Meeting Myself in the Mirror

Coco-Chanel-4
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

 

 

 

What a Beautiful World!

IMG_3607
With a closer look, this flower came to life!

Dear Reader:

I’ve been thinking a lot about time and place lately. It seems to me that place matters little if the time is not right. It was a philosophical cabana boy who got me thinking about this. I had left the Carmel fog for the sunshine of Carmel Valley to enjoy a glass of bubbly poolside. I was admiring the stunning view of blue skies, old oaks and green hills when he handed me my chilled glass.

“This really is paradise up here, isn’t it,” I commented. I hadn’t phrased it as a question and yet he took it that way. “Well,” he said flatly, “I guess paradise is where you find it.” Clearly, he had not found it where I had.

It could be argued that he was working and I was lounging and as such we had different viewpoints, but I think it’s more than that.  In my younger days, I often failed to appreciate the beauty around me…the beauty that offers solace, inspiration and perspective. Understandably, I was rushing, worrying, working and tending; now there is less of all of that and more time to notice what’s around me.

I do remember the orange leaves in the fall of 2000, though. It was my brother’s last fall and he knew it. We’d met to have coffee and pastry.  We sat outside at a small bistro table admiring the view. “Of course, I never appreciated it quite so much,” he said. Fall had always been my favorite time of year, too.  I loved the tree colors and the crisp air and, in my younger days, the joy of beginning a new year in school. Yet, that day was different; we sat and breathed it in. We were happy.

As I grow older, I do stop more often to appreciate trees, stars, flowers and vistas and I am always struck by how marvelous it all is. I feel content to sit by the windows in the morning and watch the breeze in the grasses and the squirrels in frolic. In the afternoon, I marvel at the fog as it drifts in slowly to ultimately form a thick wall. I walk outside at night sometimes just to look up at the sky.

I enjoyed a visit with my neighbor this morning and as we cleaned up the coffee cups she pointed out the kitchen window to her garden. “People talk about yoga,” she said. “This is my yoga.”

And, I understood what she meant. If you take the time to notice it, the world is a beautiful place.

Have a lovely day,

Michele

She’s Flying!

 Dear Reader:

I nearly collided with a jubilant young girl yesterday upon my arrival in the lobby of a large hotel.  She was happily spinning about with her arms outstretched. “I’m flying Mom! I’m flying!” she exclaimed.

“Fabulous,” came her mother’s enthusiastic reply. “But, don’t fly too close to the stairs!”

I remembered my daughter at the same age.  She was energetic, determined and curious. I could imagine her dancing beside me. She is now in Southern California, a 20-year-old college sophomore, earning excellent grades while working part-time. Today she made a deposit on her first off-campus apartment for next year. She is flying!

IMG_3575
Shopping at T.J. Maxx for my daughter’s first apartment. Hmmm…maybe a knight for protection?!

She is also studying abroad this summer. She received the good news that she had been accepted into the international program on March 22, the day the terrorist attack took place in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster in London. I was shopping for fun stuff for the girl’s apartment when I received a message from my husband about the Manchester attack two days ago.

Terrorist attacks are by nature appalling, but those that target children and young adults are the most heartbreaking. It’s hard to hold back tears when listening to a parent describe how they feel about their child’s death. This is not the way life should be. Parents should not have to face the death of their children. I wish there was something I could do to assuage the pain of those who have lost children and yet I imagine that there is nothing anyone can do. The pain will never leave.

Within hours of the attack at the concert, the Facebook page for college parents was filled with one simple question:  Is your daughter/son still planning on traveling to Europe this summer? Though our “children” are young adults, study abroad is made possible by parents. So the decision to go or not to go becomes a conversation that begins with:  “Do you still want to go?”

My daughter was upset by the news but does not want to “waste the opportunity.” My husband and I agree. As a young child we taught her to look both ways and to dial 911, and, most importantly, we tried to model responsible behavior. Thankfully, she was an inherently careful, thoughtful, observant girl and she did not cause us undue worry. Now that she is also an adult, we can discuss the fact that life is unpredictable which makes it that much more precious. One must fly despite the fact that the stairs can not always be seen.

Unless circumstances drastically change, my daughter will soon be on a plane heading toward a wonderful 7- week- long adventure…and my heart will be there, too!

Michele

To Market to Market!

IMG_3467 2
Farmer’s Market on the Monterey Penninsula

Dear Reader:

“Go to the farmers market and buy food there. You’ll get something that’s delicious. It’s discouraging that this seems like such an elitist thing. It’s not. It’s just that we have to pay the real cost of food. People have to understand that cheap food has been subsidized. We have to realize that it’s important to pay farmers up front, because they are taking care of the land.”—Alice Waters

 “Buy flowers, too!”—Michele LaFollette
 

3-2-1 Salute!

 

IMG_3117-1743063693-1495294801321.jpg

Enjoying an Aperol Spritz!

Dear Reader:

The word for the day is aperitif  (pronounced “ah-pair-ee-TEEF”)… the lovely Latin word for a pre-dinner cocktail that’s usually big on refreshment and light on alcohol. The sun has arrived here on the Monterey Peninsula (and hopefully to your neighborhood), so it’s the perfect time to head to BevMo! for supplies to make one of my favorite afternoon coolers. The Aperol Spritz is orange soda for adults. It’s a sparkly, happy drink with notes of rhubarb and a hint of grapefruit rind bitterness.  This is the cocktail that says: the day is done…it’s time to celebrate!

Ingredients
3 parts Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 part soda water

1 slice orange

It’s very simple to make; here’s a tutorial for you!

I have some expert mixing notes to offer:

  •  Adjust the drink to suit your personal taste. If you’d like a more sweet, less bitter taste, lower the Aperol to Prosecco ratio.
  • Make sure to use large ice cubes, not crushed ice! This is essential for slow dilution of your drink!
  • Choose a chilled, dry Prosecco, but if that’s not handy use whatever you’ve got in your frig: Gruet, Cava or anything French but not expensive.
  • Use a Bordeaux glass and add a straw…black is the traditional color. If you haven’t got one, a rocks glass will work.
  • MIX WELL!

Ladies, I guarantee you’ll look lovely sipping this spritzer while your man fires up the grill or orders the appetizers!

Enjoy,

Michele

 

 

 

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

IMG_1928
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.

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 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 

Happy Mother’s Day!

IMG_3169

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

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

IMG_0227

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.