s at the Bottom of Your Heart?

Dear Reader:

I attended a half day writer’s workshop yesterday…you know the routine. After the facilitator reads inspiring works of literature, you are given a writing prompt and 30 minutes to record your thoughts. Usually, I’m not fond of the prompts, but I liked this one, so I thought I’d pass it along to you.

At the bottom of your heart…

At the bottom of my heart, there’s a mess

A beautiful mess

There are stacks and piles, bits and fragments,

Bright colors and blurred lines

All collected over more than half a century

It is a painful and joyous mix

It is particular and general

Fanciful and serious

It is, I imagine, not so different from what is at the bottom of every one else’s heart

And, yet it is uniquely mine.

There is the face of my very elegant third grade teacher who seemed to approve of me in the way I wished my mother had and often simply wrote “tres bien” at the top of my papers.

There is the memory of the summer day when I drove my shiny new olive-green 1967 Mustang down the street and the handsome guy stopped in the car next to me at the red light shouted out his approval.

There is a small herb garden just outside the kitchen door at my Nonnie’s house. I’m picking and she’s cooking just inside.

There is the note I’ve left on the counter for my grandmother 35 years ago stating that “Tom has picked me up for dinner and will return me at around 8 or 9 …. Or “maybe never” scrawled in his horrible writing below mine.

There is a smile that stands out from the rest. It’s the smile of a darling boy who grows into a very handsome young man but never has the chance to grow old.

There is an angel, Mary. Once a week for that horrible year, I came to her and spilled out my life. She helped me find my strength.

There is the Mexican family who served us dinner for years in their tiny restaurant, and also opened their hearts to me and my family.

There are the faces of neighbors and friends who have come and gone but will always remain.

There is the doctor with the heavy German accent, the stylish blonde hair and the sensible brogues worn with fashionably simple black under her white coat. I trusted her with my daughter.

And my daughter, so difficult in birth, yet so easy in life. My joy.

There is a push and a pull at work in this very messy heart. It can be difficult to leave the door open. It is not without pain or risk or effort. But it is not yet full.

I’d love to know what’s at the bottom of your heart, dear reader!

Sincerely,

Michele