What Ever Happened to Growing Old Gracefully?

Beauty Aging
When I think of beautiful, I don’t just think of young women in their twenties, or men with washboard abs, although I can appreciate that, too. Beauty doesn’t end at some arbitrary age, but follows people throughout their lives even as they grow older. Thinking of Maggie Smith, Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood, Ian McKellen…they all have a special kind of beauty that only comes with age and life experience.

As I watched the Oscars on Sunday and saw celebrities, like Liza Minnelli (67) and Goldie Hawn (67), it made me sad. Just like Kenny Rogers (75), Joan Rivers (80) and many other people in the spotlight, they have had major surgery in order to look years younger than their actual age. While I respect everyone’s right to make their own decisions, I believe something that can never be recovered has been lost.

Show business is a cut throat world and these stars may not have had the same opportunities without doing everything in their power to look younger. Would Joan Rivers, appearing all of her 80 years, have a successful show reviewing women’s fashion? Probably not.

There is something beautiful about the wrinkles and yes, even age spots, that show the story of our lives. The difficult and joyful times are etched on our faces. I’m certainly not one hundred percent satisfied with my body and some of those lines appearing on my forehead, but they are an honest reflection of who I am and where I’ve been.

I admire all of these people. They have enriched my life, even from a distance. Still, I’m sad that some of the most beautiful people in the world felt the need to remake themselves because they didn’t look good enough. 

As I continue to age, I’m looking forward to seeing actors I can relate to, those that have life’s experiences written all over their faces, just like me.

Tough Love Writing

Writing Block

“You’re scary!”

The instructor was a little taken aback at the comment from one of the young women in the writing class. I knew just what she meant. The discussion came after we spent some time selecting one character from our story and then identifying his or her desires, wants, needs and weaknesses.

I had just finished sharing what I’d written down and I was so far off base. The instructor kept pushing, “More detail, more specific! Why is that important? Why? Why? Why?” It was a very uncomfortable place to be. I didn’t have the answers and wasn’t even clear about the difference between desires, wants and needs.

I debated not attending the second session, because I’d left the first one feeling like I’d jumped into a class too far above my skill level. But, in the end, I decided it was already paid for and I was bound to learn something new.

This week’s class exercise was to write down the point of the story. What is it that you want your main character and your audience to discover at the end? And, what is the climactic event that leads to that discovery?

Several people volunteered to share. Most students were too generic with their responses and so the instructor kept pushing and putting them on the spot. They were uncomfortable, but the results were incredible.

As the instructor got ready to move on, I lifted my hand. He asked me if I wanted to share. Somehow I knew that I would lose something if I didn’t grab the moment.

My responses, as expected, were too broad and muddy.  As the instructor pushed and prodded, I struggled for the answers. My fellow students added their thoughts and my brain hurt as I tried to find the right words. And…as the hot seat sizzled…ZING! There it was…the point of my story in three words.

The tough love has led to places I never would have imagined. This instructor is so powerfully passionate about story telling and his commitment to each one of us, that he pushes us far beyond our own comfort zone. While I’ve always thought I could write a book, after this week’s class, I believe it.

I can’t wait until next week. Hmmm…I wonder what else he teaches? Thank you, Michael!!

Adult Choices

choices
Eeny, Meeny, Minee, Mo!

The most unexpected part of being a grown up is all of the amazing choices that are available and knowing myself well enough to decide what’s important.

Sometimes, it’s the simple things like having breakfast for dinner or taking a nap on a Sunday afternoon. Or the ability to choose the color of paint on my wall. I remodeled my house last year. Making a plan within my budget, selecting the contractors and overseeing completion of the work was far more fun and frustrating than I ever expected. And…I love my kitchen.

There are other options that aren’t available now, or probably never were. I’ll never be President of the United States, but President Obama and his wife, Michelle, will never have my joy of sitting at a table in a sidewalk cafe watching people as they walk by. I’ll never be a famous performer, but I love viewing television shows like The Voice where incredible singers have an opportunity to make their dreams come true. I’ll never be wealthy, but I am richer than I ever expected to be in the areas of my life that count.

There are other options that are wide open like the possibilities of writing a book or traveling the world. I can go back to school and study art, or science or graphic design. After working in my career for thirty years, I can recreate my life and dedicate my time to something completely different. Okay, sometimes there are too many choices, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I love that while I’ve screwed up some things early on, requiring me to declare bankruptcy and having a home foreclosed, I took responsibility for my poor money management and made better choices moving forward. Today, I’ve recovered from those mistakes and own a beautiful house and have great credit.

While I don’t have total control over everything in my life since we live within a society where there are limitations, I have control over my choices. Sometimes I’ve made bad ones, but I’ve also made incredibly good ones.

My favorite thing about being an adult is the ability to write my own script, and through those choices, make a positive impact in my part of the world.

Right now, I’m choosing to put on my tennis shoes and go exercise.

Recovering Slacker

“Hi. My name is Jennifer and I’m a recovering slacker.”

The alarm rang at its usual time this morning. I hit the snooze, not sure how many times I’d done that already. While it was quiet in my bedroom, the internal argument was going on inside my head.

“Start March 1st. It’s just a couple days away.”

“You’ve been putting it off for months. When are you finally going to get started?”

“Next week…”

“Today…”

The final decision? Today.

I was at the gym and on the elliptical trainer by 6 a.m. I’m calling it “Jennifer’s Shock and Awe Campaign”. Just think how awesome I’ll look once my body gets over the shock of exercising on a regular basis.

Exercise

One of my resolutions was to get healthier this year and to lose fifteen pounds. Not only have I not made exercise a priority after the few weeks of this year, but I’ve put on an additional three pounds. I’ve been a slacker.

I leave on my trip to Namibia in less than three months and active clothing stores don’t believe that large women travel, so I’m having a hard time finding cargo pants in my size. The trip includes bush walks, riding quads (ATVs) in the desert and possibly, a balloon ride. I don’t want to be held back by my lack of fitness or slow down my fellow travelers.

So, I did it! The first step is sometimes the hardest and I took 2.56 miles worth of first steps today. Somehow, working out at home doesn’t do it for me and the gym is only a block away. No excuses…time to get moving.

IN OTHER NEWS: It’s International Polar Bear Day and you know how much I love polar bears…

polar bear

Sharing Incredible Moments

Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take,
but by the moments that take your breath away.  

Unknown Author

We were up early and after a quick snack at Little Vumbura, we took a short boat ride and then climbed into our vehicle for an early morning safari. Just a few miles down the road, our guide gestured toward the ground and pointed out lion tracks. My heart began to beat a little faster. I checked my camera once again just to make sure everything was in order.

AfricaChief

A few hours later, we were still looking. We had seen so many incredible things, but none of the elusive cats. Chief, our guide, looked at his watch and suggested it was time to go back to camp for brunch.

AfricaImpala

 “Can we try a little longer, please? We didn’t come here to eat, we came to see wildlife.”

I’m not quite sure who said it, but everyone nodded their agreement. Chief just smiled and kept driving. Around the next curve was a herd of Cape Buffalo, one of them with a fresh wound on its’ hindquarters. We were close. Let me just say, Cape Buffalo are huge and incredibly intimidating. I could have watched them for hours, but we had lions waiting for us.

Cape Buffalo

A few turns later, and there they were. A pride of nine lions sleeping in the road. One of the females lifted her head briefly as we came around the corner, looked at us and went back to sleep. Talk about a moment that took my breath away…they were magnificent and we were within twenty feet of them.  It’s a moment I will never forget.

Lions

That was ten years ago and I still clearly remember the feeling of disbelief and gratitude that I was in Botswana, on a warm African morning, watching lions sleep.

AfricaLion

I have plenty of pictures and I have described that moment to people in my life. It doesn’t matter how detailed I am with my words or how many photos I share, none of them can imagine the magic of that moment. Someday soon, I’m going to take my sisters and my son to Africa. Instead of trying to describe the indescribable, I’ll going to enjoy watching them experience the moment for themselves. It’s something so special that I need to share it with them.

What moment in your life has taken your breath away? If you could, who would you share it with?

What if Apolo Anton Ohno Skated for Russia?

Speed skating start

Apolo Anton Ohno is one of the USA’s beloved speed skaters. He is an eight time medalist and in the last two weeks provided the play by play for NBC’s speed skating broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympics. He’s definitely one of my favorite sports personalities.

How would we feel if Ohno abandoned his citizenship to represent another country in the Olympics? Because, that’s what Viktor Ahn (Ahn Hyun-Soo), former a gold medalist from South Korea, did for the 2014 winter games. Unhappy with how he was treated by his country’s skating federation, Ahn and his father shopped him around and Russia came up with the highest bid.

So now, Victor Ahn has won two gold medals and one bronze medal for Russia. I wonder what we can expect in the future and if other athletes will be selling their skills to the highest bidding country? There are Olympians representing different countries based on their parents’ nationalities, or through citizenship received by marriage to people from other countries, but this is the first time I’m aware of this kind of Olympic free agency.

Ahn is clearly the best in his sport regardless of what country he represents, but I wonder how fans from South Korea, who supported him over the years, feel about his defection? I know if it were Apolo Anton Ohno, I would be cheering for the other guy.

Non Russians Named Victor Are Russia’s Olympic Secret Weapon

South Korean Fury

Defection Row Overshadows Russian Skating Victory

Quilt of Love

quilting
One of my hidden talents is designing and sewing lap sized quilts. They will never win awards or appear on the front page of a magazine. Instead, they keep my family members warm.

Intrigued by beautiful quilts I’d seen in magazines and online, I decided years ago to give it a try. I took a few classes and made some simple quilts. For those of you who aren’t quilters, making seams match and points pointy is important in many quilt designs. Since that’s a real challenge for me, I decided to create my own designs.

The most important quilt I even designed was for my brother-in-law, John, after he was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer. He asked me to make him a quilt and it needed to be a large one since he was 6’9″ tall. John was very patriotic so I decided on a stars and stripes design in red, white and blue.

I purchased many fabrics in all shades of red, white and blue and roughly pieced it on a freezer paper pattern. There were a lot of curves and hundreds of pieces. Time was of the essence so I worked on it every available moment. It wasn’t perfectly even. None of the sides measured the same, but it was beautiful and he loved it. It was on his lap as he attended his son’s wedding in the backyard of his house; it kept him warm as he lay in the hospital bed in the living room; it followed him to hospice and warmed him as he took his last breath; and finally, it was buried with him.

God was in the details. I tried to make a similar quilt several times over the years and I can never get it to work. I believe God helped me through a process I’d never tried before to make a quilt that would show my love for John and would comfort him and my sister throughout the progression of his illness. I’ll never make a more beautiful quilt and I’m okay with that.

There’s something comforting about working with beautiful fabrics and weaving them together in amazing designs. While I haven’t quilted much over the last few years, the stacks of fabric and my sewing machine are waiting when I’m ready to return.

2/22/14 EDIT: I finally found a picture of John’s quilt. It was about 5′ x 7′, the biggest quilt I’ve ever made. 

John's Quilt

Travel Trippin’

travel to Namibia
I’m infected. It began in 2000, when my neighbors pulled out a brochure on the World’s Fair in Hanover, Germany and invited me to go along. I applied for my first passport and packed my bags. It didn’t take long to be bitten by the travel bug and…you know what happens when that occurs. The only way to keep it under control is to feed it. So each year, I’m planning a big trip and several small ones.

The BIG Trip:

The Fed Ex package packed full of all the final details came earlier this week. I completed the remaining forms, made the final payment and mailed everything back to the Africa Adventure Company. My trip to Namibia is PAID IN FULL.

Why Namibia? I knew I wanted to go back to the African continent. I traveled to the southern part of South Africa and the area around the Okavanga Delta in Botswana ten years ago. It was incredible and someday I’ll visit again. But this trip, I want to see other parts of Africa. Namibia offers such diverse environments and a chance to see white rhinos, desert adapted elephants and other fascinating wildlife.

Here’s the sample itinerary:

Great Namibian Journey Group Safari

I’ll be taking about my planning process as the trip gets closer. Check back for updates.

The SISTERS Trip:

Planning for the trip with my sister, Wendy, is ongoing with all of your great suggestions. We are so excited. We have decided to move the trip to September so we miss some of the crowds.

Here are the original options:

  • Find an event we want to attend, like a concert, and make a trip out of it.
  • Several locations in North Carolina, including the outer banks and South Port
  • Hawaii
  • Puerta Vallarta
  • Tahiti or other Caribbean Cruise
  • Alaska Cruise
  • New England road trip, possibly including Maine
  • Guatemala

We’re adding a few new destinations from your comments last week.

  • One of my favorite nieces suggested the area around Eureka Springs, Arkansas
  • Kirstin from KidsAreATrip: Flagstaff or the Sedona area of Arizona or Puerto Rico
  • Carol Cassara: A road trip in southern Florida down through the Keys

I’ve begun preliminary reviews of some of the locations. It may be difficult to stay within our $1,000 budget (not including airfare), but we’re going to give it a shot. Next week, we’ll narrow down our choices a little and then put the numbers and options together.

So that’s how my travel plans are lining up. What’s on your vacation agenda?

Previous posts:

Help Two Sisters Looking for Adventure

Get Your Travel Agent Hat on- Sister’s Vacation Update 

Glimpses of Spring

Glimpse of spring
I’m sure I saw her peek out from behind the bushes. When I turned to look, she hid away again, so I can’t be 100% sure.

I felt her on the breeze and in each breath I took. Could she be playing me false? Is this just a tease or the real thing?

I saw her in the way the trails of water wove their way into the street from the snow piled near the curb. The blades of grass are still holding back hope, remaining brown and yellow.

I feel her in the warmth of the sun on my face. But she’s done this before, pulling me in just to spurn me with the return of frigid air that sends me back into layers of clothing.

I’m not hearing the chirping of the birds yet. Maybe they aren’t fooled into believing it could be true.

So do I trust the birds or my belief that winter is finally pulling back from the painful grip to relinquish its hold?

No decision, really. Today, I’ll be seeking glimpses of spring. I know she’s out there and I’m going to find her.

Writing Journeys

Writing Journey

It’s over.

I finished my first writing class Writing 101 at the Lighthouse in Denver. One of my goals, or resolutions for 2014, was to improve my writing skills. While several of my other resolutions are stalled right now, this one has moved forward.

What did I learn in this four week class?

  • Relax and let it flow– Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling, just write. Exercises with writing prompts and time limits forced me to put something down on the paper. I’d get started and somehow, finishing the first rough section would lead on into other thoughts.
  • There is and should be more than one style-  As our class shared writings, I found they were so different. The same prompt ended up in so many different places…and each one was amazing in its own way.
  • Not every story deserves to be in the light- Some stories, or what I would consider to be my ramblings, will never be shared. I’m still glad I put them down on paper and someday, parts of them may evolve into future stories.
  • Write it by hand- I’m not sure what it was about writing in a journal, but the flow of my writing improved when I got rid of the keypad. Our instructor and the majority of students agreed that it made a big difference.
  • Most importantly, I can do it- As many of you know, I was afraid of taking this class. I needed to overcome my lack of confidence to even show up. Let’s face it, some of my writing sucks, but there are fun glimpses of hope for future success.

So what’s next?

The other students and I are starting a writer’s group. Not everyone is participating, but I’m excited to be challenged by those who are. The first meeting is tomorrow night at a local coffee shop. That’s a logical place for this part of the journey.

I signed up for my second round, Four Week Craft Series: Plotting the Plotted Plot, starting this Thursday. While there are other classes that might have been the next logical step, they didn’t quite fit my schedule. I received an email from the instructor a few days ago letting us know we would be working on one of our stories. I looked back at my writings from the first class and found one that might work. That’s a relief.

A writing challenge:

The writing prompts in class were really helpful to leading me in new directions. So here’s a suggested prompt for those of you interested in giving it a shot. Remember, no perfection allowed.

Look around the room and find a newspaper, magazine or other written material with pictures. Go to page 23, or the next page with photographs. Select one and write a story about it. Don’t think about it. Just set your clock or cell phone timer to seven minutes and write.

Only seven minutes of your time could be the start of something big.

Happy writing!!