When my Dad died 6 years ago, my parents had been married 64 years. This week marks their 70th wedding anniversary. And we will celebrate – because they are certainly still married. In my mother’s heart and in our memories.
I learned a lot about marriage from the example they set. I’m not saying I am able to put it into practice as well as they did, but I couldn’t have better role models.
Here’s just a little of what they taught me:
My mother and father had fun. They spent a lot of time not being serious. They liked to picnic at the lake in the summer, ice skate in the winter. They liked to play cards with their friends. They liked jigsaw puzzles and parades. Even when money was short, which it often was, they searched the couch cushions and went to a movie. And later, when money was more plentiful, my Dad would say to Mom: “Get your purse. We’re going out for ice cream.'”
Play separately too
You don’t have to be together every minute. Have your own interests. My Dad liked to go bowling, and play golf, and have a beer at the American Legion hall with his buddies. My mom liked to have lunch with her girlfriends, shop with her daughters, and play her own round of golf. As much as you should have fun together, let your spouse also have fun without you. When my father came home after a Saturday round of golf and a few beers at the club, my mother would say, “Look how happy he is to have a day to himself. And we have something new to tell each other.”
Be on the same side
My parents made it clear to us kids that their marriage was more important than we were. “We love you,” they always said, “but eventually you will go lead your own lives and we will still be together.” They always had a united front, and nothing we could do could pit them against each other. The same held true with relatives and work and decision-making. Your spouse is on your side.
Respect each other
I never heard my parents bitch about each other to anyone else. (at least not seriously). My mother listened to my father tell the same story a hundred times, and although she may have rolled her eyes once in a while, she never shouted, “Enough!’ though I am sure she wanted to. On my father’s part, he once told me that my mother was the smartest person he knew.
Respect each other’s families
Before you were married, you had your own families. Those relationships are still important. Their traditions are not to be discarded, even when you add new ones of your own. We always visited my mother’s parents every Sunday. We wouldn’t think of having Christmas Eve away from Dad’s big clan. And they didn’t criticize each other’s crazy relatives. They loved them. I remember my mother once joking, “If we ever divorce, I’m keeping your family.”
Your partner fell in love with you. In his eyes you are gorgeous. Put some effort into keeping that admiration. It doesn’t matter if you have a few extra pounds or not as much hair. Just remember to look nice for each other. My father never wore a torn tee shirt. Ever. My mother put her makeup on even for those trips to the ice cream parlor. And her hair looked great even when they had nowhere to go.
Don’t complain too much
One of the perks of being married is that you have someone built in that you can bitch to. But try not to overdo it. Your partner loves you, but you are really testing their love if you start to complain about your day the minute you walk in the door. If you are constantly negative, you are a drag to be around. I remember when my mother was going through a particularly hard time with some changes at work, and spent several weeks venting her frustration every night at dinner. One evening Dad said, as nicely as possible, “If you really hate that job, then quit, and we will get by. But if you want to stick it out, then maybe you should stop complaining – because you are only making yourself feel worse.” And she did. She didn’t quit the job. She just stopped bitching about it. We were all happier, including her.
You don’t have to take that one-in-a-million vacation. (although that would be nice). Just make little moments that you can recall, to remind yourself why your marriage is worth it. When you can say, “Remember that time we stopped on the side of the road and grilled hot dogs in the pouring rain?” you are saying that those memories are worth keeping – and your marriage is based on those moments.
Reminisce. My parents were married on Kentucky Derby Day. They celebrated the Kentucky Derby every year like it was a holiday invented just for them. And they never even attended the Derby. It was their marriage they were celebrating.
This Saturday is the Kentucky Derby. We’ll stop at the betting parlor, and then go to my mother’s home to watch with her. We’ll celebrate the Derby, celebrate their glorious marriage, and offer up a toast to Dad.
I heard it again yesterday.
The sound in the chimney that can only mean one thing.
We’ve had these houseguests before. Several times.
A few years ago, I start hearing strange noises in the chimney. My husband is hard of hearing, but he doesn’t let that stop him from telling me I am nuts when I hear strange noises.
The car, for instance. I tell him my car is making a weird noise, and he says, “I don’t think so.” When he can’t HEAR. And then of course when something major goes wrong, he is astounded that there was no warning. Why does he not believe me?
So anyway, I tell him I am hearing scratching noises in the chimney. He says, “Naah….” (Thanks, Honey… very helpful.)
A week or so later, the scratching noises turn into something else. Sharp little cries. I have my husband stand by the fireplace. Nope. Nothing.
Then the cheeps turn into shrieks. Shrieks whose meaning were evident – “Feed me now!”
But these cries are different from any baby birds I ever heard. And they are getting louder. I have my husband stand with his head IN the fireplace.
Here’s what we hear. (not our house, but exactly our sound)
“Oh, that’s weird,” he says. (Finally.)
“Could it be bats?” I ask.
So I call the exterminator. I tell him I think we have bats in the chimney. He doubts it, but he comes over.
He listens. “Not bats,” he says. “Swifts.”
“Swifts. Chimney Swifts.”
I stare at him blankly.
“Birds,” he explains.
So I ask him to get rid of them, but he won’t. He explains that swifts are endangered. A protected species. Once they make their nests you must let them be. They’ll leave in the Fall, he says, and then you put a screen over the chimney to keep them out when they return in the Spring.
This doesn’t sound like a very good solution. So I call the guys who clean our chimney every year. I explain that we have swifts in the chimney. They say no. They won’t touch the swifts either.
We do our research and find out that swifts are nice little birds. They have bodies like fat cigars, short beaks, and long pointed wings. They spend their lives airborne. You will never see a swift in a tree or on the ground. They cannot perch. They build their nests in chimneys to hold their eggs, but they don’t sit in their nests. They cling to walls. Chimney walls like ours. They mate for life. And here’s the best part: they eat bugs. They eat on the wing – flies, wasps, mosquitoes.
But they are noisy little bug-eaters.
So we learn to live with the swifts. We see them outside mostly at dusk – we have a hot tub on our patio, and we sit in the hot tub and watch them circle our roof.
“Get those mosquitoes,” we yell encouragingly.
One night we sit down to a very nice dinner – rack of lamb, if I remember correctly. And just as I pick up my fork, a bird sweeps through the kitchen, right over my head.
“Shit!” I yell.
“What’d I do?” asks my husband out of habit.
“A bird flew over my head!”
“Nah…” he says.
Then the bird turns around and buzzes my husband.
“Shit!” he yells.
The bird takes off into my husband’s office, with us in pursuit. His office has french doors, and so the bird sees the sky, and heads for the door. Terrific! We can open the door and let the bird out.
And just then Stewart the cat leaps out of nowhere. He gets the bird! Yea!
But wait! Stewart doesn’t exactly hand the bird over. Oh no. He runs up the stairs with it to our bedroom. He’s very fast. We run up the steps but he’s way ahead of us.
Stewie is running around the bedroom in triumph. And of course, he lets the bird go. The joy of capture is only surpassed by the joy of recapture – according to the cat bible.
And the bird flies into our walk-in closet. My husband quickly runs in after it and slams the door. Swift and husband on one side. Cat and wife on the other.
“Don’t come in! I think I can catch it,” he hollers.
“Don’t kill it,” I plead.
I hear lots of fluttering and huffing and puffing. Stewart is berserk on my side of the door.
“I’ve got it! I’ve got it wrapped in a T-shirt. What do I do now?”
“Push out the screen and throw it out the window.”
“Oh no! Those screens are a bitch to put back!” (And they are.)
“Do it! Do it!”
And he does. He opens the window, pushes out the screen, and shakes the tee out the window. The panic-stricken bird flies off.
We have saved an endangered creature from the jaws of Stewart!
We sit back down to our cold lamb and raise our wine glasses.
We toast to our bird-saving ability.
We toast to Stewart.
We toast to our houseguests.
And when Autumn comes and the birds fly off, we don’t put a screen on the chimney.
(PS – I wrote a poem about this a few years ago. And since it is National Poetry Month, you can read it here, if you are so inclined.)
I don’t as a rule like stories that include dreams.
But I just woke up from the most vivid incredible freaky dream. And I had to write it down so I wouldn’t forget it. And as long as I am writing it down…. well, you know…. I’ve certainly created a blog out of a lot less.
Here’s a disclaimer before I start though. I am one of the luckiest people I know – in that I still have my adorable mother. I love her more than any other person in the world. (Sorry, hubby, but it’s true.) But I am narrating this dream verbatim. I’m not tempting fate or anything – just being a good and trustworthy reporter. IT’S A DREAM.
I am in the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Connecticut. (which carries my book, by the way.)
Amongst the books, they are selling chaise lounges. (I know, I know… but this was the most believable part of the dream. And when you think about it, why not? Reading and reclining are very nice together.)
So I am trying out a chaise, and I am finding it pretty comfortable. I am thinking about buying one.
And Dustin Hoffman walks by.
I do this kind of double-take, like you do when you’re not quite sure you saw what you saw. I kind of rise up on my elbows and crank my head around.
And Dustin Hoffman turns around and walks back to me.
He says, “I thought I just saw Marilyn Monroe walk by.”
“I thought so too, but it was just Dustin Hoffman,” I answer.
“Disappointing,” he says.
“Sometimes that happens.”
“Tell me,” I say. “At home, do you ever dress up like Tootsie, just because you know you look so good that way?”
“Once in a while,” says Dustin.
I think about this a few seconds.
“Will you adopt me?” I ask.
“Adopt? Really?” (You would expect cleverer dialog from Mr. Hoffman, but I guess this part of the conversation took him by surprise.)
“I know I am 65, but you are older than that, so it could still work.”
“Okay, I’ll consider it.”
He starts to walk away. I rise up from the chaise lounge – gracefully, although I can never do that in real life – and follow him to the door.
I say, “Look, my parents are still alive but they are well into their nineties, so I may come up for adoption pretty soon.”
“Are they very sick?” he asks.
“No, they are in very good health. They’re just really old people, and it would suck to be an orphan.”
“Do you have a business card?” I ask.
He hands me a business card that looks amazingly like my own. We have the same taste in business cards.
I hold my hand up to my ear with my thumb and pinkie pointed out, the universal symbol for talking on the phone… even though with cell phones, no one really talks on the phone that way anymore. In a few years, I wonder if people will still make that gesture and then stop to wonder what it means.
I silently mouth the words:
“I’ll call you.”
In dubious honor of the Queen’s birthday, I am re-posting my only blog about the royal family. (Written 5 years ago – I can’t believe I have been blogging that long!)
ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?
When I was a little girl, my mother had a ridiculous idea that she was delighted to share with me. Because I was such a princess, it was only fitting that I should marry a prince. Prince Charles, to be specific.
He was two years older than I, and a perfect match in her mind. Through my grammar school and high school years, she followed his every move to ensure that he was being a good boy, and in my college days, she cut out pictures of the Prince of Wales and sent them to me.
(This wasn’t her only fantasy: My mother and father took a dream vacation to Monaco when my brother was in college, and she sent him a postcard signed, “Love, your fiancee Caroline.” He had it on his bulletin board for years.)
The day that Charles became engaged to Diana Spencer, my mother called me at work. I had turned thirty a few weeks before, but apparently my mother hadn’t quite grown up.
“I don’t know why he couldn’t have married you!” she complained.
“He didn’t date too many of the girls from Eastern High,” I explained.
We all know what happened to Charles and his Princess. Not happily ever after.
The real-life fairytale changed, and we heard all the sordid details about Charles and the wicked witch. Or rather, Camilla.
Perhaps because of my many years of imaginary betrothal, I have always had a tender affection for the strange Prince. And I have wanted for many years now to defend his honor. So here goes:
Isn’t it romantic?
I mean, just think about it. Charles met Camilla more than ten years before he met Diana. He loved Camilla. But she was “unsuitable”. He gave her up and she married someone else. Charles married Britain’s choice – the lovely Diana. But Charles never stopped loving Camilla. After Diana died, she was not only England’s princess; she was its beloved saint. Camilla was despised. And Charles loved her anyway, and eventually married her anyway.
I cannot for the life of me understand why women don’t think it is the most romantic story of the century. He had beautiful Diana,
Isn’t it romantic?
I guess it might have been the gross phone calls.
On page 14 of my novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED, I wrote:
And that was it. I got up the next morning and didn’t go to work. I retired.
And last week, I did. I retired.
I didn’t have a big send-off. There was a lovely party for me way back in September. But then circumstances changed, and the company sought Replacement #2 – so I stayed on a while. But an excellent successor to my successor was eventually found, and so I was able to pack my things and go.
(By the way, I know that some folks say (probably thinking of me in particular) that one always feels possessive of one’s job, and never believes that anyone will ever do it as well. Not true. My replacement is terrific, and he can do the job every bit as well as I ever could. I predict that within two months my former co-workers will be asking themselves how they ever put up with Nancy for the last 10 years.)
So at the end of my last day, I packed up. I had one half of a box and one poster. That was the total accumulation of ten years of work. But I had previously spent 15 years at another company, and when leaving that job, it had taken me hours and hours to pack up boxes and boxes of shit that I hauled home and never looked at again. So I “lived light” at this current job. It was the right thing to do, but somehow felt bittersweet when I packed up and had so little to show for ten years of earnest labor.
I walked around the office and it appeared that almost everyone had already left for the day.I found one old friend. I said to her, “I am in need of a hug, and I’m glad I have found someone nice to handle that.” And she obliged.
And that was it. I got up the next morning and didn’t go to work. I retired.
And now it has been one week.
Not long enough to be able to offer any profound wisdom. But I do have some early observations.
1 – With just one week home, I expected that it would feel an awful lot like a simple vacation, where you enjoy your free time, but you keep thinking about what you left undone at the office, and what horrors will await you upon your return. But I don’t feel that way. I’m done. It is rather amazing how quickly you can just turn it off.
2 – Time doesn’t drag. It speeds away. Why Instagram alone can make the clock strike noon while you are still in your pajamas. (I’m at nancyromanwriter, by the way, if you want to add me to your time-
wasting consuming schedule.
3 – I like standing under the shower more than the required 30 seconds. Although I don’t want to waste water or pay an increased utility bill for the hot water, my oh my, letting the water hit the back of your neck for a pretty long time feels amazing.
4 – I can also take extra time on my hair and makeup, which is ironic since now it doesn’t matter very much. But interestingly, time spent on my makeup is beneficial. The more carefully I apply my makeup the better I look. On the other hand, additional time on my hair is disastrous. Apparently, hair can be overwrought.
5 – There is no limit to the amount of attention a dog desires. My puppy Theo seems to have concluded that I retired so that I can be his constant companion. I had not realized that Fetch needs to happen hundreds of time a day. Or that squeeky toys can be squeeked for hours on end. That privacy in the bathroom is overrated. The cats, however, have not yet noticed that I am home.
6 – Even though I have an embarrassingly huge wardrobe, I have no problem with wearing the same thing everyday. (As long as it’s cute.) It’s not going to be hard to downsize my wardrobe after all.
7 – Housework is easy if you don’t have to spend seven hours on Sunday doing it. One hour a day – same result. A piece of cake. And you can enjoy the rest of the day stress-free.
8 – This house is full of FOOD. The pantry, the refrigerator, the countertops. There are oranges and walnuts and bread and chocolate and cheese and cereal and pickles and crackers and ice cream and bananas and peanut butter. My husband and I take pride in eating wholesome food. But there is so MUCH of it. It’s everywhere. I’m concerned.
By the way, that’s me in the poster in the photo above – on the bottom on the right:
I think that photo was taken for UConn’s Alumni Women’s poster around 1996.
Twenty years later:
I’d venture to say that retirement agrees with me.
For years I have been reading and hearing about how Generation Y-ers have overdosed on self-esteem. Born in the 80s to the early 2000s, these young people are also sometimes called Millennials. And there have been increasing complaints in the workplace that this generation has an undue sense of entitlement.
Is it true? Maybe.
Research certainly seems to point that way. In 1982, one third of the students taking the Narcissist Personal Inventory scored above average. In 2006, that number was 65%.
This is the generation where every kid got a trophy, no one ever failed, and no answer was ever wrong… just a “good try.”
At work, these Millennials require constant praise. Some companies have gone from an “Employee of the Month” program to ‘Employee of the Week’ awards – dozens of them every week.
I’ve seen evidence of this myself. Several years ago, when I was still working for a major corporation, I interviewed college juniors for our internship program. They were, shall we kindly say, enormously self-assured. One young person particularly stood out. When I asked him what he saw himself doing, he said, “I’d like to be involved in the strategic decision-making for the company.” I couldn’t help but reply, “Would you really want to work for a company that let YOU make strategic decisions?”
But here’s the thing: These self-important, spoiled, egomaniacs may be on to something. Maybe they don’t worry so much about what other people think, because they know they are just AWESOME.
You see, I am from the Low-Self-Esteem Generation.
I’m luckier than some of my peers. My parents didn’t discourage me or call me a dumbbell on a daily basis. They were just honest about my shortcomings while supportive of my efforts. They never stroked my ego, but they didn’t damage it too much either.
My husband wasn’t so lucky. His parents didn’t offer encouragement. He told me about trying to learn to play drums as a kid. His mother ridiculed his poor performance from the very start.”You are just awful,” she said. “You have no talent.” I can see the result today. He is very stressed trying something new. I always have confidence that he will succeed in whatever he does – he’s proven it to me over and over again. But he doesn’t believe it. He’s afraid of failure.
And I’ve worked with a woman so fearful of criticism, she would cry over the tiniest insignificant mistakes. “Don’t fire me,” she pleaded when she needed surgery. What the hell had her childhood been like? I only know that she once mentioned that she grew up in her grandfather’s house, and that he did not allow children to step on his lawn – or make any noise.
Some of our parents had the best of intentions. One of my friends had protective parents. They didn’t want her to be disappointed. They didn’t want her hurt by failure. So they didn’t want her to try. She was plucky enough to defy her parents and take chances anyway. But her tendency now is to get her back up when anyone tries to give her advice. She will do exactly the opposite. Even when the advice is good.
And for us in the Low-Self-Esteem Generation, a lot of our insecurities revolve around our looks. I don’t know a single woman my age who didn’t grow up thinking she was ugly.
I’m one of those. I always hated the way I looked. And my sweet but honest parents didn’t lie to me nearly enough. I hardly ever heard them say that I was pretty. It didn’t help that I developed scoliosis at puberty. My crooked spine was an enormous source of shame to me.
On the positive side, I consider myself the very latest of Late Bloomers. I’m now sixty-five and I feel rather beautiful. Better late than never, I guess.
But it’s tenuous.
This weekend we went to a local theater for a musical review called “The Taffetas” – four women singing songs from the 50s. They were terrific singers.
It’s a small theater and we had good seats. I could see that these young woman were nice-looking but not stunning beauties. What I would call attractive and approachable. Nice.
And at one point in the production, they all turned their backs to the audience at the dramatic ending to the song.
And all I could see were four young straight backs.
And I fell apart just a little bit.
I’ll try to feel beautiful again tomorrow.
Since April is National Poetry Month, I’ve written this blog in free verse. But don’t worry, it’s still weird, silly me in there.
I’ve never lost my love
of personality tests.
Multiple choice in twenty questions
to indicate my Compassion (A minus)
or my Loyalty (D plus)
or my ability or lack thereof
to keep a juicy secret (forever an F).
Back to September ’66
Seventeen Magazine –
They had the best quizzes ever.
I’d tear a sheet from my notebook
and mark my A B C or all of the above
and I’d discover if
my boyfriend was faithful
which would be helpful once I had one
or whether I had what it takes
to join the Peace Corps
or wear Tabu.
I’d toss my answers in the neighbor’s trash.
God forbid my sister should see
that I was a romantic kisser
or that I was reading Seventeen
when I was fifteen
and it was her Seventeen,
which she was.
And now to my delight
I can take my tests every day online.
And learn that my nickname should be
and my aura is Blue
and that though Agnostic
my spirit guide is the Goat.
And just today I confirmed a past life
with a fine famous lover.
None other than manly
Of course that means that I was
Which all makes sense
because I wrote a story once
where the heroine was Carole with an E.
And though I used to think I had been
Edna St. Vincent Millay
(who was also in a story)
I don’t believe she ever slept with
Dear Mr. Gable.
But to be sure, I took the test again
with my second-best answers.
And Gable again.
So there you have it.
Ten days ago, I wrote about the little copycat I was as a kid. And how on one occasion in high school, a pretty and popular girl paid me a small but important compliment by copying my outfit.
Because I wanted that story to be a sweet tribute to the memory of my beautiful classmate, I omitted my two recent stupid experiences with copycats – the incidents that made me reflect on the meaning of Imitation in the first place.
They always say…. (well, my mother always says that ‘they’ say…) “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It always seemed to me to be not only trite but untrue.
Copying is bad, right? And people who copy you are stealing your ideas, right?
As a general rule, that’s true.
A few years ago, I was part of a blogging group, and after sharing one of my more popular posts, another blogger in the group, published a nearly identical piece on her own blog under her own name. I was furious. And I had every right to be. That’s plagiarism. That’s theft.
But on the other hand, when someone admires you, and wants to be like you, that feels pretty good. You’re a leader. You’re a trend-setter.
Just a few weeks ago, my dog Theo got the chance to be such a trend-setter. He was in obedience class. Theo was a little over his head in this class, which is called “Beyond Basic Obedience.” Due to one freak display of cooperation, he had qualified for the class. (He has since flunked out… we start “Basic Obedience” – no ‘Beyond’ – next week.)
Anyway, he’s in class with all these show dogs and mature little robots. He’s the youngest little dude. He hasn’t got a clue as to what he is supposed to be doing. He’s spinning in circles and jumping around and basically acting like a nut.
And he poops. Right in the middle of the training ring. And the dog next to him, a champion Aussie, the star of the class, observes Theo mid-poop. And poops himself.
That’s what I call leadership skills.
Last month after years of procrastination, which is a synonym for “I have no idea how to do this” – I joined Instagram. I’m not a particularly good photographer, but I don’t have to be. I have pets. Doggy and Kitty pics are all you need to get lots of Likes and Followers on Instagram. My artsy stuff languishes with maybe one Sympathy-Like from a loyal friend.
But those filters and edits are so much fun. I can take a mediocre picture and fix it up later. Why, I can’t even SEE what I am photographing in bright sunlight. I took a shitload of shots of Theo at the beach this week but I couldn’t even find the shutter in the sunlight.. but I kept snapping away, knowing that I could crop and edit and sharpen and highlight, and look like a genius. Only somewhere along the line, I had inadvertently touched the selfie button and turned the camera on me. I had three dozen pics of my crazy-photographer face, and no amount of editing of any of those shots can make me look like a genius.
But back to the story. I finally joined Instagram. And exactly one week later – who joins Instagram?
The Pope that’s who.
I rest my case.
A few weeks ago, Credit Card Insider reached out to bloggers with an idea they called “Financially Fabulous in 2016.” They were seeking some interesting insights for their readers about planning for retirement and saving money.
But I am incapable of writing an interesting piece about saving money.
I may have worked for nearly 40 years in Finance and Budgeting, but that does not mean I can give anyone interesting (or sound) advice about Saving.
I can however – give plenty of advice about Spending.
I’ve been a professional Spender all my life. I excel at it. And now that I’m 65, I can also look back and see where my spending was sound – and where it was stupid. And where it is heading in my senior years.
Oprah Winfrey closes her magazine each month with a little essay called “What I Know For Sure.”
When it comes to spending money after retirement, here’s what I know for sure:
1. Basically, you have enough shit. (CCI Editor, you can change that to “stuff” for your website… but we all know what it really is.) Collections. Hummel figurines, owls, teacups – half the time you started that collection because thirty years ago someone bought you one or two things and you said, “How cute” – and then that’s what you’ve been receiving for your birthday ever since. But you are old now. You have enough butterfly pins. And unless one of your kids – or whoever is going to have to clean your house when you are dead – has expressly said that your stuff is valuable, or they would love to inherit it, STOP collecting that stuff. Tell people to stop buying you that stuff. And then maybe pair down to the select items that have real worth. And by worth, I mean the ones that make you HAPPY.
2. If you are like me, you will never stop loving clothes. You’ll always want new clothes. You NEED new clothes. But NO. You don’t. But like me, you will buy them anyway. Since you are going to buy something you want, rather than something you need, always make sure it is something you LOVE. If you haven’t read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, watch a couple of her YouTube videos. She may be a tad overboard, but her core belief is one we can all take to heart: Possessions should bring you Joy. So when I say to keep those collectibles that make you happy, that’s what I mean: Joy. And when I say buy only clothes you love: Joy. I know lots of folks who hate to shop or hate the way they look, and their central theme is “Good enough.” I find this singularly true of older people. Treat yourself more kindly. Shop with joy in mind. Just think about it: If you only buy clothes you love, then everyday you will be wearing something you love. How nice will that feel?
3. Food. Good food. Spend your money on healthy food. It will taste fabulous and be better for you. Good food simply prepared is delicious. I am certainly not the first one to say “You are what you eat.” But you really are. If you are 50 or over, think about how old all your bones and organs are right now. Do your car parts last 50 years? I want my stomach to last at least 90 years. And although we are lucky to live in an age where you can get spare knees and hips if you need them, there are lots of parts tucked inside you that really need to be original equipment.
4. I’m a homebody. There’s nothing I love quite so much as sitting in my own kitchen. But as I have aged, I have also become aware that the world is overflowing with beauty and experiences that enrich my mind and my memories. Invest some of your savings in your memories. Travel.
5. Sometimes we all need a treat. I learned when I was broke that I didn’t need a new coat when I felt like some retail therapy. A new nail polish would do it. Find something inexpensive to satisfy that need to indulge yourself once in a while. My husband and I go out for frozen yogurt on Friday night. I like drugstore lipstick. My best friend likes crazy socks. Another friend likes pretty post-it pads. My mom likes $2.00 lottery tickets. Keep it small – but enjoy the frivolous.
6. I’m a book lover. I love my books. I love my Kindle. But most of all – I LOVE the library. What a magnificent institution. You can read whatever you want FOR FREE. That is like one huge miracle. And you get a little socialization at the same time, which can be a rare but good thing for bookworms. Go to the library every week. Spend the money you save not buying books on frozen yogurt.
7. You need a best friend. Of the furry kind. If you do not have a dog or cat, go to the shelter and get one. Early in my career, I worked for several years for an organization that provided services to the elderly. The healthiest clients had pets. The happiest clients had pets. Pets give you a reason to get up in the morning. They provide you with exercise. They make you laugh. They don’t care if you have wrinkles. They bring you JOY. (And dead mice.)
I was one of the all-time worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) copycats.
Being a homely, skinny, weird-looking thing with two older sisters, it was probably inevitable that I would want to copy them.
I both worshiped and despised my sisters – as anyone with older sisters will understand.
They went places without my parents. They had later bedtimes. They had long thick hair, and I had short thin hair. My mom took me to the barbershop for my pathetic haircuts. My sisters went to the beauty parlor.
Christine was smart. Really smart. Astronomically smart. Every teacher she ever had adored her. I was in awe of her brains, but I often hated being her little sister, with so many teachers saying “Why can’t you be more like Christine?”
Claudia was a fabulous musician. And funny as heck. I didn’t say ‘hell’ back then, but she was certainly as funny as hell. (Now that we are adults, she’s as funny as fuck.) No one could make me laugh like she could, and I was completely mesmerized when she sat down at the piano, but I often hated being her little sister, with so many teachers saying, “Why can’t you be more like Claudia?
I may have heard that a lot from teachers, but I never heard that from my parents.
Oh, I tried and tried to be like my sisters. Whatever wisdom Christine spouted, I spouted the next day. Whatever wisecrack Claudia quipped, I quipped the next day. I read their books, played with their toys, listened in on their phone calls. That I wore their clothes goes without saying — hand-me-downs were mandatory in my neighborhood.
But instead of “Why can’t you be more like Christine/Claudia” what my parents said was this: “Why are you trying to be like Christine/Claudia?”
“We already have one of each of those,” my mother said, “We had you because we wanted a Nancy.”
That was a fabulous, amazing, wise thing to say.
But the problem was – I didn’t know how to be Nancy.
So I continued to copy my sisters. Then later, in high school, I did my best to be like the popular girls. Then like the hippies in college. And the executives at my company.
But little by little, I started to become myself.
Slowly and sometimes painfully, I stopped being a copycat. And a few times, people have even copied me.
In high school – it happened just once. Forty-seven years ago, and I still remember.
I was an office messenger during First Period. (Not sure schools do that anymore, but if you had a free period, you could sign up to run messages to classrooms instead of sitting in a study hall) I shared messenger duties three times a week with Diane, a girl so pretty and so smart and so sophisticated it was hard to believe she was still in high school. And I came in one Monday in a new skirt, a dirndl with a lace-up bodice like a little Bavarian barmaid. And Diane – gorgeous Diane – loved my skirt. I told her about the shop in New Britain where I found it, and she asked me if I minded if she bought the same thing. She asked my permission to copy ME!
Now because she was beautiful and popular, I was well aware that Diane would look much cuter in that skirt than me. And I also knew that once she started to wear the dirndl skirt, everyone might think that it was I who was copying her.
But you know… it didn’t matter. I was so flattered that Diane wanted to copy MY style, and that she even asked me if she could.
It was the first time I thought I might actually be somebody that somebody else might want to be. Even if it was just a skirt.
A skirt is a place to start.
And gradually I became the somebody that I wanted to be.
There’s a postscript to this story. Two years later Diane died in a motorcycle accident. We weren’t close friends, but we liked each other. And she copied me once – at a time when I needed to feel admired. Thank you, Diane.