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Posts Tagged ‘Health’

A beautiful home nourishes us — 10 ways to nurture yours

In antiques, art, beauty, business, culture, design, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on November 30, 2013 at 12:18 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it:
Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe
to be beautiful.”―
William Morris
Chinese Jade ornament with flower design, Jin ...

Chinese Jade ornament with flower design, Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD), Shanghai Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the few architecture blogs I read is from Alabama firm McAlpine Tankersley. I love their designs, even though the mega-mansions and second homes they are hired to create are far beyond my reach financially.

A recent post:

Architects and Interior Designers are in the business of affecting the physical plane of our world by producing a scape that can be seen and touched – lived in and on.  Integral to its success is the layering of texture, tones, and the reflection and refraction of shades of light and dark.  Depth and scale of shape in measured doses to elicit a calculated response…

Our sensual experiences have a physiological response by stilling our minds, calming our hearts and relieving stresses.

Great beauty has the power to relax and center our energy and emotions.  Lowering our internal pressures free us to see more clearly and calmly.  It is always a goal to create a meditative space that is restorative in nature, a space that you feel better in and are compelled to linger through.

…Beauty can be a retreat for healing.  Luxury is a tonic for the soul.

As someone who has seriously studied antiques, art and interior design, these words deeply resonate with me.

I spent much of my childhood at boarding school — brown metal beds, chenille bedspreads, weathered floral wallpaper, linoleum floors — and summer camp. Living with other people’s institutional aesthetic choices has left me with a fairly ferocious desire to make every place I live in lovely, welcoming and, as Susan writes here eloquently, a retreat for healing.

Journalism is also a business often conducted in atrocious working conditions: noisy, filthy, crowded and/or filled with stress, whether financial or professional. By the time my husband staggers in the door after a long day and a long train/taxi commute, he’s ready to be soothed!

I loved studying design seriously, understanding why some colors and proportions are inherently beautiful and others jarring and wearying. In our color class, we were taught the color scale and how to use shades and tones. In our materials class, we learned the relationships between textures and how to use them safely and elegantly.

It doesn’t matter if “home” is a small dorm room or a trailer or an apartment or a house. It’s what you make of it.

Here are some ways to create beauty in your home:

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The bouquet above cost $30 — a splurge, for sure — but provided enough material for bouquets in three rooms that will last for at least two weeks.

Fresh flowers, a plant or some branches

Unless I’m totally skint, every week includes a bouquet of fresh flowers or greenery from my local florist. No, it’s not a necessity, but what a lovely touch to have even one bright pink gerbera, the tart scent of eucalyptus or some branches of curly willow. I also stock up on Oasis (florists’ foam) which can turn any water-tight container into a vase and frogs (glass and metal holders that fit into a low or flat container), easily found in thrift shops and flea markets. Or — take your kitchen shears and find some bittersweet or holly growing wild.

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I found these pierced-metal lanterns for an unlikely $13 each in a cafe in Minneapolis.

Candles, votives and/or tea-lights

Not a day goes by that I don’t light a candle, or several, usually as we sit down to dinner. It creates a totally different mood from any other sort of illumination. Instead of leaping out of bed on a cold, dark winter’s morning, take five minutes to light a small bedside candle.

Fresh towels or linens

Even a new $5 dishtowel, in a fun pattern or color, can cheer up your kitchen. I find unusual shams, sheets, coverlets and pillowcases like this gorgeous floral duvet cover at Anthropologie and these super towels in a blue and white pattern from Zara Home.

Three or four sources of light per room — and overheads only in bathroom, hall and kitchen

Think about the most soothing and beautiful interiors you’ve been in. They may have been in a hotel or restaurant, where professionals have seriously considered how to create a mood using light and darkness. There are different kinds of lighting, (task, overhead, floor lamp, table lamp) as well as different colors of bulb. Three-way bulbs allow for different levels of brilliance. Overhead lighting — especially fluorescent — is often depressing, unflattering and too dim to be useful. If you can afford it, consider adding dimmers to every overhead light.

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On my desk, I’ve layered a 19th-century woven wool paisley shawl underneath a Peruvian manta.

This hand-embroidered vintage linen tablecloth perfectly covers our headboard.

This hand-embroidered vintage linen tablecloth perfectly covers our headboard.

Vintage textiles

My passion! Few items add as much character and warmth to an interior as an early hand-made quilt, gently worn vegetable-dye rug, embroidered linen napkins or pillowcases. You can easily find vintage fabrics on-line through EBay and Etsy, as well as flea markets and antique shows. If you know how to sew, whip up some throw pillows or a tablecloth.

Scent

It might be a scented candle or lavender sachets tucked between your linens or your sweaters. I love making sachets from vintage textile scraps. (Also great to toss into your suitcase!)

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Lovely flatware

You can find great old things for pennies. We use mis-matched silver plate I’ve found in flea markets everywhere I travel. A bottle of silver polish will restore them to a soft gleam.

A piece of pottery

It might be a spoon-rest or a teapot or a bowl. Having a useful object made by someone’s hands is a great reminder that not everything in our homes has to be made cheaply by overseas labor. I recently wrote to the Ontario potter who made this teapot, which Jose bought for me in Toronto years ago, just to thank him for adding such beauty to our lives.

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Vary the shapes and sizes of your objects and furniture

Is everything you own shaped like a square or rectangle: (sofa, tables, rugs, bed)? Add some curves! A round or oval mirror, a round or demi-lune side or console table, even a long, narrow runner in the hallway will mix things up. An over-sized round lantern or bowl can change the look of a table or chest of drawers.

Pools of darkness, to add mystery

Obviously not in places that need to be very well-illuminated for your safety, like stairs, kitchen or bathroom. But the most alluring spaces have a feeling of discovery or mystery. I found my small, dimmable uplighter lamp at Home Depot for a big $13.05.  This once-dead corner of our living room now contains a round covered table, on it two marble garden ornaments, an antique planter and a pierced metal lantern found on sale at Pier One. The Victorian mirror was an antique store find in small-town Ontario.

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Oh, just call us “husky”…or maybe, Your Highness

In beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, Fashion, life, Style, women on October 11, 2013 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

According to Urban Dictionary, that’s what moms tells their overweight sons to soothe them — “You’re just husky.”

20131009091610                      OMG. I wear an XL….in this brand.

Here’s a recent blog post about what fat larger women prefer to be called:

For the survey, Sonsi questioned 1,000 women. Among the most interesting findings: While the vast majority of plus-size women (85 percent) say they believe that beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes, fewer than half (49 percent) say that they embrace their own curves. That, Mongello added, signals “a confidence gap among plus-size women.”

Angela O’Riley, a longtime plus-size Ford model, stylist and fashion consultant, told Yahoo Shine that she wasn’t surprised. “It’s deeply ingrained, this fashion thing. We’re all socialized from a very young age to look at fashion magazines, but nobody looks like us, so it’s exclusionary, and it sets up a vicious cycle of ‘I’m no good,’” she said. “It’s a psychological study when you make clothes.”

Regarding terminologies, 28 percent of those surveyed said they most liked the term “curvy,” mainly because their curves help define who they are. “I actually prefer ‘curvy,’” O’Riley said. “It has such a positive connotation. If you used it to describe a friend, no matter what her size, you’d think, ‘Oh, she’s delicious!’ It’s empowering instead of diminishing.”

Still, 25 percent liked “plus size,” while another 25 percent went with “full figured,” with some great write-in choices including “normal,” “average” and “beautiful.”

I think a much better idea would be to stop obsessing about the size or shape of women’s bodies.

It’s really only a matter of concern between a woman and her physician(s.)

Calling a woman who is larger than a size 12 “plus-size” is really fairly bizarre — do we (yes, I’m one of them) call leaner women “minus” size?

How weird would that be?

Enough already with the normative shaming and labeling.

Some of us are bigger than others, whether temporarily, (post-pregnancy, injury, medication side effects,) or permanently. Some of us are leaner.

And thinner doesn’t equal better/braver/bolder/kinder, a quick default way to claim superior status.

It just means your clothing labels are a lower figure than those of us on the dark side of size 12.

In my world, the size and consistent use of a woman’s heart and brain (i.e. her compassion and intelligence) far outweigh the girth of her upper arms or the jiggle of her belly.

I’ve met way too many skinny bitches to be persuaded that the most important element of our value to the wider world lies in the size of our thighs.

Here’s one of my writing pals, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a mother of two in L.A., writing in Ladies Home Journal:

So I’ve reached some uncomfortable conclusions: There is no future in which I lose weight and it stays lost. As that realization sinks in, I put my head on my desk. It stays there for an hour.

But why am I so despondent? Over the time wasted? The money thrown away? Yes, and more. I’m crying for the shame I’ve felt, the sins I’ve committed when I imagined my life to be a blinking light, on hold indefinitely until I looked the way I wanted to.

Here’s a smart post by one of my favorite bloggers — another Caitlin! — at Fit and Feminist, a woman I doubt is anywhere near overweight, and yet…

If you tallied up all of the time and energy I’ve spent thinking about my negative body image over the course of my teens and twenties, I probably would have been able to use it to earn myself a graduate degree.  And I have to be honest with you – my body’s “flaws” are just not that interesting.  In fact, those fake “flaws” are probably one of the least interesting things i can think of.  There are so many books to read and essays to write and conversations to have and things to try and skills to learn and social justice battles to wage and adventures upon which to embark!  This world is full of fascinating and miraculous things!

The cellulite on the back of my thighs – who cares about that in the grand scheme of things?  If I care at all about my thighs, it’s because I want them to be strong enough to do things like pedal me across Europe or help me run the Keys 50 ultramarathon next year.  I really cannot be bothered at all to care about anything else.

Here’s a recent New York magazine profile of Australian actress Rebel Wilson, whose new television show Super Fun Night, recently premiered, and whose lead character, Kimmie Boubier, is one of the few heavy actresses actually allowed on TV:

Between the creation of the pilot in 2011 and today, Wilson appeared in seven films, including Pitch Perfect, in which she played Fat Amy. Pitch Perfect made Wilson an emerging star: Her character, who may be the first woman in films to acknowledge her excess weight without complaint or unhappiness, is riveting. Fat Amy sings in a big, anthem-worthy voice, she invents her own mermaid style of dancing, and she is a glorious role model without being, as Amy would say, “a twig.” “Rebel is revolutionary,” O’Brien continued.

“Her weight is vastly overshadowed by her talent.”

As it should be.

Get that needle away from my face!

In aging, beauty, business, culture, domestic life, History, life, Medicine, Style, women on October 5, 2013 at 2:14 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Having had four orthopedic surgeries in 12 years is enough to put you off needles for a long, long time, between pre-op blood tests, IVs and anesthesia.

So I’m not going to be reaching for the Restylane or Botox — face freezers or fillers that make you look calmer and younger — any time soon.

No needles in my face, kids!

Pretty Face

Pretty Face (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a recent column from The New York Times about how to age gracefully, without all the paraphernalia:

Some days it seems everyone I meet is afraid of getting old — or at least of looking as old as they are. Occasionally, I see women who have had so many face lifts that they can barely move their lips when they talk, let alone smile.

Business is booming in the anti-aging market. Plastic surgeons who specialize in lifts, tucks and fillers barely noticed the recent recession. Cosmetics with anti-aging properties fly off the shelf, and new concoctions appear almost weekly.

I admit to supporting the multibillion-dollar skin care industry with my long use of night creams, as well as a slew of daytime facial and body lotions that purport to “smooth out” aging skin while protecting it with sunscreen. I also color my hair, which in its natural state is now about 80 percent gray.

But I draw the line at injectable fillers and muscle relaxants, face lifts and tummy tucks. I’ll do everything I can to stay out of an operating room.

I’m with her on that. I also really like her emphasis on who you are are as you age, not just the shape, size and condition of our bodies and faces:

Youthfulness is not just a question of biology. People are perceived to be younger than their years if they smile and laugh a lot (be proud of those laugh lines!) and are generally cheerful and upbeat, the kind of people who smile at strangers and wish them a good day.

People often guess me as 10 to 15 years younger than my true age, which is pleasant. This week, a NYC cabbie guessed me 13 years younger, and young people looking at me in broad daylight (i.e. their eyesight is fine!) do so as well.

If people perceive me a decade younger than some of my peers, it’s likely a combination of things:

– I’ve never smoked

– I get a lot of sleep

– I disconnect, often, from technology to meet people in person, read books in print, get into the real world

– I minimize my use of social media (however hip) to recharge and reflect

– I enjoy my life, and have a wide network of supportive friends

– I only drink moderately

– I exercise 3-4 times a week, often outdoors in nature

– Genetic good fortune – my aunt, who died at 82, looked amazing (she might, having been a well-known actress in England,) have had “some work done” along the way.

– I have much younger friends, some even in their early 20s, and love being part of their lives

– I’ve never hit rock-bottom, terrifying poverty, the kind where you have no idea where your next dollar, or dime, is coming from. Terror and 24/7 anxiety will age anyone quickly.

Here’s a great post from Emma Johnson, aka Wealthy Single Mommy, a fellow New York journalist, who is 36, about accepting and enjoying how our bodies change with age:

In the past year or so I’ve noticed other first, albeit subtle signs of aging: The large pores. A second glass of pinot grigio at night and I wake to extra-dark circles and creping under my eyes. The cellulite that has hugged the back of my thighs since I was 12 has spawned and now also covers the front of my thighs. After two babies and four decades, I don’t expect to see a flat tummy again. Everyone knows bodies age, yet are surprised when it happens to theirs. Here I am.

And yet.

And yet for the first time in my life, I see something else that wasn’t there before. When I see pictures of myself smiling I notice the fine laugh lines, yes. There is something else in my whole face that is new. The same thing when I catch a reflection of my eyes in the rear-view mirror as I glance at my children sleeping in the backseat. I see the crow’s feet at the same moment and I see a pretty face. I did not see pretty before. It may have never been there, I’m not sure.

For the gentlemen in the audience, here’s a smart/funny column from Details magazine on the subject:

We now have a small army of male archetypes suffering sartorial midlife crises.

There’s the man still padding around dressed like the 28-year-old Silver Lake hipster—Vans, Daft Punk tee, thigh-hugging jeans—he was a decade ago. His proliferation is easy to understand, because his style requires no effort. Change nothing. No wonder he has numerous stuck-in-time siblings, like his urban-styled brethren.

Women, certainly in the U.S., are judged harshly when we’re not deemed sufficiently  thin, perky and unwrinkled — which rules out plenty of us over 40, let alone 50.

It also focuses way too much attention on the size of our hips or ass when we really need to focus attention on the size of our paychecks and investments for retirement.

Active, curious,open minds and generous hearts are every bit as important — and generally far more within our control — as the inevitable ravages, and sometimes really lousy luck, faced by an aging body.

Some of the coolest women I know live in my apartment building, like M. who’s 80 — and feels about 60 — with fab clothes and a pompadour, a booming laugh and a spirit that still kicks ass.

I want to be her.

When you look in the mirror — especially those of you over 30 — are you happy with what you see?

If you’re female, read (and share) this please

In aging, beauty, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, education, family, food, Health, life, parenting, women on August 11, 2013 at 2:47 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Because the Internet works like that, I saw this blog post thanks to Aby, my male friend in Bhutan.

But then, of course, it made Freshly Pressed this week, in full.

Myrtle Cook of Canada (left) winning a prelimi...

Myrtle Cook of Canada (left) winning a preliminary heat in the women’s 100 metres race at the VIIIth Summer Olympic Games / Myrtle Cook (à gauche), du Canada, remportant une éliminatoire pour l’épreuve du 100 mètres femmes, aux VIIIe Jeux Olympiques d’été (Photo credit: BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives)

It’s must-read material for every girl and woman who worries about her body and whether or not it is thin/shapely/pretty enough.

It is:

Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter…

Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe.

Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.

Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork…

Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture…

Pass on your love of being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages.

It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.

Imogen Heap - Ellipse

Imogen Heap – Ellipse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you — like me — have no daughter (or kids), I still hope you’ll share this important reminder with all the girls and women in your life, of any age or size, who long to be told how terrific we are as is.

Not just when we’re sufficiently skinny/pretty/media-approved.

Do you know this amazing song, Bad Body Double, by British singer Imogen Heap?

She describes this toxic, life-long body-image insecurity so eloquently:

Say hi there to my bad body double

This is my bad body double trouble

Oh no, my bad body double, mmmhm

I’ve got bad body double trouble, oh.

She’s trouble

She’s trouble

She’s trouble, alright.

Yeah, yeah

Sometimes I manage to lose her

Shake her at a bar, in the gym for five minutes

It feels so good to be back to my own self again

Can get quite confusing.

We look very similar except she’s got some grays and

A little extra weight on the sides

And dimply thighs,

I hear that stuff’s a bitch to get rid off

(No, no, no, no)

We’re having quite an intimate, personal moment (not now)

Could you maybe come at a slightly less awful time? (not now)

She can see I’ve got someone quite nice here with me

Can’t we just be left alone…

I guess that’s a no then

Which habit(s) are you trying to break?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, Health, life on July 8, 2013 at 12:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the best things about a vacation is — for me anyway — coming back to my home and daily life with refreshed eyes and new ideas. I almost always make some changes in how our apartment looks, and some changes in how I conduct my work and life.

Everyday life

Everyday life…Time to get out my guitar again! (Photo credit: loginesta)

Being self-employed as a writer for seven years means I have a lot of freedom in how, when and where I work. But it also means I fall into ruts and routines, like everyone else. If it’s easy and “normal”, I tend to keep doing it. I sit at the dining room table writing on my laptop, (why not at the library? a coffee shop? a shared space? the park?), because that’s what I did the day/week/month before.

A best-selling book, The Power of Habit, addresses this. Once we become habituated to a behavior, it’s comfortable and routine, and demands little thought or creativity. It might be what we drink each morning, (or night), or the clothes we wear or the friends we hang out with.

Here’s a great post by Seth Godin on why being angry is a habit one can choose to break.

One of the things I enjoy most about vacation is the chance to flee habitual behavior and try new things, some of which are simply easier, more affordable or more accessible in places other than where I live, whether horseback riding or finding a store full of used CDs.

I do do a few things, habitually, that I am enjoying and are good for me, like a Monday morning jazz dance class that leaves me drenched in sweat and ready to start my week. At 4:00 p.m. or so, many days, I brew a full pot of tea — no crappy bag-in-a-cup! — and sit down to hydrate and relax for a while.

And every year — no matter how much I would really prefer to blow that cash on a fantastic trip somewhere — I put away 15 percent or more of my income. It has finally begun to add up to something that seems real and worth managing, so the years of self-denial are worth it.

But I have a few habits I need to change:

– checking email too often, out of loneliness and boredom

– dicking around on social media (ditto)

– procrastinating on major projects that require a lot of intermediate steps to get to completion

– wasting time on magazines instead of reading books

– losing two to four hours listening to, (albeit loving!), talk shows on National Public Radio

– sitting for too long at the computer without a break, like…hours!

– not exercising consistently every single week, at least four (ugh) times

Here’s a beautiful, smart post about the power of habit — and how essential it is to wake up our lives while we still have them to enjoy:

One way is to make a conscious effort to break the habit patterns which blunt our perceptions. After all, it was sheer habit which caused the man to throw the magic pebble into the sea. ‘Habit,’ says Samuel Beckett in Waiting for Godot, ‘is a great deadener’. A contemporary Buddhist says that we should try to do some of the following:

 
When in company act as if alone
When alone act as if in company
Spend one day without speaking
Spend one hour with eyes closed
With eyes closed, have someone you are close to take you on a walk
Think of something to say to someone particular. Next time you see them, don’t say it.
Go somewhere particular to do something. When you get there, don’t do it.
Walk backwards
Upon awakening, immediately get up
Get dressed to go somewhere, then don’t go
Just go out immediately, as you are, anywhere
Do what comes next
Walk on!            
What habit(s) are you struggling to shed or change?
How’s it going?

Loneliness can be deadly

In behavior, blogging, cities, culture, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, science, urban life, US on May 15, 2013 at 1:59 am
Poster for a New York showing of Children of L...

Poster for a New York showing of Children of Loneliness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Caitlin Kelly

Can loneliness kill? Apparently so.

The New Republic, in this piece, argues in favor of being more social:

Teach a lonely person to respond to others without fear and
paranoia, and over time, her body will make fewer stress hormones and
get less sick from them. Care for a pet or start believing in a
supernatural being and your score on the UCLA Loneliness
Scale will go down. Even an act as simple as joining an athletic team or
a church can lead to what Cole calls “molecular remodeling.” “One
message I take away from this is, ‘Hey, it’s not just early life that
counts,’ ” he says. “We have to choose our life well.”

The story is long and complicated, and its underlying premise argues for more government funding for parents and young children.

But the larger point is an interesting one in a time when we are so connected by technology — thousands of you have signed up to follow me but will never meet me in person — yet often so lacking in true emotional and intellectual intimacy.

It took me a long, long time to make new friends when I came to New York. I was 30, and had always had very close friends and had made new friends easily. It was puzzling and miserable that I couldn’t seem to replicate that here.

But New York is a place where many people come with the absolute goal of making a lot of money and getting ahead and becoming powerful and famous — which all leaves little time to hang out for a few hours over coffee. New Yorkers also suffer the longest commute to work of anyone in the U.S., so even if someone likes you, they’re often sprinting for the 5:14 or the 8:22 back home to their own family.

I found the place annoyingly tribal; if you hadn’t attended the same schools as others, preferably an Ivy League college, you were simply persona non grata. College and graduate school as a sorting mechanism are powerful tools here.

I was lonely for a long time. In the past three or four years, finally, I’m happily starting to enjoy an active social life again, recently fielding two invitations to visit one friend in Pennsylvania and another at her house upstate. Last night, I met one friend, in from San Francisco, for a drink and another for dinner.

(Oddly, or not, they knew one another, having worked together decades ago for the same NYC book publisher and both [!] arrived with copies of their publishers’ new books for me to read. In addition to the three I had just bought {thanks, Danielle!}, I was now coming home carrying nine books!)

It feels really good to have friends you know for sure love you and are rooting for you. We need to be liked and valued, so see someone’s face light up with pleasure when they see us and lean in for a ferocious hug.

But building friendship also requires intimacy and intimacy takes time and effort, two things many of us have difficulty mustering up after a day of hard work (or looking for work) and commuting and caring for our families and pets and ourselves. Intimacy requires trust and being vulnerable and opening yourself up to someone new.

I paid a very high price for being lonely in 1998 when I became the victim of a con man. I was isolated, struggling financially, had not had a boyfriend in two years, was divorced and feeling as low and insecure as I ever have. The vulture swooped in — I was emotional roadkill.

After I survived that ordeal, I immediately joined a small, friendly local church. Living alone in the suburbs, without kids or any emotional connection to others living near me, I desperately needed community. I needed, and found, a place where I could feel safe again, and valued, and heal.

Have you ever felt terribly lonely?

What did you do to alleviate it?

Getting older is a bitch — (and/or becoming one)

In aging, beauty, behavior, domestic life, life, seniors on March 6, 2013 at 2:05 am
Jazz Dance ¬ 0619

Jazz Dance ¬ 0619 (Photo credit: Lieven SOETE)

I had dinner recently with my friend G, a fellow writer. As we settled into a local restaurant for dinner — the music way too loud for comfortable conversation — we both kept saying “That music is too loud!”

Getting older is a bitch, kids.

What we really were talking about was how to handle the indignities and annoyances of aging.

We’re not that old, but we’re past 40, and things do start to look a lot different by then; friends have died far too young, parents are starting to become frail or ill and the endless mountain ranges of ambition we always planned to keep scaling are starting to just look exhausting.

“I’m going to be such a bitch when I’m older,” she said calmly. Me, too.

Because you’re running out of time, energy, strength and the endless determination to bounce back — from illness, divorce, a crappy betrayal, a crummy job.

Because, for better and worse, you simply have less stamina, physically and emotionally, for bullshit. If someone is petty or cruel or stupid or deceptive, in the old days I would have fake-smiled and sucked it up. Today? You’re gone!

Because…you can.

You don’t have to kiss as many butts as in your gogogogogogogogogo 20s and 30s, when you’re desperate to get into the right college/grad school/jobs/marriage.

Here’s a fab post from feminist site Jezebel about why your 30s are do-or-die, baby!:

What’s going on, I think, is the path-diverging choices that come with growing up. The thirties aren’t wildly different from your twenties, except for the part where the stakes feel so much higher. The carefree feeling of going out every night is replaced with a nagging voice that now reminds you of the repercussions, of what you should really be doing instead, and of the choices that may be slipping away, whether they are career, family, or fun. You are suddenly, irrevocably unable to waste time in the same way without chastising yourself.

By the time you’re in your 40s and beyond, you’ve done much of that, often several times (see: jobs, marriages.)

And we’re learning (resentfully!) that our energy has limits — even as she and I admitted to sitting at our computers for 10 hours a day when we write a major story.

I still, (thank God), can read without needing glasses. I still head off to jazz dance class and kick as high as some of the praying-mantis-thin chicks in their 30s. I plan to be back on the softball field this summer, after a three-year absence due to injury, surgery and recovery.

I’m also finally happy to see that my retirement savings — mine alone, even as a freelancer in a recession — have hit a number that actually makes all those years of scrimping feel worthwhile. I’d so much rather be in Paris/wear Manolos/drive a new car, but that growing number is deeply comforting.

Softball!

Softball! (Photo credit: * NightHawk24 *)

My role model is a woman on our floor, soon to turn 98. She recently fell, off the toilet, cutting her cheek and shoulder so badly she needed stitches. Her live-in nurse, who I see often, said, in awe: “She’s so strong!”

That’s what you need as you age. Strength: of character, of mind, body and spirit. A network of solid, loving friends. As much cash in the bank, and/or income, as you can possibly scrimp, scrape and save — start now, young ‘uns!

Aging also means less patience for whining or negativity. If you’re healthy, solvent and alive you’re way ahead of a lot of others starting their days with an IV in their arm or wondering when to finish making out their will or wincing in pain with every step.

By the time you’ve done a few decades, you start to feel like a grateful survivor, because you are.

The other night, for fun, I decided to Google a former beau, one of the most fun people I ever knew, a journalist-turned lawyer who fought hard for the rights of workers who’d been screwed over by their employers. Instead, to my shock, I found his obituary – dead of cancer at 57. It feels unimaginable.

It’s not.

Here’s a loooooong blog post on the topic, by an Australian blogger, with her 15 tips on how to age gracefully.

How do you feel about getting older?

If I were Queen…

In behavior, children, cities, culture, design, domestic life, education, entertainment, family, food, life, parenting, urban life on January 22, 2013 at 3:04 pm
The Sceptre, Orb and Imperial Crown of Austria...

The Sceptre, Orb and Imperial Crown of Austria in the Schatzkammer, Vienna (Photo credit: David Jones)

Oh, the possibilities!

As I get older and crankier, (OK, even crankier), I have a growing desire to enact sweeping changes.

Because: 1) I’m right; 2) you’re wrong; 3) if you disagree with me, I can have you drawn and quartered.

Ooops, sorry. Not queen just yet!

But in the deluded if pleasantly optimistic fantasy that I will soon awaken to the news that I am, in fact, in possession of: 1) ermine robes; 2) an orb and sceptre; 3) a big shiny crown; 4) power; 5) a throne…Look out.

I would:

Make every single person of able body work retail for a month, during the holiday season. You might be bagging groceries, or using one of those nifty folding boards to make a pile of T-shirts all tidy or stocking shelves. But you will definitely be exposed to the rudeness, demands, in(s) anity, germs, badly-behaved children, dumb questions and finger-snapping of shoppers. (If lucky, you will also have amazing moments of connection with some very cool people.) Only then can you possibly understand why “They’re so slow!” and learn to control your eye-roll and sighing when service fails to meet your needs. That low-paid, physically-grueling, intellectually-deadening job most likely doesn’t meet much of theirs.

Show every child, at age 12, (or earlier), the tools necessary to care for themselves and their home — and teach them to use them. Then make sure they do! Gender-free training, this would include household appliances, clothing and dish detergent, cleaners, polishes, dusters, brooms, mops, toilet bowl scrubbers, Windex, an iron and ironing board, a needle and thread, shoe polish and brushes and shoe trees, a lint roller.

Toilet bowl swab.

Toilet bowl swab. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Make sure every child over the age of 12, (or earlier), knows how to shop for groceries, compare prices and make wise choices on their own. When is a melon fresh? What can you make with a mushy banana? Is that cut of meat really cheaper?

Make sure every child over 12, (possibly quite a bit earlier), can read a food label, read and follow a recipe, prepare food safely and cook meals from scratch, using no canned, frozen or processed ingredients. I’ve never owned a microwave; you can make a great meal in about 6 minutes if you have the right ingredients.

Insist that no child be allowed to leave high school, (drop out or not), without passing a mandated financial literacy test. They would fully comprehend how to balance a checkbook (or ensure they are not spending beyond their means without full awareness of that); apply for a loan; understand an APR, a FICO score, a SEP and the value of a low-interest line of credit. The complex language of a vehicle loan, home mortgage or other major commitment — like college debt — would be familiar and accessible to them as they move into the larger world.

Factors contributing to someone's credit score...

Factors contributing to someone’s credit score, for Credit score (United States). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Repeat this test — like renewing a driver’s license — every two years, as the economy changes and people forget, become distracted and/or their needs change.

Make sure everyone knows the essential importance of prompt, sincere and personal thank-you notes. On paper, with a stamp.

Give every teen leaving home a toolbox with hammer, screwdriver, cordless drill, screws, nails, a level and a tape measure so they they can use them safely to maintain, repair and improve their homes.

Make every designer of every public space — especially the enormous expanses of American grocery stores — much more aware of the 47 million Americans who suffer from arthritis. Many shopping environments completely ignore the needs of those living with chronic pain and impaired mobility.

Create quiet zones in every possible public place, with severe fines and enforcement, to reduce cellphone abuse, earbud leakage and the blaring televisions that now assault us in airport departure lounges to (yes, really) hospital emergency rooms. When I am jacknifed in pain with a 104 degree temperature, television only makes me feel even worse. Surely people can distract themselves quietly and privately in shared space. Research increasingly shows that constant exposure to noise is extremely detrimental to our physical and emotional health.

Make every affluent teen spend a month, alone, in a developing nation — or zone of extreme poverty within their own country. Only by living among people earning pennies per day can someone understand what poverty is really like, what wrenching choices it imposes, what family damage it inflicts and what decisions, personal or political, perpetuate it.

Require every graduating college student, no matter their field of study, to learn a second language. We live in a global society. Insular thinking is dead.

Create many more affordable, attainable ways for lower-income teens and young adults to leave their homes for six to 12 months, working overseas or in a foreign country, to learn firsthand what other nations are doing better, (or worse), with their citizens’ lives. The “news media” is no substitute for firsthand experience. Trans-national friendships and experiences, whether created in high school, college, grad school or through your own initiative, are often life-changing.

Force Big Business to donate a fixed percentage of profit, (tied to CEO bonus and compensation as well), to re-patriating jobs to the United States. Call it a tax, a tariff, whatever. Just do it. Business must not be rewarded solely for raking in billions of corporate profits while stiffing millions of Americans of the chance to earn a living here.

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

Require every client hiring a freelance worker to pay a percentage of their fee up front.  The shoemaker does it. Upholsterers do it. Frame shops do it. Making people wait for their payments and stress over meeting their own financial commitments is immoral and obscene. Sweeten it with some form of tax credit, but make it happen. One third of Americans do not have “a job” — they work in this manner.

If you were Queen or King, what would you decree?

If one more woman bitches about the size of her body…

In aging, beauty, behavior, blogging, books, culture, domestic life, Health, life, Media, women on December 6, 2012 at 12:51 am
What scientists call "Overweight" ch...

What scientists call “Overweight” changes with our knowledge of human health (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am going to lose it completely.

Some of you read Kristen Lamb, who writes a blog about writing. It’s extremely popular and usually very helpful. But her latest post was a digression – an extended piece about being a size 10/12 and why she feels fat:

I am healthy, have beautiful skin and hair. I have enough energy to power a small city and am never sick, but I am still a size 10-12 and 170 pounds.

Why is it no one looks like me?

When we look on TV, we are confronted with extremes–super skinny or clinically obese. We are calling anorexics “beautiful” and calling dangerously obese women “curvy.” We are an a country that is dying because of euphemisms. I hear parents call morbidly obese children “husky,” “big-boned” or “muscular.” We have retailers calling anorexics “curvy.”

I get it. I’ve written about this as well.

But, seriously — it is time for women to move on.

Every time a healthy woman feels compelled to discuss the size of her ass or thighs or hips I want to throw a piece of furniture. Yes, being fat is annoying and unhealthy and no one makes pretty clothes for fatties.

I’m overweight, and have been since 2003 when I packed on 23 pounds in one year — the year I wrote my first book, traveling alone around the U.S., interviewing victims of horrific gun violence and crime, and dealing, alone, with my mother’s 3-inch-wide brain tumor and surgery in Vancouver. I was too damn distracted to even notice.

I’ve gained even more since then. Ugh. I’m not thrilled, believe me, to need to lose 40+ pounds. But we need to stop talking about this, and this is why I feel so strongly.

The larger issue here — pun intended — is this:

Whining about weight is the biggest fucking distraction that women indulge in! We have much bigger fish to fry!

Whining about weight is a huge time-suck.

Whining about weight teaches the girls in our lives, who look to us their role models, that this is just what women do, that focusing miserably and endlessly on our individual body size and shape is our most pressing issue as women — instead of political and economic issues that affect us all, size 00s to 24s,  like paid maternity leave or better domestic violence protection or access to birth control and abortion.

Whining about weight ignores and demeans the many incredible gifts we enjoy every single day. We are not living in Syria with government/rebel bombs exploding all around us, for example.

Whining about weight is the ultimate shiny object that women continue to focus their attention on, instead of:

– fighting for social justice, at home and abroad

– running for political office and kicking ass when we win

– creating astonishing works of art

– waking up every single day grateful for their health and strength, the not-so-simple ability to walk and stand and reach for things without pain

– knowing that women all over the world are dying of starvation, malnutrition and in childbirth at 14 or 16 because their young bodies are too weakened to do so healthily

– ditching the people in their lives who shame them by focusing on the size of their ass instead of what matters most, the size of our hearts and brains

– exploring the world, no matter our size, with excitement and anticipation

thinking, long and hard, about our legacies in this world

There is something ironic to me that Kristen’s blog post includes a photo of herself holding — of all things! — a very large gun. Having written a book about American women and guns, I know this decision isn’t one she made lightly, and showing her readers that she owns a gun takes serious guts. Shooting well also requires tremendous mental and physical control.

So, frankly, I don’t get it. You’re powerful and self-determining, or you’re not. A woman who knows how to handle a gun safely and shoot well is someone I respect; I’ve done a lot of shooting and know the power it conveys.

Labels are also something we generally choose to ignore after leaving the schoolyard, so why are women of all ages so eager to keep self-flagellating about how fat we are (or are not?)

At this point, I’m technically “plus size.”

Why don’t the curvy chicks start calling size 6’s and 00’s minus-size?

Give it up, ladies! This obsession is wasting our talent, energy, excitement and drive.

Give it up today.

Every 20 minutes an American dies for lack of health insurance: one man’s story

In behavior, culture, Health, journalism, life, Media, Medicine, Money, politics, US on October 19, 2012 at 12:11 am
Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This, from The New York Times:

So why didn’t I get physicals? Why didn’t I get P.S.A. tests? Why didn’t I get examined when I started having trouble urinating? Partly because of the traditional male delinquency about seeing doctors. I had no regular family doctor; typical bachelor guy behavior.

I had plenty of warning signs, and that’s why I feel like a damned fool. I would give anything to have gone to a doctor in, say, October 2011. It fills me with regret. Now I’m struggling with all my might to walk 30 feet down the hallway with the physical therapists holding on to me so I don’t fall. I’ve got all my chips bet on the hope that the radiation treatments that I’m getting daily are going to shrink the tumors that are pressing on my spinal cord so that someday soon I can be back out on the sidewalk enjoying a walk in my neighborhood. That would be the height of joy for me.

The writer of those words, Scott Androes, is now dead. He did not have health insurance so he did not see a doctor when he first noticed the signs of prostate cancer.

When Times’ columnist Nick Kristof yesterday wrote about his friend’s death, he got replies like this one:

“I take care of myself and mine, and I am not responsible for anyone else.”

Here’s some of Kristof’s column:

I wrote in my last column about my uninsured college roommate, Scott Androes, and his battle with Stage 4 prostate cancer — and a dysfunctional American health care system. I was taken aback by how many readers were savagely unsympathetic.

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

“Your friend made a foolish choice, and actions have consequences,” one reader said in a Twitter message.

As my column noted, Scott had a midlife crisis and left his job in the pension industry to read books and play poker, surviving on part-time work (last year, he earned $13,000). To save money, he skipped health insurance.

The United States, whose own Declaration of Independence vows “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, has become a shockingly divided place, where far too many of those who have inherited, cheated, conned, off-shored — or yes, fairly earned — their good fortune — are now hammering the oars of their lifeboats against the desperate, clutching, frozen hands of those now dying and drowning in the icy waters of an ongoing recession.

Too many of of those now driving gleaming new luxury vehicles see people like Androes, if they acknowledge them at all, as mere bugs on the windshield, something small and annoying to be ignored or dismissed.

Androes screwed up. He, God forbid, decided to step off the hamster wheel for a while and take life a little easier, something many of us long to do at mid-life. With no wife or kids to support, he was able to do that. But he was not able to afford health insurance, which is sold here like any other consumer product — and which can be brutally expensive. When I was able to get onto my husband’s health plan at work, even unmarried, in 2003, I was then, as a single, healthy woman in my 40s, paying $700 a month.

That meant an overhead, every year, of $8,400 just to avoid medical bankruptcy. Given that my mother has survived five kinds of cancer, I went without many other amusing choices (new clothes, travel, eating out) for years just to be sure I could, and did, get annual mammograms and Pap smears and all the preventive medicine possible to stay healthy.

Many people in the United States now earn $7 to 12/hour, since the two largest sources of new jobs in this country are foodservice and retail, which pay badly, offer only part-time work and no benefits (i.e. employer-subsidized health insurance). They might as well make out their will now. Because they can’t afford regular medical checkups, nor medication nor ongoing counseling to manage their diabetes or heart disease, even if it’s been diagnosed.

A young friend  — sober — fell on a slippery sidewalk, on a steep hill in the rain, and severely damaged one of his knees. He needs surgery that will cost $22,000. His employer, a Christian-based organization, the YMCA, refuses to help.

Yet another writer to Kristof said that people who are destitute medically have all created their own hells, and that’s where they belong:

“Smoking, obesity, drugs, alcohol, noncompliance with medical advice. Extreme age and debility, patients so sick, old, demented, weak, that if families had to pay one-tenth the cost of keeping the poor souls alive, they would instantly see that it was money wasted.”

I am ashamed to live in a country where selfishness is considered normal behavior.

I am appalled by such vicious callousness.

I am sickened by a growing lack of compassion from those who have never known, and utterly dismiss in others, the sting, shame, fear and misery of poverty and desperation.

And you?

How does this make you feel?

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