Savoring Life

Recently a friend and I were discussing the differences
between our lives in our 20’s and now, focusing on the positives such as knowing what we want, appreciating true friendship, and enjoying simple pleasures.  Our discussion revealed how we savor the nuances of everyday life.  When we had a fun evening with friends in our younger years we assumed that there were endless laughter-filled evenings in our future.  Life is more complex now and those evenings with friends no longer happen every weekend.  When they do we try harder to connect and relish the laughter because we know that nothing is endless.  My friend and I talked in detail about enjoying sunny days, country drives, and fresh food, and when our visit ended we thanked one another for good conversation.

My favorite place to savor nature is an island located between Michigan’s two peninsulas where the pace is referred to as “island time”.  It is where I learned to be still so that I could hear the birch leaves whispering in the breeze a hundred feet above me
and the surf swishing as it hits the pebbled beach.  Every time I visit the island I collect rocks along the shore only to realize that they are not nearly as splendid out of the
water.  When people ask me what there is to do there I reply “nothing”.

Psychologists refer to savoring as conscious attention and mindfulness of pleasure.  We can recreate the pleasure we felt in a moment by reminiscing and can become more mindful with practice.  Age has slowed me down some and I am no longer in the busy days of building a career and raising a family.  Now I can focus on the world around me and the people I love without thinking of what I need to do next, tomorrow, or next
week.  Those things belong on a list, out of the way until they need my attention.
I have not always been more like the tortoise than the hare, but have easily fallen in to a slower stride now that I know what winning the race means to me.

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Wanted: Moisture

Of all the changes I have experienced in my 40’s, moisture has been one of the most evident and dramatic losses.  Dry patches on my cheeks and forehead surprised me in my 40th winter and announced an immediate necessity to change my approach to skin care.  I had been here before with acne in my teens and cringed at the memories of trialing a multitude of remedies, many of which I was allergic to.  Now I needed to go in the opposite direction and the products cost much more than Clearasil.   I know from experimenting with anti-aging creams in my 30’s that my hypersensitive skin doesn’t tolerate what is touted as the best drug-store brand facial moisturizer and my budget cannot withstand purchasing even a few top-of-the-line products that do not work.

My daily self-care ritual has become tediously time-consuming, but at least I have more time in the mornings now that sleeping in is not physically possible.  Similar to a growing myriad of tasks now essential to my health and well-being, I meet any momentary urge to skip moisturizer with thoughts of undeniable itching.

I began consoling the dry patches by trying facial washes that touted “gentle” and “sensitive skin” on their labels, avoiding brands that had not been the least bit gentle to me in the past.  An allergic reaction does not reveal itself until I have used a product for about a week and then it takes two weeks to get over it.  If I use another new product before it has resolved it may exacerbate an initial reaction.  I can use an anti-aging product once a week as long as it does not promise “cell renewal”.  I approached my quest armed with this hard-won historical perspective, which saved me a lot of time, itching, and redness.  A solution came in the form of an “ultra calming” facial wash for dry and sensitive skin that let me keep the bit of moisture I have.  Fortunately, the
partner moisturizer was also truly calming.  My quest turned out to be very different from the acne battle of my teen years.  Although I am drier with many more lines and marks on my skin, it seems I am also wiser and realize that a battle is often not necessary.

How fine dining ruined fast food

I have fond memories of piling into a Pinto with my high school friends to eat lunch at Burger King several times a week unless someone successfully campaigned for pizza or tacos.  There was a brief period when we split the salad bar four ways (likely why they now have single-serving salads), but we always returned to burgers done our way, onion rings, and fries.  It was standard to hit the drive thru after a dance or a movie, and we kept our eyes on the clock to make it there before midnight after (or in the middle of) a party.  At the risk of sounding like an old-timer, I swear fast food tasted better twenty years ago.  I survived one summer on donuts from the bakery where I worked and personal pan pizzas with garlic bread.

Young family life put an end to the gluttony of my teen years, although my first request after my daughter was born was for a Whopper and a Coke as big as my head.  We couldn’t afford to eat out very often, so it became a treat, especially to me because it meant I didn’t have to cook.  But, I felt like a better Mom serving my daughter yogurt and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches rather than watching her repeatedly suck ketchup off of fries and coaxing her to take two bites of a fast food burger, an early sign that she had better taste.  Fast food was still a social event, shared with mutually fat-addicted friends who were also young mothers.

I am not sure when I started looking at fast food while I was eating it, but I do remember thinking that it was a mistake.  This was the first step toward disillusionment.  I began to frequent the drive thru less often and found occasional forays decreasingly enjoyable.  Not only did it not taste like it used to, but my digestion also became more sensitive, making it rather inconvenient in a time crunch.  I suggested that we cook burgers on the grill when we got the kids together for a play date and expanded our diet at home to
include more fresh food.  Our budget began to allow meals at sit-down restaurants where I was not afraid to look at the food.  The death knell for my fast food cravings was an introduction to fine dining establishments.  I found a new love and there was no turning back after savoring almond-encrusted walleye, perfectly prepared filet mignon,
and garlic herb whipped potatoes.  Deep-fried apple pie in a cardboard container could not compete with Crème brûlée decorated with fresh berries.  The fine table settings set aglow by the flame of a butter warmer enchanted me.   Indulgence grew into a multisensory dining experience and there was nothing fast about it.  Small plates expanded my palate and an introduction to sushi proved that there was nothing to be afraid of.   I was willing to try almost anything, even oysters on the half shell.  After all, I had stared at the insides of a Whopper and ate that.

The definition of fast food has changed to salads thrown together with grilled chicken at home, and the treat of eating out requires saving for a few weeks.  Now I understand
what delayed gratification means and the reward is delicious.

Exercise is mandatory

It never gets any easier to drag my butt to the gym.  If anything, it gets harder because I need to increase the time and intensity in order to get the payoff.  Women who love to work out remind me of women who love being pregnant.  Both are alien to me.  I prefer sedentary pursuits such as reading, listening to music, writing, and playing cards.  Those that know me might say that I exercise my mouth too much.  They may also question why I deem exercise imperative because I have always been thin, too thin according to most people.

Alas, my leisurely days are over, brought to an end by inflammation, contracted muscles, and life’s biggest motivator – pain.  My doctor prescribed cardio and stretching exercises five times a week along with a physical therapy program that taught me not only proper technique, but also the reasoning behind this mandated torture.  The deposits in my vocabulary bank included language like “range of motion”, “weight-bearing”, and “endorphins”.  Endorphins are responsible for the maniacal gleam in the eyes of people who love to exercise.  The word endorphin comes from a combination of the words endogenous, meaning “from within”, and morphine.  Endorphins are naturally released neurotransmitters in the human brain and are 18 to 500 times more potent than any man-made pain-killer.  The downside is that the best method of delivery is cardio exercise for 30 minutes that raises my heart rate for at least 20 minutes.  Sex and chocolate also release endorphins, but at a lower level.  While 30 minutes on the treadmill is like a meal that energizes and keeps me pain-free for hours, sex and chocolate are dessert.  Sedentary lifestyles coupled with getting older contribute to inflammation, muscle loss, and muscle contraction, or shortening.  This knowledge is difficult to digest, not because it means I have to work to feel good, but because it means I cannot deny getting older.  By stretching my leg, arm, hip, and neck muscles daily I get to not feel older than I am.  I watch and listen to older people, eager to glean what they can teach me from their experience.  I find the most compelling evidence of what can happen to me in bad examples and hold onto images of women that cannot turn their heads or bend to pick up something from the floor, as incentive to do the stretches.

There are rewards to exercise other than not deteriorating or feeling pain.  I can maintain a large, beautiful garden and walk around a zoo all day long with my energetic nieces.  I can hike out to the tip of an island with my Mom.  I can dance all night long at my daughter’s wedding reception.  These abilities are priceless to me and that is why I drag my butt to the gym.

Shoes: A lifetime love affair

My passion for unique and beautiful shoes mirrored young love: frenzied, excessive, and lustful.  I felt a rush every time I slid my slim feet into a pair of high strappy heels, sexy and statuesque, emboldened by inquiries about where I bought them.  My beauties were scattered throughout our home, not because I was too lazy to put them away, but so that I could admire them and prolong the memories of how I felt when they adorned my feet.  As girlhood infatuation segued into serious love, I spent days shopping shoe sales, trying on dozens and returning home exhausted and sated by my newly found favorites.

As in any long-term relationship, my shoes and I changed over the years.  They became more expensive and less comfortable as I became more demanding.  I renewed my committment and became willing to give more.  We moved into a less exciting, though no less loving phase.  I adjusted my expectations and accepted that not only did four-inch heels hurt my widening feet immediately upon standing, but more importantly – they did not look good.  Cheap shoes cut their stiff material into my heels and did not compromise over time.  I began to experiment with better quality, defined arches, and wider toes.  My initial fear that beautiful shoes were not meant for women my age faded as I discovered the elegance of two-inch heels and charm of patterns and off-beat colors.  The harmony of comfort ratings and beauty emboldened my steps in a way that only a grown woman can understand.  I am confident that my love for shoes will endure because I am willing to compromise in exchange for that feeling.  Finding one perfect pair gives me a rush beyond those when our love was new.

Thanks for the mammogram reminder (No, really!)

pink ribbon

Image via Wikipedia

I received the pink reminder postcard over a month ago, yet  still have not scheduled my annual mammogram.

I was anxious about my first mammogram; having one’s breasts  literally smashed flat between two plates would obviously hurt.  My initial anxiety however, stemmed more from potential embarrassment.  How would they
ever catch the small amount of breast tissue I possess between those plates?  I envisioned my nipples being pinched between the plates while the technician became increasingly frustrated.  Admittedly, real life rarely lives up to my imagination, and I learned to not underestimate a skillful mammography tech.  The first mammogram was not painful and I walked out of the clinic feeling quite smug.  Surely mammograms were more painful for my well-endowed friends, hence the horror stories they shared.  Subsequent mammograms have demonstrated that the amount of discomfort and length of the exam is heavily dependent on the technician, and they are not all created equal.  But still, mammograms do not approach the pain of childbirth, my yardstick for all things medical.

My procrastination stems from a deeper place.  The older I get the more women I know get breast cancer.  I have observed their struggles, noted the impact of losing a breast on the female psyche, and the toll of chemotherapy.  My heart aches when their busy lives transform into a fight for survival.  I do not want to have breast cancer and the mammogram is the first step toward diagnosis.  I can hear my Mom’s voice saying, “You know better”, and admit that yes, I do.  There are five stages of breast cancer with stage 0 describing non-invasive cancers and stage IV describing invasive cancers that may have spread to other parts of the body.  Common sense dictates that undiagnosed breast cancer will assuredly progress, yet every year I go through this analysis until I convince myself that having a mammogram is intelligent and putting it off could cost me my life.  I pepper this
analysis with a good dose of guilt regarding the potential impact on my loved
ones, because that is what I do.

I wonder what would make a good gift for a mammography tech…

This post is dedicated to a very adept and compassionate radiologist that has not only saved women’s lives, but provided countless women with comfort while performing breast biopsies.

Musings on life’s changes in my 40’s

In the rearview mirror of hindsight I wish I would have allowed my loved ones to make a big deal of my 40th birthday.  Black decorations, a cane with a horn, and a tombstone cake would have set the stage for humorous acceptance of the inevitable life changes coming my way.

Instead, I adopted the popular idea that by denying and fighting said changes I would age “gracefully”, which to me meant very slowly.  I quickly discovered that physiology and culture trump denial and that it is a damn expensive effort to not look 40.  My joy diminished as my ass started to fall and Continue reading