Tag Archives: aging

THE SWEETEST VOICE

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Every Sunday, for the past 17 years, my mother’s garrulous voice has greeted me at the end of the phone line. I will have just waken up, most likely to a sunny Californian day, while she will be getting  dinner ready, in her cozy apartment in Italy, the curtains drawn, the tv humming in the background. For 17 years, her voice has embodied my connection to a home that is no more, to a family than hangs by a thread and a love that has survived intact the wrath of my teenage years and my many moves.

The slight shrill in my mother’s “hello” will let me know immediately that everything is fine, while a more subdued and lower tone will presage unpleasant news. A brief humming just before she speaks, her trademark hesitation, conveys trouble, somebody else’s trouble typically, while the mention of my full name prefaces a question she is loath to ask.

That voice that praised me, scolded me, lulled me to sleep, admonished me and, above all, loved me is the voice I hear in my head every time I think of my mother. It’s part of my being as much as my own voice belongs to me. Someone told me that,  when a loved one dies, the first thing we forget is the sound of their voice. No photograph can give it back and, while recording devices can preserve a sound for posterity, they are a far cry from  accessing a memory at will as we go through our day. If all goes according as nature intended, my mother will die before me and the morbid thought of the loss of those Sunday phone calls has crossed my mind as I watch the two of us age.

After much prodding on the part of both her daughters, we convinced my mother to spend a couple of months  in Los Angeles with me, rather than her customary two weeks. As I write or make dinner or even while I putter in another room, I can hear my mother softly singing or talking to the dogs as she stubbornly cleans and irons and tries to make herself useful. It’s hard to resist her happy sound, not to yield to the high tones or the broken notes, especially when she ventures outside to shout for the dogs, who probably disappeared chasing a rabbit or a squirrel. The concern I hear in her calls is the same she couldn’t disguise whenever I tiptoed through the front door, late at night, back from another revelry in my college years, letting me know she had waited up (although she always denied it in the morning).

And then the more placid “Good night” or “Here you are, you scoundrels” will follow, her worries assuaged by our return, everything and everyone once again where they belong.

 

The sound of her presence has brightened my house and made those who inhabit it, human and canine, happier and calmer. I believe it’s because the melody of her speech is irresistible and has the power to draw us in. It will be a much emptier shell when she leaves – the dogs’ snorting, the bubbling of the fish tank and the humming of the fridge will go back to being my day’s soundtrack. Until I reach for that phone and wait for the long, ringing tone of Italian lines and the shrilly “Pronto” will let me know everything and everyone is where they belong.

 

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CAN YOU PLEASE LEAVE ME IN MY BUBBLE?

Happy bubbles

If you are a male reader, I beg you to stop reading now. There are images of your woman you just don’t want ingrained in your mind. Go have a coffee and I will see you tomorrow. If you are a girl of any age, carry on – you might recognize or see your future yourself.

This morning, battling LA traffic trying to reach the office of my gyno, I thought back at the time of my first period, age 13. It was a Sunday, I was in the back of the family car, on the way home from a day trip to Florence, my little sister napping next to me. Once inside the house, there was a surprise in my panties. I knew what it was, girls talk, but my mother wasn’t extremely helpful – with only some tampons on hand and pharmacies closed, she couldn’t think of anything better than handing me a huge wad of cotton wool to put between my legs. I felt I was sitting on a saddle and mentally reminded myself to avoid scheduling any major life events on a Sunday.

Thirty years or so later, I am driving to the gyno because my super regular, trusted periods that invariably followed the moon cycles, have become wacky. I know where this is leading to but I am living in a heightened state of denial, still convinced there might be a medical explanation. “You are all good!” she announces cheerily, brandishing a gigantic white and blue vaginal wand that would put any vibrator to shame. “But what about my wacky periods?” “Do you have any other symptoms? No? You will just have to grin and bear them, you are peri-menopausal”.

In sign of protest at this unwelcome piece of news, instead of hurrying to work, I veer into Pain Quotidien, the rip-off Belgian chain known for its wonderful bread, the quaint communal tables and the coffee served in those adorable French cafe au lait bowls that get me every time. I blow $10 over a small cappuccino and two slices of rye bread with butter and jam, all organic – mind you – breaking my golden rule of keeping dairy and wheat at a minimum in my daily diet. The coffee brings me back to a state of denial, in which I decide that this peri-menopausal state will last for a good 10 years. I am finally ready to face the rest of the day.

Fast forward a few hours and, in a (unwelcome) case of serendipity, a very pleasant looking lady zeroes in on me at work, while I am on my break, sipping coffee in the sun. In the space of five minutes, this stranger manages to tell me she is turning 60 tomorrow, she is a breast cancer survivor, she is on Weight Watcher (although she looks extremely slim to me) because she wanted to look fabulous for her birthday.

“You know, menopause made me gain 1 pound a year. You’ll see, I was as slim as you (she still is). You need to start taking calcium now because you have small bones and all your bone mass will be lost in the next few years. And go for the hormone replacement therapy. I look way better than all my friends who don’t do it – their skin sags and they look old. And the hair, the texture of the hair changes, mine became curly and it was as straight as yours.  And, my god, the mood swings, I kept crying all the time”.

At this point, I just want this lunatic to go away, breaking as she is into my denial bubble, where I carved a very comfortable place for myself. But nameless lady is relentless. “It just sucks, I am so depressed at turning 60”. I tell her she looks pretty wonderful to me, in her white skinny jeans and a powder blue top that matches the color of her eyes but I know that, no matter how sincere my compliments come across, they won’t lift her funky mood.

“Start taking your calcium” she insists, finally walking away. I feel like I have been inducted in another secret society. From the one of budding breasts and knowing smiles to the one of sleepless nights and hot flushes. I slowly go back to work, closing behind me the door of my denial bubble. Just watch me, 10  more years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LIFE FRAGMENTS

Not my friend - and his lederhosen were actually more outlandish

Anyone who got to know me in the second half of my life can scarcely believe me when I admit to a lifelong case of shyness. At work I tend to be bossy, a natural at telling people what to do; in my private life I am opinionated, stubborn and foul-mouthed and I am that driver who will tailgate you for a couple of miles, cursing, if you happen to cut me off.

Yet, I was painfully shy as a kid and, to this day, I prefer intimate gatherings to loud and crowded parties which, in my book, are any get together comprising more than eight people.

The last time I celebrated a birthday with a large cast of characters was my 30th – my boyfriend at the time organized the dinner under a pergola, in a restaurant on the outskirt of Milan, followed by a jaunt at an old-fashioned amusement park. It was actually a lot of  fun and I have happy Polaroids to prove it: me embracing a rifle, trying to win a rubber duck. With my 50th birthday approaching (which I am confessing now and then never ever mention again), I thought it might be fun to mark the occasion with another dinner under a pergola, this time on the hills outside my native town, surrounded by as many people I love as I could think of.

On the phone with my best friend and mistress of ceremonies, I ran through a tentative guest list that ended up including one night stands and every Tom, Dick and Anne we could think of. While it was a laugh to bring back to life those souls from our past that had left a mark, albeit not indelible, it was clearly not feasible or cost effective. So I sat down by myself, old-fashioned pen and paper in hand and started jotting down names. Besides the close friends and family that make up the fabric of my everyday life, I realized how many people I could think of that had touched me, really touched me along the different roads I travelled in the last five decades.

What suddenly came to mind was a black and white photo I haven’t seen in years, no doubt buried in the mess in one of my mother’s drawers, of  a little boy of six, holding the hand of a grinning five-year old girl dressed in tartan pants that itched like a bitch and a stupid looking Tyrolean jacket, black hair cropped short and a teddy bear dangling from her other hand. His thin legs were swallowed by hiking boots and left bare by a pair of lederhosen that no parent should inflict on an unsuspecting offspring.  We were standing on the side of a mountain somewhere in Austria, during one of those Summer vacations our parents dragged us on.  I am now convinced that this attire we had no part in choosing contributed to our eventual breaking free of conventions and leading lives outside the parameters of the expected. He went on to become a professional photographer and writer and I, well, here I am.

I felt a sudden urge to have my childhood buddy, whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in nearly 20 years, near me again. Which, in turn, led me to thinking about how many people, in the course of a life, contribute to making us who we are. All these life fragments are neatly glued together inside us and, far too often, we don’t give them the credit they are due.

Either that or I am getting incredibly sentimental in my old age.

PS And yes, he will be coming to my party. And, 20 years later, he has the same identical photograph tacked to his kitchen wall.

Photo courtesy of bavarianspecialty.com where you can buy the lederhosen

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FRIDAY MUSINGS AND SILLY DREAMS

The extra-sized white envelope inside the mailbox was a surprise. The name and address were handwritten and the post stamp indicated the letter had travelled all the way from Italy. Who gets handwritten mail any longer? If I think of all those letters I penned in my youth, to friends, lovers, family, I become a touch nostalgic.

I recognized the handwriting on the front at first glance – you are not friends with someone for over 30 years without absorbing certain details on an intimate, visceral level even if, these days, the bulk of our communication is carried on through e-mail. Inside, one of my oldest and best friends, lovingly folded a full page of Repubblica, an Italian daily, with a black and white photo of a famous person I used to have an enormous crush on and whose face is now being used to advertise jeans. I smiled, remembering a time when life’s difficulties comprised nothing more than balancing a checkbook (perpetually empty) and getting over a heartache.

I tacked the photo by my desk at work, certainly not because the crush still has merits (and, sadly, the object of my old desire is no more) but to remind myself, while I slog through e-mails, recipes, whining staff and the like, that life is too short even if you live to a hundred and that dreams, no matter how silly or improbable, are at the heart of our existence, the driving force behind who we are. Impossible or unattainable are not adjectives we should ever ascribe to our dreams. The point is not whether they become true or not but what we do, along the way, to try and reach them. The process will transform us and, sometimes, will transform our dreams too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NO LONGER AFRAID OF FLYING

“As I get older, I find myself becoming ruder”, muses my friend from Wales in her latest e-mail. What she means is that she has fewer internal brakes to stop her voicing what she really thinks.

At a gathering of women, huddled over baked pasta, the hostess recounts a story and ends by proclaiming that maturity has finally bestowed fearlessness on her.

I couldn’t agree more.

At 20, we are completely unaware of our beauty and live with bravado behind a shield of insecurity.

At 30, we are a bit more cocky and self-assured but still grappling with career and relationship issues (or, god help us, motherhood).

At 40, we have set in some of our ways, we are more comfortable in our skins and less fearful of speaking out, standing up for ourselves and others, but we begin to worry our best days might be behind us.

While approaching 50, trying to reconcile the lines on our faces that don’t match our energy and our enthusiasm for life, I have indeed noticed an absence of fear. Don’t get me wrong, I am petrified at the thought of getting seriously sick and the idea of eventually dying is none too pleasant nor readily accepted, but I have become fearless in a million ways I am actually conscious of.

Unlike the fearlessness of youth, dictated by inexperience, foolishness and the absence of known consequences (or imaginable ones), my current bout of courage stems from knowing what the consequences are and not caring. White lies are sometimes necessary but going with the truth 99% of the time is liberating. Having managed to accept myself for who I am, I tend to be more accepting of others who, in return, must vow not to try and change me or wish I were different.

Trying new experiences is not a dilemma any longer as the “life is too short” motto pretty much sums it up and eliminates indecision.

In a perverse way, I am looking forward to getting to the point where the mirror doesn’t matter any longer and a hat is all you need for a bad hair day. Possibly pink and straw.

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FRIDAY MUSINGS

Three, very unrelated, items pricked my ears this week. In no particular order:

  1. While motivated and caring individuals and chefs like Alice Waters, Ann Cooper, Jamie Oliver and even Mrs. Obama have been working for years to improve the dismal lunches that get served in our public schools, Congress is caving in to the demands of some powerful food lobbies. What’s new? Not much. But, if not for its sadness, it would actually be funny to see that, after pressure from the potato lobby, French fries are still on school menus under the heading of “vegetables” and pizza is poised to become an item that qualifies as nutritious. A slice will be considered to contain all the three required families of grains, meat alternative and vegetables – the vegetables being the couple of tomato paste spoons that make up the sauce. Hilarious.
  2. I don’t typically spend much time thinking about the housing conditions of murderers, rapists and the like. Like all Californians, I am aware of the overcrowding of our prisons and jails, even the Supreme Court said so and ordered the state to reduce the inmate population by 30,000. Said inmates are mainly being transferred to city jails, such as the Los Angeles Men Jail in downtown LA. Zev Yaroslavsky, our brilliant county supervisor for the third district, in his latest newsletter vividly depicts the typical condition of an inmate, be he a small time offender or a rapist waiting for trial. Basement cells originally meant for 2, now being occupied by up to 4, all sharing the in-cell toilet and basin. How can we expect to rehabilitate human beings if we keep them in sub-human conditions? For the full story and pictures go to Zev’s blogpost
  3. Unless you were sleeping (or not in my age bracket),you probably heard that R.E.M., after 31 years together, decided to call it quits (before succumbing to the Rolling Stones’ syndrome). I happened to catch a lovely interview on NPR with Michael Stipe and Mike Mills. On answering the inevitable “what’s next?” question, Michael Stipe replied he didn’t know. He then added he had attended a couple of shows lately and, while standing in the audience, he thought he will never again experience that inebriating feeling of being on stage, in front of thousands of people. In the folds of his gravelly voice, one could hear a touching vulnerability, even a tinge of regret. Until his band mate chimed in: “Michael, you will make music again. You have too much of a gift to let it go. It won’t be with us, it will be with other people. It won’t feel the same as with us, it will feel different but it will feel good”. Mike Mills sounded very much like the hen pushing her brood out of the coop. Never was there a more graceful underscoring of the fact that we have grown up. And it’s time to move on.

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Filed under aging, food

RUNNING FOR THE HILLS

Direct marketers the world over need to let me age and die in peace. My mailbox has become a source of anxiety as I feel the dread mounting while going about the mundane task of retrieving my daily mail.

In rapid succession, this week I received a lavish brochure from Forest Hill Memorial, hellbent on selling me eternal rest in a lovely plot overlooking the new, expanded six lanes of the 405. Dear Forest Hill Memorial, for the record, I want whomever will have the misfortune to deal with my dead body to shoulder the expense and the bureaucracy of shipping said body back to Italy, where it can rest in peace in a lovely plot overlooking an Italian freeway which, all things being equal, is more likely to be a lot better looking than the new and improved 405.

Next came the leaflet from West Hills Retirement Home (is the word “hills” supposed to conjure an upgrade on death?), offering me a private room with cable, to better fritter my time buying watches from  shopping channels, flower chintz curtains and weekly bingo, so I can spend my last years with other like-minded and semi incapacitated seniors and hopefully keel over after hitting the bingo jackpot.

Today, the AARP took it upon itself to let me know there are fair to excellent chances  I might live to see my 50th birthday, in which case I should take up discounted cruises along the Mississippi, explore discounted Bed and Breakfasts in Georgia and look forward to their monthly magazine, full of vital tips on how to get the most out of my sex life in the golden years.

No, really, do they know who they are talking to? How does Madonna deal with this constant reminder that, despite her mummified appearance that permanently locks her in an indefinite over 40 age, she is on her way to being decrepit? Wait, one of the perks of fame is never having to deal with a mailbox. If you think that Christmas card you are sending to George Clooney will actually be read by him, you are truly mistaken. You will have sent it to a nondescript production office address, where minions or elves are paid to sort through the mail and make sure George sees none of it.

Me, I am stuck with my suburban looking mailbox, which not only does it remind me the mortgage is due but also that I am indeed on the path to decrepitude. I am seriously considering turning my life 100% paperless – every bill paid on-line, every magazine digitally scrolled, every card or invitation received through those maddeningly impersonal sites and never, never open that mailbox again.

My golden years will be spent in a house on the ocean, surrounded by dogs and best friends to banter and bicker with, sipping Pimm’s Cups and wearing pink hats in a blissful and delirious denial that the best times are behind us. Happiness is never have  to reach for that AARP card inside my Prada purse.

 

 

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DISTRACTED

It feels as if nary a nanosecond passed since my girlfriends’ and mine main worries were who to sleep with. Anybody remembers the days of fatal attractions and carefree nights, heading to bed at 3 in the morning  with the same excitement I now reach for the covers at 10? These days, our worries veer more towards retirement, pension funds and the Grim Reaper. The same girlfriends I used to muse with about our potential beaus and our broken hearts,  now  engage me in conversations about old age, ailing parents and the state of our sagging bodies.

Some of our concerns can be attributed  to the doom and gloom we are surrounded by – rampant unemployment, dwindling savings accounts, uncertain future, as every single media reminds us every day. Twice a day, if all you do is listen to public radio on your  commute. A lot more if you bother with newsprint, internet and tv.

The truth is, for the scattered group of my close 40-something friends (ok, maybe pushing towards the dreaded 50) the situation is not so dire. Most of us gals are in pretty phenomenal nick, none of us is sporting velour track-suits just yet and we can still distinguish (and covet, if not afford) a Olivier Theyskens from a Zac Posen. Midnight phone calls from exciting men might not abound any longer but most of us are tightly snuck in bed with our partners/husbands by that time or, if single, wholeheartedly don’t care anymore about that kind of excitement.

But we do long for carefree. Nobody warned us that what felt chaotic, panicky and at times downright doomed, was going to be the best time of our lives and that problems increase exponentially as we age, rather than dissipate. On the upside, we have reached the point where we know who we are and have stopped molding ourselves to distorted ideals or others’ expectations. I might worry about not being able to retire before 75  but I will also wear a funky hat and not care what anyone might think. It’s these small acts of liberation  that make the sagging skin all worthy.

The passing years might have kidnapped our youth but  haven’t robbed us of the heady sensation of feeling younger than our years. A friend recently embroiled in an inheritance battle was wondering what her 77-year-old father needed all that money for. “But I feel 22!” was his honest answer. Will that happen to me? I wonder. Are we going to underestimate how getting old really feels?

Our generation grew up without set parameters or expectations of how our lives should be. There wasn’t a time for school, a time for marriage and children and career and staying home in a pre-set order. It was a free for all to do as we saw fit and we are now debating and worrying about our past choices and our future ones. Still haven’t learnt to live in the moment. Some of us never will. And yet, that is all we are really free to choose. And, looking back, isn’t that what we used to do all those carefree years ago?

 

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MOOCHING AROUND ON THE WEB – Clarisonic

Allow me to go on about my skin for a little while longer. At my age, I feel I am entitled to. I am over the phase of scrutinizing my face under harsh lights to uncover new signs of aging but I am still shocked every time a new wrinkle or slight sagging make an appearance. More than shocked, I am dismayed.

Far from me recommending any products – despite my long-standing investments in creams and lotions and potions, I have to admit nothing really reverses the aging process in the slightest, so it’s either the big guns of surgery and Botox or the acceptance process. I was recommended hydra-facials which I have been doing for a few months and, I admit, they leave the skin radiant. For two days. Tangible benefits can be derived from one’s diet – lack of smoking and drinking does wonders for your skin as do avoidance of processed foods and a limit on dairy products.

After reading left, right and center about a new product, I went on a web search for customers’ reviews, especially women in my age bracket, and I was surprised to find them all positive. What really convinced me was seeing it prominently displayed in my dermatologist’s waiting room  (where I spent way too long, if you are reading this Dr. R!).  I am talking about Clarisonic. Made by the good people who first gave us electric toothbrushes, Clarisonic is, essentially, just a bigger brush for your face. On a whim, I marched into Sephora and bought the travel version of it, called Mia, which is smaller, comes in an array of extremely cute colors and only has one type of brush and one speed (as opposed to three on the original, and bigger, Clarisonic).

My new bathroom companion - not what you are thinking...

Well, it will not wipe wrinkles away but I have never had a skin this smooth. All you have to do is moisten your face, apply a bit of your favourite detergent and run the electrical brush over your face for a minute. Rinse and voila! You are now ready for your potions of choice which, if nothing else, will penetrate more deeply.

My little lavender Mia can be taken in the shower and it is rechargeable, just like a toothbrush. The manufacturer suggests replacing the brush every 3 months. For an investment of $129 I feel like I have a mini-facial every day

 

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BEAUTY MARKS

Nobody thinks of moles as beauty marks anymore. If anything, moles are looked at with suspicion and fear – I know I should pay attention. Despite my darker skin, I have had my share in the sun, during long summers when I would party well into the night and fall asleep on the beach during the day. A few burns marred some vacation days, all spent without a care in the world about skin cancer or aging dermis. And now I am on a first name basis with my dermatologist who, bless his heart, does not lecture me on sunblock or stupid exposure. He pretty much told me that whatever damage has been done, it already took place years ago and now I have to live with the consequences which, so far, have been pretty benign.
But there was a mole I was particularly attached to – dead centered in the middle of my chest, where a pearl dangling from a longish chain could be. It was a perfect oval, slightly raised and possibly appealing only to me. It had been there since I can remember, never-changing and, despite my mother’s suggestion that I have it removed, it endured on, next to the small boobs that she is still harping on I have enhanced.
A couple of months ago, while playing with Portia, a particularly boisterous thump scratched my favourite mole and left it hanging in a rivulet of blood. Determined to save my friend, I kept it bandaged for a couple of weeks in a futile attempt to see it reattach itself which, once again, proves that I was not paying attention during any of my biology classes. It became an inconvenience every time I would wear long jewelry that would get caught in it, or whenever I absent-mindedly scratched myself or the dogs put their paws on my chest (yes, they do that).
I had to resign myself to kissing my mole goodbye and yielded to the knife of the good doctor, longingly looking at the dark, oval button being sealed for a biopsy and permanently removed from my life.
Soon, small boobs aside, my chest will look perfect and smooth and I will be the only one missing my beauty mark – it’s the small imperfections that also make us who we are and not the airbrushed photographs we all aspire to look like. Oh, I still have plenty of them to go around before I can compete with Kate Moss but today I am wearing a high neck top not to hide the band-aid but, rather, not to be reminded of my absent friend every time I walk in front of a mirror. While in the dermatologist’s waiting room, I read a Botox pamphlet cover to cover and analyzed the before and after photos of people who had their frown marks smoothed. I briefly considered investing $400 and then I looked in the mirror on the opposite wall. “Nah! don’t want to be too perfect…”

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