Category Archives: Life

Book Review: Ageproof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip, by Jean Chatzky and Michael F. Roisen, MD

During the past few months, I’ve found myself gravitating to wellness-related books, blogs and podcasts. This interest started last year around this time when I embarked on Couch to 5K and made some modifications to eat healthier; however, a few factors have accelerated this.

For starters, I’m less than a year and a half away from a milestone birthday, the one beginning with 5. A year after that, the kids will graduate high school, and The Girl has recently been giving a lot of thought to potential colleges. These next few years are looming large. There’s also The Ongoing Family Situation which has me thinking a great deal about what I can control now to potentially affect future quality of life. I’m thinking particularly of retirement planning and ways to slow memory loss through food and exercise.

And I’m trying not to let all these thoughts keep me up too much at night nor preoccupy my every waking moment because if one isn’t careful, this line of thinking can quickly spin out of control into full-fledged anxiety. There has been a bit of that associated with all this, like the other week when I met one-on-one with the retirement planning guy at work. They brought in our plan’s representative–who looked like he was about 12 years old–for one hour complimentary financial consultations and I swear to you, his advice to me was basically, “I don’t know what to say.”

I kid you not. I mean, I already knew I was screwed. Thanks, Junior.

All this is to say that this feeling of health and wealth (I speak of the latter figuratively, of course) coming into fuller focus made me the perfect reader for Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen’s new book, Ageproof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip which I spotted while browsing at the library and listened to on audio.

This is basically a manual for How to Live Your Life. I don’t mean that facetiously; rather, this covers every aspect of living. Yes, there’s plenty of advice that we’ve all heard or read — and either implemented, ignored or put off until “someday.” But there are also some good checklists and strategies, like starting with the importance of doing  “system checks” (both health-related and financial) before making any major changes. There are chapters on breaking bad habits, reducing stress, how one’s occupation influences health. The sections on financial information was more helpful than the representative from my retirement plan.

Here’s what Age-Proof doesn’t have: there’s no secret sauce, no magic elixir recipe for eternal life. (Besides, who would really want that anyway?) The most important thing it does have is reassurance that “no matter what you’ve done in the past, it’s never too late (till you’re six feet under) to get the body or bank account you want.”

Audio is definitely the way to go with this one, mainly because of Dr. Roizen’s exuberance about … well, almost everything. He and Jean Chatzky alternate narrating their portions of the book — sometimes interrupting and interjecting thoughts — and while it’s a little hokey in some spots, it’s also kind of cute.

Not to mention important.

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this is a week for the birds

Milburn Orchards, Elkton, MD. August 2010. Photo by Melissa Firman.

So, here’s what I’m staring down during the week ahead.

You ready?

The Boy and The Girl’s 16th birthdays.

(I have no gifts purchased and zero ideas, especially for The Boy, and no money for an “experience” gift, like a weekend in New York or something like that.)

A major holiday involving a 6 hour drive (each way) across T**mpsylvania.

(That would be Thanksgiving, complete with multiple helpings of stress and several people who aren’t talking to us.)  

The two-year anniversary of The Husband’s seizure during Thanksgiving Dinner 2015 and me reviving him on the bathroom floor.

(Of which we’re still dealing with lingering physical, cognitive and emotional effects. Us, not the bathroom floor.) 

And just for good measure, my 30 year high school reunion!

(My high school years were … well, you can read about them in my post “25 Year Later. It Gets Better.” It says something that this is the event I’m most looking forward to this week.) 

On top of which (yeah, there’s more) the weather is total crap (raining, cold, windy, snow) and I’ve had a cold since Wednesday. I’m at that stage where I’m convinced I’ll be sick forever. This has turned into a sinus headache from hell.

The only thing to do is all that I can do in these scenarios:

Breathe.

Do what I/we can, in whatever way works for me/us.

Don’t obsess over what we can’t control.

Focus on the positive aspects. (Neither kid wants a car for their 16th birthday nor has any interest in driving yet! Now that’s something I’m thankful for.)

Breathe.

Abandon expectations and all notions of “the way it was/should be/could have been.”

Reduce social media time.

Make sure to get enough sleep.

Breathe.

Again.   

And again. 

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Summer’s End

Sunrise over Wildwood Crest, NJ ~ June 9, 2017, 5:23 a.m. ~ Photo credit Melissa Firman

Count me among the many who consider Labor Day weekend as the official end of summer, regardless of what the calendar says. As much as I hate to see the longer days and warm weather leave (because I know what follows), I’m fine with saying goodbye to what was oftentimes a challenging couple of months and welcoming a new season.

I’m cognizant that this is my first Sunday Salon/Currently … post since May and likewise, that my posting frequency in general has been lackluster, with only 8 posts since Memorial Day. There are a few reasons for that. Several issues occupying my attention aren’t bloggable, and those that are — say, like the state of the world and daily onslaught of outrage provoked by Twitler, for example — often leave me apoplectic.

But, I really have missed being here more regularly and connecting with those of you who are actually still interested in what I have to say, so I’m going to try and be more of a frequent presence.

Let’s get caught up by recapping the summer, shall we?

June

We took our first family vacation in two years and headed downnashore. (That means the New Jersey beaches for those not fluent in Philly talk.)  Unfortunately, we picked the four worse consecutive days of the entire summer to spend by the ocean — cold, rainy and damp. Just miserable weather. I know, I know … a bad day at the shore is better than a good day at work, but it would have done our souls good to see the sun more than just the morning we left.

The Girl, during a very windy walk on the beach. She’s wearing a sweatshirt I purchased 24 years ago on our honeymoon.

As disappointing as the vacation was, there were some good moments. The sunrise above, for starters. I happened to wake up early and catch it, and I’m so glad I did. The Girl and I also enjoyed several nice walks on the beach, despite being bundled up in sweatshirts. (We walked a total of two miles on two separate days!) We had some great meals and only one not-so-great, and the place we stayed was fantastic.

Gluten free spaghetti with clams, Poppi’s Brick Oven Pizza, Wildwood, NJ

Mozzarella and Pesto Pearls (tomato, basil, mozzarella, pesto) at Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Salmon with grilled asparagus over rice. Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Rigatoni with marinara. This bowl was huge. Panico’s Bistro, Cape May, NJ

Mussels. Godmothers Restaurant, Cape May, NJ

We bookended the shore trip with stops in Philadelphia to spend several days with family and that coincided with a cousin’s graduation party. The Boy spent the whole day in the pool and was in his glory.

After we returned, The Boy went to a social skills camp for kids with Asperger’s. He participated in this program last year and it was a good experience. This summer? Not so much. A rough couple of weeks. It was a completely different group of kids and a new counselor from last summer and the dynamic just didn’t work.

The Girl did a writing camp for a week. This was her third year at this camp, which she loves. She also did another one-day writing camp at Chatham University and now she has her sights set on going to college there and working at the library. (She volunteered one day a week and we got to have lunch together, which was nice and one of the highlights of my summer.)

July   

The Girl and I were in a minor car accident on the 6th. Fortunately everyone was fine. My car was banged up a bit and wound up being in the shop for a month. These things are why one has insurance and I’m very glad we do.

Most of the month was spent dealing with some dental woes that involved several emergency appointments (two in one week), a consult with an endodontist (and potential oral surgery), three sick days from work, and copious amounts of Advil (we’re talking close to 12 per day) with an occasional Vicodin left over from my gallbladder surgery thrown in. It all just got resolved three weeks ago — with a root canal, not the aforementioned more extensive oral surgery — and this past Friday night, one of my crowns fell out. Here we go again.

August 

The Girl participated in Girls Rock Pittsburgh, a week-long camp where those who identify as girls and are tweens through age 18 learn an instrument, form a band, write an original song, create merchandise, take part in workshops (confidence building, healthy relationships), and record and perform their song in public. The Girl was initially reluctant to be part of this program but it turned out to be a fantastic experience. She played the drums and we’re now the proud renters of a drum set and an electric guitar for the next year.

Reading 

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, I read 15 books.

Cocoa Beach, by Beatriz Williams
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne
The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance: Poems 1987-1992, by Audre Lorde
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, by Cherise Wolas
The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc
Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout (audio)
The Fifth of July, by Kelly Simmons
The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley
South and West: From a Notebook, by Joan Didion
Ageproof: How to Live Longer Without Breaking a Hip, Running Out of Money, or Forgetting Where You Put It, by Jean Chatzky and Michael Roizen (audio)
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by Caitlin Doughty
Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide Open Heart, by Scott Stabile
The Floating World, by C. Morgan Babst
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, by Derek Thompson (audio)
Heather, The Totality, by Matthew Weiner

This weekend is pretty low key. Time to bring on fall.

 

 

 

 

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Living on a Prayer with Bon Jovi in Pittsburgh

Immediately after performing “Runaway,” a song released 33 years ago, Jon Bon Jovi made a confession to the Pittsburgh crowd gathered at PPG Paints Arena on a Wednesday evening.

“I think I’m singing like shit tonight and I apologize,” he said, promising his fans he would keep “pushin’ on,” and adding “if you stick it out with me, I’ll stick it out with you.”

And that’s sort of how it has been for those of us who grew up with Bon Jovi, hasn’t it?  His music was part of the soundtrack to our youth, the backdrop to everything from our first loves to our last slow dance at the prom. To prove it, there was an entire arena on Wednesday night full of Gen Xers who, intentionally or not, seemed to be throwbacks to the 80s with mullets and big hair and clad in Slippery When Wet concert t-shirts from 1987 and clutching cans of beer while unabashedly belting out every single word to the likes of “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Lay Your Hands On Me.”

Same as it ever was.

At first I thought Jon’s admission that he had been battling a cold since Saturday was simply concert shtick or, perhaps, a clever intro to “Bad Medicine.” I still thought that when he brought a fan up from the audience to help out on “Born to Be My Baby.”

But when he walked over to the edge of the stage and recited Prince’s infamous, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life” — that’s when I admit to feeling a little freaked out and unsettled. Here’s yet another rock icon of my youth saying he’s not feeling well and invoking the words of another who died way too young and reminding us of our own mortality and his. My generation doesn’t need any more reminders of the fragility of life, that we’re getting older and that, personally speaking at 48, more years are likely to be in the rear-view mirror than down the road.

Whoa, we’re halfway there, whoa, livin’ on a prayer … 

On Bon Jovi’s new album “This House is Not For Sale,” one of the tracks is called “God Bless This Mess.”   I think it kind of puts into context this phase of life and how we’re starting to feel its effects.

“My voice is shot, I’m going grey, these muscles all ache
Don’t cry for me, I’m the life of the party
I’m smiling most of the time
I may be gritting my teeth, can’t get back where we started
These days I’m doing just fine.” 

The song has been frequently included on this tour’s setlist, but we didn’t get to hear it in Pittsburgh because as the world knows by now, the Pittsburgh show was abruptly cut short — 90 minutes into what would have been a two and a half hour performance — and with no rousing encore. It’s a decision that has some expressing frustration, mostly via social media temper tantrums, about getting an abbreviated version of the show.

To which I say, get yourself a fucking life. If you’re complaining about something as trivial as being “cheated” out of sixty minutes of a concert — during a week when innocent people were gassed to death in a unfathomable literal hell on earth — then check your privilege at the door, thank you. Sure, it’s disappointing to not get something you expected. But there is nothing that comes with a guarantee in life. Nothing.

And that’s what Bon Jovi’s songs are all about. They remind us to enjoy that moment, that guy, that girl, that kiss, that night, that time, that love.  I went to the show with my 15 year old daughter and we danced our asses off and sang at the top of our lungs. We had a great time, enjoying every moment. For the record, I thought Jon sounded fantastic and his performance was great.  My girl loved it and said it was one of the best nights of her life.

“Take my hand,” I said, as we crossed a busy street to get back to our car.

We looked at each other. “We’ll make it, I swear!” we sang.

We remember how we were, once upon a time, not so long ago. We take nothing for granted, holding on to what we’ve got. These days, we’re all living on a prayer.

Thanks for a great show, Jon. Get well soon. 

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How a Baby Carrier Made Me Love Doing Laundry (Giveaway Opportunity)

 

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A few days ago, I found one of my favorite pictures from when our twins were newborns.

In the photo, there’s laundry spread all over the coffee table and piled on the sofa. The Boy — all of five weeks old at the time — is safely tucked inside a baby carrier, reaching out as if he’s trying to help fold the plethora of onesies, caps and blankets that overflowed from our laundry baskets back then.

tul-004_med5a(I’m not posting this now 15 year old photo because I have a longstanding blog policy of not posting pictures of the kids regardless of their ages. So, this stock photo — of someone who looks a lot more calm and in control than I was as the mom of two newborns — will have to suffice.)

Even though our twins are now teenagers, I still remember how much both kids loved being in the baby carrier. Needless to say, we loved it too because as much as we wanted to spend every moment holding and playing with our precious twins, things needed to be done around the house like … well, laundry.  And with two newborns, we had a LOT of laundry.

Baby slings and wraps are the perfect solution for parents and caregivers in situations when you need both hands free. For example, we also wore the baby carrier while preparing meals for us and bottles for the kids.

For us, it was a convenience thing — but as it turns out,  babywearing has been shown to have positive benefits, especially for babies who are premature, as ours were. I remember the snug feeling being comforting to my two and I think it helped all of us bond at a critical time.

When we registered for our baby carriers (we actually had two) I wasn’t sure if we really needed them. But like many things about becoming parents, I was mistaken.  They turned out to be life-changing … something that actually made doing laundry fun!

Tell me in the comments about your favorite product, tip or strategy that helps make your life a little easier. (For those who don’t have children, this doesn’t have to be parenting-related … it can be anything at all.) All commenters will be eligible to win a $50 gift card to purchase something for yourself or someone else. I’ll draw a winner at random on December 23. (A perfect last minute gift!) 

This sponsored post and giveaway is a partnership with Nakturnal, with a prize of a gift certificate.

Entries on this giveaway are now closed. Congratulations to Kate, who was selected at random (via Randomizer.com) as our winner and thanks to all who entered! 

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Seeing Red

hillary-pittsburgh-rally-11-7-2016-2

There we were, in the middle of a Pittsburgh street, when Hillary Clinton approached.

She looked stunning, confident, resplendent in her red pantsuit.  We cheered wildly, equally confident that we were meeting our next President of the United States.

We were so close.

It was the second to last rally of a unending, unprecedented campaign. Monday afternoon, November 7.  A bright and brisk day, a deep blue sky — not unlike that on 9/11, as horribly ironic as that seems now. She had just spoken and as we were leaving, a small crowd gathered in the blockaded intersection hoping just to wave as her motorcade departed.

And then suddenly, there she was. Crossing the street toward us as we erupted into a cacophony of shouts, cell phones capturing what felt like a historical moment. After all, how often do you have an opportunity to meet the next President of the United States on the eve of her election?

Less than 36 hours after I took this picture and after I proudly let my almost 15-year-old daughter push the VOTE button for the most qualified person to ever run for President, my girl and I were sobbing uncontrollably as we watched the election returns. As state after state turned red, we held each other as the realization set in that our country and our lives were now changed forever.


Like many of us in the aftermath of this election, I am a maelstrom of emotions. For three days, I’ve been a cauldron of feelings: anger, sadness, fear and despair, just for starters. Quite simply, I am devastated and shaken to my core, unable to rationalize the juxtaposition of events this week — the exhilaration of seeing Hillary Clinton in person and the pride of voting for the first female President of the United States …. to the empty jack o’lanterned feeling like my insides had been hollowed out and turned to orange pulp.

I will be honest with you, as I’ve always tried to do here on this blog and elsewhere. I have been struggling mightily since the wee hours of Wednesday morning when it became abundantly clear that this country is now bathed in a sea of red.

And yes, I’ve read enough in these past several days, thank you, to recognize that we have been living in a red country for quite some time and this is a wake-up call for some.  I get that, and I’ve seen and I understand enough about the culture wars that have been raging to know that the pot has been dangerously close to boiling over for some time.

And now, that pot has been doused with kerosene and is exploding with students being threatened in vandalized schools, women harassed by men yelling about grabbing their pussies, and a President-elect tweeting about how unfair all this is, rather than leading the nation in being a voice of reason.


Somehow, in all of this, we still need to get through our daily lives. On Wednesday morning, after less than two hours of something barely resembling sleep, I somehow got my ass out of bed and went to work.  I had to; I’m the sole breadwinner in a family of four that is on a fucking financial precipice. My husband has been out of work for 16 months. He’s a cancer survivor and is someone who spent Thanksgiving Day last year being resuscitated by me on our bathroom floor after he collapsed from a seizure, which he now has long term effects from.  Our medical bills are ridiculous and our income is 1/3 of what it was this time last year. (Not less than one third; it is one-third.)

So, yes, I absolutely, completely understand the feeling of being left behind in a world with a changing economy that shits on your 25 years of professional experience in your field where you can’t get an entry level job. I know about skyrocketing health insurance premiums and paychecks that don’t cover your basic needs and savings that have been depleted because you lost everything in the housing crisis and the Great Recession and how you can’t send your kids to college and what it is like to be angry about this.

But here’s the thing. I don’t simply understand this mentality because I’ve read about it from some think-piece in the New Yorker.  I understand this because I am living this, too.

It’s just that my story probably looks a little different from someone else’s story because I am a white female living in a middle-class suburban neighborhood.

Maybe that’s one of the takeaways here, that we’re not really all that different after all. If so, then that’s one of the things I am struggling hard to understand.

Because I simply can’t fathom how people in these circumstances could willingly vote for someone with a non-existent track record of delivering on anything that would improve our lives AND who happens to be the kind of racist, sexist, xenophobic, narcissist that the President-elect is.  And no — I do not buy for one minute that the outrageous things and the abhorrent behavior and conduct in the campaign waged by the winner was simple campaign rhetoric. I do not.  Maya Angelou was right: when someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time and every single goddamn time after that. The reality is that our President-Elect has been showing us who he is for much longer than this campaign.


I know not everyone reading this will understand and I don’t expect everyone to. Nor do I really care. This post is just where I am right now as I try to capture and relegate my emotions and regain some sort of equilibrium in what is a very difficult, fragile, scary time. Wednesday morning felt eerily similar to 9/11, when my coworkers and I huddled together in tears, sharing news and trying to find solace in music and poetry. Just as 9/11 was a difficult day, so was its numerical fraternal twin of 11/9.

I’ll remember the tearful embraces and shaky words with my coworker and the cook in the cafeteria who makes my breakfast bowl each morning — both people of color, both people who I have developed a friendship with over time. I’ll remember needing to go back to church, just as I did on 9/11. Then, as now, I went to a service at my Unitarian Universalist church.  The Girl came with me and we listened to Carrie Newcomer’s “Sanctuary”  and the words of Terry Tempest Williams and the poetry of Ellen Bass. We shared our feelings with others and held hands and cried together.

At times, I feel a little stronger, even empowered. I’m trying to find ways to use my anger as a force for good and how I can fill this deep chasm in my heart.  I’ll be using my voice and this blog to speak louder, to call foul, to raise awareness of injustices and the issues and the people who — make no doubt about it — will truly be forgotten in this new political administration that isn’t going to do jack shit to improve anyone’s life. We have a con man as the leader of our country now and I fear that dark days are on the horizon and I am preparing for them.

In spite of that,  I’m cultivating a new circle of friends while holding closer those who share my belief that it isn’t just our own life that matters, it’s that all people have value and worth and dignity — those with disabilities, those who are members of the LGBTQ community, those who are newcomers to this country, those who are minorities, those who haven’t even been born. Those are the people I will be championing and those are the people and the causes who will get my time and my talents.

I will remember until the day I die Hillary Clinton’s bright red pantsuit as she crossed the street to greet us.  I will remember the gorgeous day we shared and the gray, rainy gloomy day in every sense of the word on 11/9/2016. I will remember the red hot anger I feel in the aftermath of this election. And in this red country, one that will see more red blood spilled on our streets in violence, I will remember the people that need championing with every beat of my heart and with a red-hot passion fueled by love.

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Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life, by Joan Chittister

Between the Dark and the DaylightInsomnia and I have become rather close lately. Granted, we don’t see each other every night —  it can be weeks or even months between our unhappy hours — but suffice it to say we know each other well.

Our family has had an incredibly difficult year. Those of you who are regular readers here (and, of course, family and friends who know us personally) know there isn’t a single area of our lives that hasn’t undergone some sort of major, significant life-changing hit in the past 12 months. Our work, longtime friendships, health, finances, issues with the kids … each of these has been impacted to the point that we’ve been questioning everything — our past decisions, our present realities. It is the darkest stretch of time since what I refer to as “the black hole years” of The Boy’s autism diagnosis 12 years ago.

That doesn’t always make for a restful night’s sleep. Add into all that our country’s unending violence, relentless heartbreak, and a downright nightmarish presidential election season that has tempers blazing, including that of one unhinged, dangerous and completely unfit candidate, and it’s no wonder I find myself up at night.

I’ve been seeking words of wisdom, binging on current and back episodes of “On Being” and most especially craving spiritually-focused books.  Not religious works, because religion doesn’t necessarily work for me these these days, but books that have the ability to ease the tension (if only for the few brief minutes of reading before bedtime), provide some insight or new perspective. A spiritual salve, if you will, for navigating the hurts of this scary, confusing, uncertain world.

As soon as I started Between the Dark and the Daylight, it was like Joan Chittister was writing just for me. From the first two pages:

“There is a part of the soul that stirs at night, in the dark and soundless times of day, when our defenses are down and our daylight distractions no longer serve to protect us from ourselves. What we suppress in the light emerges clearly in the dusk. It’s then, in the still of life, when we least expect it, that questions emerge from the damp murkiness of our inner underworld. Questions with ringtones that call the soul to alert but do not come with ready resolutions. Questions about life, not about the trivia of dailiness. The kind of questions to which there is no one answer but which, nevertheless, plague us for attention if we are ever to move through the dimness of life’s twists and turns with confidence.

These questions do not call for the discovery of data; they call for the contemplation of possibility.”

I read those words — yes, I confess, sometime around 3:30 in the morning — and was instantly awake. This is not a book about conquering insomnia, but rather one that addresses the dark issues of the soul. I don’t mean “dark” as in a harmful or dangerous way. More in terms of the anxieties and complacencies that can be so powerful in preventing us from moving forward in our lives.

In this book, it’s not necessarily what Joan Chittister is saying — it’s how she says it.  There’s a gentleness and calmness to her prose that is incredibly soothing. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising as Joan Chittister is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA. (That said, by no means is this book heavy-handed with theology; quite the contrary.)

The author of more than 50 books, she has an extensive, impressive biography spanning decades of accomplishments as an “outspoken advocate of justice, peace and equality — especially for women world-wide.” (source: Joan Chittister).  And, best of all, she was born in Allegheny County, so she’s a Pittsburgher!

I’m almost embarrassed to say that I hadn’t heard of Joan Chittister before discovering Between the Dark and the Daylight while browsing at the library. But I strongly believe that books and their authors find us at the precise time we need them, and Between the Dark and the Daylight is definitely one of them. Highly recommended, especially during these troubled times for so many of us and our world.

Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life
by Joan Chittister
Image 
2015
176 pages

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #65 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project

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