Hiya, Gorgeous!

This is what I say to my mirror each and every time I look in it. Oh, I’m not blind–I see clearly that I have lost all but a few stray eyebrow hairs, the bumps and wrinkles around my eyes, the deep lines around my mouth (because I never could stop smiling), some random age spots (really, my use of concealer these days is like playing Connect the Dots!), and worst of all–nose hairs!!

That said, this is all pretty normal at my age. But really, who is as critical of our aging faces are we are? No one else cares! I’m well aware that in this country we seem to revere youth and scoff at anyone over 50 (hell, over 40 for that matter!), but that’s how it goes. Everyone is cute and adorable when young; those are some of the perks of being young. But beauty after that first blush of youth comes from the inside out rather than the outside in.

I learned at an early age to take good care of my skin. Even in my wild and crazy twenties when I’d party all night, I would still remember to wash my face with a gentle cleanser, use skin toner and moisturizer. Granted, some nights I did it while swaying and staring boozily into the mirror, but I did it.

I also make sure I that update my makeup each year. Believe me, no one over 35 really can carry off shiny cobalt eye shadow and bright orange lipstick. Oh, it’s wonderful on the young–they just come off as insouciant, cute, daring and so heartbreakingly fresh and pretty. But after a certain age, it’s time to re-think the makeup. Less truly is more. The Crankee Yankee (my husband) staunchly maintains that I don’t wear makeup (although how he can miss all my jars and bottles and potions and creams and brushes and eyebrow pencils crammed into our bathroom vanity! Really–what does he think I’m doing with it all?). I tell him that indeed I do wear makeup; I am just really good at making it look as if I’m not wearing any.

Recently I found a clutch of photos my wonderful dad (retired professional photographer) took of me when I was 14. I just gawked at them–good grief, I was BEAUTIFUL! What in the world was I so down on myself for back then? I swear, every time I stepped out of the house as a teenager, I could have wept for my awkwardness, my looks, my speech, and my big old donkey girl laugh. All I could see were my flaws. I believe that most of us feel this way when we are young and unsure of ourselves.

But now when I look in the mirror and see my good old face that’s hung in with me so faithfully for so many years, I look beyond its age and flaws. I see who I have become, and am proud that my hundreds of thousands of smiles have carved themselves indelibly into my face. I can still see the girl I once was, right behind the woman I am now. I celebrate those lines and spots and bumps; I earned every one of them. If we continually mourn our youth, we won’t celebrate our life.

Try this for yourself for at least 30 days: each time you look at yourself in the mirror, smile and say, “HIYA, GORGEOUS!” Try it–it gets easier every time you do it. It’s worked so well for me that I honestly feel gorgeous every day of my life.

Do it for yourself and all that you are, Gorgeous!

Chocolate Cherry Smoothie

This smoothie is an antioxidant powerhouse, full of fiber, antioxidants and vitamin C. Best of all, it contains cherries and chocolate! This recipe makes either two HUGE (nearly three cups) servings, or four smaller ones.

NOTE: Please do not be put off by the addition of spinach—you won’t taste it.

Ingredients:

2 cups spinach, fresh
2 cups almond milk, unsweetened
2 cups cherries, pitted (frozen is recommended)
2 bananas
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons cacao powder (or cocoa powder)

Directions:

Blend the spinach and almond milk until smooth. Next, add the remaining fruits and blend again; last, add in the dry ingredients and blend until smooth.

You are the Only YOU There Is

You–wonderful, amazing, incredible and never-to-be-duplicated YOU are literally one in a gozillion. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what language you speak, what kind of family you were born into, who your friends are, who you love and who loves you, what you do, how you make your living, what race you come from; whether you are short or tall, heavy or slim, handicapped or whole, good or bad–you are truly one-of-a-kind.

I read somewhere that, if crabs could speak and you picked one up and said, ‘you are just like all the other crabs,’ it would reply, ‘not true! I am unique and special among crabkind! Look at the tiny red spot on my left front leg! Hear how I click my claws in time with the ocean waves! See how magnificent is my beautiful shell! I am a one-of-a-kind and truly unique crab! Do not judge me by my brothers and sisters!’ So it is with us humans.

Of all the billions of us living on the earth right now, there is only one you. When you were born, you brought the unique you-ness to the planet. And when you pass from this world to the next, the earth will be poorer for your leaving it. But what and who you leave behind creates an indelible footprint on this earth. It may be something you said to someone that inspired them, it could be something you taught someone that enabled them to eventually discover the cure to cancer, it might be a kindness you did for someone that they cherished and passed on to their children, and who will pass it on to their children’s children’s children. Whatever it is and no matter how humble it seems, you are here for a reason and a purpose. Never for a moment allow yourself to think that you have nothing to offer. The mere fact that you are alive and breathing is proof that you belong here and have much to give.

Just as a candle lights a room, you and all that makes you who you are, lights up the world.

Mothers and Daughters

We humans love for many reasons, and we may love people, animals, hobbies, activities and so on. We are capable of such great love that the angels themselves may envy us, and our love may be fractured into many glittering shards in order to share that love with many.

Today I think of the love between mothers and daughters; both the love that our mothers show us, and the love we show our mothers. The mother-daughter bond is so strong and so bright that it can both bind and blind us. The fierce love mothers have for daughters is apparent in ways that only mothers can show. Granted, mothers, like daughters, are not perfect. Often when we (as mothers and daughters) want to be soft and kind and encouraging, we can be hard, brutally honest and disparaging. As we are all created with free will and endless possibilities, the way we give and receive love will naturally be different according to the person.

The mother who continually nags the daughter may in her heart be saying, ‘I love you! I care about you! I worry about you! You are so important to me that I can’t let you do anything that hurts or endangers you!’ But what comes across to the daughter is, ‘I don’t like you the way you are; you are a disappointment to me.’ As old as we get, we daughters want and need our mothers’ love and approval.

Consequently, the daughter who constantly lashes out and says hurtful things to her mother, defies her and challenges her may be seeking attention in her own way. What appears to be a pushing-away may be a plea for closeness and reassurance.

I have never been a mother, but I was lucky enough to become a stepmother to two amazing, bright and incredible young women. Later on, I became a step-grandmother to the most wonderful, interesting and glorious granddaughter I could possibly imagine. The three of them are so closely woven into my heart that they all might as well be my own. Even my step-status makes me at once filled with love, fearful of anything happening to them, joy in their lives, happiness in just the sight of them and great (if unearned) pride in who they are.

One of the joys of my life is having lunch once a month with my two oldest and dearest friends. We all met in grade school, and went through high school together. We all grew up running in and out of each others’ houses, and knew each others’ parents well. My two friends and I have kept up communication when distance parted us, and we finally now live within an easy drive from each other. One of my friends (happily, she is also my sister-in-law) has her mom living at home with her and my brother-in-law. My own mom is living comfortably and happily with my dad (58 years together as of last December), and although she has slowed down some, she is pretty independent.

Sadly, my other dear friend lost her mom this week. Her mom lived a long life, and she, like my sister-in-law’s mom and moms of my school friends; were part of my growing-up. Slim, dark-haired and peppery, she was a real firecracker. One of the things she insisted on was that her children (my friend has three brothers, too) be polite and personable to all. And they were! They set the standard for good behavior for all of us, and we all tried to keep their good example. My friend’s mom was a positive influence on us all in that way.

We daughters have a soft place in our hearts for our moms, and they do for us. Whether the relationship is stormy or calm, the steady undercurrent of love is always there. The human heart is a vast space in which resides the love we have for those in our lives and those who have passed on. All those who have touched our lives deeply or lightly occupy a space where we can visit any time we like. There are few sure things in this life, but I know this for certain: the pain we feel for the loss will fade. The love remains forever bright, forever welcoming and forever joyous.

Valentine’s Day/Schmalentine’s Day!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for love and tokens of love. Just seeing all those pink and red hearts in February, which is, let’s face it–the ugly duckling of all the months–is both hopeful and cheerful. All the commercials on TV about surprising your sweetie with roses, candy, jewelry, etc. is just part of the wonderful freedom we enjoy in this country to expand our commercialism one more day. I’ve enjoyed many Valentine’s Days and received all of the above throughout my life. No question about it–another excuse to get jewelry and candy is just fine with me.

When we are young women, we so want to lord it over our friends and show off our new bracelet/ring/heart necklace and the big satin box of chocolates, or, best of all–getting flowers at work. It’s a lavish poke in the eye to all around us who don’t get all that–we secretly enjoy that slightly naughty glow of ‘see how much *I* am loved?’

But here’s the thing: it’s pretty easy to pick up all those lovely Valentine goodies and slap them on a credit card and boom: you’re good with your loved one. There’s nothing wrong with this–everyone’s happy and the giver looks like a hero. The givee is thrilled and has something to crow about. Again, nothing at all is wrong with that.

But speaking strictly for me, things change when you get older. You no longer have to impress everyone around you; you are in the relationship of your choice with the person of your choice. You are comfortable around each other; you really can be your own true self. You’ve had the serious talks, you’ve had a few healthy disagreements, and you know pretty much what pleases and displeases the other person. You come to recognize what really matters to that person, and guess what–it may not be flowers and candy.

On one occasion, the Crankee Yankee (AKA, my husband), had a bouquet of gorgeous pink stargazer lilies sent to the house for me, and I was thrilled. He knows I adore them, and the scent is heavenly. However, a few days later, we found that our oldest cat, Nala, had been chewing on the blossoms and leaves. Lilies are deadly to cats, and we rushed her to the emergency room. Thankfully, she was fine, but we decided it just wasn’t worth it to have flowers in the house–we love our cats more than flowers.

I gave up sugar two years ago, which means no more boxes of my beloved Whitman’s Sampler. The Crankee Yankee respects this, and doesn’t bring temptation into the house. So, there’s two Valentine’s day standards down the hopper.

BUT–the Crankee Yankee vacuums the house for me. (Words can’t describe how much I hate, loathe and despise vacuuming. I’d rather scrub public toilets than vacuum.) He also cleans the snow off my car and warms it up for me before I go to work. He prepares the majority of our meals, does the shopping and cleans the three litter boxes. He clears a path in our backyard so that the neighborhood cats (as well as the racoons, skunks and the occasional possum) can walk into the enclosure under our porch and help themselves to the kibble we put out. He also built two big feeders for the birds and squirrels, and keeps it loaded up during the cold weather.

Besides all this, he designed and built four beautiful raised beds in front of our house for our flower and vegetable gardens. He is a wonderful carpenter and has effectively added three rooms to our little house by building a gorgeous screened back porch, a front porch and a covered deck leading to our breezeway. Additionally, he continues to repair and renovate our house throughout the year.

That, my friends, is love in action. May we all be lucky in love and in friendship. Happy Valentine’s Day to us all.

 

 

The Secret of Writing is to WRITE!

Write! Seriously, that’s what it takes to write–just WRITE. (Please note that I did not say that “just writing = writing well.’ But you have to start somewhere.) As one of my professors once told me, you get started by ‘putting black on white.’ Black pen, white paper–you see how this works. What follows is the journey.

He also said that the hardest thing a writer ever does is to murder their own children. In this case, ‘children’ mean your own precious words. I wish I had a nickel for each time I’ve had to do just that. I will have written something that, in the moment, I believe is so pure, so eloquent, so descriptive, so elegant–in short, so perfect, that I can’t imagine how it could be any better.

Oh, but it can. I can’t read something I wrote even an hour ago without editing some word or phrase. It has to ring true for me, so that my inner critic-oven timer goes “DING! It’s done!” One writer I’m fond of wrote that he writes until he knows what will come next, and then stops for the day. This single phrase made all the difference for me.

Writing goes hand-in-hand with reading. If you love to read, you love words. And if you love words, you may also find yourself falling in love with putting words together. What you have in your head is a golden, glorious cloud of ephemera that you just know needs to be on paper. The trick is getting it out coherently, so that each time you read it, you can say to yourself, ‘oh, yes–I remember just how I felt writing this; it is so true.

I remember my excellent creative writing teacher in high school exhorting us all to “write what you know.” If you’re a Tae Kwon Do student, you have your subject matter right there in your head. If you drive a snowplow, you know all about the truck and the plowing equipment, how it works, what to do and not to do, weather conditions, road conditions, etc. The point is, no matter how humdrum a person’s life and/or career may seem, there are thousands of people who don’t know a thing about it and would like to know. So if, say, you run a country store where local produce and baked goods are featured, wouldn’t it be interesting to know more about the farmers and bakers who are responsible for bringing their wares into the store?

Please do not make the mistake of over-thinking what you want to write. Just the get ideas out of your head and on paper. You can always clean it up later. Just literally get black on white.

In both high school and college, we were encouraged to write in the style of our favorite poets and authors. This nearly always meant that many of us turned truly terrible papers that started off like Robert Frost and ended like Stephen King. But all this is part of the exercise that leads to finding your own personal voice. The main thing is to write, and write a LOT. Do not let this thought in your head, ‘oh, no one is interested in what I have to say.’ You don’t know that, and you can’t afford to let yourself think it.

Write–just write, and when you’re done, write some more.

Roasted Vegetables – A Healthy and Delicious Side Dish

This is one of those recipes where the majority of the work is in the prep, so you might as well make a lot of it.

Ingredients:

Cauliflower, cut in bite-size pieces

Onions, peeled and cut in quarters

Parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-3″ pieces

Carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3″ pieces

*Butternut or buttercup squash, peeled and cut into 2-3″ pieces

Whole, peeled garlic cloves

Optional: chunks of green cabbage and/or brussels sprouts, cut in half

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking pan with tin foil, then either use cooking spray or olive oil to lightly coat the bottom. Put all the vegetables into the pan, drizzle with olive oil and S & P. Add some curry if you like for interest. Stir so that all the vegetables are coated with the oil and S & P, then put into the oven for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, stir up the vegetables, and put them back in for another 15 minutes. Repeat this until the vegetables are softened (if I fill a pan it usually takes about 45 minutes total). Serve as a side dish to just about anything.

Here’s what happens: the vegetables when roasted, especially the garlic cloves, parsnips and brussels sprouts; become incredibly sweet and delicious. You’ll not only enjoy a fantastic side dish, but you’ll be getting all the benefits of antioxidants, fiber and just about everything in the world that’s good for you.

*If you don’t want to spend the extra cash to buy already peeled squash, here’s an easy way to get their skins off: cut the squash in half and scoop out the strings and seeds. Place the halves, cut side down, in a microwave-proof dish, then use a fork to make vents in the skin. Depending on the size of the halves, nuke for 6-8 minutes until soft. Let it cool enough so that you can handle it, and cut the softened skin off. Easy-peasey.