Been gone. No good excuses. (Well, a family trip to Hawaii followed by a bout with the nastiest of all intestinal viruses — complete with a visit to the ER — but I shan’t bore you with any messy details — other than the fact that, during the ensuing cleanup, my iPhone went through the wash cycle. Donations are currently being accepted, thank you.)

The end-of-the-year festivities always make me a bit sad, a little nostalgic. “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.” So far, the fates have been kind, and I still have many of the people and the things I love around me. That’ll change, I know, but we won’t think about that right now, okay?

Somewhere in this bittersweet funk, I have been remembering things that used to be really important to me that are no more, and wondering why. Such as:

Desert Flower Lotion. My dad owned a Mom and Pop pharmacy, and I used to love the Desert Flower line of products we carried, the first real lotion that I found made a difference in my desert-dry skin. Probably the aloe. (The original Jergens lotion smelled really good, but that stuff was like water.) One Desert Flower bath set also came with a bottle of light cologne and bath powder in a little round, paper-covered box with a powder puff. So girly. So gone.

Tweed cologne. And Tigress.  I can’t remember who made them, but I clearly remember the scents. Tweed was almost a man’s fragrance, very woodsy, and came in the coolest beige and plaid carton, sort of pre-Burberry. Tigress was much more complex and dark, probably too sophisticated for my 17-year-old self at the time. And the packaging was equally rich and sensual, all dark fur. I can still catch a glimpse of myself and my friend Sherri, down in her basement bedroom, dousing ourselves with Tigress and talking about boys. (She actually dated in high school. I just talked a good game…) Google update: Well, slap me silly. Tweed and Tigress are still available. But their packaging is ALL WRONG. They probably smell different, too. It’s just not the same.

Maybelline cake mascara. Wow, this is an oldie. The mascara came in a little red box that slid open to reveal a small brush and a line of hard brown or black  powder. You’d spit on the mascara moisten the brush, rub it on the cake and brush the mascara on your lashes. Of course, early on, I’d get to junior high early enough to apply it in the school bathroom so Mother wouldn’t catch me wearing make-up. And it helped me realize very early on that black mascara was too harsh-looking for me. One fashion faux pas avoided. I’m sure tube mascara is a vast improvement, but I really liked those little red boxes with their secret, face-changing contents. Other brands of cake mascara are still available on the ‘net, touted as “old Hollywood.”

Yardley Lip Slickers. These actually may still be around, just not at any of the stores I frequent. They conjure up all sorts of images of the British fashion and music invasion that dominated my high school years: Mary Quant, Carnaby Street, Twiggy, the Beatles and the Stones, Marianne Faithfull in her leather and lace. (And to think that byjane was in London, actually living out my fantasies!)

Of course, there are plenty of products I don’t miss, like Secret Cream Deodorant (that did absolutely nothing for a junior high sweat monkey like me and had the ickiest texture), Clearasil skin tone cream (which just made my acne brown),  Noxema Cream Cleanser (What were we thinking? That stuff made my skin worse. It was like Crisco!), sanitary napkin belts (UGH!), and magnetic rollers that we’d sleep in (and my hairstyle would still be gone by mid-afternoon). And weren’t we ALL glad when panty hose showed up?

I largely stumbled my way through adolescence. Never one for fashion, Mother didn’t wear makeup beyond a red lipstick for Church on Sundays, and I had no older sister or nearby cousins to show me the ropes. So I’d scour my monthly issue of Seventeen and scrutinize the faces, bodies and routines of my friends. It was hit and miss, but I found a few things that worked, like a good haircut. The advent of benzoyl peroxide cream and retin-A finally took care of my acne, and I found the Clinique counter at the mall. Antiperspirants continued to improve. (Is anyone else out there as grateful for that as I am?) One word: Tampax. Enough said. And a significant weight loss in my forties finally introduced me to the notion that clothes could be something besides camouflage.

I’ve always felt like a latecomer to the big Cosmetic and Sartorial Party, but I’ve enjoyed myself since I arrived. I just wish sometimes that a few of those products I once loved had arrived with me. They boosted the confidence of an awkward girl and helped her to become, well, me.

Is there something you miss from your wanton youth?

HotHags: Emma Thompson

Posted: November 15, 2011 in beauty, hothags


Rethinking exercise

Posted: November 14, 2011 in aging, health

Here’s a NYT headline that’s bound to get the attention of any Baby Boomer: Aging Well Through Exercise:

[According to T]he Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who oversaw the study, “They suggest strongly that people don’t have to lose muscle mass and function as they grow older. The changes that we’ve assumed were due to aging and therefore were unstoppable seem actually to be caused by inactivity. And that can be changed.”

The study examined a group of competitive swimmers, runners and cyclists, all 40+. And it was all good news in terms of their muscle mass and fitness levels.

Whether similar benefits are attainable by people who take up exercise when they are middle-aged or older “isn’t yet clear,” [one researcher] says, “although there’s no reason to think that you wouldn’t get similar results no matter when you start.” (Italics mine.)

I’ve always thought certain body changes were inevitable with age, like that loss of muscle mass and the blockiness around the middle torso that has crept up on me, but this kind of information encourages me. Time to dust off the exercise equipment, ladies. I’ve been wanting to find some more reading time, and my recumbent bicycle makes it easy to hold a book or a Kindle. Two problems solved. Maybe this way I can avoid the usual five pounds I gain every holiday season.

Care to join me? I’ll report on my progress.

A silver lining?

Posted: November 13, 2011 in Money, wisdom

Slate’s DoubleX site, which runs lifestyle stories and news for women, recently asked readers to write about their experiences in the current recession. It is, as you would expect, a litany of losses and limitations, many of them affecting seniors:

Pamela, 70, whose aviation technician husband was involuntarily retired from his job a few years ago says that they can no longer afford to travel. This hurts, since their families are several states away. “I have not seen them for four years,” she wrote. “Mom is 93.”

But there is a gritty hopefulness in some of the stories. People are not letting their losses rob them of their humanity:

A retired teacher who racked up a lot of credit card debt when times were good found herself unable to pay her bills and so has turned to bartering. She gets her house cleaned in exchange for piano lessons, she catered a dinner party in exchange for fabric (she sews), and she drives a friend to appointments in exchange for symphony tickets.

A man who with his wife runs a computer repair firm said that since the downturn they have fallen behind on their bills and run through their retirement savings. But, he wrote, “We still go out on date night to local restaurants, and we tip well. If you want to make yourself feel better and make a direct positive impact on someone else—tip well.”

[A paralegal wrote] “We have gone from fairly affluent with regular vacations to below poverty level, and guess what? We’re still here! Our experience with this has brought the family so much closer that it has been worth it.”

I remember seeing a tee-shirt once that read “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you’re making too much money.” Maybe some of us were making too much money, or rather spending too much money that just wasn’t ours. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” wrote Wordsworth more than a hundred years ago. Our cocaine, it would seem, was upscale real estate, and all that came with it. That big overpriced home on the right street that we had to have seems to have dragged many of us down and stripped us to our essentials. And for the best of us and the best in us, that may not have been a bad thing.

Sure, it’s cold comfort when you’re facing a foreclosure or a mountain of student loan debt or the loss of retirement savings and health benefits. But we’re a resilient species, and we can learn and adapt and even thrive again.

As Robert Frost said, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” And so will we. For the better, I hope.

Gangsta Grandmas

Posted: November 12, 2011 in hagdom, humor

This is for my sons, who HATE IT when I try to be hip. Or fly. Or dope. (“Geez, Mom…”)


Lest we forget.

Posted: November 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— John McCrae

Sorry, Joe. It’s time to go.

Posted: November 10, 2011 in News, wisdom

I dabble in public relations at the college level, so I’ve been avidly following the mess at Penn State, which really blew up overnight. From the NYT story:

After top Penn State officials announced that they had fired Joe Paterno on Wednesday night, thousands of students stormed the downtown area to display their anger and frustration, chanting the former coach’s name, tearing down light poles and overturning a television news van parked along College Avenue.

The demonstrators congregated outside Penn State’s administration building before stampeding into the tight grid of downtown streets. They turned their ire on a news van, a symbolic gesture that expressed a view held by many that the news media exaggerated Mr. Paterno’s role in the scandal surrounding accusations that a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, sexually assaulted young boys.

Despite Paterno’s low level (or no level) of culpability in the case — he reported to administrators that an athletic assistant had observed Sandusky violating a young boy in the Penn State locker room — the Board of Trustees fired not only Paterno, but his boss, Penn State President Graham Spanier, reportedly one of the highest-paid and longest-tenured college presidents in the nation. Paterno did what he was supposed to do, but there is evidence that Spanier and two of his administrators tried to put a lid on the accusations.  This is a perfect example of the cover-up being worse than the crime (but just barely) and has evoked comparisons with the Catholic Church’s attempts to hide its pedophile priests. So far nine victims — disadvantaged boys enrolled in a program Sandusky founded — have come forward, and there are undoubtedly more out there.

The board’s actions may seem draconian, but they were right to do what they did. Indeed, they should have fired the whole lot of them last week, or last month. From a public relations standpoint, you want to keep your bad news to what we in our office call a 24-hour news cycle: Own up to the problem immediately, deal with it or turn it over to the someone who can (in this case the police) and MOVE ON. No one is served by wringing your collective hands and sitting on the truth. It’s like a festering boil — grit your teeth, lance it, shoot it up with antibiotics and allow it to heal. A band-aid, no matter how big, isn’t going to cover it forever. It won’t make it go away.

I’m sorry for Joe, a football legend who should have gone out with fireworks instead of this pathetic whimper, but he hired Sandusky, even groomed him as his heir-apparent. (Which makes me wonder: How well do we know anyone, really?)

I hope now Penn State can start to heal.

Update: And I thought it couldn’t get any worse

The rich get rich…

Posted: November 3, 2011 in Money

In 2008, when the banks and the brokerage firms went up in flames and our savings started circling the drain, I was dogged by the uneasy feeling that SOME ONE, SOMEWHERE, was making money off of this hand over fist. I mean, where did it all go? Those gains in retirement accounts and 401Ks couldn’t all have been “on paper,” could they? Even my son the economist couldn’t help me understand where it all went.

Now, I still don’t have any firm grasp on who made off with our millions and billions, but I do have more proof that there’s less money floating around out here for the rest of us poor slobs. According to an article in today’s New York times:

The number of people living in neighborhoods of extreme poverty grew substantially, by one third, over the past decade, according to a new report, erasing most of the gains from the 1990’s when concentrated poverty declined.

You heard right. The poor aren’t only getting poorer. There are now even more of them than there were ten years ago. And the kind of concentrated poverty they’re talking about is savage.

“It’s the toughest, most malignant poverty that we have in the United States,” said Peter Edelman, the director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy at Georgetown University. “It’s bad outcomes reinforcing each other.”

(If you need proof, Nancy Nall for one has been keeping up with the relentless decline of Detroit.)

I can’t bring myself to check the Times’ source and find out how seniors fared in this study. I KNOW it’s bad news. I also seem to remember the Times running a story recently that showed suburban poverty is on the rise as well. And the whole situation frustrates the HELL out of me. Where’s the Complaint Department? What line should I get in to voice my concerns?

I’ve seen enough news footage to know that a serious percentage of the folks in the Occupy (Your Town Here) Movement are a bit unfocused (if not completely unhinged), but I appreciate their enthusiasm. No one seems to be listening.

I can’t decide if this is good news or bad news: Hormones linked to regain of weight lost by dieting

According to the Associated Press, “Dieters who have regained weight are not just slipping back into old habits, but are struggling against a persistent biological urge.”

The study doesn’t sound like junk science, and it was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, which adds to its credibility. And it was pretty rigorous:

Weight regain is a common problem for dieters. To study what drives it, [researchers] enrolled 50 overweight or obese patients in a 10-week diet program in Australia. They wanted to see what would happen in people who lost at least 10 percent of their body weight. Ultimately, only 34 people lost that much and stuck with the study long enough for analysis.

The program was intense. On average, the participants lost almost 30 pounds during the 10 weeks, faster than the standard advice of losing 1 or 2 pounds a week. They took in 500 to 550 calories a day, using a meal replacement called Optifast plus vegetables for eight weeks. Then for two weeks they were gradually reintroduced to ordinary foods.

Not surprisingly, once off the program and despite counseling, most gained some weight back in less than a year.

The scientists checked the blood levels of nine hormones that influence appetite. The key finding came from comparing the hormone levels from before the weight-loss program to one year after it was over. Six hormones were still out of whack in a direction that would boost hunger.

The dieters also rated themselves as feeling hungrier after meals at the one-year mark, compared to what they reported before the diet program began.

As a chronic dieter — and weight gainer — this has been my entire experience. I’m convinced I would be a lot thinner — and would have saved myself a lot of mental anguish — if I’d never started dieting, especially some of the extreme dieting I forced myself through. (Oh, to be as “thin” as I was in high school, when I thought I was a whale…)

At least the timing for this tidbit was fortunate. I had another one of my epiphanies last night: I decided that I was not going to SPEND ONE MORE MINUTE hating or rejecting myself because of how I look. I have wasted too much time and energy (and too many tears) for nothing.

Someone shocked me recently with this question (and answer): Did you know you can make yourself instantly much happier by doing just one thing? Lower your expectations. I think it surprised me because because I’d always bought into the old hang-onto-your-ideals-no-matter-what mindset. But some ideals must be questioned, especially if they come from society and not from within ourselves. I can’t and won’t hold myself up to a societal standard of beauty that I cannot attain.

I have to redefine beauty for myself. And that definition is going to include style, and integrity, and good health, and joy, and mindfulness, and a lot of other good things.

Absolutely Essential Update:


Treasure-hunting in your closet

Posted: October 17, 2011 in fashion, Money

Looking to make a little extra cash? Be Fabulous Daily posted a great list of suggestions today for selling clothing on Ebay. I have only had minor success with this, and so I haven’t put a lot of energy into it, even though I regularly shuttle bags of clothes to the local charity store. She’s making me rethink my efforts.

Happy Monday!