Monday, March 29, 2010


It’s in all the papers this week. Everywhere I turn, there is another fitness pundit setting out guidelines for people my age. It all sounds good on paper, but let me be the little voice of sanity in the wilderness of all the metabolism and cardio Nazis out there. Fitness is imperative for seniors, but I bet that those who are slinging advice to the over fifty five set are all IN THEIR TWENTIES.

I have been a real devotee of exercise all my life. I played racquetball, I hiked around with my dog. I have been a gym rat, a spinner, and I have personally worn out two treadmills. I am that old lady in the back of the yoga class, the one who can barely stifle my groans during the “downward dog.” I feel that I have earned my stripes, and thus am very qualified to respond to all the scientists, personal trainers, and Richard Simmons wannabes out there who are now recommending that women over 55 should exercise strenuously for at least ONE HOUR per day:

MY DOCTOR SAYS THAT I GET TOO MUCH EXERCISE. It all started with that little spare tire around my middle. T-shirts didn’t look that flattering any more. “Sucking it in,” which was always no big deal, became an exercise in futility. So, one fine day, I decided that I needed to beef up my exercise regimen. I joined a gym, and found the dizzying array of exercise classes to be so tempting! I joined an “ABSOLUTE ABS” class. That one required two sizes of exercise ball. I did fine with the small one, but fell off the big one so many times that I sustained serious rug burns on my knees and elbows.

Spinning was an appealing class. On the flyer, it promised a total calorie burn of 800+ in an hour. To me, that spelled hot fudge sundae, and so I enrolled. I did fine for the first ten minutes, but then the instructor forced us to crank up the resistance on our bikes, and the fun turned into agony. I persevered, however! No way was I going to give up—damn those torpedos, I spun at full speed ahead!

As a result, I have become addicted to exercise. I am not bragging, oh, no! Because, you see, my devotion to the gym has necessitated my building a close relationship with a chiropractor, a physical therapist, a massage therapist, and a heating pad. I have a stiff neck that just won’t quit. After spinning, my back seizes up. Yoga, which is great for balance and inner peace, caused me to pull a groin muscle. I fall off my MBT’s frequently.

And now, the pundits are telling me that I AM NOT DOING ENOUGH. I have to increase my biking! When walking, if I can still talk, I am not going fast enough! And I have to go for the burn seven days a week! This is just, according to those experts, enough to keep me looking as thin and fit as I did ten years ago. If I want to look REALLY good, like the real housewives in those towns, I have to do even more!

So I had this discussion with my doctor, article from the newspaper in hand. He looked at me, sighed, and as he wrote out yet another prescription for physical therapy for my knee, neck and that niggling pain in my wrists, he said this: “If your personal trainer jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?”

This got me thinking. I don’t eat animals, much. The only things with faces that grace our table are birds. We stoke enough fiber in our engines to do justice to a decent sized septic field. We have been organic since before it was in style. We take supplements and drink fucoidan. We floss, we exfoliate, and we meditate. What on earth are we thinking?

How many centenarians do YOU know who are having fun? Do any of them have friends their own age?

Monday, March 22, 2010


I watched the young mother load up her car. First the kids, one in a baby seat, followed by two whingeing toddlers into their respective straitjackets. Then the gear: a stroller for two, a diaper bag, and finally, some packages. She looked over at me long enough to give me a piteous sigh, and then got in herself, off to her next errand, a playdate, or the pediatrician’s office. I sighed in return. I remember those days of exhaustion, frustration, and challenge.

When I was young, I thought that life would stay the way it was forever. My children seemed as if they would never mature. My housework never seemed to get done. Scrambling around from one activity to another took inordinate amounts of time that I couldn’t devote to more important things like thinking, noticing what season it was, fantasizing about sex, or combing my hair.

There was a frantic quality to life as a young parent. Experts advised all kinds of activities to enhance the mental acuity and physical prowess of children. It wasn’t enough to just squire them around to pre-school, give them nutritious food and daily baths. It was also recommended that parents PLAY with their children, encourage them to help with meal preparation (kids? With flour and moistening ingredients? Are you KIDDING?), engage them in artistic projects, and tussle with them in the grass. My husband and I dutifully followed the experts, and as a result, we were very tired, very often.

As our kids grew, the sophistication of their activities grew with them. Now there were debates, horse shows, dances that required chaperones, and lots and lots of homework that necessitated proofreading. I became very good at sizing up boys by the hang of their trousers and the subject matter of their tattoos. Driving lessons replaced nature walks, and curfews had to be enforced. Still tired, my husband and I gamely attended soccer matches, listened to rock music, and became familiar with instant messaging, Ipods, and the beginnings of the world of computer games.

We thought that life as parents would always require the same amount of caloric output as it did when our kids were developing. We assumed that the frenetic pace would continue, and that somehow we would need infinite strength and resolve.

But as suddenly as it all began, it ended. The kids left for college, and the world changed. There were books again. Meals could be enjoyed slowly, and no one had to jump from the table, race to the car and go somewhere. There were no shoes, schoolbooks, or sporting equipment left on the floor of the kitchen. My God, the phone didn’t ring any more! My husband looked at me, and I looked at him, and we SMILED.

Life in an empty nest is so enjoyable! We watch public television, and there is classical music in the air. I can take a nap if I want to! There are days when I actually GET BORED. I have all the time in the world to contemplate my navel. The people at the library know me by my first name! I wear pajamas all day on days when I am not even slightly sick. I can think about politics and ponder the impact of the newly passed healthcare bill. Freedom isn't just another word!

To all the young parents out there, coaching T-ball, baking cookies, housebreaking puppies, cleaning up fingerpaints, and wiping noses, I have soothing words for you:


Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Zooming along in my car, I hummed along with Mick Jagger. Then I paid a little attention to what he was singing, and the words hit home. He’s right: you can’t always get what you want. I have almost NEVER gotten what I want.

In grade school, what I wanted was a bike. My Dad, in wisdom that he acquired from a spurious source, informed me that I could only get a bike if I learned how to ride one. How, in heaven’s name, I wondered, would I be able to achieve learning how to ride one WITHOUT A BIKE? But I was determined, and I learned on my friend’s bike, which was missing a pedal, and every time I tried to mount the thing and balance, that pedal spike gouged me in the calf. Bruised and battered, I triumphed, and Dad did get me a very nice, used Schwinn, with blue streamers coming out of the handle bar holders. I learned very little from this “lesson,” and you can be sure that MY KIDS had bikes even before they learned how to ride!

In high school, it was a BOYFRIEND that I wanted. There were many candidates, but they all shared one thing in common: none of them wanted ME as a girlfriend. There was the dark and handsome popular guy, the tall and skinny but brilliant one, the President of the Senior Class, etc. I never got to go steady. I never got to have a “song” with anybody. Nobody put romantic entries in my yearbook. I had a few escapades, but nothing worth writing HERE about, that is for sure! And I had to go to my senior prom WITH MY BEST FRIEND’S BIG BROTHER.

As a young mother, all I wanted was peace and quiet. I had delightful children, as children go. But clearly, all children come loaded with energy, verve, loud little screechy voices, and dirty faces. Child maintenance requires more energy and enthusiasm than I could keep up at a steady pace, and there were days when I just wanted to be able to take a NAP, for Pete’s sake!

As a career woman, I wanted SUCCESS. I wore a business suit with pearls every day. I wore high heeled shoes that sounded very efficient as they clacked along. I wore off-white PANTY HOSE and big earrings. It was years before I stopped answering the phone at home by saying, “Molly Campbell here.” I yearned to be the very best at what I did. I joined business clubs and associations that had meetings where people brought laptops. There was a measure of success, but nobody out there in the world of commerce remembers me, I am sure!

As a chef, I wanted delicious meals with three ingredients or less, and minimal prep time. Why is it that things that are truly delicious require that ingredients be FINELY diced, when a rough chop is so much easier? Who wants to RICE potatoes? And Foley Food Mills don’t fit in the kitchen drawer! Boiling something is so much easier than sautéing or roasting it. And for goodness sakes, why is it that a soufflé is SO delectable and impossible to make in MY oven?

As a human being, I wanted love. It first came to me in the personage of a slightly nerdy, balding skinny guy with a big smile and lots of silly charm. He was introduced to me on a Friday night, and by Monday, I was hooked. We got married way too fast for our parents’ taste, but forty years later, he still makes me die laughing. The result of this pairing was two hilarious children who keep me from committing fashion faux pas, using slang words that went out in the 60’s, and ordering sissified cocktails in restaurants.

So Mick Jagger is truly a philosopher! Who knew? I have NOT always gotten what I want!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010


This winter, we all faced the possibility of a “Swine Flu” epidemic. Blizzards pounded the midsection of the country and buried the East Coast. There were earthquakes and tidal waves. CNN and the Weather Network enjoyed very high ratings. But in our house, when sick, snowed in, or otherwise cooped up, our family watches INFOMERCIALS.

It all started when my older daughter still lived at home. An insomniac, she discovered the world of slicers and dicers as a night owl, while channel surfing. She became obsessed with the Popeil family. Her interests fanned out to the likes of Billy Mays and his cohorts. She is a great influence on her mother, and before long, I found myself in the thrall of the great TV hucksters.

Our first purchase was a sandwich maker that you could use to make the usual grilled cheese sandwiches, but according to the adorable, pudgy middle aged TV chef selling the product, you could also use it to make cakes, omelets, biscuits, and even bake potatoes! When it arrived, we breathlessly buttered the bread, added cheese, and VOILA! It produced a dumpy little grease ball that looked like a pale Twinkie and tasted like, well, deep fat fried Velveeta.

We were not discouraged, oh no! We watched a fascinating hour long show about closet organization that featured hangers that held six shirts apiece; only ten dollars for a set of six. If you bought two sets, there was a BONUS offer! We couldn’t get to the phone fast enough!

Through the years, we have purchased floor reviving kits, a pot that cooks meat, vegetables, and warms the dinner rolls all at the same time! We spent one entire Thanksgiving eve perfecting our bikini lines with a revolutionary no pain waxing system. That was the night that Annie declared both her sister and her mother as definitely certifiable.

In my garden, there is a little contraption that when plugged in, frees the entire yard of mosquitoes. It works very well, too—as long as you light tiki torches and use citronella candles along with it. Our gutters are spotless, due to a GUTTER ROBOT that my husband bought on the “Gardening Spectacular” episode on QVC. It works pretty well, and the neighbors like to gather on the curb and watch it as it churns along in the spouting, spewing out little sticks and clumps of leaves. They cheer Charlie on his ladder, as he reaches into the gutter to free up the robot whenever it gets stuck. About every five minutes.

I am a busy woman. Anything that will make my life easier has great appeal. And so, when watching the inspiring infomercial about a woman who realized that her life would be so much less complicated if she had only three items in her wardrobe that would combine effortlessly into AT LEAST THIRTY different outfits, I was mesmerized. I watched as she took what looked like a tube of material, wrapped it around her neck and somehow hooked her arms through it, and pouf! It was shrug! She took the skirt, hiked it up under her armpits, and IT WAS A STUNNING SLEEVELESS GOWN! The belt became a necklace. The belt, combined with the tube and the skirt, morphed into a dress with a little cowl neckline. This was amazing. I thought about how I could empty my entire closet and replace my clothing with a belt, a skirt, and a tube! I had my hand on the phone, when Charlie walked in. He put his hand on my dialing wrist, held it firmly, and said, “Are these going to be featured in the NY Times “Styles” section?"

He was so right. I didn’t order. My husband made me realize that I had a problem. It was a struggle, but I have given up my infomercials for shows that have a higher intrinsic value. I watch to learn, to expand, and to intensify my experience of life on this fragile planet.

Have you seen “The Hoarders?” What about “Celebrity Intervention?”

Thursday, March 4, 2010


My next door neighbor, who has four children ranging in age from high school to kindergarten, has been making Spring Break plans. I received an email from her that went something like this: “I recall that your family spent some time in a cabin in the Hocking Hills. Do you think that would be a fun thing for our gang to do over the break?”

This brought back a rush of memories. Packing the car: Snacks, breakfast items, dog bed, extra blankets, DVD’S, games, and other essentials for a fun weekend in Southern Ohio. Charlie added his items, as well: Beer, four bottles of wine, the AAA Guidebook to Ohio and Kentucky, a cell phone charger, rubber boots, and a corkscrew.

The girls arrived home from their respective places of residence, one a bit more enthusiastic about this whole “woodsy” enterprise than the other. Did I mention that this whole foray into nature was MY idea? One daughter had the presence of mind to bring a crossword puzzle book. The other brought a knitting project. Neither one packed a sweatshirt.

We arrived at the cabin on a frosty November Friday. Snow surrounded the little cabin. It all looked so cute, so rural, so cozy! We entered the cabin, and found it to be adorable: one room with a loft. Two pull out sofas. A tiny kitchen. One bathroom. What looked like a fireplace, but was actually a façade with fake logs and a red light bulb. The girls gave each other a significant look, which I later realized was a portent into the events to follow.

What does a family of four adults DO in the woods in November? Well, you can hike. Our dog enjoyed that. She has always liked getting muddy, racing around after sticks, and barking at squirrels. The rest of us got sick of that after about ten minutes of stomping through mud, ducking to avoid low lying vegetation, and stepping over fallen trees.

Back at the cabin, I began preparations for supper. The girls discovered that my DVD selection consisted of Gerard Butler in “Phantom of the Opera” and some “Masterpiece Theatre” classics. They also discovered that there is no cell phone reception in the woods of Southern Ohio. They broke out the wine.

We spent the evening reminiscing about old times. The time Annie was grounded for three months. The time Marion broke both ankles simultaneously her first quarter at college. The time when both girls discovered that there was no Santa Claus. They remembered when a favorite cat died, and when the tooth fairy forgot to leave any money. Charlie broke out the beer.

The next day, we all took a long hike. No one really wanted to, but as Charlie was putting all the beer and wine bottles in the trash, the dog got out and dashed off into the woods. It took us about forty five minutes to find her, and the girls had splitting headaches. Trekking and moaning, we communed with nature until we spotted the dog enjoying herself in a particularly swampy area, where apparently all forest creatures go to die. She was covered with a slimy green coating of rotted organic matter that smelled like a combination of animal droppings, skunk, and garbage.

Back at base camp, it was up to me to figure out a way to wash the dog. There were no buckets, so I had to use saucepans. Charlie held the dog. Annie filled the pans at the sink, Marion ferried them back and forth to me, and I attempted to clean the dog, using the little hotel shampoo bottles that we brought. It took a good hour, but the dog emerged smelling like she had been to a Spa, and the rest of us were exhausted and dirty. We took turns in the shower, but since there was now no shampoo left, we used Dawn dishwashing detergent.

As that day stretched into what seemed like months, the family pursued other fun activities: Annie clipped her toenails. Charlie discovered that the “Phantom” movie had language options, and so he turned it on in FRENCH, thinking that would be more authentic and interesting. Marion took a nap, with a pillow over her head. I read the book that I had brought. Good times.

There was a HOT TUB at the cabin, and so that evening, Charlie thought it would be relaxing for all of us to sit in there, and have good conversation. The girls were grossed out by the idea of soaking nearly naked WITH THEIR OWN PARENTS. Annie suggested that she go into town for more liquor, and before you could say “Paul Bunyan,” the three of them were in the car and the dog and I were left staring at each other. The dog and I watched Gerard Butler singing in French. I saw neither hide nor hair of the other family members for the remainder of the evening. The dog and I went to bed. The next morning, it was, thankfully, time to go home!

So my advice to my neighbor? It might be really fun to take the family on a little outing in the woods. But it might be best to wait until your children are old enough to buy their own booze…

Share this Post

Share your links easily.