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Are We Still Cranky in Midlife?

I always thought that when I got older, I would mellow out.  Especially when the day-to-day pressure of being an everyday superwoman subsided once I got off the hamster wheel.  While I do think that I am more patient overall, I am sometimes shocked at how certain situations make me really, really cranky.

  1. Slowpoke drivers who insist on staying in the left lane.  This happens ALL the time in my city of over 4 million people.  It makes me unreasonably cranky; my blood pressure skyrockets.  Why?  Our roads are congested, full of cars and trucks.  Slowpokes in the left lane slow down traffic for many kilometres behind them. The left lane is for passing!  If you cannot drive as fast if not faster than the speed limit, stay out!  If you feel fear every time you get on the highway, take alternate routes.  The combination of aggressive speed and slow/fearful drivers on the highway is a lethal mix.

2. The word “like”.  It is a very useful, multi-functional word that can be a verb, preposition, conjunction, noun, adjective and adverb.   But I have noticed that an extraordinary number of young people use it as filler.  For example, “She was like where did you go?  And I was like, I had to go to a doctor’s appointment like at 4 o’clock”.   I swear some people use it in almost every sentence, sometimes multiple times. I grew up across the street from a professor who gently advised me to stop using filler words (I think it was “you know”).  At the time, I was embarrassed but his lesson has served me well as an adult.

3. Bad grocery cart etiquette.  I have a regular shopping list of things I buy at Costco.  It is not a place to dawdle, it is always insanely busy.  Even though I shop on weekdays, I am amazed at the number of people who leave their cart in the middle of the aisle and walk away.  Sometimes they leave their kids in the cart too,  or worse, let their kids run around unsupervised.  The pile-up around the sample stations makes me want to ram other carts or say rude things.  But I don’t.  I grit my teeth, pick up my things and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

4. Web ads that know what I’ve been looking at.  Even though I have learned that web developers load “pixels” and “cookies” to follow your online activity, I really find it creepy. Companies track your online behaviour and know a lot about you.  For example, if you look at a pair of shoes online, you may see ads for those same shoes on many sites you visit afterwards. Facebook and Google know the most and have the ability to share that data with other companies.   It’s a little frightening.  Do yourself a favour and watch the movie “Snowden”.  It’ll make you think about how little online privacy you actually have.

5. Over-blown holidays.  Don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t love Christmas time with the family?  I’m talking about the unnaturally BIG events that most companies and retailers blow out of proportion.  For example, Valentine’s day.  While it’s lovely to celebrate your love for another, it has become a pressure-filled event with rampant commercialization that starts right after New Years.   The advertising makes you feel like you’re a loser unless you buy the the biggest present, a dozen roses, fine chocolates, expensive jewelry, and a fabulous dinner out.  Spend spend spend! This scenario repeats itself for other events like Mothers’ and Fathers’ days, Easter and Hallowe’en amongst others.  Bah humbug!

So the answer for me, is that I can still get pretty cranky and impatient but I think I hold it in better than I used to.   And some things have actually stopped bothering me (like streetcar travel).  I wonder what it’s like for others?

The Dirty Dozen – 12 Chemicals to Avoid in Personal Products

It’s very scary what manufacturers put in the everyday products we use.  The ingredients are chemicals that enhance the colour or consistency, add or mask fragrance, or act as a preservative.  ThingSuzuki Dirty Dozen Chemicalss that make the product more attractive to the consumer.   The “Dirty Dozen” are 12 toxic chemicals that are commonly found in shampoo, conditioner, moisturizers, cleansers, and other skin and hair care products.  In fact, U.S. researchers report that 1 in 8 of the 82,000 ingredients in personal care products is an industrial chemical!  These can include carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, hormone disruptors. and plasticizers.  These are products we slather into our skin.

David Suzuki is a well-known Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmentalist. His foundation conducted a survey to see how many of the Dirty Dozen ingredients were included in their bathroom products.  Their results were based on 6200 respondents reporting on more than 12,500 personal products.  The results were disturbing:

  • Almost 80 per cent of products reportedly contained at least one of the Dirty Dozen ingredients.
  • More than half of all products reportedly contained multiple Dirty Dozen ingredients
  • Participants were unable to locate ingredient lists on more than 1,000 products

I decided to look at some of the products in my own house after reading Dr. Suzuki’s report.

ceraVe Front

CeraVe is a fairly pricey drugstore moisturizer that I purchased because of its great reviews and the fact that it was “developed with dermatologists”   I was looking for a stronger product for my extra dry, itchy and sensitive skin this past winter.  While this cream is not organic, I wanted to try it since I had read that one of its ingredients, “ceramides” would help rebuild the collagen that I was losing post menopause and this appealed to my vanity.  The ingredients (copied from their website) are

Behentrimonium Methosulfate and Ceteayl Alcohol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Carbomer, Ceramide 1, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6-Ii, Ceteareth-20 and Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Cholesterol, Dimethicone, Dipotassium Phosphate, Disodium Edta, Glycerin, Hyaluronic Acid, Methylparaben, Petrolatum, Phenoxyethanol, Phytosphingosine, Potassium Phosphate, Propylparaben, Purified Water, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Xanthan Gum

So CeraVe contains 2 types of parabens and petrolatum, ingredients that are on the Dirty Dozen list. I expect better considering that this cream was developed with dermatologists.

Next personal product is Dove Oxygen Shampoo for Men which my husband and son use.dove mens shampoo  Dove has fabulous marketing for its products targeted to women.  The current theme is “Let’s break the rules of beauty” and I’m sure you’ve seen their other “all women are beautiful” campaigns.  I have been impressed by their messaging for many years, even when they were only known as the soap maker that added 1/4 cup of cold cream to their soap.  They have a great reputation, that’s why I buy their men’s line of personal products for the me in my family.   The  ingredients for this bottle of Dove Oxygen Charge shampoo (from their website ) include:

“Aqua, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Chloride, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Parfum, Glycerin, Dimethiconol, TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Citric Acid, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA, DMDM Hydantoin, PEG-45M, Propylene Glycol, Caffeine, PPG-9, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, CI 42090, CI 17200.”

Wow, that is 4 different ingredients that are on the Dirty Dozen list. And as much as love Dove’s image, I’m not feeling comfortable about this.

I was already going down the path of using natural, organic products or making my own.  But I see that I need to be more vigilant.  Suzuki Shoppers Guide to ToxinsThere is a handy Shoppers’ guide on Dr. Suziki’s website that you can print and reference when shopping.  His website suggests that you read labels and avoid buying products with these ingredients.  He even goes so far as to advise you to send back open products to the manufacturer.  Other suggestions include buying natural products or those with short ingredient lists.  There are some other resources like the US Environmental Working Group and Queen of Green that focus on safer products.

This report makes me wonder if the sensitivity I have developed this decade is due to years and years of using products that contain chemical toxins?  It’s kind of scary.

Taoist T’ai Chi Surprised Me

I tried T’ai chi when I was 25 years old.  Since I was (and still am) very impatient, I found it far too slow so I quit after a few classes.   Jump ahead 30 years and it’s now the right speed.   I started last year knowing that I needed to find a way to relieve the overwhelming amount of stress I was experiencing at that time.   I ended up selecting T’ai Chi for several reasons:

  1. IMG_1481I had heard T’ai Chi being referred to as Moving Meditation.  I thought this might work better for me than Yoga which I have tried multiple times.
  2. I am of Chinese descent and I thought that this was a way to connect with my heritage
  3. I already have arthritis in my fingers.   Look at these knuckles, especially the middle finger.  My elderly mother has arthritis and osteoporosis amongst other things, and due to her lack of exercise, she is bound to a wheelchair.  If I live to be as old as she is, I want to prevent that from happening to me.
KR Tai Chi
Google Maps captured my silver Impreza parked outside

I decided on the Taoist Tai Chi club simply because there is a studio close to home.  I took a crash course to learn all 108 moves over an 11-hour beginners’ weekend.   Although I have participated in hundreds of aerobics classes, I was surprised to find that not only was I struggling to memorize the sequence of moves, I had also developed 2 left feet.  Nonetheless, I remained enthusiastic and dutifully attended class 3 times per week.

Taoist T’ai Chi surprised me in many other ways.

  1. There is no syllabus in Taoist T’ai Chi.  No precise and predetermined execution of movement and placement like there is in ballet.   Master Moy’s philosophy was to customize the move to the individual since each person will have different issues
  2. Taoist T’ai Chi is about continuous improvement and learning.  Even for those who have studied for decades.  It does not remain static.  It lives.
  3. I still find it a bit on the slow side but that no longer annoys me.  In fact, I strangely enjoy the minutiae that can sometimes be Taoist T’ai Chi
  4. I have strengthened my core.
  5. I sweat.
  6. The membership is primarily Caucasian
  7. There is no judgement

I am not sure if all my expectations were met with Taoist T’ai Chi but I can say that I have made progress.   My mind stays relatively uncluttered while in class and when practicing.  If I am thinking about anything at all, it’s about executing the corrections I’ve been given.   I don’t worry, my mind wanders much less than when I have tried to meditate in the past.   I feel calm.   Taoist T’ai Chi has been an anchor during my year of transition to retirement. It has provided me with focus, regular exercise, volunteer opportunities and of course, social interaction.  While the membership itself is not very Asian, the society’s principles are.  Sometimes I stare at the posters littered around the studio.  The one that resonates most with me lists the 8 virtuesvirtues.  Filial Piety, Sibling Harmony, Dedication, Trustworthiness, Propriety, Sacrifice, Honour, and Sense of Shame.

Each virtue is described in more detail on the http://www.taoist.org website but when I look at the poster in class, I try to think of how I exhibit (or don’t exhibit) the characteristics. While I am FAR FAR FAR away from being a model for the 8 virtues, the poster regularly reminds me of the characteristics and behaviours needed to become a better human being.  I try to work on one thing at a time.  I’ve spent 55 years developing some bad attitudes and habits, it’ll take a while.

This sounds like a cliche but Taoist T’ai Chi is for everyone and anyone.  I am only in mid-life and still healthy but there are many members who have serious health issues who practice T’ai Chi. Some suffer from severe diseases (like Parkinsons) that affect mobility.  Others have had terrible accidents that resulted in limited movement.  There many other members who practice T’ai Chi for the mental relaxation and physical exercise.  Every member has his/her personal story.  Some are in the video below.

So all in all, I am grateful that I found Taoist T’ai Chi.  I feel that it’s helped me both physically, mentally and emotionally.  I thank my lucky stars that I am healthy. Practicing this art form is a way of staying that way.  It is something that I will continue even if I embrace other forms of exercise and/or meditation.  It has certainly earned a continued place in my life.

10 Reasons Why I’m a Cat Lady

Whiskey SantaThis is my beloved cat Whiskey.  He is a rescued cat that we adopted 18 months ago when he was still a kitten. Whiskey had a rough start to his life.  When he was 4 months, he was found almost dead by a major highway.  A kind soul took him to the local vet where my daughter was working as a co-op student.  He was unconscious, blind, with a hole in his head.  It took a couple of months, but he was coaxed back from the brink of death. He is a fighter.

We changed his name to "Whiskey"
We changed his name to “Whiskey”

And Whiskey (formerly known as Sparky) became a bit of a TV celebrity.  He was featured on “Animal House Calls”, a local cable show that highlights these sorts of miracle stories.

My daughter built a bond with Whiskey during his recovery as she was responsible for cleaning his cage and playing with him.    We had managed to stay a pet-less family for a good 20 years but she was relentless in her pursuit of his adoption.  I gave in first, my husband the “cat hater” took longer.  She won the battle.  We paid $100, changed his name to Whiskey and brought him home.

We instantly feel in love with this little guy.  I took my early retirement 5 months after he joined our family so we spend a lot of time together every day.  I have come to the conclusion that I’ve become a “cat lady”.  Here are 10 reasons why.

Orijen

  1. I spent hours and hours researching cat food.  I now know what the optimal combination of protein, fat, and carbs that make up a healthy and well-balanced cat diet.  I even monitor his daily caloric intake so that he doesn’t gain weight.
  2. I have many, many “pet” names for him.  These include Bunny, Little Guy, Baby Boy, My Little Kitty as well as You Pain in the A**, Annoying Kitty, and Stupid Cat.
  3. When I talk to him, I refer to myself as “mummy” as in “Mummy says it’s time to go inside now”
  4. IMG_1169He is an indoor cat yearning to be an outdoor one.  So we compromise.  My husband devised a system where Whiskey can easily navigate the backyard (using a harness and long leash) to hunt squirrels, birds, bugs and enjoy the fresh air.  I spend at least an hour every morning (rain, snow or shine) with him ensuring he doesn’t get tangled up.

    He can tweet high scores
    He can tweet high scores
  5. I  take him on local walks.  I’ve tried to introduce him to the neighbourhood cats but that’s been a flop.  He is very territorial and seems to hate them.
  6. He has his own (albeit a discarded 1st generation) Ipad for cat games and bird videos.
  7. I only buy him cat toys on Amazon that have lots of reviews and  5-star ratings.
  8. I have taken moreIMG_1292 photos and videos of Whiskey than I have of my entire family duWhiskey cuddling Chloering the same period.  Especially of him sleeping.  We all seem to find those the cutest.  Then I send them to our family IMessage account for my husband and kids to enjoy.
  9. I give him kisses with my eyes (really)
  10. I carry him in my arms and rock him like a baby.  Or sometimes over my left shoulder like you would hold a baby to be burped.  He hates it from me but he sure loves my daughter’s cuddles.

 

Over the Hill Fashion

When I was working back in the 80s and 90s, the act of daily dressing was simple.  At work, I wore matching suits, blouses, pantyhose, and pumps.  Had the same kind of clothes in multiple colours and the heels were of different heights.  Just like this,80 powers suite catalogue

this  80 power suit 2  and this… 80 power suite

At night and on weekends, it was jeans and comfy tops with runners or boots.  At the start of this century (!!!!), the dress code at work became increasingly relaxed and eventually I stopped wearing matching suits altogether. With the (thankful) launch of Banana Republic’s petite shop, their business casual line-up of dress pants, skirts, shirts and cardigans became my new uniform and even crossed over to my non-work life. Their clothes were classic, maybe a bit generic and bland, but ageless.  And the mix and match function made getting dressed in the morning a breeze.

Banana-Republic-Work-Wear

When I stopped working last year, I went through a closet cleanse. I kept anything that was timeless. But I diwhat to wear after 50scarded a lot.  Some things I sold, some things my daughter claimed.  Most went to Value Village.  I had a hard time parting with many items, but I knew that I would feel like I was trying too hard if I wore them.   Do middle-aged women wear dresses with empire waists?  How about shorts?   Spaghetti straps?  Bright colours?  Skinny jeans?  See through tops?

Since I was unsure and insecure about what constituted age-appropriate casual wear, I went to the source of all popular culture, the Internet.

I started with Oprah, the former queen of daytime TV. She is someone with 11.5 million likes on Facebook and a staggering 32.7M followers on Twitter. I bet most of them are women.  What does she say?  She’s an influencer.  On her site, I found an article discussing what NOT to wear over 50. These would include mini skirts, bare midriff, tube tops (ewwh), shredded denim, tunics worn as dresses, bright nail polish, and rompers.

Oprah - bare midriffOprah - tube topsOprah - rompers

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) goes even further to include no sweatpants with writing on the bum, thigh high boots, gold chains, see through tops or fishnet stockings. Honestly, this is not helpful.  I don’t think these sorts of clothes look good on anyone beyond slim, under 21-year-old girls.

That same AARP site offers fashion tips for women in this age group.   They state that wardrobe “must haves” include clothes that “fight the frump and look smart”.  These essential pieces include dark denim mid-rise bootcut and straight jeans, white jeans, great fitting pants, black fitted jacket, black pencil skirt, cardigans, tank tops, dresses, and a leather jacket.  What?  Really?  Are these not wardrobe staples for most North American adult women regardless of age?

So I went to the fashion bloggers. To my surprise, there are a number of blogs aimed at 40+ women. Not much for ages 50+ but I guess we are all lumped into the same bucket.

Patti at Not Dead Yet Style
Patti looks great!

I liked this one if only for the title “Not Dead Yet Style”.  Patti is the author of this blog. She is 60+ years old and gorgeous. On Mondays, she invites her followers to become “visible” to counterattack the frequent feeling of being “invisible”.  Using a bit of embedded code, readers can celebrate their individual style by linking a photo of “any outfit, accessory, jewelry piece, hairstyle, cosmetic or other adornment” to Patti’s site.   This is a way for her readers to share their individual styles with a look that makes them happy, confident and more “alive”.

Lucy tall
Lucy looks so tall!

One of Patti’s recommended fashion blogs is run by Lucy at Fashion Should Be Fun, Style Over 40.  Lucy just turned 50 and also looks fabulous.  I cannot get over how tall she looks.   And if she isn’t that tall, she sure knows how to dress the part.  She runs a Fashion Friday linkup blog hop. Perhaps this is like a virtual beer run but for fashion blogs?  In any case, it sounds like fun and there might be something to learn.  I think I will try it at some point.

Susan B utility-jacket-grey-jeans
Susan looking chic going to the dentist

Then I went to see Susan B. at “Une Femme d’un Certain Age“.  This expression is a French euphemism for “middle-aged+ woman who doesn’t want to reveal her age”.  With a French title such as this, I am expecting expensive outfits right out of Vogue selected by a high-end stylist. To my surprise, I find a woman who has a casual style similar to my own.  She is a Francophile as I am. That’s probably why I like what she is wearing.

105 year old Beatrice Wood

Lastly, I look into a social medium that I have not understood up to now – Pinterest.   JACKPOT!  This is way better than a Google images search. There are tons of photos up here of famous and not so famous women wearing everything and anything. Look, there is even a 105-year-old woman rocking an exotic teal blue silk outfit.  This is inspirational!

As mentioned above, I am a Francophile.  When I lived in France in my twenties, I felt inadequate until I slowly adopted the uniform of young French women.  That meant jeans, leather jacket, good quality shoes, a scarf worn just so and most importantly, an attitude.  Although so much has changed over the years, when I watch this, I realize that it really hasn’t.   I’m glad that my fashion destiny is not limited to loud floral prints and stretchy pants but if that’s what I wanted, it would be OK.   It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it.

Yoga not for you? Think about Tai Chi

When I think of Tai chi, I think of elderly Asian folks moving purposefully and gracefully at my local park.  Most of the time like this:

 

Old people Tai Chi Park

and sometimes with pretty props:

Tai Chi in Park

The Chinese characters for Tai Chi (aka T’ai chi ch’uan) are:  太極拳.  These characters translate to “Supreme Ultimate Boxing”.  T’ai chi is thought to have originated sometime in the 16th century. It was originally practiced as a martial art that embodied Yin and Yang along with both Taoist and Confucian philosophical principles.  Today, the study of Tai Chi involves health, meditation, and martial arts.  In the western world, it is practiced more broadly as a fusion of health training and moving meditation.  Not so much martial arts.

Fung Loy Kok Taoist Tai Chi was founded by Master Moy Lin Shin, a monk who was sent to Canada in 1970 to spread the understanding of Taoism and its practices.  Master Moy began modestly, with a handful of students.  He originally taught the traditional Yang-style set of movements but over time, modified the set to  maximize its health benefits.   Fast forward to today, there are 40,000 members scattered in 26 countries actively practicing Master Moy’s version of Tai Chi even though he passed away in 1998.  The organization goes on.   This is a video filmed in the 90s of Master Moy.

 

What does a Retiree Look Like Anyway?

I started this blog a year after I actually retired.  I didn’t really understand this “new-fangled” thing called blogging until recently.   I lived such a sheltered life for so many years and it’s been a journey going from this over-stressed sales professional and working mom

Time too fast Lady running

 

to a more relaxed, easy-going and natural procrastinator who is figuring out what to do next.

Strangely time goes by just as fast when you are relaxed. That is not something that I expected.

Young is a relative thing. People are quite shocked (OK, surprised maybe) that I have retired at 55.  I am considered a young retiree. If you google “retired” you get images like this:Retired seniors 2Retired SeniorsRetired Seniors 3

And while these people sure look happy to have exited the hamster wheel, they are also all seniors; i.e. 65 years and over. In fact, I’ve come to realize that for most people, retired = senior citizen.

When I exited the corporate machine a year ago, I continued to keep busy with many interesting projects.  One of them was trying to understand how to age.  I worked primarily with younger people and didn’t have a lot of interaction with people older than me.  I didn’t know what a  55-year-old looked like?  How should I act?  What do I wear?  Now what?   I’m healthy, energetic and my sensibilities are intact. I’ve never really thought of myself as old.

So this blog is about my experience of learning how to age gracefully:  embracing the inevitable albeit with some reluctance and trepidation.  I am a “juvenile retiree”.

It was 1 year ago today…

I am 55 years old and last year, I was fortunate enough to take an early retirement.   It was not planned, the opportunity was presented to me and I had to make a decision quickly. Within a month, I was free.  Although most people at my company barely got a handshake upon their departure, I got a glowing e-mail announcement and two farewell parties.  I guess they did value me after 28.5 years of blood, sweat and tears.

I was in Sales the past 15 years.  My last role started out fun and interesting but after 4 years, the responsibility and workload had multiplied exponentially.  I had so many people on my back, crazy deadlines, too much work, ridiculous amounts of conflict and constant pressure.  I was ready to explode into a million pieces.

The first Monday morning after I left, I dropped my daughter off at school and stopped at Starbucks.  I lazily sipped a venti latte while watching people and cars whiz by.  And I thanked God that I didn’t have to participate in the rat race anymore.

My last day was exactly one year ago on March 27th.  I haven’t looked back nor have I regretted the decision, not for one second.