The look of 40

Last June, I turned forty.  A dubious milestone no woman strives to achieve but like most unpleasant things in life, aging is completely unavoidable.  I took it on the chin.  I didn’t take to my bed in a blubbering fit of self-pity, or trade in my 4 door sedan for a zippy Maserati, or wake up with a tequila hangover and a mystery tattoo.   Being the boring mature adult that I am, I opted to celebrate with a quiet dinner, a glass of wine, and a Daniel Silva novel.

The first time my age came up in casual conversation, I was honest and straightforward.  There’s no shame in forty.   Anyway, I don’t really feel any different from when I was 39, even if the elliptical at the gym insists that I somehow burn fewer calories for every forty-five minute workout since my birthday.   The evil work of some abstract algorithm, I’m sure.

“You’re forty?” said the young optician measuring my pupillary distance for my new “no-line” bifocals.  “You don’t look forty.”

“That’s very generous of you,” I said.

“No, seriously.  You look good.  I hope I have such good complexion when I’m your age.”

Hm.

I assured her there was no mistake.  I’d seen my birth certificate – born 1972.  It had an official seal and everything.  At the time, I accepted her declaration as a compliment, vowed to continue using the overpriced anti-aging cream from that high-end department store I loathe, and went on my merry way with a little extra spring in my step.  Yes, vanity is a sin; and yes, I’ve been guilty of it on more than one occasion.  Sue me.  In the seven or eight months since, others have echoed her disbelief, but the initial boost to my ego has waned.  I should probably feel jubilant, over the moon even, that I appear to look so young and vibrant – especially, for someone of my advancing years.

I’m not.

I’ve said it before – I am a personality fraught with flaws.  The list is endless.  Near the top, just beneath chronically phobic is:  tends to over-analyze life, often prone to bouts of irrational suspicion in others, and is perpetually awaiting the other shoe to drop.  A dangerous trio that makes it impossible for me to let these benign bits of frivolous flattery roll by without further examination.

What does it mean when people say I don’t look forty?

What is forty supposed to look like?

Is there some predetermined criteria?

Am I somehow deficient?

Like most women of any age, I look at myself in the mirror every morning and cringe.  I am no great beauty – perhaps passably pretty, if we’re feeling generous.  I run on the wrong side of average, with thick thighs and flabby arms.  I have to sweat a lot to maintain a consistent weight in the mid-120’s, and I’m not known for my overt fashion sense.  My mouth is flanked by laugh lines, the delicate skin around my eyes crinkle ever so slightly when I smile, and every six weeks the silvery-grey hair I work hard to hide winks at me from beneath the glare of the bathroom lights.

It’s an image I’m quite familiar with, and it is an image that has gone virtually unchanged over the last few years.   I find it strange that no one commented on how good I might look for my age when I was 37, or 38, or even 39.  It’s only after I have reached the pivotal age of forty that I am suddenly an oddity in the eyes of my peers.

This inconsistency makes me wonder by what standard forty is judged.  From my own experiences, there seems to be some preconceived notion of one’s physical appearance once a certain age threshold has been crossed.  It’s as if at forty, one abruptly reaches the apex of physicality and is then expected to begin a rapid downward spiral into the dark abyss of crippling old age.  I am, after all, now traditionally considered “over the hill.”  Or so, I’ve been told.  But am I really?

A quick internet search told me that in ancient Rome, a woman’s average life expectancy was between 20 and 30 years depending on her social status, the age she married, and the number of children she bore.   According to Sarah Woodbury, women living in the Middle Ages fared slightly better reaching an average age of 40.  This was, of course, provided she survived infancy, avoided contracting some sort of plague, and didn’t perish giving birth to her own offspring.  During the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England, life expectancy hovered around the upper 30s, but by the beginning of the twentieth century, those numbers rebounded to a staggering 50.  This upward momentum continued through the 1900s, and today women living in the United States can take comfort in the fact that, on average, they may live to be 82 or so.

Hm.

I have long wondered what it might be like to live in another time period.  Now, I know.  It drives home the true meaning of the old adage “life is short.”   While I am grateful to have been born in twentieth century, the numbers do paint a sobering picture.  At forty, I am now truly middle-aged.

Over the hill.  Long in the tooth.  A mutton dressed as a lamb.

Perhaps that Maserati isn’t such a bad idea, after all.  I wonder if it comes in red.

Even so, this depressing revelation doesn’t answer my original question:

What am I supposed to look like at forty – you know, now that I have statistically reached the midpoint of my life?

Should I have developed a hunch back?  A stilted gait?  A weather-beaten face?

Should I suddenly forget how to apply make up?  Allow my hair the freedom to convert back to its natural gray streaked frizz?

The more I think about the answer to this question, the more I’m convinced that age is simply an outdated societal construct designed to confine individuals to easily discernible categories in order to dictate acceptable behavior.  Generally, in our twenties we are considered young and beautiful with carefree spirits and the luxury of worldly ignorance.   In our thirties, we are plagued by the pressure of conformity, the harshness of reality, and the need to settle into designated career and familial roles.  By forty, any hint of the youthful spirit and beauty of our twenties is thoroughly eradicated and replaced by the exhaustion of motherhood, the cruelty of gravity, free-falling metabolisms, wrinkling skin, and mom jeans. By fifty, we are destined for the early bird specials at the local pancake house and an AARP lifetime membership.  Fifteen years later…well…it’s all over but the crying.

Do these categories represent reality? Perhaps there is a measure of truth to be found somewhere floating in the depths of these stereotypes, but I certainly do not believe that we, as individuals, fit into such nice neat boxes.  I don’t wear mom jeans, drive a minivan, or feel the weight of motherhood bearing down on me.   I did all of that in my early thirties.  Now, at the tender age of forty, I am on a wondrous journey of self-discovery and have never felt more alive.  This proves to me that I am right in my belief that age is a relative concept.  You are only as old as you perceive yourself.  I do not perceive myself as old, over the hill, or long in the tooth.  Therefore, I am not.

So, what does forty look like?

Fabulous.

Valentine’s Day: A lesson learned

I have never been one to put too much stock in Valentine’s Day – even when I was young and possessed a more romantic sensibility.  As an uncompromising cynic, I find the commerciality of it all ridiculous, and can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for the men in our society who must live up to expectations they are structurally incapable of fulfilling.  It is as unfair a system as any I have ever seen.

To add to my derisiveness, my father passed away on Valentine’s Day, six years ago.  Any tolerance I may have had for the frivolity of the so-called holiday quickly evaporated and was replaced with the heaviness of grief.  It is no longer a day of light-hearted romantic celebration, but rather a day of quiet remembrance and reflection.

Still, I’m not completely heartless.  I usually pick up a few little trinkets, a box of chocolates, and an obligatory card or two.  This year, Valentine’s Day was a busy one.  An early morning vet appointment, last-minute cramming for a test, the test, a three-hour lab session, and finally, gymnastics practice.  I forgot all about buying gifts for the family until I overheard two classmates discussing their evening plans.

No worries.  On my way home, I stopped at a local grocery store – the one who likes to think of themselves as the neighborhood florist.  Of course, I was not alone in my procrastination, and the place was a sea of people – mostly men trying to live up to their love’s expectations.  I must say it is a funny thing to watch grown men pick through buckets of roses trying to find the nicest, yet cheapest flowers for the one’s they love.  I overheard one guy bragging to his buddy that he scored a bunch of lilies for nine bucks.  I wanted to tell him they were not appropriate – unless, of course, he was going to a funeral.  I refrained.  Some lessons are best learned firsthand.

I was quite pleased with my own purchases, especially given the late hour.  My daughter is one of simple tastes.  She prefers chocolates above all else and really likes it when I buy her a candy bar bouquet.  My mother likes Ghirardelli chocolates – done.  My husband likes chocolate covered cherries, and I almost bought him two boxes.  Then I spied a heart-shaped box of Italian truffles.  I chose those instead.  I thought he would appreciate the change.

He did not.

It seems Italian truffles are full of two things he hates most in life – almonds and hazelnuts.

IMG_1305He was even kind enough to circle them on the ingredients panel so that I could see my mistake firsthand.

Lesson learned.

Things I learned this week

“Proof brevity does not protect against dullness.” 

– Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in regard to Twitter.

I learned this week…

…that I don’t have to worry about those pesky little logarithms, after all.  My Historical Geology professor announced this gem during our last lab session.  It seems he’s not a big fan of the evil math, either.  He just might take over the top spot on my favorite professor list.

…that there is a new spy thriller on FX called The Americans, and I’m not too sure I care for it.  Don’t get me wrong, the concept intrigues me: Soviet KGB operatives posing as Americans during the early days of the Reagan administration, stealing intelligence.  Sounds right up my alley, right?  It is – for the most part.

So what’s the problem, you ask?

Keri Russell.

Yes, I know.  I should let my aversion to Felicity go; after all, it was the show that launched Jennifer Garner into Alias stardom.  Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  But still, I don’t like Keri Russell (as an actress – I’m sure she’s a lovely person), and her character, Elizabeth Jennings, seems even less appealing.  She is cold and detached with a glint of something homicidal in her eye.  Perhaps this is the writers’ intention.  Maybe I’m not supposed to relate to her, to sympathize with her, to like her.  If that is the case then they are doing a superb job.

Bravo.

…that for the first time in a long time, I found the Grammys enjoyable.  Usually, it’s a tortured affair, one that leaves me feeling old and out of touch, yet strangely fixated.  It’s like witnessing a horrible train wreck – the pitchy performances, the excessive bleeping of lyrics too inappropriate for primetime, the painful acceptance speeches by artists scarcely worthy of the name.  I want to look away, but I just can’t.  Most years, I am doomed to disappointment and will spend a solid week bemoaning the sad state of music and vowing to do something more productive with that three and a half hour block of time.

This year was different.  This year there were (by and large) real musicians on stage, playing real instruments, and producing real music.  I enjoyed most of the performances and tributes – Mumford and Sons, The Black Keys, fun., Jack White, Dr. John, Carrie Underwood and her hypnotic dress, Ed Sheeran, Sting, Sting, and Sting.

What?  He wasn’t alone on stage?

Funny.  I didn’t notice.

In all seriousness, I felt renewed hope.  Maybe music has turned a corner; maybe the manufactured, auto-tuned sludge we’ve been subjected to for two decades will finally give way to the return of the vocally and musically talented singer/songwriter.

Maybe?  Please?

The only dark spot on the night – besides Elton John and Taylor Swift – was the Florence Welch snub.  I may hold that against Kelly Clarkson for a very long time.  I’m a grudge holder, you know.

On a side note:  Ratings for the 2013 Grammy Awards were down, and critics panned it for its somber feel.  Mature…somber.  Whatever.  Click here to read one of the more scathing reviews.

…that listening to an audio book in the carpool line will cause me to do something I rarely do – nap.  It’s problematic for a few of reasons:  1) I’ve never gotten around to tinting my windows; 2) the telltale head bob that accompanies vertical napping is embarrassing; 3) inevitably I will have to rewind (can you rewind an MP3?) the audio book because I end up missing vital chunks of the story.   Yesterday, I missed the whole part about Chiara being kidnapped from the villa in Italy.  I woke up in the middle of a shit storm and had no idea what the hell was going on.

I panicked a little.

…that ginger tea is the elixir of the gods.  For the last year or two, I’ve suffered from a stomach quirk and steadily over the months, my tolerance for many of foods has waned.  I am a notorious self-diagnoser, so I tossed around the idea of a gluten allergy, a fructose intolerance, a faulty gall bladder.  I cut a lot out of my diet.  Sometimes it helps; sometimes it doesn’t.  After a recent upswing in symptoms, I took to the internet for advice – because if it’s on the internet, it has to be true – and discovered ginger tea.  It takes a bit of getting used to, but I have to say it has helped a lot.

<covers ears to block out BFF’s (licensed RN) screams that I need to stop with the internet diagnosing and see a professional>

I did finally make an appointment for next week with a specialist.  But I already know what he’s going to tell me.  I looked it up on the internet.

…that I am not irrational.  Okay, yes I am, but not when it comes to cruises.  My friends go on cruises – they love them.  They tell me I should go, too.  I would love it, they say.  “You forget you’re even on a boat.  It’s so much fun.  Go.  Try something new.”  I have no desire for the obvious reasons:  big ship; inflatable “life” boats; tiny windowless cells staterooms; crushes of people breathing my air; lack of wide open sandy beaches; and the Norwalk virus.

Here are few more reasons:  no power; no ventilation; no working toilets; Soviet era bread lines for a daily hot dog rationing.  Read more here.

No, thank you.  I’d rather risk getting my head loped off by the drug cartels in Mexico.

…and last, but not least, this week’s photo is a macro I took in November, at the Dallas Arboretum.  It’s always a nice surprise stumbling across these shots and I am a sucker for water droplets.

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Finding lost treasures

Do you know what I love?

Finding things I thought were lost forever.

Yesterday, tucked away in a dark dusty place, I found a set of books I could have sworn perished in a house fire six years ago.

I almost cried.

Set of Louisa May Alcott novels gifted to me in 1974
Set of Louisa May Alcott novels gifted to me by my Nana in 1974
My favorite
My favorite
A few other books I found.  Grimm's Fairy Tales was also a gift from my Nana.  The bottom book, Carmen of the Golden Coast, was passed down from my Nana to my mother to me.
I found a couple of other books as well. Grimm’s Fairy Tales was also a gift from my Nana. The bottom book, Carmen of the Golden Coast, was passed down from my Nana to my mother to me.
Inscription in Carmen of the Golden Coast
Inscription in Carmen of the Golden Coast

Things I learned this week

“The wisest are the most annoyed at the loss of time.”

            – Dante Alighieri

This week I learned:

…that there were a few notable anniversaries:

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  • My favorite novel Pride & Prejudice was first published 200 years ago (January 27, 1813).  I usually wait until the lazy days of summer to pull it out and give it another read, but this year I think I might delve into it a little earlier.
  • We are the World turned 28 this week.  The recording of this song and the release of the video was a profound moment in my teenage years.  In all honesty, I’m not real sure I completely understood their cause at the time, but the collaboration of all of my favorite musical talents on one record nearly blew my mind.
  • This week, 27 years ago, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during lift off.  I watched the launch live on television, alongside millions of other school children.  I remember the level of excitement surrounding this launch.  We all understood that we were watching history in the making.  Then, it all went horribly wrong.  I will never forget that day, what I saw, what I felt.   Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston with my daughter’s middle school Robotics class.   One of the films we watched highlighted NASA’s missions throughout the years – the triumphant and the tragedy.  I probably should have been expecting it, but when the video of Challenger’s last seconds filled the screen it took my breath away.

…that the girl who sits next to me in Historical Geology has adult ADHD.  I suspect she is unmedicated because surely if she were, I wouldn’t spend the first half of class trying to figure out a way to make her shut up and sit still without getting arrested for a felony.

…that I don’t have the personality for Twitter.  I find the task of coming up with witty pieces of brilliance in under 140 characters on a daily basis undoable.   I also don’t have the patience or the attention span to sit and scroll through all of those endless posts and reposts, and reposts of reposts.  I don’t even find it an efficient source of news.  There is one thing, though, that I do get a kick out of – followers.  One of my favorite games is the “what if” game.  I do it in the grocery store, at the gym, in traffic – everywhere.  I find I can do it with Twitter followers, as well.   And so, with every new follower notice, I take a minute to try to come up with their story.  After that, I make a bet with myself to see how long it takes them to realize I’m not any fun and unfollow me.  It never takes too long.

…that – in keeping with the Twitter thread – people actually have apps to keep track of who unfollows their twitter account.  Really?  If I took the time to worry about all the people who decided they didn’t like me over the years, I’d never get a damn thing done.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by two sweet girls who make my heart smile.

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Happy Birthday, Dad

My dad passed away almost six years ago.  Today would have been his birthday.   In celebration, I’m sharing with you a few of his favorite songs – songs that make me feel close to him.

Enjoy.

Things I learned this week

I learned this week:

…that Historical Geology is not going to be a cake walk.

From the course material:

“The study of sedimentary rocks can involve many scientific disciplines.  Considerable knowledge of mathematics, biology, and physics is required to fully understand the mechanics and processes associated with weathering, transportation, lithification, the preservation of life forms, and the postdepositional alteration and changes that may occur.”

My horror at seeing the words “mathematics, biology, physics, and required” strung together in a cohesive sentence was only compounded by my professor’s declaration that Historical Geology is not for the “faint of heart.”  And, just when I thought for sure it couldn’t get any worse, I spied logarithms in lab assignment number two.

Excuse me while I vomit.

It seems college algebra has risen from its darkened mire to torment me once again.

Of course, maybe it won’t be so bad.  The first thing I thought after I typed the word “mire”:  low energy environment; muddy sediment with fine clay particles; decaying animal and plant matter; peat; bituminous coal.

…that I have been paying out-of-state tuition for the last several semesters even though I live in the state, and haven’t moved since my house burned down in 2006 – which was prior to my enrollment.   It took two full hours to convince them I haven’t been commuting in from some faraway place every semester – you know, to take advantage of their renowned education opportunities.

I’m not sure this is the spirit of efficiency Max Weber had in mind when he penned the six characteristics of bureaucracies.

…that Roger Federer has made it into the semi-finals of the Australian Open.  This is usually the point where he lets me down and has his ass handed to him by Rafe Nadal.  But maybe there is a ray of hope this year.  Federer’s chief rival is out with a knee injury.  Could this ensure victory for my favorite aging Swiss tennis pro?

I think.  Maybe.  Yes.

Wait?  What’s that?

Novak Djokovic defeated David Ferrer today to move into the finals at the Open?

Damn it.

Update:  Federer lost his semi-finals round to Andy Murray. 

<facepalm> 

Update 2:  Djokovic defeated Murray for the title.  I’m okay with that. 

…that Beyonce Knowles – aka Mrs. Jay Z – likely lip-synced the national anthem during President Barak Obama’s inauguration.  Big freaking whoop.  I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but do I need to remind the media that there are more important things happening in the country and around the world?  Don’t make me list them again.  I’ll do it, you know.

…that I have been nominated for a couple more blogging awards.  I am getting behind in my acknowledgements.  Let’s see if I can fix that.

From jazzytower over at thoughtsandentanglements, I received a nomination for the Beautiful Blogger Award.

versatile-blogger-300x300From Kevin at nittygrittydirtman, I received a nomination for the Liebster Award.

From Kitty over at kittyb78, I received a nomination for the Versatile Blogger Award and the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

If you guys keep this up, I’m going to get a very big ego and begin to channel my inner Sally Field again.  You know how messy that got last time.

(please, don’t stop)

Thanks to Jazzy, Kevin, and Kitty.  Go check out their blogs.  I’m sure you will enjoy them as much as I do.

Okay, as always these things come with rules and regulations.  I’m going to try to combine them to save space and time.  First, here are some interesting – or not – facts about me:

  1. I am a hardcore grudge holder.  I’m still mad at the snot-nosed brat who broke the personalized license plate my dad gave me for my bike when I was ten.  Her name is Melissa, and she is the devil.
  2. Last summer, I taught myself how to swim.  I’m not going to be competing in the next Olympics, but I can get myself from one end of the pool to the other without drowning.
  3. I still prefer traditional print material to digital, though not because I think physical books are somehow superior.  I just can’t seem to remember to charge my eReader.
  4. As an introvert, I find a lot of social interaction exhausting and awkward.   I’m learning to adapt, though there are times when I wish I had a t-shirt that read:  “Do this introvert a favor and shut the hell up.”  Too much?  I’ll have to work on that.
  5. I am addicted to the History Channel – H2, not the one that plays hours of Pawn Stars and Top Gear, the other one that plays marathons of Ancient Aliens.  A girl has to have standards, right?
  6. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a Marine Biologist – until my dad told me I would have to board a boat, sail out onto the ocean, and dive into the water.  You know, with all those scary things that live underwater.  Yikes.
  7. I love picture frames.  The only issue – I tend to forget to have photos printed to put in them.  So, all around my house you will find frames displaying generic photos of people I don’t know.  I’m looking at one right now on a shelf in my office.  I should fix that.
  8. I like to cook, but I hate cooking dinner.

Okay.  That’s all I’ve got.  I’m not all that interesting.

Now some questions from Kevin:

  1. What is your favorite time of day and why?  My favorite time of day is first thing in the morning, just as the sun in coming up over the horizon.  I love the stillness that comes with dawn.  For me, there is nothing more peaceful. 
  2. How and when did you first discover your passion, whatever that passion is?  I first discovered my love for writing in the third grade when I penned a short story based on the Aesop’s Fairytale the Tortoise and the Hare.  I wrote it as a class assignment, and it wasn’t received well, but the process really did foment my passion for the written word.
  3. Hopefully, you’re familiar with The Breakfast Club for this question.  When you were in high school, in which social group did you best fit?  I suppose I was a social misfit, though likely not in the true sense portrayed in the movie.  I was always introverted, unpopular, and walked to the beat of my own drum. 
  4. Where do you write your posts and why did you choose that place?  I write anywhere I can find a quiet corner: at school in the common areas between classes, gymnastics practice, the bagel shop, the coffee shop, the library, the carpool lane.  Just about anywhere and everywhere.
  5. What always makes you laugh and why?  This is going to sound cliché, but my daughter makes me laugh.  She is probably the funniest person I know.  Sarcastic, witty, insightful, cynical, silly – she’s the whole package.  I look at her sometimes and wonder how I got so lucky.
  6. If you could appear on a televised talent show, what would your talent be?  Oh, geez.  I can wiggle my ears.  What kind of show do you go on to highlight that talent? 
  7. Which flower reminds you of happiness?  Big fat yellow sunflowers, bluebonnets, and poppies.
  8. What is your favorite book and why?  Pride & Prejudice.  What’s not to love? 
  9. It is important to eat your vegetables, but which vegetable to you always resist/avoid eating?  I honestly cannot think of a veggie I will not eat.  Fruit on the other hand – I hate apricots and mangos.
  10. What’s your favorite thing to do on a rainy day? I love to curl up in my favorite chair, with a cup of tea, and read something frivolous.
  11. Who is one celebrity, past or present, you would like to meet – what would you ask that person?  Jennifer Garner.   I’d love to ask her why she keeps making all of those pathetic Rom-Coms.  Put us all out of our misery and bring back Sydney Bristow. 

Passing these along is tough.  Not because I don’t know anyone deserving, but because I know a lot of people who are.  I’m going to stew on this for a while.

…this week’s awww moment of the week is brought to you by a girl and her dog.

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