Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sexy Older Women

"Mommy, your eyes look old..." I was told without a trace of cruelty or innuendo by my eldest daughter the other day.

Old as in wise or old as in old?  I hope mostly old as in wise, but I know there is definitely some old-as-in-old: nearly 47 years old, which feels old to a 46 year old, (and an eight year old) but not necessarily to a 60 year old.  I know there are a lot of people out there who would view me as a spring chicken, and I've also had students guess my age somewhere in the three digits range, so I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

On Monday, my Sweetie and I went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and, damn, if those old ladies weren't beautiful!  Judi Dench in particular really caught my attention and fancy.  Her hair was crew-cut and white, her face was deeply lined, she was pleasantly plump and attired in cozy, Indian pajama-liked garb throughout and she looked HOT.

When I see men (which I do every day, believe it or not), my first thought is seldom to do with their age; that includes movie stars and mere mortals.  They are men.  Plain and simple.  I love them: men are delightful characters in all sizes, shapes and ages.  Suffice it to say, you don't need to look like Don Draper to qualify for me finding you attractive.  That just wouldn't be fair, would it?

I don't think it's fair to have a particular type when there are so many wonderful types that a person can be open to!  Anyway, that's beside the point, since my type is presently the darling guy I am choosing to spend my life with.  What other type would it be?

But back to my original thesis about ageism against women: older women are beautiful!  I watched that whole movie in awe of these delectable creatures I saw on the screen, the young and the old.

I kept wondering why I am so obsessed (okay, not obsessed, but concerned) with my deepening wrinkles and crinkles and sprigs of grey and that unique triangle sagging in the inner eye that we Rempel kids all seem to have.  When I look at my brother and sister and me together, we are quite a handsome trio - 49, 46, and 42 respectively.  I don't look at them and analyze how old they look in pictures, but I hone in on myself and check for sagging chin (dab o' whipping cream), hawkish eyes, bingo wings, the lot.

Why?  Because I am vain.  Because I read fashion magazines.  Because I watch TV shows and movies where celebrities have had the bejeezus botoxed out of them and wear a size 0, yet look large compared to some of their famous friends.

My bootiful sister and me on the overnight train in Thailand
It was so refreshing to watch this movie and reflect on more than the wisdom of old(er) people, but also on their beauty.  I'm going to give it a go and try to embrace that in myself.  No promises, but my new start is going to be looking for the beauty I see in the mirror before looking for the age.  Because age is not a deficit.  It just is.  I've earned what I look like.  I like where I've been and what I've done so I'll try to be proud of what I see in the mirror.

Gonna try...I want to be a sexy older woman!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New Glasses

Last week I spent a bucketload of money on progressive lens, the newest generation in bifocals.  I admit it: I'm not getting any younger.  Five years ago I had 20/20 vision and I am now reduced to "librarian lady" with glasses on a pearl chain or, more often than not, glasses constantly shifting from the perch on my head to the perch of my beak.  They play havoc on my hairstyle and don't do the bridge of my nose any favors, either.  Whatever the case, I tired of this constant dance of the glasses and finally gave in to "old-people" glasses.

The ubiquitous glasses-on-top-of-the-head perch

While reading The Winter of Our Discontent, more than 20 years ago during what was indeed the winter of my discontent, I remember reading words that popped out on the page for me just like I had put a magnifying glass on them:

"Bring new eyes to a world or even new lenses and presto - new world."

I was so profoundly impacted by that quote, I wrote it down immediately.  It resonated in the deepest part of me and gave me one of those "aha" moments where I gained a deep and immediate insight. I have never lost that understanding, though I have not applied it often enough to claim to be totally enlightened.  Even so, it comforted greatly then and does to this day.

In that moment of clarity, supplied courtesy of John Steinbeck, I realized with certainty that my happiness is entirely dependent on the way I interpret my life and the circumstances therein.  100 percent.  On the day I read that little bit o' wisdom, I started to allow that there could be some joy in my life, even when everything seemed to be going to hell in a hand basket; I allowed myself the possibility that if I just tweaked the way I was feeling about or dealing with a situation, I could see it from an entirely new perspective: a perspective of hope.  I am a pessimist by nature, but this was the beginning of my road to learned optimism.

Yesterday my sweetheart took me to a 5:15 showing of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  It was a most wonderful thing to do on a Monday afternoon: entirely the opposite of what Monday afternoons usually entails.  I was full of joy at the prospect of seeing a movie (and eating popcorn!) at an obscenely early hour of the day and of the week with my favorite person in the world.  It seemed almost wrong it was so out of the ordinary.  (And I love feeling like I am doing something bad, even though it's not usually bad in the least.)

On the way to the movie, just as we were entering the toll booth to the Lion Rock Tunnel, with the theatre just on the other side, the car sputtered and died.  My sweetheart is a born optimist even in the worst of situations and I am a learned one, but we both laughed, and after the initial shock, felt very thankful that:

a) our children weren't in the car;
b) we weren't traveling at a dangerous speed;
c) the car hadn't died in the tunnel during rush hour;
d)  that a tow truck and four men in florescent orange vests were on hand to push us out of harm's way almost immediately.

Tammy Van Damm in healthier times

We hailed a taxi, got to the cinema in the nick of time, bought my popcorn (sweet this time), saw this most charming of movies, spent a lovely dinner planning a humble, but exciting retirement (see the movie if you don't understand why), and took public transportation home.  We mentioned the car (our one and only and a humble one at that) only once or twice during the course of our evening, and always in a good humor.

We were wearing our happy glasses.

Happy glasses!

Today we were informed by our garage that the engine block is cracked.  The car is, for all intents and purposes, useless to us.  Unless another engine is found in HK (and who knows what the cost will be), we will be looking through the want ads for a new-to-us vehicle quite soon.

Meantime, I hitched a ride to work with a pal this morning and the girls and we took a bus home tonight after their swim lessons.  It wasn't so bad. They listened to "Doe a Deer" on my iphone and sang along at top volume and I happily read the latest John Irving novel on my new-to-me Kindle Fire.  I kind of liked it.

I could have been cursing (and maybe I will be tomorrow), but today I am fine.  Big deal. It's a car.  (We do like her, though.  We have even given her a name: Tammy Van Damm.)  Tammy may be destined for the car heaven, but we'll be okay.  We're alive.  No limbs have been lost.  No deaths.  No dismemberment.  Just public transportation and the occasional taxi and sweet people who will offer us rides.  I can sustain that for a while.

Meantime, I pick up my new progressive lenses on Friday.  I ordered a really fine pair that makes me look quite fetching because I have never worn glasses "full time;"  I figure that they are a fashion statement if they are a constant on my face so they had better look good.  And I had better look good.  And I will.  The only problem is, we can't afford another car now.

Oh, well.   New glasses...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Getting Rid of the Big But(t)

In reality, I have a somewhat big butt, though I don't have an inordinate amount of "junk in my trunk" as compared to the average Canadian gal.  My butt is not very extraordinary one way or another, though I do make a concerted effort to not to look at it very often as it strains my neck.  (Plus, I like my front view a whole lot better.)

Beyonce. Not me.  Regrettably.

Backsides aside, I DO, however, have a "big but" that I pepper my language with a whole lot.

"You did a great job on your spelling test, BUT you'd darn well better improve on your math."

"You can go to your friend's house for a play date, BUT if  you have another temper tantrum like last time, you're never going over there again."

"You're very kind and sweet to me, BUT you never buy me flowers just because."

"You're a very clever student, BUT you never put in the work."

Here I am using the "big but!"

And on it goes.  I use the "big but" multiple times every day both at work and at home.  My resolution is to rid myself of the "big but" and to start replacing it with an innocent three letter word that is much less inflammatory:


And softens the blow; it doesn't negate the compliment quite as decisively as the "big but" does.  It works especially well if you finesse the second clause of your sentence with an implied insult that is actually turned into a compliment.  (If that makes sense.)  Here's what I mean:

"You did a great job on your spelling test, AND I bet you can improve your math, too."

"You can go to your friend's house for a play date, AND I expect you'll be able to have an evening free of temper tantrums when you come home."

You are very kind and sweet to me, AND I would just love it if you bought me flowers sometimes just because."

You are a very clever student, AND I know if you put in the work you'll go far in life."

Nothing makes a person want to work less, under perform or NOT want to do something kind for you more than hearing a "big but." Granted, you might need to rehearse your newly designed sentences in your head before saying them because it's much more natural to just lunge into the "you had better smarten up or else" tirade, but it can make a real difference in the quality of your relationships and what people are willing to do for you if you simply take away the "but."

I'm making it my new start to get rid of my literal and figurative BIG BUT(T)S!  Time to go do some lunges...

Now, that is one adorable butt!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Feel Sorry For Me

I don't usually like to indulge in feel-sorry-for-me diatribes, but sometimes I am so busy being strong and looking efficient and capable that I don't get the sympathy I so richly deserve.

My dearest and nearest might beg to differ, but by and large I try not to talk too much about the chronic back pain I have suffered from for nearly two decades now when a should-have-been fatal motorcycle accident only managed to half-way mangle me and not kill me.

At the time, my then-new-boyfriend and now-husband was given the job of calling my parents back in Canada (we were living in Taiwan) to break the news of my accident.  While I am famous for my hyperbole, Don is equally famous for playing down even the most dramatic of events.  ("I won the Olympic gold medal for downhill slalom?  Cool.  Let's go to the pub for a beer tonight to celebrate.")

Don didn't know me then nearly as well as he does now - we were only about two months into our relationship - so he didn't know how deep my penchant for exaggeration went.  If I been capable of calling my parents and gutterally gasping into the phone that I had just propelled myself fifty feet off a bridge into a bed of rocks and might never walk again, they likely would have chuckled and said to themselves, "That Leah; always the trickster.  Do you suppose she's sprained something?"

I remember telling Don to tell them how serious it was. That he wasn't to minimize.  I remember he was nervous calling them because at this point I'm not even sure I had told my parents that I had this new man in my life that I happened to be "living in sin" with and who happened to be Catholic and drink and smoke and and... (Not that he does or is any of those things any more).

The next thing I remember hearing from the pay phone in the hospital hallway (yes, it really WAS that long ago) was Don saying he was a friend of mine and that their daughter had been in a little accident, but she was going to be just fine.  I tried to yell out from my emergency room gurney complete with IV drip and traction that I most certainly was not going to be all right and he had better give them the juicy details of my gory accident, but no, not Don.  To this day, I believe my parents still think I had a little tumble and I think they think I am faking my limp and that I use my cane just to show them that I am their middle-kid drama queen.

Now that I seldom use a cane and my back brace can be hid fairly well under my clothes (and gives me great cleavage too!), I just look like a slightly lumbering woman who might just be in a bit of pain because of her too-high heels.  (I am that, too.)

Well, I do feel a bit of pain.  I feel it often.  It affects the quality of my life profoundly.  I couldn't carry my daughters as infants; I can't bend down and play with them very well; I often have to sit in a wheely chair when I teach because it hurts too much to stand; museums kill me.  There's nothing I like more than a good clamber through the beautiful hills of Hong Kong, but lately it's enough to make it through the day.  When I get home, I am out of commission.  The back is officially done for the day and will do no more (other than ache and spasm).  It sucks.  Big time.

Notice I'm the one taking the picture, not playing the frisbee.

My blog is titled "New Start Every Day."  My new start today is not to complain more because that wouldn't be right.  Anyway, I complain enough.  But my new start is to not minimize the pain I feel.  I can still be a great teacher and mother and partner and friend in spite of my tyrannical back, but that doesn't mean I feel great when I am trying to be the superwoman that I am not.

When my physio told me tonight, "Get a bit of exercise tonight; walk back and forth to the kitchen a few times for some water," I just had to roll my eyes.  You've got to be kidding.  While my friends are out zumba-ing and yoga-ing and training for triathalons I am toddling to the kitchen for a cuppa and that is supposed to be exercise?  Yet that's about all I am up for today.  And that sucks.

So, there.  Feel sorry for me.  Even though a lot of people have it a lot worse than I do, I still want a bit of the "how do you do it?  You're amazing," coming my way.  But even as I write, I know that I am being trivial and self-involved and I don't like myself for being that way.  So actually, don't feel sorry for me: feel sorry for someone a whole lot worse off than me.  Feel sorry for starving kids, kids without families, families who have lost loved ones, people who need to drag themselves out of bed every day to go to a job they hate.  Because in spite of hurting, I am happy.  I am grateful.  I am amazing  (in my own little way).

By golly, if I can still go wine tasting on trips to Australia,
life can't be that  bad!

PS: Thanks for listening; I needed to get that off my back!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Shut Up and Listen

A lot of people tell me a lot of things.  Probably because I tell a lot of people a lot of things.  If you know me personally or even if you’ve just met me once or twice, you will know that I am the kind of person who is extremely easy to get to know.  I am an open book.  Somehow I manage to tell people virtually everything about me: my childhood, my crazy career path, my adorable family, my travels around the world and pretty much every mistake I have ever made (they make for funny stories!) within the space of about 10 minutes.  And that is still with plenty of time for the other person to talk!  Don’t ask me how I do it.  It’s a gift.

Visiting with one of my "besties" while in Australia.

So whether you want to know my deepest, darkest confessions or not, you WILL hear them.  Generally you will hear them related to a nutty story that you wonder if I am making up.  Again, if you’ve known me for more than five minutes, you will know that I am prone to exaggeration.  That being said, my stories are, by and large, mostly true, at least in so far as I can remember.

People like to hear about the mistakes I have made in life.  They like it when I confess to indiscretions across the board of bad behavior and when I talk about my numerous flaws: physical (sturdy, tree trunk legs); emotional (an inability to handle confrontations which results in a lot of avoidance and a lot of people –pleasing); social (enjoying the lime light so much that I could easily host a nationally syndicated talk show, yet being unable to survive in any sort of party setting for much longer than an hour); and emotional (having the incredible near-daily need to hole up in a bathtub for “Leah time”).

Because a lot of people tell me a lot of things, I am often in the position of giving my thoughts or opinions on the matter/crisis at hand.  Here’s what I have learned (and what this blog is really about):  ALWAYS ASK IF THE PERSON WOULD LIKE YOUR OPINION BEFORE YOU GIVE IT.

By and large, people just want you to listen.  They don’t want your opinion.  They want to moan or complain or just be heard.  Life is hard.  Life often sucks.  Problems are plethora.  As people talk through their issues, they often resolve them in their own minds without having to get advice anyway.  That’s what good therapy is all about!  That person you pay a lot of money to really doesn’t need any training at all; they could be fast asleep with their eyes propped open and their head set to nod control and you would come away believing you just had the most fantastic therapy session ever.  It’s not about saying anything.  People solve their own problems, folks.  They come to their own conclusions.  And they will do what they want to do.  No matter what you say.

Being out in nature is one of the best therapies of all.

SO SAY NOTHING.  I rescind my previous comment.  Even if the person says they want your advice, don’t give it.  It could cost you a friendship or you could feel blameworthy for an action that person takes, acting on your advice.  Don’t give it.  No matter what.

Instead, ask, “What do YOU think you should do?”  They will invariably talk at some length, utter a few choice phrases, cry a little more, and come away with an answer to their dilemma that they've thought up all on their own.  (And psychologists go to school for HOW LONG?)

Shut up and listen, folks.  That's all.  Shut up and listen.  

See what a good listener I am?