I’m post-menopausal and…ummm….I just forgot what I was gonna say

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Entering into menopause is kind of like falling into a dark cave without a flashlight. There’s no way out, except blindly crawling along, towards a very faint light at the other end, and all along, encountering bothersome beasts. Oh, sure, lots of people have gone in before you and have lived to tell about it. Hundreds of these survivors have written myriads of articles and books about the process. But, still, it is a scary place, because you just never know which of the perils will confront you on your own journey through the cave, and which ones will linger on after you come back into the light. Think of menopause as climbing a very tall mountain. (Yeah, I know, I said a dark cave before, but just shut-up and play along. I’m post-menopausal, and I’m moody.) So anyway, you climb this menopausal mountain, slowly and painstakingly. It’s a difficult and challenging journey, but you’re strong and determined, and you make it to the peak. You’ve gone slowly enough that you’re now able to breathe in the higher altitude, so things aren’t really all that bad at the top. You sit down to catch your breath, put bandaids on all of your blisters and orthopedic braces on all of your aching joints, and then you enjoy the view. Once you’re recovered, you begin the slow (but easier) trek back down. (Puts that whole “over-the-hill” phrase in proper perspective, doesn’t it…?) In my case, because of some bad side effects from my chemotherapy nine years ago, I had to have a medical procedure done to block the blood flow to my uterus. The symptoms of menopause rushed upon me in a flood-level time warp. For me, the entrance into this stage of life was more like being pushed out of a plane with a parachute (but no training), and crash-landing on the above-mentioned mountain, all while being out of shape and not at all accustomed to the higher altitude. I think I just sat there stunned for a couple of years, before I started to regain my senses. How does anyone prepare for that?!

I wish there was a checklist, so we could at least choose the afflictions we want to deal with. Perhaps we could be required to select just eight symptoms from the list – it would look something like this:

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Please select your preferred tortures for the duration of your travels through menopause (keeping in mind that these terrors might stick with you for the rest of your life). And don’t forget to read the small print!

 

____ hot flashes (imagine St. Joan of Arc being burned at the stake, and you might get a vague understanding for this particular torment. St. Joan might even be the patron saint of menopause sufferers…if she’s not, she should be. She was an amazing woman, so absolutely no disrespect intended!) This particular beast is bearable with an endless supply of sleeveless shirts, dressing in layers, setting up small, electric fans in every room, and carrying collapsible hand fans packed in all your bags.

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_____ over-sensitivity to heat and/or sweating more than usual (a slightly lighter sentence than hot flashes)

____ early morning awakening (say, anywhere between 4:00 and 6:00, with the most likely time being about an hour before your alarm is set to go off, so you’re guaranteed no chance of falling back asleep before that time)

____ insomnia (not being able to fall asleep in the first place, even though you are completely exhausted)

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____ night sweats (just to make the insomnia and early morning waking more fun)

____ fatigue (do you really need an explanation for this, after the previous three options?)

____ hair loss or dryness and increased facial wrinkles (because, why do you need to look nice enough to attract the opposite sex at your age?!)

____ weight gain (even if you eat like a bird, and go to bed each night with your stomach rumbling, you’ll soon be buying the next size up in clothing, and the next, and the next, unless you happen to be one of those annoying people with an incredibly healthy metabolism, in which case….PBTHPBH

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____ loss of sex drive (and other related problems…’nough said)

____ anxiety (from what my friends tell me, this one is not optional. You’ll have it, even if you don’t check it)

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____ moodiness & irritability (ditto, from above)

____ dry skin (not so bad, unless you find yourself constantly scratching. Buy lots of expensive, therapeutic lotions, which will do little to help, but at least you can say you tried)

____ absence of menstruation (PICK THIS ONE!!!!!! It’s the tiny hint of silver lining in this storm cloud passage of life)

____ And, finally…………..(Shoot, what was it? I know there was one more thing….it’ll come to me, tonight when I wake up at 2:00 am. I’ll get back to you on this one.)

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So, that’s my big idea. Us middle-aged women will go to see our doctors with our long list of complaints (take legal counsel along for good measure), we’ll be told we’re entering into the inescapable transition of menopause, we’ll ask for the list, and we’ll check off the ones we reckon we’ll be able to live with. And, from there on, we just hope for the best, because that fine print I mentioned earlier….., it leaves us all on very shaky ground. But at least we have each other, and our collective sense of humor, for continued support and survival. Because, if we lose the power of laughter (and/or the power of prayer!), this potentially beautiful season of maturity, wisdom, self-acceptance, and grandchildren ain’t gonna be near as fun! So come on, ladies. Saddle up your horses, and stock-pile the chocolates, wine, and hand fans, we got a trail to blaze, and things to accomplish, in this beautiful, promising autumn of our lives!

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Illusionary Lists

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I’ve reached an age where, sometimes, at the end of the day, I add insignificant things to my to-do list, just so I can cross more stuff off and get a good sense of accomplishment for my lazy self. Have you ever done that? It’s not as easy as it sounds. I have to plan ahead, when I’m writing out my list in the morning, and leave blank spaces for the potential, end-of-the-day add-ons. As the day wears on, and I find myself suffering from fatigue or allergy malaise, my list of things to-do begins to haunt me. Did I get the laundry done? Well, sort of. The clean clothes are lying in a neat pile on top of my cedar chest, but I can’t talk myself into the final step of folding them, or arranging them on hangers, and putting them away. Did I trim the cats’ claws? No, that’s been on the list for three days now (dislike that job immensely, I’ll wait until I notice them shredding the couch again). Did I make it to the library to return that book? Nah, the fines aren’t that bad, and they help support the library. How about defrosting the freezer? The weather cooled down too much for that job today. And, what’s this…., dust and organize all the books on my bookshelves? WHAT?! Who put that on my list? HONEY!?

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Time to do some damage control, i.e., strategize and do some inventive editing of my list. First of all, I’ll change the laundry job into several steps. Sort dirty clothes into lights and darks. Check. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Check. Transfer clean clothes into dryer. Check. Sort clean clothes into neat piles for various family members. Check. Put my clean clothes away. Save that for tomorrow. Alrighty then, this is looking a lot better. Cross off those four completed items. Now, what else did I do today? Hmmmmmm….. Well, I brushed my teeth. Write that down, cross it off. I took a shower, write down, cross off. I pulled a few weeds in my vegetable garden, write/cross off. And so the creativity builds and the “finish lines” grow plentiful, and my list is transformed into something I’d be proud to share on social media.

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I only dispense this hard-won wisdom to you, my readers, as a means of building your own level of self-esteem. With a humble, whole-hog act of helpful generosity, I want you to have an empowering list to admire at the end of the day. Even if everything is not completed, all of the “cross-offs” on your list will look very impressive, and make you realize how much you really did accomplish. Here are a couple of my sample to-do lists, as they looked after my editing, to inform, enlighten, and inspire you.

Things to do today: (italicized items were added near the end of the day)

Get out of bed

Go to the bathroom

Make gluten-free muffins for breakfast

Warm up some Jimmy Dean’s pork sausage for breakfast

Do meal planning and grocery list

Weed vegetable garden

Weed flower garden

Write a blog post

Cut up vegetables for fajitas

Make guacamole

Make chicken fajitas for supper

Dig a pizza out of the freezer for dinner

Toss some baby carrots & dip on the table for a side dish

Go grocery shopping

Play several games of solitaire on my Ipad

Read news stories on my Ipad

Do a jigsaw puzzle on my Ipad

Shave my legs

Lay out long pants to wear to work tomorrow

 

Things to do tomorrow: (helpful for those of you who work outside the home; make these simple so no editing is even required!)

Get up at 6:15

Eat breakfast, leave for work

Do all of the stuff my boss makes me do

Drive home

Eat supper (hopefully some leftovers from yesterday)

Relax in recliner with cold drink and Ipad

Go to bed

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Do you see what I’m getting at, here? It’s not really all about the amazing things you accomplish, but rather, how many things are crossed off “the list” at the end of the day. These are visuals that I can appreciate. Yeah, sure. There are some days when I am extremely productive. I plow through my list accomplishing chores aplenty and serving my family a delectable dinner (with plenty of leftovers), followed by an evening walk in the neighborhood, and, after a shower, tumbling into freshly changed sheets for a night of energetic dreams. In those cases, list embellishment is not needed. On those days, I post pictures on facebook of my gardens, or my dinner, or scenes from my evening walk. That could go on for a few highly profitable days, and then, no matter how honorable my intentions might be, I find myself feeling just plain-old worn out, and it’s time for a couple of slow-paced days. These are the situations that call for creativity, ingenuity, and (perhaps) a little fabrication. Because, seriously people, it’s all about how impressive we can make ourselves look, right?!

Try it, dear ones, and I know you will thank me. Especially if you add to your list, “Read Grandma’s Coffee Soup blog,” because this is always a wholesome, beneficial use of your time. Then, cross that off the list and head off to bed. Tomorrow is a whole new day, latent with list-making potential. Put these new skills to the test, and control your lists, instead of letting them get the best of you!

Purging the Perpetually Pullulating Piles

Twenty-seven years ago, my husband and I bought an office condominium space for his commercial photography business. We were tired of renting large spaces in old buildings, only to have those buildings purchased and slated for major renovation and upgrading (meaning, the per-square-foot rental rate suddenly going through the roof, forcing us to look elsewhere!). After yet another threat of an exponential rent increase, we searched and searched, once again, for a new, workable, affordable space. We felt really good about our find – a first floor space, with basement, in a four-story building that had been separated into four, sellable spaces. Never having to move again, unless we chose to. We signed on all the dotted lines.

We then went to work making it our own. We had purchased our first home the previous year, and here we were, cleaning, painting, fixing-up, and moving again, and this time, I was pregnant with our first child. We had some pretty good help, including my parents-in-law. They were some of the hardest working people I ever met. All you had to say was, “We need help,” and they were at the door, acting like it was the only place on earth they wanted to be right then, like….., like working was fun, or something. And, then, they’d buy lunch, too, every day, for as long as the work went on! Within a few short weeks, we had a beautiful, newly remodeled studio space that no one could kick us out of.

For the first several years, I worked at the studio a few days a week with my husband, keeping the books, sometimes assisting him with his photo shoots, while our daughter (and then, daughters) stayed with grandma and grandpa. When the third one came along, I cut back to once or twice a week, and finally switched to a 100%, stay-at-home, home schooling mom. My husband kept plugging along in our quaint little studio/office, all on his own. Life was good.

We all know, however, what eventually happens to “all good things.” They start to sour, whither, and wilt, and then, finally, they “come to an end.” Sometimes, in an over-ripe situation, you might begin to wish the end could come sooner, rather than later. That happened to us, as business started to drift off in search of younger (cheaper) photographers, the up-and-coming neighborhood starting rolling back down the hill, and we found ourselves stuck with a space we wished we could sell. Twice we put it on the market, but the market was bad. We took it off again, and waited several more years. We prayed, sometimes patiently, sometimes desperately. Then, one day earlier this year, a potential buyer called my husband, wanting to see the space, and then, miraculously enough, deciding to buy it! (This was, indeed, a miracle that I had been praying for, asking the Blessed Mother to intercede on my behalf, that the Holy Spirit would send us a buyer, even though our space was not even on the market, and hadn’t been for quite some time.)

Abruptly, the new business plan was – my husband is taking over the half-basement, and the entire garage, of our small, cape cod house. We’re talking about going from a space of 3000+ square feet to about 550 square feet. Suddenly, my husband finds himself in a position of clearing out twenty-seven years worth of self-storage in about ninety days. No, that’s not totally accurate, because when his mom and dad finally sold his childhood home and moved into something smaller, he had taken quite a bit of furniture and other items and moved them into the studio. Then, when his father died, and his mom moved into a retirement community, more items were added. And then, his mom died, and….well, you get the picture. To quote my husband, “I never really had to throw anything away, because I had access to so much storage space.” This is where the purging part of the story comes into play, along with the pullulating (which is, by the way, an awesome word, don’t you think?!) piles.

Such serious purging is a painful process, and, generally speaking, a hell of a lot of work. First, there were a few big items, that would never, ever fit anywhere in our house (which, by the way, I forgot to mention, is also being used as a storage unit for all the earthly belongings of my wandering missionary daughter and her hubby, until they find their way back to Cincinnati, and, find jobs and new housing….). So, the big, antique dentist cabinet, filled to overflowing with hard-won fossils, rocks, and minerals, that had been with my husband since he was a young boy, had to go. Job files from the very beginning of my husband’s business career needed to be sorted through, and, for the most part, taken to the mega-shredding store, along with years worth of record-keeping paperwork. Massive amounts of accumulated props, large backdrops, and framed photos needed a new home. Craigslist, Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul Ministries, The Re-Store, used camera equipment outlets, antique stores, the local landfill – my husband navigated them all with the utmost skill and determination. By the time I found a free day to drop by the studio and lend a helping hand, he had most of the remaining items in organized piles (another trip to the landfill in this pile, over there more thrift store stuff, this pile we should ask the kids about, etc.). My big contribution was packing up all the kitchen stuff, and deciding what I wanted to bring home and what I thought should be pitched. I dug through the piles and found a few small things I wanted to keep and/or offer to our daughters. I wasn’t sure where in my house I was going to fit them, but…they’re here, somewhere.

A few days before the scheduled closing, I received an e-mail from my husband, with a couple of photos he had taken of the now-empty studio. “Was it bittersweet,” you might be wondering. Perhaps, just a little, but my gut reaction to those photos was a surge of joy. I felt it even more as we walked out of the closing a few days later. I felt free and cleansed, as though I had experienced a baptism of sorts. We had taken a difficult step, and been forced into letting go of a large number of material possessions – some we were very attached to, and some we had forgotten we even had until we found them and dusted them off. But now, they’re gone, and I have no regrets. I think what a blessing it is that we have been forced to do this now, and not leave a burden like this for our children to sort through some day down the road. But mostly, I look at my husband with renewed respect for the man that he is. He worked hard, and the pain of the purge was much more his than mine. I walk downstairs now and see the nice space he has set up for himself. I wander around his storage area in the garage and am impressed by how nicely set-up and organized it is. Yes, this purging has been a laborious effort, the fruits of which are a new, simpler way of life, which I am embracing and enjoying, as I look to the future with a lighter step and a fuller heart.