Style Conscious

The last few times I’ve been in Florida,  I’ve been trying to spruce up my tropical wardrobe.  People dress differently here in “paradise” than they do in Michigan, and the clothes I brought down here with me seven years ago are now in various stages of shabitude.   Even worse, most of them are simply too tight, and I’ve given up blaming it on shrinkage from the dryer – although I still think that’s contributed to the problem – or trying to hold out until I lose these unwanted 15 pounds.

How many of you have bought new clothes lately? And if you’re under 35 or weigh less than 130 pounds, go read another blog because this will not apply to you in the slightest. (Just wait, my pretty, your day will come…cackle, cackle)  Everything I try on, even those items ostensibly in my new size, either refuses to pull over my thighs, button around my waist, or cover my meager cleavage.  What the heck is a mature woman, who wants to remain fashionable, supposed to do?

I can’t remember having this much trouble with clothes since I was a pre-teen, and forced to shop in the “Chubbette” department at Sears.  Those shopping expeditions were ridiculously painful, because of course I wanted to wear the same little short skirts and tight bell bottoms that all my friends were wearing.  My mother set me straight every time, and though she tried to be kind about it, I was bright enough to realize that I resembled nothing more than a stuffed sausage.

Sadly, I’m beginning to feel distinctly porkish, and I really don’t think it’s entirely due to the few extra pounds that menopause has so kindly settled around the lower half of my body.    Even when I find clothing that actually fits they way I assume it’s supposed to, it doesn’t look right  – it makes me feel like one of those dreaded women who are trying to appear young and sexy when they’re really old and frumpish.  It’s “not appropriate” as today’s moms would likely tell their young daughters who wanted to dress as Brittany Spears look-alikes.

As an adult, my clothing style has always favored classic over trendy, but it feels like the clothes which fall into that catgeory are verging awfully close to “old-lady” looks favored by women much older than myself.  As tempting as those Alfred Dunner elastic waist and over-blouse ensembles might be to my figure, my mental image is just not ready to go there.  Even Talbot’s -my standby store for tasteful yet stylish apparel – has failed me this season.  Not one pair of slacks in that store formed themselves properly to my figure.

Maybe it’s just a matter of attitude, and admittedly, mine hasn’t been too forgiving of  late.  There’s a line in one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems that says it best – “I am so far from the hope of myself…”

When I was 12, the hope of myself included a denim mini-skirt and white go-go boots.

Now, I’d settle for a nice pair of white linen slacks and a navy blue twin set.

How about you? Anything new in your closet these days?

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Tightrope

Lately my life has been a delicate balancing act, a long series of check marks on the “to do” list, a supreme effort to meet the needs of family and friends while also fulfilling a myriad of responsibilities to work (in all its incarnations).   It’s been a bit of a struggle, keeping all the appropriate balls in the air, and I finally understand why the jugglers are my favorite of all circus performers! 

Today was a typical example – leaving the house at 6:30 am, and driving to Oak Harbor, Ohio (about 100 miles) to accompany my friend L.’s children’s choir at their competition.   I was gone for about five hours, and played the piano for a total of eight minutes. 

Then our dinner was delayed while I waited for a call from my new friend, A., the director of the high school choir.  We had agreed to meet at my house to make a CD recording of accompaniments for one of the choirs who are doing a church program next week which I can’t attend.  (We were supposed to do this yesterday, but someone at school had “borrowed” the CD recorder and hadn’t returned it.)  Tonight,  A. was behind schedule, and didn’t arrive here until 6:30.  So I spent two hours this evening recording.

I never thought I would be described as a workaholic, but I’m beginning to think this appellation fits.  The term is usually applied to doctors, lawyers, and business types, but seems to fit this creative person more than I care to admit.  Of course, I’ve been in this situation before  – musicianship tends to take over your life, sort of  like the trumpet vine growing on my backyard fence.  No matter how many times I try to chop it back, even cutting it right down to the roots, it sprouts up with a vengeance and spreads maniacally all over my yard.

Most of the time, playing music kind of gets me high.  It’s my drug of choice, really, and even though I might be dragging my butt out the door to a performance, once I get there and start playing, it’s like a shot of adrenaline.   Tonight’s a prime example.  Three hours ago, I felt like roadkill.  But after spending the last two hours at the keyboard I’m completely rejuvenated.  I could go out dancing (if  I could dance, that is!)

But like any junkie, it’s all too easy to let the drug rule your life, let it interfere with your family relationships and work responsibilities,  let it become the thing for which you’d sell your soul.   I have to be careful about that, because when that happens, when you start to lose your balance on that tightrope, it’s easy enough to go into freefall and land in a heap.

I’m thankful to have this thing I love – this passion for music, and the ability to do something with it.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about other ways I could use it – but I don’t dare mention these to anyone in my family!  For the time being, though, I think I need to make a slight correction on my balancing act, realign my stance, and settle into a safer spot on the rope.

How about you?  What are you balancing on the tightrope of your life?

The Good, The Bad, and the Lovely

P1010152Last week was a horrible week. 

Last week was so bad, that by Thursday night I was a raging, sobbing mess, who curled up in her bed and didn’t answer the phone even when her best friend called four times in a row.

Last week was so bad that I seriously thought about opening my new bottle of blood pressure medicine and taking every last one.  (well, not seriously)

But I’m not here to tell you about last week.

I’m here to tell you how wonderful it felt this morning to put on my sweatshirt and take the dogs for a walk in the park, let them chase spunky black squirrels into the bushes, and grab up one stick after another for souvenirs.

I’m here to tell you how much I love hanging my sheets on the line, watching them whip merrily in the breeze, and them spread them across my bed, letting their sweet clean fragrance fill the room.

I’m here to tell you that curling up in my chair with a wonderful book, drinking hot tea from a china cup, is the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

I’m here to tell you that tending and planting flowers in my new garden is becoming one of my favorite pastimes, and something I find curiously exciting and relaxing at the same time.

And so after a week filled with frustration and stress and feeling as if  I have no idea what on earth I’m doing, comes today – a day so perfectly simple and effortless that suddenly I’m on top of the world.

Lovely.

Wedded Bliss

“I don’t know how you stand it,” my boss, A. said to me the other morning.  “Doesn’t it drive you crazy having Jim around the house so much?”

I had mentioned that Jim was working at home more often, and because of this we sometimes found ourselves tripping over each other in terms of work space.  A.’s husband, a Ford employee for almost 30 years, was recently forced into early retirement, and is suddenly home all the time.   He’s a quiet man, rather unobtrusive, while A. is a force to be reckoned with and fiercely independent.  She has confided that the transition is not going well, largely because they weren’t prepared for it, but also because they’ve spent the bulk of their married life apart (as most of us do), going their separate ways every morning and meeting only at the end of the day.   Now, having her husband perpetually “invading her space,” as she put it, is placing a huge amount of strain on her patience, and I suspect, on their marriage.

Today is our wedding anniversary, so it seemed natural to reflect on the changing state of marriage in general and my own in particular.  In our 33 years of “wedded bliss” we’ve been through a number of stages – the idyllic early days, the harried years of establishing a career and being young parents, the poignancy (and unexpected pleasures!) of an empty nest.   For the past few years, we’ve been in a sort of limbo – too young to retire, but tired of working, wanting to move into the next phase of our lives but not quite sure what or where that should be.   Worries persist, of course – no longer the worries of caring for young children but similar concerns related to the care of aging parents. New worries about financial security have begun to seep into our always relatively comfortable lifestyle.  Sometimes it feels as if we’re in a holding pattern, like a jetliner forever circling the airport waiting for the fog to lift so we can safely land.

Nevertheless, I feel fortunate to have made it this far, when everyday I hear about the failure of another marriage – a friend’s, a colleague’s, a relative’s.   Among all my cousins, most of whom were married shortly after I was, none of them are stil married to the same person.   Mind you, I’m not being complacent.  No one knows better than I that a marriage can fail at any stage.  My own parents, seemingly so happily married for 40 years, suddenly lost the glue that had held them together and a relationship that had survived the separation of war, the raising of children and grandchildren, the loss of parents, was over and done with in the blink of an eye.

“Sometimes I wonder,” I said to Jim tonight as we enjoyed a deep dish pizza on the patio at Buddy’s Pizzeria, “if there’s something wrong with us – I mean, hardly anybody stays married as long as we have anymore.”

“That’s pretty bad,” he answered, “if you feel like you’re missing out on something by staying married.”

“No, it isn’t that at all,” I hastened to reassure him.  “It’s just that being happily married is starting to seem like an anomaly.  I’m just curious about what it is that drives so many couples apart, and why we don’t have it.”

“Well, whatever it is, I certainly don’t want it,” he replied.  “I hope you don’t either!”

Of course I don’t.  But neither do I want to become long term partners who are just going through the motions, who have nothing in common except decades of habit, and whose daily presence becomes unwelcome and irritating.  While it’s important to keep one’s expectations realistic,  it’s also vital to maintain a sense of momentum in a relationship, to not become stagnant emotionally or physically.  I hope our love is the kind that ages well, and that if we can’t have bliss exactly, at least we can have devotion and genuine appreciation for one another.

One of our friend’s at church recently announced that her parent’s, both in their mid-nineties, would soon celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.  It was interesting to gauge the reactions of those in the room – some people exclaimed in disbelief, as if they couldn’t imagine spending that many years with the same partner.  Others responded in genuine appreciation for this accomplishement.

What a gift that would be, I immediately thought, to be able to have so many years together, to be able to share an entire lifetime with that one person who makes you feel safe and cared for and cherished.

Maybe that’s bliss after all.

How about you?  What’s your idea of wedded bliss? Do you have it, or hope to have it?

More Than I Bargained For

p8310042It’s been hard to find a balance this week, between school concerts and work and everyday chores.  There’s been a lot more running around than I’d hoped, more times in and out of the car, more waiting for rehearsal or traffic or for someone to get home.  Things haven’t always worked out quite right, so I’m a bit drained and off kilter.

But for the first time ever, there are bright yellow tulips in my front garden, their slender necks bowed gently in the warm afternoon rain.  Their needs are so simple – sun and water and warm soil to harbor their roots.  For all the long frozen months of winter they lay hidden underground, waiting for just the right moment to step onto the stage.  They have no other purpose but to be, and in their being, to make me smile every time I see them. 

I’m surprised at the pleasure I take in seeing these bright flowers, the yellow and pink and red ones, nodding at me each day when I open the window blinds.  Their appearance has brought more joy than I bargained for, perhaps because they are new and have appeared so effortlessly.  I realize that simple pleasures like these are an integral part of keeping my life in balance.  Like a deep breath for the soul, they put me back on emotionally even ground, something I’ve really needed to find during these past hectic days.

How about you? What are some of the simple pleasures that help you balance your daily life?

Thriving

p10101351

Years and years ago, in the dark ages when I was a young teenager, it was fashionable to fill your room with houseplants- spider plants, philodendron, ferns, ivy -green leggy things cradled in macrame hangars or tucked into brightly colored ceramic pots.

My friend J. and I spent several weeks allowance at Frank’s Nursery, buying up all kinds of green plants.  For my birthday that year, J. bought me a prayer plant, whose leaves  folded piously at night in the attitude of praying hands, and then opened wide with the sun.  We happily decorated our rooms with plants, setting them on windowsills, hanging them from the ceiling, and crowding them around our desks and dressers.

Sadly, my black thumb soon became apparent.  I either watered too much or not enough, allowed them too little light or sunburned them.  Whatever, most of my plants were soon sickly and yellow, instead of lush and verdantly green.

My mother passed by my room one day and peeked inside. “Tsk,” she said, shaking her head sadly at the vestiges of my garden.  “I sure hope your children turn out better than your plants.”

About 10 years later, I delivered a healthy, 8 pound baby boy.  Within a few days of his birth, however, he developed a sickly yellow color (jaundice), wouldn’t nurse, and started losing weight rapidly.  “Failure to thrive,” was the diagnosis applied by the head pediatrician after a week in the hospital with no improvement.   I was terrified – apparently my inability to nourish plants was going to extend to my child, just as my mother had predicted feared.

I finally convinced them to send us both home, claiming we were simply homesick and needed to be in our own environment and away from that horrible hospital.   In honor of our homecoming, my grandmother dished up my favorite dinner – southern fried chicken, potato salad, green beans, and apple pie.   Between she and my mother, I was tended like the rarest of blooms, fed and cosseted like a delicate rose.   And Brian – well, you could say he thrived vicariously, and within a few days sported a rosy glow and three extra pounds.

We’ve often laughed about that diagnosis, watching Brian grow steadily into his 6’2″ and 200+ pounds.  I used to threaten to take him into that pediatrician’s office and say, “Remember this one? Failure to thrive, huh?”

I’m still not much good in the plant department.  I can grow impatiens (well, who can’t?), and one year I had a vegetable garden with the best darn tomatoes in the neighborhood.  The problem with me and plants is that I lose interest in them.  I start out all gung ho, feeding and watering on schedule, deadheading frequently…but then it starts to seem tiresome, I get interested in something else, and my poor plants languish.

But I never got tired of being a mother…not for one second. 

My son is, of course, a grown man now.  He’s healthy and well adjusted, has a lovely wife and a very nice life.  In short, he’s thriving.   I don’t get much of an opportunity to nourish him anymore, and really, he does a fine job of taking care of himself.    But the impulse to tend to your child never leaves, no matter how old and self -sufficient they become.

He’s  been out of the country for six months, which is by far the longest amount of time I’ve gone without laying eyes on him since the day he was born.   He’s on his way home today, and I’m pretty disappointed that I can’t be in Florida to greet him.  Last time I was there, I left some of his favorite foods in the freezer and a few little gifts in the house.  It felt like a pitifully small offering, and I was sort of laughing at myself for even doing it – but it was, at least, something, and will probably prove more satisfying to me than to him.

Here at home, I’ve been outside today, tending some new plants in my garden, spreading loamy dark mulch around their tender fresh leaves, working bone meal into the soil at their roots.    I have Magic and Molly beside me, keeping me company.  Every so often I hear the distant roar of an airplane overhead, and my thoughts return to that fairest of all blooms in the garden of my life, the child who thrives, with or without me, and is on his way home.

How about you?  What’s thriving in the garden of your life these days?