“We both really need to get out of the house more,” my sister tells me. We are both haunted by the example of our parents, whose worlds became smaller and smaller as they aged. It’s too bad Linda and I live 350 miles away from each other, because she’s the easiest person to hang out with.
And I finally bit the bullet and found a primary care physician near my house. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for the last four years (since I recovered from my hysterectomy, which means it has been that long since I’ve had a checkup).
I don’t like doctors. My late mother was something of a hypochondriac, and I went the other way. My philosophy is that if you never see a doctor, they’ll never find anything wrong with you.
Of course, that doctrine is dumb when you get to be my age. So I made an appointment and managed not to cancel it.
The Dreaded Scale and Other Medical Indignities
Prior to arriving at the clinic, I filled out a whole bunch of questionnaires. There was a freeform space where I could tell them anything I wanted. I told them I did not want to be lectured about my weight, that I’m aware it’s unhealthy, and I’m trying to get it under control.
Doctors never read that stuff.
The first thing that always happens at a medical office is they make you get on a scale. Some office staff are understanding when I tell them I DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE NUMBER (it’s always worse than my scale at home because at home I weigh myself first thing in the morning, before I’ve eaten. And at the doctor’s office, I’m wearing clothes -which we all know puts on an extra five pounds).
The second thing they do is take your blood pressure. Mine isn’t all that bad, but it could be better. I tell them it will improve after I lose the weight I don’t want to talk about.
I liked the doctor. She’s about my age and easy to talk to – even though she ignored what I wrote on the form and proceeded to point out my less-than-wonderful BMI.
“You should try Weight Watchers,” she says.
I’m on Weight Watchers, I tell her. I’ve been doing the digital WW program for three years. I initially lost 30 pounds, but then strayed from the program. I keep trying to get back on track, but my heart isn’t in it. Plus, it’s just impossible after Thanksgiving…
“You should go to meetings,” she says. It turns out, she’s a Lifetime member. “You’ll be more successful. If you find the right meeting.”
I’ve done the meetings before. My first time on the program, I was 18 and 130 pounds (which is my goal weight now) and my mom (who was a size 0) convinced me to try it. That was my first experience with weighing every little thing I ate and writing it all down, and I hated it.
But I especially hated sitting through the meetings: getting weighed in, listening to the leader give the weekly lecture, and trying to get us all to connect with one another. I was 18 years old. I didn’t want to connect with all those middle-aged fat women.
And Weight Watchers was slooow. It took me months to lose just five pounds. I eventually quit and lost weight on my own. And for the most part, I kept it under control for my 20’s and into my 30’s.
Middle Age Blues
And then came the inevitable metabolic slowdown, which wasn’t helped by having a baby one month before my 40th birthday. I’ve been yo-yo’ing every since. And so when I re-joined Weight Watchers, I actually was one of those middle-aged women. And I still hated it.
“We’re not joiners,” Linda reminded me. She’s right. I don’t know if that’s just our nature or the way we were raised, but our parents didn’t belong to any organizations, and I’ve never been comfortable with them, either.
And yet: The digital-only WW plan has not been working for me for a long time now, and it’s kind of crazy to keep trying something with no results. Also, it would be nice to be able to tell that doctor I gave it a try (even if I still get no results).
The marketing department at WW seemed to be reading my mind. Last week, they sent an email touting holiday “open houses,” where you could come in and just see how the meetings work these days. So on Monday, I drove out to one of these and gave it a try.
You still have to weigh in. You still have to listen to a leader give a lecture. You still have to track everything you eat, but there’s an app for that now (which I already had on my phone) and there’s a lot less weighing.
And you’re still encouraged to connect with the rest of the group, but now I feel like I have something in common with them. And it’s kind of nice to be among people who understand that the struggle is real.
Especially in December. If I can make it through the next three weeks without gaining weight, I’ll feel like it’s a success.
*Disclosure: Link to the Weight Watchers program is a referral link. If someone clicks on it and signs up for the program and sticks with it, I will get a free month tacked on to my program.
Plus 2 Cases of Wine, 1 Case Champagne and 2 Large Bottles of Bourbon
Quite a few years ago, I was at a women’s Jewish event, where we were asked one-by-one to share our favorite holiday. My answer was Thanksgiving. I was the only person to proclaim a non-Jewish holiday. I felt half-rebel, half-outcast.
Thanksgiving has been “my” holiday for years. Stress is minimal because there isn’t any real expectation attached to this holiday except to eat and drink. And I’m really good at eating and drinking.
The guests around the table vary from year to year, with some coming just for dessert or just appetizers. It’s fun to have an excuse to entertain for three solid days, even if it does cost us the equivalent of a small vacation, as we host a houseful of out-of-towners.
Of course, as the years have gone by, the menu has had to change to reflect everyone’s evolving dietary needs: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, diabetic or just plain healthier. I miss the corn dish made with cream and bacon. And the sweet potatoes-yam dish made with (never) too much butter.
I used to scour through the Bon Appetite magazines that my mother gifted me. Most have been tossed, but I kept the Thanksgiving editions because they are sentimental to me. And I hate to admit it, but the reason I’m not using their recipes any more is not my guests’ health requirements – it’s because I’m less ambitious. I want to spend less of my time with cooking and busywork, and more enjoying time with my guests. This year we have a couple of new people who are bringing their personal Thanksgiving favorites, which makes my life even easier.
While I toyed with the idea of listing the whole menu with links to recipes, I realized the only thing I really need to share is the tradition we now do before dinner. Everything else is probably similar to every other household. But, I think the pre-dinner activity is what sets us apart. In a good way.
The Before Dinner Drink:
We’ve been enjoying this yummy cocktail for a few years and if you haven’t tried it before, I urge you to run to your local Costco and buy a large bottle of Maker’s Mark, or whatever bourbon you like. And even if you aren’t a bourbon person, trust me. Santa’s Little Helper is great. I learned the hard way not to have one until dinner is ready to be served. Not exactly a light aperitif, but oh well. Thanks to Donna’s good friend, Marsha, for introducing us to it. Here’s the recipe, found on many websites:
Pour the big bottle of bourbon you just bought at Costco into a pitcher, throw in some cranberries, a couple of cinnamon sticks and a handful of whole cloves. Cover it and let it sit 24 hours. When ready to make drinks, pour over ice 3 parts of your delicious infused bourbon, 1 part triple sec, and top the glass with some 7-up. Dig up some cranberries from the pitcher to add as a garnish.
There are two other drinks I only have once a year. Eggnog, which I also wait for Thanksgiving Day to enjoy, and a holiday flavor drink from Starbucks on December 24th.
There was a time when Sunday night dinner for my husband and me could consist of bread, wine, and a selection of lovely cheeses. We had our favorites: brie, Humboldt Fog, an imported cheddar called Red Dragon, and maybe a fruited Wensleydale (this was around the time we were watching a lot of Wallace and Gromit with our toddler, so our choices may have been influenced a little bit).
It was an easy, casual meal that we both used to enjoy. And it’s one of those things I don’t do any more, which is a shame – because I like cheese.
I really, really, really like it.
The Problem with Cheese
I was reminded of this the other day, as I passed the cheese selection at a local supermarket known for such things. I no longer have to deal with a youngster who would hold her breath and complain about the smell of the stinkiest cheeses (she’s grown and flown). But these days, I’m more interested in finding foods rated 0 points on Weight Watchers.
I glanced wistfully at a beautifully prepared cheese plate that was the perfect size for an empty-nest couple: A small wedge of Brie, a log of goat cheese, six slices each of Manchego and something that could be a white cheddar. Plus a couple of sprigs of red grapes and handful of assorted dried fruit. A pound in all, which I concluded was WW eleventy-million points.
It actually adds up to about 30 points, which is 7 points more than my allotment for the entire day. And that’s before you add in the crusty bread (2 points per slice) or crackers (2 points for four of them). Or wine (4 points for a 5-oz glass), because why would I have all that cheese without a nice glass of Cabernet?
I wanted that cheese plate. I wanted it bad. And since I’m really good at finding ways to justify getting the things I want, I did a little research on the health benefits of cheese. And you know what? I found some!
Nutritional Makeup of Cheese
My mistake as a cheese lover is that after years of trying different forms of low-carb regimens, I circled back WW, which is the grandma of balanced diet plans. If I had chosen a ketogenic diet, I’d be able to eat a lot more cheese (but not the crusty French bread and probably not the wine).
Cheese is OK on a low-carb diet because it carries a power pack of protein: there’s a whopping 6.5 grams per ounce of cheddar – and hard cheeses like Parmesan contain even more protein, and even probiotic benefits.
Goat and sheep cheeses are higher in protein, lower in calories, and more tolerated by people who are sensitive to dairy products (so right there is my justification for eating a little more of that Humboldt Fog and Manchego).
Alas, if your diet is a more traditional, calorie-focused regime, you’ll note that ounce of cheddar translates to 115 calories. And 85 of those are saturated fat.
Here’s where the discussion of healthy foods gets dicey. For years, we have believed that consuming foods low in saturated fat translated into better weight management and cardiovascular health.
Advocate Trinity Hospital dietitian Dotty Berzy definitely subscribes to this theory. “If you like cheese, feta, mozzarella and Swiss are the most heart healthy,’’ she says.
Is necessary to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves.
It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.
“For long-term health, some fats are better than others. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad ones include industrial-made trans fats. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle,” they say.
Generally speaking, the good mono- and polyunsaturated fats come from food sources (think avocados, and olive oils). Animal products like cheese contain saturated fats.
” A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol, and tip the balance toward more harmful LDL cholesterol, which prompts blockages to form in arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body. For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day,” says Harvard Medical.
Other studies indicate that eating some cheeses can positively affect the gut bacteria in your microbiome, introducing beneficial compounds like butyrate and spermidine (which hve both metabolism-boosting and anti-cancer effects).
That doesn’t mean I’ll be buying that cheese platter to enjoy on a weekly basis. But the next time my sister wonders if she should serve one at a holiday gathering (hint, hint!), I’ll tell her to go ahead – without guilt.
I used to have a little trick for lifting my spirits. No matter how I was feeling – whether I was going through a break-up, or a bad patch at work, or depressed over my losing battle with my weight – I knew that I could check in with a hairdresser, experience a little pampering, and walk out feeling somewhat beautiful.
And because I was blessed my mother’s olive complexion, I appeared younger than my years for a very long time.
There’s Nothing Graceful About It
Today, I look in the mirror and I see my mother’s face – and she passed away four years ago. I know I always vowed to grow old gracefully, but now that I’m in my 60s, I realize there’s nothing graceful about it.
I don’t just look older – I look OLD. A little while ago, I noticed a new sharpness to my cheekbones and thought it indicated that my latest weight loss regimen was working. But when I looked more carefully, I saw something more skeletal there and realized it had nothing to do with diet. I’m losing the fat in my cheeks due to age.
I’ve always fought dark circles under my eyes, but now they’re compounded with bags that will not go away. There’s just no amount of makeup that will conceal those black half-moons on either side of my face. And don’t get me started on the little lines that have become crevices on the sides of my mouth.
The thing is, I expected all of that stuff. The part that has really hurt has been hair loss that began in my 30s and is now progressed to the point of near-baldness at the hairline. It’s the reason I have worn bangs for the last 25 years (even though I HATE bangs). They’re my version of a combover. And the current bane of my existence.
I just got back from the hairdresser, where I dropped a pretty nice sum of money for color and a cut. I was in the mood for something a little different, so I went kind of red today, and I’m happy with the color.
I’m actually pretty easy about these things, but the one thing I don’t want to see is bald skin peeking out at the top of my head. I explain that. I explain it a lot. I let my hairdressers know that I don’t care if the resulting look isn’t fashionable. The only thing I really care about is creating the illusion of a full head of hair. And yet — I don’t think most hairdressers actually believe me.
The Inevitable Upsell
First, they try to sell me shampoos that promise to thicken the hair. Sometimes the sales pitch works. Always, the product proves disappointing.
Since these formulas really only add texture and don’t re-grow hair, they’re a waste of my money. So then I am asked if I’ve tried minoxidil. That was the first thing I tried to do when the hair loss began decades ago. It didn’t work.
I even once had a hairdresser suggest I get Topik — you know, the spray-on fibers they sell on cheesy TV ads at 3 AM,. I think the resulting eyeroll has prevented him from ever making that suggestion again.
Few hairdressers give me the bangs I ask for. Instead, of the thick little fringe of my dreams, I get left thin, spiky little strands that barely cover my forehead, and it doesn’t work. And maybe I’ve just gotten to the point of no return, where I need to invest in a nice wig or at least, a lot of cute scarves and hats (which sounds like it would be just ducky to wear during a hot San Fernando Valley summer).
That’s what today’s hairdresser gave me this afternoon and I made him re-cut the bangs. I wasn’t super happy with the result, but they looked better and I was tired. But by the time I got home and the effect of the blow dry had worn off, the fringe still looked… thin.
So I took the scissors into my own hands, combed more hair in front of my eyes and cut some additional bangs myself.
They’re not all that even. But at least, they cover my bald spot. And I (weirdly) realized that I now have something in common with Donald Trump, who surely wears his hair that way in defiance of his hairdresser.
Last year, Linda and I hatched a vague plan to celebrate her birthday in Italy. And then we forgot – until I received this email:
Subject: LAX or SFO to Rome: $200-$300 Round Trip
I forwarded the email to Linda. Five minutes later, she called.
“Is this for real?” she asked.
I’d been receiving the Scott’s Cheap Flights daily newsletter for over a year, – but never had the guts to actually book one of their deals.
“I think we have to do this,” she said.
To Book or Not to Book?
I had to admit: A round trip flight from the West Coast to anywhere in Europe for under $1000 is really hard to find. Scott’s regularly features flights in the $500-$600 range. $300 sounded unreal.
“Is there a catch?” Linda asked.
There was no catch.
“Is it a legitimate airline?” The deal was offered on Lufthansa – but the actual flight would be on their partner airline, Swiss Air, which Conde Nast readers named one of their favorite airlines last year. So yeah – it seemed legit.
We looked at the fine print: Other than a short layover in Zurich, everything seemed kosher. And there was no nonsense about paying more to bring some luggage: both a checked bag and carry-on were included.
And did I mention that the price was under $300?
The deals on Scott’s sometimes disappear within hours, so we had to decide quickly.
We booked our tickets that night. Mine came in at $287 from LAX, and Linda’s was $289 from SFO. A friend of hers also jumped on it.
The one thing I did not think when I woke up that morning was, “I think I’ll buy a ticket to Italy.” Sometimes, life surprises you.
It Was All a Mistake – And That’s a Good Thing
The folks at Scott’s told me that what we got was a mistake fare: “when an airline or online travel agency (OTA) sells a ticket for significantly less than they intended.” If you book one, they recommend you give it a week before you spend any additional money on your trip – just in case the airline doesn’t honor it.
But Lufthansa was good as gold. Our tickets were issued right away. And that’s when we discovered that most of the cost went to taxes. The actual round trip flight from LAX to Rome was just $36.
So tonight, I’m taking off and meeting my sister tomorrow in Zurich. Then, we’re off to Rome.
In late middle age, I’ve come to a realization: Playdates are not just for children.
From the day my daughter was born, I lived my life according to her needs: Up by 7:00, race to daycare/school, get a few hours of work in or grab a coffee with the other moms, back for pick-up in the afternoon, then on to after school activities/shopping/meal prep. Day after day after day.
It was predictable. And comfortable. And it all changed four years ago: She went off to college – and I lost my moorings.
This is not one of those posts where I’m complaining about my suddenly empty nest. I’m proud of the fact that I raised a young adult who is taking care of herself, and we’ve found a nice balance. My husband and I find plenty to do together on weekends. We’re all good.
But I have had to figure out some new personal weekday rhythms.
With no reason to get up early, I often sleep in. Since I work at home, I don’t need to leave the house — so there are weeks when I go Monday through Friday without stepping outside to do more than get the mail or take out the trash. I have been known to do my grocery shopping online… because I can. If it weren’t for Facebook and Twitter and email, there are days when I’d have no interactions with the outside world at all.
By “Playdates” I Mean “Meeting for Coffee.” Or Cocktails.
So I now start each week combing my contacts and reaching out to local friends who might be amenable to meeting me for lunch or coffee or cocktails or dinner IRL.
And it occurs to me that this is a skill I developed 20 years ago, when I was anxious to set up playdates for my only child, so she wouldn’t grow up lonely and anti-social.
Only this time, the playdates are for ME. And they are absolutely necessary.
I’ve talked about this with a few of these friends, who are amused by the playdate analogy.
“But you and your husband are always going out and doing interesting things,” they tell me. They know this because I post the photos to Instagram and Facebook. But those activities take place on the weekend… and besides, we all know that we curate our social media feeds so that we only share the interesting stuff. If I posted what my life is really like, it would look something like this:
I could go on, but you get the picture. The highlight of the day comes at the end, when I realize my cat didn’t leave me any hairballs to clean.
My “playdates” on social media may look like just a picture of a coffee cup or martini glass, but they have given me laughter… connection… and sanity. And so I’m off to schedule a few more.