life lessons, NATURE

THE IRONY OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

“Are you bored?” My mother asked me yesterday.
“No not really, I spent the previous day deep cleaning my kitchen and it took me seven hours.” (Cleaning my house is not something I have done on a regular basis).
“Cleaning for Passover?”she asked.
“Passover for one, hardly,” I replied.
“You aren’t having Passover?” She asked with a tinge of that old school Jewish guilt I haven’t heard for a long time.
“No Mom, this shit is real up here in the North,” I said with a tone of churlishness I tried to mask. My mother lives in Alabama and based on some of the history down there, the present governor hadn’t seemed to be taking this situation as serious as her northern counterparts.
“They just closed the malls yesterday,” she said. I am having Passover here.” She then proceeded to list the couples of friends coming to her house.

O.M.G. I thought. My mother is an intelligent woman. She is as liberal as they come, despite the fact she lives in a very conservative state with many ultra conservative friends. Yet, in just two weeks, in her mind anyway, she is forging ahead with a Passover seder. We are never going to recover from this pandemic if this is what is happening in the homes across America. Passover and Easter right around the corner, are people really digging their heels in and not heeding the severity of the warnings?

I have gone outside on some bike rides and walks, keeping my distance, or at least trying to, and I have noticed hundreds of people out, some attempting the distancing like my partner and me, and others lying in the grass making out, having family picnics, playing frisbee like it is a summer vacation.

We have missed our two week window to help flatten the curve and despite the warnings, despite the obvious problems in Europe reported daily, not enough people chose to #stayhome. Intelligent people who read the news who see what is going on have decided that because our government has not said the magic words, Shelter in, perhaps it isn’t that bad. The irony of this is that these are likely the same people who would dig their heels in if the government did say to stay home, refusing to be told to do anything. The live free or die mentality that is America is never more true than it is right now.

Die. We may. Especially if you are over seventy like my mother and all of her retired friends.

It has been two weeks since I closed my business and decided, after a Friday night out of dancing and partying before this new world started, that I would self impose a two week quarantine. Two weeks today. Though my self quarantine has ended in theory, it really has just begun as our world and our country spins out of control

Bored is not a word that enters my vocabulary. Ever. I am an active and energetic woman. On the go, thousands of ideas, mover and shaker, perpetual motion. Bored is not really a word that comes to my mind. There is so much life to live- even during this During Covid. time. — D.C.
I find myself with more time than I could have ever dreamed I would have. In all fairness, I have no little ones, I have no husband, I don’t even have a pet. My son is safely at his home this last semester of his senior college life with plenty of food and not too far away. I have a partner, but we don’t live together. My work is closed, my team is safe. I am not an essential worker.

I have a lot of time. I have a lot of time alone, but I am never alone. The irony of social distancing is that I have felt more social than ever. And I am an incredibly social person. The obvious lack during this time is the face to face close talking, lots of hugging contact I am used to, but taking this off the table there is a unique consciousness that has been happening. A deliberate charge to connect.

There have been the usual phone or texts and this has remained a constant, but now, added to it, are the face time calls, the Zoom get togethers and team meetings, the creation of Facebook groups that just a month ago I would have never considered. Connection during this time of unprecedented forced social distancing has turned out to be fuller than I could have ever anticipated.

Just in the time I have been writing this, I have been invited to a virtual surprise party for a ten year old girl I would have never been asked to just a month ago. I taught my 102 year old grandfather how to get on Zoom and we have had two cocktail parties with some of my favorite friends along for the ride. I have been asked to teach a virtual writing class and a virtual expressive arts class. The amount of exercise I have added to my daily routine is unprecedented because there is so much time during the day. Social distancing has brought many friends and families closer together in ways no one could have predicted.

I have written endlessly about my struggle with social media over the years, but in this unique situation, I have found it to be a helpful experience. I am not suggesting that I want this to continue endlessly, but connecting with people I care about, being a voice in the community of good, taking a stand on #stayhome and saying it aloud as often as possible.

Besides this fake social connecting, the real life nature connecting has been a surprise addition. My grandmother had two neighbors, sisters, who lived together for their entire lives. When they were well into their eighties, I went to visit them and noticed many bird feeders in their yard. When I asked them about them, Ethel, one of the sisters, said she sits in the yard and watches them. At the time, my son couldn’t have been more than six years old; the notion of sitting outside and just watching birds feed at the feeders was a foreign idea to this busy thirty something.

Now with all of this time, I find myself sitting by the window and watching the magic unfold. A fox family, cardinals singing, and as I was writing this piece this morning, I watched two ducks fly by my window and land in my yard for a spell. I have never seen ducks in my yard. Maybe they are discombobulated too.

I know this life I speak of is not the same for many, domestic abuse is on the rise, the elderly are in even a more vulnerable situation and the health care workers and first responders do not have this luxury I speak of. But even for my mama friends and team members who have little ones, each time I speak with them, they are outside with their kids playing, building forts, cooking and baking together, making the best out of this bizarre situation. The irony seems that the best is some of what is coming out of this.

We are in the midst of what I am calling a global course correction and it is invoking time together in a way we had previously forgotten in our quest for more. And our failure to notice how much disconnection there has been.

As I write this, it it two weeks today that I closed my company. My signage and my emails said, Closing for two weeks until March 28th. I changed the signs yesterday to Closed until it is safe to reopen. I have no idea when this will be. Some of my salon counterparts are giving dates. I am not willing to do this right now because frankly, I can’t imagine that we will be open anytime soon. I am in the business of touch and though I know we will all crave physical touch beyond belief, will we ever feel one hundred percent safe with this type of touch again?

A strange predicament, but without feeling overwhelmed I instead will choose to stay present to the moment, looking out my window staring at the nature that the divine provides on a moment to moment basis.
This is a curious experience in our lives and our children’s lives. We will never be the same for sure, but I would like to think that words like appreciation, love, connection and gratitude our words that will become our go to words for generations to come.

We may be past the point of new return, but as March comes to a close, so does the mixed weather. As bouts of warm weather approach with April, so do the vast numbers of people choosing not to listen to the warnings and heading outside like it is a perpetual vacation.

We have a long strange trip ahead of us as a country. I hope the country comes together and pays attention as a nationwide community. We may have separate states, but they are not separate countries. Now more than ever we must remember that we are called THE UNITED STATES for a reason.

Watch the birds. Bake some cakes, Have a virtual Easter and Passover and PLEASE #STAYHOME. #tellallyourfriends.

business, life lessons

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED AS OF DAY 5

I sat at my computer yesterday looking at my payroll expense account knowing that this would be the last payroll for some time. I took a deep breath and pressed the send button. This was the final major part of my business activity I would be doing since no money is coming in now and this was the last big expense. The action was saying, finally after 5 days of mayhem, holy shit, this is real.

I am a fixer. Chaos and I get along just fine. When things are going right, I get bored easily. I like to solve problems and help people solve problems. This is why I am so active with writing and on social media right now. I am in all hands on deck mode. How can I help? How can I serve? This has always been my driving force of small business owning. I never stop because of my love for small business and its ability to take action on so many levels beyonf the day to day operations. For my little business, I have a big payroll. This one is on the smaller size because to conserve money, I chose to not pay myself. I include the amount so any non business owners out there can see the impact of what just one business closing will be haivng. This is real.

The only thing that is keeping me going is that we are all going through this together.

Continuing on with my day to day of the shut downs, thinking that this would be helpful. Take what you need and leave the rest.

There are lots of “little,” seemingly insignificant charges, we small business owners, who wear every hat imaginable, incur on the day to day month to month operations of our companies.

A two week shut down is a stark difference to a two month shut down, but I was raised as a pragmatist, so I err on the longer shut down of my business then a shorter one. The realist in me says that as much as people may WANT a spa service when we come out on the other side of this, my business may not be their first call. Hair color, Waxing, Haircut, facial, lash extensions maybe not so much, in that order. I am guessing this all, but I am a planner and I am basing my thinking on human nature. I hope I am wrong.

DAY 5

Here is what has happened and my additions to the check list. I am capitalizing the first few since they are of utmost importance.

GET YOURSELF A NOTEBOOK AND BEGIN DOCUMENTING EVERY CALL EVERY DATE, EVERY TIME AND WHO YOU SPOKE TO. Keep the name of the company and the phone number in one place according to the date. You will need good records, this will save you a lot of time later.

CREATE A FILE IN YOUR EMAIL TO MOVE EVERY EMAIL EXCHANGE BETWEEN INSURANCE UNEMPLOYMENT, INTERACTIONS, REFUNDS, CREDITS ETC and as the emails come in just move them to the file to find easily later. When later comes. And later will come.

THIS IS NEW FOR EVERYONE. STAY KIND AND PATIENT. OFFER SUGGESTIONS TO SOME OF THESE COMPANIES WHO ARE NOT ON THE FRONT LINE OF THE BRICK AND MORTAR BUSINESS MODELS LIKE WE ARE. They are open to suggestions. This may surprise you, but this is only week one for them too. My suggestion was to create a checklist for their accounts and send them out to stay ahead of the panic. Don’t freak out- we are all in the same boat. 

THIS IS THE BEST TIME TO ORGANIZE ALL OF YOUR PASSWORDS, ACCOUNT NUMBERS, LOGINS IN ONE PLACE. You will be needing them and the more orderly you can keep everything, the calmer you will be the longer this goes on.

CREDIT CARD COMPANIES: If you are trying to cancel those pesky monthly charges that happen with or without business have your MERCHANT ID and your BUSINESS TAX ID handy. Keep it handy because you will be asked for this over and over.

They are on the receiving end of our panicked calls. We are chump change compared to the restaurant businesses that have alcohol instead of haircuts or candles to sell. I called mine and after one hour this is what I learned to ask for. 

Salon Software told me to call Gateway company- in my case it was Salon Biz + PaySimple. I called Paysimple they told me to call the credit card company, WORLD PAY. World Pay told me I needed to call Paysimple. YOU CAN SEE WHERE THIS WAS HEADED. Here is what I learned. You can ask for a cancelation or a temporary suspension or a seasonal suspension. In PaySimple’s case, it was a cancelation. I will have 6 months from the date I canceled to reactivate or I will need to close and then reopen the account. I chose this as my option. The fees aren’t a lot but with no money coming in, 15.95 per month per location adds up over time. Right along with Pandora, Apple Music etc. Pick and choose your battles. I am being fiscally ultra conservative so that I have a business when we do reopen. 

This process start to finish took from 9:30am-10:38 am, over an hour. I ope this will save you some time. Many of us small business owners don’t even know how much extra we pay PER MONTH in addition to the fees PER TRANSACTION. Time to rise and shine, my beautiful small business owners!

If you have a separate credit card account for ECOMMERCE like I do, I didn’t cancel this. Just double check what you have and make decisions accordingly. 

SBA DISASTER RELIEF LOAN: Yes, taking out loans sucks. But I still say, fill out the paperwork anyway. Don’t do it on your phone. Sit down with your tax returns from last year or this year and have your debts, company names of mortgages and any other outstanding debt information at your side. It will take some time to fill out the form. You can save it and return to it later if it boots you out like it did me 3 times yesterday. I just turned it off, and am headed back to it today. Here is the website: spa.disasterloan.gov

My thinking is to get in the system so if I need it, I have the paperwork done. I hope I don’t need it. I hope none of us do. 

BUSINESS PHONE+INTERNET+SOFTWARE etc. I am in wait and see mode here. I reached out to them to see what their thoughts are and they are not ready to make decisions yet so I will revisit this next week. 

TEAM: Check in with your team. See if they need anything. Check to see if they received the unemployment confirmation. Send them a checklist that you have found helpful in your personal life. Set up a company zoom meeting so you can stay in touch. Not now, but keep this in mind as this situation progresses. Especially single moms, or moms home with their kids 24/7 for the first time. Work outside the home can be a very important outlet and identity for moms, this is a big shift for them.  A call, an email, a group text, letting them know you care during this craziness. You need them and they need you. The bonding between leaders and their employees shine the brightest in times of turmoil.

LEADERSHIP: Owning a business is easy when everything is going great. When the shit hits the fan like it is globally right now, we must take action. Make difficult decisions. This is not a popularity contest. Leadership is what you do when the going gets tough. It is the hardest job and this is a test of our ability under pressure. Not everyone is going to like your decisions, but this is a great thing too because it separates the people who you want as part of your continued tribe when and if you do reopen. This is a traumatic event. Ration your news feed. Put some music on. Light a candle. Call a neighbor and set the example by staying home. Encourage your team to stay home. Encourage your friend’s kids to stay home. Be a big voice in your business community. This is how we help.

SOCIAL MEDIA: I am in a lot of Business Facebook groups because I enjoy helping people. If the information you are reading is helpful then by all means share it, if it is causing you more worry and fear, then turn off your notifications and take a long bath, or a shower or make brownies with your kids. Don’t get sucked into the vortex. We need to keep our immunity up and strong during this time and health is priority number 1- physical and mental, spiritual too.

EXERCISE AND MENTAL HEALTH: Health is of utmost importance. If you are a gym person, and you don’t have access to it, you already know there is a plethora of videos and apps to keep moving even if you can’t get to the gym. For those of you who have been meaning to get to the gym and find yourselves hanging out on the couch more than ever- start small. 1 jumping jack, 1 ten second plank,  1 sit up,  1 deep breath. The next day try to add one more and keep adding until the end of the month. It is amazing how quickly these small additions can become easier and more important keep you sane. We have the time now. Take lots of deep breaths, write, draw, jump up and down, use your stairs, write letters to people instead of texts and emails. Keep moving. You need your health and you need your mind. 

TO BE CONTINUED, my friends. Stay safe. #Stayhome. #wewillgethroughthis.

business

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED IN THE LAST TWO DAYS (AND I HOPE IT HELPS YOU)

So much as happened since Saturday when I decided to close my doors. We are all in shock that we have found ourselves in this situation. 

But here we are so we, as the bad ass leaders we are, will march forth and make the best of an unprecedented global situation.

The following list in no apparent order is what I have learned and hope it saves your some time in your spinning minds. Some may apply to your business, some may not, most of these tips are in relation to a service/ appointment business, but I am sure that many reading this will get something out of it even if this is not your business model.

My business is in Rhode Island. Some things may not apply in your states, but I am guessing most will. 

Good luck and I hope this is helpful as it intends.

  • Once you say finito, your team will be in panic mode. As much as you are freaking out, they are freaking out more. Help them with unemployment. If you are a w2 business who pays their staff the way employers of real businesses do, filing for unemployment is easy and should be the first step. When they file, make sure you have their starting dates before they go online to fill out the paperwork, it will time out so having everything they need on hand makes the process less stressful. When asked the question, “Will you be returning to work or do you have a date?” Have them answer no. Don’t worry about it now. Just get them in the system.
  • If you have been paying yourself the correct way in a check, you will likely be eligible as well. Don’t hesitate. Fill out the paperwork. As a matter of fact, if you do it at the same time they do, you can be helpful to the process. Not that you need to be humbled, but it is a good dose of humility.
  • Unless you have boatloads of cash reserve and many businesses do not, I would not suggest paying them right now for the time. Get them in the unemployment system. You will need your cash. I also asked my team not to drain the PTO/ sick or vacation time since that would also drain my cash reserves and they were fine with this. 
  • I removed any of the extra deductions for this last check, IRAS, Health insurance etc, just for them to maximize their final check. They were appreciative.
  • If you are a 1099/ Independent contractor/ booth renter, traditional unemployment will not work for you. The Federal government is actively working on activating something called Unemployment Disaster Relief or something to that effect. I spoke with someone on the state level today from the Department of Labor and they were very helpful and this is what they told me. This will be a wait and see relief. 
  • If you have a linen service, trash service, cleaning service, call them and tell them the date(s) to stop. You are not going to be open, so you don’t need the services right now.
  • Call your banks and deactivate your debit cards. This will help you gain control rapidly over all of the auto debits. Don’t forget Apple, PayPal, Google, Pandora or any other peripheral account that withdraws automatically. 
  • Prioritize the absolute musts of your bills. For example, business insurance, car insurance. Yes it totally sucks to be late on any bills, I am never late, but in this case, you need to reserve cash so pay what you must, but don’t overpay.
  • Business loss insurance at this moment does not cover this loss. This is a pandemic, call your state congresspeople and ask them to pressure insurance companies to create a window of exemption. It will take a lot of us calling to even make this a possibility, but I definitely think it is worth the time.
  • Credit cards for your business- call and ask them to reduce the rate and to temporarily stop the monthly fees they charge. There may not be any business coming in, why should you pay a fee for this?
  • Clients- What we did was keep every single client on our schedule. We called them and told them we were postponing their appointments until we reopened and then we would call them and prioritize their rescheduling when we had an exact date of reopening. This will help you keep track of the clients and also how much potential business you are losing should insurance companies rally. (Thanks to my dear friend and salon owner, Claudia, for that last idea).
  • We sent out emails announcing the closing then another email to tell them they didn’t have to call and cancel any appointments. We would leave them where they were so we would know to call them when we reopened. 
  • Remember to turn off confirmation emails if they are automated. We forgot and it was confusing. 
  • We also turned off online booking so that we didn’t have to block out the times for the next few weeks in case someone did happen to schedule online. It also saved us time for the future so we wouldn’t reschedule everyone, just to have to call them again and do it a second time. Clients were so nice and understanding.
  • If you have any marketing or social media automated, please turn it off. There is nothing worse in a crisis situation then getting something irrelevant. 
  • If you are using a company like mind body, mail chimp or something like this, you may consider pausing it or asking for a temporary deactivation to save some money. I did this with Mailchimp. I tried it with my software company and just kept asking for a supervisor so I could get the word out that if they paused our monthly fees for even one month it would speak volumes in good business and kindness creating more loyalty than ever. Don’t hesitate to ask for this. THE MORE THEY HEAR FROM US….
  • Check in with your team. I do have a cash reserve so I offered to loan anyone any money if it gets dire. No one has taken me up on this, but I know they feel better knowing it is there if they need it. Also especially check in with team members who are solo, living on their own, just to make sure they have what they need. Many of my team have partners income they rely on, many do not.
  • Remind your clients that purchasing a gift card if it speaks to them is a great way to support local businesses. Though I don’t want to be selling a lot of them for the unknown that lies ahead, it sure does make some clients feel like they are helping a business they have loved to do business with.
  • Remember the food pantry’s in this situation or if that is too big, remember to check in with the neighbors across the street and next door. Just a phone call makes a big difference in depression, and isolation.
  • This could be a fun time to have zoom meetings, zoom dance parties, face time dinner parties with your friends and clients and your team. Wacky miraculous forms of entertainment are coming out of this disaster.
  • Use this time to clean closets, work on that book you have been meaning to write or read, art projects with your kids, get fresh air, do jumping jacks and planks, call people. Try to use this unique global pause to disconnect from the media and stay connected with the people you love, family, friends and your team. 
  • This is badass leadership and you are a badass leader. If you don’t think you were, you are now. 
  • Good luck, stay safe. Any questions or comments email me alayne@alaynewhite.com I am two full days into this new paradigm and two days is a lot of time in this business is closed world we are in. 
  • One more thing- if you want to get inspired, read OR watch anything about Winston Churchill. He was one of the baddest ass leaders around. Especially his quotes. Try to keep off the 24/7 news. Watch a little, turn it off. Turn on some calming music, open your windows or your curtains if it is too cold, light a candle.
  • We will get through this. JUST KEEP SAYING IT. 

“Sure I am of this, that you  have only to endure to conquer.” Winston Churchill

business, Health, life lessons

THE NEXT TWO WEEKS

March 14th will go down in history as one of the most tumultuous days in my already busy brain. In the morning, I was comfortable with my decision to keep my business open, mistakenly thinking that I was providing a “respite” from the outside world. After all we in the beauty business of touch are not large gathering crowds. 

But as the day went on and I spoke directly with a dear doctor friend who is soon to be on the front lines of this pandemic, I learned much more. I read a detailed and very concise letter written by an esteemed professional doctor and that changed my mind. 

I closed my business voluntarily yesterday at 5:00pm after painful and deep consideration.What I have seen and heard is the next two weeks is the most critical. I didn’t realize this as I made my way out with the masses on Friday to party before my birthday weekend. I didn’t think about the seriousness of the next two weeks. Like the masses of people who decided to head out to the bars in Newport and Boston yesterday to celebrate the no parade St. Patrick’s Day, I was foolish. 

I am no longer foolish.

Our leadership, federal and state, doesn’t seem to want to say. CLOSE YOUR BUSINESS. Why would anyone want to say this? It is economic suicide not just for business, but for the people we employ. The Federal level has taken action to make it more streamlined for emergency money to help compensate the people we have to layoff for fourteen days. But no one is talking about the impact that my type of business has in the country. Spas, hair salons, nail salons, gyms, yoga studios, wellness- we are all touching people in the most intimate areas every day. We are then going home to our families, to the market, to restaurants. 

In my opinion, now that I know what I know, I would rather voluntarily close for two weeks and ask my team to self quarantine for that time, to help prevent what is happening in Italy and the rest of Europe. This is not a two week vacation. This is a time to self quarantine because the likelihood of exposure is the highest right now. We in the beauty and wellness businesses have likely already been exposed. I am not one to freak out. I usually weigh with much consideration the pros and cons when it comes to making these difficult decisions.

Europe is our countries Ghost of Christmas Future right now. I hope I am wrong and that my colleagues can laugh and point a finger at my for being “overreactive” a month from now. I am willing to take the laugh. Closing my business yesterday was the hardest decision I have ever had to make as a leader in my company and in my community. I am still in shock. My team is in shock. This is no joke.

But at this point, I do feel that it is each of everyone of our civic responsibility to voluntarily make these hard decisions. Hands down- our state leaders should be speaking about the beauty business, one of touch, and finally stop ignoring what a major part of the economy beauty and wellness provides for the citizens of our country.

For my colleagues out there, please voluntarily close. Self quarantine for two weeks and ask your team members to do the same. We are all in this together and if we set the tone for what the right thing to do is, we will be better as a community a month from now. 

Running a business is a day to day tricky business. We must make rough and tough decisions and in this case, we must not be making them from our pocketbooks. I know it is scary to think that income will cease for two weeks or more, but these are all great lessons in our lives to re think what we have, what we need and how we operate when we do get to open again. 

My friend said that he is hoping for a V upturn. Quick dip, quick return. Imagine when we all come out of our homes after this madness, the way the trees and the light will seem. The first delicious meal at our favorite restaurant will taste, the first workout at your gym or that glorious facial at your favorite spa. In the darkness when it seems like light is absent, that little spark of brightness means so much more. I am confident that we will see a business boom like we have never experienced when we get through this. This is not forever. 

For those of you out there who think some of this maybe hype, or politicization, I for one thought this a bit too last week, but when we see France close its restaurants and bars, when airports are closing and borders are closing, I would rather err on the side of caution. The glory of our free country is that we get to make our own decisions, but this is unprecedented and as a community, we have an opportunity to speak up and do our civic duty.

Please voluntarily close your business. Our communities are in prevention mode. Two weeks now could prevent three months later and we have the capability to take action now. I hope we can come together and support each other during this time and I thank you for considering this. And I am sorry to freak you out. I have attached the letter below so you can make an informed decision too.

https://www.alaynewhite.com/closing-update.html

Health, self improvement, Women

NO PLACE LIKE KATHY’S (or aka home gym vs going to the gym)

I bought a treadmill. The purchasing experience was a nightmare, but once I settled down and made peace with my NordicTrack and subsequently purchased a Pelaton bike for spite to NordicTrack (if you don’t know me this will definitely make you scratch your head), I officially had my own workout studio. 

My workout studio. Stunning. In full view of my backyard garden. I figure that each time I work out, it is probably costing me about five hundred dollars a workout. But I love having my own workout equipment. I turn on my Pelaton app and I have a personal trainer all to myself. It is a miraculous paradigm shift in fitness training. If I had a gym or a studio that was part of my lifelong career plan, these type of home workout studios would be make me extremely worried about my business future. 

On the other hand, not everyone has the luxury of space like I have where they can place the equipment in my actual business away from the cluttering of my living room, or down in a basement where I am sure many of these contraptions are used for coat hooks rather than their intended use. 

My true reason, though, for delving into this new realm was two fold. One is that I am picky about how I workout with the masses. I love to walk alone. I love to run at a track, but New England winters don’t always give me the luxury of an outdoor jaunt. In case there was any question, I am not the type of person who will run or walk in wind, rain, sleet, snow. I love to workout, but I also love to sit on the couch and write, so if it is raining, I am not headed outdoors. 

Secondly, when I work out, I have to love the instructor— too much jibber jabber, too many positive affirmations being belted out telling me how much self-love I should be giving myself, too much of anything that grates me equals the last time I am working out with that trainer. I am not there to have my brain mind melded by some thirty year old self proclaimed life coach who doesn’t have the life experience that I do screaming at me that I am, indeed, good enough. 

I would rather walk downstairs and get a workout in- taught by some hot Pelaton chick or guy who won’t take it personal if I don’t show up at the next class. If the class roster at any given day is accurate, they don’t really need alayne50 rhode island, because they have hundreds of ‘mega mammas,’ ‘lovely ladies,’ ‘Minnesota twins’ and all of the other cutesie names Pelaton riders give themselves so as to not give their true identity away, like I did, before I realized that my name would be showing up at every workout I showed up for. 

To be perfectly transparent, it has occurred to me that I could just sign up for a class and take my sweet old time watching Jessie or Brett bark orders at me while I sipped my morning coffee and pedaled like I was ‘racing’ on some lovely flat road in Spain or France somewhere. But then my stats, rather than being somewhere in the middle of the thousands of riders as far as Pelatons’s cadence and resistance goes, would definitely be at the end of the finish line.

 I do have my pride. 

Another factor is time. Because I am picky about who my line leader is, this has basically narrowed my instructors down to one, Kathy, the title of this piece today. First off, she is my age. She is self- deprecating. She talks about potato chips and drinking beer. 

Kathy is one of my most favorite people. Gigantic smile, laughs from the gut, she cracks me up pretty much the entire workout. The only reason that I bought equipment is that I don’t have her on demand. Sometimes her schedule doesn’t workout with my writing schedule, sometimes I don’t wake up in my partner’s bed- a ten minute drive to Kathy’s gym and instead am in my own home- a thirty minute or so drive each way, plus the workout, a big difference in my am routine. 

My am routine is my favorite part of the day. There is so much to do with so little time, especially if I sleep past my usual early wake up time of 5:30. I get most of my creative work done between 6-11am. Whether it is planning something new, or writing, working out, meditating, whatever I can do to encourage creativity and peace, the morning is when I do this. I get shit done in the am. So driving to and from a gym cuts into the precious morning time and I try to minimize this whenever I have the chance. 

I have used my new gym quite a bit. Working out with the hotties of Pelaton is a change of pace. I feel like they are my own personal trainers. Each and everyone of them are stunning, happy, smiley, incredibly fit, young and many have British accents which make for a nice addition to a work out for some odd reason. They play great music. I can pick who I want to work out with, when I want to work out. They have 10 minute, 15 minute, 20 minute and so on so if I need to get a quick workout in, I am all set. 

After spending about two months in my own gym, I headed back to Kathy, though. You see, I love the ability to work out when I want to, but what was missing loud and clear was the camaraderie of the gym. My peeps, the women and few men I have become accustomed to like heading back to summer camp after a school year away. Easy to forget when you are blasting through twenty minute Pelaton rides on a rainy day at home.  I love my workout peeps. I didn’t realize how much I missed them and the gym experience until I made my way back to them where I was greeted and welcomed back like a long lost friend. 

The gym was my safe space before and after both my breast cancer experiences, my surgeries, the recovery. The gym got me ready and the gym brought me back. Kathy’s space is not just any place. Yes it is a wonderful open place to work out and get fit, but it is also a place of connection and friendship. 

The social element to a good gym is something not to be dismissed. I remember the first time I went to a gym compared to now. The gym has changed me. I used to be self deprecating when it came to my body and my fitness level. I am a totally different person now. I find myself describing myself now proudly using the tagline: I am fit. It feels good to say this and even better to know it, to feel it, to be among a tribe of women and men who also feel the same way in the world. 

Health is miraculous. Keeping it strong and constant is one of those mandatory requirements these days now that we all know what we know about the results of it. Like when I see someone smoking, it still it surprises me that people don’t take exercise as seriously as they could. 

Now that I am on the receiving end of the benefits of exercise, mental and physical, there is no turning back. It is ‘quality of life’ security. I may not have a six pack, may not be some ideal goal weight, but what I have is stamina and an ability to walk for miles, climb stairs in Quebec, ride a bike throughout North Conway and on endless trails everywhere my partner and I travel. All because of my consistency with exercise and because of superchicks like Kathy who makes exercise not seem like work ( well that may be a stretch…).

I have written about Kathy before. But in this case, now that I have the luxury of my own home gym, a Pelaton app on my phone, frequent solo walks at some of the most beautiful views in New England to compare to Club Kathy, there isn’t much comparison. The time savings, the outdoor beauty are both a lovely addition, but will never be a replacement for a good old school Kathy Martin work out. The people, the friendliness, the break from the brain that never stops are all some of my favorite extra bonuses of working out at Kathy Martin’s gym. 

I may have my own treadmill and my own spin bike, but I am not planning on giving up my gym membership any time soon. She keeps me in shape in way more ways than a fit body.

#Gratefulindeed.

life lessons, travel

WITHOUT A CAMERA

Sneakers and socks, fully sprayed and lotioned with the appropriate amount of sunscreen. Sweatpants on my bottom half and my go to throw on (probably should throw out) black cotton sundress I have been wearing for at least ten years to the beach, I made my way to my predictable beach spot. Barely a whisper of a cloud in the otherwise clear as a bell ‘blue true dream of sky’ topped off the shimmering white granite sand and the adjectives can’t control themselves in my brain trying to describe the feelings of this perfect Florida  March 1st beach day. If my friends were with me, they too would proclaim this as an almost ten beach day, but they are not as they are freezing their asses off in the 19 degree temperatures appropriate for an otherwise mild and uneventful Rhode Island winter. .

Heading out, cooler packed with an inordinate amount of food, making my way to the beach at the glorious hour of 8:30 am to get a power walk in before I settled down with what would soon be my fourth book of the week. Usually I go for a walk barefoot on the white granite crystals that aren’t really sand and never get hot allowing for bare feet on the hottest of days, but are also really cold on a cool day. Sneakered feet on the shoreline make for good traction and my plan was to walk a good four miles at a minimum. 

The beach is part of my life story. I write about it and from it often. The beach is my most grounding environment- maybe due to my Pisces water sign. For every place I have traveled culturally, the beach is the place that absolutely calms and settles my spirit, my body, heart, and very busy brain. 

The people dynamic at the beach is like looking at a segment of mostly white people in humanity’s fish bowl. Couples, families, grandparents fawning over their grandchildren, newly retired married people , it seems at first glance like this slice of the people on Siesta Key today are truly living the idea of the ‘American Dream’ of yesteryear, at least this is what the retirement ads show if you prepared like you were supposed to. 

Go to school, get a job, work hard, buy a house, maybe marry, save, buy a second home, ease into retirement gracefully, one golf game at a time. That’s what it looks like down here, anyway from my perch on the beach— from the outside anyway. Underneath it all are likely the traumas and dramas, I will never know as I make my quick observations looking into their glass houses without really knowing what is being said inside. 

When people are at the beach, they look content and happy. It reminds me of how much goodness there is away from the TV and away from phone and camera access as I make it a point to leave mine at home deliberately to avoid the temptation to “just check one thing.” 

Beach+ Food+ Book+ Pencil+ Notebook- phone = 100% happy place for me. 

I pause for a moment to quiet my writing mind and look up at the throngs of people marching like ants parallel to the shoreline. I am at least a football field away from the shoreline-perpendicular- to remove myself from the likelihood of bad music, annoying conversation and the sounds of people in general. 

I have my spot, and it feels like my own private beach. I hear birds other than seagulls chirping because to my left and behind me are palm trees and small grassy protected land gives them a place to nest. I notice the waves crashing, the light sound of sand blowing against my plastic blue and white igloo cooler, the resident cooler of my grandfather’s garage every visitor uses. I see pelicans dive bombing the gulf for their morning meal and all of it creates a Kodak moment for me.

We seem to have turned into a culture that relies on our phones now to capture every waking mysterious moment so that our cameras themselves have now become our memory and our entertainment.  I watch person after person taking photos of a seagull standing hopefully for a sandwich from the four year old he has his eye on. There is a pelican floating regally, looking prehistoric while it contemplates its next meal or perhaps enjoying its last one. 

There are the runners and walkers calculating their steps and heart rate and recording their every movement in their health apps- missing countless opportunities for the eye to eye contact that would surely produce one of the best memories – a random smile from a stranger, almost a rare commodity these days of perpetual head down body language. 

This is not a judgement or criticism. I have taken my share of beach photos. Ask my partner or my son and they will both roll their eyes at the memory of my countless insistence on snapping poses and places to try to capture whatever poignant moments I didn’t feel I could live without if I didn’t snap a picture right then and there. 

I watched all shapes and sizes in all forms of beachwear. The unprepared lot who just came to see what all of the Siesta Key fuss was about, pale in their black clothes standing out among the crowds and the nearly blinding white glistening beach. 

The walkers were there, experienced and focused trying to battle the bulge or challenge the creeping years hoping to win the battle of health versus sickness in their aging bodies. There were the professional sand castle builders and the laypeople trying their hardest to live in the moment with their children for just one day, building, digging, and seeming to enjoy themselves. 

I watched six backsides of adolescent boys, maybe high school or first year of college sitting in a neat row on their towels watching the stream of young girls in thongs go by trying not to stare with their eyes, yet hoping the movement likely below wouldn’t be a nuisance on their day out. Then out of nowhere two beach patrol vehicles looking like an episode from Bay Watch drove over to them. Next I saw the boys reach into their pockets reaching for their wallets probably to produce an ID. My first thought was that I was happy the kids weren’t black or brown or anything other than white, it would have added an extra maternal worry for their safety and vulnerability on what they must have thought was going to be a fun day out with friends. 

I didn’t see anything these kids were doing that would have warranted this visit from the beach police. They didn’t seem to be drinking or smoking anything. They weren’t playing loud music or causing any type of ruckus. I hoped they weren’t going to be carted away. I almost wanted to get up to make sure they weren’t being harassed which I am aware was a ridiculous way to think as these beach patrol men seemed to be trying to just do whatever job they set out to do. 

I watched little girls take on maternal roles as they protected and watched  over their little siblings. They seemed neither confident nor lacking confidence with their little bodies because the media hadn’t taken hold of that confidence yet to make them question that they could be anything other than perfect. Dads playing football with their sons and some daughters looking like they were trying to coach their sons so as to secure a place on a future NFL team. 

I caught the eye of an older gentleman fully garbed in solar protective head to toe clothing, a walking stick in each hand each with a sandal and a bottle of water for what looked like a very serious morning walk. He paused in a standing meditative state for what seemed like five minutes before he proceeded on. His stance peeked my interest and I was curious wondering what he was doing. I never found out. He picked up and walked. 

Marching forth.

I glanced out at the three boys left. Three of the six boys had moved on with  their things and had walked away from the group looking grim, heads down. Their beach day ruined for some reason I will never know. 

The sand kept blowing, the waves kept crashing. I kept noshing and applying more sunscreen.

What I noticed more than anything was how many memories were sliding into and securing a place in my mind. I considered how many of our memories we sort of give away while we are looking down at our phones or in the view finder trying to capture them. The irony of this is that the very memories we are trying to capture are actually the very moments we see while we are looking up and observing all of this beauty in our surroundings. 

All of these photos in our phones are the fleeting times we missed because we spent the time trying to get the perfect shot and may have missed the pelican dive bombing, or the man meditating. As we were looking down to check out our work or looking through the camera’s lens, we probably missed the kind stranger walking by who had the biggest most contagious smile to brighten the day with the eye to eye contact that only eye to eye contact creates. 

Our cameras are our eyes. They capture the colors and sounds and smells of mother nature more than any picture will ever capture and these moments in our lives fly by at the speed of light, more and more as I get to my fifty fifth year in a few weeks. I watch my grandfather and his friends and realize how even a life well lived and long is fleeting and the pictures could never capture my experiences with my grandfather’s long life.

I have 21,489 photos in my phone. If every photo took one minute between taking it and looking at it, that is 358 hours of my life, almost 15 days, or half of a month. How many of these silly photos replicate each other? What will I do with them all? How much time will it take to do something with them? Delete, organize, review? How much time do I want to spend doing any of that, when I could otherwise be looking up making eye contact and smiling happily at the life I have created for myself as I look up and enjoy the view with my own eyes, my own personal camera? 

I know I will never stop taking pictures, it is fun to scroll through them sometimes seeing where the time went, how the years did fly by like everyone said they would when your son entered kindergarten or you bought your first home. The camera is a good thing to house the memories of our lives, but so is our mind and being conscious of our days. They do fly by at the speed of light and I myself care to hang on to the minutes a little more selfishly. 

family, Health

LIVE BEYOND 102 DIET (or the world according to Herb Horowitz diet)

“Herbie, (aka my grandfather), do you eat brussel sprouts?” I asked him this week as I was trying to combine my “clean” eating style with his how Herbie eats style. 

“Not really.” 

“What do you want with your chicken tonight? How about brown rice pilaf?” I asked.

“Not a big fan of brown rice,” said Herb.

“How about if I make chicken pot pie tonight for dinner?” Thinking this would be a sure way to warm his heart and stomach.

“Not too many carrots,” Herb said.

As I stood there, incredulous at his lack of vegetable consumption separating the carrots out of the frozen pea carrot mix, I thought, who has it right here? By the way, there are way more carrots than peas in a frozen pea carrot mix bag in case you ever find yourself making chicken pot pie for a 102 year old man who requests not too many carrots.Are peas even a vegetable? I thought.

As I made the pie using frozen pie crust and two cans of Campbells Cream of Celery soup, I laughed to myself. My grandfather has eaten more processed food than I have likely eaten in my entire life. 

Here is a picture of his pantry and freezer to show some examples.

Pretzels, chips, cookies, crackers, canned soup, muffins, danish, Eggo Waffles, ice cream— it makes my years of Paleo, Whole 30, Vegan, Plant Based, Clean eating turn themselves on their holier than thou head.

Herbie Horowitz is 102. This Saturday will be his 25th leap year alive on this planet. He still takes a receipt home from the grocery store and analyzes it line by line when he gets home to make sure he wasn’t over charged. Herbie will still drive to a gas station further away to save a few cents on a gallon. He was born in 1917 and has lived on a “fixed” income for over thirty seven years. 

a catnap after a thorough receipt analysis.

Organic eggs, milk fruits and vegetables stay right there on the shelves as he makes his way through the aisles of Publix or Costco in favor of what is on sale. “Organic schmanic,” he will say anytime I lug in my $150 of groceries where I barely glanced at a price as I added them to my cart from Whole Foods that make up two bags. “That’s a bunch of crap,” he will say.

He drinks wine every single night and has since I have known him. It used to be a couple glasses of scotch in his “younger years.” He eats Wispread cheese and crackers as an appetizer before dinner to “nosh” along with his two or sometimes three glasses of the red version of “2 buck chuck” that is now six bucks from Trader Joes that he buys by the case and promptly places in the refrigerator, a bottle at a time. 

Herb buys whatever deli meat is on sale and eats it with mayonnaise on rye bread along with a nice pile of potato chips topped off with a few cookies for dessert. Pancakes, waffles or danish depending on his mood are part of his daily diet depending on what caregiver cooks up for him based on her ability and his mood. He has trouble sleeping, though  I have mentioned that maybe it could be the cup of Tetley caffeinated tea and cookies he has every night before bed. I get the usual response of EHH. Like, what do I know. Touché.

I scratch my head at the irony of it all. In reviewing his daily diet intake with my Aunt today, she reminded me of my other Grandfather who died when he was about 85. He was smoking one of his unfiltered English Oval cigarettes as he did for his entire life when the chest pains started. He called the ambulance, as he put out what would be his last cigarette of his life. My aunt found it that night half smoked in the ashtray where he had left it.

Grandpa Bill used to eat cereal every late morning that my grandmother would put out for him after he would wake up (like around eleven- I guess we could call this early afternoon), pour heavy cream over it and add about a quarter cup of sugar. The white table variety that was a staple on most kitchen tables in most of the twentieth century. 

This all makes me go hmmmm. Is it the food we eat? Doesn’t seem to be in these two examples. Is it the exercise we do? Not that either, since neither of them ever had any exercise routine except that of the social variety on walks. Walks that would take no more than thirty minutes, but would turn into three or four hours with all of the stopping and chatting along the way. 

 About ten years ago, when asked if he had to do anything over again, what would it be, Herb replied, “I would have started at the Y sooner.” He had joined when he was about 80. I am convinced that the- less than twenty- years he spent at the Y could be one of the reasons his heart is still going strong. This and his incredible outlook on life. His approach to people. His notion about doing the right thing, saying what is on his mind (sometimes to a fault on this one) to remembering and constantly connecting with family and friends. All of this seem to be his Herb Horowitz diet for a better life, a well lived life. A long life. 

With all of the constant discussion about what we eat, what we should and shouldn’t be adding to our mouths and our bodies, Herb Horowitz breaks every single rule in the 2020 playbook. He watches the news with breakfast, watches the news with dinner. He drinks this weird pink soda water that looks like it has about ten tablespoons of red dye # 3 in it. I am perpetually speechless when I am here visiting filling his fridge with pounds of organic fruits and vegetables and grass fed beef. 

The older I get with the delightful privilege of getting to still have my very coherent grandfather around, the more I like to think that health is more about living well, making choices in our mental attitudes, staying calm in the chaos that guides a life without illness and demobilization. At least this is the case for the grandparents I have had and still get to have as I approach my definitive mid fifties. 

As we tooled around in the motorized scooter in his new favorite recently opened grocery store, we came upon the oranges native to this neck of the Florida woods and only out for a short spell. 

“Grandpa, look, the Honey Bell’s are out!” I exclaimed. Ready to pile some into the bag to bring home.

“Nahh.. I can’t eat those— too much sugar.” 

Can’t make it up.

self improvement, Women

THE CHANGING ROOM (again)

It is winter time in New England and I have found myself headed towards the old faithfuls in my closet again as I do year after year. Black very worn and tired Lululemon yoga pants, an Eastern Mountain Sports turtleneck and hiking shoes with wool socks. I, for many years now, choose warmth and comfort over fashion and sock-less shoes that seem to have become the go to fashion statement with leggings and oversized tops.

I am not comfortable in this, nor do I want to torture my body with leggings that this mostly confident and solid one hundred and sixty pound chick should probably not be wearing around town anyway. I look around at women my age and everyone seems to have the unique ability to look great, but my question inside is always, but are they comfortable?

I envy men’s clothing. They have much simpler choices in their comfort clothes. And all of their clothes have pockets in all of the right places. I want comfort and pockets, warmth and fashion. Is it too much to ask to find a few pieces of clothing that can not only make me look less frumpy, but actually feel more hip and au courant.

As I move quickly to the official title of mid fifties, I just want to feel good. I want to look good, but feeling good is of the utmost priority these days. For the obvious reasons, health, physical and mental fitness, yes. I don’t want to have to be in bed in a hospital ever again or be in bed with the pharmaceutical companies reaching out to me like the vipers they are at every waking turn either. So I find myself in a similar situation I found myself in after I had my son at thirty two, and my breast cancer reconstruction surgery at fifty two questioning who I had become inside and trying to find clothes that matched this new profound feeling outside.

Who am I now? And what types of clothing style defines this for me? I have used the brilliance of personal stylists like my friend, Jill Marinelli who will come to your house and, piece by piece, go through your clothes in your closet with you. Her expertise is style first, not so much comfort, but is excellent at her job if style is what you are looking for. I have had friends who love fashion give me their own ideas of my fashion, but I speak for me and me alone here, it always comes down to comfort. I must feel comfortable.

Jill helped me with some terrific pieces that I still wear to this day, but she also convinced me to buy that one pair of “skinny” jeans that I knew I would be miserable in, but bought anyway. And there they sit on my closet shelf causing dread every time I look at them and think of trying to wear them for even a two hour brief encounter. I don’t want to wear skinny jeans ever. I know this now. If I have to suck my breath in to button the waist for even just a split second, there is no way I am every paying hard earned money for this.

I am exactly one month from turning fifty five. FIFTY FUCKING FIVE. When did this happen? Fifty five is ten years away from SIXTY FUCKING FIVE. I have been divorced for ten years. Ten years flies by. My mother was fifty five when my son was only two. Eee gads. Now I am starting to feel the pressure of making sure my retirement savings are where they are supposed to be, that my wills and trusts are set up properly and all of the other adult things that seem to come with the significance of fifty five years old.

I love aging though. I wouldn’t ask for any years back prior to my current self. But where I get in a funk is in getting dressed and looking less like a bag lady and more like the way I feel inside. Strong, powerful, badass. If I could, (and I promise my friends cringing at the thought out there reading this today), I would seriously wear flannel pajamas every day- out and in. But I don’t. Mostly.

So last week, on the rainiest, dreariest of February Tuesdays, I found myself wandering into the new Athleta store in Newport, RI after doing a few errands. I had an absurd amount of store credits because I put all of my business purchases on my Banana Republic card and lo and behold Athleta is part of the Banana Republic/ Gap/ Old Navy Dynasty. So my credits work there and it was there I shuffled in praying for a come to Jesus moment.

I don’t know how many people reading this know that there is a word that describes the wearing of Athleta type clothing as fashion. It is called Athleisure. I heard of this word many years ago, but didn’t realize how much of a thing it would become as we chicks do our daily jaunts looking like we are not sure if we are headed to a yoga class or to a work event.

I wasn’t sure if I would have any luck on this particular day, but I knew I could find at least one article of clothing to spend my $160 of BR credits on. It seemed like Athleta somehow read somewhere in a study that $89 should be the magic number to price their clothing and I quickly noticed that whether I looked at basic yoga leggings or stretchy jeans, I would not be walking out of the store with just using my credits.

You know those rare magical moments in a clothing store when you meet the perfect sales woman and no one is in the store on that particular day so it is like you have a private personal shopper? This past Tuesday was just this day. Just when I needed it the most. Feeling dowdy and bland and, well, frumpy, I made my way in to this new bright and shiny space and met my new best friend, Kayla. She was one of those young sales women of yesteryear, where they actually enjoyed helping you find not only what you were looking for, but what you didn’t know what you were looking for.

Granted, she had the time. I am guessing I was only one of a small handful of women who made their way into the store on that day. There are not many people shopping on a cold and dreary rainy Tuesday in Newport RI. But one look at her and her own Athleisure style and I knew she could help me. She had the full hips and solid legs like I do, her height was similar, too and despite the fact that she was a good twenty five years younger than me I trusted her judgment immediately. Now it could have been that I was desperate to find someone who could help me on my clothing journey, but I learned after the first two pairs of pants that she understood my needs. SHE GOT ME. And four hours later and an exorbitant amount of money, I left the store a new and very improved woman.

Clothing is our outward cape. I am not the type of woman who needs to have sparkles and labels on my cape. I am comfortable in my skin. Almost too comfortable these days. This has created a fashion predicament for me. How to pair comfort and not looking like I just rolled out of bed. Despite the fact that comfort is my go to priority when I catch a reflection of myself in the mirror, I don’t like the clothing image staring back. My notion of comfort inside was not demonstrating its appearance outside. This is where Kayla used her fashion education and the plethora of comfortable pants and tops that Athleta makes for bodies like mine and gave me about fifty different looks with just a few pairs of pants, tops and sweaters.

How I walked in was not how I walked out. Yes. I am lucky to have the means to spend at a place like Athleta on a random Tuesday, but luck isn’t really the right word. I work hard. No one gave me this money I chose to spend that day. I am not reliant on a partner for income. I have chosen my life with a six hundred hour schooling and license in the beauty business.

My success in life is not luck, it is hard work and I want to feel outside like I do inside when I come upon the reflection staring back at me. My afternoon with a young woman’s expertise in not only knowing what to bring into the changing room, but to service me the way salespeople are supposed to take care of clients changed me. It changed my day, my outlook, my approach to my mid fifties and it gave me the inner beauty I espouse as my mantra of importance in the business I am lucky to have made a life from.

Beauty has so many layers. We must feel inside first. Outside can be a cape, or a body bag. If we rely too much on outward appearance, we often don’t allow the people around us to know that our insides may not match. In my case, I have a strong inside belief system of inner beauty, but I was finding that I couldn’t come up with a look that mirrored this anymore. And ironically this was causing disruption in my vibe.

Kayla and her sweet and kind smiling professional expertise changed this for me. As I walked out of the store that day with my fifty new looks, I was changed. Five years after my first breast cancer diagnosis on almost my fiftieth birthday, I wrote a piece called THE CHANGING ROOM. I didn’t realize back then how apropos that piece would be for the next five years of my life. But today as I reflect back on the past five fleeting years, I was lost and now I am found. New boobs, new clothes and a style that matches my insides is a trifecta of good change.

I am grateful for the random meeting of Kayla this past Tuesday and if any of you superchicks out there need a new style that is both casual and comfortable and don’t mind spending some money, give her a call and let her help you in your own changing room.
#Luckyindeed.

FRIENDSHIP, life lessons

MY FRIEND, ROS

I can’t even remember what I was looking for the other day as I poured through my drawers looking aimlessly. I am not the type of person who loses things but rather “misplaces” them. Temporarily lost items always turn up at some point. Whether I pray to St. Anthony or not.

I opened up the top drawer of my great grandmother’s old dark wooden buffet that would likely appear these days on a Pinterest board as a definite “before.” These days it seems the up and coming home owning, apartment dwelling generation prefers furniture that is distinctly in the after category. High gloss white with some bright insides drawer color taken from the latest Benjamin Moore 2020 paint trends, replacing the wooden knobs with something different erasing the history that lives in an old piece of furniture likely from the early 1900’s. Though it may certainly brighten the piece sitting in the corner of my living room, I can’t imagine interrupting its history like that.

As I made my way through the drawers of silver Kiddish cups used for the Jewish Holidays and the other serving pieces passed down from three generations, I made my way to the top drawer where I keep all of those little memorial cards of people who have since passed on.

Some people may cringe at the notion that I have a drawer of these and may even consider this a some weird drawer of death, but I consider it a drawer of memory. It reminds me how fragile life is, how we are just a mere speck on this planet we get to very briefly reside in and on. It is also a trigger for me to remember people that were once a part of my daily life, but are now people I have to consciously bring back to life with thoughtful and mindful recollection.
As I affectionately made my way through one card after another I noticed the different sizes, the one line poems, prayers and quotes that tried to sum up a person’s life in a less than two inch by three inch piece of card stock. These cards are their tributes, the takeaways for the people attending their wakes and funerals and I always take them.

When I was a little girl attending Hebrew School and Sunday School, the Rabbi’s wife taught some classes. Her name was Mrs. Weinberg and she was very religious and also very kind. She taught us to crack eggs in glass cups and look at them to make sure that they didn’t have any blood in them as this would make them non-kosher and unusable. To this day, when I crack an egg, I think of her and actually have a bit of a pang of guilt if I use the egg anyway. The decision to use an egg from my six dollar dozen of organic, free range local grown usually overrides her voice promptly avoiding wasting a perfectly good egg while people are starving somewhere. (My apologies, Mrs. Weinberg.)

She also taught me that when you write the word G-d, you write it with a dash so that if the paper ever gets thrown out, you are not throwing G-d’s name away in vain. To this day, I still do this. This habit has become so automatic that I even do it in text messages. I am confident Mrs. Weinberg would have been proud of one of her students continuing this habit well into the world of tech since the possibility of a simple click of a button erasing G-d’s name with barely a glance was nowhere near our imagination in 1970.

My son went off to Catholic School for his high school years just to shake up his notion of religion showing him another side of the coin. His religious teacher kept correcting his way of writing the name of G-d in his assignments. When he brought this to my attention, I told him to speak to her about why he did this, but he was uncomfortable doing it as one of the only Jewish kids in a freshman class at a very traditional Catholic high school.

I called the religious teacher and explained to her the reason, knowing she would completely understand. She thankfully did and expressed how much she appreciated knowing this wishing that my son had told her. We hung up each learning something from each other’s tradition and I am sure she took this with her to her future students who may have not been Catholic. She probably thought my son was way more religious than we actually were too likely scoring points in the future of his religious classes.

This brings me back to the memorial cards, I just feel weird throwing them out, like writing G-d without the dash. So I will leave them to my son to have to deal with after I move on and onto my own card (though, for the record, I want my card to be way bigger, like my friend Ros, who appropriately had a newspaper for his takeaway). Ros’ father had owned our small town newpaper and he owned it after his father.

I came across his four page piece that was used at his service three years ago and took it out to remember my fondest memories of an old friend who was like a father, a brother, a great uncle and trusted advisor more than anything. What would Ros do? What would Ros say? I think this a lot. He is right up there with my grandparents sound advice over the years.

Our lives are made up of millions of sparks of other people. Ros had a lot of sparks to share and I have a lot of them inside me. Political discourse, small town politics, true gentlemanly behavior, thought provoking conversation, love of chocolate and red wine, Friday nights by the fire with appetizers and reviews of the latest local gossip, quiet charitable persona, love of preservation of Linden Place, July 4TH, how to compost, why to compost, best blueberry jam ever, love of travel and LOVE OF LIFE IN GENERAL.

Ros died suddenly at the ripe age of 90 while he was in one of his most treasured places vacationing with his beloved wife on this day, three years ago today, February 7, 2017. As sad as it was to lose such a ripe and bright man who to all of us seemed like he would go on forever, he went out with a bang in a place that gave him so much pleasure. In hindsight it seems fitting for his exit. To make his life not just a fleeting moment while his body awaited for a traditional funeral, but rather a month long job in getting his body back to the states and all that this entailed. His grand re-entrance to Bristol from his vacationing joy.

Every time I crack my eggs like Mrs. Weinberg taught me and put the shells in the compost bin, like Ros taught me and walk it out to his very compost barrel, those sparks of important people like Ros are with me. Every time I nibble on a few Ghirardelli chocolate chips to satisfy my craving, or pour a glass of red wine on a Friday night, I think of my friend Ros and of an era gone by.

Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing Ros on any level at all, knows exactly what I am talking about and if you didn’t know him, I am sure you know someone like him in your life. Take out the memorial card and remember that person. It will calm a busy mind, or a distracted heart. Even though it is so sad to lose an elder in our lives, the lessons and joyous life experiences from these special souls are with us for our remaining time.
March Forth, dear Ros and to all of us who will always miss his bright light and curious mind.

AGING, Women

CLARITY IS POWER

New Year’s resolutions are powerful. They wake up my sleepy procrastinating self and propel me into a momentum of unstoppable energy that screams progress! and success!. They can also be anti-climatic. So many of us who set them on December 31st find ourselves breaking them just one or two days later. There is that line from a Jimmy Buffet song that comes to my mind. “There’s a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.” New Year’s resolutions are so easy to fantasize about when you are drinking your third glass of bubbly over a slice of cheesecake on Christmas Eve with only a few days ahead to make the lists about what next year will be.

Sometimes I get nostalgic and start rummaging through my old journals to see where my mind was at twenty years ago. Besides the fact that most of the writing seems to come directly from my less informed ego, there are endless lists with the intense theme of self improvement.

Do more yoga, meditate more, work out three times a week, prepare my food Sunday for the week, travel to….., save more money, spend less money,  be in nature more, spend more time with family, clean my house once a week on such and such a day.

One big tiresome and overachieving yawn from the perch of this soon to be fifty- five year old brain. The beauty of hanging on to my old journals is the reference point of before. Before the work, before the life experience, before the therapy and before I completed even twenty-five percent of the endless lists I used to make on those hopeful first days of whatever year it was soon to be.

This is the magic of a list and a resolution though, the magic itself- the hope for something different in our lives, an improvement, a change. New Year’s resolutions have power because they say, YES, Anything is possible. They are like huge buckets containing desires, dreams, plans, ideas, hope and we throw them all in hoping even one doesn’t fall through the cracks. If it doesn’t, well, there is always next year if we’re lucky. Resolutions speak to our undying belief that there will be a new year again— that there will always be another chance. We have the privilege of an undying optimism in that moment.

Personally, I take great comfort in allowing myself the freedom to even consider it as possibility. As I get older, however, there is much less of this freedom and much more of a time crunch. I find myself throwing less in the New Year’s bucket, but what I do throw in has much more substance and far less ego. 

Of all the shards of aging, the softer side of it is definitely the de-ego-ing of oneself. I know “de-ego-ing”  is not a word, but there is no other way to describe the unveiling, the unlayering, the unraveling of the mysterious ego so central to the first four decades of my life. Even admitting it takes a de-structuring of sorts. 

Like a Back to the Future episode, I am time warped into  my psychology 101 class taught by an old salty teacher, Mr. Malcolm, where I was introduced to Freud’s model of the ego, the id and the superego. I think I was a freshman in high school, 1979ish when I first heard Freud’s theory. Ego can be an antagonizing struggle in our young lives well into our adulthood. When I asked the question to google, What is the purpose of ego?, The answer came like a genie out of a bottle and answered it perfectly. 

“Ego has a big and beautiful purpose in our life. It is said that the purpose of ego is to cause you great levels of unhappiness and suffering so that hopefully one day after trying to change the world and people around you, you can look inside and decide to change yourself.” -Diego Castro

This has been my revelation lately. I don’t know if it is age, if it is being diagnosed with breast cancer twice since I turned fifty, if it is repairing my relationship with my mother, my son graduating from college this year, or a new decade, but there is something magical happening to me, and I can only explain it as a deconstruction of ego in my life. 

I have become much kinder to myself. I don’t mean kinder in a material external sort of way, like getting more facials and buying more shoes, but rather kinder with patience, self care and self love. I have notoriously been my own worst critic. Ninety percent of the things I have said to myself, I would never say to anyone. No matter how many affirmations I have placed around my environment or how many self help books on my shelf, it was the day to day moment to moment mantras that have spewed from that monster of a critic to myself. These mindless thoughts have lacked consciousness and were so often on auto pilot, that it has taken great care and mindfulness to even realize the painful inner dings that they have produced.

The mean voice, the ego voice that says not good enough, not right, not now. But fifty- five is changing this paradigm. I find myself saying if not now when? I find myself creating less internal drama about situations that won’t matter even a week from now. I find myself making decisions about decisions and changing my mind because it doesn’t feel good in my heart to stay with what I thought was going to be a good decision. And not feeling bad about the change of heart. And I am fascinated by this new found clarity. 

What has been the catalyst for this new found power, I ask myself? The shift came at last year’s resolution when I made the commitment to start meditating regularly. While the coffee was perking- basically not much more than eleven minutes almost every day. I have read that meditation actually changes your brain. I don’t know what science I can share other than my own experience with forcing myself (and there are those days when I do force myself) to sit cross legged in silence and breathing deeply.  What I do know is that I feel better, calmer, more organized, kinder, more patient with myself. I know that I care less about what is happening outside of my body and I care more about what is happening inside it. 

This is freedom, this is clarity. And I like it a lot. 

Perhaps it is everything. A compilation of sorts of all of the work I have done over the years investing in myself and my patterns in my constant quest for self improvement. It’s not that I don’t give a shit, It is that the shit is shifting. I just am starting to give a shit a little more about me and my own needs. What do I need? What do I want to say yes to or no to? Is it possible to keep some of my personal power and strength for myself instead of feeling like a vessel with a leak? 

Perhaps these feelings and realizations happen to all women heading over the curve of fifty five speeding towards sixty right around the bend, but I’ll take it. I am willing to trade in the inner voice that says, why did you eat that? How come you didn’t go to the gym today? You shouldn’t buy that. Why did you say that? I am willing to have my body shape just be good enough and the wrinkles forming from my very smiley face along with the age spots on my hands and the weird skin tags showing up seemingly overnight also be fine. I am willing to have all of that if the trade off is this magnificent clarity.

Clarity is power means that I am clear as a bell about my intentions. That I choose to live in the matching truth of my insides and my outsides. That I keep some of my personal growth and its power for me and my own needs sharing when it feels right, but being quiet and contemplative too. Of course, it has only been two weeks into this New year, this new decade, but if this is the feeling that I get so quickly from meditating and aging, I’m all in. 

I pose the question to all of my superchicks out there headed to the mid fifties tag, if not now when? What can be different right now? What changes can you make on your inside so it matches your outside? What is your clarity this year? Clarity is powerful, I send some your way today. Happy New Year and Happy New Decade.