I’m Not 60…I’m ‘Sexagenarian.’

On September 20 I passed a milestone that everybody said would be very difficult: I turned 60. It seems like just yesterday that I turned 50 and friends were warning, “Fifty is nothing…but you’ll really feel it when you are sixty.” A few years ago a formerly heavy colleague, newly slim, confessed that “I had to get my diet and exercise in order, because I didn’t want to turn sixty and realize my body has totally fallen apart.” And it’s become popular for women’s magazines to have features called, “Sexy at Any Age,” with photos of gorgeous celebrities grouped by their decade. For some reason it stops at 59, unless they are talking about men.

So post-birthday, I’ve spent the past week waiting to feel the axe of old age upon my head, and guess what? Nothing has happened. My hair is no grayer and my body is no more stooped or saggy than it was last week. This new decade is not as scary as it seemed when I was 10 years away from it.

It could be because we have many friends now who are post-60 and say it’s a blast if you have the right attitude. Several friends at my 60th birthday party last week were living proof: they looked fit and gorgeous; passionate about their grandchildren, work, interests and travel; and as carefree as eight-year-olds. Not a bad place to be.

Here’s one thought: maybe the key for surviving the 60s is to think and act like you did in “the 60s.” I have to admit right here that I sat on the sidelines during the free love decade (and am happily married and have no plans to start such debauchery now.) But my mind was more open and I felt the possibilities were endless. So why not make a mind-blowing change in the concept of what it means to be 60-plus? Let’s start by declaring that we’re not in our 60s…we’re “sexagenarian.”

Doesn’t that sound better?

Ten years as a sexagenarian sounds pretty exciting. I’m now in the company of people like Helen Mirren, who, someone once declared, “put the sex back in sexagenarian.” Being a sexagenarian sounds as racy as being a dancer in “Hair,” something I wasn’t allowed to see in the 60s. It sounds as daring as wearing a Catholic school uniform with fishnet stockings (which I kinda did, in 1968.) Yet because of the “gen” syllable, it also sounds vaguely healthy, like oxygen or a yoga retreat. I like it…I’ll take it!

So I now have a whole ten years in this fun new decade before I have to redefine my age all over again. It’s probably not too early to start thinking about how to spin the 70s, which are already looking challenging. Somehow “septuagenarian” doesn’t have the same ring. If you read or watched “Game of Thrones” you know that a “septa” is a humorless female religion teacher. It also sounds too much like “septic.” Maybe we can think of something different.

And don’t even get me started on octogenarians.

You’ve Got Plenty of Sympathy

liliesToday in Target I saw something that I thought I would never see: a six-pack of sympathy cards.

I was shopping with my mom and looking for a sympathy card for a friend whose own elderly mother just passed away after a long struggle with dementia. Imagine my surprise when among the tasteful, dignified cards picturing lilies, crosses, butterflies, serene gardens and poetic sentiments was a shrink-wrapped bargain bundle of them!

You know that the U.S. population demographics are skewing older when you can now buy sympathy cards in bulk, much like you’d purchase shrink-wrapped supplies of mac and cheese or vitamin water. One for now and more for later, “just in case.” Bargain survival-sized rations of something that you only use when somebody doesn’t survive. What’s next: boxes of 25 at Costco?

A six-pack of sympathy cards is perfect if you are expecting a slew of bad news. As a growing number of us in middle age also deal with aging parents, this is a morbid sign of the times. No less than six of our good friends and neighbors have lost their parents within the past year. Moreover, as I approach my sixtieth birthday I find myself scanning the obits more and more, for people my age as well as for people whose families I might know. Every time I see an age gap that’s uncomfortably close I go out for a walk and count my blessings.

Perhaps buying sympathy cards ahead is not such a bad idea, especially in the age of prepaid funerals and advanced health care directives. The late comedienne Joan Rivers planned the details of her own funeral several years ago, including tributes from Meryl Streep in five languages and a wind machine near her coffin so that Joan (dressed in Valentino) would look as fetching as Beyonce. People who are far less famous than Joan Rivers have also planned their ultimate going-away party. A good friend of mine has also asked her family to follow special orders if she is ever on life support:  don’t pull the plug until she’s a size 10. As someone who’s worked at newspapers I also know that eulogies and obits are often composed well before the body gets cold.

Well, I did buy the six-pack of sympathy cards, which are tasteful and simple, along with a “special” single card for my neighbor, and figured I wouldn’t feel bad about it because I’m not sure who will get them. Afterwards my mom and I decompressed by heading over the section of funny cards, howling out loud at some of the more risqué ones.

One can argue of course that buying ahead saves time, money and gas, just like buying toilet paper in bulk or a 700-capsule jar of vitamins. Yet the pain and trauma of losing a loved one, no matter how old, makes it seem crass to be practical about how we comfort them. I’ve always viewed choosing sympathy cards not only as a respectful custom and a duty towards the grieving, but also as a meditation on the person’s life and the family’s loss. The sentiment that works for one grief-stricken family may not work for another. And it never occurred to me to make a special trip to buy a sympathy card ahead of time, even if someone I know is clearly at the end. There is something vulture-like about this. It feels like cheating, like being presumptuous or even inviting the worst. So maybe I will save my shrink wrapped cards for people I don’t know that well.

The Monsters in My Closet

Ugly, ugly, ugly. Sweats from a store that's synonymous with tacky. Why can't I throw them away?

Sweats from a store that’s synonymous with tacky. Why can’t I throw them away?

November 1 and the wind is howling outside. It’s warm today but if you believe the weather forecast the wind is ushering in some cold temperatures. A perfect time to edit my winter wardrobe with a clear head…because once the cold weather arrives I will put on anything warm without thinking about how it looks.

Dressing for winter is always a bit of a problem. I’m extremely sensitive to cold (especially damp cold, very common here in New England) and need warm and comfortable layers, preferably in natural fibers, to keep me from shivering. I also don’t work outside the home so have no gun to my head to make me look polished every day. A typical day consists of some writing, answering emails and Facebook-trawling at my home computer, keeping up with two dogs, cooking for the guys, doing some chores, taking a walk, running some errands and maybe meeting up with a friend for lunch. Except for the last two occasions, comfort usually wins out over pride.

I have a closet full of nice clothes that I have picked up at boutiques and shops here and in California, where my in-laws live and the clothes have a bit more panache than they do here in New England. They are filmy tops made from manmade fibers (which look terrific but are never warm), snug-fitting jeans that pinch if I sit too long in them or had carbs at breakfast, dressy sweaters (perfect for an afternoon at an art gallery or in a chic part of the city but not for making homemade sauce with meatballs.) I buy them with the best intentions, and look far better when I put them on – usually when the weather is comfortably warm or cool and the humidity is low. Yet on a raw, blustery day with nothing on the agenda I inevitably reach for the shleppiest thing in my closet – loose jeans, drawstring

UM...this isn't glamorous. But it sure is warm.

UM…this isn’t glamorous. But it sure is warm. (Sorry, UMass.)

sweats, once-proud cashmere sweaters that have holes and have gone through the wash, thick Wigwam socks designed for sub-zero camping trips, corduroy pants that cry out for a sweater emblazoned with country geese, shirts from the loungewear department at Target. Even defended from the cold by unglamorous layers of fleece, I still need to brew lots of hot tea to stoke a warming fire from within.

A few days ago we enjoyed a visit from some good friends from the Silicon Valley area, and we were talking about moms from nice neighborhoods who dress to the nines even when they are walking the dog or picking up the kids from school. My friend Renee talked about the mothers at an upscale grade school who dressed like they were on a runway to pick up their offspring. Picking up my own son from school, I am amazed at the number of pubescent girls who wear bare legs and short skirts with their Ugg boots. And I thank God for tinted auto glass.

I also marvel when Bob and I watch the news on TV and see the female weather forecaster dressed in a chic short-sleeved dress, perfect for a summer night out, when she’s predicting sub-freezing temperatures. Bob does not help when he remarks, “She should do the weather in the nude.”

A few years ago I interviewed a boutique owner who always looked fabulous, and she lamented that she wished more northern gals cared as much as the southerners do about how they dressed. Southern women, she pointed out, wear chic Juicy Couture track suits, good jewelry and nice makeup even when they are shopping for groceries. I’d like to introduce one of these Georgia peaches to a nice nor’easter. After that experience she will happily put on a pair of drawstring sweats from Old Navy.

There must be a happy compromise between being chic and being comfortable and warm. I’ve looked around our local mall for answers but can’t envision myself with the word “Pink!” stamped on my butt, or in anything that Kanye would wear with a thick gold chain. Nor do I see myself in anything that is sold next to the camping gear or that would look good with a folk art sweater.

One of my go-to shirts: all cotton, brushed on the inside, warm on the coldest winter days with the right stuff underneath.

One of my go-to shirts: all cotton, brushed on the inside, warm on the coldest winter days with the right stuff underneath.

I do have a few tips that have served me well. One is that if you are only in the car, you need only worry about what you are wearing on the part of your body that can be seen through the window. I have some nice colorful scarves that can be easily draped over those tacky sweats and nobody will ever know. However, this can backfire, as one of my best friends found out. When her daughter got on the school bus without her lunch, my friend pulled a jacket over her short nightshirt, jumped in the car, and sped down the street to a spot where the bus would stop later. Only she didn’t count on a male neighbor recognizing her car and sauntering over for a chat.

Another tip is that the right close-fitting underwear is a fitting armor under those flimsier but more attractive clothes. Maybe that’s what those weather chicks wear; I must ask them some time.

While I have nowhere to go today except for Target, I think I nailed a good compromise: comfortable but close-fitting jeans (thanks to the Lycra gods), a lavender Lucky Jeans waffle-weave top, the pretty necklace that Bob gave me last Christmas. Tomorrow I may not be so lucky.

So in the spirit of true confession, this post includes items I wear when I care most about comfort, most of them very unfashionable. How about you? What do you wear when comfort is the top priority and nobody is looking?

A great scarf makes you look like you have great elan when you are sitting in your car, regardless of what else you are wearing.

A great scarf makes you look like you have great elan when you are sitting in your car, regardless of what else you are wearing.

Once a cashmere sweater develops a hole, you are free to make gravy in it.

Once a cashmere sweater develops a hole, you are free to make gravy in it.

Hurricane Rita Blows In

IMG_3102Don’t let the cuteness fool you. Our second dog, who arrived on Friday, is at eight weeks already an alpha female. The trainer arrives today, and not a moment too soon.

After a delightful 10 months with the very laid-back Gus, our first dog, we made the decision a few months ago to get another dog as a companion for him. Miniature dachshunds are very social creatures and a few people had advised us to get two dogs from the get-go. But as first-time dog owners, we did not want to tax ourselves.

Gus was an easy dog, docile and easily housebroken, loyal and affectionate…all hallmarks of the dachshund breed. In recent months, however, Gus has seemed lonely at times despite getting plenty of love, attention and furtively delivered morsels of people food. He began seeing us as his buddies constantly, often looking up at us with a tennis ball clutched in his jaws and whining sorrowfully. This was starting to happen late at night when Bob and I lay on the couch in our usual “Law and Order”-induced stupor. We felt we were ready for another dog at this point, and luckily the same breeder who gave us Gus had another litter on the way. They were the spawn of Gus’s older brother Kommodore Schutzhund, or “Schutz” for short. The puppies were born on May 5, Cinco de Mayo, and we claimed and named the only girl: Margarita.

From the moment she arrived, her astounding cuteness inspired awe and ahs, and she melted our hearts when she snuggled on our laps, which she loves to do.  However, Rita has another side:  the feisty and combative second child who refuses to play second fiddle. Unlike most females, she has no problem leaning in.

We had been warned that Gus, who has been treated like a prince since we brought him home, might have some trouble sharing his castle with another dog. Their breeder, Tiffany, advised us beforehand to let them share sleeping arrangements and food dishes and work out their conflicts themselves, an essential part of the bonding experience. She assured us that Gus and Rita (who is Gus’s niece) would share a special and playful relationship.

Yet the relationship has been more Punch and Judy than George and Gracie. It has been painful to watch the ritualistic one-upsdogship – which started soon after the initial butt-sniffing ritual, the canine world’s equivalent of a polite handshake. Since Rita arrived she has been hogging the food bowl, chomping down heartily while the more patient Gus waits his turn. If Gus tries to claim a spot at the bowl she nudges him out of the way. Despite being a quarter his size, she has remarkably sharp elbows when it comes to asserting first dibs on the doggie bed. Gus, unused to having to fight for anything, seems to not know what to do.

Rita has also been getting in Gus’s face and picking fights with him. She bares her teeth, assaults Gus’s side with both paws, climbs onto him when he is lying on his back. Her teeth have come dangerously close to Gus’s private parts a few times. Gus, who shows remarkable restraint, tries to turn the tables with a swipe of his stronger paw. Sometimes he just lays on top of Rita, a tired “can’t we get this over with?” look on his face, as she barks like an angered chipmunk.

This is like watching a middle child gleefully taunt the oldest; or a midget wrester trying to take down a Sumo; or the killer bunny attacking the knights in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Yesterday, while our son John was watching the dogs as I ran errands, he called me to tell me he had to put each of them “in solitary” in their crates. He was concerned enough to take action and keep them separated. But advised to do nothing, I merely watch with the morbid fascination reserved for car wrecks along the highway.

Along the perimeter of our back yard is a fence and a three-foot-wide gravel path, where Gus has always enjoyed walking with us. Gus is visibly peeved when Rita accompanies us now. He runs ahead of her, then turns his long dachshund body perpendicular to the path, as if to block her. He body-slams her to the edge of the path before running ahead again. Then the process repeats.

I thought raising more than one dog would be more laid-back than childrearing, which often requires parents to mediate scuffles between their offspring. I was ready to be the coolheaded dog owner who rolled with their punches. Still, it’s hard to see my adorable new pup go right for Gus’s balls in the attack. I asked Tiffany if this was something to be concerned about.

Her answer: “Not at all…Ladies know where it hurts a man.”

‘It Must Be Around Here Somewhere’

Is the above statement the story of your life? It’s the mantra for those who constantly misplace things. Are you one of them?

Today I murmured it when I couldn’t find a shopping bag filled with costumes that I promised to alter for an upcoming school play. They showed up in my car’s trunk after my husband had moved it from the back seat. Yesterday I said it when I couldn’t find the cottage cheese, which was right in front of me on the top refrigerator shelf, and the peanut butter, which was not on its usual shelf. Last week it was my wallet, which had been left at my desk when I ordered a book from Amazon.

Not long ago I was talking with our daughter Rachel from California, and I was trying to wrap up the call so I could get to an appointment. While I talked I bounced like a pinball around the house, searching every room, drawer, pocket and countertop for my cell phone, cursing my absent-mindedness. “It must be around here somewhere,” I kept saying. My frustration mounted, and casting aside my vow to keep my language clean in front of my kids, I blurted out to Rachel, “I can’t find my damn cell phone!” again and again — before I finally realized that the cell phone, not the land phone, was stuck to my ear.

A few years ago another cell phone went missing, this time for a solid week. The last time I had used it was when I was mailing a pair of shoes that my son Ryan had sold on E-Bay. I checked my pockets, my car, the garage floor, even called the Post Office. I was ready to report it as missing but I knew “It must be around here somewhere.”

Then one day the land line rang. “Hi,” said an unknown voice, “I bought your son’s shoes on E-Bay and a cell phone was in the package with them.”

Other things that have gone missing — thankfully temporarily — include bills due this week, hefty checks from my husband’s business clients, important school paperwork, school projects, notes for my work projects. Most of these disappear from the Bermuda Triangle of our house: the kitchen counter. I have a pathological aversion to cluttering it because I am fearful of appearing disorganized to random visitors, so any piles left on the counter migrate to a bigger pile of stuff that has been cleared from it — only I forget where that pile is.

“I can’t be responsible for anything that is left on the counter!” I’ve been known to thunder to my family. So my countertop may look like a pristine tundra but our closets, drawers and cabinets look like an episode of “Hoarders.” My mother-in-law, a compulsive organizer, is the yin to my yang.

I try to conceal my absentmindedness from my husband Bob, who always teases me by quoting our favorite line from that raunchy old TV cartoon, “Ren and Stimpy”:

“You eee-diot!”

Of course, Bob has his Stimpy moments as well. At least once a week I hear him scream, “Where the f*** is my g**-d*** (fill in the blank)?” For some reason I have no problem coolly tracking down any item that Bob can’t find; my absentmindedness somehow kicks in only when I am responsible for misplacing it. Indeed, Bob’s missing item is usually staring us in the face, a fact that I always relish pointing out. Bob is outwardly messy but is a human GPS for every scrap of paper, mysterious computer cable or obscure widget under his purview; his problem is that he melts down on the rare occasions when his tracking system breaks down.

That reminds me: We once had a magnetic word kit that let us make witty phrases on the refrigerator door, and our son Ben once affixed the words “no” and “patience” to a photo of Bob. Those words anchored Bob’s photo to the refrigerator for years and provided countless hours of family mirth. The rest of the magnetic words disappeared a long time ago, although I know they must be around here somewhere.

Most people raised Catholic will appreciate that my patron saint is St. Anthony, heaven’s version of Allan Pinkerton, who can make anything lost re-appear. He seldom fails me but usually makes me sweat first. I have a frequent buyer card with St. A., and it has been stamped often enough to redeem for Jimmy Hoffa’s body.

Am I losing my mind? Maybe…but it must be around here somewhere. How about you?

Street Names: Getting You Where You Live

Would you ever want to live at an address that sounds less than picturesque? Or that sounds scary, shady, tawdry or downright ugly?

Las Vegas pays homage to the late Tupac in this street sign, courtesy of theawl.com.

Las Vegas pays homage to the late Tupac in this street sign, courtesy of theawl.com.

I ask this because I recently finished a story for our local paper on the history of street names in our town. It got me thinking about how the millions of streets in our country are named. Who thought up names like “Hard Scrabble Road” in New York and “Mosquito Landing Road” in southern New Jersey? Do you shudder at the thought of living at such an address? (That last one makes me itch.)

My thoughts took me to the web, where I found a very funny blog post at the Zillow web site. I learned that Casco, Maine has a Durt Road and Clark Ford, Idaho has a Crummy Road. Norwich, CT, has a Butt Road and, according to theawl.com, Las Vegas pays homage to a late rapper via Tupac Lane.

While my childhood years were spent on the quiet-sounding Church Street (named for the church on it, a common practice in old towns), my street addresses as an adult ranged from picturesque to Dickensian. My most downtrodden place – a threadbare apartment with trapezoid-shaped walls — was actually at one of my prettiest address names: West Willow Grove Avenue, in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Chestnut Hill. Later I “moved up” to a nicer apartment at a not-so-nice-sounding address: Iven Avenue. Terrible!

As I newlywed I lived on Bittersweet Court, a nice Marlton, New Jersey townhouse neighborhood that sounds more downtrodden than it was; and Old Cedar Grove Road (my prettiest-sounding address). We built that house and picked the lot partly because of the address…even though the choicer lots were on a street called Dolores Drive. No offense to anyone named Dolores – it was probably the wife or daughter of an earlier developer — but I didn’t want my address to sound so dolorous.

Sometimes I wonder what motivates developers – who typically bestow the names – to choose the names they do. Inspired by a song, a newborn or a mistress, they immortalize their beloved’s name on a street sign, sell the properties, then stick the homebuyers with an address like Dolores Drive or Hardscrabble Road in perpetuity.

Here are some other interesting facts about street names:

  • In Colonial times and afterwards, as U.S. communities were built, it was common to name streets after the types of trees that grew along them, their importance to the town, or their residents or buildings. Usually the word “street” was not capitalized.
  • Some of the oldest streets in our town are named Cedar, Grove, Maple, Elm and Ash. Others are named Church (where the Catholic Church is located); and Granite, where a quarry was once located.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the most common names include Second, Third, First, Park, Main, Oak, Maple, Cedar, Elm and Hill. “Second” streets are more numerous than “Main” streets, because the main street is often called something other than Main Street.
  • Inspiration for a neighborhood’s street names can come from anywhere. One neighborhood in our town, whose developer was a former high school teacher, had streets named after Whitman and Emerson. Others, named after the developers’ relatives, include Teresa, Nicholas, Alexander, Angelo, Elizabeth, John Matthew, Gina, David Joseph, Barbara, Tiffany and Ursla. A street called Queen Ann Drive is named after one developer’s daughter; another street, Carol Ann Drive, is named after his wife. Another developer named his high-end townhouse neighborhood after Highcroft, a private school that his son attended.

What about you? Which of your addresses have sounded the most picturesque? Did any make you cringe? Any interesting street names in your town?

No Longer Attracted

These magnets are now homeless because for the first time our refrigerator is not magnetic.

This afternoon we took delivery of a brand new stainless steel refrigerator, and I was dismayed to find out that my magnets will not stick to it. Now I have dozens of magnets with no place to go, and I have no idea where to put our calendar.

Our old fridge (an LG…DO NOT BUY!!!!) died the other day, after eight years of temperamental service. It was a sleek and beautiful French door model, and it still looked brand new. But it was full of annoying quirks, such as a beeper that sounded if you had the door open for one minute, which made it a hassle to put groceries away. The food in the back of the fridge frequently froze; the vegetable doors were prone to cracking and falling off track; the gaskets twice became flaccid and useless. Finally, last Monday, I noticed the ice in the ice-maker was melting and the food in the fridge had grown warm. The refrigerator would hum briefly, then I’d hear a click and it would be silent. After researching and talking with repair guys and with friends who’ve buried refrigerators, we got a grim diagnosis: a busted compressor, which is like Alzheimers for fridges. Faced with at least a $600 repair bill – and filled with tales about LG’s notoriously slow delivery for parts – we decided to replace it instead. We shuttled our food to a 30-year-old GE refrigerator in the basement (which still runs beautifully although it guzzles power like Gatorade) and went shopping for a new one.

So today Lee and Chad, two burly delivery guys from Frank’s Appliance Store, took away the LG – which still looked

Our new refrigerator: gorgeous but no magnetism.

beautiful, like Blanche DuBois being carted off to the asylum – and brought in a new Amana, a dead ringer for the old LG. But when I went to put the big magnetic clip on the new fridge so I could hang up the calendar, it did not stick.

This is a disaster. I have never owned or rented a refrigerator without owning at least one magnet to go on it. My first refrigerator magnet was a plain black button on our battered fridge at a rental in Avalon, New Jersey, where I’d spend summers with friends when I was in my 20s. It held a cartoon from Cosmo magazine that had a woman saying to a guy at a bar, “Yes, I’m multi-orgasmic…and you?”

Over the years we’ve collected enough magnets to remind us of all the places we’ve been, the friends who gave us the magnets, the places we have dined, orthodontists and repair companies that have taken our money. For about a year our refrigerator was covered with hundreds of magnetic words from which we could create our own witty phrases. My favorite was when our son Ben anchored a photo of my husband to the fridge with the words “no” and “patience.”

Now we have magnetic bottle openers, magnetic clips strong enough to hold a big calendar, magnetic goofy sayings, magnetic photos of Hearst Castle, Nantucket, the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. We have a very hard time parting with them…if they are not on the refrigerator they go into a drawer.

The magnets of course collected papers to go under them, until our refrigerator looked like a cluttered bulletin board, the papers rustling when we open the door, which is frequently. It looked tacky but I couldn’t help myself. Whenever we’d have people over I’d usually take all the magnets and paper and store them somewhere so that the refrigerator looked sleek and glamorous. Then the day after the party I’d carefully place the magnets back on the refrigerator in an attractive grid pattern and weed out some of the papers, so that it looked at least like a neat bulletin board. But within days the clutter had returned like a toenail fungus that won’t go away, and the fridge looked junky again.

So now I have a refrigerator that will end my magnet addiction for good. It will always look as pristine as it did in the showroom last night. My guests will admire it. But I’ll have trouble remembering appointments, school picture days, and when they collect the recyclables until I have a new system. And I’ll need to visit the old magnets in my junk drawer to re-read the stories they told.