The Frost Is on the Pumpkin

“The frost is on the pumpkin” does not always translate to mean something about temperature. To some of us, it means getting a bit “long in the tooth.”

I took a trip to the cosmetic counter simply because I was feeling a bit “frosty” and was in search of beauty and lost youth. I wrote about it, and the response was overwhelming.

Women wrote, called, and took me aside at gatherings. They wanted to talk about how they related to that piece. To sum up what most of them said… “I have been there,” “I have done the same thing,” etc.

I began asking what REALLY scared them about aging, and Snoopy (what I secretly call myself when interviewing) got some surprising and some not-so-surprising answers. I am not mentioning any names. I promised a protection program to all who spoke freely. Most of the people I talked to were worried about more than losing their looks. They were worried about what growing old represented.

Losing your memory or your marbles was high on the list.  Fears about money, loneliness, disease, and loss of sexual interest were just a few of the fears that were mentioned. Many women were terrified of being alone. Some already have trouble booking a lunch or dinner with one of their children and wonder what it might be like not to be needed anymore.

Having children is not an insurance policy; many people with children are often alone in old age. It is those fears that keep us running to the colorist, manicurist, and whomever else can disguise those marching lines called wrinkles. It’s our fears that send us off to have Botox, plastic surgery, and whiter teeth than we were actually born with. But what lies under those worries? I think there is an even deeper anxiety.

We don’t want to give away our secret, the secret that is crouched and hiding, but always ready to spring forward — the secret that aging is the precursor to dying. We all, sooner or later,  become aware that we are on the side of life where the sun is going down.

Death is the great wound of the universe, and the apprehension of death is the source of most of our fears, because we all know that there is no escape from it.

In this country especially, we worship youth, and talk very little about sliding off into the unknown; in fact it is rather taboo. I even hesitated about writing this, thinking some people would find it unsettling.

I remember when I did volunteer work for hospice; people told me that they just couldn’t understand how I could BE with those people when I knew they were going to die. I would say, “Why? I’m with you and you’re going to die.”

Once, I was telling a woman about a mutual friend of ours that was critically ill, and she asked me not to speak of it in front of her husband because he was the same age. Did she really think that not talking about death would make it go away? I am not suggesting that our minds should linger there, but I am suggesting that we deal with those fears, because then the intangibles become more important.

The moment of “now” becomes more exciting to explore. The soul shines through when we are content and unafraid, and that’s the part of us that I believe never dies. Accepting death might be a call to live more fully.

Superficial beauty will fade as surely as the frost will come to rest on the pumpkin. Vitality, wisdom and enthusiasm can keep your face looking young. Find something that ignites passion in your life. It might be a surer way to turn back time than all the aforementioned ones.

My mother left a note for all of us when she died. It simply said, “You kids have made me so happy.” My mom had a very hard life. So, my question is:  How do we live our lives so we can end them on a note like that?

Prayer for an Ordinary Day

I remember so many days in my life when I wished them to be ordinary, simply because they were not. I have committed many of them to memory.

One such day was a Fourth of July. At our community picnic, my son was escorting me down the hill to get a beer. I slid on some ice cubes someone had carelessly thrown on the ground. I careened and took flight. I can’t blame the fall on the beer, I hadn’t had any yet.

Unfortunately, ignoring the pain, I continued to party. The x-rays later showed that my femur bone had split because my ankle was broken. Many months and a total of four casts later, I wished for an ordinary day.

I found myself eating cereal off the floor because my bowl had dropped and the crutches had slid away. I prayed for just ordinary day. I had always taken for granted things like getting up and dressing or going to the bathroom. Don’t we all?

Now I try to I just live with sensitivity and gratefulness… I pray in the morning…just an ordinary day. A normal day! It is a jewel!

In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands into the earth and remembered their ordinary days. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In time of loneliness and separation, people have become tense and taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, and want, people have raised their hands to the skies and stayed alive just for this.

Ordinary day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Or even moment. Let me be grateful to you, for it will not always be so. One day, I may suffer and plead for you because as the Buddha reminds us… “Life is suffering.” May I notice and appreciate your beautiful moments of non-suffering.

Forward into Fun

“Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to us.”

–Leon Trotsky


No matter how old we are in this moment, we are ALL growing older.

When the very first gray hair appears on our head, it is an uncertain juncture in life. We go to the mirror with a sinking feeling of dread and try to pluck out the evidence – one here, two there. But the more we pull out, more seem to come in. The purpose of this blog is not to prevent the inescapable, but to find out how we might achieve agelessness in body, mind, emotions, and spirit as a four-part process.

I tease my friends by asking which of them would like to relive their teen years. It often brings a groan. Youth has a lot to offer, but so does the experience of age.

In India there is a joke:

It’s about a man going to a barber and asking, “Do you have anything for gray hair?” “Yes,” the barber says, “respect.”

Just because we don’t have wrinkles or a gray hair, we are not necessarily alive in the fullest sense of the word. Does that mean we are necessarily young or ageless?

This is the paradox of life: No matter how we cling to youth through our body, sooner or later it begins to let go of you.

But when we do not cling to the body – and beauty — there might be a different result. We see that not just in the lives of many great saints and mystics. We see it also in the neighbor next door, as well as in the famous and the not-so famous.

“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

A Walk Along the River with Shooz

A short time ago I moved from the west side of town to the east side.
I left behind not only a lot of friends but also pieces of nature that were ingrained in my memory throughout many seasons and changes. Images I thought were irreplaceable.

I lived in the Windings, a subdivision that was once an old estate
that had never been farmed. The result manifested itself in ancient trees that the prudent developers left intact as well as nature trails and a delightful little creek that meandered alongside the bike path.

My memories of my children growing up will always remain wrapped
around all of those scenes of nature and the great outdoors. I always
appreciated the gift of living in such a pretty place. My reminiscences are now like pretty hankies saved in a drawer, to be taken out and admired now and then and put back until missed again. So it was with gratitude that I just recently discovered a short cut to the Fox River. I am 1.9 miles away. It was just like looking for my glasses when all along they have just been perched on the edge of my nose. Like looking for my pen when it’s tucked behind my ear. I have new things to marvel at and listen to on my daily walk now. There are different vistas to explore.

Today I walked with my new friend, Shooz. She’s a Virgo and very petite, but despite her short legs she keeps the pace with grim determination, and we mostly communicate telepathically. She also has a very expressive face and one look of pure disdain from her is enough to make you mumble any excuse yourself for your behavior.

Shooz is a black-and-white Shih Tzu that belongs to my pal Mary Carol, who lives right on the Fox. She generously lent me my new companion for the adventure.

The river, like all rivers, tells its story if you are patient enough to pay attention. Shooz had an innate sense of when to listen, and when to stop and when to watch for the gifts from the regal Fox. It will tell you in advance of the weather by the way it is moving. The carp leap in the air this time of year and I have been told they are proclaiming the joy of mating. The fishermen who sit so quietly beside her teach you the value of being still.

Shooz can hear things I can’t so when she slows down I pay attention. Today she stopped and scanned the sky so I followed suit and we both observed a large splendid heron swoop low across the water and land gracefully on the other side. Nearer to the ground there was a nod and a gentle yank and she
confidently moved me quickly on with an I-mean-business demeanor.

When we came to the dam at the bridge on Route 25, we both stood
reverently and listened to the power of the water.

Men in high rubber boots cast their lines contentedly and bikers whooshed by and we both drank in the beauty of the shimmering sun on the water.

A lone rower glided through the
water, his paddles noiselessly slicing through more or less effortlessly.

Shooz made the decision that it was time to turn around now, but I wanted to go on so we had a little contest of wills. I did a little coaxing by flattering her ego with words of praise for her beauty and strength. Like most girls, she is vulnerable to flattery and it worked. We continued on for a long time and on the way back she blamed me for taking her too far, I could tell because she kept rolling in the dirt to pay me back.

When we returned to her owner’s house Shooz immediately collapsed under the kitchen table, turning her cute little self away from me to show her displeasure at my making the walk too long. She’ll forget because it’s impossible for her not to, and I hope we’ll do it again.

It’s a new gift.

Time to Write

Ok… I have invented many reasons NOT to write in my blog. Most of them are self-deprecating. It’s just time.  Besides, since I have gotten laid off from my column, I am having what might be called withdrawal. It’s rather like a kink in my hose of creativity. So whether anyone reads this or not… I will be spewing some sort of residue that I hope contains something worth a glance or two. Meet me here again.


Writer’s Block

My name is Joani and this is my first blog.

I have written hundreds of columns, essays, magazine articles, and am no stranger to writer’s block.

But for some reason, I have been afraid of my very own blog and it’s probably because I am technically challenged.

Thanks to some VERY patient friends, here I am … up and running, sort of.

No more excuses.

I am all in favor of Walt Whitman’s advice, “I loafe at my ease…observing a blade of summer grass.”

I was laid off recently from my weekly column with The Sun-Times Suburban Sun and that’s just what I have been up to… loafing. First of all, I have long ago been vaccinated for this condition (procrastination and loafing).

Having decided  I had the deadly “Writer’s Block” yet again, I employed some of the things that have worked in the past…

I went to my muse, Chloe, and  her advice was to walk by the river but it’s pouring rain.

Next, I began waiting for something like spontaneous combustion to happen so I would know what to write about.  It’s worked in the past.

Well, it didn’t happen, so while having coffee with my next door neighbor this morning, she said, “Write about being blocked.”

My best friend Dena has suggested Crazy Glue on my chair.

They were both right. Writers try too hard sometimes, that’s when we run into problems.  Often, I will simply begin telling a story. Have you ever heard of anyone getting stuck in the middle of a story when they are telling it?

So these are a few of the things I do when I feel blocked…

I stick my butt to my chair, and thoughts usually begin to restring themselves and then sort of hang together until an idea is revealed.

Another approach comes from daydreaming about a word or a phrase that has sparked the original idea.  Sometimes I see only a little piece of the elephant and have to go away for awhile and when returning… the elephant begins to show itself, miraculously creating a title, a beginning and now, “The End.”

All of my experiences are and have been “Grist for the Mill” in my writing life.

True Beauty Doesn’t Come From a Brush

I needed makeup. I had scraped the container until every last remnant was used up. Going though my drawer yielded some really old stuff that I must have used when I was a woman of color. I can’t remember that time, but it clearly had been used. Then there was my old clown makeup and some dried-up pancake bits and pieces from an ancient past. I don’t remember being orange either.
There is a lady that wrote a book and the title is “Don’t Go to the
Cosmetics Counter Without Me.” Where is she now? I looked her up on the Internet and she wrote a book, but it’s 720 pages long. I just don’t have the time for that kind of research. The reason for my panic is that if the past is any indication of the present, a trip to buy makeup generally results in a major deficit in my checking account. I MEAN a major deficit.
Now, I have tried the Walgreen’s brands that you examine through plastic to get the shade that matches your skin. The problem being, when it’s unwrapped, the color is very different. It is suitable for the bride of Frankenstein.
One time, peering in the mirror after choosing my own colors, I realized I had achieved the gothic look that a lot of teenagers sport. All I needed was to dye my hair black and hang a few chains around my already black-makes-you-thinner clothes.
No, I needed help, so off I went with my friend Dena to the M-A-Cosmetics store in Oak Brook. All of the salesgirls are dressed alike and have tool belts on. They look like carpenters in black only there are no hammers on their belts. Their tools are brushes, all shapes and sizes.
I guarantee each brush costs $30 or more and you need each one, really need each one for all the different parts of your face. You see, fingers are simply and unequivocally out. Brushes are in. The girls were all young and beautiful and perfect for selling the fantasy and illusion Dena and I were looking for.
My friend and I fell under the spell of it all immediately and began to play with all the jars and tubes and tints. We were looking for our lost youth. We are both on the downward slope on the mountain of life. We thought we might find a miracle in a jar and avoid the painful surgery that a lot of woman our age choose.
Enter Georgie with her peaches and cream complexion and eyelashes that I could certainly have by purchasing THEIR mascara. Secretly, we both want what she has. She offers to do a free makeover on me and I succumb to the word, “Free.”
After a through cleansing (you have to start with good skin care, she
explains), there is a special moisturizer for my eyes and one for my face. It seems the skin around my eyes knows the difference, even if I don’t. The peanut oil I have been using will clog my pores. A rough washcloth will not do as an exfoliate.
Georgie is writing all this down so I can know what to buy to achieve the dramatic results. The next step is a silicone base to even out my skin tones. She encourages me to feel my face; Dena feels it too. “It feels like plastic,” she says and steps back to survey me critically.
“We are only setting the stage,” the salesgirl says. Next is the foundation, which is applied with a special brush. We all agreed I looked too white, but not plastic anymore. I needed some blush. Applied with a blush brush of course. Next is a special base for my eyelids and again I am layered; you see it is all about layers. Georgie continued to rave about my beautiful eye color and how to enhance it further with two different shades of shadow and liner. (More brushes.)
One hour and a half later, Dena, Georgie and I were standing outside with a mirror admiring the results in the harsh light of day. Dena said jokingly that she almost wanted to kiss me, my lips looked so good. I moved back. Next, I was walking out with a nifty little bag holding $200 worth of hope.
We went to a coffee shop afterward and there was an elderly woman
sitting across the room gazing out the window. I think she was in her 80s and there were lines softly etched in her face that was framed by silver hair. While Dena went to get us coffee I studied the beauty reflected from her serene composure. She was stunning. She wore no makeup and looked so content.
I looked down at my little bag and knew that I would never spend the time it took to apply all that stuff and one by one I would eliminate all those steps to gorgeousness as I am mostly too busy in the act of living.
Whatever that woman had, she never got it from a jar or a brush or a
moisturizer and I want what she has.
I recognize true beauty.