Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Que Sera, Sera

When I was just a little girl, my mother loved to sing Doris Day's "Que Sera, Sera" to me. By then, Day had made her Oscar-winning song from the 1956 Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much her own theme.

The song progresses from the perspective of a child to that of a parent, but of course I only remembered the first verse:

"When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother
What will I be?
Will I be pretty?
Will I be rich?
Here's what she said to me,

"Que sera, sera,
Whatever will be will be,
The future's not ours to see,
Que sera, sera."

My mother's habit of singing to me was one of the many things, big and small, that cemented our bond. In fact, it's a tradition I've carried on with my own son. At the time, the song seemed lighthearted and lovely, the implication being that everything was going to turn out fine.

But today, the lyrics are bittersweet. Not knowing what the future holds can also be a very scary thing.

My mother lived to see me marry at 33 but died four years later. I never saw it coming. I think I was in shock for more than a year.

Yet even then I managed to maintain the laid-back "que sera, sera" philosophy. I had my health, a steady job and confidence in the future. But that was before I had breast cancer at 39 and lost my job at 46 when my industry–print journalism–imploded.

Now, as the 53-year-old mother of a 10-year-old son and a freelance writer, I can no longer sit back and trust the idea that "whatever will be, will be."

I want to know that everything will be all right–for him, for me–even though I'm old enough to have learned that life is about change, be it wonderful or awful. Just yesterday, my husband's employer laid off dozens of people. These are uncertain times.

Lately, the song playing in my head isn't "Que Sera, Sera" but the Roches' "Mr. Sellack":

"O Mr. Sellack,
Can I have my job back?
I've run out of money again.
Last time I saw ya,
I was singing Hallelujah,
I'm so glad to be leavin' this restaurant.

"Now the only thing I want,
Is to have my old job back again.
I clean the tables, I'll do the creams,
I'll get down on my knees
And scrub behind the steam table."

When I was younger and everything felt possible, I moved solo, without a care, to Colorado, then New York. I guess I didn't know any better; the economy was also a whole lot healthier. Now, the prospect would keep me up nights.

Apparently, mentally strong people don't shy away from change. The only thing we can control is how we react to the ever-shifting ground on which we stand.

These days, as I struggle to keep my balance, I sometimes wish I were a girl again, with my mother singing "Que Sera, Sera"–and making me believe everything is going to be all right.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Blunt Truth

There are some beauty routines on which I will not skimp, highlights being the prime example. My hair is far too fine, as in thin, for me to be messing with bleach out of the box. This is a job for pros. Price is (almost) no object.

As for haircuts, not so much. I've been to some of the swankiest salons in Manhattan and, try as they might with potions and dryers and sprays (oh my!), my locks remain limp. There's only so much magic in even the trendiest stylist's bag of tricks.

To be blunt, all I need is a straight cut. For that, I can pay $20 at the old-timey local barbershop–the same one where my son lost his luscious first head of curls after I finally relented and agreed to take him at 3. (There are photos of me cringing in the background as his locks hit the floor.)

Which is how I found myself in that testosterone-infused no-woman's land the other day. I watched at the two sixtysomething brothers who own the joint chatted away with their patrons, talkin' guy talk. One prime snippet: "I saw that Miley Cyrus riding a wrecking ball. The only thing real on her was her teeth."

I decided to close my eyes and relax–there was no point in trying to interject my feminist opinion or engage my guy in chit chat. And so I sat quietly...until they cranked up the Lionel Ritchie.

They usually play Frank, and I love me some Frank. But listening to the guys singing "You're once, twice, three times a lady" was too much for me. It was all I could do not to fall out of the chair laughing.

They failed to see what I might find ridiculously funny about one of the schmaltziest wedding tunes of all time. Instead, they launched into whether it wouldn't be better if the woman in the song was "once, twice, three kinds of lady," leaving my barber to quip, "Yeah, a cook, a cleaner..." "and a breadwinner," I finished, ignoring the fact that the guy had scissors to my head.

Did I get a decent cut? Sure. Was the price right? Yep.

Do I care that they may have resented a woman entering their bastion of manhood? Nope. After all, I'm the one who won't hesitate to use the men's room when the line to the women's is winding around the block.

But will I be back?

Given that the last time I was at my salon, my colorist was dishing with me while Donna Summer and Edith Piaf played in the background, I may just have to find out what a junior stylist costs.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

And Then This Happened!

Something really exciting happened yesterday, something I couldn't have timed any better. 

I've been feeling overwhelmed of late by a new freelance writing assignment, wondering what I've gotten myself into. On top of that, I had just decided to start a blog, of all things! 

I know I should be writing every day, or every other day, but I haven't come close. And yet, dear readers, I learned yesterday I was named one of 10 bloggers to love by none other than blogger extraordinaire Katie Allison Granju over at Babble.com. You could have knocked me over with a feather!

I won't deny connections came into play, at least initially. My dear college friend Kimi told her dear friend Katie about "The Water Is Wide." But from there, Kimi assures me, it was all up to Katie. Expanding on my "Water" theme, if she thought I stunk, I would have been sunk.

Be sure to check out Katie's blog; I'm in some pretty awesome company.

And thank you for your support. I'll do my best to write every day. Or every other day. Or something like that. 


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Curse of the Salted Caramel

We all know peanut butter and chocolate are two great tastes that taste great together. I've succumbed to more than my fair share of Reece's, thanks to what the advertisements would have you believe was a happy accident. (As if.)

Now I've fallen fully for another match made in foodie heaven: salted caramel. Apparently, I'm behind the times, as the mashup's flavor of the year status goes all the way back to 2008, after the idea was hatched in France, bien sur. All I know is that, along with pumpkin everything, it's everywhere now: in ice cream, in lattes, even in candy (!)

I shouldn't be surprised by my craving, given that I'm a salty-sweet woman all the way. Clearly, I'm not alone: Cracker Jack dates from the 1890s, Reece's from the 1920s.

My downfall: Steve's Salted Caramel ice cream, best eaten semi-soft. Now McDonald's has followed suit with its own (for now) limited-edition salted caramel sundae. And my college pal Kimi informs me that Haagen Dazs has it, too. I thought they only made caramel but, silly me, of course they're in the mix. As Kimi puts it, "I gotta have the salt, too."

In the end, I guess I owe it all to my mother, who never met a Snickers she didn't like.

Mom, this scoop's for you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Paper Chase

At the risk of sounding like the lady who doth protest too much, I am not a hoarder. 
According to the Mayo Clinic, "Hoarding is the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them. Hoarding often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity, with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter." 
I don't do that. I'm not those people on TV, the ones who now have a bona fide psychiatric diagnosis. I can walk down my hall just fine, thank you very much.
Just don't ask me to find the receipt for those two pairs of shoes that have to go back to Zappos.
I maintain a facade of tidiness: I won't leave dirty dishes in the sink, the beds and bathrooms will get done, I've been known to vacuum on occasion, and I definitely maintain a clear path between rooms.
But I have to face facts. I may not be a hoarder, but I'm a piler.
Wikipedia–my go-to source unless my editors tell me not to go there–adds that compulsive hoarding causes "significant distress or impairment." Now that has a ring of truth to it. My H is clearly distressed, though I've reached the shrug-my-shoulders stage. As for impairment, see "Zappos receipt."
The towers of books, magazines, shipping statements, and miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam just keep getting taller; a couple of them have reached the brink of toppling over. 
I must admit, it's starting to look a tad cluttered. 
I have reams of papers everywhere in the apartment: on the kitchen island, on my bedroom chairs, in baskets on the floor. You'd think I'd be more conscientious, given that some of it is important: medical forms, school progress reports, and the boy's precious handmade don't-you-dare-suggest-I-pitch-them birthday and Mother's Day cards. Yet somehow, I can never find the time. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I dread the prospect (?)
It's not that I haven't made some token efforts. I've even bought cute canvas storage containers to give myself the illusion of organization, only to chuck everything in them without a thought. 
I wasn't always this way. My life used to fit neatly in one accordion folder, sorted out on a Sunday afternoon. But then things got messy and disorganized–funny how that can happen post-kid–and so did my paperwork.  
My friend J recently treated me to an evening of organization porn when she gave me a tour of her Real Simple/Martha Stewart basement. Everything was just where it should be, in carefully marked bins placed on carefully stacked shelving. I hadn't seen anything like it since the last time my Auntie Fran sent me downstairs for some paper towels from her BJ's-stocked basement. You could eat off her spotless floor. 
I felt both better and worse when J told me a professional had helped her do it–better because it meant she was just as lost as I am, worse because I could never afford to have someone come in and save me from myself like that. 
Meanwhile, another friend scanned and then shredded all of her paper. I must really love her to forgive such complete competence. 
So now the holidays are upon us and I'd really like to get things back in order so I could have some people over...
Oh, who am I kidding? Unless I get a storage unit where I can haul this mess, I'd much rather score some invites and forget the piles.
I just have to remember to leave the important stuff on top.
Postscript: After finishing this blog, I did a bit of cleaning. Apparently, writing about the piles was enough to make me do something about them.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

And the Leaves That Are Green...

The other day, the boy entranced a new sitter by gathering a pile of the beautiful yellow-orange leaves scattered across our building's courtyard and fashioning them into a necklace for her; he even wrote a sweet card.

At first, I didn't connect the fact that these gorgeous leaves came from the same cherry trees that provide a transitory riot of pink in the spring. When I did, I was struck by the fact that they provide beauty throughout the seasons.

The sitter was in her 20s, in the spring of her life, brimming with a sort of enthusiasm I can't seem to muster these days. The leaves complimented her sunny disposition as much as her coral sweater.

Lately, I've been feeling nostalgic for the spring of my 20s, 30s even 40s. Yes, I know in my head I'm supposed to be in a good place. I have dear friends with great sites (Midlife at the OasisThe Best of Everything After 50) telling me so. But as I get older and life gets more complicated, my heart is often heavy with worries that keep me up at night.

I need to remember that, like the cherry trees, all seasons of life offer their own special beauty. That before the leaves turn to brown, they can provide a new jolt of color. That I have to try to find my own, bolder shades.

I've never looked good in orange, but it might be time to try a splash of scarlet.

Friday, November 1, 2013

'Twas the Day After Halloween

'Twas the day after Halloween, when all through the house, 
The Snickers were snickering, "We won't tell a mouse."

The Twizzlers all wrapped in their cellophane fair,
Kept taunting, "Come eat us, till the cupboard is bare."

It's the day after Halloween and I want all the candy. I'm thisclose to lowering my high chocoholic standards to gobble down every CVS-bought mini stowed in my son's bright orange pumpkin, along with the sticky high-fructose crap I could pass up easily at the checkout line.

I'd be ready to eat it all–if it weren't for the photos.

I'd left the house with a fresh coat of makeup and adorable giraffe ears, thinking I might like what I saw when my friend obligingly took some shots. But even with a 20-pound loss (give or take), I still didn't. My BMI is an SOB.

I eat when stressed, plus I'm sure genes and possibly even my gut bacteria come into play. NYU's weight loss center sees obesity as a disease, not a character flaw. And then there's this: "For some people, [processed food] is a drug of abuse, and...many of us are equally unprepared to deal with synthetic substances as we are with synthetic pharmaceuticals," creating a "maladaptive" response–overeating.

But none of it makes me look, or feel, any better.

Despite all the science, society still judges the overweight–and overweight women, in particular–harshly. One headline says it all: "Stigma Against Fat People the Last Acceptable Prejudice, Studies Find." As one researcher put it, "Thinness has come to symbolize important values in our society, values such as discipline, hard work, ambition and willpower. If you're not thin, you don't have them."

Is it any wonder that I judge myself harshly, too? Yet it makes me angry that my sense of self is still so tied to appearance.

Despite the fact that I know I have some good stuff going on and try to be kind to myself, it's hard not to buy into the general population's way of thinking when the evidence of my "lack of willpower" is apparent every time I pass my reflection, go clothes shopping or, yes, see myself in pictures. Unlike, say, alcoholism, the evidence of food addiction can't be hidden easily.

Of course, it's not just about looks. I've never been small, but I used to be a lot fitter and trimmer. Over the years, I swam, skied, went to the gym. Now, my only hustle involves chasing after the boy. I can only hope my "fitness age"–my body's ability to deliver oxygen to its cells–is better than I think it is at this point. I'm not talking about wanting to be slim anymore, just healthy.

Still, I wish I were more like the boy, able to put down a half-eaten dark Hershey's and then forget it. I could learn a lot from him. He loves, but doesn't live for, his treats.

And so I will be posting no selfies this Halloween. Instead, I'll battle to avoid eating all things–even the snickering mini Snickers calling my name.

And maybe even take a walk.