Clothes Shopping: Fly Solo or No?

As an adolescent I was grateful for my mother’s critical eye in the dressing room. Mom never pulled any punches. Contrary to the obsequious store attendants who burbled that everything, even the dress with the awful horizontal stripes, looked fabulous on me, my mother would shut that down before you could say Villager and Ladybug. Her discerning eye picked up the slightest issue, the most microscopic of bulges, and with a simple “Do you see how that’s gathering?” I knew that garment was toast. mod clothes, 1960s, fashion, women's clothes, mini skirts

As I tried on item after item our eyes would meet in the three-way mirror. No words were necessary. A cheerful smile indicated that something fit nicely and won her seal of approval. A sorrowful shake of the head translated into “It just doesn’t flatter you.”

She was unerringly right, my mom. I went through an awkward stage for, oh, ten years? I wasn’t built like most of the other girls. I matured early and was bigger and taller, with curves. Fitting those curves into fashionable clothes was no easy task.

I seldom challenged her opinions, trusting her fashion instincts way more than mine. And even though our system generally yielded around a 25% purchase rate, I felt confident that the items tucked in our shopping bag were meant to be mine.

I am reminded of this experience more often that not these days as I venture into a dressing room. My ever-evolving boomer body presents a whole new set of challenges. I stare at myself in the mirror, suck in my gut and turn this way and that, looking for the imperfection that will scream “WRONG FOR YOU!” Is it too “form fitting” (Mom’s words for tight), too revealing, too young, too old, too bright? Not black?

I should know by this point, right? But too often I get home, try on the new purchase, and scold myself. “What were you thinking?”

How about you? Do you need a buddy in the dressing room?

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A Heart-to-Heart with 20 Year-Old Me

I am very lucky to be part of a fantastic group of bloggers known as Generation Fabulous, or Gen Fab (Gen Flab if we’re having a fat day). We “women of a certain age” are holding a Blog Hop this week. I guess you could call it a virtual kaffee klatsch. We are blogging about what we would say to our 20 year-old selves.

MidAge Helene: Hey there young one! Great to see you.

Young Helene: Ohhhh. Hey. Um, really? That’s what I’m going to look like in my 50s? (frowns)

MAH: Don’t do that. You’ll get wrinkles.

YH: Wrinkles, and what else? Cellulite? I’m so fat already. My thighs are flabby. I hate my nose. I am ugly.

MAH: (sighs audibly) You look beautiful to me.

YH: You’re just saying that because … because … (shrugs)

MAH: Because I look at you and see a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, riddled with self-doubt but full of promise, overly critical of herself with low self-esteem, but with a big heart. You don’t know yet that true beauty isn’t that celebrity you idolize …

YH: Like Cheryl Tiegs. Or Christie Brinkley.  If only I were super thin and had lustrous thick straight hair and perfect skin.

MAH: In a few years you’ll learn the term “air-brushed” and start to realize that appearances can be deceiving.

YH: I wish, I wish, I wish …

MAH: Be happy with what you have. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. Be proud of your strengths and don’t dwell on the imperfections. You’re a little confused, but everything’s going to be OK.

YH: And what about love, and marriage, and kids … will I ever find Mr. Right?

MAH: The guy you’re with right now is a schmuck. We both know that, don’t we? But this too shall pass. You will have your happily ever after, I promise, and share it all over Facebook.

YH: Face what?

MAH: Never mind. Listen to me. In about a year a singer named Eric Anderson will come out with a song, Be True to You. You will play that song ad infinitum on your record player, along with every melancholy tune ever sung by Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian and Laura Nyro. Here are a few lines:

All I ask is be yourself, free yourself
Love yourself when no one else will do.
You be true to you.

YH: And that means what, exactly?

MAH: Be the best “you” you can be. Don’t worry about measuring up to anyone else. Believe in yourself. Because I really, really do believe in you.

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The Day After Sandy

Sandy. What comes to mind? That mellow summer song by the Jersey boy himself, Bruce Springsteen?

Not now.

We got walloped by Hurricane Sandy, or Frankenstorm, as she will always be known.

Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve got downed trees and power lines everywhere, and my home has been without power for over 36 hours. We’re looking at a possible week to get it back. It’s not fun living in a cold, dark house with no food, but we’re among the lucky ones whose homes are intact.

I’ve written often about the Jersey shore community that has been our home away from home for many years and is so dear to me and my family. Here in the Philly area, you go “down the shore” in the summer, and that’s just what you do, whether it’s for a day or a week or the whole summer. The Jersey shore is our mecca. Our heart.

It gives me chills to think about the last weekend we were there. It was so hard to say the final goodbye; I wrote about it here. Did I have some kind of weird premonition that this would be the last time?

Although we won’t be able to see the damage first-hand for about a week, the photos of Long Beach Island on the news pretty much tell the story.

Please keep my island and the people who live there in your thoughts and prayers. I took these photos last summer of my beautiful Long Beach Island.

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Howdy, Stranger!

Excuse me, but have we met?

We have? You’re … who? Oh, right, of course!

WHAT I SAY: How’ve ya been?

WHAT I MEAN: I have no idea who the hell you are.

Unbeknownst to me for most of my life, there is a name for a disorder I have. Full disclosure: I am self-diagnosing, but I’m certain I’m right.

Have you ever heard of Prosopagnosia, or face blindness? People with true face blindness can’t distinguish one face from another. They often don’t recognize family members. Believe it or not, they don’t even recognize their own face in the mirror. I first saw this story on 60 Minutes and it sure struck a chord.

My case is not as severe. I know my family and friends. I’m also pretty good at recognizing famous people.

It’s the rest of the world I have trouble with.

I can trace the first incidence of my face blindness to when I was about eight years old. We had a big snowfall over the weekend and my brother and I had a grand old time making snowmen and building tunnels. And helping our dad shovel.

My dad finished shoveling and went inside. My brother, teeth chattering from the falling temps, followed him. But I wasn’t quite ready to stop playing.

The sun was casting pale shadows on the snow that Sunday afternoon. It was almost dusk, with the hush of new fallen snow and the muted sounds of neighborhood kids sledding nearby.  So I didn’t notice a car slowly making its way down the street toward our house, snow chains clanking softly. When the driver rolled down the window and called to me, I was startled.

“Is your mother home?” he asked. “I wanted to stop in and say hello.”

My heart beat fast. I squinted at the driver, at the car. No clue who it was.

“Don’t you remember me?” he said.

Should I run? I didn’t want to look scared, so I oh so nonchalantly turned away and slunk in the back door.

The story isn’t as nefarious as it may appear. You see, the driver was a friend of my parents. Someone I’d met before. A person that should have looked familiar. But didn’t.

Several days later, I heard my mother talking on the phone and had an inkling the conversation was about me. “Why didn’t you tell me Mr. So-and-So stopped by,” she asked after hanging up. I was terribly embarrassed but had no answer.

I have experienced countless similar episodes all my life.

Recently, I was attending a conference out of town and checked into the hotel. I got into the elevator with one other person, and as the door closed she said, “Hi Helene!”

Gulp. I looked at her and obviously my flicker of nonrecognition was unmistakable. I hesitated. She raised her eyebrows and I felt a trickle of sweat inch down my neck.

“I’m Cathy,” she told me.

Well of course the name was familiar and I recalled meeting her several months before. But I had no memory of her face. Nor could I describe her to you now.

I’m not sure how many engagements it takes for me to finally learn a face. Even with some of my co-workers, if I saw them out of context, or not wearing glasses as they normally do, I sometimes falter.

So now you know. If I don’t recognize you, it’s not because I am inherently cold or snobby or uncaring. I just need a gentle reminder. Or several.

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Hello, Gorgeous

 

 

Oh Barbra. Barbra Joan Streisand. How many years have I admired and adored you? Last night my dreams came true when I was among the 12,000 worshipful fans to see you perform in your Back to Brooklyn concert tour that opened in Philadelphia. That was me in Section 212, Row 11, the one with clasped hands and glistening eyes mouthing the lyrics. You didn’t notice? Maybe because we all looked that way?

Not that we were all the same. There were gray heads and color-treated heads, 20-somethings in stiletto boots and couples arm-in-arm. You had us wrapped around your famously long-fingernailed finger.

Starting with the photo montage that opened the show: photos of you as a little girl in Brooklyn, a teenager at Erasmus High, a young singer on the Ed Sullivan Show and then a Broadway star. You charmed us with your stories about Brooklyn, and noted similarities to South Philly (“You have cheese steaks; we have cheese blintzes”). I can assure you that Brooklyn was never applauded so loudly ever before in Philadelphia.

Barbra, I must confess, I was a little worried about you. Your performance anxiety has been well documented. But last night you sat down and chatted with us like we were having a cup of coffee in your kitchen. You kibbitzed with the reporter in the front row. “You’re writing? You’re reviewing me? Oy.” Someone asked, “What do you think of Mitt Romney wanting to fire Big Bird?” “I wasn’t going to get political,” you sighed. “But I hope he doesn’t find his way to Sesame Street. Or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” The audience roared.

You were funny, relaxed, warm and genuine. And sentimental. “I may have left Brooklyn, but Brooklyn has really never left me,” you said.

And that precious finely tuned musical instrument, that voice of yours, still electrifies and brings chills.

For three hours you mesmerized us with some of your classics, “Don’t Rain on my Parade,” “Evergreen,” “The Way we Were,” “People,” “What Will I Do?” and more. We met your son, Jason, who came out on stage and very creditably performed “How Deep is the Ocean” with you. His first time performing, you told us, beaming.

You sang from “Gypsy” and “Sunset Boulevard” and performed an homage to Marvin Hamlisch and Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Trumpeter Chris Botti and Italian group Il Volo added extra umph to the dazzling music performed by your 60-piece orchestra.

We could have stayed all night, Barbra. But I know last night will stay with me, always.

 

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Chai Tech: Social Media and the Shul

Torah scrollI opened my prayerbook yesterday on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, with the pale morning sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows and the white-robed rabbi and cantor solemnly approaching the bima.

The cantor sang the opening hymn and the rabbi stood ready to begin the Yom Kippur service.

“Good Yontov (Happy New Year),” he welcomed us congregants. “Please turn to page 285. But before we begin, let me call your attention to the iPad next to me.” He gestured to his right.

“I’d like to welcome Blah Blah who is spending a semester in Chile and joining us via Skype for our service this morning. Hi Blah Blah, and Happy New Year.”

Huh. Pretttyyy cool. I instantly recalled an article I read about a Rosh Hashanah service in Florida just 10 days earlier, during which the rabbi encouraged her young congregants to feel free to text. Pray, write, text, the rabbi had told them. You can read about that service here.

But back to me. After delivering the sermon, our rabbi mentioned that the information could be found on his podcast page. Cool thing number two.

As a tech and social media enthusiast, I am gratified to see this trend. I do believe there is a place for social media in many facets of modern life, including religious venues. And although yesterday I would not have felt comfortable pulling out my brand new iPhone5 (which, by the way, was practically burning a hole in my purse), I foresee a day when conversations taking place on the back channel (Twitter chatter that happens while someone is at the front of the room presenting) will be accepted as a valuable complement to the conversation. Far from being disrespectful, it can add another dimension to the experience, and instead of a speaker talking at the audience, he or she can facilitate a discussion in which many voices can be heard.

Social media not only connects us and makes our world smaller, it also provides unique opportunities for learning and growth. Perhaps someday we will no longer be told to “please silence your cellphones.”

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Two Lost Keys and Goodbye to Summer

Procrastination and denial are the culprits. This is a post that can wait no longer, with the official debut of the fall season tomorrow. Yes, it’s time to say goodbye to summer.

Sigh.

Our summer weekends are pretty damn wonderful. My family has a beach house on the New Jersey coast, “down the shore,” as the vernacular goes. Just two hours away is our beloved getaway. My husband and I, and assorted other relatives, relish our summer weekends of pure relaxation.

This is not a razzle dazzle beach community. No boardwalk, no shopping district, few good restaurants. That, along with my no makeup/no hair care policy makes for a quiet weekend of eating, drinking, spending quality time with family and best of all, getting engrossed in a good book for hours.

Duncan and I take early morning walks on the beach. The sunrises are extraordinary.

He zonks out after our walks …

and I move on to the next item on the agenda.

And that is pretty much the extent of it.

Reluctant to bid a final adieu, we lucked out when Mother Nature graced us with glorious September weekends that extended the summer just a bit. Which brings me to the lost keys.

Our plans last weekend were to spend the day in NYC and head down the shore at the end of the day. Daughter Laurie and her friend would be spending the weekend with us but wanted to leave earlier in the day. Could we give her the key, she asked.

We did. We went off to do our thing in the city. The key? She lost it. She lost it.

I almost lost it.

How do you lose something that you’ve had for no more than 15 minutes and fail to recover it? She and her friend looked everywhere, ransacked the apartment, to no avail.

Fortunately, another key existed, hidden in a safe spot at the beach house. No, I won’t tell you where. Laurie and friend were able to get in the house, and we joined them a few hours later.

The weekend was lovely, and we hated packing up on Sunday, but it was time to go. On the way home we stopped at Wegmans for some groceries. We got back to the car and I waited for Pete to unlock the door. And waited.

“Where’s the key?” he asked me.

“I don’t have it. I gave it to you.”

He emptied every pocket. Nothing. He retraced his steps, but no key. How does somebody lose a key between the grocery store and the car? Do you see a pattern here?

“Maybe someone turned it in,” Laurie offered.

And indeed someone had. Relieved, we got back in the car and headed home as night began to fall.

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Remembering the Sky

In the end, it is the sky that day that haunts me. A sky so purely, brilliantly, heartbreakingly blue. Cloudless. Endless.

I have a tendency to gaze at the sky, finding such beauty in this marvel of nature. Driving to work that day, I remember the intense blueness. And then, driving home mid-morning in a surreal reverse traffic jam, blinked at the brightness, the sun climbing higher, my panic rising as I drove to my children’s school.

My husband and I arrived home at the same time. We had left on a bad note that morning. A silly argument, who knows what it was. Now we gripped each other. Held tight.

We turned on the television, not believing our eyes. In that brilliant sky, flames, smoke, terror. Crumbling buildings. It was hours until we heard, thank God, that family members who worked at the Towers were safe.

Today, and every September 11, I will remember. The innocent lives that were lost. Children who were now parentless. Our lives changing forever.

And that impossibly blue sky.

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The Woman in the Mirror: a Personal Reflection

I remember sitting in a college French class absently twirling a string of my hair and half listening to the professor talk about idiomatic expressions. Until one in particular caught my attention.

Etre bien dans sa peau

The literal translation is “to feel well in one’s own skin.” It means to feel good about yourself. But typically the expression is used in the negative — ne pas etre bien dans sa peau — and relates to anxiety or dissatisfaction with yourself. As in “I’m too fat, too thin, not pretty enough, not smart enough …” Wow, I thought.

Je ne suis pas bien dans ma peau. 

Mon dieu. C’est moi.

Yes, that was, and is, me.

Since as far back as I can remember, I have had … issues. Like looking in the mirror and grimacing at my image.

I blame my internal critic who is on call 24/7, providing continuous commentary of the negative sort.

She gives me a head-to-toe appraisal, her eyes flickering over the most egregious of body parts, and shakes her head sadly. Clears her throat. And with a sigh, begins to tick off the litany of flaws present in my body.

I listen. I agree. Even though, by probably anyone else’s standards, I look just fine.

Like the late Nora Ephron, whose book “I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman” resonated with many of us dames d’un certain age, I fret about wrinkles, cellulite, hair loss and all the rest of it. That is to be expected, I suppose.

But that doesn’t account for why I felt this way as a teenager. Any probably even younger. I wasn’t obsessed with my body image. But I sure wasn’t happy about it.

The insecurities start at a very young age, especially with girls. Where does it come from? My mother didn’t instil these feelings — I did. Why? Is it societal norms, the overwhelming pressure to be thin, be beautiful, be perfect, thereby finding eternal happiness?

As I begin my latest diet to get rid of the 10 pounds that have crept up on me, I think of the alternative, being content absorbing the extra 10 pounds. Being happy in my own skin.

But that’s just not me.

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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned

According to the calendar it is still summer, but for those of us in higher education summer will soon be a faded memory. I work in a marketing and university relations department on a college campus, and the new academic year is just days away. Goodbye summer, hello students!

I won’t deny that I’ll miss the quiet (and clean bathrooms). But I do love the start of the semester, greeting returning students and getting to know the freshmen. The campus practically hums with positive energy and new possibilities.

Part of the fun of my job is having a student intern each semester who assists with writing, website updates, research, list management, etc. Many of our interns have minimal experience but plenty of enthusiasm, so they get a semester’s worth of Journalism 101 in a matter of days. They learn about deadlines. About suddenly having to shift gears when necessary. How to write in AP style, conduct an interview, take photos.

What do they get out of it? In addition to receiving college credit, they acquire new skills (and beef up their resumes) and get a byline in our publications. That’s great to have in a portfolio.

We benefit from this experience as well. In fact, lessons learned from our students have been invaluable to me, both professionally and personally. Here are just a few reasons why I admire them so much.

They are expert multi-taskers.

Most of our students carry a full course load but have outside obligations that require a good amount of their time. Some hold full-time jobs. Others are responsible for the care of family members. Yet these are often the students who consistently make Dean’s List and hold leadership positions on campus. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m pretty sure they don’t get much sleep.

All it takes is a little creativity.

Who wants the same old same old? Not us! We’re open with them about our expectations, but from the get go we encourage the proverbial thinking-outside-the-box. Out of these brainstorming sessions have come some really cool ideas, things that we hadn’t thought of before. One of our interns taught himself video production and editing, and made several fantastic videos that we added to our website.

They are self-assured and driven.

I am often awestruck by the composure of our students. They are well-spoken and respectful, but do not hesitate to question the status quo and offer alternate solutions. Many of our students are first generation college students, and very motivated to succeed. The dream of a college degree, and the doors that will open for them, keep them going even when the challenges seem insurmountable.

Take two LOLs and call me in the morning.

They are funny, these Generation Y-ers! Just in the nick of time, when the work is accumulating and the stress level is inching up, they come out with something that tickles our funny bone. Finding the humorous side of things can make the tension dissipate: just what the doctor ordered. We have a laugh and then get on with it.

It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.

It is gratifying that our interns stay in touch. Just when we start to wonder what ever happened to so-and-so, we’ll get an email or an impromptu visit. Occasionally it will be to request a reference, but most often it is just to say hello and catch us up on their careers, their families. A good thing that is, staying in touch.

We feel good knowing they’re out in the world making a difference. And what they’ve left behind has made a difference for us.

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