#AGEageddon

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I’m over fifty, and there’s something about being referred to as “creased” that is disconcerting enough–but to find that adjective applied to me by the AARP—that supposed bastion of empowerment and advocacy for the 50+ set—is downright infuriating.  This term is used in one of the headlines for a trade ad campaign announced by AARP in defense of media spending targeting the Baby Boomer market.  The exact headline of this ad:  “I may be creased, but my money is crisp.”  What kind of message is this?

A few other choice adjectives in the headlines of this campaign, applied to the 50-60 year old set, include old  (“The older I get, the prettier my portfolio gets,” and, of course, grey (“I may be grey, but my money is as green as it gets”).   There’s clearly an admirable intent here, but the execution undercuts it.  As in slits its throat.

This is just one example—and one of the scariest, given its stated intent—of what I call the phenomenon of AGEageddon—the almost wholesale media obliteration of anybody over age 50, especially women.  Ask any woman 55+ a good percentage will tell you they “feel invisible.” ).  I’m not sure which is worse—to be invisible, or to be creased. The media has done a pretty good job of barraging the market with images of the likes of Julianne Moore, on one hand, and Grandma Moses, on the other—with a gaping chasm in between. (A recent magazine targeting Boomer women featured an attractive Lauren Hutton type model on the cover—and  pictures of grey-haired grannies in diapers, dancing with oxygen tubes in their noses, and on stair lifts inside.) You work, you retire into those “golden years,” and then you fall off a cliff. That’s AGEageddon.

On the other hand, Vogue ‘s August  2012 “age” issue actually features  two beautiful, vibrant  women age 90 and 101.  It’s ironic that the former bastion of teenage, anorexic cover girls has done an about-face about the face of mature women, while the AARP seems to have slipped and hit its head on a rock.

Let’s get a grip on reality and stop AGEageddon.

A Fendi Bag and a Final Act of Friendship

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“Carla’s in the trunk.”

With that, my great friend Tracy, who I speak to every night, informed me that the ashes of our mutual friend, who died suddenly, were now in the trunk of her car.  I flashed to an image of the three of us on the beach—back when we flaunted ourselves in bikinis—laughing and flirting. And now.

When we sign up for a lifetime of friendship, none of us imagines that we will be responsible for the death of that friend– not the actual death, but the process. Two months after her husband’s death, Carla had undergone a fierce battle against breast cancer.  She had no children or immediate relatives in the area, but she had Tracy, who lived just minutes away.  As they had adventured together to India, England, Africa and parts unknown over the decades, Carla and Tracy now ventured into the land of chemotherapy.  The last session had ended and victory was in sight.  Carla seemed great. Then, Tracy got a call.  Carla was having trouble breathing.  Tracy drove her to the hospital.  On checking in, there was a form to sign—the “responsible person to call just in case ” form that always seems so rote — and remote. Tracy scribbled her name. The doctors said it was pneumonia.  Like a horror film on fast forward, things escalated from bad to worse.  By that night, Carla was on a respirator, unresponsive. The doctors told Tracy it was now up to her to decide whether and when to turn it off.  Pull the plug.  She agonized, but fortunately, she did not have to decide, because within a few more hours, Carla’s heart stopped.

Tracy did have to decide, however, what to do next.  She arranged to have Carla cremated, so the ashes could be buried with her husband’s. Now, the box containing Carla’s ashes were in the trunk of Tracy’s car.

Carla and Tracy had shared so much over the years.  They had always been there for each other.  When Tracy’s beloved cat died, Carla totally understood and buried it in a Fendi bag.  (It was a designer cat). When Carla’s husband had become frail, Tracy had been there for the couple as well.  When Tracy had open heart surgery, Carla was there — and she was there for Tracy’s wedding at age 60+  to a dashing French count she met 8 months later on a trip.  And so on.  But who imagines this? I thought Tracy would be very freaked out, but she wasn’t.  “Carla’s in the trunk,” she said in a tone not unlike she might have said, “Carla’s in the kitchen.”  I think maybe it’s because when you’ve lived so much life with someone, death is just another part of that. Life has paved the way.

Cooking for One

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There’s a rash of new cookbooks out that target singles and empty-nesters—including the one pictured here, which is written by Judith Jones, who discovered Julia Child, so you know it’s good. Jones wrote this following the death of her husband, when she wondered if she’d ever want to cook again but ultimately needed to re-connect with her lifelong culinary passion.

From childhood, we’re hardwired that cooking and eating food is one of the great social experiences, and shopping for it has become an art in itself– almost as challenging as when man used to have to hunt and gather in the wild– with the labyrinth of organic, vegan, low-cal, artisanal, etc etc choices out there. So—what happens when you’re on the other side of 50, the kids leave home, and the couple—or you—are alone and it’s 6PM and you’re thinking about dinner? Or 6AM and you’re thinking about breakfast? I’m pretty much on my own now, with sporadic visits from a 20-something ghost who drops in, sometimes for dinner, before he de-materializes, off for a date at 9PM. All that shopping, peeling, chopping and cleaning up seems like a lot of work just for me. However, after a few post-kid grad years of trial and error, and checking out these new cookbooks, I firmly believe that I have now found the universal answer for micro-dining without resorting to fast food: the boneless, skinless chicken breast. Every supermarket has them. They don’t cost much. They can be microwaved or cooked any way. You only need one. They take 2 minutes to prepare. Serve over rice—or lettuce or spinach if you’re counting carbs. What’s your recipe?
– Liz

My Purse, My Survival Kit

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Purses have evolved. They are now so much more than arm candy that holds a wallet and a lipstick. They’re more like survival kits we carry on our arms or shoulders, and if you reach a point in life where you’ve garnered a Ph.D. in Purses, you know how to work a purse like nobody’s business. I know one brilliant woman who walks out of the house never carrying more than a wallet and keys—in her pocket. I could never be her. I knew I had reached some kind of pinnacle when my purse succeeded as a survival kit for not just myself but an entire planeload of passengers during a four-hour ground hold. Charged cellphone? (I had 2). Ipad (uh-huh). Extra bottle of water (purchased post- security)? Check. Reading material? (The Library of Congress would have been envious). Sandwich (my travel staple—pb&j—which in a pinch can feed 8, as every mom knows). Grapes (yep). Earplugs? (2 sets, stockpiled from a business trip). Blanket? (well, a Pashima). And here is the god’s truth—I even had a smoke mask in a pouch, a relic from an office safety drill. We didn’t need that, but this inventory doesn’t even count my makeup, notebooks, and medicines. (If cholera had broken out on the tarmac, we would have been in good shape.) Even when not traveling, I seem to leave the house assuming I, like Lewis & Clark, will be forging out into a major expedition and must be always prepared. When I see a four—or even five– figure price tag for a purse these days, it makes me crazy, because I can see where this is headed. Soon, purses will reach the price point of small condominiums—in some places, they probably already have, certainly in the rental market. And the phrase “living out of my purse” will become a reality.
– Liz

Cookbook Porn

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simple-coconut-cake

Cookbooks are porn for women. Forget about Channing Tatum flexing his pecs in Magic Mike; to me, he can’t compete with a coconut cake, three layers high, mounded with clouds of fluffy three-minute frosting and oozing toasted coconut.  Now that’s eye candy. Early cookbooks had no pictures, they were like military manuals with unappetizing names like “Fanny Farmer.”  How can Fanny compare with even something so simple as a platter of baked cauliflower, with its crunchy-browned edges, or a jug of country lemonade, with paper-thin slices of lemons glowing translucently among the ice cubes.  Or the most triple-X of all, a thick-cut steak, charred on the outside, pink on the inside, fresh from the grill, oozing juices onto a smooth wooden board.  I like to look at these pictures of food. Now that I have downloaded my favorite recipes onto my iPad, they almost leap onto my plate in hi-def.  It’s such a turn-on to devour these pictures with my eyes.  And, because I know there are no dishes to wash or kitchen to clean up, they taste even better than the real thing.  Kind of makes you want to lick the page.

–  liz

“Maintenance” is a Dirty Word

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I was looking at the “Stars without Makeup” issue of one of the tabloids today.  If you could take those pictures and run the tape backwards, you’d see what it takes for stars to look like stars—or even themselves. Somebody invented the term “Maintenance” as a catch-all for all the things women have to do to themselves to keep up their appearance. This includes, but is not limited to:  hair color, blowouts and trims; mani-pedis; working out; healthy eating;  tooth whitening; liposuction and plastic surgery.  That’s the short list. Each of these categories has its own set of sub-categories, all of which take time and most of which cost money.  The thing is, the list expands as your years add on. And it’s like a period house—you don’t dare stop, or the roof might cave in.

Back to the tabloids—Julianne Hough looks quite good without makeup, although she looks like she may have haircolor assistance. What is she, 23?   I have one friend in her late sixties who went grey beautifully, works out only by taking a brisk daily walk at sunset,  and whose only “maintenance” item is a manicure.  Due to a medical condition, she cannot have plastic surgery. She looks great, but she was beautiful to begin with and has enviable non-frizzy hair and bone structure.  If I had this level of non-vigilance, I would look like Deputy Dawg — with a manicure.  I wish there was another solution to getting off this hamster wheel.  Or that I were braver.

Keeper of the Shrine

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I keep a shrine in my house.

It has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with having a child who has grown and left the house. Sort of. The shrine is my son’s room. He is 23 and has graduated from college and moved out. Partly.

What has not moved out are his Little League trophies, catcher’s mitt, X Box games, girlfriend memorabilia, college books, basketball jerseys, class pitcures, diplomas– (kindergarten, middle school, high school, college), photo, spring break memorabilia, posters, college flags, athletic shoe collection size 13, guitar, and the inflatable mattress from the days when a friend slept over. My son has moved on, but his stuff has not. I keep it– in the shrine. Occasionally I ask my son if something can go. Answer: NO. My sister in law Mickey had one answer. In a fit of efficiency, she recently boxed everything up, rented a 16-foot truck, and drove it across country from New York to stash it in Wisconsin. There it will remain until thrown out by her future grandchildren or archaeologists, whichever finds it first. In my home, the shrine remains. But I am comforted to be on solid statistical ground. Over half of all college grads are now returning to live at home. Sociologists are calling them the Boomerang Generation. The minute I get rid of all this stuff and turn my son’s room into a crafts workshop, we all know what’s going to happen. He’s going to move home, and the first thing he’s going to look for is his 8th grade basketball jersey.

Is Independence All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

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I don’t know about you, but from the time I’ve been able to toddle around, I’ve been encouraged to be “independent.”  Basically the instructions have not changed:  stand on your own two feet, require little or no support, rely on nobody and get out there! And so I have.  I’ve supported myself (and my family); bought my own house; cooked my own food; paid for my son’s college tuition; lived alone; traveled mainly alone; taken care of the dog singlehandedly; stood on my own two feet and nobody else’s.  I’ve been part of a family, too—but somehow I am always out there on a string—“independent.”  But at this point in life, Independence Day has made me wonder about the idea of independence for women.  Does “being independent” mean being sentenced to doing it all basically solo—forever? 

Mom and Dad were there to catch the toddler, or when they took off the training wheels. What if you’re going it alone now?  Who’s there to catch us half a century later? Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did backwards and in high heels, but he was still there.  What did she do alone? He danced alone plenty– to greatness.  Let’s face it, a woman dancing alone looks a bit off kilter, with the possible exceptions of a prima ballerina and Tinker Bell.  The great, late Nora Ephron once said that the thing women got out of the women’s movement was the Dutch Treat.  Right, Nora—is it such a Treat to always go Dutch? To go it alone? To be unfailingly  “independent?”   My mother knew women who had never earned a cent at a job outside the home, never paid a bill themselves, never saw the inside of a checkbook. Nobody wants that.  But sometimes I wonder—have women drill-sargented themselves into a bit too much independence?

The thing is, independence is as addictive as heroin. You can’t really go back.   Or can you? And do you want to?

Bathing Suits: Devil’s Spawn in the Fitting Room Mirror

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It’s that time again—bathing suits are on sale.  And, against my better judgment, I’ve been known to be tempted by economy into that chamber of horrors—the bathing suit fitting room.  I know I should love my shape, whatever shape I’m in.  But the fact is, something happens when I  put on a bathing suit and look in the fitting room mirror. No matter what the bathing suit looks like, I see a white, frightening creature staring back. Clearly, the retail establishment has conspired to commit some sort of image witchcraft .  I suck it up.  How bad can it be? I hit the sale. I adjust the bathing suit straps, yank down the bottom and convince myself I look O.K.  Maybe the sit-ups paid off just a little.  I venture out to the big 3-way mirror. My confidence inches forward.  Then, I look at the woman who is walking out of the next fitting room, also in a bathing suit.  It’s Salma Hayek.

This actually happened.

This is why God created the internet. I now order my bathing suits on line.

bullseye or bullsh*t? ™ 50 is the new 30


We call BULLS**T on the buzz phrase “50 is the new 30” and all the similar mantras being thrown about (Feisty! Fifty & Fabulous!) for these reasons:

  • none of these monikers will increase the visibility, confidence of the group, or motivate them
  • the age 60 isn’t ever addressed in these phrases, in fact its avoided like the plague
  • when’s the last time you’ve heard a 30 year old exclaim “man, i can’t wait to be 50 so I can get my life started!”
  • this is passé thinking…and boomer women have moved on

Bullseye or Bulls**t ™ on “50 is the new 30”?