A Perfect Storm of Perseverance

Origami-craneWe all have someone in our lives who is just a bit more unique, more challenging, and more special than most others. For me, that person is my oldest brother.

He is the Perfect Storm of health challenges and disability. When he was very young, he developed a brain tumor. In those days, medical technology was not as advanced as today and in order to remove the tumor, his optic nerve was severed. Related issues with other tumors and years of medications has led to the fact that his disability has become the least of his issues. You name it, he struggles with it – pituitary issues, diabetes, short-term memory loss, arthritis & vertigo which has decreased his mobility, severe sleep apnea and bizarre issues with his body temperature and sodium levels – truly the Perfect Storm.

About ten years ago, he moved closer to me. At the time, he was still fairly independent. As time has progressed, and his health has continued to deteriorate, I have become his primary contact, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and middle-of-the-night-phone-call-recipient.   As so many of you out there know, being the primary caregiver can be exhausting, stressful and frustrating. It is like having a second full-time job that is full of emergency deadlines, scary decisions, aggravating red tape and fear of the unknown – all for no pay. But we do it because someone needs us.

Amazingly, my brother throughout his life has found a way to laugh, to make puns, to sing, to master the art of origami, and somehow, to not give up. When he was a child, the doctors predicted he wouldn’t live past his teen years. Quite literally against all odds, and throughout some very serious episodes in which we nearly lost him, he has proven us all wrong. Today is his 60th birthday.

With a twist of bitter irony, he is celebrating his birthday in the hospital. The whole family came into town for the weekend as a surprise — we had fun activities and gifts planned, but his body had other plans. We visited with him in the hospital and we took him a few gifts, but somehow the excitement fades when one has to open a gift and hand it back to the giver to take home, and when cake and ice cream have to come off the menu. Rather than having fun today, he is a blind man sitting bored and lonely in the hospital waiting to hear if he has to get a pacemaker. Even after putting on my pretend Super Woman Cape, and waving my virtual magic wand, I couldn’t make today not suck for him. We Real Women don’t like to admit this, but some things are just plain out of our control.

I talked to him several times throughout the day, and this afternoon he apologized to me for being down, frustrated and depressed. He apologized for not being perky and happy during a crappy experience. I thought about how any of us would feel having to celebrate a milestone birthday in the hospital for any reason, let alone with his issues. And I had one of those moments when my own frustrations and exhaustion over his on-going needs seemed to pale.

Tonight I’ve been thinking about what my brother has taught me over the years. I’ve learned to never, ever take our health and abilities for granted. I’ve learned patience. A whole lot of it. I’ve learned more medical terminology than I ever thought I’d need to know. I’ve learned how to be pushy and forceful when necessary to get answers. I’ve learned to be thankful for good days. And most of all, I’ve learned that no matter how bad a day I’m having, there is always going to be someone else who’s having a harder day with much greater challenges.

I’ve promised my brother a “do-over” birthday celebration when he’s out of the hospital. It won’t be as festive as what we originally had planned, but miraculously we will once again have an extra reason to celebrate: another day on this earth.




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They Didn’t Get to Cheat

pot pieLast night was one of those evenings when I got home late. I had forgotten to get anything out to thaw for dinner. My son had already eaten something (being a teen, he eats pretty much every couple hours) so he was not particularly interested in having anything else for a late dinner. That left my husband and I to do that dance of roaming around opening cupboards, the fridge, and the freezer trying to determine what to eat. As if something perfect would magically appear before our eyes, cooked and ready.

Eventually he decided on a pre-made chicken pot pie. When he realized the instructions indicated it would take an hour to heat in the oven, he opted for the microwave option. Not as good, but 8 minutes is better than 60. I took out a bag of pre-cooked-pre-cut, pre-seasoned chicken breast pieces, warmed them up, added some veggies, threw them in a soft tortilla and called it a wrap.

As we sat down for our ready-in-10-minutes, far-from-gourmet-but-still-food dinner, I thought about what my mother would have done in this same situation years ago. Mom did not work outside the home, but she was a busy lady. She took care of a big old farm house with three acres of land, four kids, a working and traveling hubby, and a big messy dog (along with various other animals at some points in our history). She also did volunteer work. So I’m quite sure there were nights when she had to come up with something quick to feed her herd. But of course in those days there was no pre-cooked, pre-cut cheater chicken. The only prepared frozen meals came along later – they were “TV Dinners”, and still needed to be heated in the oven. There was of course no microwave. I do remember as a teen, mom started stocking frozen pizzas which were a wonderful new treat available from the store… but those were intended more for late-night snacking with friends than for a family dinner.

There are very few fast “cheater” meals I remember from my youth. On the occasions Mom and Dad would be going out in the evening, before the babysitter came over mom would make what became a beloved combination of creamed corn and pieces of hotdog. It took probably less than 5 minutes to make. And sometimes on a weekend, Dad would make pancakes for supper which we all thought was fascinating and fun. But that’s about it. I guess if mom needed something quick, she would pull out a meal she’d had the foresight and time to have made previously and frozen – although it still needed to be thawed, and cooked by stove or oven. No quick zap in the nuker. And I don’t know about you other RW’s out there, but I’m happy if I can manage to make one dinner meal a day, let alone extras to store in the freezer to make my life easier in the future. As great an idea as that is, it just isn’t going to happen.

What about the earlier generations? I wonder what my grandmother must have done when time and energy were limited. Granted, in those days, people of means often had a cook or housekeeper to assist, and it was that person’s job to make sure meals were ready. How lovely would that be today? It would be heavenly to have someone else do my grocery shopping, meal planning, and food prep. No such luck. And even back then, not everyone could afford this luxury… so what options did they have? Sandwiches? Left overs? Soup?   Things that had to be heated up on a heavy, slow to warm stove? I’m guessing “quick and easy” was not in their vocabulary regarding meals. Nor did they have the option to pick up the phone and within 30 minutes have someone deliver a meal to their doorstep.   I think if I came home after a long day, and had to figure out how to reheat some mutton chops after lighting my gas oven or getting a fire going in my pot-bellied stove, I’d decide to go hungry.   Just not worth the effort.

So the next time we opt for a Cheater Meal, and I reach for some sort of pre-made, packaged food and open the door of the magic instant heating appliance, I will pause and think of the women who went before me…they toiled for hours to provide a meal for their family, rather than simply pushing a couple of buttons to make it happen. I appreciate and respect them for their efforts day in and day out.  And rather than complain about the lack of flavor or worry about the possible health consequences of my “fake” food, I will pause mid-chew and be thankful that in our crazy, fast–paced world, some days I have the option to cheat.





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Facing Style Reality

It would appear that last year I was still in denial. I apparently was still clinging to the hope that the 25-Year-Old-Body Fairy was going to visit at any moment, or that the world of physics could reverse the effects of gravity, or that it made sense to hold on to some item for over 20 years “just in case.”

Those are the only reasons I can come up with for finding some of the special pieces I’ve come across while digging out my summer clothing.

As I pack away my heavy, bulky winter clothes and excitedly look toward lighter wear (ignoring the fact it is currently 40 degrees and raining outside), I have decided to take a harder look at what I have, and what truly belongs in the donation pile.

I have to release my grip on denial and accept that I am a mature woman. I remember my mom had certain “rules” about how mature women should look and dress. The one rule of hers I still don’t agree with was that no woman over 40 should have long hair. I never quite understood that one.

However, I have started my own rules, or shall I say have started my list of the Must Let Go’s:

  1. Spaghetti-strap Tank Tops with Built In Bra’s. Even if I could still fit the girls into
    these tops, the allure is somehow lost between gravitational pull, spag strap tankside-boob-bulge, and back fat.   Let’s go with the looser, larger strap tanks, please.
  2. Bedazzled or ruffled skirts that fall more than an inch above the knee.   No one wants to see spider veins, cellulite or knee wrinkles trying to be young underneath sparkles and fluff.
  3. Cropped Tops. I am short waisted, so crop tops used to be the perfect option when I wanted a shirt to end at my waist. There comes a time when no woman wants a shirt to end at her waist. It needs to extend to give the allusion of a waist, while still hiding a muffin tops.
  4. Shorts with 2” or less of an inseam. See reason #2, but add in more cellulite. short shorts
  5. Ties at the Waist. Let’s face it, after a certain age, our waists are no longer where they used to be, nor the size and shape they used to be. And the high-waisted undwaist tieer-boob tie is even worse of a guessing game. The end result looks much like a rubber band around a hardboiled egg. Not good. And trust me, adding ruffles or poofy short sleeves is not going to help.


All of these items aside, I do believe it is vitally important to not totally give up yet. In some moment of weakness or depression in the past year or so, I purchased the dreaded Mom Capri Khaki’s. You know what I’m talking about, the man-cut tops with side pockets, sitting above the waist, straight and boring pant legs, in a blah color, landing at a weird pseudo-capri length. Please, no offense to any of you out there who have these in your closet. I get it, they are easy. They are comfortable. But fess up, there is nothing attractive about these pants. They scream “I’ve given up and have become my mother.” Don’t do it. As difficult as it is, we must find that balance between “my daughter should wear this” and “I give up.”   I have now placed those Khaki’s in the Must Go pile. And it made me feel marginally better.

fuzzy sweaterWe have to be realistic about the other type of seasonal clothing as well. While putting away my winter gear, I came across a box of sweaters. None of which I’ve worn in at least 3 years. Really, can ANY woman who’s at any stage of menopause, even LOOK at this sweater without breaking out in a hot flash??   Buh-bye.


I realize that some of you mature women out there have been nauseatingly successful in keeping the body of your youth, or at least close to it, OR are braver and more daring than I. Just the other day, a woman who was working at a local gift shop and assisting in cashing me out, was wearing leopard print leggings, a black cropped, bedazzled top, and heels. I guesstimated her as being approximately 10 years older than me. You know what? Bravo to her. I could never pull off that level of confidence, but if she felt good reaching into her “younger me” section of her closet, then go for it.

In the meantime, I will continue to clean out. And I will take heart in the knowledge that some other woman, somewhere, likely much younger and perkier than I, will get some use out of my “Must Go’s”, and will look amazing in them. And she probably needs fuzzy warm sweaters too.

While she’s getting her gently-used bargains, I will resume my quest for the perfect Facing Reality Yet Still Funky wardrobe additions. I’m sure they are out there…Right next to the Still Sexy But Not So High and Comfortable shoes.



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It’s Just What We Do

florence_nightingale3According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, nearly a third of all practicing physicians are women. That’s no surprise. Because even though most of us are not trained medical professionals, we all have some sort of inherent trait inside us that drives us to take care of people. I don’t know why. We just do.

So some of us embrace that trait, combine it with intelligence, diligence, and a whole lot of education, and become doctors, nurses and medical technicians. The rest of us lack the formal education yet somehow become pseudo-nurses and care givers for our own loved ones, learning as we go along. It is a role we rarely ask for or even want. But we embrace it, combine it with our multi-tasking abilities and our Everyready Bunny energy levels, and do what we have to do.

I think virtually every RW I know is currently caring for special people in their lives who need them. It may be young children, who routinely need boo-boo’s tended, teens who need emotional guidance, handicapped siblings or cousins who need support, ill friends who need comfort, or aging parents or grandparents who need extra help.   No matter who it is, or what the need, we don our invisible Florence Nightingale costumes and jump in to the fray. And, I should add, this is all done while we are holding down jobs and family life.

Today was the perfect illustration of this R.W. Nightingale Phenomenon. I started my day talking to a friend at work about her trip the day before to get her son some specialized medical care and equipment. I heard from another friend about some health issues with her parents, and what she was doing to help them. At lunch time, I met my handicapped brother at the oral surgeon’s office to help him through some follow up work done after a recent surgery. After work, I picked up my son from a counseling session, and went home to tend to my husband who found out from the doctor today that he has pneumonia. The nurse at my brother’s assisted living facility called to have a discussion with me about his new medication. I texted with one of my BFF’s, who happens to be a doctor, who had come home after a more than 12+ hour day to take care of her family and check on her aging parents. And finally, not to be left out, I did a medical foot-bath treatment on my dog who has some issues with the webbing between his toes.

Certainly, as we get older, the medical needs of our loved ones, and even ourselves, increase. But this caregiving role is not reserved for us mature R.W.’s. I know several younger women who are either taking care of children with special needs or illnesses, or older generational family members who are aging and declining – and sometimes, they are dealing with both at the same time.

Every step of the way, we are learning, we are asking questions, we fumble along as we are having to make decisions, and we are trying to stay positive and strong because others need us to be there for them. Yes it is exhausting, often frustrating, and frequently stressful. But our care giving roles also complete us, fulfill us and make us who we are. Best of all, we have each other to lean on for support.

Tonight, as I texted my BFF, I told her that I was pouring myself an adult beverage, and I was taking extra vitamins. I thought that would be an effective combination for my evening. She texted back “as a Doctor, I approve.”

At the end of the day, we all need to take off the nurse’s uniform and believe that we are doing the best we can. And rest assured that we have indeed, in some small way, made a difference in someone’s life.

“I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.”  — Florence Nightingale.




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Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…and benjamin, and jane and thelma and…

color-nail-polishBack in 1785, the English poet William Cowper wrote “Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour.”   If Mr. Cowper could have seen into the future 200 years, I wonder if he would have changed that to “Variety’s the very spice of life, yet it overwhelms us in excess.”

In our modern world, we love having extensive choices and options all at our finger tips. Here in the United States especially, we are lucky and privileged to rarely feel that we are lacking in possibilities. It is a beautiful thing to be able to pick and choose everything from what we wear to how we spend our free time, to any number of goods we purchase.

Yet I wonder if at some point, when does so much turn into too much?   Simply walk down the breakfast food lane in a grocery store, and the cereal boxes literally run the entire length of the aisle. Is it really necessary to have so many options that it can take 15 minutes to make a selection? This past weekend I realized that the second place contender in the Ridiculous Quantity of Varieties race is the frozen meals section. The cooler units are bulging with cardboard boxes containing heat ‘n eat meals from Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Marie Callender, Swanson, and other brands I’ve never heard of. I found myself standing there, staring through the glass trying to pick out a couple to use as lunches for work, or for after school snacks for my son. Another woman came up behind me and I apologized for dawdling. She and I agreed that if there were just three to choose from, we’d be on our way much faster. When I was a kid, the only options were “tv dinners” by Hungry Man, Morton and Banquet. And they all basically looked like turkey or meatloaf with gravy and mashed potatoes.

Speaking of food, one of the fastest ways to overwhelm me in a restaurant is to hand me a bound, multi-page menu. This really seems to be a trend at this point. Gone are the days of a single-sided laminated card with a handful of options. Now it is like opening up a bedtime story book with several chapters. Gosh, don’t feel pressured while the waiter is standing next to you, ready to take your order, and you are only on page 8 and have not even had a chance to narrow down your preferences. You finally make your selection, close the cover of the food novel in your lap, and then realize there are two supplemental publications on the table, telling tall tales of available beverages and desserts.

Of course these are all First World Problems, and we need to be grateful for all we have. But really, isn’t there some point where it just isn’t necessary to have more and more of something? This evening I decided to treat my sad stubby fingernails to a manicure. As I sat down, the nail technician handed me the available options of Gel Nail color. There were literally approximately 130 colors to choose from. And that was just for that variety of polish. It did not include the regular, acrylic, 3-D designs, and who knows what else. Come on, ladies, can’t we find a color we like out of, say, 50?  That would still be enough to choose a different color for nearly every week of the year.

Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m faced with so many options and choices, I start to glaze over. I start to long for the days when we had 4 TV channels, simple dinner selections, and a handful of cosmetics from Avon. I start to wish I had an angel on my shoulder who would whisper “pick that one”, and I’d be happy with that choice. I’m not sure if the multitude of possibilities in front of us every day is a sign that we all have a touch of ADD, or that we all are desperate to carve out our own unique style, or we just get bored really, really easily. No matter the reason, there seems to be no end in sight. Literally.

So rather than fight it, perhaps I need to channel my inner Mae West, and her famous assertion that “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

After all, tonight I chose nail color #102.




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We Are What We….

oreo thinsLike many real women, I put a fairly good amount of effort into trying to make healthy food choices. I eat lots of veggies and fruit, I avoid breaded and fried foods, I cook with low- or no-fat ingredients, I limit eating desserts, and don’t really remember the last time I sat down to a big ol’ bowl of ice cream.

But I’m no health food angel. I’m a snacker. I have a tremendous sweet tooth. Chocolate and I have had a love affair since I was a child. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a baked good that I didn’t like. You get the picture.

I am impressed by, and in awe of, you women out there who have the strength and willpower to adhere to strict diets of no fat, no sugar, no carbs, high protein foods. This is why you look thin and muscular and will continue to feel good well into your 90’s, and why I have a progressively developing “mom shape” and will probably go to the cookie counter in heaven much sooner than you.

What I have come to believe is that even when we try hard to behave for the most part, there are just going to be times in our daily lives when we have to understand that moods, environmental influences and self-control issues will drive us to make poor choices. And we just have to be ok with that.

On a recent chick’s weekend, one of my BFFs sweetly (get it? sweetly?) brought a package of Oreo Thins to contribute to our festivities. After all, we enjoy our treats, yet we all want to watch our girlish figures. Funny thing, the container was never opened. However, we did partake of a dinner out at an Italian restaurant, and some fresh baked brownies. I found out later that my BFF kindly left me the Oreo Thins rather than taking them home with her. Funny thing, the container has still not been opened.

Out of curiosity, I compared the label on the package of Thins with the label on the nearly-empty package of Double Stuffed Oreos that happens to be in my cupboard. (Gosh, don’t know how THOSE got in there!). Surprisingly, nowhere on the Thins package is there any wording that indicates they are lower fat, or better for you, than a regular Oreo. Just by virtue of being called “Thin”, my mind had assumed they were “healthier”.   I did determine that one could eat 4 of the Thins and consume one gram less fat and one gram less sugar than eating 2 Double Stuffed. Not a whole lot of difference. So really, the only thing being taken away is the white stuff in the middle. Who doesn’t like the white stuff?  If I’m going to make the choice to eat an Oreo, let’s go all the way.

Some time ago, my son and I were on a road trip together, and we paused at a rest stop. We went in to the convenience store area to get a beverage. I was tired of drinking plain water, and wanted something else. However, the selection at this stop was limited. My options were basically either highly sugared fruit drinks or diet soda. I was torn, and said to my son that I wasn’t sure which to pick, something with tons of sugar, or something with tons of chemicals. Without missing a beat, he said “Well, it depends. Do you want to get diabetes, or cancer?”   We of course giggled about this most of the way home.   Besides proving that he and I share a somewhat sick sense of humor, I realized he was right about my choices. If I was making a conscious decision to NOT have water, then I just had to be ok with my guilty selection of something unhealthy.

I was reminded of this today when I realized I was browsing the menu sign at Dunkin Donuts, trying to pick a healthy option. When I realized what I was doing, my internal monologue went something like this: “You realize you willingly came in to a place where the word DONUT is literally in the name, right? There are no healthy options. You have already selected a beverage that likely contains a week’s worth of sugar. Just pick out that big fat muffin calling your name, recognize your lack of willpower and move on.”

After making a less-than-healthy choice, I always do the same age-old R.W. bartering system with myself. If I eat this now, I’ll walk an extra mile or go to an extra workout, or I’ll eat a salad for dinner, or….. I love how I fool myself into believing that makes it all better.

Tonight my husband is away and it is just my son and me at home. I got home late from work. I am throwing a pizza in the oven and making myself a big salad. I figure if I eat more salad than pizza, I’ll be in good behavior mode. And at least I didn’t do takeout. Ah, yes, all in the name of balance.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll finally break out one of those Thins for dessert.






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Roughly Translated…

sticker,375x360We live in a world of cyberslang, internet acronyms, and a whole generation of youth who communicate via abbreviations, meme’s and emoji’s. Somewhere along the way, a new language emerged, full of LOL, BRB and YOLO. Nothing makes me feel older than having to ask my teenage son what a group of seemingly nonsensical letters means.

I have news though… that generation is not the only one with a secret language. We R.W.’s of a certain age have our own particular ways of communicating. We have a deep understanding of each other’s daily challenges, and have our own code phrases and words that we use as a form of support and commiseration. My BFFs and I have developed a few key idioms which if overheard may not make sense to our male counterparts. But we get it.

In the spirit of partial disclosure, I will share a few examples of our lingo here, which will sound quite familiar to just about any other R.W..  Some day, however, our dialect could become as rampant as Textese, and at that point, the men and youth in our lives will need a dictionary to keep up:

PC:    Translation: Plot Change!   Use: During a conversation, random thoughts or loss of words will create a diversion in the original direction of the discussion. Rather than stumble with apologies in losing track of what was being said, simply declare PC!  and move on. This is also a handy reference for all of the twists and turns we encounter every day in our busy lives and our sudden need to adapt to new issues and emergencies.

WLTSL:   Translation: We Live The Same Life.   Use: When texting to find out if a R.W. friend needs anything while you are out running errands, and you find out she has also just done the exact same stops at the pharmacy, grocery store, and Target. OR, you find out another R.W. is playing a similarly rabid game of beat the clock and you run into each other while ordering take out because there was just no time to make a real dinner.

INE:   Translation: It Never Ends.   Use: Somewhat related to WLTSL, INE represents the never-ending crisis management, personal calamities and time pressures we cope with. This is most widely used in reference to ongoing family emergencies and issues, like when caring for an elderly or disabled loved one, or having teenagers in the house.

WTEBAD:   Translation: Will There Ever Be A Day.   Use: When commiserating and venting, while wishfully looking toward the mystical future when everything will be easier. Examples: Will There Ever Be A Day when we aren’t tired? Will There Ever Be A Day when I’m not double-booked? Will There Ever Be A Day when we can be ladies who lunch?

ASA:   Translation: Another Sign of Age.   Use: When finding a new wrinkle or grey hair while looking in the mirror on a given morning, or trying to stand up after sitting for an extended period of time to discover your knees and back have seized up. Frequently followed by GOS: Getting Old Sucks.

And, finally, my favorite:

USM:   Translation: You Slay Me.   Use: When another R.W. has you laughing so hard you are glad to have worn a panty liner, or she has amazed you with some quirky behavior or idea that you are too shy to commit yourself. Variations include That Slays Me, and I Slay Me. Because after all, even with our challenges and craziness, life is funny. And sometimes we just crack ourselves up.





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