If You’re From Florida, Press 1

Call centerI’m not a modern technology hater. For the most part, I’m consistently amazed by, and appreciative of, the technological advances that continue to improve our lives on a daily, if not hourly, basis. We are lucky to live in a First World country where we quite literally have the internet at our finger tips at all times. The time it takes to do pretty much anything is a fraction of what it used to be.

Even just in the years since my days in college, the changes to how we do things have been rather amazing. At my first job, I had a typewriter and a desk phone. We relied on messenger companies to get materials to other offices in a rush, then were thrilled at the speed of fax machines. If we needed information, we did research through other people, telephones, libraries and books. Personal, face-to-face interaction was a constant.

Now we spend more time with our devices than with other people. My computer screen at work sees my face far more than even my husband does. When we walk away from our desks, we still have our mobile units readily available at a moment’s notice. The other day I was standing in my kitchen trying to remember how many cups there are in a pound. Rather than rely on my memory, or search out a recipe conversion chart in a cookbook, I asked Siri. While watching TV with my husband, if we start wondering what that actor’s name is, or what movies he starred in, we simply pick up the iPad to find out. If we are trying to decide where to go to dinner, we can research not only the locations, but their menus, and get ratings from other patrons, all before we get into the car.   If I want to know if I have time to get the dog out for a walk before the rain hits, in seconds I can have an in-motion real time radar map in the palm of my hand. As long as we don’t lose touch with reality, and human interaction, I can easily appreciate these modern conveniences. Last night at the fitness center, one of the coaches had posted his quote of the day, targeted mostly to the youth with whom he works: “Pull your head out of your phone; when you are looking down, life passes you by.”

When used wisely, I’m a technology fan. What I have issues with, however, is when the technology not only is less efficient and useful than personal interaction, but actually traps you and keeps you away from any human contact. The best example of this is automated phone systems. We all dread calling any company to be only greeted by a recorded voice instructing us to push buttons in a never-ending menu of options. At best, it is frustrating. At worst, it is downright useless.

For the past few days, I have attempted to assist my brother in trying to order replacement parts for his CPAP Machine (Sleep Apnea machine).   After some research by both of us, we obtained the phone number of the national health organization through which parts are to be ordered, and the phone number of the local branch.

When I dialed the number yesterday, I was greeted with the usual phrase “Please listen closely, as our menu options have changed.” Really? Like anyone calls so frequently that they would have memorized the previous options?   I had to listen through the options twice, because none of them seemed to fit my needs and my questions. I tried the trick of pressing zero in the hope of being re-directed to a human, but no go. I got bounced back to the menu. Interestingly, the very first option was “If you are calling from Florida, please press 1.”   Why? What’s up with Florida? I started to wonder if I pretended to be from Florida, would pressing 1 get me to a real person faster? Eventually I somewhat randomly selected a number in the choices and immediately was placed on hold. A lengthy hold. With really bad Muzak. From time to time yet another recorded voice would interrupt the music to tell me that all of their associates were helping other customers, and asked me to please continue to hold. This always makes me wonder too, are there really so many other people calling at exactly the same time I am? Or are there really only two people on duty to answer questions? Was that recorded voice an animatronic woman, or a real person who is also trapped behind the wall of technology?

Since I had to make this call while at work, I put the phone on speaker and listened to the horrible music while trying to get something else accomplished. Approximately twenty minutes later, lo and behold, a real live person came on the line. She was very pleasant, and although she was not going to go out of her way to make the process easy for us, she gave me the information I needed. Unfortunately, part of the instructions require me to visit the local branch with the machine so they could get a “compliance download.” This is a technical term that really means running a report so the insurance company can decide if they will still cover the cost.

After the call, I went back online to find the location of the closest branch, and their phone number . I realized, to my chagrin, that I had neglected to ask the representative to look up the hours of my local branch. So today, glutton for punishment that I am, I tried calling the local branch. Once again, I was greeted with a menu. After pressing what seemed to be the appropriate number, I was then sent to a second menu, which sounded eerily familiar – because it began with the same offer to have Florida residents press 1.

After a surprisingly short wait, a woman answered. And after repeating myself three times, I realized she was not hearing me, but rather somehow the lines were crossed and she was speaking to someone else. I was forced to hang up and try again. Dial. Menu. Nope, still don’t live in Florida. Pick a random number. Now, mind you, this was all just to find out when the local office would be open. Again the hold, again the bad music, again I put it on speaker so I could do other work. Nearly 30 minutes later, a representative finally picked up. Giddy with excitement, I ask if I had reached my local branch. He said no, this was the national center.   Of course it was.  I sighed, and explained my mission. He looked up the information for me, and finally, after far too much wasted time, I had my answer. Sadly but not surprisingly, they are open 8:30 – 4:30, weekdays only. No evening hours, no weekend hours.   I will have to use my own work time to get this taken care of.

This whole process had me missing the good old days. The days when a phone call yielded one of three possible results: no answer, a busy signal, or a human. No frustrating cycle of useless menu options. We spoke to real humans, and those humans were helpful. Heck, they would probably have sent a technician out for a house call, rather than leaving me to fuss with the equipment on my own.

I am left to admit that sometimes we take a step too far…that great ideas for making our lives more efficient actually backfire and do the opposite.   I know that the time I’ve wasted so far on what should be a quick and easy process are hours I’ll never get back. I also know that I will never encourage anyone to try calling that same healthcare company.

Most of all, I know that we must never assume that technology can always do a better job than real people, nor is it necessarily the faster, better option.   Yes, we real women have come to rely on innovations to make a lot of things easier in our lives. But nothing beats personal connections to really get the job done. Even if you live in Florida.






Real Cinderella-ing

sabrinaA few days ago, I carved out a bit of “me time” and gave myself a pedicure while watching a chick flick. As all Real Women know, putting life on pause during the day to do this feels a bit like winning the lottery for a couple of hours. It is awesome.

Since I so rarely do this, I struggled a bit as to which movie to watch. I’m a romantic comedy junkie, and have seen them all. I settled on Sabrina. I chose the remake of the original, the one that stars Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear. As a quick refresher, it is the typical Ugly Duckling story, where the painfully awkward teenage girl goes off to France and comes back a beautiful, cultured woman and instantly, of course, both handsome brothers fall for her.

We R.W.’s love this kind of story. Not just because we’ve all at some point fantasized about having our own Cinderella moment where we suddenly become devastatingly gorgeous, but because this type of plot has a bit of revenge in it. That evilly sweet feeling of “you treated me like a loser, now ha ha look what you can’t have.”   We all love that moment in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts’ made-over character walks back in to see the snooty shopkeeper and says “You people work on commission, right? Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.”

After watching Sabrina’s transformation by simply getting a hair cut and wearing stylish clothes, I started to think about all of the parts of real transformations that Hollywood leaves out. Later that evening, as I was huffing and puffing and sweating during a workout, I realized that we rarely, if ever, see women on the big screen exercising – unless of course it is part of the plot, like in Flashdance. This is simply because, unlike Jennifer Beals, real women don’t look pretty exercising. Men in movies are a different story – they are constantly in action because when men are working out hard, they look the same, just sweaty. Not us women. Our make-up runs off our faces, we get red, our hair is either jammed back in a haphazard ponytail, or clings wet from sweat on our heads. Not a pretty sight. So in cinema world, women get their perfect figures magically. They aren’t shown busting their asses regularly in a desperate attempt to firm up and lose five pounds. No one wants to see that. Once in a while we’ll see a female character using a treadmill or stationery bike while gently mopping their brow and still looking great, or going out for a seemingly effortless run. For you House of Cards fans out there, Claire regularly goes for a run without a) breaking a sweat or b) wheezing and gasping from being a smoker. Go figure.

Hollywood makes looking amazing easy to achieve. Big screen women don’t spend hours in front of a mirror — even though ironically the real woman behind the role likely did exactly that before getting in front of the camera. Some scenes may show a woman dabbing some powder on her cheeks or applying lipstick while sitting at a beautiful vanity table in front of a huge well-lit mirror, then coyly smiling at her reflection. If the scene was shot realistically, that woman instead would be standing in front of her bathroom mirror in garish light, or peering into her bedroom mirror in poor lighting, going through a lengthy and ritualistic application of multiple anti-aging products and concealers. She would then groan when trying to mask wrinkles or blemishes, then sigh and mutter “its as good as its gonna get” before going on with her day.

While we are at it, shall we discuss the scenes where these flawless women wake up in the morning with sexy hair (not like true morning hair that looks like it spent the night spinning in a blender), a perfect complexion (not sallow or parched dry), and apparently with fresh enough breath to romantically kiss the man next to them.   We all know as R.W.’s that the very first step when waking up is going pee (another thing they never seem to need to do), then brushing the scum off our teeth and waiting for our partner to do the same before we even consider something as simple as a kiss.

Oh, and in that make-believe world, getting soaked in a rain storm makes a woman look endearing and adorable (not like a drowned angry rat), and crying on screen somehow comes across as sweet and lovely (not red eyed and contorted).

We escape into these fantasy worlds so we can for a brief time believe that we too can look effortlessly perfect at all times. No one wants to go to the movies or turn on the TV to see the true reality that we see every day. We want to believe that by waving a magic wand, or taking a trip to Europe, or meeting a wealthy man, we can have an instant Cinderella moment.

Sure, any of us can look just as beautiful as any of those women on the big screen. It’s just that in reality, we have to spend a whole lot more time and effort in making it happen.  That is, until our Fairy Godmother shows up. I’m still waiting for her. She owes me an awesome pair of shoes.



Never Too Old to Learn

sailboat horizonWithin a one-week time period, I will have experienced two substantial life milestones, both of which I have been dreading.

The first, and most difficult, is that I had to say goodbye to my 84-year old father as he set his sails for the seas of heaven. Dad was gregarious, joyful, smart and loving, and he has left a legacy of enthusiasm and energy in his wake. He was the kind of man who made an impression on everyone he met. I am just one of many who really didn’t want to let him go, but we must.

The other milestone, which seems much less significant now in comparison, is that I will turn 50 on Monday. There. I said it. No turning back now, I have admitted it in a public format. It’s not the fact of a birthday that I’ve been dreading. I happen to like birthdays. Birthdays are a time of celebration, of fun, of being given another year to be awesome. Nope, what I’ve been dreading is that number. That 5 and 0 matched together have been taunting me like some kind of scary omen.

Yes, yes, I know the platitudes, it is only a number; you are as young as you feel, ya da ya da….but I have built up in my mind that 50 is the final good-bye to my youth. At 50, I have officially crossed over the half-way point of my expected life span. I had a few personal goals in my mind that I wanted to achieve by the time I hit 50. I have not achieved them. (Although on my optimistic days, I reassure myself that those goals are at least in progress. ) At 50, I will no longer be able to slow the progress of wrinkles and grey hair and aching body parts. I launched an initiative with my girlfriends to “Stomp the Frump” for fear of becoming frumpy.   Clearly I have let a simple number intimidate me.

And then, my wake up call. Having experienced my Dad’s passing, and sharing the Story of Dad with so many, I have started to not only accept the fate of the big 5-0, but to almost welcome it. My Dad turned 50 when I was 15. That means for the majority of my life, that energetic, full-of-life man was in his beyond-mid-century years. Ironically, my son will turn 15 this year. Do I want him to live with an old, depressed, pessimistic woman, or a happy, healthy optimist?

As for goals and ambitions….we are not remembered so much for what we achieve, but who we are. My Dad fought on the front lines of the Korean War; he had a long successful career, and was involved in several organizations. Yes, all of that is impressive and should be honored. But the memories people have shared with me have more to do with his passions in life, his personality, his zest, his humor, and his smile. So perhaps I shouldn’t be quite as worried about those goals I have set in my head – I believe I’ll still meet most of them, with time… instead, I think as I hit that big looming number, I should focus more on the lessons I have learned from Dad:

Be Fascinated by Life. Don’t take anything for granted; continue to see things with eyes wide open, and learn new things at any age. Encourage curiosity to figure out what makes things tick, and be eager to meet new people. Absorb, and be absorbed, by life.

Be Enthusiastic. Have a passion for the people and environment that surrounds us. Show excitement, even for small things, which could be big things to someone else. As kids, we always knew that at any performance in which we were involved, dad was the first and loudest to start clapping and cheering, every time. Don’t be shy, be that person.

Be Gracious. Don’t be a complainer. Complaining is a useless energy waster and solves nothing. Deal with difficulties and challenges, then move on. Say Thank You and mean it. Be thrilled when someone visits or wants to spend time with you. Make others feel special – because they are.

And finally: Smile. A lot. But make it genuine, not fake. My Dad had a mega-watt smile that was infectious and put people at ease. Who cares if your teeth aren’t snow white or perfectly straight? Who cares if you don’t have on lipstick, or have a lopsided grin? Smile anyway and witness the results.

Maybe, just maybe, if I keep Dad in my mind, I’ll start to look forward to the coming years as some of the very best in my life. I can’t promise that I won’t have moments where I lament about my wrinkles, muffin top, sore knees and forgetfulness. But perhaps I can convince myself that the 50 milestone is not for looking back and yearning for youth, but for jumping off and saying “wheee!”.

Hunter S. Thompson is credited for this quote: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”   I know, without a shred of a doubt, that Dad is relaxing in heaven, a rum in hand, saying exactly that.

When I grow up, I want to be like him.



It’s All About Perspective

Jubelnde Konzertbesucher auf Rock-KonzertOne night last week, two of my BFFs and I channeled our younger, more hip selves, and went to a concert. A real concert. Not a tribute band in a small local theater. No, we went for the gusto and traveled 90 minutes to join several thousand other screaming and singing fans to see Maroon 5.

We had planned this outing months in advance, part of our self-declared “Stomp the Frump” campaign. We three dressed in our coolest least-mom-ish attire. Mom Jeans were exchanged for faded trendy denim, and accompanied by what else, but black jackets and big jewelry.   When my son said “hey, you guys look pretty good” I felt that we had achieved our non-frump looks for the evening. Heck, I even took the time to crimp my hair.

We were three real women on the town, ditching all other responsibilities to just plain have fun and unabashedly prove that we are card-carrying members of the Adam Fan Club. Ok, maybe we don’t really have fan club cards, but at the pub we went to for dinner, we did get free signs from the local radio station to hold up at the concert to proclaim our devotion. And for the most part, we adhered to our pact to avoid “old lady” topics like medical issues and age complaints. Although we did have a bit of a discussion about retirement planning over dinner… Luckily, we don’t think anyone overheard us.

The show was amazing. We didn’t have the most perfect seats, but from our perspective, it was awesome. It was a great night, even if the ride home in lousy weather was long and tiring. We had accomplished our anti-frump goal and had photos and mild deafness to prove it.   In what I now consider a rather brilliant move, I took the following day off. I know darn well that I no longer can easily bounce back from a night that involves getting home in the wee hours of the morning.

A few hours later, in my sleepy, baggy-sweats, ultimately-frumpy alter ego, I got up to see my son off to school. I shared with him a few stories of the evening, and he did his best to act interested and impressed. I mentioned to him that I would be staying home that day, and when he got back from school, the two of us could get back outside and do some more shoveling to clean up the driveway.   He then said quietly “I like it when you are home when I get home from school.”

I attempted to respond nonchalantly with a “me too” then went on to other topics – because I know all too well that making a big deal of any comment out of a teenager’s mouth is a bad idea. But his words stuck with me all day. First my heart was thrilled, and I thought “wow, maybe I really am still cool, and he still wants to be around me sometimes.” Then, I felt a bit guilty.

When I grew up, my mother was a stay-at-home mom. I remember coming home from school, propping myself up in the hallway between the kitchen and her sewing area and babbling away to her about my day. She was there while I had an after-school snack, or while I had a friend over, or when I needed help with homework. (We went to mom for help with Social Studies and English, but waited for Dad to come home if we needed help with Math and Science.) Most of my friends also had a parent home after school. Having two parents who worked outside the home full time was still fairly rare. I remember hearing the phrase “Latch Key Kid” uttered in hushed tones between other parents, as if these “poor, lonely children” would be destined for a life as hoodlums because they went home to an empty house for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

Fast forward to my adult life. Ten weeks after giving birth to my beautiful baby boy, I returned to work full time. And haven’t stopped since. We were lucky to be able to hire a family friend to care for him while he was young, when we were both at work. She became in a sense his adopted grandmother, and stayed on with us until we felt he was old enough to be home alone after school. Yes, at that point, I had my own Latch Key Kid.

I know several other real women who after having children, decided to either stay home, or work part-time to be home after school. They made the choice to potentially get by with less income, or “give up” their careers to be more present in their children’s lives. I commend those women for making that decision.

So as I recuperated from my fun night out, got some things done around the house, and of course made brownies, I wondered if I had done a disservice to my son by rarely being there when he stepped off the bus every afternoon over the past few years. But I realized that he didn’t know any other way. He had easily learned how to let himself in to the house, lock up behind him, get himself a snack, take care of the dog, and stay safe and entertained until we got home every evening. When he got home this particular day, we chatted briefly, we went out and shoveled together, then he did what he does every day – went up into his cave –err, I mean room – and did his homework then played video games online with his friends.   Quite content and happy. He truly has learned to appreciate and enjoy his time to himself.

When my husband got home, our evening was the usual buzz of activity, getting my son to his music lesson, me getting out for a workout, all of us bonding over dinner… and any feelings of guilt I had experienced earlier that day were melting away.   Just like our seats in the concert venue, our busy lives as real women are all about perspective. We do the best we can every day to be there for family and friends and co-workers, and to appreciate all that we have, no matter what our schedules dictate.

And once in a while, we can take a step away from the usual routine and do something for ourselves, something out of the ordinary. We can give ourselves a boost and have fun, to feel cool and trendy, or just to feel at peace. The result is a healthier, happier us, which positively affects those close to us.   True, I may not be able to be home every afternoon to welcome my son home with fresh-baked brownies. But he knows I’m still there for him every minute, now matter where either of us are… even if it means embarrassing him by texting him a photo of myself holding an “Adam, yes please!” sign at a concert.   adam sign



Our Epic Stuff

baskets“A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” – George Carlin

My neighbor BFF and I had what we consider a brilliant idea. This spring we will hold a “Most Epic Tag Sale.” We will combine forces, energy, organizational abilities, and most of all, our unwanted stuff, and have a major two-household clean out.

A few years ago I vowed to never again have a tag sale. (Or a “garage sale”, depending on what part of the country you live in… similar to the debate between grinders, hoagies and subs, or pop and soda… but I digress).   I had decided such sales were a whole lot of work with little reward, and there was always left over stuff that no one wanted. But my BFF swayed me. We will do this one together, planned long in advance, and will have the Salvation Army ready to come and pick up whatever doesn’t sell. Brilliant.

Even more brilliant is the fact that we made this decision literally months in advance, thus giving us all winter to sort through and clean out our homes.   I figured this would be a piece of cake… spend a couple days in the basement, another couple days whipping through the rest of the house, then I could relax and wait for spring.

Silly, silly me. I have already lost track of the hours spent in just my basement, with much more still to go.  We have been in our current home for almost 15 years. Certainly not an eternity, but apparently long enough to fill every nook and cranny with items we really don’t need. I never really thought I was a kleptomaniac or hoarder…but now I’m beginning to wonder.   Some of the items, and quantity of items, I’ve found has truly been eye opening. I have found odd things like small knick-knacks with no true or even emotional value, that for some reason I have not only kept, but packed and moved with me since my teen or college years. I came across a whole box of miscellaneous candles and candle holders; a plastic tub full of mis-matched mugs and cheap glassware; Christmas decorations that I have never put up….and somewhere along the way, I apparently became a basket-aholic. I now have a pile of a dozen baskets to go in the sale, yet still have plenty on my shelf to be kept!

I’m not sure how all of these collections happened while I wasn’t paying attention – because I’m the one who did the collecting. I must have had a hidden personality all these years who felt the need to keep everything, as if I’m channeling a past life of surviving the Great Depression. Well, guess what. Time to meet my new personality: Purge and Clean-out Girl.

Most of us R.W.’s rarely take the time to really clean out our stuff. It can be a painstaking and arduous task, so it generally does not make it onto our list of priorities on our To Do lists, and only happens when we have to pack and move to a new location. Even then, at least in my world, apparently I have gone ahead and moved stuff that I didn’t even need.

What I have discovered, however, is it can be liberating and exhilarating, and in some ways, fascinating.   I am thrilled that I can now much more easily walk through part of my basement. Boxes are getting organized and categorized. What is of no use to me, could be very useful or of interest to someone else. Setting aside so much stuff to go feels great.

As for the fascination….there have been items I have come across that I forgot I had, or that of course immediately bring up fond past memories of my childhood. Even more recently obtained objects hold special meaning, like the bags of stuffed animals my son sorted through with me. He pulled out certain ones that he remembers specifically playing with when he was little, and I pulled out fuzzy critters I remember putting in his crib. I don’t know what if anything we will ever do with the stuffies we decided to keep, but we knew we couldn’t part with them.

That is, after all, the biggest challenge when attempting a clean-out of some magnitude. We are forced to make a decision between keeping something simply for sentimental reasons, or parting with it due to lack of use or need. I know darn well that I am a sentimental old fool, and I will keep several storage boxes of memories. And that’s ok. Its good to cut back, get a bit more lean, do away with useless items. But the items that mean something to us, or claim a part of our histories, no matter how seemingly trivial, are well worth keeping.

Today I opened a box that holds antique linens from past generations, as well as very old, but beautiful, monogramed silver. Will I ever use a silver tea set? Not unless I decide to host a Downton-themed tea party. But tucked in with the silver is a note, written in my mother’s handwriting, that explains how the items were bequeathed to me from my Grandmother (after whom I am named). Priceless.

Within some of the piles and boxes lie small mysteries. I came across a small wooden house with a removable roof. I don’t remember where it came from, or why I have it, but in some recess in my mind, I feel like it has some sort of significance. So I left it on a shelf and made a note to ask my siblings about it. Similarly, in that box of antiques, I came across kitchen linens, on which my mother had written “Pantry. 1939.”   I don’t know why she would write the location and year on kitchen towels, but I’d love to find out. Too bad I can’t go back in time to see her do it and ask her why.       linens

Yes, it is a very good thing that our Most Epic Tag Sale is not happening next weekend. For each corner, closet, box, shelf and cabinet holds intrigue. Some items are easily price-tagged and stacked to go; others are worth a hearty laugh and a “Really? Why have I kept this all these years?” before getting added to the pile. And still others are worth a few minutes of stopping to remember, smile, and maybe even shed a tear before they are careful re-wrapped and stored, or cleaned up and brought out into the open to be enjoyed.

Epic indeed.


Polar Side Effects

winter optimismSide Effect
– noun. Any accompanying or consequential and usually detrimental effect.

It is safe to say that a majority of people across the country at this point are tired of winter. Sure, some hearty souls still claim to be enjoying the season, and I commend them for their enthusiasm. As for the rest of us, however, we are eagerly waiting for a seasonal shift – not just because we would desperately like to hang up our shovels for a few months, but because of the rather bizarre side effects this season forces upon us.

For those in more temperate climates, you may have experienced a touch of cold and ice and maybe even some snow this year, but for the most part you don’t experience the same on-going consequences as those of us in northern climes. Battling these side effects is what wears us down. Allow me to give a few examples:

  • Outer Wear Fashion Goes Out the Window.   Early in the season, when we first feel a chill in the air, and thrill at the first pretty snow flakes falling from the sky, we giddily get out our cute winter coats, our trendy scarves and our girly gloves. However, after several weeks of frigid temperatures and piles of frozen precipitation, we abandon how we look when heading out the door. Our focus shifts to only the two most important factors: staying warm and dry, and attempting to stay upright and avoid falling. Out come the big clunky (yet warm and safe) boots, and the practical layers. I have a walking outfit that is fairly hideous. My fellow lunch-time walking co-workers can attest to this. I layer up with heavy sweatpants, a fuzzy fleece top, thick yet truly ugly mittens, and a head wrap scarf that I affectionately call my babushka. Not one item matches any other item. And I don’t care. I can look cute and trendy in the Spring.
  • Buh-Bye Barefeet. From approximately November through March, our feet are never uncovered. While we were previously frolicking barefoot, or donning adorable sandals, our feet now do not see the light of day. They go from socks to shoes to boots… and even after returning home, it is too cold to go bare, and we shove our feet into fuzzy slippers. There is no sense in getting pedi’s and coloring our toes until daffodils sprout in the garden. Unless, of course, it gives us the same small thrill as wearing a pretty new pair of panties that no one will see.
  • Cruddy Camouflage. We are not the only ones looking a bit blah by now. Our cars are too. Every vehicle on the road is the same color: grey. It is too cold to wash them, and even if we did, they will be grey again within 24 hours. Inside the car is no better. Grit and grime everywhere. Along with, likely, spilled coffee or hot cocoa.
  • Pothole Dodging. This season brings with it a game to test our reflexes and dexterity as the roads on which we travel disintegrate. I’m not talking about minor bumps and cracks – oh no. There are frost heaves the size of small mountains, lanes of crumbled pavement, and holes large enough to swallow a Mini Cooper. I’m sure a structural or chemical engineer could explain why something so seemingly durable as asphalt can not stand up to the brutality of winter…. I will just assume that the combination of bitter cold and heavy snowplows is mostly at fault. No matter the reason, smooth rides are no longer an option. And as we worry about the possible damage to our vehicles, we Real Women must remember something vitally important: under no circumstances get behind the wheel with a full bladder.
  • The Other Kind of Cracks and Crumbles. There is not enough moisturizer in the country to successfully combat winter dry skin. The cold crisp air devoid of any humidity, along with dry indoor heat, combine to create the perfect storm for our complexions. Our tone gets paler, our lines get deeper, and we are able to carry on complex conversations about the benefits of any number of lotions and serums. Like being on a deserted island, R.W.’s need three things to survive the season: food, water and hand cream.
  • Helpless Infatuations With Starch and Sugar. Like a mama bear in hibernation mode, we R.W.’s crave, search for, and create comfort foods. If a dish is warm, tasty, filling and satisfying, we dive in.   Gone are the carrot sticks and popsicles of the summer; they are replaced with bread sticks, mashed potatoes and cake. We know we are gaining weight by seeking solace in sweets and savories, yet we don’t stop until the temperatures warm and we are forced to shed our heavy layers to reveal the damage done.
  • Patience, Where Art Thou? Small inconveniences and minor challenges become huge hurdles and ugly aggravations after several weeks of winter. Our patience has departed, likely hopping a plane for the tropics. We are left to try to manage with minimal coping skills, even if we are normally very capable, strong women. The other day I stepped out my front door to my carefully shoveled steps and walkway, only to find that the snow my husband had shoveled off the porch roof to keep us safe, had landed in heaps in my path. The same path I cleared after every snowfall was now filled with two feet of hard- packed mass. I went inside and had a full-blown I-hate-winter meltdown. In reality, my husband easily cleared the way later that night with the snow-blower. But at that moment, that morning, my patience had evaporated. I do believe I threw a shovel into a snowbank. Ah well, we’ll find it in the spring.

Just like the warning labels on the side of medicine bottles indicate, side effects may vary. And I will admit that not all consequences of the season are bad. As winter wears on, we all begin to rally around each other, to commiserate about our plight, and to try to find ways to cope and be positive. We remind each other that at some point, spring will come. The snow will melt. Temperatures will go back above the freezing mark. This winter will become a memory, something to tell stories about, and the detrimental side effects will fade.

Today on my way home from work, I passed a house obviously inhabited by those with either a keen sense of humor or a whole lot of optimism. There, perched on top of a big snow pile in the front yard, were two colorful lawn chairs, a surfboard, and a case of beer.   The sight made my day and helped me remember: this too shall pass.



Natural Beauty

20s beautyThe other night I was watching TV and a few women were referred to as “natural beauties.” The women on the receiving end of these compliments were on the red carpet, glammed from head to toe. Their hair was coiffed, make-up perfect, and they were adorned with gowns and jewels. And I wondered what was so natural about any of it?

I asked myself a similar question the other morning when I was getting prepped for a usual weekday at work. It all starts in the shower, with bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash that promise to make me smoother, cleaner, more vibrant, fragrant and younger. As soon as I stepped out, I reached for a squirt of hair mousse, followed by my daily routine of creams and moisturizers. All this happened before I even began to apply any make-up. I paused and thought about how so many of us go through these motions to look “naturally beautiful” and I marveled at the multitude of products literally at our finger tips that allow us to do this every day.

The generations of Real Women before us didn’t have the ease of simply stopping by CVS on their way home to arm themselves with every product imaginable, or the ability to log on to the internet to have the next best most promising anti-aging cream delivered to their door.   Through the years, of course, the images of beauty have varied. In the early 1900’s, pale skin was a sign of beauty and class, tans were for those of a “lower class.” Heavy make-up was reserved for only those who were stage performers. Yet, real women still wanted to look their best – but for many years, they had to rely on home remedies, by using rice powder, beet juice, squeezing their cheeks for some color, or, amazingly, using lemon juice to lighten their skin.   The thought of applying lemon juice has my cheeks screaming in terror.

Real women in our past truly did rely more on their natural beauty. Today, in contrast, there is a multi-billion dollar industry in the world of cosmetics. Just a stroll down two aisles at Target can be a mind-numbing experience of choosing between half a dozen different brands and shelves of products of which we are too embarrassed to ask “what does this one do?”   There are, of course, R.W.’s today who go the natural route, with no make-up or extra creams and lotions. There are some who have that enviable flawless natural beauty so they look amazing as soon as they wake up in the morning. I kind of hate those of you who fit into that category, but applaud you as well.

My mom, a natural beauty.

My mom, a natural beauty.

My mother was one of the naturals. The only make-up she wore was lipstick. I remember how every evening, a few minutes before Dad was due home from work, she would stop to brush out her hair and put on some fresh lipstick. That’s it. If she and Dad got dressed up to go out, or hosted a party, she would apply just a bit of mascara and blush. I look at photos of her in her youth, and she is gorgeous – with no cosmetic assistance.

In contrast, thanks to having a fair & ruddy complexion, if I ever venture out with little to no make-up, others will ask if I’m exhausted or ill. Even on weekends when I may or may not venture out of the house, I still apply at least some lotion and base cosmetics so I look healthy and awake. So the “natural beauty” route is not for me.

But I do believe that there is another definition for “natural beauty”, and it has absolutely nothing to do with staying clear of manufactured enhancements or cosmetics. It has everything to do with a real woman’s fundamental presence. When I think of the real women in my life, I think of their smiles that can brighten up a whole room, the twinkle in their eye that can mean fun and mischief, their infectious laughter, the caring and love they exude, the energy that seems to vibrate out of them, and the determination and strength that shows through in everything they do. My first thoughts when I see these amazing people are not about the cool new green eye shadow they are wearing, or the color of their hair highlights, or whether or not the anti-wrinkle neck cream they are trying is working. What I see is the natural beauty of who they are and how they make the people around them feel.

If we feel better about ourselves by reaching for those products on our counters every morning, then fine, let’s go for it, let’s enhance our surface beauty. I’m all for appearing healthy and awake. But let’s not get too hung up on which lip color is the best option…because in reality, the smile itself is where it’s at.