Monday, August 25, 2014

Life's Been Good to Me So Far

At a party this past weekend, a friend was talking about aging."My friend is a doctor, and he's this Ironman kind of guy. But still, he says the human body is built to last until age 45, and then we're pretty much wired to break down. It's possible, though, that modern medicine can keep us alive until a hundred."

We were gathered to celebrate the End of Summer, which in Texas means it's still another kind of hundred (degrees to be precise) but still, the kids are going back to school. For most of the crowd, it's the start of senior year of high school for at least one of our children. though three of us, including me, were talking about our first born children heading off to college. Another friend was absent, having just lost her mother.

The friend with the depressing news about the whole group living on borrowed time is facing down her own parents growing older. Her father is still active in his profession, but her mom is battling dementia.  At these times, people in marriages seem to close ranks--after all, what do we children understand about spending over half a century together? My friend lives 1,500 miles away and wants to find help to assist her father while he is at work, but he insists there is no problem. The worry is overwhelming. What if she fails to head off a serious issue at the pass? Yet, her parents want to manage things themselves.

Lately, parties seem less about having a great time than a kind of therapy session for all included. We talk about teenagers and parents, and who's had a health issue. Eventually we get around to books and movies, thank God, and there is actually something fun to discuss. I even found talking about what I do for a living turned out to be a respite from the general conversation.

It's not that my friends are boring: quite the contrary. We've all traveled and read and eaten well. It's just that we're squished by the demands of our current demographic. Our kids and parents need us to varying degrees, but they don't think so. Until they do.  At the same time, we're trying to figure out how to pay for everything and maybe retire before we are quite old ourselves.

T is a bit older than me, and I see he and his sister and her friends in a different place. They've lost parents and in some cases spouses, but have hung together and watched it all. Now they are heading into weddings and grandchildren, the sweet stuff. It's time to celebrate together and really appreciate these happy moments, knowing how to savor them with the awareness that we never stop worrying about our loved ones. Like my friends and I, we are there for each other, which is as much as we can do.

As for me, I am still skeptical that eating well and exercising every day won't help me live longer. But I'll concede that this attitude has its limits, because just going hard every day at work and beating myself up if I don't drink my 3.5 liters of water or do my planks or floss isn't really going to help me have more years, let alone happier ones. This weekend, I saw friends at the party and had real, relaxed visits with two others. Maybe the gift of middle age, if there is one at all, is the realization that making time for supporting our friends and sharing their happiness is what we'll remember when we're old. Let's hope we get that privilege.

 

Monday, August 18, 2014

What Your Fridge Magnets Say

A year ago we renovated the kitchen and everything stuck to the old fridge got thrown in a box for nine weeks.  Just as I had agonized over the paint colors and the backsplash, what got pinned back up on the new stainless number had to be carefully thought through. It gave me a chance to get rid of the twenty outdated coupons I'd saved for a rainy day that never arrived. While waiting on some asparagus to grill for lunch over the weekend, I took a considered look at my haphazard curation. 

First, a Texas Christian University magnet I was gifted for giving a lecture to an undergraduate marketing class there on my work on that front in the legal field. This was at least ten years ago, before I had any business telling anyone how to emulate what I do for a living. It holds up a sticker I picked up about four years ago at Avoca Coffee  on Magnolia. It reads: Make Fort Worth Weird. I may still have had an Austin crush back then, but have since dismissed it and now know I live in the superior city.  As my friend L once said, the original t-shirt should read, Keep Austin Pretentious. Fort Worth is plenty weird, but instead of it walking down the street, one must be admitted to the dining rooms on the West Side to get the full picture. Working on that still.

Andy Warhol covers his face on another magnet. I got this after the kids and I saw an exhibit of his work at the Modern--where else can one look at world-class art and be home in fifteen minutes? It secures an image from Tuscany's Hotel Monteverdi, as well as a New Yorker cartoon with a man crying at a bar and saying to his companion, "I suffer from accurate self-esteem."



I plan to live here at some point. Until then, I'll just gaze at it and dream.

Behind a pirate magnet is a picture of my daughter at three, grinning in a sundress and diaper, holding a cob of corn. Another with a soccer motif--my mom gave both to my kids when they were in elementary school, though it appears I've mixed up the child who matches which--holds one Chinese Yuan, Chairman Mao front and center. My trip to China almost three years back was such an experience and let me meet T

Life is what happens when we are making other plans, beneath which is photo of my beautiful children with in me my little black dress at our friends' wedding, a melding of lives of two strong and loving people with five teenagers between them. My son in black and white at three years of age is in profile beneath that shot.

A thank you from the North Texas Food Bank secures a postcard from Wendy Davis thanking me for a donation to her campaign. Proud of both.

In the midst of my divorce, I bought a magnet that reads, It's All About Me.  It seemed then that it wasn't about me at all, but I'd heard enough details of my selfishness that it seemed like a good way to flip off the Universe. Behind this lie cards from memorable San Francisco restaurants: State Bird Provisions (don't bother); Wayfare Tavern (if you are a Tyler Florence fan, you'll love it); and Chaya, the sushi bar on the Embarcadero where it all began. 



Finally I have a postcard with Rothko's Light Cloud, Dark Cloud. It is tethered by yet another cheesy note which reads, Leap, and the net will appear.

Once I was told that bookcases are a form of intellectual vanity. The person who said it avoids social media, no surprise and maybe he's found the easier path on that front. Still, my bookshelves and my fridge remain are things to which I pay occasional attention, though few people see them these days. Who knows why we choose what we do?  Send me your fridge gallery and tell me all about it.   

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

True North

The travel bug, once caught, may be impossible to shake. I've had the opportunity in the past five years, through work and love, to move about the civilized US and to Asia. It's been wonderous, and much of it has been done with T. We pinch ourselves on these trips, and yet have found the biggest capitals are growing more and more homogeneous.  Sparkling clean hotels and shopping areas dominate the downtown areas, and unless one knows the place, it's hard to find the there there.

Last week, we headed to Canada to visit my earlier life, in reverse. Toronto was where I spent seven years before leaving the nest for Texas.  When I first landed there in 1988 as a university student on summer leave, I knew for sure I'd made it, after a life in rural Ontario. Back then, it was struggling with an inferiority complex (God knows, so was I) but from what we saw, no more. With eyes that have seen Hong Kong, New York, Chicago, Singapore and San Francisco, it impressed me anew. It's a crazy mess of traffic and people, but the food (if you go, try Buca, and prepare to swoon) and the dizzying number of languages spoken in the street have made it an even more exciting place.

An amazing dinner at home with good friends, who always entertain with panache, and a lunch with others in the Distillery District and a walkabout by Lake Ontario rounded it out. Seeing people who've been dear to me for more than two decades moved me enormously. Being so far away means I remember my friends as perpetually young, and I suppose I expected to suddenly be twenty again when we met once more. But what we had was much sweeter than eternal youth: I heard of great strides in careers and places to travel, and got to see children who I met as little kids, now coming into their own. They got to meet T, and he them, and luckily no embarassing stories from my undergraduate career emerged, at least this time. 

Our next stops were smaller cities with my own personal history, and here we found authenticity. All those years of wanting to see the great metropoles, and now I find the littler places drawing me in. We went to Kingston, Ontario, and toured the campus of Queen's University, a place I had the great good fortune to gain admission to, and from which unbelievably (to me) graduate. When I arrived, and when we visited, it was a glorious place, with limestone, ivy-covered buildings. T was charmed by it and the gorgeous lake-front walks. I was thrilled that he was on for the trip I called "Sue, the Formative Years" and felt like a little girl showing him where I came of age.
Ontario Hall in early fall

I also tried to impress upon him that it isn't always that lovely. The man has spent many years in California, so he had a tendency to block out what it looks like for four months a year. And after 17 years in Texas, I don't know that I could bear it myself. All I remember from my winters there is that everything is gray--the sky, the streets, the buildings.


photo of University Ave during snowfall

Still, at an outdoor lunch one afternoon, we heard a strike on a drum and then a firing up of bagpipes. Through the crowd that gathered, it was hard to see who the bearer of those pipes was. Turned out the drummer, a sober wee lad, was around eight years old, the piper perhaps ten or eleven. These little buskers were cleaning up, with what I estimated at a couple of hundred bucks in their case. In deep United Empire Loyalist country (where I came up, the Red Coats were the good guys) this was an Upper Canada moment.

We headed to the nation's capital, Ottawa, to see my parents for a few days. We did the major stuff, Parliament Hill and the farmer's market downtown.  The beauty never fails to thrill me. The next day, we went to Almonte, a pretty town in the Valley, as my parents call it. We all had lunch by the river and looked up at the bridge where my dad had, at age seven, jumped off more than once when he was farmed out from a neighboring town to his grandparents over the summer. I grew up several hours away and moved due to my father's policing career, but this is the land of my people.



The next day, T and I were out for a walk, talking about how we have landed in a long-distance relationship and how far both of us are from our roots. The great part about leaving home is the tremendous adventure that lies in the broader world.  But striving to be a citizen of the world means one never truly embraces any single place. Where do you feel like you're from, I asked him.

Like me, the place where he feels most at home is not where he grew up,  nor where he lives. Much of his family lives in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and the man does love to fish. Mine is the Ottawa Valley. These places represent the true north on our emotional compasses. Neither of us can imagine living full-time in our spiritual comfort zone, but knowing it is there brings us great comfort.  Things there may change, but so do we. Like reading a favorite novel, re-visiting these places tells us much more about ourselves than it does about the place.
 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

On Short Hair and Claire Underwood

It's my grown-up haircut. I can't imagine having long hair again.

-Robin Wright

Hair is a powerful thing for most women, especially for those who wear it long.  I've had mine at many lengths, though not past my shoulders since I was about nine.  I've chopped it off several times in my life, always, in retrospect, at moments of transition, and more than once it's been regrettable.

This time was definitely Claire Underwood's fault.  Like anyone else who watches House of Cards, I am mesmerized by her style and elegance, and I admire Robin Wright, who plays her, for refining the look. Over the years I have admired women I've seen on the street who pull off shorter hair with panache. They just look, in the era of beachy waves, so distinct. The problem with going this length is that, in the wrong hands, it very often says less "I am effortlessly chic" than "I have completely given up".

 

The first time I did it was in seventh grade. All the girls at my new school had this sort of mushroomy Dorothy Hamill thing going on, so I did it, too. It didn't make the girls like me any better, and not that anyone looks good in seventh grade, but had my parents not kept my school picture, I would have burned it.  Actually, I would have burned every picture of me through the end of high school, save for a brief pageboy phase. Perms would follow. I was aiming for sophisticated, but the record shows me resembling an alarmed sheep. 

Then was the college, won't-it-be-edgy-if-my-roommate-cuts-my-hair phase. Despite my adherence to earrings and lipgloss, this style rendered me dateless for the better part of a year. After another sheep phase, I was back to the pageboy, this time with heavy bangs from discount haircuts. 

Reinvention again came with motherhood. Two months after I had my first baby, I went straight to frumpy mummy. The move from Toronto to Texas with this bad pixie got me plenty of pitying looks, and by the time I was pregnant with our son two years later, it was time to go through the painful growing-out phase.  Despite being with child and managing with little clips and plenty of product, I felt beautiful throughout, a reflection of what I would feel as soon as my baby boy arrived. His smile made me feel like the prettiest girl in the world. By the time he was a year old, I had a bob and a pretty good look going on.

Unless she is Halle Barry, a forty year-old divorced woman cannot be going about with minimal locks, or so I was told by my follically-blessed girlfriends. So at that juncture, long I went, later with the requisite waves. (No extensions, in adherence with my personal ban on after-market parts.) Along with ditching the sale jeans at Old Navy for high-end denim--an expensive habit I adopted permanently and unapologetically--I was soon spending Real Housewives amounts of time on my mane.  When I met T, I was severely jet-lagged, but was wearing my J. Brand skinnies, and had definitely done my hair. 

Fast forward to a solid relationship and my first born leaving the nest. When telling her how besotted I was with Claire's style, she asked if I wasn't scared. It grows back, I countered.  That night, I draw T into the Underwood's web. "Isn't she gorgeous?" I ventured. T agreed. "Even with that hair?" He thought so.  Scales tipped. The night before I was to do it, we went out and sat at a nice bar for dinner.  "Would you still ask for my number if cut it off?" Babe, he said, I'm not in love with your hair.

Unlike previous attempts, this time I have a close relationship with a talented group of stylists. The folks at Lux Machine coached me through it, and by the time I was shorn of a good five inches, I had a support group. It felt like everyone in the joint was looking at me with admiration.  No small thing on the west side of Fort Worth.

Reviews have ranged from OMG, I love it to, "I see you cut your hair off" to not noticing at all. T adores it, but I think the man could love me headless, such is the generosity of his heart.

For me, it's been liberating, though I've had my moments. Gloria, owner of Lux, assured me I could come in for a tweak, which I've done. Again, the support has been fabulous. I think I might have finally found the equivalent of a black top and jeans, my sartorial go-to for many a year now.  When I walk by a window and see my reflection, my thought is not, that woman needs some volumizing gel but, wow, chic.  I'm maybe finally at the age where I can feel sexy on my own terms.  And I certainly haven't given up.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Springtime Gardening

I've killed a lot of plants in my life. When my daughter does some house and pet-sitting for me, she laughs and says at least there isn't anything to water. I've grown to see myself as a capable cook, an amateur decorator, and a tidy person with some occasional cleaning help, but that is the extent of my domestic capability. Only two green things, in my office, have survived over a long period of time, making my record over five years. They aren't thriving by most standards, but I have kept them alive. I figure between those and my kids and pets, my track record isn't bad. But still.

So when T built us a beautiful raised garden bed in the backyard, I was nervous. He's here, but not all the time. A large part of keeping these plants alive will be on my watch. T set up a little mechanism consisting of small posts and yellow tape, as the large canine toddler (now a teenager) was bounding through it with abandon before T planted this past weekend. It really doesn't look too much like a crime scene, and so far it seems to be working.

We've had a tunnel dug under the deck, where a pipe has had a habit of bursting and now has been capped with plans to reinforce and bury the line. Above all, we need water back there, but it's been a bit of a trial getting it done. The past several summers have seen rain at drought levels, and we've lost a couple of small trees and our ground cover appeared decimated. But the little bit of water we've gotten in there via nature and through the watering can, there are signs of life. 

Watching T this past weekend, with his absolute pleasure at digging in the well-heeled dirt, I felt some envy.  My feelings about my yard have been to keep it up appropriately where the neighbors can see it. Last summer, I felt so bad about the dead plants and the overwhelming weeds, I didn't spend much time on the wonderful deck. There is just so much to do, and yet T seems to enjoy it so much.

This evening, I pulled some weeds and made plans to get out there this weekend and tackle the rest, and maybe trim the hedges and fertilize the lawn.  Knowing I have an expert who will be around regularly helps me feel like I can handle it. 

After doing some watering, I strode out in my apron with my kitchen shears looking for herbs. I used to do this when I lived in my little rental house next to my Fort Worth mom, who keeps a fine garden of these and was always generous to let me raid her stock. But now I am moving beyond the little pots I've kept in subsequent years on the front step and into the real thing. This time I got onion chives, basil, and loads of thyme to stuff tonight's chicken. 

It felt satisfying to grow things with which to cook, and maybe this is my window into the world of gardening.  Texas isn't an easy place to grow things, but who knows? Maybe those eggplants and peppers will actually make it.  That will be a big win, if my black thumb turns green.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Memory in Midlife

Memory in middle age is a tricky thing. I repeat myself more often than I wish. I've been forgetting since my early thirties where I parked my car at the grocery store; part of that is because I moved to Texas and the vehicles are so huge that it's not easy to see my sedan behind the Tahoes, but mostly it's because I am thinking about what I'm going to cook that night and not paying attention.  Between the Central Market parking lot and the ones at the DFW airport (thank you to the nice people who patrol those lots in a Prius and help us lost souls find our vehicles two rows away from where we were looking in the first place) I could get a year of my life back. I've made peace with this and now write things down, but only because I attribute it to a character defect and not encroaching age.

Lately I notice the elasticity of time.  Things that happened five, ten years ago seem like they were last week.  Fairly routinely, usually during my brooding hour around 4 in the morning, I have a vivid recollection of a law firm event I organized when the office manager looked over my shoulder for days ahead and the whole evening, and could barely contain her satisfaction when we nearly ran out of wine, only rescued by my sending the catering company owner to his nearby shop to pick up another case. She was a nice lady but her desire to be the only indispensable person in the joint annoys me yet. Then the band snaps back and it hits me that she died four years ago from a brain tumor.  It's on me to get over that one.

It's also selective. The baby who lived down the street and was born two weeks before my son?  I remember talking to his mother in the driveway, a couple of years ago, and the child was bald and large-eyed and resembled ET.  Now he's over six feet with a gorgeous head of hair and heading off to high school. I also have a fuzzy yet distinct recollection of my former husband baking bread with a friend in Toronto and then deciding, quite logically, to race each other down the street to the Madison Avenue Pub, naked.  There was bemusement on the part of the other wife and I, and no frostbite transpired, nor were there arrests made. It is a fun memory, but what I can't quite recall is the woman who experienced it.

Nora Ephron wrote in I Remember Nothing that her life was wasted on her because she remembered so little. Yet in the subsequent essays, she writes evocatively of her parents, screenwriters who drank, and how she met Lillian Ross and tried carefully to determine if her mother's old story about kicking Lillian out of a party at their house was true.  Nora died at 76, right before which she wrote she'd missed punch lines, failed to recognize her own sister in an airport, and had to look up movie titles on Google.  But thankfully, she had not reached the "nadir of old age, the Land of Anecdote".

I seem to preface many of my conversations with, did I tell you this before?  And yet I hope to stave off the nadir to which Nora refers.  I suppose for many people the best stories live in the past, and they hope to share these to reassure themselves that they've had some fun after all. 

Reinvention in midlife is much better than many imagine. At forty, single again, I remembered the young woman I was and learned that nobody much cared if I was respectable, that I'd put it all on myself.  I found a real career, read and traveled (under the auspice of work, mostly, until I met T) and decided to write again, all things I'd dreamed of when young.  The memory came from my soul rather than my mind, and there have been giddy moments of rediscovery.  My kids still love me and my friends do as well.  I am my own worst judge--what's wrong, after all, with reinhabiting my real self?

I'm only on this side of fifty, with a resolve to have many anecdotes to tell when I am 80--but from last week. I will remember stories of my new adventures. If only I can find my car.





   

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dear Fort Worth: We Have to Talk

I've fallen in love. The beginning was innocent, I swear. I just wanted to have a little fun. Back in 2011, a handsome man invited me to San Francisco with a promise of a drive to Napa.  A woman of a certain age doesn't think she'll be taken in by these things. Surely it was lust, I thought, a seduction by sunshine and tomatoes that really taste like tomatoes, by a region where even in dodgy places a good glass of wine can be had. I rationalized it was the man, not the place.

He continues to be the main draw, but it's becoming clear that I can't stay away from his habitat, at least not for long.  The first glaring sign: Saturday mornings at the Ferry Building, with the local vegetables, Mary's chicken, and the eggs that are still barely warm. Also, waking at T's place meant a view of the Bay, the water shining early in the morning and the smell of the sea coming in the windows, which can be open at night all year long. Even working at five in the morning (I still have my East Coast colleagues) was precious, the Bay Bridge shimmering out the window.

Fort Worth, you've been steadfast towards me all these sixteen years. Our relationship has deepened over time. You started out pretty scruffy and unsophisticated, with only steak houses and Tex Mex and some pretty good barbeque in the way of dining out.  Now you've given me Ellerbe and Pacific Table and Sera, and the trails by the Trinity River are lovely, especially with a stop afterwards for lunch at the Woodshed.  I have the dearest friends here. It's not that I don't love you, but you're like a favorite sweater I've put on to find the sleeves are too short and the hem is frayed.  I got a little bored and felt hemmed in.  Then temptation reared its head.

Napa turned out to be pretty easy to resist. Sure, there's the wine and food, but so far it doesn't quite live up to the hype. I can certainly find good wine here with you these days, Cowtown. San Francisco was wonderful, but between the exorbitant cost of living, the ominpresent pot and the naked people (note: most of us look better with our clothes on) I had rationalized that bit away. Fun to visit, but not a place I could really commit to.Then T moved to the Monterey Pennisula. 

Our new little town is sleepy, like you, and there are plenty of good places to eat. Carmel is pretty but much too precious for me, Pacific Grove too preachy, Monterey just right. The Naval Postgraduate school is just down the hill.  At dawn, we hear reveille; at dusk, taps. Sea lions bark every morning. Still, I've tried to hold fast to my love for you. You, who took me in as a lost Canadian soul and gave me kindness and a soft place to fall. Then we went to Big Sur. It became a full-blown affair.



The rugged coast, the sun going down at Nepenthe, the hikes in the redwoods--all of it soothes my soul and relaxes me in a profound way.  No wonder everyone looks so happy there.

I don't know how long it will go on.  The man, for as long as the Universe determines; things are as permanent as they can be. As for the place, every time we have an interlude it gets more passionate.  As for you, Fort Worth, I'll stay with you for the sake of the kids, but once they are grown, all bets are off.  Maybe the thrill will be gone by then, but I don't think Big Sur's hot will wear off.