I've stumbled across two wonderful sites and urge you to check them out.
The first is Fifty Shift, for women facing 50, or still staring at it in their rear-view mirror. A UMass faculty member runs it.
The other is Times Goes By, a well-established blog that promises to tell the truth about aging. (As if we didn't already know!)
If you like Birds on a Wire, you'll probably like one or both of those blogs, too. They're written by intelligent, thoughtful women who offer their readers much to ponder, and many ways to participate in a lively discussion.
You can link to both sites by clicking on their names, as listed in the blogroll in the right column.
When I was little, I remember wondering why our family wasn't anything like the Nelsons, or other folks on television sit-coms. (My brother recently told me he asked the same question, so I guess I wasn't imagining things.)
My mother never wore an apron or greeted us with a smile when walked into the kitchen for breakfast. Au contraire!
We didn't go on picnics or play ball with Dad on Saturday afternoon. What was wrong with us?
Well, plenty, but nothing I was going to understand at age 10, 20 or even 30.
I just read Ann Patchett's novel Run, and in it, she cleared up much of my confusion. You know a novel is great when it helps you weave together disparate themes running through your life, then tie them into something that makes sense. Run gave me just that type of epiphany, or Ah-Ha! moment.
The novel covers roughly two days in the life of a contemporary Boston family that has never quite recovered from losing the wife/mother to cancer, 20 years earlier. The three sons -- two adopted -- are all bright, but involved in lives their father doesn't understand and can't quite condone. He's a former mayor of Boston, who fully expected at least one of his children to follow his path into public service. To his dismay, not one of them is even slightly interested in politics.
A traffic accident changes everything, and the individual parts of this family are parsed, turned upside down, and reconnected.
All in all, the family comes out stronger than it ever was. I won't go into the details because that would ruin the fine, uplifting story for those who want to read the book, which I'd highly recommend.
What I took away from Run is this: Sometimes bad luck brings a good outcome, but you have to be alert to notice, and you must be open to change.
It says, if you're very, very lucky, you might get that big, warm family you always wanted and never thought you'd find. Maybe not forever, but at some point in your life. Warning: your ideal family might not look exactly like you expected.
Since my boy was raised as an only child in a single parent home, he longed for a brother. An older brother. It tore my heart out when he begged and pleaded, as only an 8-year-old can, for someone to play ball with, someone to look up to and learn from. With the straightest face I could muster, I told him it would be hard, but I'd try to find one for him.
Twenty-two years later, I came through with the goods. He and John, my new husband's oldest son, bonded almost instantly and, to this day, call each other brother. Who knew?
That should have been the first sign that luck was about to come my way, but I wasn't paying attention. It took years for me to notice that new lines of connection develop with each change in a family.
Each death ended one relationship and changed many others. Each divorce reconfigured family alliances. Some estrangements, although painful, ended up being benefits, in the long run.
Today, I'm very fortunate to have a larger, warmer, stronger family than I ever dared to dream of.
Since I grew up in a conventional, two-parent, two-kid household, at a time when traditional lines were all that counted, I never expected divorce to come my way, especially twice. Nor did I expect to remarry, especially not the last time, at 58.
Today, not only have I gained three wonderful new children -- thank you Dave and two of his former wives! -- but also their spouses and children, not to mention two additional siblings, one with a spouse and four grown children.
On my side of the family, my son's in-laws are important to us, although they live in Germany. We've visited, they've visited; we write, they write. It's great.
My son also has a delightful half brother who's important to all of us. As far as we're concerned, there's no "half" in the relationship.
In 2003,within a six month period, I remarried, my former husband died and our son got married in Germany. Which brings me to my first husband's third wife. Although she and I had not met before my son's wedding, the two of us took that happy day to form a unique and important bond, one that helped both of us move ahead in our lives.
When I think of my family, as I did during the dreaded birthday week, these are the people I think of. These are the folks who count. And, none of these relationships would have been possible -- for me, at least -- without the reconfiguration of alliances that came with those accidents of life that take people away, or change the way they participate in the lives of others.
Once, survivors felt obligated to strictly maintain the family boundaries, long after the death of one of its members. That’s no longer the case.
And, In high school health class, we learned that divorce always "broke" families, right? Many of us found that to be untrue, through experience.
Once we got out on our own and built our own lives, we learned the hard way that blood is not the only family cement. In fact, sometimes the weakest links are those that follow bloodlines.
Contrary to the old adage, you CAN pick and choose your relatives, and that's a good thing.
Our generation has tossed the concept of family on its head. We experienced divorce and remarriage on a scale unimaginable to earlier generations. We embraced the value of same-sex relationships, and single-parent adoptions. The choices we made over the last 30 years changed the very face of the family, maybe forever.
As a result, many of us have spread our wings to take advantage of what life has brought us in the form of children-not-our-own, new grandchildren, new siblings, new "relatives" with no particular familial designation.
Those who make our lives richer for being there are the most important people in our family, and that's one of the messages of Run.
Here is a T Mobile public art event, produced for a series of commercials. Whatever. It made my day, and probably will do the same for you. This was shot at Liverpool Street Station, London.
This is how I spent my birthday -- surrounded by blooming bulbs (and other plants). How lucky to be born on the first day of spring!
This is the time of year when people in snowy climates start losing their minds. We’ve had enough of the cold and the white stuff, yet there could be more snow well into April, even into May.
When the days are above freezing---here, they’re in the 30s and 40s---and the nights are below---in the teens and 20s---the sap starts to run in the maple trees. The month-long sugaring season gives everyone something to look forward to, just when cabin fever really starts to set in. Wood fires abound and, if you step outside on certain days, you can smell the heady mix of wood smoke and maple sugar.
Once you start boiling the sap, you must keep it going or lose sap to evaporation. It takes roughly 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so every drop counts.
Anything as labor intensive as this requires many hands. Sugar masters make the chores as pleasant as possible. They organize potluck meals, and ask people to bring along their musical instruments, children and dogs. There’s nothing like a party to make the work flow.
Here are some photos I took a few years ago of a sugarhouse operation. Dave helped gather and stack wood. I helped chronicle the event with pictures. We both enjoyed the people, the music and the food.
Click to enlarge any photo.
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Some of you have already reached this milestone, and I know others are hoping the world blows up before it happens to them, but -- if we’re lucky enough – someday we all turn 65. My big day is right around the corner.
Omigod, how could someone so young get so old?
It’s not like this date with destiny slipped up on me, exactly, but still, I’m having a hard time processing what should be just another birthday. After all, we’re only a day older on our birthday than we were the day before, right?
The undeniable proof of my impending old age is imprinted like a watermark in the Medicare card that arrived by mail recently.
There it is. Looks just like the one my parents carried around, all red, white and blue. But if you tilt the card ever so slightly into the light, you’ll notice the words “very, very old” are woven right into the paper!
When my husband turned 65 a few years, I handled his Medicare sign up and paperwork, efficient new wife that I was. It wasn’t hard to do, just time consuming. I read the stuff Medicare sent in the mail, outlined his options, picked a drug plan and Medigap provider, then sent out all the forms. Bingo! He hardly noticed the difference between his old health plan and Medicare, except now he has a lot more jingle in his pocket after every office visit and pharmacy run.
Was I jealous! My health insurance cost more than $600 dollars a month, and I was way too healthy to enjoy it! Once I married Dave, left the rat race, and started taking better care of myself, my health turned normal for my age, as they say.
How I longed for the day when I could get Medicare, too! Of course, I was blocking what cliff I had to go over to qualify.
Truth be told, I’d been sucking money out of the system for years. My 40s and 50s were medical disasters, but that's another story. The high premiums I paid in my 60s were simply part of payback time.
Six months ago, my mother’s slow decline into the netherworld of Alzheimer’s consumed large amounts of my energy and time. She lived in a nursing home 350 miles away, and it might as well have been 3,500.
Ignoring common sense and my husband’s pleas, I drove down and back on a single day to see her, every few weeks. It was such a grueling trip, I spent only two or three hours with her, so I could complete the six-hour trip down and six back up north without losing it on the highway.
And then it happened, just before Christmas. Almost silently and with as much grace as a person can muster in her condition, she slipped out of this world. Dave and I were with her and in that instant, everything in my life changed.
Since her departure, I’ve had a hard time completing tasks, even small ones. I’m told that’s normal.
Life oozes by, one day at a time.
I still haven’t written to some of her relatives and friends, but will, someday. I keep saying I must write thank you notes to some kind folks who helped us through the difficult times. What’s left of her stuff sits in piles in our extra room, remnants of a life that seemed so permanent, so important, I couldn’t imagine the earth spinning after her death.
But, it did.
And, now I see how it will continue to spin, even after mine and yours. And, that’s the way it should be.
Which takes me back to turning 65. It's just so predictable and so ordinary. Somehow, I guess I thought I would follow a different path. How and to what, I don't know.
But, maybe for the first time, I’m ready to admit to myself that most likely, I’ll finish out my life the old-fashioned way, like she did.
With little drama. Few people around me. Barely any noise or fanfare.
One day, I’ll breathe, then not breathe, and be carted off within the hour by a strong young woman who’ll clean my bed to make it nice for the next old lady.
And, that’s okay, because it’s the way things are and are supposed to be. The longer I live, the more normal are my life and my expectations.
Like most aspects of life, there's a good side to the combination of long days and strong sun, along with the possibility of a disaster.
Daytime temperatures are in the 30s and 40s, nighttime in the 20s, which makes it easy for river ice to melt during the day, then freeze up a little at night.
We don't want it to melt too quickly, for obvious reasons. A nice slow spring is a good spring.
You have to remember that, not only do we have a ton of snow and ice here waiting to melt, but we're downstream from a glacier up north that could bury us all. Whoa baby, you don't want that stuff coming down on your head!
Stay tuned. If I show up on one of your doorsteps, you'll know why.
I tripped over a very interesting blog published by a British psychology researcher/novelist. Be sure to read her post, found at Now for Something Serious. Welcome Jacqui!
See her blog, Dirty Sparkle, for more of her thoughts on writing and women's issues. Or, go to directly to this link for her take on the Chris Brown/Rihanna situation:
June sent these two photos of Spring creeping into Delaware, at least coming to her yard. Even though they had enough snow there to close schools last Friday, the tropical air is back, and it brought spring blossoms with it. Aren't these beautiful flowers? I think I can smell them. Thanks, June!
Karen posted a response to the Ah, Spring post, and sent along these photos of her flower and vegetable gardens in Southern California as proof of her green thumb. Be sure to read her comment.
Karen, you've made believers of us all! And, we'll be right out for some salad! Set another 24 places at your table, please.