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

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! (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?

Making a lovely home: what to buy and where to put it

English: A tape measure. Deutsch: Massband
English: A tape measure. Deutsch: Massband (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This comment on my last post has made me wonder how to be more helpful:

“The best way to have an attractive home is to have a design sense. It is not about how much it costs or where you buy it, but about what you buy and where you put it.”

Buying and placing furniture and objects feels intimidating and overwhelming and confusing to many people.

There are so many choices — and money is never endless — so what is the right thing to buy?

Think of your home as you do your wardrobe, something you build over time, adding better quality when possible.

Whatever your gender, you always need basics: a dress or suit (something elegant); some casual trousers (khakis, jeans, leggings, whatever), and so on. We tend to buy clothes without a ton of hand-wringing, and know that our tastes are bound to change over 5 or 10 or 15 years — or maybe months!

We also know, intuitively, that buying better quality means enjoying your things longer.

Then we add fun, color and personality with ties, scarves, socks, jewelry, stockings, pocket handkerchiefs. Your home needs some of that as well, not just the basics.

What to buy:

A sofa or loveseat

I’d vote for a loveseat: cheaper, more versatile, easier to move (physically) and less expensive to re-upholster or slip-cover. Much as it seems like a fab choice, I’d skip brown or black leather. What people forget is that every single thing in your space, (including the color of your floors), adds a color to the overall mix. Do you really want a huge hunk of something shiny and black or brown in the middle of your living room?

New Orleans This is the living room finished. ...
This room has  a nice mix of colors and shapes (note the three circles). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An attractive and sturdy bookcase

You can make one from plywood and paint or sand it any color your like, not just white, black or brown, the normal colors you’ll find at Ikea, for example. Don’t assume you have to buy stuff from a store. You can design one and even have a carpenter make it for you for the same price. Our living room bookcases, low enough to double as end tables, are painted a deep olive green.

A table large enough to seat four to six people

Round, oval, square or rectangular. Glass? Marble? Wood? Antique or reproduction? Some tables come with leaves so you can easily expand them. The best tables are adaptable for use as a desk or dining area. In a small space, a glass table takes up much less visual room than a chunk of dark brown wood.

Table lamps

No overhead lighting! (If you must, on a dimmer, always.) Very few sources of overhead lighting — certainly ceiling lights — shed sufficient light to read, cook, work or relax, or offer a flattering light. Table lamps, with customized shades in fabric or cardboard, can add color, interest and style to any interior.

Rug (Photo credit: Irish Typepad)

Throw rugs

Rugs do not have to be dark or wool or huge. Nor should they add eye-blasting hits of color or pattern. Exhausting! So much of what’s on offer is really ugly. Flat weave rugs — like kilims and dhurries — are easy to move from room to room, easy to wash, (I clean mine in the bathtub with Woolite) and add lovely color and pattern. Sisal with a colored border is crisp, clean and adds texture. Wall-to-wall can look granny-ish and get really dirty and smelly if you have kids and pets.

A mix of shapes

This is easy to overlook. So many pieces are rectangles, (sofa, tables, bookcases, rugs), or squares. It gets really monotonous. Look at every item you own, or are thinking of adding — can you soften the room by adding in something that’s a circle, half-circle or oval? That might be a mirror, a demi-lune table, a side table or a pair of stools.

Something old, weathered and interesting to look at

It might be an old store sign or a tin toy from the 20s or a mixing bowl from the 1940s. Unless your taste is 100 percent contemporary, you’ll want a mix of old and new to add character.

Decorative mirrors and frames

We have two in our living room and one (so far) on the bedroom wall. They add light, depth and fill up the space nicely without adding a lot of additional color. Frames in silver, gold or cream are easier on the eye and more versatile than (yes, she repeats) black or brown. I buy cream-colored frames from Pottery Barn and paint them whatever color suits me.

Throw pillows

Even the most boring, basic sofa can perk right up with some terrific throw pillows. Same for your bed.

Where to put it:

That’s where your eye — and your family’s needs — come in.

In general, you need 24 inches between every item; i.e. sofa and bookcase.

Buy and use a tape measure to educate your eye about scale and proportion. Look at your rooms the way a stranger might — a realtor or buyer — and see what seems to work and what doesn’t.

Move stuff around! I’ve lived in my one bedroom apartment since 1989 and have changed my living room arrangement a few times over the years as I get bored or acquire new items. I bought two round metal side tables for bedside use — one now sits in the living room and another in a corner. A chest of drawers might work better in a hallway or dining room. Don’t be too literal about where things “should” go. Our bed sits in the middle of the room so we wake up every morning facing north up the river.

Every room needs a mixture of textures, colors, sizes, shapes and heights. If everything in the room is tiny, find something large to mix things up — a huge poster, a rug, a cabinet. If everything is enormous, a collection of small drawings or photos on one wall gives the eye a break.

Look for, and create, relationships between things — our dining room is pale gray and almost everything, (photos, engravings, fabric and drawings), is an image of Paris, my favorite city. The color scheme is neutrals, including the artwork: gray, cream, brown and black, (the picture frames are mostly dark wood, for example.)

How much light does each room get? Designers have very mixed views on this. Some say keep a dark room pale and add lots of light and mirror while others say make it cozy with deep rich tones.

Making your home lovely — on the cheap

It’s an ongoing challenge for many of us — how to make your home attractive and affordably? Dorm room, shared flat or your very own first house, the basics remain the same: you need charm, color, texture, function and comfort.

The world is jammed with design blogs, like Design Sponge, so there’s no shortage of advice out there for the taking. I love this post — the Ten Commandments of Buying Used Furniture — from one of my absolute favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy.

For you Pinterest fans, here’s a post on using it for this purpose.

I’ve been making a pretty home since I left my parents’ house at 19. Few things are as nurturing and healing as a home that makes you smile every time you open the front door, and few as draining and depressing as hating your four walls, (and ceiling and floor.)

In the late 1990s, I also studied at the New York School of Interior Design, which I absolutely loved.

Here are some of my tricks, and some images from our home:

Consignment shops

You can find terrific deals in consignment shops, (places where people leave quality stuff and hope for a percentage of the sale price.) I snagged a glass pitcher for $12 and a reproduction wooden Pembroke table, at one of my favorite spots in Greenwich, CT, about a 30 minute drive from my home. Greenwich is one of the nation’s wealthiest towns, so their cast-offs are awesome! The table wasn’t super-cheap — $350 — but well worth it; light, versatile, classic and well-made.

Thrift shops

People give away stuff all the time without a clue as to its real value, just to get rid of it easily. Visit often and you’ll score furniture, lamps, china, cookware and linens for pennies.


Not every auction house is as pricy or scary as Sotheby’s! I lived for a while in a small town in New Hampshire, and attended a weekly auction nearby for almost 18 months. I learned a lot — like how to distinguish between the real thing and a reproduction or to know that a “marriage” means joining together two pieces that don’t belong together but look impressively old anyway. Read a few books on antiques, and you’ll pick up the basics of what a truly old, (often valuable but underpriced), object looks like. Keep your eye out for lower-priced treasures like quality rugs, serving pieces and candlesticks. This is a fantastic list of every antique term, from a comprehensive British website all about buying antiques.


I found this flat-weave wool rug for $125 in a Toronto antique store. It had raggedy edges so I bought some black Ultrasuede and had our local dry cleaner add it to each end, for an additional $30.

The wooden box pictured here was about $10 at auction — perfect size for magazines.



Our bedroom door came from the curb, i.e. someone threw it out! It’s probably from the 1930s or so. I like its round brass knob.

Fabric stores

They always have remnants, cheap. Even a yard or two of gorgeous fabric, hand-stitched into a pillow cover, can add pizzazz to your chair, sofa or bed.

We’ve had this Crate and Barrel china cabinet for ages. I got tired of looking at dishes, so added this fun fabric, for about $40, inside the glass. It picks up the room’s theme, which is photos and engravings of Paris.



The cheapest way to make everything look fresh and new. A quart of paint  — about $20 or so — can totally change the look of a small bookcase, a stiff cardboard lampshade, stool, chair, table or chest of drawers. Consider adding a hit of pure red, creamy white, glossy black, chartreuse or tangerine.

Save up for the good stuff!

I once waited for years, literally, until I could afford exactly the only lamp I wanted, the Tizio by Richard Sapper, a classic. It cost me a staggering $500 in the mid-1980s, (today, a small version is $300+), but I still use it every day and love it. I’ve never once regretted buying quality. I’m still (!) sitting on the sofa I bought in Toronto in the 1980s, slip-covered. It’s not cheap when you buy it — but if you amortize the cost over 10+ years, it is.

English: Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper (1972)
English: Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper (1972) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shop everywhere

Garden stores, gourmet shops, sporting goods stores. You never know what you’ll find. I snagged a pair of fab pierced metal lamps at the back of a cafe in Minneapolis — for $13.50 apiece. I’d actually just gone there for lunch, but decided to poke around. I discovered sheets of soft, pliable, versatile copper at a local yacht supply store, a great material for lamps, votive liners, even covering a kitchen countertop. Jose was in Tucson teaching a workshop when he found some spectacular talavera planters and plates he shipped home. I hand-carried small framed prints home from Stockholm.

Including places you think you can’t afford

Everyone has sales sometime. Anthropologie has lovely homegoods, often on sale, as well as these sites I love, Mothology and Wisteria.

Use your imagination!

I found an old Chinese wooden frame ($75) and ordered up a custom-cut antiqued bit of mirror to put behind it from a glazier. It’s now our bathroom mirror; total cost $125.

Antique shows and flea markets

I scored a fantastic Moroccan metal lantern for $15 by arriving early at a local antiques fair. I had it sand-blasted smooth for $50 by my local auto body shop and painted it a delicious red from Farrow & Ball. (The coppery metal one beside it is a $12 on-sale find from Pier One.)


Stock a tool box and know how to use it

Hammer, pliers, staple gun, screwdriver, small saw, wood glue, nails and screws. A small hand-held sander is a great help, easily stored. Keep a supply of plastic dropsheets and foam brushes. Be ready to sand, stain, re-size and re-paint your finds as needed. Or make your own stuff to fit difficult spaces; Jose created three fantastic planters for our balcony from sheets of plywood we cut and painted.

What cool things have you done to make your home lovely on a budget?