Making The Good Life

It's not what you have, but how you live.

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SEVEN months later…

(Which is nothing compared to the length of Opus’ nap.)

I really do needIMG_20150711_153455361_HDR to work on showing up more often. I think about it a lot but somehow don’t get around to it. Let’s see, what’s been going on? Last time I was here, it was sorting through boxes in the attic and donating the baby clothes that my now pretty much grown children used to wear. Today, they are both someplace else. My oldest has graduated, gone on his European tour and is moving in a couple of weeks, into his post-college apartment. I guess he’s not coming back, at least not just yet. The youngest is in Utah, working all summer at a great internship – fresh out of freshman year at college. I thought he would be home at least this summer, but it was not to be. He’ll be here for three weeks or so between the end of the internship and the beginning of sophomore year. I guess it’ll have to do. They are doing what makes them happy, which makes me happy, but I still miss them.

The big move is done – my wonderful man moved in back in January, and it seems to have gone well. His daughters are here sometimes, but school, jobs and athletics keeps them pretty busy. We see less of them over the summer, and I can see the same pattern with them as with mine. Growing up, maturing, needing less from us but still not quite ready to let go. They’re such a pleasure to have around! I still have closets that could use a good spring cleaning to say the least and clutter that could be reduced, but we are fitting in pretty well, all in all.

Summer has shown up rather decisively, bringing the heat and humidity that the area is known for this time of year, but aIMG-20150711-WA0001lso the farm fresh produce that I have enjoyed since I was a kid growing up on a farm. It’s as beautiful as it is tasty, and the market is a favorite, if crowded, destination here throughout the growing season. Tomatoes in shades of red, purple, pinkish, yellow, orange, even a green and yellow stripe variety are competing for your attention with purple peppers, ripe orange and red melons, fuzzy peaches the size of baseballs, berries, greens, and corn by the pickup truck full! I made three trips to the car on Saturday, and now just need to find a couple of teenagers to help me eat it. I’m still unconsciously shopping for two boys young men, and Scott will be away more than here this week. I did head over to my son’s apartment on Sunday morning to give him a bag of market bounty, with cooking instructions.

We’re going on vacation in the fall – a really nice one, and I’m pretty excited about it. We prefer independent travel and don’t choose to go on tours. Planning is a large part of the fun for me – I can save money, go to the places we want to see and contrIMG_20150606_150630ol the pace and mode of travel. I love reading about the destinations, thinking about where to go and what to see, with the anticipation building as we go through the process. It’s fun to finally get there and see all of the things I’ve been reading about, taste the foods I’ve been dreaming about, and sit and watch a new part of the world go by. I’m SURE I’ll write more about it, as we work to plan a great trip and not break the bank in the process. We’ve already found nice places to stay through Airbnb, and booked our one high speed train trip in advance. I used the site, which was quick, easy and secure (although for my son’s trip I used Rail Europe and had no problems there either). Our trip is fairly short so we booked second class from Bruges to Paris. It’s quite comfortable and is about $40 each for a relaxing trip, with no concerns about luggage size limits as you find with budget airlines. The framework is in place, now we just need to fill it with fun.

Life Changes Some More

tunnelThe more things change, well, the more they change. Life just refuses to stand still, which I suppose is a good thing. SEVEN months ago or so, I wrote about my younger son’s imminent graduation from high school and an obsession with sugar in my diet.

Well, he graduated, was accepted to the school of his choice a couple of hours from home and moved into the dorm in August. He has had a successful and happy first semester at school. It was an adjustment, given that my older son moved into his own apartment in July for his senior year at his school. Neither one was home a lot aside from the holidays, as they have very busy schedules. Alan is at an art school studying theatrical set design and production. They spend a lot of class time in “crew”, which is building sets. They also spend a lot of evening and weekend time in crew, and loading in at the theatre, and working performances. Joey has his classes, the Glee Club (he’s an officer) and a couple of other clubs that he participates in and helps to run. He also has a part-time job during school for the first time. They are growing up and doing the things that they should do, and handling it well. I’m so very proud of them, and I miss them like mad sometimes!

I also mentioned some time back that I’m seeing a wonderful man who I love very much. Said wonderful man moved in with me over the holidays and we recently welcomed two of his daughters for their first weekend at Paula’s. The girls seem excited and I hope all will go well. We’re in the throes of making “my house” into “our house” and not making anyone feel crowded out in the process. This is uncharted territory for me, as it’s been nearly 12 years since I’ve lived with anyone besides my children.

I’ve had to sort through an attic space (which has been planned for some time) and a closet, as well as the many miscellaneous spaces that people share in a bedroom and house. I found six boxes of baby and toddler things in the attic that I am now washing, sorting and preparing for doshoesnation. They’re in surprisingly good condition considering their age! So at the same time that I’m moving forward in a wonderful way, I’m also immersed in the past. It’s an odd juxtaposition. Nearly grown boys moving on to a degree, and I’m folding the sleepers I used to dress them after their baths, the little overalls they wore and the tiny shoes I buckled onto their feet. It’s making my head spin.

As cliché as it is for this time of year, I need to clean up my diet, get back on the exercise train, and renew the focus on some personal goals that I’ve lost sight of a bit. I lost my mother suddenly in the spring of 2014, and while we were not as close as my dad and I were, it was still upsetting. She was healthy enough to go to the gym and mow the grass the day she died. It makes me want to do everything now, as none of us knows how much later there will be.


As usual I’m behind again, letting over a month pass since my last entry! There’s a lot going on, and in an attempt to have some degree of balance in my life, this was put on the list of things that could wait.

My younger son is graduating from high school soon, and we’ve beDSCF4228en having some final things lately. Final stage production for drama, final chorus concert, final voice recital coming up. It’s been my privilege to share almost every day of the last 21 years of my life with two bright, talented, funny, handsome and loveable young men, and the second of the two is getting ready to move on to a new and exciting stage of his life. It’s all excitement and brave new world for him, and of course I am happy for him and immensely proud of him, but it’s somewhat bittersweet for me. I’ll be happy to see a couple of the changes – no more waking up to make breakfast at 5:15 am for example – but sad to see others. Ah well, it’s about time I stopped waking up at the crack of dawn with my kids! Both will be off to school before the end of the summer (my oldest is a rising college senior) and I will be figuring out what I want to do with my mornings.

Last time I was here, I was thinking of sugar. I did chart my added sugars over the course of several days, and I discovered a couple of things. Overall, I do reasonably well. And it doesn’t take much at all to blow past the newest suggested lower limit for the day.

In my last post, I mentioned a recommendation for sugar consumption of 15% of total daily calories. This was the 2010 US government guideline for “calories from solid fats and added sugars”. (pg 28) I can’t ACTUALLY find a specific reference to added sugar alone in the 2010 Guidelines. I thought that deserved clarification.

It turns out that as of March, 2014, there is a new (draft) World Health Organization recommendation. They say that adults should set an upper limit of 10% of daily calories from sugar (50 grams/12 teaspoons), but 5% of total calories (25 grams/6 teaspoons) of added sugar would be better.

ImageIf I give in to a VERY small serving of Chunky Monkey, I’m over that lower limit for the day. In fact, ½ cup of the heavenly stuff packs 28 grams of sugar! That leaves no room for a little sugar in my morning coffee. I hear the message that we need to cut sugar for better health, but when a single, small dessert is over the recommended limit, I wonder how many people will be successful? I know that even with my (reasonably) healthy diet, I don’t hit that mark every day.

I might be able to manage 10% on a pretty regular basis, but 5% is a serious challenge. Unfortunately I can’t see the US government getting a published recommendation of 5% past the sugar lobby, since they don’t seem to be able to do what’s right in the face of money and opposition from any food industry lobby. I’ll be curious to see what happens, and will continue to monitor my own progress.

What else is going on? Local produce is coming in – the fresh strawberries are fantastic so far this year. I know these aren’t very low-carbon-footprint, but I adore Champagne mangoes (18 grams of sugar each) which are plentiful in the stores, and breakfast has been a fruit and Greek yogurt smoothie (with no added sugar but plenty in the fruit) almost every day for the last three weeks. I’ll post a recipe when I get a chance. It’s different every day, but I’ll try to get some measurements and write it down. It’s a wonderful time of year to increase the plate space given over to locally grown fresh veg and fruit!

The Not-So-Sweet Life

ImageThe news has been full of stories about the evils of sugar for some time now, but a recent analysis of past studies has upped the ante just a bit. I realize that the study discussed in the linked CBS article may have some limitations, but I’m still intrigued by the suggestion that even for those who aren’t overweight, too much added sugar can have an impact on both longevity and quality of life. Heart problems tie far too many people to high medical bills, prescription meds with side effects, and a limited lifestyle in the later years.

I don’t currently track my daily calories and I don’t have a weight problem but I do add sugar to my diet. I’ve already added about 5 teaspoons in the form of honey on my toast and sugar in my coffee. I don’t drink soda and have nearly cut out the sweet tea I grew up on here in the south, but I’ll bet if I logged it I would be above the recommended 15% of calories, at least some of the time. Based on my estimated daily calories (from past times when I have tracked them) my maximum would be about 16 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The study doesn’t include sugar from fruits or juices (but juice should count!) so a whole-foods, plant-based diet still sounds like the best way to go.

I’m planning to track my added sugar for a week and see where I end up. Maybe better than I expect, or maybe (gulp) worse. It’ll be interesting anyway. I make breakfast and dinner at home most days, but lunch is in the cafe where I work. No labels there. I’ll have to ask questions to see what they put in the food – I don’t want to change what I eat because I’m counting, I just want to see what my current habits add up to. Then I can make changes if needed.

What do you think? How hard would it be for you to cut back on sugar now in return for better health in your future?

Au Naturel

My role model!

My role model!

I seem to be in the process of letting my hair return to its natural state. It wasn’t an intentional thing, and it isn’t without misgivings that I go down this path.

My hair is a dark blonde color – I found the photographs from 17 years ago to prove it. When I was a child it was lighter because of all the time I spent outdoors. Somewhere in the last 17 years I began to color my hair. First a few highlights, then a little more, then one day I was a redhead! Four years later I got the red out and began to be a “real” blonde. Every six to eight weeks, touching up the roots so that the increasingly dark roots and gray wouldn’t show. Over the years, damage happened and possibly a sensitivity to the chemicals. My hair fell out every time I colored – enough that it started to worry me. Women my age have enough trouble keeping their hair without bad reactions to hair dye.

I’ve experimented with less chemical-intensive concoctions but none are really satisfactory. So I have stopped. I haven’t put anything on my hair since late last year. I had it cut to my shoulders from halfway down my back a couple of weeks ago to get rid of the lightest, most damaged lengths.

I think I like it. Not so much the hair color, or the gray (I admit that I really liked that shade of light blonde!) but the process of beginning to look more like my real self. Stepping off the treadmill of faking it and onto the path of acknowledging and accepting who I really am today. Not giving up but hopefully walking a path to a healthier self-image and a more balanced approach to the rest of my life.

I’ll keep you posted.

Back to the Beginning, Again

Hmm. Let’s see if I can actually get this thing off the ground now. Maybe show up once a week at least, maybe more. How about I start with something easy, like movement?

I don’t move enough. I used to, and it’s not for lack of desire, but because my hip hurts. All. The. Time. It’s been hurting for over a year. I’ve been to an orthopedist, physical therapy, massage therapy, I’ve tried stretching and some strengthening, but it still hurts. Sitting hurts, walking hurts, standing and even just running errands hurts. I can’t walk a mile without limping. The docs tell me I have bursitis, but I think we’re all barking up the wrong tree so on Thursday I plan to have some imaging done. I mean really, bursitis just means that my hip bursa is inflamed – but why?? That’s what I want to know. I want to work on the root cause, not just the symptom. (I think it’s tendinitis, from the reading I’ve done.) If I ever get it healed and working properly again, I want to be like this man.

Stephen Jepson

Stephen Jepson, in his playground

Mr. Jepson is amazing. Not that what he does is out of reach for the rest of us (it isn’t), but because he’s living proof that movement keeps you moving. He is certainly serving as an inspiration for me once I can get moving again. Until then, I can stand on wobbly things, play with balls, pick up things with my feet and work on my hand-eye coordination. If you go to his website, Never Leave the Playground, you can learn more about him, and watch videos of him explaining his philosophy of playing for better health and quality of life.

From his website: “Every cell in the body is affected by movement. The brain improves as we use our muscles, which, in turn, grow with use.Scientific studies show that physical movement is the single most important thing to do to be physically healthier and smarter, regardless of age. Movement training can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Neural pathways open and increase throughout our lives as we learn new activities.”

I’m worried about this – things won’t get easier as I get older. I’m too young to have a major joint that isn’t functioning, and which IS contributing to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. I want to get started trying to preserve and improve on what I’ve still got. Here’s to planning my backyard playground!

Me, Updated

Wow. I’ve been gone a long time. So much has happened, so many thoughts. Last time I was here I was still mourning my father, getting used to the idea of my (baby) son being 16, and trying to figure out what, if anything, I had to say.

I’m not staring down the tunnel at 50 anymore – I passed it and haven’t looked back. I’ve had good times, setbacks, and am now staring at my impending empty nest as my second son will head off to college in the fall. I’m still technically single but in all ways that matter am paired with a wonderful man who I love dearly. And who has three daughters. The nest is full, in all the important ways, even if the chicks aren’t always in it.

More to come, even if I’m the only one who reads it.


Saturday was the best day I’ve had in a long time. I felt really light and happy (or at least content) nearly all day. I got up early, cleaned my deck, had coffee outside, made breakfast for the boys and served it outside on the deck table. It was delicious and the boys enjoyed a little family time before we went off in different directions.

Alan and I did several small but impactful projects together outside, and it felt good to get them done. He’s so handy – reminds me of his grandfather. I wish that they had had more time to work together on things. Dad would have enjoyed teaching him to use the power tools in his basement as much as Alan would have liked learning from him.

Joey had a double shift at work, so he headed off soon after our “brunch” was finished. I did some work in my shade garden after Alan and I finished our projects, then we went off to the pool for a bit to relax. It was a lovely day, met up with friends at the pool and just really enjoyed the time. Later that night I made fresh pesto from the basil in my garden, a friend came over and we had wine and chocolate on the deck.

Yesterday was a nice day, but my mood wasn’t as light. The sadness of recent weeks seemed like it was always close at hand. Today has just been awful. I feel grumpy, sad, depressed…

So what was the difference? Sunday was a similar day to Saturday. The only thing I can come up with is how much I slept prior to Saturday and since then. During the week before, I was concentrating on getting 7 ½ to 8 Photo by Liz Lawleyhours of sleep a night until Saturday night. I stayed up too late Saturday night watching a movie after my friend left, but went ahead and got up early anyway because I had a full day planned. Last night was worse – got maybe 6 hours. How much difference does sleep make in one’s mood, especially when already dealing with sadness and depression?

Most of the research that I could find focused on lack of sleep and depression:

Lack of sleep caused by another medical illness or by personal problems can make depression worse. (

Insomnia and depression feed on each other. Sleep loss often aggravates the symptoms of depression, and depression can make it more difficult to fall asleep. On the positive side, treating sleep problems can help depression and its symptoms, and vice versa. (

My experience of grief has been that it FEELS a lot like depression at this point, so I’m firmly convinced that there is a connection.

I think that in addition to the other positive benefits that sleep has on your health and wellbeing, it’s going to be important for me in moving through this period in my life and healing from grief. While I don’t want to pretend that it doesn’t hurt, I also don’t want this grief to overwhelm me and stop me from enjoying what I still have. I need to experience it and deal with it, but in a constructive way. So, early to bed I will go, for the rest of the week. Let’s see how I feel in a few more days.

Back to the Beginning

When I started this blog, I intended to write about aging gracefully, healthfully and with acceptance. By acceptance I mean not giving up to the inevitability of poor health and infirmity that we so often see in our elder population, but acceptance of the unchangeable fact that I am aging. I have probably been alive for more years than I have left; I have passed my halfway point. This blog is about how I want to live what I have left.

I got derailed right away by my dad’s death. I haven’t felt like writing and indeed didn’t feel that I had anything to say. What can you say after watching an incurable disease steal what should have been a healthy and productive period in someone’s life? He had no heart disease, no diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. He should have been with us for a long time.

But with a little bit of time and distance I’ve been able to look at things differently. He gave me a great genetic inheritance (in addition to all of the other lovely intangible things about being his daughter). What can I do to make the most of it?

So, I am going forward. Some of the resources I’ve been looking at are:

YOU: Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty, Michael F. Roizen MD and Mehmet C. Oz, MD.

While I totally feel a little bit like Dr. Oz has become far too commercial and unreliable recently, I do really like the content of this book. It makes sense, and is presented in his typical humorous style. Dr. Roizen is the co-creator of the RealAge concept and author of the best-selling book of the same name.

The RealAge Makeover: Take Years off Your Looks and Add Them to Your Life, Michael F. Roizen MD.

Dr. Andrew Weil on aging gracefully. I watched a video, available on Netflix, called Dr. Andrew Weil: Healthy Aging. It had a profound impact on how I’ve been thinking about aging.

There are more, and I’ll share them later. Some are more fun, light hearted, and vain, others are serious and educational.

What Dr. Weil, Drs. Oz and Roizen and I have in common is the belief in (maybe hope for, in my case) the ability to age well and remain healthy and active well into the senior years, with decline and infirmity happening only very near the end of life. They call it “compression of morbidity”. That just means that you live your senior years in reasonably good health, with a sharp dropoff at the end rather than the constant decline and years of poor health that so often happens.

What does that mean for you and me? It means you can live in your home if you want to, not in an assisted living facility. That you can continue to participate in life and the lives of those you love. That you can work, if you want to, or volunteer if you want to, go to grandchildren’s graduations and weddings, travel, garden, have lunch with friends…really anything you want to do.

How do we get there? From what I can learn, it seems simple and straightforward (on paper):

  • Keep your weight down, in the healthy BMI range
  • Eat a good diet (more later)
  • Stay active, and I don’t mean just taking the stairs
  • Control your stress
  • Maintain some kind of social life
  • Control inflammation (LOTS more on this later)

We all know that it’s harder in actual practice than it looks on paper, of course! And I’m only 49 – why worry about 70 or 80 now? You already know the answer to that. The sooner you start, the better the result. I’ve already got a head start on weight and diet – I’m 126 pounds and I’ve had an interest in healthy eating for a long time. My views have evolved some over time and will probably continue to do so.

I’m concentrating on more physical activity, fine tuning my diet, stress management (really needed right now) and my finances in preparation for retirement. I may never fully retire, but I’d like to choose whether and how I work, and not be forced to greet shoppers at WalMart.

I’ll talk more about each in the coming weeks. Until then, how do you feel about aging? Are you ready for a healthy old age? If not, are you willing to change?

Catching Up

With everything that was happening with my dad this spring, I missed noting my son Alan’s birthday. It was a big one – he turned 16 on May 6.

I had always intended on having two, or maybe even three children. When my first child was born I was instantly in love, but I went through some difficult times – probably some undiagnosed postpartum depression, certainly a lot of angst over whether or not I would measure up as a mom. Naturally when considering a second child I had concerns too. Would I feel as intensely about him as I did his brother? Would I be able to give as much love and attention to two without making either one feel shortchanged?

What a treat he turned out to be! My second baby boy, cute as a button and just as firmly attached to my heart as his brother. He snuck up on me. I didn’t even have labor pains that day, just a quiet feeling that something was happening, and it most certainly was! I was a bit wiser and much more experienced, but the wave of love for my little boy still hit me every bit as hard.

Alan is in high school – intelligent, talented, strong-willed, and knows what he wants. He’s quiet when it comes to expressing his innermost thoughts and feelings, but willing to goof and be silly. This year, with his brother in college, our relationship has changed as well. We’re closer I think, we talk more, and he seems to have taken more firm control in his life. His future is bright with possibilities, and I’m excited to see what happens!


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