She Did It

This is where people share their success. Stand out and be a She Did It. You are our everyday heroes. Inspire other women by sharing your story:

  • You have rappelled down a cliff for the first time
  • You are crossing the finish line of a half marathon
  • You just launched your new business
  • You have helped someone move forward in their life and you want to share it
  • Your youngest child gets into college
  • Your have your first grandchild
  • You and your sister just baked the most gorgeous cake ever
  • You have found a new passion
  • You changed your first tire
  • You learned how to do something new

 

These Sailing Women Will Literally Blow You Away

The first weekend in May is the weekend my husband and I usually launch our sailboat, making the 6 or 7 hour sail from Portsmouth, Rhode Island to our mooring in a little harbor near New Bedford, MA. We usually stop in Newport, RI along the way. It’s a one or two day trip (tops) but to say that I whine a little bit about the trip before we go is quite the understatement.

“Who sails this kind of weather?” I ask him, “are we NUTS?” His response is always, “we do, of course, and no, this is not nuts.” But it is a little nuts. It’s cold. I’m bundled up in the same clothes that I wore skiing a few weeks earlier- hand warmers, long underwear, woolen hat, mittens. The sun isn’t very strong that time of year, and the water is frigid. I know that despite the ski clothes and my uber-expensive foul weather gear, I will undoubtedly be uncomfortable. I don’t much like being uncomfortable, especially of the freezing cold variety.

As we make that first sail of the season, I complain about everything:

“It would be nice if the sun would come out for a few minutes.”

“I can’t seem to keep out the cold.”

“Of course, the day we go, there has to be gale force winds…”

And if it is raining, as it sometimes is, I start swearing…big time.

But this May will be different. I believe that I will shut my mouth and brave the elements. I believe I will be stoic. Why? Because I have just been introduced to the most remarkable women– women who make what we do in May look like a day at the beach under sunny skies and perfect conditions.

And now that I know about these women, I honestly think I will be embarrassed to complain. These women are true sailors and heroes. These are women who fight frostbite and physical exhaustion. These are women who know how to fix things, navigate and troubleshoot in the worst conditions possible. These are women with big balls. I got to grow me some.

Who are they? They are the 13 women on Team SCA, the first professional all-female team to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race- the toughest offshore sailing race in the world, covering 39,379 nautical miles (that’s almost two laps around the equator) of rough ocean. Their ages range from 28-40 and they are from all over the world (including 3 American women) and from all walks of life. They are mothers, sisters, daughters—you can read their bios here. Two members of the team are actually sisters.

The Volvo Ocean Race lasts nine months (currently in month 6) and all teams sail on exactly the same boat- a Volvo Ocean 65 (which means it is 65 feet long) so everyone racing is in exactly the same boat (literally), with the same sails and the same design elements.

Currently, these amazing women are competing in Leg 5 of the race, which is not for wusses. They are sailing for about 20 days (and nights) straight between Auckland, New Zealand and Itajai, Brazil. This leg, through the “Southern Ocean,” is brutal- they will see waves as big as cliffs, snow, icebergs, winds, go through cyclone areas, and many other conditions that would literally make me pee in my golashes. Trust me—I’ve been on a boat in bad weather, and this is scary stuff. This is what they are dealing with every day:

I am in awe of their bravery, their expertise, their energy, their amazing physical abilities, and especially their ability to suck it up when things get really miserable, as they inevitably will.

There does not seem to be much publicity about these women. I had never heard of this all female team, and I am part of the sailing community (shame on me.) But whether you love to sail or get seasick in a bathtub, these women are so amazingly inspiring and they have such an adventurous spirit, it warms my heart (which will hopefully travel down to my fingers and toes) to introduce you to them.

The team is capturing their journey through a blog as well as active social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter and Youtube). Images of the team can be found at http://teamsca.photodeck.com/

And if by chance we stop in Newport as we travel to bring the boat to it’s summer mooring this year, I hope I will be able to shake the hands of each of the woman on Team USA and let them know how awesome I think she is. They should be making it to Newport for their one stop in North America during the first week of May, just about the time that we will be there!

And I promise I will not even mention to them how cold our little trip to Newport was.

This is a BA50 #sponsored post

SCA believes that everyone should have the opportunity to live life to the fullest, and we are committed to creating value for people and nature. To champion these ideals, SCA launches Amazing Women Everywhere, to celebrate women who have a positive impact on others.

The women of SCA’s all-female racing team, Team SCA, exemplify this spirit. They have come from all walks of life and backgrounds to take on one of the world’s most challenging endeavors, the Volvo Ocean Race. For nine months, their journey of hard work and determination will inspire millions around the world. Follow along with Team SCA on Facebook!

We aim to gather thousands of stories from all over the world and inspire thousands more by illustrating that amazing women truly are everywhere. Visit http://www.teamsca.com/awemosaic to submit a photo of an amazing woman in your life.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SCA. The opinions and text are all mine.

What It Takes To Reinvent Your Life

reinventionIt’s that nagging feeling you have when you know there has to be more to life than what you’ve experienced so far.

It’s that pesky little voice somewhere deep in the back of your mind that won’t quit screaming, “would you just change already”.

You try and block it out, or get rid of it altogether. Then you turn a corner and there it is once again:

“CHANGE!”

Eventually you start listening to that pesky little voice because, lets face it, she might not have such a bad idea after all.

In today’s world, 50 isn’t “old” like it once was. If the average life expectancy is 80 and beyond, there’s a lot of time and energy left to commit to something new.

-One in three people in pre-retirement phase are planning on changing careers in the next five years.

-70 percent of pre-retirees expect to do some work during their retirement years for stimulation and satisfaction.

-Individuals 55 to 64 accounted for one in five new businesses started last year.

With all that change going on, there must be some keys to successfully reinventing your life and moving forward in a brand new way, right?

Actually, there is.

A Look Into The Past

When people hit midlife, it’s a time for reflection on where you’ve been, where you’re going, and what’s been missing in between.

Pay attention to what you enjoyed in the past. It can lead to all kinds of opportunity now as an adult.

“I’ve always wanted to be a prima ballerina,” might not be something you can strive for if you’re in your mid-50s. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a part of your future plans.

In this case, by reviewing why dancing has remained in the back of your mind, you might discover that you enjoyed the creativity of learning different moves, or the idea of being active rather than sitting behind a desk. That realization could lead in all kinds of directions now as an adult. Explore different opportunities – how about helping local dance studios with choreography? Or even starting up your own dance studio for adults rather than kids?

No matter what you loved in the past, what you feel you’ve missed out on up until this point, there is always a way to incorporate it into your life today.

Breaking Through

As you have your a-ha moments, continue to explore. If cooking has always been inspirational to you, for instance, now is the time to push harder and see what it can mean for you today.

While it’s fairly easy to find a cooking school in your community, stretch even further to instill it into your world in a bigger way. A two hour cooking class after work is your starting point. From there, look for more opportunities. How about a weekend cooking class in a resort community a few hours from home? Or how about splurging and signing up for a two week cooking program in Paris?

The key here is to get out of your comfort zone and get inspired, two things that rarely happen when you stay close to home.  Look for places that will push you deeper into the experience, and provide mentors that can help you not only discover new ways of doing things, but also provide guidance on how to incorporate your newfound skills into your life.

Taking Action

While having fun in a class, or even traveling with a group of likeminded people can be fun, none of it will impact your life for the long term if you don’t take action to make it a permanent part of your new life.

To make a new resource or skill set an active part of your life, you have to do something to bring it into your world on a regular basis. It’s easy to fall back to your old patterns, so it’s important that you actively take charge of bringing your new skills into your life.

If you need time, schedule it on your calendar to actively pursue your new goals. If you need new tools or resources, throw out the old and replace them with new. If you need motivation, find a group of cheerleaders going down a similar path to hang out with and hold you accountable.

Change is never easy. But if you really want it, and you know that pesky little voice deep down inside has the right idea, do something to bring it to the surface. If you make the change, the voice will go away.

Well, maybe. Until she decides its time for you to make another change.

 

A Modern Day Rachel Story

Editor’s Note: I was privileged this week to attend an intimate fundraiser to support the production of a new independent documentary film called, “The Guys Next Door.”  This film drops you into the world of Erik and Sandro, a gay couple and their two daughters.  I wrote this article because I felt Rachel’s story- which is the story of birthing Erik and Sandro’s children- was so amazing. I still do. And after meeting Erik and Sandro and the children, I feel even more strongly that their lives and stories are just as important. I am thrilled to be a part of supporting this documentary.

If you want to learn more and support the film, click here

Here is the original article:

Rachel Segall is a 43 year old mother who lives in Newton with her three lovely children and her wonderful husband Tony. They belong to Temple Beth Avodah, are attentive and loving parents, and are involved in their children’s schools. If you met Rachel on the street, on the playground, or in Starbucks where she gets her green tea, you would just think she was a really nice, ordinary Newton mom with a beautiful smile and an earthy flair. But Rachel is no ordinary woman.

You see, Rachel made it possible for a loving couple to have a child of their own by acting as a surrogate. Yes, you read that right- she had a baby for them. Rachel blew me away, and I thought we could all be reminded that people like Rachel exist, right here and right now, in our own community.

Rachel met her friend Erik (as well as her husband Tony) when they were all undergrads at Bates College. Rachel admits she had a little crush on Erik then, and why not? Erik was a great guy and a wonderful friend. Everyone loved him: he was great to talk to, he was kind, and he had a great sense of humor. Yes, girls, we all know the next part of this story….it turned out, Erik was gay. Erik, Rachel and Tony remained friends after college. When Rachel and Tony fell in love, married and started a family, Erik was a constant. He became like an uncle to Rachel and Tony’s children.

Erik met his partner Sandro, an Italian from Sardinia with a smile that lights up a room, much later on, and I’ll get to that. Before Erik and Sandro had even met (about nine years ago) Erik got a call from Rachel, who had just finished watching a news show about how costly and difficult it was for gay couples to have children. “This may sound crazy,” Rachel told Erik, “but when the time is right, I would be happy to have a baby for you.” She asked him to file that information. She didn’t run this by Tony first. She just knew Tony and her children would be supportive if the time ever came. She knew that she loved and had an easy time being pregnant. She knew things would just work out.

And she was right. Erik and Sandro fell madly in love. Over time, they decided they wanted children, and Rachel remained certain that she wanted to help them make this possible. Tony and the children were on board, as Rachel intuited, and the rest is history. Before long, Erik and Sandro were choosing an egg donor. Legal issues were discussed and documents were signed. Eggs from the donor were fertilized with sperm from Erik and Sandro, and were transferred to Rachel. Rachel became pregnant.

On the day of Rachel’s 18 week check up and ultra sound, Erik and Sandro got married in Newton City Hall. Ten people, including Erik and Tony, Erik’s parents, brother and sister in law, and a bunch of friends, all showed up at the appointment at Boston Ultrasound, where they learned the baby was a girl. Rachel’s brother in law was the OBGYN. They were surrounded by love that day, and that is how it has been ever since.

Rachel Maria, a healthy and glowing baby girl, was born on August 14, 2010.

“How did your mother take it?” I asked first, thinking that my own mother might not have been exactly receptive to the idea. “She was nervous at first,” Rachel admitted, but mostly because she was concerned over Rachel’s health. She came around quickly. To Rachel’s mom: you are awesome.

“How did your kids deal with this?” I asked, surmising that my own kids would have taken the first bus out of town. Rachel said none of her children (including her preteen daughter) were freaked out, or even embarrassed. After all, the fertilized egg was transferred to her, nothing whatsoever to do with sex. Actually, the kids thought it was pretty cool; they liked being a little funky, a little hipper than your run of the mill Newton family. To Rachel’s family: you are really, really cool.

“Was it hard to give up the baby?” I asked Rachel. She explained that this baby was never hers, either biologically (because of the donor egg) or psychologically. The birth and giving over the baby was one of the happiest moments of her life. She knew she would always be part of this child’s life, like an aunt, and that her children would be like cousins to this baby.

“What about the weight gain? What about your body?”- I just had to ask. For someone a tad obsessed by weight, I honestly could not imagine dealing with the weight gain without the hefty prize at the end. Rachel did not look at me like I was a nutcase, she simply smiled with understanding. “It takes awhile, but you lose it,” she said. “It was so worth it.” To Rachel: you are the most selfless person I have ever met.

Now I am no biblical scholar, but how can you hear this story and not think of biblical Rachel, who for years was unable to conceive. Biblical Rachel, who, as the story goes, actually used a surrogate to have her first two children. Hearing this modern day Rachel story, how can you not think that there was some karma involved? How can you not believe in the goodness of regular people? How can you not believe that everything will work out all right when ordinary people are perpetuating love? How can you not believe in their optimism?

But that’s not the end of this story, not at all.

At age 42, Rachel again acted as a surrogate for Erik and Sandro, and on January 20, 2012, Rachel gave birth to another beautiful baby girl, Eleonora Francesca.

“Lots of people do really remarkable things,” Rachel told me, feeling embarrassed by my attention to her story, “and I have a really easy time being pregnant”. I know all that is true, but this story hit me hard. It is not often I get to meet someone that has so profoundly changed the lives of friends for the better, in such a selfless way, and it was so….well, so life affirming! So Rachel, like it or not…I have to end it this way….

Is this woman remarkable, or what?

My “F*ck You” Fifties

fuck you fiftiesI remember, a few years ago, sitting in a parenting group with a dozen women in their forties, all of us with daughters in middle school. As we swapped parenting stories, sharing the inevitable girl drama, hurt feelings, rejection, and exclusion our daughters faced, we felt a little overwhelmed.

We felt a little sad, too, as memories of our own teen struggles surfaced — and, frankly, relieved that those difficult years had passed.

At some point, we wondered aloud: If we could go back in time, what would we want to say to our younger, teenage selves?

The near unanimous response? “It gets better.”

While even today, at 51, friendships still disappoint, here’s the difference: I know now that, for the most part, the deepest friendships survive. As for the others, well, maybe they were never solid enough to last.

With age comes perspective. If nothing else, my years of struggle and disappointment have taught me that things have been, and always could be, worse.

It’s in this spirit — motivated by writer Suzanne Braun Levine — that I am fully embracing my “F*ck You Fifties.” I’ve finally arrived to a place where I care less about living up to others’ expectations and more about being who I want to be.

I’m tired of regrets. Are there roads I wish I’d taken and choices I wish I hadn’t made? Absolutely. But I’ve stopped wringing my hands over those. I can’t undo the past, so I’m trying to live in the present.

I let very little drama into my life. I just don’t have the patience for the little things that used to bug me or the perceived slights that caused me to ruminate for days on end.

I’m a lot braver than I was in my youth, more willing to try new things and less worried about failure or rejection. From self-publishing a book to starting a blog, I’m looking for purpose beyond being a wife and a mother.

I’m defying my natural introversion by reaching out to interesting women and asking them to meet for coffee. I’m saying yes to spontaneous invitations to dinner or a lecture — and letting my husband and kids fend for themselves.

I’m joining a group of women I barely knew — now my friends — for a regular Estrogen Poker Night, learning Texas Hold ‘Em and betting with money for the first time.

And I’m making some bucket list dreams come true. Just last month, I jumped out of a plane.

With this new attitude come smaller, but still meaningful, changes too. Where once I was concerned with appearance above all else, I now live in my comfy leggings and oversized sweaters.

While I’m busy saying yes to new experiences, I’m also allowing myself to say no more often. Whether it’s not answering the phone during dinner or declining invitations to tedious gatherings, if I don’t feel like doing something — and I don’t need to — I take a pass.

This goes for people, too. If spending time with someone leaves me feeling worse about myself, I’m done.

And my filter is going. Don’t “old people” drive you crazy with all the inappropriate things they say? Well, with each passing year, I find myself just saying what comes to mind.

But that’s not all bad. In fact, it’s allowed me to be a lot more generous with compliments, even to strangers. In the past I’d think “wow I really like the way she did that.” Now, I find myself saying it out loud.

While my “F*ck You Fifties” have caused my teen daughters some embarrassment (so, what else is new?), I hope they’ll find themselves in the exact same place in 30 years.

So to all you young women, let me say it again: It does get better. And one day, like me, you’ll end up in the “F*ck You Fifties,” and you won’t want to look back.

You’ll be having too much fun playing poker and saying crazy shit.

Hélène Tragos Stelian blogs at www.nextactforwomen.com.  You can find her on Facebook and Twitter

Love Blooms When You Take A Chance

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Gere

Lillete Dubey (age 61) and Richard Gere (age 65)

I saw the trailer for the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which is about to hit the theaters, and it got me thinking about how much I loved the first film and why.

Whenever I meet single women in their 50’s and 60’s, the topic inevitably turns to – how did you meet your second husband?

I try not to act nonchalant, because I know I was damn lucky that Bill walked into my life – but to be honest – I would not call it THE perfect moment, nor could I have anticipated we would end up together.

The timing was far from perfect, because I was rather pre-occupied with grieving. My first husband had died only 6 months prior and although I was concerned that I would be alone forever – I wasn’t actively “dating.”

Dating Bill was like jumping off a cliff into the unknown. Jumping off cliffs, taking chances, trying on something new, is frightening  –and something I wasn’t looking to do. I had already been thrust out of my comfort zone with my loss and now, I was being courted into an area that felt frighteningly new.  But, as I look back after almost seven years of marriage, I am clearer than ever about how I ended up with Bill.

Let me start by saying the odds were against this relationship. Bill did not fit the bill at the outset. First of all he was 8 years older and that seemed like a lot. Second, he didn’t live in the same state. He lived and worked in Boston and I lived in New York. Third, he was a tad shorter than I. He didn’t bike and was an intermediate skier – both sports that defined how I spent my leisure time. And, his personality was actually the opposite of the husband I had just lost, and whom I had loved very much.

I smile thinking about how I ended up with my Bill and I love sharing the story. It wasn’t an obvious match — it wasn’t a sure bet— but Bill’s twinkly blue eyes, easy laugh and steadiness were a draw and softened the obstacles.

I was able to set aside what didn’t work and say “Yes” to his requests to take me out in New York. I was able to put his hometown on the back burner – and focus on getting to know Bill.

Despite BIll’s old fashioned, patient courtship, I hadn’t dated in 25 years and it felt awkward. Bill was sweet, safe and wanted me. He believed I deserved to be happy after so much loss, and that kindness pulled me in. He could listen compassionately to stories about my husband without feeling threatened. He was confidant we would create our own stories and that I would eventually “let go” and love him.

Did you ever watch the original Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? The film is about letting go of the past in order to move forward. It’s about love – at any age. It’s about a bunch of English retirees who head to India to live because it’s less expensive and it’s an adventure. Love begins anew, life has a new energy because they took a risk and a leap and courageously moved into an unknown place despite their fears that it would be awful – which much of it was.

The theme of taking risks, and living out of the “comfort box” can bring unimaginable surprises – maybe even new friendships, love and happiness. We may know this to be true – but what does it take to actually brave the unknown?

THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTELThe Exotic Marigold Hotel is about taking chances. It’s not just a fairy tale – it could happen – and it DID happen to me, and I didn’t even have to go to India.

Not everything has to be perfect to leap into love.

Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith were so wonderful to watch and it’s fun to try to figure out “which one to identify with.”

I’m thrilled that the sequel- The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is coming to theaters THIS WEEK. I can’t wait to see it with Bill, as I love the cast (and especially Richard Gere) and I’m a sucker for stories of second chances and new love.

Here’s the trailer:

Watch the trailer
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“This post is sponsored by Fox Searchlight Pictures”

 

Don’t Look Back- You’ll Miss What’s In Front Of You

reinventionPlease don’t ask me if I’m retired.  That word isn’t part of my vocabulary.  When my job four years ago and people asked me if I was retiring, my standard reply was “I’m not retiring, I’m reinventing myself!”

Psychologist Warren G. Bennis says, “People who cannot invent and reinvent themselves must be content with borrowed postures, secondhand ideas, fitting in instead of standing out.”  I have never been known for fitting into someone else’s mold.  My short red hair and bright red lipstick can attest to that. 

One definition of “retire” is “to withdraw from office, business, or active life, usually because of age.”  To me, the word “retire” conjures up visions of old people sitting around waiting for their social security checks and judgment day.  In fact, when I worked for IBM in the 1980’s, the rumor was that the average IBM’er lives just 2.7 years after retirement.  With figures like that, I’ve already beaten the odds. 

“Reinvent,” on the other hand, is defined as “to remake or make over, as in a different form.”  Now you have the time to remake your life – the life you always wanted to live.  You are limited only by your imagination and each day is a blank canvas ready for your creation. 

This is the time to do different things and learn new skills.  Would you like visit Hawaii, learn French, earn a degree or certification, or perhaps try yoga?   Start by making two lists of all the things you would like to do – one for profit and one for fun.  Choose an item from each list and create a plan to accomplish them.  When completed, cross them off your list and continue to add new items as you think of them.

A friend, who is most interested in making a profit, has reinvented herself by having a part time job at a fabric store, teaching sewing workshops, creating and selling beautiful jewelry and doing clothing alterations.  She’s in her element doing what she loves and makes money at the same time.  She never wants to go back to being a corporate hostage.

After leaving my last job, where I was an intellectual property paralegal, I started a virtual trademark paralegal service.  My plan was to assist attorneys from all over the world from my home computer.  Within a short time I realized they were doing their own paralegal work because of the economy and didn’t need my services.  A year later I closed my business and combined my interests in the paralegal profession and writing.  I wrote two paralegal articles and got them published in a national paralegal magazine.  From there I wrote articles on a variety of subjects and have gotten many of them published as well. 

Besides writing, I am doing things I love to do and enjoying life.  Some of the ways I do this are to try to exercise thirty minutes a day.  I often walk with a friend at the mall before the stores open.  I also meditate while listening to meditation music.  Since most of my day is spent alone, I try to meet friends often for coffee or lunch.  I also attend a writers group and take classes, such as writing or knitting. 

While you’re reinventing yourself, be sure to get calling cards that reflect who you are now.  Mine say “FREELANCE WRITER” along with my contact information.  You can design them as elaborate or plain as you like.  You can also create a website that matches your calling cards.  It took me only about an hour to create mine and now editors and others can read my published articles.   

Reinvention is not a destination; it’s a work in progress.  Be sure to have fun along the way and don’t look back — you’ll miss what’s in front of you!

The Trade-Offs Of Being A Working Mom

tradeoffs of being a working motherSome years ago I had a corner office.

I had been a partner in our law firm for long enough so that when a new corner office opened up, it could be mine. Yes, it was in a back corner of our building on K Street in DC. Overlooking an alley. Birdseye view of the trash trucks coming in and out.

But lots of light. And a bit of privacy. The best part was the privacy.

I wouldn’t feel quite so guilty making my daily call checking in with my kids after school or taking a break to call a friend.

One of my closest friends at the time, Sharon, was a pre-school teacher. She wore smocks with paint smears and told funny stories about parent-teacher conferences.

We did not wear smocks in my law firm.

Sharon also got to take summers off  from her job.

At my law firm we did not have summers off.

One afternoon in June or July, in between revising one fascinating document and  before moving on to another, I called Sharon at home.

When she answered, I could tell she was in her backyard. The one with the creative herb garden and the adirondack chairs; I could hear the sounds of kids playing. If I listened hard enough, I could probably have heard birds singing and the sounds of the guy cutting his lawn next door.

We didn’t have many birds singing inside my law firm.

From the slight remove of my corner office, I could  hear the sounds of ringing phones, my colleagues reassuring clients – “Yes, I will look into that right away.” and the mail cart periodically rumbling by.

Sharon said to me, “Hold on a second, I’m just pouring some lemonade for the kids.”

Could she make me feel any worse?

We did not have lemonade in my law firm either.

Nor kids.

I liked practicing law.  The best part of being a lawyer was getting to know my clients; I enjoyed finding solutions to their problems – helping smart, creative people run their radio stations.

But summertime, kids playing in the background, fresh lemonade in glass pitchers with small frosty glasses? No, we didn’t have that in our law firm.

When I graduated from college in 1974, the women’s decade of the prior decade had left its impact.

The messages given to us at my all-women’s college sounded like this:

“You are a woman!”

You can do it all!

“You can have it all!”

So many of us chose, as I did, to go on to graduate schools where male students had largely dominated. We were part of that first wave of women encouraged to enter law, med and business schools in larger numbers. Vaguely we assumed we would get married, have families and have careers with all of the pieces of our lives falling magically into place.

At age 22 or 23, we were not long-range thinkers.

No one mentioned during law school orientation that we would not get summers off. Or that the career choices we made in our twenties would affect us years later in unforeseen ways.

My kids are now twenty-somethings.  They tell me that it was good that I was working full-time while they were growing up. Better than having me home, they claim. I could only pester them to do their homework by phone, and not more annoyingly (their word) in person every day after school.

So from September to May each year, I was pretty much fine.

The kids went to school, did their school work.

I went to the office, did my office work.

We each had our jobs to do.

But every year come mid-June, I would begin to chafe at being encapsulated inside a glass office tower while summer happened outside.

A summer I couldn’t hear. Or enjoy with my kids, except on much-anticipated summer vacations.

Unlike my friend, Sharon, I would have made a lousy pre-school teacher. I don’t look good in a smock nor do I have much patience for choosing finger paint colors.

My legal career suited me.

But regrets? Yes, a few.

Mostly the knowledge that all of our choices as working moms came with trade-offs that we never could have known at the time we made them.

And not being able to serve lemonade to the kids playing in the backyard on sunny summer days was one of mine.

Say WHAT? You’re 50 And You Don’t Know How To…

Say WHAT? You’re 50 and you don’t know how to…FOLD A FITTED SHEET?

Of course, I know you have been folding your fitted sheets for years, but do your fitted sheets come out like this?

IMG_1651

I would wager they do not.

Perhaps you have been folding your sheets for years thinking, “there has just got to be a better way to do this.” I know I have.  And yes, I’ve had bigger things to worry about in my life (especially recently) but that is what makes this whole business so utterly satisfying. It is anti-chaos.

The need to straighten erupted when my sister-in-law stayed overnight at my home, washed my sheets, folded them, and left them on my bed so neat it was like they had just come out of the package, I called her up.

“You’ve got to teach me how to fold sheets like that. It’s amazing.”

“Of course!” she responded.  “It’s easy, and it’s so much fun!”

Easy? If it’s easy, why doesn’t everyone do it?  And fun? Is this how they have fun in Brazil? But I figured it wasn’t rocket science and I am not such an old dog.

My wonderful and quite patient sister-in-law gave me a half hour lesson in folding a fitted sheet. And I must confess, once you get the technique down, it is easy, and I admit– it’s a little fun. There is a joy in creating order.

They say that the best way to actually learn something yourself is to teach someone else.  Once you are able to teach someone else a skill, you’ve got it down. So, still a neophyte, I decided to teach my 25 year old son a life lesson.  He was, as you can see from the video, “thrilled,” especially happy to learn that this was going on line.

Watch and learn.  And then practice about 30 times…you’ll get it!

This article is the first in a series of “Say WHAT? You’re 50 and you still don’t know how to…?”

What life skill would you like to learn? If we don’t know (and we probably won’t) we can certainly find out!  Let us know!

The Invisible And Unpredictable Nature Of Chronic Illness

woman with balloons overheadMy life did get better after 50. But not for the usual reasons.

Five years earlier, I had surgery to remove my diseased colon (ulcerative colitis), and I started therapy with a new drug for multiple sclerosis that led to remission. By any standard, at age 50 I was healthier than in any of the previous 20 years. I had more energy and endurance, less pain, and better mobility.

If my 50 was atypical, so was 30 and 40.   Only now, with 60 behind me, have I realized how isolating it’s been to be so be different from “healthy” people.

This story begins a few days after my 29th birthday and two months after getting married. While running on a hot summer day, I lost vision and, within minutes, was unable to walk. After several years of vague symptoms and diagnostic tests, getting the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) was a relief.

But a diagnosis is neither a solution nor a cure for chronic disease. Nor does it help others understand your experience. The invisible and unpredictable nature of chronic illness creates a huge disconnect for someone (like me) who creates relationships through shared experience.

Within three months, I returned to work and to my life. But nothing was ever the same again. No decision — small (should I go to the party?) or large (should we have children?) — was made without consideration of my health.

On my 30th birthday, happily married and financially comfortable, my life looked normal. But I had found my job and career path too physically demanding and switched from a job in media production to the sales side.

When I told a friend about this, she said that she knew how it felt. An appendectomy had prevented her from attending her best friend’s wedding. But this wasn’t a bad week for me, this was the rest of my life. I was stunned and remember thinking, “I’m different now.”

As symptoms increased over the next decade and I continued to make switch back turns, changing jobs to find a good fit, even if I wasn’t clear what that meant. The only advice I got was to stop working, so I could be less stressed. How was that a good idea, since I liked working and it energized me?

I hoped children would normalize life for my husband and me. I was exhausted during pregnancy and after the birth of each of our daughters. But so were all the other moms in the baby group, right? I knew my tired was different, but how to explain this and why? When I shared my concern that I was more tired than ‘normal’ with a new mom friend, she asked if I wasn’t being a bit too dramatic? OUCH. Clearly, talking about how crummy I felt would not be my ticket to social success.

Friends were running marathons while juggling family and career, and I was barely managing the housewife/mom stuff. Work was a respite. But at the end of each day, it felt like I’d run a marathon.

Then, as I turned 40, I developed another autoimmune disease, ulcerative colitis (UC), which, in my case, was even more aggressive than the MS. Many days I was too sick to leave my house, never mind show up at my job, teaching communications at BU. My only option was to leave the workforce. I was a physical wreck, and miserable, to boot.

While others were doing triathalons, moving up career ladders, and active in their kids’ lives, I could not reliably do food shopping or carpools. They planned their futures; we couldn’t plan a vacation. I desperately missed being employed. It felt sad and disconnected to be so different.

So here’s where this story gets happier. At 45, I got rid of my colon, curing the UC, and I started a new MS drug that slowed diseases progression. Ready to regain some sense of ‘normal’, returning to work was at the top of my list. I realized work had to fulfill certain criteria for this to succeed. It had to:

  • be sufficiently satisfying and motivating to keep me going when my health was bad,
  • earn enough money to restore my sense of independence,
  • be sufficiently flexible for my still unreliable body (too many auto immune issues and parts that were broken beyond repair).

By 50, I had reinvented myself. Taking from own playbook, I founded a coaching practice focused on giving people living with chronic health conditions the tools they need to stay in the workforce. Using my own experience to my advantage was transformative. In fact, I’ve gotten even more than I could have imagined.

What’s different now that I’m 63? As my family, friends and community grow older, experiencing what it’s like to live with difficult and unpredictable health, I feel less alone.   I no longer feel like the only one with physical limitations or with a sad tale to share. It’s cold comfort, though, to be part of a community that no one is happy about joining.

Rosalind Joffe is the co-author of Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend!, and publishes a widely read blog, Working With Chronic Illness. and can be found on twitter (@WorkWithIllness) and Facebook (ciCoach.com).

 

Happiness Started Right Here

Doesn’t Paul Gauguin’s famous painting (from 1897) make for the best anniversary image? “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?“

gauguin

Anniversaries provide a great opportunity to stop to smell the roses, evaluate and look ahead. On November 11, 2011, BA50 went live and after 3 years it continues to be a great ride.

Our story is a typical BA50 story, one of discovery and growth at this next phase. The reality is, we’ve got a common motivation for challenging ourselves to live the fullest life possible … NOW! We’re all facing the same ticking clock.

Stylistically, if Betterafter50.com were to be defined as a period of art – it would be called “Super Realism”. On BA50 there is no curtain between the stage and the real world. On this site, we are watching our lives unfold through stories that touch our daily experiences, stories that live in our cells. We are the actors, the audience, the writers and the critics. And we are all sharing the stage. There’s comfort knowing we are aging right along side our favorite BA50 celebrities.

After 50, none of us are operating solo even if we often times feel alone. With shifts in our families, changing nests, and curve balls  – we’re often forced to turn off our cruise control, pivot, and plot a new course.

Not one of us can escape the big topics that life throws at us. And, we are often not prepared for the feelings that come with the monumental transitions of empty nesting, our changing bodies and compromising health issues. The loss of a loved one can give us a soul challenging gut punch and we need our friends to get us through it. We need to be held, hugged and sometimes we need a good kick in the butt to get us up and out the door.

BA50 is a hive of women buzzing. We can hear the hum of women talking, sharing, laughing and crying. We can hear the voices of women searching to define their purpose in this next phase. We are comforted by their words, softened by their experiences; motivated to try something new by seeing what others are doing and we often find ourselves just chilling and being entertained.

Super Realism reflects the entrepreneurial spirit that defines our BA50 team. As founders, we are entrepreneurs –we have dreams and big ideas and take risks and challenge ourselves every day to –just do it! Sometimes, if we we are lucky, our stories become viral and lots of time they become invisible and fall into the internet’s virtual vortex.

We approach each of our newsletters as a piece of art. We play with the images until they strike the magic chord – we curate the articles, and theme them 3 times each week so our visitors know where they are and can walk through our gallery of offerings and peer deeply into the one piece that calls to them most.

We wake up on Facebook with a Good Morning BA50 and stay all day long sharing news relevant to BA50s and more Buzz about what interests us and tickles us. We know who our niche is.

I can think of nothing more fun than sitting around the virtual campfire sharing stories. And this is what BA50 is – this is who we have become and it appears where we are going.

At this 3rd year anniversary, happily, we are doing what we’ve been doing from the get go – growing our site and having fun dong it. And, from time to time, we’re feeling a little “Bad Ass” about it all, living up to the BA50 acronym. We’re proud of our site and this week we are standing up just a little taller, defying gravity’s pull, knowing we are better after 50.

So, after 3 years, thank you BA50 readers for visiting our site over 2 million times every month. Thank you to our amazing writers, all 350 of you who have contributed over 2500 articles since we started. Thank you Facebook fans for liking us (almost 10,000 hugs from you) and Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram followers.

Our community is solid and expanding. Thank you for being with us for all this time and sharing our stories with your friends too.

We are grateful for our BA50 team, BA50 writers party-3-annivand readers for finding time in your busy lives to contribute, comment and connect through us. As we forge our path in this next phase of life, it feels better knowing you are there to share the laughs and deal with the not so fun parts.

Thank you for helping us build BA50.

From the Heart,

Felice

What You Gonna Do With Your Extra Hour?

ready set goOk BA50’s, I’m throwing down a challenge. This past Sunday we all woke up with a gift. We got an extra hour in our day. We set the clocks back and got more time – one hour to be specific. So, what did you do with it?

Ugh! Not sure! Mostly likely, like the rest of us, you were just glad to have an extra hour to do – whatever – sleep more, hang more, nothing particularly definable.

But what if you actually decided to consciously do something with that extra hour? Like for instance, something that you’ve wanted to do for a while but haven’t had the time or discipline to do? .

Saturday night, out with friends – someone said – “hey you want to come back to our place and hang out…try this new great ‘sipping’ Tequila – after all, we have an extra hour.”

Really! It was 10 pm, we were in suburbia, we’d had a great dinner – and now we were going to an after-party? Surprisingly, we all took the dare with a resounding “YES!”

We discussed that we had a bonus hour, so what the hell – we could sleep a little longer tomorrow. Wow a gift – an extra hour – and we dedicated that hour to chilling in our friends’ living room sipping tequila….sweet!

I started thinking,  what would I do if I actually carved out an extra hour each day, knowing that I would not be sipping Tequila every day with my new found time?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he talks about 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. Gladwell is all about the concept that you don’t have to be great at something to become a master of it. It’s all about practice and dedication but the reality is, it takes that much time to become an expert or a Master at whatever – piano, tennis, your work…

But who is ready to set aside 10,000 hours for a new avocation, or passion? Finding this kind of time is some tall challenge at this mid-life mark. I think it may even be beyond the ability of our “Fit Bits” to calculate.

But still,  what if I took my new found hour from this past Sunday and harnessed it – set it aside and earmarked it for a special focus? What if I took that hour and did the same thing each day, just for one hour?  I did the math to see how long it would take me to put 10,000 extra hours into my “practice” (at one hour per day) to become a “master,” and it turns out it would take 27 Years! Ha! No Way!

Backing off this big gun challenge of 10,000 hours, or the hope of becoming a “master”,  the baby step route was my fall back.  I decided to carve out 30 hours for 30 days to focus on something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile and I am going to dedicate one hour each day to it. I’m starting today, Tuesday November 4th and finishing on December 4th.

The trouble is, trying to figure out what I should focus on wasn’t so easy, so I created a list.  I came up with 9 activities I could do with my extra hour – and each one was something I would do alone – because I couldn’t necessarily count on someone else to engage with consistently every day. I basically nixed most to these as I went along until I finally came up with something I could get psyched for:

  1. Abdominals –I could maybe have a 6 pack in 30 days– sounds awful and I knew I’d quit by Day 3!
  2. Read – I could read more because I love it but I do this anyway.
  3. Meditate and practice yoga for 30 days. Thirty minutes of each. Every day? Big commitment! I knew I wouldn’t do it.
  4. Paint: Buy a canvass and paints and just start. I think I need a teacher!
  5. Cook: A new recipe every day.  Feed my family or cook for a family in need. (No: everyday in the kitchen is not pleasurable).
  6. Write: Journal, or blog or finish the book I have been working on. (I need to do this anyway– kind of feels like cheating).
  7. Photo albums: finish the photo album projects and make books for the kids just in time for the holidays.(Torture!)
  8. Music: listen to music, learn to sing harmonies and/or practice an instrument. Learn a new song. (This sounds dreamy!)
  9. Give back: Take an extra hour each day to help someone else. Make time for a friend who is sick and visit regularly. Or volunteer time to help someone out.  (Very appealing and satisfying).

The obstacle that makes this challenge super tough is picking just one goal and sticking with it.  I decided that because an hour can feel very long  and 30 days seems like a lot to do the same thing each day over and over — I need to pick more than one. So,  I’m picking #8 and #9 and plan to  toggle between the two. Wish me luck. What about you?

I’m A Plus Size Marathon Runner

plus size marathon runnerYesterday I ran my fourth half marathon.  It was a long and challenging run of 13.1 miles, and although I consider myself an athlete, my body isn’t exactly built like most runners we tend to visualize.  I am ok with being the poster child of the “unconventional athlete;” in fact, it’s become my life’s work and something I proudly advocate.  I strongly believe that no matter what age or size we are, an athlete lives inside all of us – and it’s never too late to reach inside and find it.

I am 42 years old and a plus size athlete; I am a slow runner but I have tenacity and spirit to get out there and achieve my athletic dreams. My hope is that my actions inspire others to put aside their fears and differences and lace up despite of it all.  It’s my passion! Many years ago I made it my profession and now I have the great opportunity to work exclusively with plus size women of all ages to realize their fitness potential.  I live it, I love it and I preach it, daily.

Being a slower runner I am often slotted at the back of the races based on my finishing time, and with years of running experience, I’ve become totally okay with my pace and placement.  I’m not there to win.  I am there to fulfill my dreams of being a long distance runner; I do it for good health and to be an example for others and the high I get from the endorphins isn’t bad either!

Yesterday I was placed in corral number 21 of 22, so I was literally at the back of thousands and thousands of runners. The tail end corrals are by far the most colorful and the ones with the most heart and soul.  If you’ve seen the movie Titanic, it’s like being below decks with the fun people.

What I love about the back corrals is that they are full of all ages, shapes and sizes and it feels right at home for me.  No one is anxiously pacing back and forth checking their Garmin for accurate timing and pace / heart rate ratios or sprinting up and down the curb doing their crazy high knee warm up.  No, those people tend to be lined up in corrals 1 through 10.  But back in 21 and 22 you’ll find people smiling; there’s laughter and sportsmanship camaraderie.  This group seems to be more chilled out, and just like me, they are there for the accomplishment, fun and finish – not necessarily for the record breaking finishing time.

Along the course you will see people ranging from 18 years old into their 70’s and it’s truly a testament that life doesn’t have to wind down with age or size.  Some people walk and some people run and the only competition lies with ourselves.

I always love finishing off the race and then waiting at the finish line to watch and support the others coming through.  There seems to be a mutual respect for runners alike because we all know what it takes to be out there running the distance.  I find the diversity in people extremely inspiring.

Last year after finishing half marathon I stuck around for the awards ceremony where certain runners are honored for the best finishing times.  I wanted to get a glimpse of the Kenyan’s who are undoubtedly the fastest runners in the world.  They finish in the lead at most runs and Olympic running events, and defy what most people believe is possible.

After arriving, I realized that I missed the Kenyan winner, but that day I was exposed to a different runner who profoundly inspired me more than any other. He too defies what people believe is possible; he was the winner of the over 80 category at 84 years old.  He ran a 13.1-mile distance and I’ll say humbly that he beat my race time that day with a 2:21 finish.  I took some time to visit with him and talk with his daughter.  She said, “It’s his running that keeps him alive,” and by ‘alive’ she meant it gave him purpose and joy.

That day I was so deeply moved and inspired by him, it’s something I won’t forget.  I love this picture I took with him because it represents size and age diversity in athletics, and it’s something we very rarely see in the public view.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 10.59.59 AM

Often media and advertisers overlook these demographics to advertise products and sadly, as a result, we don’t see this imagery in front of us that tells us that these athletes actually exist.  My experience shows me that size and age diversity is something that most definitely exists at the races.

My inspiration lives in the diversity of the human “race.”

Seeing what I see at races and meeting this amazing man only continues to fuel my belief that size and age are fairly arbitrary numbers, and the good life is driven by a mindset.

The human body is an amazing machine that will do anything you train it to do. If your mind comes along for the ride virtually anything is possible.  So whether you’re an athlete or what society perceives to be an “unconventional” athlete, my mindset tells me that life is limitless when the will and tenacity to get it done are present.

 

 

 

11 Malala Yousafzai Quotes Every Girl In Your Life Should Read

malalaShe is the voice of our generation.

Even though we’re living in the 21st century, it’s sad to think that the differences between the way men and women are treated stretches on for miles.

From getting equal opportunities in the workforce to having the right to an education, it’s scary to think how far behind we actually are when it comes to things that should pretty much be a given. Honestly, the fact that we are still fighting for women’s rights, something that shouldn’t have to be EARNED in the first place, says a lot about the world we live in today.

But on October 11th, that gap got a little smaller when Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai made history by becoming the youngest women to be awarded with a Nobel Peace Prize award. Hearing her acceptance speech, littered with motivational quotes on why we should fight to even the fields when it comes to education for women, was compleletely awe-inspiring.

What makes this moment even more well deserved and rewarding is the fact that her journey to helping girls gain the right to attend school in Pakistan hasn’t been smooth sailing. When she was just 15, Yousafzai was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education. Now 17, the fact that this did nothing to stop her from fighting for women everywhere, and instead motivated her to keep going, makes her an inspiration to us all. You don’t have to be a woman to understand just how brave Malala Yousafzai is for putting her life on the line so that all girls can go out and truly experience theirs.

These quotes are proof of that.

 

How I Made A Life For Myself After Divorce

how I made a life for myselfTen years ago, when I was 41, I was a well-to-do housewife in a nice suburb. My husband worked outside the home, I worked inside it, and there was plenty of money for everything we needed. When I wanted something—be it a skirt, a serving platter, or a bottle of wine—I bought it.

Soon, though, that began to change. It became apparent that our marriage wasn’t working for either of us, and I knew that I would need to start earning an income so I could eventually live on my own. Talk about motivation!  I had dabbled at writing novels for years, but there was no compelling reason to knock myself out trying to publish them. Then, as now, I wasn’t very motivated by the idea of fame. Sure, I wanted people to read my stories—just not bad enough to make it happen.

But with a divorce looming, I got serious, writing every spare moment of the day. The novels I’d been writing at a glacial pace suddenly started popping out at startling speed. I sold the ninth one, right around my forty-fifth birthday. A few years and a dozen published novels later, I was finally living on my own.

A complicated mediation agreement granted me spousal support as long as I didn’t hit an earning target that was wildly unlikely for a midlist author like myself. Money was tight, due to a series of recession-era reversals and the fact that there were now two households to support. After some bracing end-of-month empty wallet scenarios, I learned to budget, sold all my good jewelry, and cut out all the old luxuries.  Goodbye, Whole Foods; hello, Grocery Outlet! Also, who knew you could wear seventeen dollar shoes from the Ross clearance rack to an editorial meeting?

Then a funny thing happened. Last year, quite unexpectedly, I made enough money that I didn’t need support. The dollar figure was the same as if I had received payments from my ex, but I had earned the money, all by myself. I was still on a tight budget, but all of a sudden buying things felt different.

My stove died and I bought a new one, and every time I turned it on it was a revelation: I did this! These BTUs were paid for by me! I bought more things, ever giddier: a light fixture, bathroom caulk, dental insurance, tickets to a music festival. I invited five friends to my own birthday dinner and picked up the check.  Every time I slid my credit card across the counter, I had to resist saying to the clerk, “Ahem, just so you know, this isn’t my husband’s money I’m spending, but mine.”

Of course, more women in this country bring home paychecks than not. When I was married, I lived in a time warp, a latter-day homemaker with liberal politics and a Volvo, smug in my conviction that our smooth-running household was its own reward.

Now, I’ve learned something many other women already know—the satisfaction that comes from making your own way. When I’m standing in the Target line with my cart full of toilet paper and double-fiber bread and generic makeup remover, I smile meaningfully at all the other harried, middle-aged women shoppers. We ought to have our own secret handshake, or maybe one of those choreographed fist-bump routines, to congratulate each other on bringing home the bacon.  Especially if it’s on sale.

Sophie Littlefield is the award-winning author of 17 novels, most recently, THE MISSING PLACE. Visit www.SophieLittlefield.com for more information.

 

Coming To Terms With My Life Long Weight Problem

coming to terms with my life long weight problemI was at the gym recently doing my best to keep up with the other ladies in my zumba class when something caught my eye. I turned and saw a trainer kneeling down next to a woman, quietly speaking words of encouragement. The client was overweight and struggling through a set of pushups.  I was riveted by what I saw in the woman’s eyes—determination and hope. My own eyes clouded with tears; her struggles mirrored so many of my own.

My childhood was a mixed bag of insecurities. I ran home from school often, cutting through neighborhood yards to escape the children who taunted me. I was a shy, pudgy little girl who struggled in school and dealt with an eye condition known as MIxed Dominance, requiring me to wear a patch over one eye. This made me an easy target for the bullies who thrived on breaking me down in order to build themselves up. The insecurities created from this situation festered deep inside me, causing years of fear and shame. Little did I know how damaging it would be to the quality of my life in the future.

The lack of confidence in my physical appearance prevented me from doing many of the normal things girls my age were doing—attending swim parties or clothes shopping at the local mall. I was incapable of confronting the body issues that plagued me—I had been cursed with a large frame and a chubby stomach that I despised and hid behind blousy clothing. I was also taller than all the girls at my school and yearned to be petite like them. My reflection in the mirror was a constant reminder of my shortcomings, and some days I couldn’t bear to look at myself because I knew how bitter the self-recrimination would be.

Outward appearances were important in the prominent family I grew up in. My father’s convoluted view on weight loss in correlation to beauty was damaging not only to me but to my two, older sisters, who also endured his sharp criticism. Rather than growing up with a healthy attitude toward food, we grew up fearing what it would do to our waistlines.

Ironically, my mother was a stellar cook, but food was the enemy that led to diet failure, and both my sisters and I feared we could never measure up to our father’s expectations.

The message in our house was clear: the inability to lose weight signified a lack of self control. If we were unable to control our bodies, we were weak. As a result, I spent my youth yo-yo dieting and binging. but was never able to escape my addiction to fattening foods. I obsessed about every calorie I put into my mouth. It was a vicious, destructive cycle that involved starving, binging and purging, and it would form the basis of a pattern throughout my adult life.

Despite my husband’s best efforts to compliment me and assure me that he found me to be beautiful inside and out, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t believe him because I didn’t believe in myself.

I was suffering not only from a binge-eating disorder but also from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and was ill equipped to deal with either one of them. My life was dictated by the numbers on the scale, which left me with a closet full of clothes ranging from the smallest to the largest sizes—a testament of all the years I’d spent dieting and failing. I tried every fad, gimmick and diet pill out there to lose weight and warily ignored researchers claims that overeating is caused by a need to fill an emotional hole.

There were times when my weight spiraled out of control, impacting my social life by causing me to isolate myself from people. I was playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette by engaging in episodes of mindless binge eating. For a brief period I thought I had found my salvation in the form of a little miracle drug known as Phen Phen. I jumped on the diet pill bandwagon and dropped weight effortlessly, which fed into my obsession to be thin. People told me stop losing weight—I was getting too thin—but their words only fueled my desire to keep losing. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of power over my body and freedom from my food obsession. But as is true with any diet, I set myself up for failure, looking for a quick fix rather than doing all the hard work on the inside first. In a few years, I gained back all the weight and more, further engulfing myself in feelings of self-loathing and disgust.

My biggest mistake was allowing my children to see that darker side of my psyche. While I was focused on building up their confidence and self-esteem, I busy tearing my own down. I failed to see how my depression and self-recrimination was affecting them—-especially my daughters. They grew up with a compulsive mother who calculated calories, categorized food as “good” or bad” and berated her appearance daily.

Whenever my children slipped into bathing suits for a swim at my parent’s house, I insisted they wear t-shirts over their suits because I wanted to protect them from my father’s critical comments. In reality, I was passing down the same lessons that I had grown up with—shame and a fear of how others perceived them.

My older sister died from the devastating effects of her eating disorder. She literally ate her way into an early grave. My sister had a binge-eating disorder, which researchers have now found is closely linked to anxiety and depression. The disease damaged her heart and her gastrointestinal system when she became morbidly obese. I was helpless to stop the self-destructive path she was on because I was busy fighting my own eating disorder demons.  I handled her death the only way I knew how—I ate through the guilt and grief to punish myself. Stuffing down my emotions with food was an easy solution to filling the void that was left in my heart after she died. It numbed me, allowing me to ignore the pain.

One day my husband handed me a picture he had taken without my knowledge and said, “You look so pretty in this blue dress.” My eyes blurred as I stared at the overweight, middle-aged woman in the photograph; a woman I no longer recognized but one my husband still saw as beautiful. How could I have done this to myself? How could I have allowed my unhealthy attitude towards food and body image infect the lives of my children? They are beautiful adults now but are haunted by low self-esteem issues and are self conscious about their appearance. I am responsible for their attitude because I didn’t set the right example when they were young. They learned incorrectly from me that thinness equated beauty.

Since the day I saw that unrecognizable woman in the photograph, I joined a gym and am learning to eat healthier. I no longer punish myself with grueling diets or berate myself every time I look in the mirror. Instead, I focus on my positive attributes and take pride in my workouts at the gym. Once I stopped counting calories and obsessing about the numbers on the scale, the weight started falling off.

I have tuned into what my body has been trying to tell me all along; life is a gift and that every human being is a work of art regardless of size, shape or color. The path to confidence and self respect will not be an easy one for me, but this is a start. I am determined to be the person I know I can be—for my sister, who gave up too soon. for my children, who need to discover their own, inner beauty….but mostly I am doing this for me.

Life is meant to be lived; it’s time I start enjoying the ride.

Accepting Our Child’s Autism

accepting child with autismMy husband and I had grown increasingly uneasy about our second child Mickey. Though a warm, engaging baby, he showed no interest in playing Peekaboo, How Big is the Baby or waving bye-bye. At monthly visits, the pediatrician assured us all was well. But by 18 months, Mickey had only three words, which is why, 20 years ago, we finally found ourselves sitting in a cubicle at a major teaching hospital.

A team of unsmiling experts spent two hours poking, prodding and measuring our son, asking him to draw a straight line, stack cubes, put pegs in boards. I perched forward to catch the doctor’s words more fully, hoping to hear how adorable, how promising my child was. Instead, she said:

“Don’t expect higher education for your son.”

It felt as if we were looking down an endless, dark tunnel. Our radiant little boy had just been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. How could she make such a prediction about a child not yet 2? we asked. There was no doubt, she said, that he was “special.” A puzzling word. For if he was special, did that make our other, older son Jonathan ordinary?

Just as you go through predictable stages of grief and recovery when someone you love dies, so too, do you experience pain as you learn to scale back your expectations and dreams for your child. We began the endless rounds of therapy: speech, occupational therapy, sensory integration, physical therapy, vision therapy, auditory integration therapy, behavioral therapy, play therapy, dietary and biomedical interventions. At first, my mood was only as good as the last therapy session had gone. It was a lonely time, as I stumbled around in an unlit room of my dark imagination. I felt isolated by my anguish, as friends and relatives rushed to dismiss my fears. “Einstein didn’t talk till he was 4. Give him time and he’ll snap out of it. Boys talk later. Don’t compare your children.”

In the next year and a half, Mickey learned to recognize letters and numbers and showed a keen interest in reading signs and license plates. I was waiting for a “Miracle Worker” moment, a breakthrough where he would suddenly begin speaking in paragraphs. Naively, I still assumed that with enough intervention he’d be fine by the time he reached kindergarten. One night at bedtime, he offered a first full sentence: “Mommy, snuggle me,” and my eyes filled.

Disability seeps into all the cracks, the corners, of your life. It becomes the emotional center of the family. Sometimes I felt as if other, typical families were feasting in a great restaurant, while the four of us were standing outside, noses pressed to the glass. Birthday parties for other children were sometimes unbearable, as my child, so clearly different, was unable to bowl, do gymnastics or participate in any other activity. People often stared at him. Equally painful were Mickey’s birthday celebrations; I couldn’t help remembering just how much his older brother Jonathan had been able to do at a comparable age.

I was adrift in a foreign country without a guidebook, and I didn’t know anyone else who lived there. Those first few years with Mickey were like living with someone from another culture, and it was our job to teach each other. Slowly, we learned the language, as I dogged my son’s therapists with questions and requests for more information and articles, reading voraciously, going to workshops and conferences, acquiring a new vocabulary.

Mickey was impulsive, and would often dart away in public or dash out of the house; we put a special lock on the front door. He frequently dumped every book and toy from his shelves; we stripped his room to a minimum of play materials. Loud noises — even the whir of elevators — disturbed him so much he would cover his ears and hum; we avoided crowds and learned to take the stairs.

And yet, for all that he could not yet do, there was so much about him that was intact. He was unfailingly sweet, carrying his collection of Puzzle Place dolls everywhere, hugging and kissing them, feeding them pretend food. He would line them up under the bed covers, whispering “Ssh, take a nap.” Given the depth of his issues, his affect, his warmth and his sheer vibrancy seemed extraordinary.

The summer before kindergarten, Mickey lost his first tooth. We hadn’t even known it was loose, because he still lacked the words to tell us. It was a bittersweet milestone. I remembered vividly the flush of excitement when his brother Jonathan lost his first tooth. Though Mickey seemed pleased to show off the gap in his teeth and we cheered for him, there was no elaborate celebration this time. The tooth fairy was too abstract for him.

The age of 5 was also the magic cut-off point I’d always imagined when all would be well. But the first day of kindergarten, I stood in a huddle with the other mothers and watched through the window of the special education classroom as Mickey lay on the floor and said repeatedly, “I go home.” In the next year, he learned to follow classroom rules and began to read. That year, when he told us his first knock-knock joke, we celebrated.

As the years have passed, I have learned to wear emotional blinders. I stay tightly focused on Mickey, celebrating every change I see. I try to tune out what other, neurotypical kids his age are doing, because the gap is still too painful. Mostly, I try not to compare him with his brother Jonathan. Their trajectories are different. It was hardest when Mickey was a toddler; if I did not remember every one of Jonathan’s developmental milestones, there they all were, lovingly chronicled — by me — in his baby book. Today I hold separate, realistic expectations for each.

Support comes, not surprisingly, from other parents of children with special needs. When I finally connected with them after those first hard years, it felt as if I could take a deep breath after holding it too long. Today we talk with bottled eagerness, like war veterans sharing their fox hole experiences. Though each of our tours of duty is different, we all long for our discharge orders.

How do you do it? I am often asked. I give the same answer each time. I wasn’t given a choice. I just do it, one foot after the other. I have to be his advocate, because as wonderful as his therapists and teachers are, they go home every night. We are his ultimate teachers, the ones who are in it for the long haul. There’s nothing particularly noble about it. We do it because it has to be done.

Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up, and it isn’t a constant state. Grief and anger rear up unexpectedly. Sometimes I still get tired of the relentless effort, the endless round of therapies and team meetings and fights with the insurance companies. This process of healing is a destination without an arrival. Joy and grief are joined in lock-step.

Ultimately, what buoys our family is hope. When I look at him, I do not see “autism.” I see my child: an animated, endearing, handsome young man with a mischievous sense of humor. Parenting this trusting, gentle boy has deepened me immeasurably. But would I trade in my hard earned equanimity and expertise if someone could magically make his challenges go away tomorrow?

In a heartbeat.

Years ago, I heard a story that changed the way I framed my feelings about having a child with a disability. Itzak Perlman was giving a concert. He made his way on crutches to the stage, seated himself and took up his violin. He began to play, when suddenly, a string snapped. Perlman looked around, seeming to measure the length of the stage, how far he would have to go on crutches to fetch a new string, and then seemed to decide that he would do without it. He lifted his violin and began to play, and even without that string, he not only played; he played beautifully.

This is what it is like to have a disabled child. It feels as if you’ve lost a crucial string. And then, painstakingly, you must learn to play the instrument you’ve been given. Softly, differently, not playing the music you’d intended, but making music nonetheless.

Forgiving Siblings Even When You Feel Wronged

forgiving siblingsThis is a post about the journey from hurt to compassion, and its ultimate destination: forgiveness. It’s not an easy path, I can tell you that.  If you’ve taken a similar journey, I’d love for you to share it in the comments.  Thank you.

Once in a while, you run into potentially dangerous people. Like rattlesnakes, they hide under rocks and strike when you least expect it.

You’d think by adulthood, most of us would lose that need to strike out. But, no, there are always some people who haven’t learned the lesson yet. Why is that?

Well, like rattlers, they’re important members of the natural community. They serve a purpose, in that they teach us how NOT to be. And they also teach us compassion, because compassion is the right emotion to aim straight at someone who feels so threatened that the only thing they can do is strike out.

This is the way my family acts and it goes back a very long way.  The other day I found an essay I started in 2006 after a visit to my hometown that included a hysterical fit my sister threw aimed squarely at me. Hysteria is not an overstatement.  After that trip, the man I was dating told his mother, “Carol’s family is not a good place for her. ” He was right.

My other sibling isn’t exactly hysterical, but definitely starts rattling big-time and striking out at anything he deems threatening. Psychological, physical, financial–they’re all treated the same. Striking out is a knee-jerk reaction to threat.

I can see some of the root when I look back at my upbringing, but who knows how deeply the rootball is buried. Maybe it’s so deep it’s been hardwired into them.

For some reason, I didn’t get that trait.  I always felt apart and different, and my life evolved quite differently, too.

No one wants “family” to strike out at them, and I’m no different.  Don’t we all want the perfect TV family? Some lucky few have the mythical family unit, but I’m not one of them. While it was upsetting for many years, I’ve come to see the purpose this situation serves in my life — and I’ve come to terms with it. In some ways, it was a gift. Oh, I know, your eyebrows are raised. But if, as I do, you view life as having a purpose, it’s not a stretch to see this situation as part of my learning process.

Of course, the first thing to do when there’s a family breach is to examine one’s own behavior. I did that, at length and in depth. I’m clean there. Not perfect, but clean. By nature, I’m open-hearted and supportive; I’ve done nothing that would elicit retaliation. I’m just not a warrior.

After that, forgiveness.  It’s a big word and it was a hard climb for me.  That’s because I want life to be fair and people to work out any differences.  But of course, life is not fair, and people are people, all at different stages of personal evolution. I examined the situation every which way and always reached the same conclusion: there was no way for me to breach the gap. No discussion would be fruitful. I could direct all the love in the world at my siblings and they’d still react the same way. And I understood why, at least to the degree anyone could.

In my own time, I came to compassion and forgiveness. Going back over posts in this blog, it was clear just how long and how hard I worked at forgiveness. How badly I wanted to get there.  And then, one day, I realized that I could see their fears clearly– and I could also see that they had nothing to do with me. It took years.

And in the end, I could lay it to rest in a bed of compassion and forgiveness.  It was hard work because it was work on myself, which is always harder than wishing and hoping others will change. When there’s so much hurt involved, it’s only human nature to want to say “it’s all their fault.”  Well, hey, it’s their problem, but “fault” and its twin, “blame” are  concepts I’ve grown uncomfortable with.  People may take responsibility for their actions, or they may not. Sometimes, they just don’t see what they’re doing and where it’s coming from.  Reflection and self-examination are not for the faint of heart. But whether they do or don’t, it has nothing to do with what we do.

Which brings me to forgiveness.

I had a beautiful text after my Father’s Day post from someone close to me who knows my family almost as intimately as I do. It said this:

I read your blog today & had tears in my eyes because your heart is so big~ always willing to forgive & forget because you really understand how very short life really is.

I treasure this message even more because the writer knows only too well that this wasn’t the case for me 30 years ago, 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. My world view is very different now, after decades of reflection and willingness to work on myself.

There are others in this situation, I know, who feel wronged in some way. To them I say this: Give it time. Lower your expectations. Examine your own behavior. And ask the Divine to help you reach forgiveness.

It worked for me and I’ll bet it’ll work for you, too.

Blessings on my siblings. May they, too, find peace.

My Brush with Fame and “The Boomer List”

 

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The last of the Baby Boomers turns fifty this year, and in celebration of that auspicious era when we first graced the world with our presence, PBS will be airing “The Boomer List” tonight to highlight just how unique we really are. I am not profiled in the film, nor have I seen it, but I was lucky enough to be photographed by an amazing photographer who made me look as though I was one of the celebs.

It all took place a few months ago while my friend and fellow blogger, Lisa Carpenter and I attended the AARP Life @50+ Conference in Boston. After a long day of meeting some terrific people and hearing about all the great benefits AARP members can get with their AARP card (shameless plug there), we headed out, only to be sidetracked by a colorful booth close to the Expo’s exit. 

Mary Ann Gatty, and her son Mike were taking photos in the booth that was promoting the upcoming film. I make no grand pronouncements that the only reason we stopped at the booth was because I was interested in the film…the beautiful photos of Billy Joel, author Amy Tan, actress Kim Kattrall, and others did pique our interest, but equally so, we were lured in by a huge jar filled with Boomer candy, and the Turkish Taffy was calling our names.

Never a big fan of having my picture taken…or invariably of the finished product, I acquiesced to standing in line. At best, I would have a souvenir of the conference, and in the least, I could add another photo to the batch at the bottom of my desk drawer. 

Mary Ann thrust a bouquet of flowers in my hand, positioned my chin just right and told me to “think of myself.” When the photo came rolling out of the developer I was astounded–in the few minutes it took for her to look at me, have me pose, and snap my picture, Mary Ann created an exercise in self awareness and captured ME!

Who was this insightful woman? (I’m sure Mary Ann won’t be insulted if I describe her as “well-seasoned.”) I wanted to know her, so I came back the next day to hear more about her life and career.

Originally from Pittsburgh, and now living in Virginia, Mary Ann was a true BA50 when she divorced at 58 and then found herself at a crossroads at a time when women didn’t really have many choices.  After taking a year off to recoup and reassess, she realized she liked being alone and “eating pie in bed,” and then hit the ground running. Having already had a little photog experience under her belt (her ex-husband, also a photographer, spearheaded her career by asking her to go the Hill and take a picture of then Senator Ted Kennedy–how’s that for a Baptism by fire?!?), Mary Ann began doing more work in D.C. while she raised her son. Once he graduated from college, the two of them combined their expertise, and a business that has been thriving ever since was born. 

Mary Ann and Mike Gatty

Mary Ann and Mike Gatty

While other women Mary Ann’s age are thinking about retiring (or have already done so), she’s too busy to even give it a thought. The week before I met her she had just finished photographing Magic Johnson, and she was getting ready to board a plane for yet another photo shoot once the conference was over.

To say that Mary Ann is a true inspiration for today’s BA50s, would be an understatement. And to use words such as “spry” and “feisty” to describe her would be insulting. She is a professional in the highest definition of the word–a businesswoman from a world and a time when women were not readily making their mark in the profession of their choice. “The Boomer List” chronicles a group of extraordinary men and women who were icons of a certain generation, but it is people like Mary Ann who were our role models. I am hoping some of the celebrities will give a nod to those women–their unsung heroines.

So, I wound up having more than a great souvenir of the day. And the photo that I assumed would be stuffed into the bottom of my drawer…it’s my  Facebook profile.

Mindy Trotta

 

Take Advantage Of Cooler Weather: Open Yourself Up To Change

time for changeEven though summer has just about wrapped up, a lot of us are still riding the summer wave, soaking up the sun’s rays, even imagining there is blue sky behind the clouds creeping in.

What frame of mind are you in? In summer, we are naturally in a better mood, and the farthest thing from our mind is . . . school!

Okay, so let’s make school part of our geography of the moment. The weather is clear, the horizons sharp. How would it feel to be in a clear, sharp frame of mind? Imagine you could look far ahead, every day, with clarity and feel the sun shining on your life. With the right tools, you can create success in your life for the fall and embrace a new and proactive frame of mind.

What can you learn from going back to school?

“Going back to school” means embracing a more structured environment and preparing for routine. It’s a kind of renewal, symbolizing the change of season and the start of new learning. It’s a time to revisit priorities and values and to surrender to a more designed life—because, as the days get shorter, our need to fit into the organization of our lives grows.

Whether you are actually going back to school or your children are, it’s important to take some time from the free flow of summer to plan. What about books and supplies? What about your or your children’s wardrobe? Time to clear out those overstuffed closets and update?

When I went back to university as a mature student, I organized my outfits so that, in the morning, I could be out the door in a flash, drop my son off at school and be on my way without thinking about how I would look to my less mature classmates.

Some of us like to get a new haircut for the fall, a new look for the season to come. Some start new hobbies and others let go of unwanted things. What steps would signify renewal and reframing for you?

Fall Time-Off

Though the word “staycation” has fallen off the radar, what hasn’t entirely disappeared is the recession. So traveling may not have been on your calendar this summer.

Why not take a break this fall? Maybe a trip out of town to recharge and stretch the summer out just a little longer? With the cooler weather and lower prices, now is a great time to take advantage of off-peak travel opportunities.

Try Virtual Travel

Is your budget still tight? Embrace the going-back-to-school frame of mind and travel the world through books.

I’ve just finished reading a story set in the Glénan Islands, a group of islands in the Atlantic off windy Brittany. With endless white beaches, appearing and disappearing with the tides, these islands and their stormy, unpredictable weather were side-protagonists in this thriller, which told the story of snobbish Detective Dupin, who had been sent off to this remote community to solve a violent crime—and was suffering from sea sickness.

The book, called Lunedì nero per il commissario Dupin, by Jean-Luc Bannalec, transported me to a European country I had never visited, immersed me in rich French wines and entertained me at intimate family restaurants. The meals at the Quattro Venti Restaurant were so succulent, I felt I was dining with all the murder suspects.

This fall, choose a book set in another country or in a city you have always wanted to visit, and travel in your imagination. Enjoy the thrill of discovery—and the freedom from airport security and delayed flights.

Or go to a movie or two. Only Lovers Left Alive took me to Tangiers, as well as the grunge music scene of Detroit. It’s a beautiful love story of a profound, century-long relationship, with a cultural message of how we humans are damaging our surroundings. Trip to Italy allowed me to travel to Italy without having to visit my parents, making it the most enjoyable and relaxed trip I’ve had to Italy in decades. Amazing scenery, amazing food, no extra calories or dangerous cholesterol. Win-win all the way!

Who doesn’t need a few hours of laughter and world travel? Get into the going-back-to-school frame of mind and upgrade, read, travel! It’s time to open yourself up to new possibilities.

We Moved Our Life Onto A Boat

downsizing to 54 feetWhat is it that makes people leave their homes and all the trappings of comfort that they worked their entire lives to obtain? I can’t answer that question for others, but I know that for me, I was ready for adventure.

My husband and I have been living on a 54 foot sailboat for a year now, and I don’t see us ever going home to our old life.

I was connecting with a friend from home last week and updating her on our travels. This life aboard a sailboat is foreign and hard to comprehend for many people, especially those with limited exposure to boating. My dear friend explained to me that she could not be confined to a boat and that she needs the comforts that only a house can provide.

I used to feel that way as well. I couldn’t imagine a life without fresh flowers on the dining room table, throw pillows on the couch that reflected the seasons, a set of china for special occasions, and an attic full of Christmas decorations.

But things changed, my priorities especially.  Fresh flowers growing on shore have replaced the flowers in a vase. The throw pillows are limited to two now, their covers reflecting the décor of the boat. China has been replaced with everyday melamine, with curved edges so that food doesn’t fly onto the floor when the boat pitches.  But we have the stars above us, the ocean before us, and shores of unique islands to explore.

Our lives are no longer about things, and more about experiences.

I’m often confused by some reactions we have received.  The most often asked question is, “What about your house?”  Well, it’s a house and I suspect that it will still be standing when we come back in a few years.  The basement is still waiting there to be cleaned and the Christmas decorations are still in the attic. We’ll find homes for the china and special silverware. After living a scaled down version of living, we really don’t need those things.

People ask about our kids and grandkids, and it tugs at my heartstrings.  Of course we miss them. But airplanes fly in and out of many of the places we visit and stay, and I have visited them and my son has stayed with us, and of course there is Skype. We aren’t falling off the face of the earth, just exploring it, and we love to share those explorations with our kids.

My feeling is, I could sit at home and knit sweaters for my grandkids that they will never wear, or I can be the mom and grandma that is living her dream.  I would think that my kids and grandkids are proud to say that their parents/grandparents are confident sailors and are out on an adventure.  Our decision to cruise is a choice, and the implication that it’s a selfish choice is far from our intention. There comes a time in everyone’s life when they must make a choice as to what makes them happy and feel relevant and alive. This is our choice.

Others ask if I am scared. This has made me laugh, made me re-think my pat answer of, “No”, and do a lot of honest soul searching. I’ve fielded questions about weather and hurricanes and pirates and broken masts and drowning and going overboard, sharks, bad people with guns, and poisonous fish (the list is endless)….and yes, I was scared before we left. But after experiencing some hair raising conditions and frightful passages, I’m a little less scared now.

Fear is just vulnerability.  We’ve all felt vulnerable at one time or another. The emotion can cause some of us to crawl into a shell like a turtle and retreat into what we know that will keep us safe and free of criticism or harm.  Or we can embrace our vulnerability and trust our skills, learn along the way, and take the risk or not.

Before we left a year ago I answered these questions for myself:

Will there be bad weather and heavy seas?  You can count on it.

Will there be bad experiences with fish or people?  Most likely.

Will there come a time when we doubt our skills and heat of the moment decisions? Absolutely.

But there is no certainly without risk.  There is no joy without first facing fear.

Will there be sunny days and cocktails, meeting pleasant people and learning new languages and cultures?  Yep.

Will there be days when the wind is right and miles to go and not a glitch is even considered?  Absolutely.

So, my answer to the question of, “Aren’t you scared?” is Yes.  Yes I’m scared. I’d be stupid not to be.  We are vulnerable to the weather, our skills, other people.

But I’m not scared enough to stay home. I can’t imagine not experiencing what lies before us due to a case of vulnerability.