Tag Archives: Aging

Thanks for being my unbiological brother

My Beloved and I called our brother-in-law at 7 o’clock this morning to sing him happy birthday.

He didn’t answer. He might have been sleeping or working or fishing or just ignoring us (but I don’t think so–we’re excellent singers).

He’s the type of guy who makes May 30 worth celebrating. I love him almost as much as my sister does. He likes catsup by the gallon, a good deal, Apple stock, the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings (for which we forgive him) and a good boat ride (which might mean a relaxing putt-putt around the lake or a raucous one dragging water skiers behind).

He’s an excellent pilot, a great dad, a capable remodeler and the voice of reason in most conversations.

Here’s to deserving brothers-in-law!

 

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Half-time pep talk

I’m not an avid football fan, but even I know Joe Namath was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Out on the PR trail for his memoir All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters, Namath was interviewed on National Public Radio this morning. Among other subjects, he talked about aging.

“I decided to make a plan at 50,” he said. “Fifty was halftime, man. And you’ve seen — I’ve seen a lot of games won and lost in the third and fourth quarter. I don’t want to go out on a bad note. I want to keep growing, being productive, keep learning and keep loving, man. I want to be a positive dude the rest of the way.”

Keep growing, keep learning and keep loving. What a great mantra for one’s third and fourth quarters.

With a grandmother who lived to 104 and me in the midst of my 52nd year, I could argue I’m just beginning my third quarter. I feel like Namath’s interview was like a coach’s half-time pep talk: Keep growing, keep learning and keep loving, man (woman!). Be a positive lady the rest of the way.

Ooh-rah!

 

The passing of an age

If you’ve followed Minnesota Transplant for any length of time, you knew I had a centenarian grandmother.

She was my father’s mother, and I say “was” because she died earlier this month. She was 104.

I needed some time to process her death, not because it hit me hard—who can profess surprise about the death of a 104-year-old?—but because I really wanted to write about her thoughtfully and in a way that honors her.

She was a tiny person physically, but she loomed large in her family in part because of her longevity. I have clear, vivid memories of her because I knew her when I was an adult, a middle-aged adult. We were pen pals for decades, and as a fan of the written word, I now am the proud recipient of many of her diaries.

grandma with her cake

When Grandma was 96 (and still living on her own and cooking for herself), she brought the dessert for our family Easter celebration, an elegant looker made from a recipe she’d found in a newspaper.

She was an incredible hostess, and I am honored to have inherited one of her sets of china and a set of flatware. Yes, she believed “lunch” required china cups and saucers, and no one spent any amount of time with her without being offered something to eat. No meal was complete without pickled beets or sweet pickles. And cookies, even if she served another more elaborate dessert. Cookies on the side.

I also inherited her vanity, but I do not consider it a deadly sin. I believe part of the reason she lasted as long as she did is because she took care of her human vessel. She cared about how she looked, and an interest in fashion was part of that interest. I once went shoe shopping with her when she was 100. She accented her outfits by wearing bracelets and scarves right up ’til the very end.

Grandma had a great sense of humor, and one of her favorite holidays was April Fool’s Day. She was also an avid gardener, which is no mean feat in north central Minnesota where the growing season is eight weeks long (I kid, but not much).

But more than any of these character traits and interests, Grandma was faithful. An ardent Christian, she believed with a capital B. Her week revolved around going to worship services until she moved into assisted living four years ago. That faith is what got her through the volume of grief only a 104-year-old experiences. She was a widow for 42 years (she never remarried). Her daughter-in-law who lived two doors down for decades lost a battle to cancer. Two of her grandchildren died young. Her sisters. Her brothers. Her youngest son died two years ago. So many friends and neighbors got to the finish line before she did.

She also lost her hearing, which I think was a difficult thing for someone as social as she was. It happened relatively early in her life; I don’t even remember my grandmother without hearing aids. In the end she was so profoundly deaf, it was easier to get your point across with a white board than to yell. Her eyesight was failing, too, and in recent years she began using a wheelchair more than her own legs. Aging is not for the faint-hearted, quite literally.

Before Grandma died, she planned her funeral, writing down many details so we would get it right. (Among the details she did not dictate, we draped one of her handmade quilts over her coffin instead of a spray of flowers; she was an avid quilter for many years and it was beautiful. And her family, not Grandma, selected the wild rice hotdish for the funeral luncheon, but I found that a perfect choice for a Central Minnesota funeral.) For some reason, Grandma designated me to read one of the Bible readings at the service. Apparently, I had brought my public speaking skills to her attention in more than one postal missive I sent to her. Unlike some of my cousins who probably would not have wanted the burden, I was flattered to do it. When I looked up the verses before the service, I thought they was perfect for Grandma.

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

~ Philippians 1:21-24

Grandma lived so long she came to wonder whether God had forgotten her or flat out didn’t want her. The pastor at her funeral said her most persistent question was “Why am I still here?” The tone he parroted made her sound like she was cross examining him in a court of law.

Her reason for being is probably as varied as the people who knew her. For me, she was a role model for aging gracefully, if not always cheerfully. It’s hard to get old, but she persevered because she believed in a higher purpose.

Fortunately for all of us and her, too, Grandma died in her sleep. God wanted her after all, He just didn’t want her going out in a blaze of IV tubes and pain meds so He waited out that strong heart of hers.

I’m not sad Grandma died. She lived a good life, and she died a good death. I will miss her, to be sure, but leaving this earthly plain is what she wanted so I’m happy for her. Her send-off was oddly celebratory for a funeral, but perfectly pitched for someone who lived 104 years in God’s grace.

Throwback Thursday: Old lady poetry

I wrote and shared this poem nearly nine years ago, and I stand by the sentiment a decade later: I don’t want to be an old lady. But I’m an old lady who wants what she wants. Given the alternative—not getting the chance to get older—I’ll claim the space an old lady has earned.

# # #

I don’t want to be an old lady

I don’t want to be an old lady,
but I want to wear fashionably functional shoes
not fashionably painful ones.

I don’t want to be an old lady,
but I want to wear flashy bras under my girly blouses
not flash my girls.

I don’t want to be an old lady
but I want to drink wine out of a glass
not wopatui out of a paper cup.

I don’t want to be an old lady,
but I wish a buffalo chicken salad with dressing on the side
was as easy on my hips as a buffalo chicken sandwich with a side of fries.

I don’t want to be an old lady,
but I want to carry a cute black bag
not wear them under my eyes.

I don’t want to be an old lady,
but I want to listen to lyrical music sung by singers who make me wanna scream
not unintelligible music screamed by singers that make me wanna wear ear plugs.

I don’t want to be an old lady,
but I want my man of maturity to listen to my hopes and dreams
not immaturely hope and dream I’ll shut up and listen.

I don’t want to be an old lady,
but since I can’t keep a wrinkle-free face and youthful body,
I want to keep a carefree and youthful attitude.

Can I get it in a cute pink jar with collagen-building vitamins?

What I cast away in 2016

Americans, I think, tend to think about things — everything — in terms of gain. Bigger means better. More is good. The best houses are mansions. Personal income and the stock market should always go up. Value meals are valuable because they offer more calories for the buck. The Grand Canyon is worth seeing because it’s, well, grand.

I look at my accomplishments like this. A job worth doing is even better when I can multi-task. Any day is a better day when I can look back on a long list of things to do that got done. A year is always better when it was full.

But 2016 was not of year of making gains for me, it was a year of losing things. Mostly, I lost clutter, an untidy collection of people, places and things no one wants.

A big thing I lost was a court case. I wrote about this court case last January, when we were in the midst of trial. To summarize a seven-year ordeal as succinctly as I can, I was among four named plaintiffs suing on behalf of 400 fellow employees to recoup our retirement fund. I was hopeful a year ago that we would prevail, but we didn’t. The judge issued his ruling in September and I learned, much to my dismay, that losers have to pay the winners’ court fees. Yeah, first I lost my retirement, then I lost the court case and then I was on the hook to pay literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in court fees. That would explain why I never blogged about the judgment; I struggled to find a bright spot.

But after much back and forth, we were forgiven the court fees and legally put the whole drama to bed. So even though I lost the case, I gained peace of mind and the gift of putting all the stress and sorrow behind me.

My Beloved and I also observed the end of an era when my stepson (the younger of my two stepchildren) graduated from college and got a job. He’s still our child, but he’s no longer a child. He’s a self-supporting adult. What we lose in terms of a dependent, we gain in the form of a new approach to parenting. Less control, more equality.

I also helped my stepdaughter scrape a barnacle off the hull of her ship. Without getting into the details, I relished in the opportunity to live in the same house with her for a while, a chance I didn’t get when she was a teenager. Living together with anyone breeds familiarity and in this case, affection.

I effectively and definitively kicked my 40s to the curb in 2016. On Dec. 23, I officially became a member of the AARP crowd. Honestly, I hate aging and I’m not thrilled to be 50, but let’s just say, I discovered some elixirs to dull the effects. Thank you, modern pharmaceuticals.

abundance

An image of abundance, captured at an outdoor market in Barcelona, Spain. I didn’t need to buy pounds of dried fruits or nuts to appreciate their beauty.

Other losses in 2016: The Cubs ended a long drought of World Series wins. That was fun. The Dems lost the White House. No matter what you think of the result, a poli-sci major like me found the whole messy process fascinating. I gave up my post-a-day blogging habit, having written something on this blog only 81 times this year, the fewest since 2008 when I posted three times (I’m hoping to turn this bad habit around in 2017).  And I lost 17 glorious June days on a European vacation. In fact, I traveled 161 days in 2016, and the only thing I missed about home was the bills stacking up.

Most significantly and triumphantly, I lost an ugly pantry, some disgusting bathroom flooring and a literal ton of household ephemera. When we decided to list our house on the market (the house itself was the reason for the aforementioned bills), we knew we had to remodel the pantry (did you miss the before-and-after shots? Not to worry — click here) and replace the carpeting in the master bath. Yes, carpeting. Can’t believe I lived with it for nine years. My Beloved and I learned how to tile, and now I can see each individual stray strand of hair I leave behind after a shampoo. After sorting through every last closet and drawer in the house, we shredded 14 boxes of paperwork, filled the trash can innumerable times and dropped off 15 carloads (or at least trunks full) of stuff at Goodwill. I won’t miss a single one of those things, and I’ve learned how to curb my propensity to accumulate.

To fair, not all that I cast away had an upside. I also lost a few treasures.

Like my uncle, who succumbed to a brain tumor in September at age 65. I got one last visit with him in August that feels like a gift.

And my youth, which died quietly of an overdose in April in an elevator in Paisley Park. Of all the shocking celebrity deaths in 2016, Prince’s was personal for anyone who considers Minnesota home.

These sorts of losses serve as reminders that time is short and should be spent carefully, with people and in places we love. So here’s to 2017: May we all spend our time well.

Coping with bangxiety

Today is a bad hair day.

Yesterday I wore an ugly headband and today I’m wearing a hat even though it makes my head sweat in the near 90-degree temps.

Shaggy DA

The Shaggy D.A. on Day 48 with bangs.

It’s because I have bangxiety.

 

I forgot yesterday was Travel Tuesday and I was supposed to blog about the Yuma Territorial Prison.

My absent-mindedness is because I have bangxiety.

I can’t wait until tomorrow when I have a haircut scheduled.

My impatience is because I have bangxiety.

Thanks to Fab Over Forty, I learned a great new word (bangxiety!) and confirmed my recent decision to adopt forehead fringe. Kari Schultz over at Fab Over Forty blogs that bangs are not frumpy but fabulous for those of us nearing middle age.

Yes, for the first time in 25 years, I got bangs 48 days ago. They were awesome for the first six weeks. I looked decades younger, I’m positive. But now they’re driving me wild with bangxiety! This is always the problem with bangs, I remember ruefully. Time passes, hair grows. And I. Can’t. See!

Now I know why the Shaggy D.A. had a nose for mystery. He sure didn’t have the eyesight for it!

I found my mojo at the used bookstore

After turning Suzanne Somers’ book Ageless over in my hands (and my mind), I toted it inside from the rack on the sidewalk, ready to hand over 50 cents for it. I pay 50 cents for a newspaper. Even a book by Suzanne Somers is worth that.

Come and knock on our door …

I hear you, theme from “Three’s Company.”

The oldish guy seated behind the counter in the used bookstore had longish gray hair. A oldish cigarette with a longish ash hung from his fingertips.

“I’ll take this one,” I said, setting Somers’ missive on the cluttered counter. “Do you have a memoir section?”

He eyed me briefly and pointed me down a longish aisle to a hand-lettered sign that said “Biography Room.” Off I went to explore the used treasures therein.

Surrounded by old book smell, I was just happy to be upright this afternoon as I browsed through various political and celebrity memoirs (I found memoirs by Loni Anderson and Rob Lowe I couldn’t live without — because one used book by a washed-up celebrity isn’t enough). I took a shower this morning for the first time since Tuesday, when I was tanked by a virulent strain of the coughing-aching-stuffy-head flu, delivered with a generous helping of exhaustion (for those of you who are counting, this was my second bout of flu this winter). For four days, it was all I could do to change my underwear and brush my teeth.

This morning, I could breathe again, glorious breathing in and out through my nose. I showered. Shaved. Washed my hair. Exfoliated my face. Body lotion. Antiperspirant. Wrinkle creams of every weight and brand.

I even blow-dried my hair and applied mascara.

So my Beloved and I ran an errand that I had been putting off, and the errand brought us near enough to the bookstore that Suzanne Somers’ tome caught my eye (oh, to feel ageless again, when I was just happy to feel human).

A minute or two after I disappeared into the Biography Room (which was more like a Biography Closet, but who’s complaining), my Beloved entered the store, having satisfied his curiosity at the antique shop next door.

“Is my wife here?”

“There’s a lot of wives here,” the smoking clerk said. He paused, eyeing my Beloved and putting two and two together. “Oh, you mean the tall looker? She’s back there, in the Biography Room.”

Did you hear that? He called me a tall looker. Me. The woman who, only hours before, looked like death warmed over. I was no longer the woman of greasy hair and bloodshot eyes and sneezing attacks.

I am a tall looker.

A tip to the clerk wasn’t appropriate, but he certainly earned one.