From the Hag’s Bookbag

Posted: August 9, 2012 in books


What I’m reading now, and the way I read them:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley— Sounds like Fannie Flagg down home Southern homespun, eh? (Well, it did to me, anyway.) Not so. This is an English countryside murder mystery narrated by a precocious 11-year-old girl with an addiction to chemistry. She’s absolutely hilarious, and plucky without being cloying. (If I were her older sisters, I’d hate her, too.) A complete surprise, and a delight. Good for book clubs. Paperback.

Afterlife by Rhian Ellis — A re-issue from Book Lust Rediscoveries headed by Nancy Pearl. The book opens with a young medium living in a community of spiritualists trying to decide how she’s going to get rid of the body resting in her old bedroom at her mother’s home. Not so much a whodunit as a WTF-happened. I found the narrator compelling if a little maddening: Her passivity about her life seemed to be emblematic of her generation. And it never occurred to me that spiritualism (seances, readings, tarot) is an attempt to answer the very question that religion grapples with: How do we deal with death? Kindle.

The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman — I loved her A Distant Mirror about the Middle Ages, so it’s about time I read this work by the Pulitzer Prize winner. (She’s so good that Streisand wanted her to write a screenplay, but Tuchman was “too busy” and wouldn’t even meet her.) I’m semi-obsessed with the whole WW1 era because of the cataclysmic changes “the war to end all wars” brought to society. Tuchman examines the progress of the war during its first month, August 1914, that set up the tragedy and bloodshed that was to come on the fields of Flanders and France. Very compelling. iBook.

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear —The most recent title in Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs mystery series set in post-WW1 England. (See? I am obsessed…) Born working class and employed as a maid in a great house, young Maisie is “discovered” by her employer, who sets her on a path toward Cambridge, a stint as a nurse on the front lines and a career as a private investigator. A few conventions aside, she is a fun character throughout the novels, a real “new woman” of the age. And I always like reading all of the titles in a book series. The characters become friends. iBook

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty — When silent film star-to-be Louise Brooks first went to New York as a teenager to dance with Denishawn (the modern dance company founded by Ruth St. Dennis and and Ted Shawn), she took a chaperone with her. Moriarty weaves fact and fiction, contrasting the wild young Brooks, who has come to New York seeking her decadent future, with the fictional, conventional Cora, who is looking for clues to her past as a child in one of the “orphan trains” that left New York destined for placement with families in the Midwest. I got a bit annoyed with the placid Cora and the bratty Brooks at first, but, as their stories were spun, they grew on me. Experience is everything. iBook.

Right now I’m not reading anything because we’re obsessed with the Olympics at our house.

What are you reading?

My new mantra

Posted: August 7, 2012 in wisdom


Apropos of yesterday, when I complained about all the “gottas” in my life, this seems fitting, even necessary. We could all use a little more bliss in our lives, couldn’t we?

Actually, the full Depak Chopra quote reads:

If you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge. Those are the three things the ego is doing all the time. It’s very important to be aware of them every time they come up.

Update: WordPress was hiccouging all over the place this morning, and my original post had some weird copy errors. Corrected. Thanks.

Getting rid of the ‘gottas’

Posted: August 6, 2012 in blogging

Okay. So, here’s the deal. (I hate conversations that begin like this. I always figure I’m going to be handed my fanny in a frying pan. No worries, however. It’s safe to read on.)

All bloggers will likely tell you that their blogs have evolved over time. Hagfest (which began as Metafootnotes and somehow morphed into Adventures at Midlife before going on an extended hiatus and re-emerging here) is no exception. I loved all the book bloggers out there and early on hoped I could join their esteemed company. But I quickly discovered I wanted to write/blog/rant/whine/pontificate on a great many other subjects. So I altered the blog’s focus and appearance and happily joined in the conversation with the mid-life blogging community.

But somewhere along the line, as Mother would say, I “got my head turned.” I discovered metrics — those insidious tools and sites that claim to measure your blog’s “worth.” Things like “followers,” “unique viewers,” “cross-posting,” “Klout scores” and “ratings buttons” insinuated themselves into my blogging consciousness. I became obsessed with a whole new set of “gottas”: gotta blog every day, gotta respond to every comment, gotta get on other blogs, gotta get those numbers up, gotta appeal to advertisers, gotta have a new design, gottagottagottagottagottagottagotta. (Like a ratty old out-of-sync engine.) And the more I tried to raise my ratings, the less I enjoyed blogging.

So I quit, but not all at once. Adventures at Midlife just sort of dribbled down to nothing, and I finally went dark for nearly a year. But I continued to read and comment on those beautiful blogs I had met out in the ether. And, after a time, I finally found something I wanted to blog about, and Hagfest was born.

But this time, I’m trying to get  away from the gottas. Merciful heavens, I have been driven by gottas all my life — gotta be smart, gotta be pretty, gotta be thin, gotta be rich, gotta be married, gotta be good, gotta be FREAKIN’ PERFECT — and I can’t bear the sound of it anymore. I have blogging friends for whom blogging is a major and very necessary income stream, and friends who are driven to make a difference in the world for women, the elderly, the not-traditionally-beautiful. They’re all fabulous, and I wish them well. But that’s never been my motivation.

I didn’t start blogging to gain a million followers or to make money, as lovely as that sounds.  I just wanted to join in the conversation, and I was reckless enough to think that I might have something significant to say. Many of you have encouraged me in this delusion, and I sincerely thank you. You are the ones who make me want to keep posting.

So I shall. I just don’t gotta have to post every day, y’know. (And if I don’t respond immediately to your comment, it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it, because I really do. I’m probably just blessedly away from the computer for a spell, y’all.)

Do you/did you ever find yourself blogging more and enjoying it less? What made you keep going?

I’ve been mulling over a rant about body image and cultural expectations, but ohmygoodnessheavensforsakes Tish at Une femme d’un certain age has a post up today that articulates many of my own feelings. (It’s part of a larger discussion with the Duchesse at Passage des Perles.) Tish espouses the more relaxed attitude taken by the French toward body image, and posted some rather remarkable images of full-figured models from French Elle. But what a dust-up she created in the comments! While many agree with her relaxing the so-called rules for what size can be considered fashion-forward, several of her readers (who are also of a certain age) seem to cling fiercely to the thin-is-in ethos and reject the models as being far too zaftig to be stylish.

(Le grande sigh…) I’m 60 freakin’ years old, and I have worried (and dieted and then overeaten) myself to death since I was, oh, NINE, about the terrible state of my thighs (and stomach and arms, etc. etc. ad nauseum). It’s always lurking somewhere on the edge of my consciousness, this sense that I am not acceptable.

I’m not advocating stocking the freezer with ice cream and throwing away the treadmill. But isn’t it time to give it all a rest? After all, as Tish mentions, Frenchwomen would agree that after a certain age, women have to choose between their faces and their butts figures, and I think I’d prefer to put my best face forward.

I’m considering stitching her last paragraph into a sampler:

Life is short.  Eat real food, move around whenever you can in ways that you enjoy, and re-evaluate your beliefs and values periodically to be sure they’re serving you.  Question and discard those that aren’t.  In the end, a little roll of fat around the middle doesn’t say anything about the kind of person you are or how much you loved and were loved.

Where do you stand in the ongoing battle?


Good grief, but I’ve had a crush on Sir Michael since I was a teen. He still rocks as Alfred.

I’m spending a few days in the mountains with the Spouse, a case of Diet Coke, and a stack of books. Back soon. Thanks. (Oh, sure! Like my thighs look that good!)

We tried out a new mattress last night, a ten inch-thick memory foam that came in an impossibly small box but that filled the king-size bedstead quite nicely. The Spouse loves his memory foam pillows, but I always found them creepy, sort of human flesh-textured. (Ewww.) Fortunately the new mattress has a quilted cotton cover and a mattress pad, so it just seems soft. It sits a couple of inches lower than our traditional mattress, which had a pillow top on both sides.

The verdict? It was a little warm at times (one of the major complaints with memory foam) but I slept, sort of. We’ll likely keep the mattress, but it won’t solve my problem: For the past several years, I find that I’m just sort of sleeping, about five or so hours a night. It isn’t enough.

During the last few years before his death, my father couldn’t sleep. He’d either listen to all-night AM talk radio in the spare bedroom, all by himself, or lie there and ruminate over the mistakes and disappointments of his life. I was in the next room, and I would hear him muttering to himself, tapping his knuckles on the wall for emphasis. I don’t think it helped his deteriorating heart, and I worry about becoming like him.

I figured my snoozelessness was just another bonus that comes with aging, but according to the NYTimes, it ain’t necessarily so:

[F]or years, sleep scientists thought they knew what was going on: sleep starts to deteriorate in late middle age and steadily erodes from then on. It seemed so obvious that few thought to question the prevailing wisdom.

Now, though, new research is leading many to change their minds. To researchers’ great surprise, it turns out that sleep does not change much from age 60 on. And poor sleep, it turns out, is not because of aging itself, but mostly because of illnesses or the medications used to treat them.

“The more disorders older adults have, the worse they sleep,” said Sonia Ancoli-Israel, a professor of psychiatry and a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “If you look at older adults who are very healthy, they rarely have sleep problems.”

Hmmmm. I have friends and family who have their sleep interrupted by things like restless legs, sleep apnea, and overactive bladders. I know from personal experience that chronic pain can be exacerbated by a lack of sleep. Mother, who was as healthy as a horse until her 90s and kept to a pretty predictably schedule in most aspects of her life, slept soundly.

So now what? Sleeping pills? I think not. I don’t want to become dependent on anything, and I take enough pills already. I’m inventorying my meds to see if they are contributing to the problem, and I’m working on some suggestions that my counselor at our employee wellness program gave me:

1. Get the television set out of the bedroom. (We already did that during our recent move.) Your bed needs to be reserved for sleeping, otherwise your body seems to think it’s just another piece of furniture and your mind just goes on merrily grinding away.

2. Set a regular sleep pattern, i.e. going to bed and waking up at the same times. Since I’m still working fulltime, I keep to a fairly regular bedtime and wake up schedule, but I can see how it could go all to heck at retirement, sort of like being on vacation, where you’re up sometimes until the wee hours and then crawl out of bed at noon (like being a teenager again, only you now have to “wee” at 3 a.m. or so).

3. Try melatonin, a hormone that is part of the human sleep-wake cycle. This is new to me, but the Spouse has long used it to get over jetlag. He takes it at bedtime and then makes sure he gets some direct sunlight the next morning. It apparently helps reset your internal clock. The National Sleep Foundation and other sites have some good points on the benefits — and limitations — of melatonin.

4. “Practice good sleep hygiene,” said the counselor. Huh? Google to the rescue: The Daily Glow has a fine list, like avoiding caffeine and alcohol after six, creating bedtime rituals, exercising earlier in the day, limiting naps, etc. (Oh, but I do loves me a good nap…)

I’ve used melatonin the past several nights, and I’ve slept a bit better. (Might be just a placebo effect.) But I know it won’t work as a nighttime sleep aid, so I’ll go without it tonight.

Are you getting enough sleep? What works for you?

HagStags: Hugh Laurie

Posted: July 19, 2012 in favorite things, hagstags

Whatever shall I do without my weekly “House” fix? He was even born in OXFORD! (“Cool!” as House would say.)

Reader, we’ve moved. Literally and figuratively, it turns out.

After a couple of serious falls that landed her in the hospital, my 91-year-old mother-in-law agreed to move to an assisted living facility (where she promptly tripped over her oxygen line, fell, and broke her femur in 20 pieces — but that’s a story for another day). The Spouse and I had talked about buying her very nice condo in a 55+ development when the time came for her to sell, but that time came much quicker than we expected. Both our all-brick rambler and her home had become undervalued in the current economy, and we wondered if we would be able to sell.

Meanwhile, downstairs at our house, our son and daughter-in-law, who had rented out their townhome and remodeled and moved into our basement to start saving for a house with property, were wondering how they could afford anything in today’s market. (Their best prospect? A small two-story no-basement home on a whopping .1 acre of land miles and miles away in a wildfire-plagued area — all for a mere $275,000. Yikes.)

“Would you consider buying our house?” the Spouse asked. They would, and promptly did. Our son was very happy growing up in our neighborhood, and his wife is thrilled to have a space to remodel. She does AH-MAZING things with paint and fabric, and the place is already looking better than it did when we lived there.

Very quickly, it seemed, we went from having them living with us to us living with them, so we speeded up the move, boxing up everything and throwing away ENORMOUS amounts of flotsam and jetsam that had washed up in the basement and in the corners of every closet over the 25 years we lived in that all-brick rambler. Papers, Books. Broken Christmas decorations. A plethora of pillows, most of which had to be tossed because of the dust. Cases of peanut butter and black beans long past their use-by date. Rock-hard bags of sugar. Piles of Apple components, hardware and software for computers we had long since abandoned. You know, the usual kipple. (My constant refrain: “What the frack was I/he keeping this for?”)

I considered (for about a nanosecond) having a yard sale, but I’ve had great luck with placing unwanted items on the front of the lawn with a FREE sign on them. They rarely last the day. It’s my way of stimulating the neighborhood economy: Let somebody else haul them off and sell them if they want. Everybody’s struggling.

The move was completed in a frantic four hours on a Saturday four weeks ago thanks to a very motley crew of our friends, their friends, and family members, all paid in pizza, cookies, water and our undying thanks.

So. Here we are. The dust has settled, the remodeling is nearly complete (new carpet and tile upstairs including a jetted tub in the bathroom, and a new family room and bathroom downstairs). I’ve spackled all the holes in the walls, touched up the white trim, and applied Danish oil to a few water-worn kitchen and bathroom cabinets. The TVs are hooked up, the furniture is mostly in place, the ice maker in the fridge works, and we’ve put a few things on the walls. There are pots of geraniums on the front and back porches. I even have a room of my own downstairs with a futon, desk, bookshelves, wi-fi, TV, and a recumbent exercycle. I’m still looking for a couple of pairs of sandals that went missing during the mayhem, but most things have turned up.

It’s a nice house, open and bright. It has the feel of a place where someone has been happy. No ghosts here. We’re settling in nicely.

So why am I so unsettled?

There’s a clue in my first paragraph: “a 55+ development.” Yeah, we’re 55+, even 60+. The Spouse just retired, and I’m seriously thinking about it. We more than qualify for a little slice of no-upkeep heaven like this. So what’s the big deal?

Our little slice of heaven is a ghetto, and I say that in the nicest possible way. According to the Interwebs, a ghetto is “a part of a city predominantly occupied by a particular group, especially because of social or economic issues.” Ours is a gray ghetto, where most of the residents (who like my mother-in law bought their homes 15 or so years ago when they were in their 60s and 70s) are now in their 70s and 80s and even 90s. We’re among the youngest ones here. And it just feels weird, sort of like moving back in with your parents, only now we’re middle-aged or beyond.

And it makes me feel terrible at the same time. The people we have met here are lovely, gracious and welcoming and friendly in the way that they, “the Greatest Generation” as Tom Brokaw dubbed them, have always been. Perhaps I feel like a fraud. After all, I’m one of those selfish, spoiled, economy-destroying, resource-guzzling Baby Boomers and I don’t deserve to be counted in their class. But maybe I’m just not ready for yet another capitulation to the ravages of time.

This, of course, all adds to my on-going angst about aging. I now alternate from my job where I’m surrounded by dewy-skinned, inexperienced 20-year-olds to my home where I live among survivors of the march of time whose lives, well-lived or not, are etched indelibly on their faces.

Oh, I’m just DISGUSTED with myself. I carp on and on about age discrimination, and here I’m teetering on its very edge. I have much to learn about the hard business of growing older, and I now am surrounded by experienced and willing teachers and examples.

And learn I shall. More to come.

I haven’t yet had to put on a swimsuit. So far, so good…

Hope your summer is going “swimmingly!”

(This post shamelessly ripped off inspired by Fern at The Fur Flies.)