Issues

Aging Superpower: THE SHAPE SHIFTER

As we age, our bodies take on new shapes.

D’uh, I’m not telling you anything new. We collect some around the middle, boobs fall, asses drop, upper arms wing-out… it can cause a lot of grief, especially when you stand naked in front of a mirror and say WTF happened? The worst is when you droop-shame yourself. You got older, that’s what happened.  If you’ve ever had to get yourself out of some Spanx with a crowbar, you know what I’m talking about.

I signed up for some Art School.

Who would have thought that spending time in a figure painting class would give you a new appreciation of the human body? I want to sound like an academic painter here, but I’m not, so let me begin by saying:

Perky boobs are just not fun to paint.

If there is one thing I can take away from my art class it is that bigger is better because bigger captures light, creates shadows, adds dimension and is fucking beautiful. Period.

No offense to really thin models, but they make you feel like you’re in a medical drawing class. Pass.

The female body is amazing…shape shifting and all. We need to start a new movement. Our changing bodies are a superpower…at least on canvas.

 

 

The Great Grandma Google

Seven years ago, I wrote an essay about the time I accidentally threw away my Great Grandmother’s cherished engagement ring in the garbage and how I luckily found it in the dump before it got sent out to sea. It was a miracle of sorts and an episode that I revisit from time to time when I think about what I would have done if I hadn’t found it. That ring conjures up so many memories of my growing up in Pittsburgh with my loving, but oh-so-domineering, Grandmother. Who would have thought that some old jewelry could do that to you?

The other morning, I was thinking about how little I knew about my Great Grandmother, the original owner of that ring. She died the year I was born and nobody really talked about her. I kind of remember my Dad telling me things like, “She wasn’t very nice” and my Mother’s recollection which was a little more descriptive: “She was ten times meaner than your Grandmother, and that’s sugar coating it.” But for the most part, she remained a mystery. My Grandmother never spoke much about her except to tell me that she was extremely smart, followed by a knowing wink. It was almost if she was letting me in on a secret, without telling me what it was.

There was one unusual thing that she did mention to me back then, but I never really followed up on that because I thought it fell into the pool of my Grandmother’s other expert exaggerations like, If you cross your eyeballs they’ll freeze, Your Dad could have been a professional tap dancer, Sit up straight or you’ll be a hunchback by the time your 20, My podiatrist is madly in love with me, and so on. But today, in this easy age of Google, I felt like this story was worth looking into.

When I was ten years old, and practicing my memorization of the Gettysburg address, my Grandmother told me that during the Civil War, her mother’s family was kicked out of Kentucky by Ulysses S. Grant because they were Jewish. Why this came to my mind now, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s all this immigration talk in the news or maybe it’s because I don’t sleep and have many early mornings to sit and think about life.

It took more than a few hours on the Internet and a couple of phone calls to Paducah, Kentucky to find out that THIS WAS TRUE!

My Great Grandmother, Bertha Livingston Newman, was born in Paducah, Kentucky on June 18th, 1877. Her father, Mangold Livingston came from Germany around 1850 and settled briefly in Smithland, Kentucky. When the railroad came to Paducah in 1850, he relocated there and set up a wholesale dry goods and fruit operation, the M. Livingston Co. (think early Costco). He married his wife, Amelia Friedberg, also from Germany, around 1861. During the Civil War, Paducah was a Union stronghold but it became the place of smuggling and illegal trading with the Confederate South. Apparently, Ulysses S. Grant was super pissed about that. Some reported that Union soldiers were the ones doing the illegal trading, but somehow the Jews got blamed for it and Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous, anti-Semitic General Order No. 11 in 1862, which expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Given 24 hours to leave, Jewish families had to pack-up and head north. Bertha wasn’t born yet, but her parents and older siblings began to make their way toward Ohio. A Paducah man by the name of Cesar Kaskel, immediately traveled to Washington to meet with Abraham Lincoln and report this unconstitutional decree. Upon hearing this, Lincoln ordered Grant to revoke the order. Within a week, the Jewish families returned to Paducah and resumed their lives. My Great Grandmother was born there 12 years later. She grew up in Paducah, met her husband, Sam Newman, a businessman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Enter the ring…hello, 1895) They relocated there (that’s where my Grandmother was born) and eventually moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1900’s, where my Great Grandfather started the Keystone Grinder & Manufacturing Company, an outfit that made gadgets, which fixed busted Railroad Tracks. Old documents, county certificates and voting registries enable you to track movements, but without primary sources or saved correspondence, it is impossible to investigate “intelligence”. All this great history and my Great Grandmother didn’t leave a trail. What made her “smart”? Why didn’t I follow up on that with my Grandmother while she was still alive? The only thing that I can surmise is that Bertha had something to do with my Great Grandfather’s successful business, but I have no way of fact checking that one. We all know that behind-the-scenes women were seldom recognized in those days. Is that what the knowing wink meant?

I have to believe it was. Bertha deserves a story.

The photo I’ve attached to this essay is Bertha’s wedding picture. To think that she was wearing the ring that I tossed in the garbage in this beautiful shot, gives me eternal chills…especially when I envision her supervising the repair of broken railroad tracks.

Dear Oprah, Bread Is What Got Me Here In The First Place

In case you missed it yesterday, Weight Watchers new spokesperson and 10 percent shareholder, Oprah Winfrey, tweeted Eat bread.Lose Weight.Whaattt? #ComeJoinMe and SURPRISE…the stock shot up as people flocked to join. Don’t get me wrong, I love Oprah and I’m delighted that she reportedly made 12 million dollars from that stock surging tweet, but seriously, BREAD IS WHAT GOT ME TO WEIGHT WATCHERS IN THE FIRST PLACE.

For diet enthusiasts, bread is usually the first thing that you most reluctantly drop. Burger no bun, lettuce wraps and the I’m-so-sick-of-fucken-salads-salads is the basic drill. Gravy and sauces laugh at you from the bottom of your dish, because your plate gets cleared before you can sop-it-up with that b-that-shall-not-be-mentioned.

A few months ago, on a 10 day trip to Southern Italy, I promised myself that I wouldn’t hold back on anything and as a result, I had an intensely romantic affair with bread. To say that I went in head first would be an understatement. What’s not to love about untreated, non-processed, all natural grains baked to perfection? And that crust? OMG, I just couldn’t get enough of it. Ask my friend, Amy, who witnessed my full on bender. She’s still talking about it.

The problem with bread, and even good bread is that it’s not a stand alone. There’s olive oil, cheese, preserves, sauces, meats, and even PIZZA…yes, pizza is bread.

5.5. pounds later, I’m back home with pants that won’t zip.

My Mom, who’s been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers’ for years, suggested I give it a try. “New point system, with a great phone app that’s super easy” she promised. “And you get 30 points a day!” she added. Weight Watchers’ PointsPlus system is based on the protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber content of foods. The app makes it super easy to type in anything and get the point value.

One, small, hard roll is 5 points. In Italy, I ate 6 of those a day….a least.

“If you like to eat, and want the diet to work, go for the zero point foods” suggested another friend. That would be fruits and vegetables. (Note: pants were still hard to zip because of bloat/gas factor).

I’m happy to say that Weight Watchers does work, if you follow their point system which is a clever way of instilling portion control, but I don’t think it’s BREAD FRIENDLY, Oprah…at least not for breadaholics like myself.

Living Down The “up dog”

Don’t you love it when your kids have a “favorite story” of you from back in the day that they just can’t let go? You know, the kind that can sometimes be embarrassing or revealing in ways that you wish they weren’t?

It goes without saying that being in the company of smart-ass boys can be very entertaining…especially when they are your own. My boys have taught me all kinds of stuff. Speedy ways to use the internet, good music finds, funny You Tube videos and the cultural benefits of shows like FAMILY GUY and SOUTH PARK.

I really don’t care that they make fun of me behind my back because usually their teasing is REALLY funny, but they’re starting to erode my sharp-as-a-tack personal myth.

About eight years ago, while driving both of my yo-yo’s to somewhere I can’t remember, they were sitting in the back seat and started talking amongst themselves about something called “Up Dog”. I was paying attention to the road and only caught pieces of their conversation. This happened a lot back then and usually ended up with me chiming in classic mother lines like, “Watch your language”, “Keep it down” etc. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that they were setting me up for a You-Tube worthy performance. It started with backseat lines like this:

“OMG, That’s disgusting. He did what? Not the Up Dog! Nobody does the Up Dog. You’ve seen an Up Dog?” This was peppered with lots of laughter.

I peered into the rear view mirror and chimed in, “Keep it appropriate”, one of my favorite parenting lines.

“Mom, he’s talking about Up Dog again” offered one of my sons.

“What is Up Dog?” I said.

Hysterical laughter ensued.

“Seriously” I yelled over the laughter, “What is Up Dog?”

Even more laughter erupted from the backseat.

“Is this another wacky sexual thing? What the hell is Up Dog?” I screamed.

This went on for a few minutes and pushed my, we-know-something-that-you-don’t-know buttons. “Tell me, right now, dammit!” I demanded.

My boys practically wet themselves.

“We can’t”, they cried.

“OMG, What the F**K IS UP DOG” I yelled.

They were howling. Moaning. Couldn’t breathe.

“I’m stopping the car if you don’t tell me this second WHAT’S UP DOG!” and then I realized that they had pulled off the prank of the year.

OMG. I had to stop the car because I was laughing so hard.

To hear them tell it now, years later, is even funnier. And to think, I thought that I was so sharp back then.

Making The Middle-Aged Hot List

A few years ago, while building a humorous website targeted towards aging women, I filmed a short of myself trying on a pair of Spanx. I did it because I wanted to show our web developers that middle-aged women will do and share ridiculous things that celebrate a self deprecating appreciation of growing old. I really didn’t think it was that funny, but our 20-30 something developers thought it was hysterical. In fact, they encouraged me to launch the website with it. “No one will know it’s you” they promised…except of course, my friends who announced things like, “You’ve got balls sister” ,“Are you outta your mind?” and “What kind of hormones are you on?

Needless to say, we launched the site with MySpanx as our opening video feature and Kaboom, my ass went around the world. It really wasn’t the kind of share I expected. When I landed on a Danish car building site, I thought that having some “power-in-the-tank” was really misinterpreted, but that’s what happens when you release something on the internet for the public to see.

The true highlight came when BuzzFeed picked it up. I found out about the link when I received a panicked phone call from my daughter at work.

MY DAUGHTER: OMG Mom, YOU’RE ON BUZZ FEED! YOU MADE THE HOTLIST!

ME: Whaat?

MY DAUGHTER: YOU’RE BUTT HAS GONE VIRAL. I’M SENDING YOU THE LINK.

ME: Whaat?

MY DAUGHTER: You’re 7th on a list of 40 SIGNS YOU’RE ALMOST 40!

ME: Almost 40? I’m NORTH OF 50.

MY DAUGHTER: Who cares? You already have over a million hits!

I wanted to get excited about all the hits but truthfully, I just wanted to thank the BuzzFeed editor who deducted a decade.

Perk-o-lating

Well, this is embarrassing. I just received an email with my Dunkin Donuts Perks stats.

Yes, I am one of those coffee chugging peeps who downloaded that incredibly convenient Dunkin Donuts phone app.

In the last 610 days, I’ve made 690 visits to Dunkin Donuts. Actually, I need to make an adjustment there. Of those 610 days, I was out of the country for 28 days, and in states where there wasn’t a Dunkin Donuts for about 30 days, which leaves me with a revised count of about 552 days.

I had at least one a day and then some because on top of that, I was awarded 47 free beverages for my coffee chugging loyalty.

OMG. I think I should be flagged when I donate blood. I had no idea I was this loyal.

I have to admit, I really appreciate the stroking of my ego with this badge-qualifying email, but seriously folks, how many more coffees do I have to drink to get the free shirt?

Sentimental Garbage

(This is the original article that appeared in Women’s Health Magazine. Reprinted with Permission by Rodale Press)

Over the years, I have acquired some nice jewelry. I’m not a bling person, but I treasure jewelry with sentimental value. My high school ring, my mother’s pearls, my wedding band, and my all-time favorite, my great-grandmother’s platinum, old European-cut, diamond engagement ring, which I wear all the time. I don’t remember meeting my great-grandmother (she passed away when I was three), but my grandmother wore it every day. I used to play with it on her finger. Often she would let me wear it and I would run around claiming to be royalty.

My entire family was scared to death of my grandmother, who at 4’11” was opinionated and judgmental and not known for her sense of humor. In 1963, four years after her mother passed away, her husband (my grandfather) died from cancer and bitterness consumed her. Around this time, at the age of seven, I started to accompany my father on weekly visits to her apartment. She was always angry. My father listened dutifully while I sat quietly drawing cartoons on scraps of paper from her desk.

I was never afraid of her. Maybe it was her size, I’m not quite sure. My grandmother must have picked up on this and soon asked me to come to her weekly painting classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art, in Pittsburgh, Pa. She was an amateur painter of endless landscapes. Prolific is not the word; excessive seems better. Her many works hung all over our house and my father’s office. I later figured out that no one was brave enough to tell her no thank you.

I rather enjoyed the attention of this mean old woman. She would let me carry her blank 18×24 canvas into class, which at the time, was about half my size. I remember taking great care weaving through the other easels as I followed my grandmother to her painting spot. When I would catch the stolen stares of the other adults in the class, my grandmother would bellow out, “What are you looking at?” It was a harsh response for sure, but I smiled politely. I didn’t want people to think I was scared because I wasn’t. I sat there for three hours every Saturday doodling away. Occasionally, she’d ask for my opinion. “I don’t think water looks like that, Grandma,” I offered once. The entire class became deadly silent. She turned to me and asked, “Do you think it needs more green?” I became her sidekick and midget muse. For the first time, I saw what it was like to lift the sadness from a person. She was different around me, and I liked that she found me worthy enough to accompany her.

When my grandmother died 28 years later in 1993, my father gave me the ring and I became the keeper of something whose value could never be measured. I immediately got it insured, but the document said nothing about its true worth. When I put it on my finger, I was flooded with the all the memories of my grandmother’s deep affection for me. There was magic in that ring and now it was my turn to wear it. The thought that I would pass this on to my daughter one day became almost spiritual.

I like to keep the ring shiny because that’s how I remember it on my grandmother’s finger. One night last spring, it was exceptionally dirty so I took it off, cleaned it thoroughly and left it wrapped in a tissue on my bathroom counter. When I awoke in the morning, I forgot it was there as I tidied up the bathroom, and swept it into the trash, along with a few q-tips, random tissues, and an empty mouthwash bottle.

Moments later, I heard the garbage truck rumble down the street. I swept quickly through the house and dragged the trash to the driveway. Twenty minutes later when I woke my youngest for school, he let out a tremendous sneeze. “Ewww,” I said, “Use a tissue.” And with that, I looked at my finger and stopped dead in my tracks. “What’s wrong?” my son asked, but I couldn’t speak. I ran to my bathroom and looked at the counter. Empty. No tissues. I looked in the wastebasket. Empty. No liner. I looked out my front window at the garbage bins. Empty. Clean. Tipped over. The blood left my body.

There was no time for tears. I immediately called the carting company. The truck had compacted the garbage and was headed to the transfer station. I gave a succinct but passionate summary of what had occurred and begged the dispatcher to radio the driver. I would meet him at the transfer station. I would pay the extra costs, but I had to recover that ring. The dispatcher, a lovely woman named Lillian, heard the distress in my voice. “Hang on,” she said, “Let me see what I can do.”

I waited for 110 seconds. I did not breathe until she got back on the line. “How fast can you get to the transfer station?” Lillian asked. “Four minutes” I lied. (If you drive the speed limit, it’s eight.) “He’ll meet you there, but don’t stop for coffee,” she said. I left my house in my ratty pajamas, no bra, tousled hair, and very bad breath. I grabbed my dish gloves, a sweatshirt, and sneakers. I screamed out to my son to make sure he got on the bus.

I got to the transfer station in 5 minutes and 30 seconds. I was led by the gate guard to a huge building where several large refuse trucks were backing in and dumping into a cavernous rectangular compacting pit at the back. I was instructed to wait for all the trucks to finish dumping and that my truck (note the possessive) would then dump its contents onto the floor of the garage where I could sift through the entire load.

As we were waiting, I asked my driver how many more houses he had picked up since mine. I think he said 12, which meant approximately 120 bags were on top of my 10. “Your wedding ring?” he asked. “My great-grandmother’s ring,” I said with reverence. I stared at the garbage. My senses were numb. I put on my dish gloves. I sifted my mind for strategies. I remembered that I used white plastic bags with red ties. My truck backed into the enormous shed and dumped its contents. My heart sank. One half of the load was white garbage bags with red ties. Does everyone shop at Costco?

I asked the driver which heap might be my street. He pointed to somewhere in the middle and I jumped in. The bags were all compacted so you had to shake them to get them to expand. “You should rip them open and check the addresses,” said the attendant. “If you find your street, you’ll know that you’re looking in the right place.” This gave me tremendous hope.

Has anyone ever seen a week old chicken wing? An exploded diaper? I ripped open bag after bag. I saw things that I can’t even repeat. Suddenly I came across a soiled envelope with my neighbors address on it. “My street!” I screamed, and my garbage man came over to help me sort through the compacted bags. Soon I had exposed my entire street’s garbage. That’s when I saw it. A compacted, white bag with red ties and an empty mouthwash bottle in it. My hands were shaking. I opened the bag and recognized my garbage.

I gently squeezed each balled up tissue until I felt it. I opened the tissue and there in all its shiny glory, was my great-grandmother’s ring. I burst into tears. Hysterical, sobbing tears. My garbage man came over, patted my back and put his arm around me. In broken English he said, “It’s okay, Miss. No cry. You found ring.” I pulled it together enough to ask him one question. “What is your name?” I sobbed. “Jose,” he said. “Thank you, Jose,” is all that came out.

I walked back to my car and turned to watch the attendant use a backhoe to dump the contents of my garbage truck into the in-ground compacter. I heard the crushing sounds as the 500 cubic feet were reduced to five. I peeled off my gloves and placed the ring on my finger. It glistened in the early morning sunlight. The sentimental value of things can never be measured, but they can remind you of the power of love. I only hope that one day, when this ring belongs to my daughter; she will have an even better story of how she kept it alive.

Droop Scoop

“My boobs look great when I’m immersed in water.” 

Advancing age, weight loss and pregnancy can cause a condition medically known as Breast Ptosis, aka the droop. Did you know that there are different degrees of breast ptosis? All sags are not the same, so to speak.

Say whaaat?

Here is how you measure yourself. You need a 12 inch ruler (make sure it has centimeters) and a mirror.

Take your shirt and bra off and find your inframammary crease (the fold line just under your breasts where they meet your chest).

Place the ruler in the crease, directly against the junction of the breast and ribcage.

Let your breasts hang over the ruler, and look at yourself in a mirror. The ruler marks your inframammary crease.

If your nipple is slightly above or directly in front of the top of the ruler, you may have Grade 1 ptosis. This is considered mild.

If the central point of your nipple is 1 to 3 cm below the top of your breast crease, you may have Grade 2 ptosis. This is considered mild to moderate.

If the central point of your nipple and your areola (the colored area around your nipple) is more than 3 cm below your breast crease, you may have Grade 3 ptosis. This is considered severe. WAIT. WAIT. WAIT. WAIT. WAIT. I tend to disagree. Severe is when you can hold a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke under your inframammary crease and pour a few drinks.

My Grandmother (may she rest in peace) had severe ptosis. When I was 10, I was staying at her house one night. While she was taking a bath, she called out to me to come in and get her cushioned bath head pillow off of the counter. As I walked in, I saw her lift her breast out of the bubbles and wash underneath her inframammary area. It looked like she was playing the cello. It would be an understatement to say it made an indelible mark on me. On the plus side, it did peak my interest in the science of genetics and the importance of a great and who-cares-what-it-costs bra.

Like grades really matter.

 

Quasibloato

I love waking up in the morning. The air is crisp. The birds are chirping and my stomach is flat…until, of course, I start EATING. That’s a four minute window and it’s way too short.

Face it. We may be the superior race, but we definitely got ripped off in the perpetual flat ab category. I know its not fair, but women are just prone to bloating. That hormone thing, at any age, pushes all of our buttons. There’s nothing like bloating to make you want to hide in the nearest bell tower.

Well, F**k that.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of feeling sluggish and uncomfortable, so I uncovered a few anti-bloat tips that I wanted to share.

The bottom line is, our digestive system simply cannot process everything, (and yes, that includes the 6 french fries off of your friends plate) so you have to know the limitation of yours.  With that in mind, here’s a list of:

Bloating Dos and Don’ts

Don’t skip meals. 
Drink plenty of water (non-carbonated). 
Chew your food thoroughly. 
Don’t talk and chew at the same time. (it causes you to swallow air, which causes more gas). 
Avoid carbonated beverages, chewing gum, highly spiced foods, and too many sweets (I know…Total kill joy here). 
Eat only peeled, cooked seedless fruits and vegetables.
 Limit beans, corn (including popcorn), and nuts and vegetables in the cabbage and onion families, including broccoli and garlic.

And last but not least…
Avoid dairy products, BECAUSE a majority of people are lactose intolerant.

Since I eat almost everything that you’re supposed to avoid,  I tend to try this quick fix first which is an…

Exercise To Relieve Bloating

Lie flat on your back and bring your left knee to your chest while keeping your right leg as close to the floor as possible. Hug your left knee to the count of 20. Release and repeat with your right knee. Alternate knees for 5 times or more, depending on the severity of symptoms.

If you’re lucky, you’ll move the bloat up or out, (often embarrassingly audible) or to an acceptable place like your feet. Truthfully, when I’m not feeling too holistic, I’ll pop a Gas-X. Next to coffee, it’s my drug of choice.

Room Temperature

I’m hot, but not in the good way. Although not scientifically proven, I think it’s because of the extra weight that comes with middle age.

As much as I like to embrace the going green ethos, my mental health necessitates turning on the bedroom air conditioner in late April and letting it hum through October. That being said, bedroom windows also stay cracked in the winter. It’s my own twisted version of Save The Whales.

My husband is so dramatic. He came into the bedroom the other night dressed in a down jacket, wool hat and mittens.

“It’s so f**king cold in here”, he said.

Did I see vapors came out of his mouth? I have always had a high internal thermostat but lately, my hormones are going into overdrive and according to my husband, my core body temperature seems to be off the charts.

Well the easiest, non-medication way to fix that is to open the windows, but that only works if it’s cold enough outside. Come springtime, I’m dimming city blocks with my a/c.

It’s a known fact that a lower core body temperature initiates sleeping. Ask any insomniac. Covers on, covers off. Tossing and turning is your way of trying to adjust your internal thermostat.

I  love my cozy comforter, but I need a cold bedroom to fully enjoy it’s benefits. Sweating is for exercise, not for sleeping.

“It’s 50 f**king degrees in here”, mutters my husband.

I did a little research and discovered that the optimal sleeping temperature is between 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures in this range, it seems, help facilitate the decrease in core body temperature.

I tried 68 and it wasn’t cold enough. Mr. Blue-lips and I are working on a compromise. Fingers crossed for 64.