Beauty, business

FIGHTING FOR BEAUTY

Hair salons are not spas. Neither are nail salons. Nail salons are not hair salons either. The beauty business is usually in the bottom of the barrel when it comes to most conversation. That is until someone needs their hair colored or their eyebrows waxed. But now- during Covid- the beauty business and all of its economics- gets lumped into one big pile.

Comparatively speaking, hair salons are much easier to get up and running than a nail salon or a skin salon or spa. Taking the obvious impossibility of social distancing out of the equation, at least in a hair salon the hair stylists are standing up above the client, they can wear a mask or a shield, and so can the client. They can sort of wear gloves, maybe a little more difficult cutting hair than applying color, but compared to a spa, a much more adaptable predicament.

Nail salons are right in someone’s face, again though easier to wear a mask since there is no direct connection with the face. But here it is a little trickier since skin is flying, cuticles, nail dust and potential of blood is more likely. Same with pedicures, and the common denominator with hands and feet is that they are known for their harboring of germs. Sanitation isn’t often what the multitude of nail salons are known for and there is little policing of it before Covid. I shudder to think of how this will be policed during.

Then there are the spas. The skin studios. The businesses of skin beauty that are not medical. Medical falls into a different set of rules and regulations for monitoring best practices. Spas fall under beauty and, again, the regulations, though they try to be clear, most sanitation happens because of the good consciousness of the owners and the systems in place for running a strong operation.

There is also the obvious to me, but clearly not so obvious to the people deciding who will open when, and that is the physical aspect of getting a service, completely different from a haircut. Logistically it is easier to separate, often the services are in separated rooms, closed off from each other so this is a plus. But these rooms are often less than 8×10 and have more of a deliberate cocoon feeling on purpose for the intimacy these services provide. These services offer respite and care.

They offer intuitive touch, closeness and deep breathing. They are about great skin so this means, lots of massage and mask applications, hand to face connection that has now turned into hand to face combat like a war instead of the love they were set out to give.

They are about pore cleaning, yes with gloves, but blood is sometimes a possibility, they are about intimate bikini waxing, closer than this writing needs to write, but I am guessing you get the point. Again gloves are used, but then there is the disposing of all of this.

I think there are three E’S to consider.

Engagement. Environment. Economics.

The latter two are pretty obvious, but the rules of engagement make it impossible to perform the services that the spa business commands. The business we are known for. Touch. Intuition. Hugging. Hand shaking. Getting under blankets, changing into gowns, more sheets and towels than I care to think about, (well… how about $1500 a month for the sanitized linen service in case anyone was wondering).

At my business, and many other spa business owners this unfortunate pandemic has introduced me to, we have always done it the right way. Despite the fact that we are mostly under regulated, often barely mentioned in this world of Covid, but employ hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women.

Women who will find it difficult to return to work for all three of the E’s. Their kids are no longer in school and they are home, home schooling, they are rethinking their entire career choices wondering if they will ever get back to the business of beauty and touch they have loved for their careered lives.

And not so much when and how, but if they even want to. And yes. These are careers for these people, not a hobbies or silly playing store kinds of jobs.

The beauty business is a multi billion dollar business employing millions of people across the world. There are the makeup counters, the retail, the gyms and yoga studios that have saunas and steam rooms and whirlpool baths. There are the hotel spas, the small one room and the large twenty room spas. There are the franchises.

Are we doomed? No. But for the next two years as we slug our way out this mess, we have some serious grown up business decisions to make. Last night, I listened to Tiffani Faison, a multi location Boston restaurant owner and James Beard nominee. She was being interviewed by Jim Braude from Greater Boston and she was saying the exact same thing I have been saying.

If we are expected to operate at less than a certain level of productivity, we operate at a loss. Our business models rely on a certain amount of traffic. We, in the beauty business whether we like to admit it or not, sell time. The more time we sell, the better our businesses operate.

Selling a certain amount of time is what sustains our companies. Without this formula, it is impossible to work unless landlords want to drastically cut our rents in our high rent districts that afford us the opportunities to have the businesses we have. And they have to make a living too, they have their set of parameters that make their businesses of landlording run efficiently.

This is a conundrum. Reinvention is a possibility, but how? My landlord said to me recently, Alayne, you’re a fighter. He doesn’t have to tell me something I know deeply about myself.

But the unique question is not whether I am a fighter, but rather, do I want to fight?

I love my business, I enjoy my team immensely. Many business owners can’t say this, but I can. Sure, I realize that they are employees and I am the employer, but my team is my heart. I go to bed, just like I heard Tiffani say last night, thinking about what I am going to do, how am I going to operate and sustain their livelihood. And mine. Because without my livelihood, there is no livelihood.

I fight for my company, but I also fight for safety. We can’t possibly open under these conditions in the way that my business model and every spa owner I know operates in. I am not willing to take on boatloads of debt for a business that may or may not be a sustainable operation in the next two years just to reopen half ass.

Clients are all letting me know they can’t wait to come back, but what does that even mean? Will they? I don’t even know if my team will be able to come back, and it is not because of their stimulus checks. I am tired of hearing that this is the main problem with people not returning to work. My team has no childcare, they have to worry about their safety in a business of intimacy like no other.

I always said that the business of beauty was one of the mighty ones.

Liquor and Lipstick, the two businesses that historically thrive during a recession. My business has never steered me wrong, but this time, I am really not sure what type of business I am fighting for.

I myself have been getting pedicures, waxing, haircuts and facials since I was sixteen years old. That is forty years of beauty. My mother got me started with beauty early and I knew that this was my calling early on. For the past nine weeks I have missed at least eight beauty appointments that I would have had if not for Covid.

Oddly, I have managed. I am still alive. My toenails don’t look as bad as I thought they would, my long hair easily mends with a pony tail elastic. I miss my facials, but there is enough of my product to virtually learn an at home facial, not nearly the same, but it is good enough for now. Waxing is really the only thing I really need, but thankfully it is not short season so I have lived without this service too. (And for the amount of calories I have consumed on a daily basis, shorts will likely stay right where they are for quite some time anyway).

What I have found amazing is how much I have lived without. I have saved enormous amounts of money from not spending it on my beauty routine. And I was pretty simple before. So this leads me to think that as much as clients will want to return, will they return at the rate they did before?

The greatest thing about aging is that the fight is not based on ego anymore. Sometimes choosing to not fight is the person who wins.

We shall see.

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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.

life lessons

FALLING DOWN, GETTING UP

Meeting a new friend for lunch yesterday on a lovely Friday afternoon, the only stress I had was trying to find a parking space in Providence on a busy noon time slot. After circling the restaurant, Plant City, a new very hip and incredibly delicious vegan food fest, about six times, I decided that life is short and paid eight outrageous dollars for the mere convenience of removing stress from my already late self.

As I made my way into this food mecca of delight, I found my friend and we made our way to the Italian section of the restaurant and bellied up to the bar for conversation and pizza. Oh, and vegan raw lasagna which may sound awful to Italian food purists, but the taste sensation is really special. I am not a vegan at all, I love meat, but what I really love is food and its ability to bring out the most creative cooking among the brilliant chefs in our little state.

New friends are such a treasure and I have the luxury of meeting many cool chicks simply because I am in the beauty business and female energy abounds. I like that I am open to carving time to dive in to the Yes, Let’s make time for lunch answer when asked. I am even luckier that I am asked. More often than not, it is time well spent and yesterday was no exception as we inhaled the truffle pizza and had an indulgent mid afternoon glass of wine.

In my casual life I lead, I have also become more casual in my daily wardrobe, so yesterday I had decided to get it together and actually dress up a bit. These days, this means jeans, my favorite shoes I bought in Israel that I wished I had bought ten pairs of, and a nice top with some jewels- a little more than the typical athleisure (yes this apparently is a real word used to describe my daily uniform these days). I find myself clinging to comfort as my go to closet grab most days and I mostly don’t care about shoes and clothes anymore like I used to. Like I used to when the outside was more important than the inside.

I had one errand before heading home and that was to drop off my rent check around the corner. I had picked some flowers from my still very zinnia packed garden to bring with the check to my landlord’s receptionist I had gotten to know over the past twelve years. As I made my way up the stairs, I could hear the familiar sounds of the television he kindly allows them to keep on the reception desk to occupy their time when it is slow.

I walked in to his second floor office to find, not the familiar receptionist, but instead, a very pregnant one, whom I had never met before. I made my introductions, passed on the flowers and check and said goodbye. I was not rushing, I didn’t have anything in my hands besides my car keys and as I made my way out, I took a mint from the bowl and said good bye.

One habit I have added to my movement is to always lightly place my hand on any stair railing. My aunt had fallen and broken her ankle several years back, and it was a good reminder to be cautious on stairs. With the keys and the mint in my left hand, I placed my right hand on the railing and made my way down the stairs. Wait rewind. I thought this was what I did, but I don’t really know because within a split second, my Israeli shoed heels slipped out from under me and I slid down six or seven hard stairs to the hard landing. My tailbone, mid back and neck followed. I yelled, you know the type of uncontrolled yell like you do when you are on a roller coaster. The mint flew out of its wrapper and the keys went flying and I was in shock that this just happened.

The mint flying out of its wrapper was a clue that maybe I was trying to open it as I stepped on to the front stair which would mean that I didn’t put my hand on the railing before taking the first step. It is all a blur and doesn’t really matter because the end result was me on my ass and three people running to the unusual sound they heard. The sound of the full weight of me and the scream in the middle of a Friday afternoon was concerning. The pregnant woman whose name escapes me, the landlord and a lovely massage therapist from the first floor offices, who had been interrupted in the middle of her service because of the noise, all came rushing out to see what the commotion was.They found it alright, along with the mint and my keys, sitting breathless but, thankfully, conscious at the bottom of the stairs trying to determine if I should bounce up and brush it off or if I should take this more seriously.

Questions came flying out, Can I get you some water, are you dizzy, where does it hurt, can you breathe, I’ll get you some water, here is some water. I just kept saying, I just need to sit for a few minutes to catch my breath. Everyone was so kind, helpful, caring and concerned and I just sat patiently for a few minutes to evaluate how I landed on my ass in a split second. I knew enough than to berate myself because I didn’t do anything wrong. I wasn’t being careless. I wasn’t rushing. I was calm and happy, but I fell anyway. It felt like my heels slipped from under me, that is the only thing I can distinctly remember.

The textured rubberized stairs clearly designed for not falling were not wet, nor were my shoes. It was a freak fall. I slid down the stairs like a child on a newly wax papered metal playground slide from yesteryear. My tailbone took my entire weight, then my mid back then my neck then my head. My hands instinctively braced for the fall, causing my wrists to take some of the brunt. I could already feel the bruises forming. Was this all because of a fucking mint? The only reason I took the mint was because the lingering garlic from my lunch was so potent I was trying to defuse its aftermath.

No- I did not think I needed to go the hospital, no- I didn’t think I had a concussion. I would be fine. I was just trying to determine if I should drive or not so I sat and weighed my thoughts for a few more moments. I was sore but I felt fine enough. I would be bruised, both my body and my ego. As I find myself approaching fifty five along with my dear friends, our conversations are naturally starting to turn to ailments and health. We find ourselves laughing at this surprising turn of how did we get here conversation. A fall was just one of those things that is bound to happen. But for me the question was WHY? There always has to be a why for me. Just helps me understand and gives me direction.

I got up. Because this is just what I do. I get back up. I brushed myself off and made my way home. I packed up some clothes and made my way to my partner’s house. Just in case I did have a concussion and died in my sleep, I didn’t want to be alone. Yes, this dramatic thought ran through my head; who knows, I had never hit my head before. I didn’t play sports when I was a kid, I played the flute, hardly a chance to bang my head doing that. This was unfamiliar territory and as much as I minimize life coming at me, I was also pragmatic enough not to be foolish.

My lovely landlord reached out, obviously concerned, I jokingly told him that my fall got me out of my seven am workout the following day. As I laid on the couch tending to my very sore backside, I had a strange vision occur. The maybe answer to my why this happened.

I had never seen the receptionist who had been in the office yesterday. Maybe my fall was to create a hyper awareness in her pregnant self to be careful on the stairs. That fall I took yesterday could have been a fall she may have taken if she had been rushing like so many young moms. Maybe my fall was a guardian angel looking out for that little super being in her belly. Maybe this baby she is about to have has an added layer of protection as he or she makes her grand entrance into this chaotic world.

Yes- that is why I fell yesterday, for a higher purpose other than myself. It makes the fall worth it thinking about it in this light. We fall down, we get up, we start again and perhaps the lessons in our falls have nothing to do with us at all.

I thought I was going to wake up beyond sore, beyond bruised; in fact, I slept beautifully, and though I am a bit sore and a bit bruised today, I do think shifting the way I considered my accident yesterday healed me faster. I feel astonishingly good today.

To quote two of my favorites, ee cummings, “Thank you G-d for this most amazing day…. “ and Wayne Dyer, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Indeed.

AGING, life lessons

FROM A DREAM

Before I closed my eyes last night, after a good and hardy unexpected romp, I took several deep and grateful breaths. Flat out on my back, supremely satisfied with all my life is and has become, (I swear, no pun intended) I breathed in, saying my personal mantra that I rely on for a deep calm sense of peace,

I am in the divine right place at the right time, and I am always divinely protected and cared for.

Faith. I am so happy I have it as my secret weapon. Not the faith of a religious kind, but one of a spiritual one. The kind that stops me in my tracks when I spot a hummingbird in my garden on a bright pink zinnia. The faith that happens when I unabashedly use my scissors to cut the stems of my purple coned anise-hyssop plant as a swarm of bees drink their nectar. They seem unmoved by my presence, almost like they recognize me as their compadre, not their enemy, happy we live in a co existence both sharing the pleasures of their flowers in our own way.

I am not afraid. Clients and friends waiting for their luscious bouquets I happily donate to their kitchen counters, see me reach into the stems and comment, Oohh, Alayne, lots of bees…
Yes, I say with a slight touch of bravado, They are not interested in me, they only want the flowers. I know this because this has been my experience every season since I planted these flowers. I haven’t been stung yet. Don’t plan on it. We have an understanding, it seems.

Faith is a superpower for me. Anytime I have felt startled or dismantled in some way, I go to those two familiar lines and breathe them in. Even when I am not afraid, even when I am deeply satisfied in my life, I say them.
I am always divinely protected. Hey, whatever works as we spin through our short days in this life. I have learned that head speak is an important stress reducer and if a one line phrase can muster some good old fashioned peace and tranquility, it just has to be good for your soul.

Sometimes dreams have messages like this, too, and I had some beautiful dreams last night involving my dear friend, Jane. I woke up today happy to have remembered them so clearly. Sometimes dreams are like this, they create a vivid experience, so much so, that you question if they really happened. That was this morning.

I dreamed we were at her birthday party and our friend, Jen, was bringing in plastic sand toys, laying them on the floor as Jane sat at the head of the table with her head in her hands anticipating the surprise looming. Jen brought in three stacks of white boxes for Jane to have to open, the kind where there is a smaller one inside the next one and so on. They were wrapped with a satin bow and I knew that there was a gift of a trip to some place warm in the smallest one.

For some reason, in the dream, I felt the need to type a message and I quickly went over to my typewriter to type a note to put on the smallest box. As I went to type, I realized that the paper had already been typed on, so I took another piece of paper and realized that too had been typed on. I was trying to type this quickly so I could get it on the gift before she opened it, so I crumpled up those two pieces and woke up before finishing the note to these two phrases,

You are enough. You have enough. This is what I was intending to write before I woke up. That is what I woke up with as sharp as if someone was standing over me and saying it. Like Glinda the Good Witch or someone.

Whoa. What a way to wake up this morning.

You are enough. You have enough. I wanted to text Jane immediately to tell her I had this detailed dream, but she sleeps in, especially on a Saturday, and no matter how great this message is, she wouldn’t have been so elated to receive a six am text message. Instead, I decided to write this piece today to get it out of me so I wouldn’t forget.

You are enough. You have enough. Talk about a new mantra. Dreams are powerful. Like faith. They have those lovely messages sometimes that just sum up life in a neat little box with a pretty bow. Like the boxes Jane was going to open in my dream.

As I made my way downstairs to make some coffee and watch the sun rise I realized that there is a lot going on this weekend for me. This past week has been a week of leaning into allowing myself permission to give myself a break from my incessant need to accomplish tasks.As I opened the paper, I read a lovely essay by Jennifer Weiner, The Primal Thrill of a Cherry Tomato. I didn’t even really need to read the essay because the title was so aptly named, it said it all. But there was a perfect nugget of a paragraph I must share. She wrote:

These days with my 50th birthday looming, I think a lot about where the surprises are going to come from. Not the satisfaction, not the joy, but the unexpected delights — the didn’t-see-it-coming thrill you get from learning that your bid on the house was accepted or that you got the job offer or that you’re having a baby. At my age life doesn’t offer many firsts. It’s short on surprises, and the ones on offer aren’t pleasant. Instead of ‘congratulations, you’re pregnant,’ it’s more like ‘bad news, you need to get a gum graft.’
Which isn’t to say there aren’t upsides to being settled down. Chances are you’ve gained some wisdom. You’ve fallen in love and learned that no one dies of a broken heart, you’ve fallen on your face and you can almost always get back up.

There is that odd moment I can relate to she speaks of as I am in the in between space of my son just getting ready to graduate college this year, I am settled into my home, my career, my life, my partnership, my friendships are stable and life long, weeding out the ones that no longer serve. I sometimes find myself thinking with a micro speck of cynicism, What’s next? Where did the time go?

This week I learned, from my glorious and lovely bad ass Dr. W, that I no longer have to go for six month check ups for my previous breast cancer diagnosis and am now on one year check ups. I found out I have to have the entire duct work in my house cleaned and the only date they could do is on the first day of Rosh Hashanah which to some may seem blasphemous, but for me seems divinely appropriate for some reason. It’s like a full throttle house enema.

It’s like Jennifer Weiner said in her piece about surprises, but for me they don’t need to be the big ones. I am lucky I have experienced the big ones. I think aging is recognizing they don’t need to be exceptionally large and in your face. They can show up in your garden, in a one line essay title or in an unexpected lovely romp on Friday evening after a long day. They can show up in an abundance of monarchs on the result of fifty zinnia seed packets I basically threw with wild abandon this past May challenging them to prove the fittest survive theory (and it seemed like there were no weak ones this season).

This weekend my mother is visiting my son. We haven’t seen each other in five years and we just recently started speaking with each other again. And it feels redemptive and like part of the circle of life that is not a comma, but a solid semi colon that confirms there is a second part of what I am trying to say, but doesn’t need its own sentence, but also doesn’t need a gentle pause. We are in the early stages of accepting each other for who we are and more importantly forgiving each other for who we are no longer.

Surprises can be waking up from a dream with two beautiful phrases that I can take with me on my journey this weekend as I see my mother for the first time in too long of a time and know that healing stems from forgiveness and forgiveness and amends is exactly the calling of the Jewish New Year. Whether I go to High Holy Day services or go to dinner with my mother and my son, synagogue is what’s in my heart, not in a building, at least in my humble opinion.

You are enough. You have enough. Its message says loud and clear to accept myself and accept yourself. If this isn’t the simplest of surprises for this fifty five year old chick, I don’t know how it could be any better or bigger or more surprising than this.

AGING, self love, Women

DOES THIS MIRROR MAKE ME LOOK FAT?

Is it just me or are there fat mirrors and skinny mirrors? And here is my question for all the mirror makers out there, which one is the right one? What do we all really look like? And why do I even care anymore, other than when I get dressed in the morning and look at myself for a brief check and then that pesky bubble shows up over my head and says, omg what has happened to me?

I write a lot about self talk, perfectionism, self image and spin cycle brain. I am constantly at work on the never ending dialogue between my head and my core belief system. This wisdom and self awareness keeps me in check with my mostly happy existence I am mostly grateful for. Relatively speaking, this piece today is what people would refer to as first world problems. Every day I open the paper, I read about death, destruction and the rise of antisemitism that makes me feel like I am living in a real life version of The Handmaid’s Tale. Writing about fat and skinny mirrors doesn’t seem to be a newsworthy commentary.

This is embarrassing to write, but I forge ahead anyway. I know this conversation is one that makes me not alone in my thinking. Years and years of female speak by the line leading ladies in my family always discussing body size, the latest Weight Watchers recipe and the dreaded workouts at Gloria Stevens have left their mark no matter how much positive patty talk I give myself.

When I was in seventh grade, I clearly remember an eighth grade boy saying to me, Alayne, your face on Eva’s body…. Wow. And as he said this he closed his eyes and turned his head with a slightly upturn of his lips letting the fantasy of this hormonal boy designed girl simmer in his loins (apparently, Eva was the desired go to body of the moment and she was a year older than me). I remember thinking at that particular moment that I was not good enough. Rather than saying, go fuck yourself, what about your face and body? I took it like it was a directive. Boys had that power over young girls back then, at least over this boy crazy girl, who for some reason allowed them to decide my self worth fate for most of my adolescence.

Hopefully all of this chick power and positive self talk commentary we have been feeding our girls for the past twenty years has helped them define themselves on their own terms so they don’t have to be guided down the path of negative. But it seems that body image and negative body talk is still a problem with our young girls, the very ones we have been trying to teach to just own it.

Just when I think we are making headway by actually saying negative body talk as a phrase aloud, I see some wacky diet plan being thrown at an eight year old. This is not really some new phenomenon. In my possession, I have a book written by a doctor named Ruth West from the 1950s called, The Teenage Diet Book, given to me my one of my best friend’s moms when we were in 7th grade. I don’t know why or how I still have this book, but it is significant in relation to the blithering bubbles over my head as well as the conversations I have had with members of my female tribe for the last forty years.

this book by Dr. Ruth West written in the 1950’s. Clearly, throwing diets at our young children is nothing new.

I have always had issues with the way I have seen my body even when the way I should have seen it should have been with degrees of worship. I look back at the pictures from my earlier years when I used to use language like, I am so fat, as my perpetual inner dialogue. Then I look at the picture now and my mouth drops open. What a waste of a perfectly good body. Good body? What does that even mean? Shouldn’t it mean, healthy, able to breathe when walking up the stairs or hiking for six hours? Shouldn’t it equate with the word, alive?

As I write today, I am aware that it sounds like I lack the self worth and acceptance I espouse in so much of my writing. Though it may appear this way, I just think it is helpful to say aloud what the bubble over my head occasionally says in its uninvited phrases. The food down turns I have taken in my previous day or week start their yipping in my head labeling themselves as wrong, bad, dumb. I fully realize that this is not helpful. But it is hard to stop the train. And I consider that the years of being surrounded with constant discussion and commentary on body size not just from my own family, but in every piece of literature, magazine cover, and now the algorithms of social media and the internet have planted themselves like an innocent single stem of mint in the garden.

Dieting of yesteryear has turned into softer words, like wellness, clean eating, and it has created a tornado of advice from experts and self described gurus that has left me and my over thinking brain on overload. And almost every woman I know. What to believe? What to eat? What not to eat? Is it even possible to lose weight past fifty five? Then there is the discussion of “set weight” which if you haven’t heard that phrase, you may as well throw in the towel because whatever weight you lose, your body, biologically, won’t stay there as it will work hard to climb back to the old weight for some scientific reason I can’t possibly explain.

Why bother? Well for one, when I have gained ten pounds, I feel like shit. I feel bloated. Every outfit I put on feels like it shrunk and as I actually think this, I realize, oh shit, no the dryer is not expediting heat mysteriously shrinking my clothes, but rather the extra weight is making my clothes feel snug. Darn it. I was ready to call Gils Appliance and buy a new dryer. Then I look in the mirror and that bubble shows up and the voice starts its scolding, Why did I eat that ….. yesterday? I was supposed to start the Whole 30 for the thirtieth time. Come on Alayne, you are going to Florida in a few months….you better get ready.
So I do as Whole 30 commands, stop looking in the mirror. Don’t get on the scale. Just stop the madness. This always helps. And I come back to the beginning of this piece about the fat and skinny mirrors. I know they exist, they are in every dressing room that sells women’s clothing. They are definitely in bathing suit stores and lingerie stores. They are in my gym. And it gets me thinking about perception as reality. And my own reality of aging and the way my body is changing just because of aging.

I realize that I am lucky to be able to write this slightly self-deprecating piece. I am alive and anyone reading this is too. Fat mirrors, skinny mirrors aside, life is a process, and there is never likely going to be a time where I can 100% say good enough. This is the most ironic part of aging, this self-awareness in the midst of the bubbles over my head. Self acceptance is part of the evolution of aging and the more aging women I speak to, the more honest conversations we are having about this process. Honest conversations are the best part of aging with like minded women I surround myself with. Mirrors and extra ten pounds aside, truth is beauty and if aging is truth serum, then bring it on.

self love, Women

LOVELY MID-FIFTIES BADASS MANIFESTO

I am getting closer to my mid-fifties by the minute and I thought it would be fun to start a #lovelybadass manifesto. I want more loving and kind manifestos in this wacky world of hate and violence I have found myself in. If you want to add anything, send along, maybe we will end up with something so powerful we will rule the world with our badass goodness. I would like to add that my heroine, Doreen Wiggins, the loveliest bad ass ass I know is the one who bestowed this phrase upon me. THANK YOU D.

#LOVELYBADASSMANIFESTO

I will as often as possible lean into the good parts of myself. My shape, my skin, my wrinkles and age spots, right down to the hairs sprouting from every orifice EXCEPT my brows and eyelashes, the only hairs sprouting there are the grey wiry ones.

I will drink the fucking glass of wine or two or three or the whole damn bottle and enjoy it. I will cease and desist the perpetual blithering that happens before and after said glass of wine and just enjoy the need for some release.

I will as often as possible commit to loving my health by nurturing it with goodness. Good food, good thoughts, and good silence. And when I don’t do this perfectly as I know this is absolutely impossible to keep up, I will have a blast taking the deep dive down the rabbit hole and trusting that maybe this is just what my body and mind needs at the time.

I will continue to celebrate my life the way I want despite what every blog post screams at me from my unsolicited algorithms telling the algorithms to spew back on a daily basis. 10 WAYS TO SAVE MORE MONEY, 7 WAYS TO GET FIT IN 7 DAYS, 8 STEPS TO BE A HEALTHIER YOU can go fuck themselves. I going forward and sometimes backwards will make my own lists and follow them the way I want.

I will buy more typewriters with abandon no matter how crazy it is, I will celebrate my own crazy and people can come for the wild ride or not.

I will live and over commit to everything and either make it all happen or none of it because life feels urgent and messy and glorious to be in the muck. I will celebrate that this is just who I am no matter how many times I hear words like, Slow down, just say no and all of the other rules and regs from outside forces.

I will continue to have a love hate relationship with technology knowing that like football, I will never understand it because I don’t want to. THAT SIMPLE.

I will continue to surround myself with only people, places and things that bring me joy. This is something I have complete control over and I will move into my mid fifties knowing it is my right to choose each time, every time.

I will look affectionately at every tight assed gorgeous twenty year old who has the confidence of a young #lovelybadass. I will smile at them and not wish their age on anyone because no matter how tight their ass is in a thong at the beach, no matter how smooth their youthful glowing skin is, if they are lucky to make it to my age and beyond, they too will be me on the beach looking at them. Admiration is a lovely gesture and I bestow it on them with happiness thinking also, this too will pass.

I will smile at everyone. Strangers and babies and dogs. Even if I don’t get a smile in return. Even if they are not smiling at me first. I will do this because I enjoy smiling at people.

I will cut flowers and give them to random people because I have a killer garden and why not share some of it with strangers and friends. Like a thank you note, flowers spread love.

I will come up with a billion ideas and likely only execute less than 1% of them. This is just how my brain works. I accept this despite how many of my friends likely roll their eyes every time I share a new idea.

I will talk to anyone and everyone, who wants me to, about my mastectomy, my breast implants from my mastectomy, and all of the boob conversation that happens. Because what lies in front of me in the mirror every day is my luck that it was caught early, that I have a sense of perpetual urgency to live with wild abandon that at times gets me in trouble, and an upright and almost perfect set of tatas that deserves low cut dresses. (Thank you Dr. Michaud).

I KNOW, RIGHT?

I will always work out. Of all the healthy lifestyle choices I make, exercising is the most important for my mental health and my physical health. And if I don’t get to the gym, I will go outside and walk even if it is around the block. Nature is youth and happiness serum. No question it is what has rebounded my body into the speedy recovery from three breast cancer surgeries, surgical menopause and crazy brain.

I will blow off working out too.

While I am working out with loud music and my lovely trainer telling me to squat and then jump to a burpee and do a bicep curl like this is something normal, I will stop critiquing my hips and my flabby arms as I do this with the mirror staring me back. I will blame my flabby arms on breast cancer surgery. Why not? Free pass, right?

I will offer with wild and joyous abandon my help to anyone starting their own businesses. Pay it forward helps propel success. Success helps people pay it forward. Simple pleasures.

I will continue to say the word, fuck, because there is nothing like this word to get a point across. And there is nothing like fucking. And yes I will say this too.

I will say I love you to friends and family often. Maybe too much. Why not? I will continue to work on my five favorite relationship words, THE FIVE A’S from the incredible David Richo, who wrote a book that could easily be the only wedding gift for a new couple or anyone for that matter. This book changed my life, How to Be An Adult in a Relationship. ATTENTION. ACCEPTANCE. APPRECIATION. AFFECTION. ALLOWING.

If I start to go negative about something, I will do my best to change the conversation to gratitude. It never fails me. Not always easy when my brain starts spinning into the oblivion of negative thinking, but when I remember to go to what I am grateful for there is an immediate shift. EVERY TIME.

I will speak my mind when I see both subtle and loud patriarchy. It is the silent killer of feminine energy and I will no longer be silent.

I will say the words vaginal dryness.

I will continue to connect with people and create connections. Supportive, kind connection is what gives me pleasure and I want pleasure.

I will try my hardest to rest, to read in the middle of a day even when there is so much on my to do list it is making my head spin. I will stop. I will stop. I will stop. Clearly, this is not easy.

I will type on my typewriter collection and, snail mail, send more thank you notes I will do this often because typing on a real old school typewriter and writing with an actual pen and paper gives me a sense of calmness, it is almost like meditation. And it is sending kindness and light through the real air waves. No social media can ever replace receiving a real typewritten or hand written thank you note.

I am sure I will think of many more once I hit the send and publish button. Manifestos, when used for goodness, are like this; they invoke more goodness. We need more goodness. We need more kindness. We need more connection. And goodness knows we need more women speaking their truths ALOUD AND LOUD.
#LovelyMIDFIFTIESbadass indeed.

MORE:

I will not talk about food and the consumption of it as good or bad. I’ve been good will no longer exist as a description of my previous day’s history.

I will offer help if I see a stranger struggling with putting groceries in the car. They can say no, but I will offer to help.

I will eat the mother fucking ice cream whenever I want. And if Ben and Jerry’s continues to call their pints, three servings, I will start a boycott because it is not normal to think that a pint should not be eaten in at the most 2 sittings, (ie within an hour of each other)

I will continue to bang and bop my head when Robert Plant sings, “When the juice runs down my leg” Or when ACDC screams some misogynist song realizing completely that this goes against everything I have ever fought for because the beat and the headbanging sounds and the singing at the top of my lungs overrules every modern era #metoo movement. I grew up in the most misogynistic era listening to ads that say things like “boys don’t make passes at girls that wear glasses.” I am confident in my ability to separate. So: For those about to rock, we salute you. 

I love not having to ever wear a bra again. #Goreconstructionafteramastectomygo

Ditto for never having to buy tampons or maxi pads again where I had previously never considered that the tax that has been charged on these as a luxury item shocks me more that I never questioned it all of those years. I shudder to think about how much that adds up to. Shameful. Misogynistic. Way more than ACDC if you ask me.

More to follow I am sure.

 

 

self improvement, WOMEN'S HEALTH

NOT DRINKING TODAY (AGAIN)

OK…. A FEW COCKTAILS HERE. (but it was july 4th in bristol, ri….)

self improvement, Women, WOMEN'S HEALTH

SOUND THE ALARM

These days when I see a group of women at an outdoor event in nice summer dresses talking to each other, I can’t help but think of Margaret Atwood’s book that has become the creepy Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale. Once I shake that nightmare of a dystopian visual, that feels closer to reality every day, off, I am quickly brought back to reality. Thankfully, this was not the case yesterday because I was a guest at a very lovely non-dystopian chick event, sponsored by a new Women’s Collaborative called Siren.

I made my way through this book launch and signing event held at Blithewold Mansions and Gardens in Bristol, RI. It was well attended and many of the sixty women in attendance were not on their phones trying to capture every waking minute. They were engaging, listening, looking towards each other and enjoying the brilliant company of other like minded women. Despite the heat, this alone was refreshing.

“Do you have a card?” I had asked a few women, fully realizing that I had forgotten my own. A few women had cards and a few did not.
I will not look at Facebook. I will not look at Facebook, I found myself mumbling to myself when I got home afterwards. Meeting some of these great women, I didn’t want to forget their names and I wanted to continue our connection post event so I had to look them up.

Innocent enough, but many of us likely know now what happens when we attempt a ‘quick’ look at social media. These days between friend requests, comments, new photo uploads, page likes and all of the other mumbo jumbo that happens between people thinking they are connecting with each other, I find myself getting sucked into the vortex of incredible time wasting. Or is it? I don’t know. As I made my way into the search bar so I could friend request them or message them, that little gremlin of a voice murmured, just check the feed, alayne….. Real quick.

Yeah, right. There is nothing quick about social media. Part of the draw is staying connected, not missing something, keeping communication lines flowing so that the very lines of this communication seem like they are doing something. But are they?

Yesterday at this Siren event, we were more connected than any Facebook post or Instagram photo could ever be. We stood together in the scorching, unusually hot morning, sipping our sparkling water in our lovely summer dresses and we connected. Eye to eye, person to person. What struck me between the photos being taken was that of all the women there, it seemed most were not there to tag themselves on Instagram and make it a social media extravaganza, but rather to just simply BE together.

Sixty or so women in a beautiful setting on a record breaking heat wave day should have made us all refer to the day, instead, as Hotter Than Ever. We were a force to be reckoned with and not because we were protesting or speaking out against something. We do plenty of that, but instead we were just together, being women. Celebrating our potency, our hearts and minds without even having to say it aloud.

This vapor we share between us was what makes us have that potential bond of pure power when we allow and accept our strengths as a collaborative group. Siren has created this. I immediately fell in love with the intention and its stunning group consciousness yesterday. I was able to, first hand, witness female stories from their own real voices, person to person, chick to chick. I was able to be part of their body language and their core essence. I got to smell their perfume, see their hair color, their makeup or their choice to wear none. I was part of their story just by being in the same space.

I connected with a woman who used to be a therapist and one day, she thought to herself, I can’t do this anymore because I just wanted to say to the woman I was counseling, ‘When are you going to leave the asshole? He is never going to change.’ So as any good therapist would do, she left her career and figured out a different one. Realizing a business opportunity of cleaning vacation homes instead, she is now a successful business owner and had contributed a South African fish recipe to the book being featured. I would have never known this if we hadn’t had the eye to eye contact, the handshake, the conversation.

This quick story that tumbled out of her mouth over recipe sharing would have been lost on social media. She probably would not have even shared the story because it was something that came organically between two women speaking with each other. In person. Live.

I also heard a young woman yesterday who figured out her own compass through the worried eyes of her children and managed to get out of an abusive relationship. She shared her life story giving us the gift of realizing our own vulnerabilities in the throws of power and abusive relationships. She was able to get out and she lived to speak of it with a softness in her voice, an inner strength in her heart and an authentic depth to her story that made us weep. For her. For her children. For the women who never get out right along with the pieces of the puzzles of our own twists and turns.

Siren. Sound the alarm. Code Red. Firetrucks, police cars and ambulances. Women being women with women. In person. It was a morning of surprise for me and I was so grateful to have landed there.

We are in a fragile space right now. We have a deep need for connection and are getting further and further away from the very part of who we are as women who need acceleration in true human connection, not distance from it. I don’t think I even spend that much time on my phone or on social media, but then Apple in all of its wisdom reminds me of how much time I am truly spending by sending me little text updates.

The irony is hard to grapple with. The ease of finding some of these ladies I had the pleasure of meeting yesterday was easier because of social media. But I grapple with this being the easiest way to further my dialogue. Here I am writing this piece, knowing full well that many people will only be able to read it because of social media. In the old days, it would have needed to be published old school somehow in order for it to be received. I am appreciative of what social media has offered me as a former closet writer.

When women are together in these types of female centric events, the word “balance” often comes up. These days there is so much to be balanced I often wonder if there is enough time left for us to figure out what it even means. Balance is bullshit, in my opinion. Social media is a space that takes us from what we need to be doing so we stay healthy in mind, body and spirit. How does social media allow touch and smell? It doesn’t. How do we know if who we are speaking to on it are who they say they are? We don’t. Or with artificial intelligence these days if they even look like they really are.

Yesterday was a wake up call. Sound the alarm to remind us loud and clear that between our busy lives, our running, our texting, our scrolling and time away from authenticity, we need each other. I don’t have any science to proclaim what I say to be true. All I have is the feeling I left with yesterday in being in the presence of sixty women in our own heat. We didn’t need the heat of the sun to make us hot. We had each other and this was just the beginning.

AGING, Women

MAN-O-PAUSE

“You definitely need to workout in nature outside, often,” my dear and beloved fitness trainer, Kathy M., said to me after we finished an ass kicking workout yesterday.

We were speaking of menopause. Again. This is the hot, (pun totally intended), topic these days. It seems like every woman I know is talking about menopause. Maybe this is such a hot button issue because we are seeing the benefits of women entering the medical profession over the last twenty years. Finally, we are seeing the results of their influence.

Women are talking about menopause like it is, in fact, something. No kidding. Something indeed. We are actually saying the words, vaginal dryness, out-fucking-loud in daily conversations with other women. Hallelujah!

Nature is my solace for my post menopausal brain. No matter what is happening in my spinning washing machine cycle head, as soon as I go outside and smell the air, I am better. Going through menopause is one thing, but like a mastectomy and reconstruction, it is what happens after the dust settles where the real psycho body and mind shit starts kicking in. This is when we need to be talking and walking. Now.

I don’t mean to keep repeating the obvious, but since my grandmother never said the word, vagina aloud ever, I do so for any woman who lived before me in hot and dry silence. Vaginal dryness, belly bloat, weird crepey, saggy skin that is starting to creep in, cellulite and flab, no matter how many protein shakes and push ups. Seriously, when I smile now, my upper lip seems to stay back before it bounces back. My hair is on speed dial causing a full time date with the morning light and the magnifying mirror I previously vowed complete celibacy to, never mind looking in the rear view car mirror. Wouldn’t matter anyway since I can’t see anymore. I envy when women say, “hair barely grows on my legs anymore.” In my dreams.

Since I now need a magnifying mirror, this comes with its own set of warnings, like the magnification of every brown spot and line that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I just noticed the other day in that unfortunate light that my eye lid is starting to head south, like over my eyeball. Thankfully I have stopped wearing makeup so at least the mascara won’t land on my cheek. My mother taught me good skin care early on, and I actually listened, since moisturizing regularly has certainly paid off. I have pretty good skin, but since this has been my profession, I suppose it better be good.

Then there is the sitting in my beach chair and looking down at my stomach that belongs to some other woman. Where did the rolls come from? And I am not talking rolls because I am overweight. I am just speaking of my skin that now just rolls. How and when did they arrive? I swear, five minutes ago I was strutting around in a bikini, a real bikini, not a tankini, not a skirt, and now I am here at the beach thinking maybe my two piece life is actually really over for good.

I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes with a foot or a leg cramp that jolts me out of bed reminding me that I need to be more regular with the magnesium. Then there are the conversations about all of this happening like we chicks are the first ones to ever experience any of this, (of course writing about all of this doesn’t warrant talk about flowers and shopping, I get that). Well, we are surely not the first, but we may just be the first to actually say it loud and proud, like it is some badge of honor instead of some hysterical Freudian hallucination.

I look at the young mamas with their babies and fifteen hundred dollar strollers prancing around with their latte in the cup holders that now come with said strollers. They walk with their phone in one hand adorned with their athletic wear like having a baby these days is some type of fashion show. I am so happy I am past that point of no return. Way too much technology these days distracting these parents from the present moment. My friends and I can’t help but live in the present moment of hot flashes and night sweats that came without warning taking over our bodies. And our minds.

Sometimes I don’t even know how my brain works each day. I am thankful for nature, meditation, working out, and connection. Connection is what keeps me sane these days. Connection with myself, my body’s new reality, and my friends and family. (And wine, but more on this later.) This is all we have. And we, in our circle of fifty something chicks, seem to be realizing this wholeheartedly.

This is the good part of menopause, it reminds me with each and every flash to wake up, pay attention, that time is moving along and I might want to start that bucket list or project I have on my endless to do list. (To do lists becoming more necessary because of the memory lapsing that I will add here as another end result of menopause.) Better yet, as Arianna Huffington said in a great interview, “You can also just simply take the to do off of the to do list and call it a day.” Amen. Just saying that feels liberating.

Instead of calling it menopause, maybe we should call it, Man, do I pause. Because if menopause has taught me anything, it is to pause. It is to take notice and realize that these hot flashes, that have finally slowed down, are to remind me that I am ready for the next phase. No more babies, no more adolescents, college graduation looms large this upcoming year for my only child and I am realizing that have my whole life ahead of me.

Man, do I pause, because the only person left standing is me. I get to choose the next part. I have my man, sure, but I am solo by choice in the sense of decision making, life ahead and wonder and creativity abounds. This is a great time to pause. I am done here, but not there. The there is next. Let’s just hope for a little moisture in the there, is that too much to ask?

Lines, greying hair, white hair in my eyebrows, man-do- I-PAUSE.