The Cycle of Life

Infancy to Childhood, Mid-life to Menopause….why did the fun stop? We’re born with a clean slate – an innocent and impressionable young mind and from the moment we enter this world we start gathering information and developing ideas. A bright future awaits us all and life is good.

In our childhood every new experience is exciting and fresh. We exist only to play because this is how we learn. Eating is optional, experimental, and is needed only to sustain us through play. We have boundless energy and a vivid imagination, and life is fun.

In our youth we seek adventure, test our wings (and our parents), and are up for pretty much anything. We experiment with alcohol, junk food and a racy lifestyle because our bodies can take it, for now. ….and we’re still having fun.

Then, before you know it, we come upon our adult years and ‘boom’ responsibility hits us right between the eyes. Kids, mortgages, careers, aging parents; the whole nine yards, but that’s ok cause we’re still of sound mind and able body (and by now we have the means to maintain a fully stocked bar) Junk food now gives us heartburn but we still maintain a steady eating regime of pizza and cocktail nuts – we just wash them down with beer and wine (cause it’s cheap and abundant). We have friends we can commiserate with, jobs we can immerse ourselves in, and hobbies to distract us. We’re thirty-something, invincible and life is still fun. Who knew it would end there.

We all have that birthday that hit us harder than any other. The turning point where we had to grudgingly acknowledge that we are, finally, middle aged and no longer societies ‘leading’ demographic. No longer will we set the trend – that torch has been passed (not willingly) to those 10 years younger than us  (and they now refer to us as Maam and Sir)

What used to be natural highlights in a woman’s hair (I swear to God they were natural….at some point) are now defiant streaks of grey so we revamp our household budget to include monthly visits to have our roots covered. For me that ‘birthday of change’ was 35. I don’t know why, but turning 35 was a turning point in my life. I got rid of most of my clothes, invested in a complete wardrobe of denim, and sported sunglasses that my husband said made me look like Onassis (Aristotle, not Christina)  I thought I was really happenin’,,,,turns out I was just really loosin’ it, and this was just the beginning. The forties awaited.

I can’t say it was just me. My husband hit mid life too, and while he didn’t radically change his wardrobe he did try his hand with Grecian Formula, until he endured such a serious skin rash he had to stop. (because the distinctive ‘salt and peppering’ in a man’s hair was now either a bald spot or a more solid greyish-white, neither of which is pretty anymore —- see, woman aren’t the only ones that succumb to vanity) He did however indulge with his passion for golf, investing in countless clubs; big ones, little ones, long, short – he had to buy new bags to house them all (we had no less than 11 golf bags in our basement…..and only 1 golfer in the house)

Throughout our forties we both noted a little slowing of our metabolism (ok, we put on a few pounds) and our clothes somehow didn’t look quite as sharp as they once did.  Trendy fashion was now being replaced by elastic waistbands and sensible shoes, (who knew denim was so stiff…what was I thinking?)  but eventually we accepted our progression to middle age, and just as we did, ‘boom’  – the fifties,,,, and this one packed a punch!

I hit menopause, or rather,,,, it,,,, hit,,,me. I spent the next several years battling the bulge, plucking unwanted hair out of various parts of my face, and swabbing down my sweat-soaked body. (I’m just a big puddle in sneakers)  And like any rational middle-aged woman, I lashed out at a world that dared to be so unjust, raged against a God that would sentence any female to this hell (because 36 years of menstruation wasn’t punishment enough?) so I basically bitched (because if women didn’t bitch we’d explode) If I have to go through this, I’m not goin’ alone!

And fortunately I didn’t have to…God gave me a husband to abuse.  While I struggled with ‘the change’, my husband was going through a ‘change’ of the male kind. He invested in a wardrobe of Hawaiian shirts, bought a nice straw, rimmed hat, and traded in the family sedan for a ‘big ole Buick’, aka, a Geezermobile. (every Geezer has one eventually) We’ve gotten the 11 golf bags down to 7 (it’s a work in progess) and his snack of choice is now any kind of dip (cause nuts now hurt his teeth) washed down with a rye and ginger (his medicine of choice) I suppose I should be grateful. I have friends whose husband’s impulsively bought an expensive sports car when they hit mid life (because when he no longer turns the heads of young women he needs a car to do it). Others take up with a younger woman (but they’d better have money cause there a price for that arm candy) and if they go so far as to leave their families and settle down with their Barbie Doll, eventually she’s going to want to ‘nest’ and that puts them right back in the humdrum life they just left behind…..only now they’re 30 years older…. not so fun anymore.

I’d be lying if I said the Sixties don’t scare me. I am cautious. On the other hand the fifties were such hell, how much worse could it be? I will acknowledge one thing though,,,,,every decade, every change, and every challenge, humbled me. It made me more reflective, more tolerant, more appreciative of everything I learned along the way (although I would’ve preferred the Coles-notes version of menopause) What doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger, and smarter, and better. I wonder, if we could be born with the knowledge we die with, would we have changed anything in our path of life? Maybe,,,,,,,,,, but would it have been as much fun,,,,cause fun,  isn’t that what life is all about?

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Only the lonely… and the desperate….and the homeless

You can’t walk down the main street of any city and not encounter the homeless. They’re begging on the streets and sleeping in doorways and bus shelters, and it seems their numbers are growing. Homelessness does not discriminate; you see everything from young teens to the very elderly, and it tugs at the heart strings because you can’t help but wonder at a world where anyone would be without food or shelter.

There are those who are somewhat cynical and blame the homeless for their lot in life, and while I suspect a small number of homeless may have accepted this path, it’s hard to believe anyone would choose to live on the streets.

We’ve all encountered the street kids who take over an intersection. They stroll through traffic during the red light, cup in hand and sign proclaiming their sad state. Sometimes they have a partner and too often a dog which begs the question, if you can’t support yourself, why would you take on a pet you can’t provide for?  How fair is that to an innocent creature?

All too often we’ve heard someone tell the tale of giving a donation to a hungry man only to later see them in a nearby liquor store. I recall once a friend said they dropped coins in the cup of a man with a sign that said he was deaf and homeless. He later saw this same man flipping through albums in a local record store.  And what about the ones who claim to be starving but can afford cigarettes? I realize that smoking is an addiction but choosing cigarettes over food is either an indication of a scam or a serious lack of priorities. None of these scenarios is appreciated. Let’s face it, we work hard for our money so it’s a slap in the face to ‘do the right thing’ and later witness our act of compassion as a scam.  On the other hand, who are we to judge?

It’s hard to imagine how one comes to be homeless but you can bet it’s never a good story. Abuse at home, addiction, fear, and too often, mental illness. Regardless of what brings a person to this state those of us more fortunate need to be understanding of their plight because it is innately human of us to feel compassion and we don’t know what goes on in the life of another. I am often moved to drop something in the cup because you just don’t know who is truly in need and who is shamelessly hiding behind the face of destitution.

Several years ago, I was walking along the waterfront on my lunch hour. It was a cold, dreary November day so that I was alone on the water was no surprise. I had a ten dollar bill in my pocket so I could reward myself with a latte after my lunch hour exercise. I came upon a young man (twenty five-ish) who was just sitting on the waters edge, hands in his pockets, staring at the ground. As I walked by he lifted his head slightly and asked me for any spare change, quickly adding, “I’m not gonna spend it on drugs or alcohol”. This caught me off guard so I stopped and looked right at him. Now I should point out that I would typically walk by because beggars are abundant in this part of town so they tend to fade into the background, but something in his appearance startled me. When I looked into his eyes I saw despair and complete hopelessness, and it shook me to my very core. Something told me this man was in legitimate need; a beggar had never affected me like this before, and I grudgingly handed over my ten dollars. Truth told, at that moment I was so moved I would’ve given him a thousand if I’d had it on me and I don’t know why. Walking away, I mentally berated myself for falling for another scam artist, but those eyes haunted me for much of my afternoon.

Earlier in my working career, I recall an elderly woman who used to stand at the bottom of the escalator at a very busy subway station at rush hour, waving to all and wishing them well. She wore a tiara and a banner that declared her a beauty queen of some kind. Every now and then a passerby would comment to her, usually in jest, and she would let loose with a string of profanity that would make a sailor blush – clearly she was dealing with mental challenges and I always wondered where she went at night. Was anyone there for her? Was she safe?

There’s an elderly man who plays the accordion in our downtown. He is missing a leg, so wheelchair bound, and rain or shine, snow and cold, he’s out there playing. My father played the accordion on Saturday evenings when we were children, so this familiar music brings back wonderful memories; memories of a safe, happy childhood. I guess not everyone has had that and I can’t walk by this man without dropping a coin into his cup,,,,and he always acknowledges every gift, further humbling me.

Homelessness is frightening to those of us who’ve never experienced it, and it is reality to too many. Old, young, male female, there’s no ‘type’ that fits the image of a homeless person and if a few coins from each of us is all it takes to help a fellow human being, do it. Occasionally you might be scammed….but it’s worth it, because  you may also be the savior one of these lonely people needs.

With respect to the young man I encountered on the waterfront, the next day I heard that the body of a young ‘unknown’  man was found in the harbor. He had jumped off the bridge, and while I have no reason to believe they are one and the same, the news hit hard, and I am still haunted by those eyes; those sad, desperate and vacant eyes…… and I will always wonder.


Camping – holiday in nature or holiday in hell?

Everyone has their own idea of the perfect vacation, and I respect that each of us has a very different idea of what the ‘perfect’ vacation looks like.

My idea of a holiday involves getting away in every sense. It doesn’t involve cooking, laundry, vacuuming, computers, or relatives. What is does involve is a warm bed, electricity, and indoor plumbing, and in the absence of either it’s just another working day. Don’t misunderstand me, I love nature; it’s beautiful, but it has it’s place in my world and I  prefer to enjoy  it from the comfort of the indoors, ie I don’t want to sleep with it.

Very popular today is the trailer life. Go RVing. You dominate the highways across North America with a gas guzzling kitchen on wheels, stopping periodically to empty your toilet (God knows where), recharging in a Walmart parking lot, only to make it to your final destination; a trailer park, where you maneuver your oversized vehicle into an assigned spot 6 feet away from neighbouring trailers. If you’re lucky, you’re within walking range of a beach or pool, and mercifully you now have access to public washrooms and communal showers. Are we having fun yet?

I have friends who adore pitching a tent, cooking over an open fire, and urinating in nature. I would define these individuals as extreme and for the life of me I can’t imagine why they willingly torture themselves. The sleeping bag provides little cushion from the hard lumpy ground, and the tent, little protection from the elements. Many years ago I actually participated on one such adventure and it was a turning point in my life, I can tell you.

Five of us, in our late teens, packed up an old Honda Civic one Friday afternoon and headed on to the open road looking for our ideal camping ground. (and I should point out a Honda Civic isn’t a luxury vehicle so five people with camping gear was more than a little cozy) I always seemed to get the middle seat in the back, over the ‘lump’ so my knees were comfortably wedged under my ear lobes for the whole ride. (this was in my younger days, before I learned to assert myself)

After a couple of hours (which included a stop at the local liquor store for supplies) we reached the entrance to a National Park and camp ground. We parked the car, loaded ourselves up with our gear and took the nearest path into the woods, in no particular direction – we were just happy to be here and we figured we’d just stop when we felt like it and set up house.  We wandered through the woods for what seemed like hours, laughing and joking, finally reaching a clearing that looked suitable enough for habitation. (oddly enough we were close to a communal swimming area so I’m betting there was probably a direct path to this place but since we’re here for the camping experience, I guess we have to do everything the hard way)

We each took on various chores to get our camp site set up, pitching the tent (personally, I would’ve preferred to pitch the tent ‘literally’ and head for the nearest Holiday Inn but I decided I needed to be adventurous, just once) gathering firewood and stones for a fire pit  (that was my job) and unpacking our provisions. Once done we changed into swimming gear and headed down the path to the water only to be barred by a huge sign advising the beach was closed due to high bacteria levels. Oh yeah, this is  fun.

Disappointed, but determined to make a good time of this weekend, we shuffled back to our campground (time to crack open the beer and coolers) and went about lighting our fire to cook our gourmet meal. (hot dogs and potato chips) There isn’t much you can say about such fare, other than, it fills the belly, so dinner was a non-event but by then we’d had a couple of coolers so it didn’t matter anymore….we were one with nature.

A friend pulls out a transistor radio (this was the early seventies so CHUM AM radio was the coolest we had) and we grooved by the fire until a light rain started and forced us into the tent. The tent was small and remember, there was 5 of us, so sprawling out was not an option. We lay there singing along with the radio (where’s my harmonica when I need it?) as the rain picked up in intensity, and eventually we dozed off. (because when you can’t move, what else do you do?)

Sometime in the early morning hours we woke to the sensation of being eaten alive. The rain had stopped  but the tent seemed swarmed with mosquitos. Turns out one of the screens had a large rip in it allowing the wild kingdom to take refuge in our space. (the fun just goes on and on and on….) By dawn we were exhausted, damp and covered in bites. We crawled out of the tent anticipating the nice bacon and egg breakfast we planned but found only a mess of wrappers. Apparently we neglected to ‘secure’ our cooler so the local raccoons enjoyed our feast forcing us to finish off the beer and coolers. (breakfast of champions!)

The sky was clearing but still grey. Our food supply was gone. The tent had a hole in it. The beach was condemned and the grounds were soaked and muddy. Without a word, we all started packing up our things and within a couple of hours we were back in our car heading home, in silence, the weekend over in less than twelve hours. I never camped out again and short of a stroke that renders me completely out of my rational mind, I never will.

The tree-huggers can keep their wilderness experiences. While they eat berries, swim with ‘nature’ (and occasional bacteria) and pee in the woods, I will dine on quality food cooked by someone else, swim in a clean (ok, chemically laden) pool, and sleep in a cozy, bug free bed. Have a great vacation! (I know I will)



Taste, it’s a personal thing, and that’s ok

Taste is a very personal thing. We all ‘see’ things differently and are entitled to our opinions and preferences, popular or not.  For example,

I don’t think pigs are pretty. (and I think anyone who tells you piglets are cute is lying or blind) They’re homely as babies and downright ugly in adulthood but if you can get past appearances (and I have)………..they’re delicious!  Roasted , bbq’ed, smoked; there’s nothing you can do to a pig that isn’t tasty!

Mexican food.  Many find it delicious and maybe it is, but I can’t get past the appearance to find out. What is commonly described as ‘refried’ looks more like ‘pre-chewed’ to me, and the various piles of quacamole type food is reminiscent of the stuff I cleaned off my babies bottoms after they’d started on solid foods  (I’d rather eat the ugly pig) Appearance matters.

Shopping with a friend recently, she held up a blouse and exclaimed, “isn’t this gorgeous?” I thought it was hideous but clearly our tastes differ so I smiled and said “that would look great on you” (I figured that was the least offensive way to give her support without compromising my honesty) She bought the blouse, poor misguided sole.

My taste in music, while varied, does not include Jazz or the Blues. I find Jazz totally tuneless. It’s like each member of the ensemble is playing from a different sheet of music. You can’t hum or sing along and the rhythm is so irregular you’d be hard pressed to tap along. The Blues always bring to mind an over-aged, haggard female crying into her vermouth in a smokey saloon and crooning “why’dya leave me Billie?”  But that’s my personal taste – I realize there are countless music lovers who’d challenge me on this and I’m ok with that – just don’t take me to a Jazzfest.

I have a taste for red wine but not Shiraz because I find it to be a little too ‘Portlike’ for me.  (although I have been able to force it down in a pinch)

I also have a taste for various cheeses but a preference for those that do not, how can I put this delicately,……emit an unhealthy aroma. (I hate stinky cheese and I firmly believe if it stinks it should be cleaned or  tossed, not ingested)

Every now and then we come across someone who makes it their mission to change our view on something. The guy who argues up and down that you have to see things his way, because it’s the only way, and they will hound you until you agree. (or leave, and often that’s the only way for you to escape) The last time I encountered such an individual I happened to mention that I am not a fan of vacations that in any way involve a trailer. (As far as I’m concerned it’s just a kitchen on wheels and I’d rather be hit by a trailer than travel in one.) That’s my personal taste and I respect that you love that lifestyle, it’s just not for me.

So while you, in your ‘kitchen on wheels’, take in the sites from the open road, I’m comfortably sipping my wine at a pig roast with my friend (who’s wearing the ugly blouse, but I’ll never tell her) and I’m ok with that, after all,,,,, it’s not your fault you have no taste!