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

 

 

 

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!

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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!

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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
 

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.

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

A Kiss for You…and Me

Dear Reader:

My pink shed is filled with all manner of things that inspire me, inform me or simply please me. One of those things is this bird; you squeeze the sides and its beak opens to reveal a chocolate kiss. It’s been with me for 25 years now. The yellow has faded and it has been stained with coffee spills. It used to hang from a knob above my coffee maker in my old home.

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It was hand-made by an elderly woman who lived down the hall from Nonnie (my Italian grandmother) in her last residence:  an assisted living facility. I remember the day I acquired it quite vividly. I was visiting with the rest of my family and Nonnie was uncharacteristically demanding. She wanted “the bird with the kiss.”  We kept re-directing her back to the garden as it was a particularly pleasant day. But, she wanted the bird. She wanted the bird her neighbor made that gave kisses.

It took a while for us to consider her request seriously and decide to comply. We were, I remember, confused and impatient. But, she persisted, and led us down her hallway and into the room of a woman perched on her bed surrounded by skeins of bright yellow yarn. Indeed, she was making birds that offered chocolate. It was a cottage industry and she could barely keep up with the demand. We each purchased a bird and then retired to the garden where we enjoyed chocolate in the sunshine.

My grandmother died a week later.

I look at that bird and wonder:  is there a moral to this story? Is it a reminder to listen better and judge less or to stop and be patient? Or does its value simply come from the smile it produces on my face when I look at it and remember one of the most beautiful people who ever graced my life.

Tell me about your interesting mementos,

Michele