Friday, December 23, 2011

The Twelve Days Of Menopausal Christmas

     "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me..."
     One portable purse-size fan

     Two deep tissue massage sessions (preferably with Johnny Depp or George Clooney)

     Three vodka martinis (can I invite Depp and Clooney?)

     Four pairs of elastic waist band pants (for all the bloating after the martinis)

     Five jars of age spot cream (never should have spent my college years swilling cheap beer and sunbathing on the beach!)

     Six diet pills (how else am I going to get rid of the 5 pounds of holiday weight gain? I'm still carrying around the "freshman 15" and I graduated 30 years ago!)

     Seven bottles of champagne (all holiday weight gain can be traced back to this)

     Eight female Viagra pills (not necessary if Depp or Clooney was involved)

     Nine energy drinks (so I can do more stupid stuff at a faster pace)

     Ten antidepressant pills (again, not necessary if Depp or Clooney are involved)

     Eleven ice packs (to line the bed at night so I don't wake up in multiple hot flashes)

     Twelve bars of chocolate (it had better be Godiva!)

     On the thirteenth day of Christmas...yeah, I need another day because you forgot to send Guy Fieri my way. Who else am I going to share my Godivas with???

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tis The Season

     "It's the most wonderful time of the year!"  Yeah, maybe if I kidnapped the Keebler Elves to do all my shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating and then had them give me a foot massage along with a box of those fudgy cookies they're notorious for.
     For us, the "season" officially starts after the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers are finished, including all that gelled cranberry stuff that ends up in the dog's bowl or someone's unlucky lunch box. It's at this point that my husband has the urge to gas up the mommy mobile and head for the Ozarks to hibernate for a month, just to avoid putting up the Christmas lights.
     Twenty-three rubber storage bins loaded with what my husband fondly refers to as "Christmas crap" are nestled under the rafters in our attic.  Baby Jesus is still sleeping up there, alongside Frosty The Snowman, Santa and a wire reindeer with a bum leg.  Something got into the attic last year and ate the Three Wise Men, but the way my husband sees it, that's one less box of crap to haul down from the attic.  I don't know why he complains so much---all he has to do is decorate our lawn with thousands of LED lights so that it's bright enough to be seen by NASA from the sky.  I'm the one who is always stuck doing the indoor decorations, which includes a motion-activated Santa and a drunk-looking reindeer that shakes his hips and sings,"Shake Your Booty!"  Then there's all the twinkling Christmas characters I bought several years ago during my fiber optics craze.  I also have to assemble an entire village with little lighted houses, shops and Christmas carolers.
     Once the tree is up and the house is decorated inside and out, the extensive shopping list is next to be tackled.  This is my LEAST favorite part of Christmas.  I'd prefer to recline on the couch with a glass of spiked egg nog rather than wait in the long lines at department stores at 3:00 a.m. when all the zombies from The Walking Dead come out to feast.  Maybe if the store managers offered people little cups of spiked egg nog while they waited in line, no one would ever complain again.
     Next comes the party circuit that lasts several weekends in December.  I always start off the holiday festivities in something sexy and black with strappy little heels.  By the end of the month, I'm popping fiber pills by the dozens to counteract the alcohol and high calorie appetizers I've been grazing on at all the parties and swapping heels for bathroom slippers because my toes are permanently damaged from being jammed into stilettos every weekend.
     As the 25th of December draws near, I'm forced to max out my credit card on Scotch tape, bows and wrapping paper.  By Christmas eve I've gone into my frenzied, gift wrapping mode without the aid of the Keebler Elves.
     When Christmas day finally arrives, I'm always dismayed by the amount of pine needles that have already fallen off my tree.  I can never vacuum fast enough to catch them all because they multiply overnight like rabbits.  I'll even find a stray pine needle or two while I'm decorating the house for our Fourth Of July celebration.
     After living on a diet of rum cakes and gingerbread men, I'm ready to start my New Year's resolution to lose weight.  This usually lasts two to three days, then it's back to my old menopausal ways of being cranky, hungry, hot flashy, tired and impatient.
     Why oh why can't they sell spiked egg nog all year 'round?!?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Old Bag

       The other day while I was driving, my purse fell off the passenger seat when I hit the brakes and  landed upside-down on the floor.  No time to tidy it up at a red light, I blindly stuffed everything back inside it, appalled when my fingers brushed against something sticky.  I haven't bothered to organize it in a while, and frankly, I'm a little frightened about what I might find inside.  Yes, I am one of those women who drags the same old bag around year after year until the seams split or an uncapped pen leaks into the fabric.  I'm the odd one at the party with a white tote bag draped over my shoulder in the middle of December.  You might as well tape a sign on my back that reads, "BAD WITH PURSES!"
     I hate buying new purses, and have little interest in swapping them out for other bags in various sizes and colors.  Perhaps if I was the corporate type, I'd have enough purses and shoes to match all my color-coordinated outfits.  But the truth is I work in the home, so there is no need to purchase a bag to match my bathrobe or another to match a pair of ratty shorts and a t-shirt with a ketchup stain on it ( "Excuse me Sir, does this purse come in the color of red splotches and sweat stains?).  I own a simple, utility brown bag that matches nothing and therefore matches everything.... and is large enough to stuff half of my house into it.  There might even be a kid or two inside.  I've never understood women who are capable of managing several purses at one time, and am a bit envious of their ability to match their bags to their shade of toenail polish.
     My purse is one of those special organizer bags that has millions of separate compartments like the squares in a shadow box.  I'm convinced these bags were designed for women with Attention Deficit Disorder.  I can pack all kinds of stupid stuff in my purse, like a half-eaten lollipop, an uncapped lipstick and a crumpled napkin from last month's garden club luncheon.
     I'm slow to change, but I'll admit that when I'm forced to buy a new purse, I feel hopeful, like I've been given a second chance to organize my life and start all over if the purse defines who I am.  New purse, new me.  The old bag is tossed into my closet, the graveyard for all my mismatched, outdated purses.  This includes my baggy giraffe tote, a leopard print handbag, a gold, sequined purse that has seen better days and a tiny, black leather pouch that dates back to my college days when all I needed was a driver's license and a tube of lipstick to score a free drink at the bar.
     I kept my cheetah print purse the longest, despite the holes in the lining where unknown amounts of makeup and coins have disappeared.  Animal print bags used to be sexy.  If I carried one around now, I'd look like a menopausal, middle age woman lugging around a dead zebra.  Why I ever wanted a bag that resembled a large, exotic animal, I'll never know.  Thank God I wasn't keen on elephants.
     With the New Year only months away, I feel it is time to purge the clutter, start fresh and venture into the dark abyss of my organizer handbag that is not so organized.  Some people feel that a woman's purse is a reflection of her housekeeping skills.  The opposite is true for me; I keep a clean house but the contents of my purse look like the aftermath of a tornado.  I don't care because there will be no unexpected visitors knocking at my door to crawl around inside my purse to judge my cleaning skills.
     If my purse could talk, it would tell you that I am usually distracted while I am carrying it around on my shoulder and that I am negligent about throwing anything away.  My purse doubles as my personal trash can.  I just keep forgetting to clean it out.  My husband once ventured inside my purse in search of an insurance card.  Moments later he looked like a shell-shocked soldier returning from the battlefields.
     Once I start fishing around inside the black hole that is my purse, the first thing that I encounter is a set of keys, most of which belong to my house.  Unfortunately, there are also keys to houses of neighbors who have long since moved away and keys to a car I sold five years ago.  There is also a single aspirin, three nickels, a tampon that has torn free from it's wrapper (tells you how long it has been since I've had a period!), a mini toothbrush that looks like it was used to scrub the grout in my bathroom tiles, one fuzzy, stray mint, expired credit cards, an old granola bar, cracked reading glasses, pens that have run out of ink, a deflated tube of sunscreen, dental floss, antacids and a receipt from Walt Disney World dated 2007.  Oh, and that sticky stuff at the bottom of my purse?  A melted chocolate bar from Halloween.  I have plenty of the boring stuff in there, too---cosmetic bag, cell phone, hairbrush, wallet---the purse can hold anything, which is why I like it.  I can stuff an extra pair of shoes in it, a change of clothes, a water bottle and enough food to last a week in the wilderness.  I don't understand women who pay thousands of dollars on designer bags the size of a postage stamp.  I'll keep my ugly, suitcase-size purse until it finally expires from neatness neglect.  And then I'll buy another one just like it, which I promise will remain clean and organized...for at least the first month.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gobble Gobbler

     Thanksgiving is my favorite time of the year.  The stress of Christmas shopping hasn't begun yet---no standing in line at 3:00a.m. for dolls that burp, hiccup and pee in their pants.  I get enough of that at home . No maxing out credit cards that suck the life out of my finances and take the majority of my adult life to pay off.  No blinking lights synchronized to hip-hop Christmas music or re-gifting of moldy fruit cakes from 2009.  Does anyone actually eat those things?
     Thanksgiving is the day for cooks to shine and foodaholics to weep in gratitude.  It marks the beginning of a season where calories are ignored and food babies are conceived.  Everyone gathers around the t.v. to watch the Macy's Day Parade in the morning.  Little do they know that by evening when they waddle out of my house, they will closely resemble those giant floats hovering over Central Park.  There's a reason stuffing is called stuffing, and I don't think it has anything to do with the pilgrims.  None of them sported the nickname "Butterball" after the feast.  Only Americans feel inclined to gobble, guilt free, mass quantities of poultry, starch, gravy and sweets on this special occasion.  And a lot of people eat it twice in one day, because everyone knows that afternoon football marathon just wouldn't be the same without a leftover turkey sandwich, beer, and a side of re-heated, mashed potatoes.  Finish it off with a slice or two of pumpkin pie and you've had a traditional Thanksgiving holiday.  Too bad we can't attach pop-up timers to our stomachs like the ones that come with our turkeys---at least then we'd know when to stop stuffing our faces before our stomachs explode.
     For my family, Thanksgiving starts early with coffee and mimosas, while my husband makes the raw turkey dance in the sink (too many mimosas) before he washes it.  The bird is always a large one---my husband searches for weeks for the perfect turkey---one the size of an ostrich.
     Once the bird is in the oven, I put the family in charge of peeling the potatoes while I fix the other side dishes and sneak a piece of pecan pie.  Once on the lips, forever on the hips?  Who cares, it's Thanksgiving!
     The mob that I call my extended family arrives in the afternoon and the gorging begins.  There is enough food on the table to feed a Third World Country.  Football is on but the room is unusually quiet---no one has the energy to yell or cheer for their team because they're already in a food coma.
     I pack up the leftovers after everyone leaves and wonder as I always do, why there's always so much lime jello salad left.  Probably because every year someone makes a comment about it resembling something that came out of The Hulk.  It may look gross, but it tastes great, and it has been a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember.  Maybe I'll pass the recipe down to my grandkids and rename it Hulk Jello Salad.
     The next day I know better than to step on the scale.  It actually cringes when it sees me enter the bathroom.  Looking in the mirror, I notice the gobbler that has grown on my neck overnight.  I'm even more convinced that I am a distant cousin of the turkey when I lift up my sleeves and see giblet arms.  No need to contemplate the stomach---I already know that's the final resting place of the stuffing and mashed potatoes I ate the night before.  Time to lace up the sneakers and hit the jogging trail...well, maybe after one more slice of pecan pie.


3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup whole pecans
1 pastry shell (homemade pie crust is best but store bought will do)

Mix all ingred. except pecans. Spread pecans on the bottom of the pie shell. Pour in the filling on top of the nuts. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes or until knife inserted in pie comes out clean


3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 stick butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mix all ingred. and place in casserole dish. Then make the topping as follows:

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1/3 stick butter, melted

Combine ingred. and sprinkle over sweet potatoes. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes.  Serves 6.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Vultures Are Waiting

     My daughter convinced me to watch The Rachel Zoe Project on the cable network, and as I'm staring at these twenty-one-year-old, anorexic-looking models, I'm thinking two thoughts: 1)Someone should tie these girls down and force-feed them doughnuts, and 2) Was I ever that young? Right now I feel more like something an anthropologist unearthed from King Tut's tomb. My brain is still stuck in 1981 but my body has fast-fowarded into a new century populated by people with graying hair, pot bellies and elephant skin. Is this really the generation I was born into? What happened to disco balls, leather pants and Boy George? If someone had told me thirty years ago I'd be spending my weekends in the backyard using a pooper scooper, I would have laughed in their face. My husband feels the same way every time he gets behind the wheel of our prehistoric mini van that should have been shot years ago to be put out of it's misery.
     For the most part, I'm young at heart. But some days I feel like it's time my kids wheel me into a nursing home and spoon-feed me soup. I'm already getting flyers in the mail pestering me to buy burial plots and to join AARP. Just the other day I was on the walking trail with my husband when I noticed a vulture following us overhead. He circled for a mile or two, just waiting to see which one of us was going to croak first. My husband raised his fist to the bird and shouted, "We're not dead yet!!"
     And what's up with the age spots? I never had spots on my skin, then suddenly I woke up one morning looking like a leopard. I rushed over to the dermatologist, convinced that I had some weird skin disease. She just chuckled and said, "Welcome to middle age!" Now the spots are all over me---enough that if I get bored, I can play connect-a-dot on my skin. Some dots are larger, some smaller, some are lighter while others are darker. Some are the size of Africa. By the time I'm eighty, I'll look like one giant, brown, age spot, because all of the dots will have connected. Then I'll just look like I have a great tan without even trying.
     My eyes have also gone to hell. My mother promised me when I was little that if I ate my carrots, I'd have good eyesight. She lied. I'm blind as a bat, and if I'm not careful, I may end up hanging upside-down in a tree with my new, furry, winged friends.
     The lack of energy is what kills me. I used to be like the Energizer bunny until my batteries corroded. I've heard that fatigue is common with menopause, but come on, my sleep patterns could rival that of Sleeping Beauty. Except I don't wake up to a kiss from a prince...just dog slobber and the sound of toilets flushing. Mega doses of caffeine are the only reason I'm still standing on two feet at the end of the day. I am a human percolator.
     The thing that really makes me feel old is the contents of my nightstand drawer. When I was newly married, that drawer contained candles, gels, lingerie and all sorts of naughty items geared for fun. Opening the drawer now, the first thing I see is a tube of cracked-heel foot cream. Next to it, another colorful tube of antifungal cream. What else? A bottle of magnesium, aspirin, lip balm, a calorie counter and the crumpled wrapper from a chocolate bar. There's also a container of foot pads and ear plugs, a broken pair of reading glasses, nose spray and a mouth guard. Sounds like a shopping list for a convalescence home. I suppose I could throw in a few pairs of Spanx, support hose and some high-heeled orthopedic shoes to make it more an eighty-year-old.
     Time to embrace the vulture years!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Devil Juice

     Devil juice can be defined as: "Juice made from a winery in hell, designed to create multiple personalities in those who imbibe by introducing their alter egos to the general public."
     My husband is an avid beer drinker, but once he switches over to the dark side of wine, he becomes a different person.  Just like a woman with raging hormones in the throes of menopause, his mood can change drastically.  I never know which alter ego of his I will be dealing with---McBastard, Cuddle Bear, Sleepy from the Seven Dwarfs or a Teletubbie.  These personalities don't kick in until he has uncorked his second bottle of red wine.  He could paint the house, wax the car or install new plumbing and not remember a thing in the morning.  Sometimes he morphs into Jimmy Hendrix and plays air guitar to Purple Haze, while other nights he dons a cat mask and dances to the Meow Mix theme.  I don't worry too much about his alter egos as long as he's not scratching in a litter box, marking his territory or trying to lick my ankles.
     My husband claims that devil juice alters my personality as well.  He says that I change from lamb to lion to human gummy bear after a few glasses of vino, which has convinced me to buy cheaper wine and dilute it with ice water.  Gross, I know, but we can't have two comatose adults in the back yard.
      Years ago we owned a gift basket shop and were fortunate enough to come across case loads of good quality champagne at a discount price from a local wine dealer.  Most of the bottles ended up in our kitchen cabinets instead of in the baskets they were intended for.  A close friend of ours who bought several cases called it forget-me-not champagne because she woke each morning after drinking it not remembering what she did the night before.
     We have plenty of wine that could sport the same forget-me-not label.  Wine comas rob you of chunks of time you can never get back, until one day you find yourself crawling around on all fours in a video on YouTube.
     After enough glasses of devil juice, my husband is convinced he's the next Iron Chef.  He fixes weird sandwiches like bologna with garlic croutons or peanut butter, jelly and roasted turkey, then tries to get everyone else to eat his creations.  Guy Fieri he is not.  Vino turns me into Paula Dean---I want to slather butter on everything.  Some of my tastiest concoctions were created after a few glasses of devil juice---problem is I consumed major calories and I don't remember what I ate, only that it was more difficult to zip up my jeans the next day.
     You would think two middle age adults would not want to lose track of precious time by blurring their weekends with devil juice.  There's just something not right about a man in a cat mask drinking wine.  Next weekend he's changing his own litter box.
      What can I say?
      The devil made him do it!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Menopausal Muncher

     I started my first diet in middle school after a fellow student accused me of looking pregnant because my blouse was so "puffy" around my stomach.  I didn't know how to explain to him that my stomach size was the result of a food baby, not a real baby.  All those years of sneaking chocolate bars at the park with my sister were beginning to show around my middle, and I had to do something about it.  Like adopt the diet of a rabbit---all parsley and lettuce and no fun. 
     My body shrank and expanded like an accordian over the years as I bounced from one diet to another.  In my early twenties, it was all about leg warmers and sweat bands at the gym in order to keep the pounds off.  Then came my pregnancies, which was a happy time for me because being pregnant gave me license to do some serious bulk eating.  Little did I know how all those pepperoni pizza slices were going to take up residence on my hips for the next twenty years.  I had a brief reprieve when Phen-Phen became popular.  What an amazing diet pill!  You could lose ten pounds in your sleep, paint your entire house in one day, and fit into a size 3 dress by the end of the week.  Sadly, it was banned (all the good stuff is) and it was back to old fashioned dieting: carrot sticks and lettuce and me feeling more and more like a rabbit each day.
     For years I ate right, excercised, and kept the weight off, and then something strange happened when menopause hit.  It was as if aliens stole my body and replaced it with a much plumper, sweatier version.  I gain five pounds now just looking at a piece of devil's food cake.  What cruel joke is this?  I finally don't have to count the days on my calender to calculate when my period is due, but now I'm left to obsess over the numbers on the scale.  If I could have a conversation with my scale, it would go something like this:

     ME:  "Good morning, scale.  I'd like to weigh in today because I've been really good on my diet this week."

     SCALE:  "Aren't you forgetting about those chicken nuggets you stole off your son's lunch plate when he wasn't looking?"

     ME:  "Yeah, but those don't count because they were just bites.  I didn't eat a whole one."

     SCALE:  "And the Hershey's bar?"

     ME:  "Hey, that was a Halloween fun size candy bar.  That doesn't count, either."

     SCALE:  "What about the three slices of all-you-can-eat-toppings pizza you had Saturday night?"

     ME:  "I don't remember that because I drank four glasses of wine first, so that definitely doesn't count."

     SCALE:  "And the secret rendezvous you had with the leftover lasagna yesterday morning?  Who eats a cold wedge of lasagna at 7:00 in the morning?"

     ME:  "It was part of a nutritious breakfast and...okay, you got me there.  Maybe today is not such a good day to weigh in."

     SCALE:  "Ya think?  Besides, you might damage my frame if you step on me now."

     ME:  "That's rude of you."

     SCALE:  "Just go back to your lettuce leaves and don't bother me again until you're serious about this dieting stuff.  Oh, and by the way, is it my imagination or are you growing whiskers and longer ears lately?"

     My doctor told me to expect a ten pound weight gain during menopause.  I think she was being kind.  What makes no sense to me is how much I sweat during a hot flash---I look like I've just run a marathon, so I ought to lose at least a pound of liquid a day in the process.  I should resemble a stick by now, not a basketball.  Pretty soon I'm going to have to call Omar The Tent Maker to design my next wardrobe if I don't lose this excess menopausal weight.
     Everyone laughs about marijuana munchies, but what about menopausal munchies?  They're worse because they last all day and night without leaving you in a state of euphoria.  The FEED ME valve won't shut off in my brain, and nothing seems to alleviate it except more food.  My stomach expects every day to be Thanksgiving with all the trimmings.  Instead I have to settle on plain turkey burgers, steamed broccoli and sugar free jello.  Yummy.  At this point I'm ready to gnaw on the frozen package of stale corn muffins in the back of the freezer.  If this was a kinder, gentler world, women would lose weight during menopause, their skin would glow and their hair would become thick and shiny.  Unfortunately, everything is turned upside-down in menopause---we gain weight, our skin dries out and the only thing that's thick and shiny is our thighs stuffed into a tight pair of black slacks.  Sometimes I feel like throwing my scale out the window and slipping into a roomy house dress with large, flower print.  I could eat doughnuts all day in front of the air conditioning vent and get caught up on all the latest nighttime television dramas.
     And the next time my scale talks back to me, I'm going to duct tape it to the wall as a decorative antique.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Animal Hoarder

     When my kids were teenagers with mutinous attitudes, I couldn't wait for them to move out so that I could have some peace and quiet from the angst of their hormonal mood swings. No more six foot laundry piles, wet towels "drying" on the bathroom floor, dirty dishes stashed under bunk beds and closests overflowing with mismatched shoes, bags, and discarded pizza boxes. No more blaring TV sets in every room, speakers pumping rap music in decibels loud enough to make my ears bleed, and a refrigerator that should have been outfitted with a turnstile door to accomodate my children's insatiable appetites.
     Sure enough, the first batch of chics graduated from high school and off to college they went, leaving behind their unmade beds and a few stray socks. The first month they were gone, I reveled in the lighter work load around the house, even though I still had a few younger chics in the nest to attend to. At least I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
     Soon after the newness of my older children's absence wore off, I started missing them. Badly. I missed the loud dinner conversations, the parade of young friends coming in and out of the house at all hours...everything just seemed so...quiet. I contemplated getting another pet to add to the menagerie of rescue animals I already had.  I grew up in a household full of exotic animals (my sister worked at the Wild Bird Care Center, so you name it we had it---owls, bats, a vulture and a hawk, just to name a few), so when my kids were little, we did the usual fish-turtle-hamster-guinea pig thing. Unfortunately, none of those animals had very long life spans and we had to give the turtles away (my son's room smelled like a swamp) along with the guinea pig (we discovered two things about him---he didn't like to be tickled under the chin and he had very sharp teeth). Pretty soon people caught on that we had a soft spot for all types of animals, and next thing we knew, our house had turned into an animal shelter (or a zoo, depending on how you looked at it).  A rabbit, an albino rat, a pigmy hedgehog, sugar glider and several chinchillas found their way home to us. Then we started on the rescue dogs. Every time a child moved out, an animal moved in, thus earning me the title of "Animal Hoarder" from my husband. I explained to him that I still had the need to nurture something. He told me to buy a plant. I blamed it on menopause---told him I was depressed and in need of love and affection. He said he gave me plenty of love and attention and that if I was sad, I should eat more chocolate. When I told him I was a kind, compassionate person for taking in all the stray animals, he told me the word "sucker" was stamped on my forehead at birth. I may have been suckered into adopting some of these animals, but I truly feel this is the best place for them to be. I've got one on heart meds, one on hair loss meds, and another in a diaper.  Hmmm...sounds like I'm running a nursing home. I don't regret taking in these little boarders---they're like family to me (except they don't drink all my wine and gossip about me when I leave the room) and I'll do whatever it takes to keep them comfortable and happy.  Having them in my life actually does ease the depression when my hormones feel out of whack. At least I don't have to worry about them behind the wheel of a car when they turn sixteen or contemplate where the funds for their college tuition will come from. But my husband does have fears---fear of what will come next after the last two kids leave the nest. A koala bear? Ostrich? Donkey? In this house, you never know....

Monday, October 10, 2011

Deliver The Liver

     Many people my age had parents who thought it was a smart idea to feed their children liver. They knew it was a good source of iron, something everyone needed, so once a month in my house, platters of liver and onions circulated the dining room table. I could smell it frying in the pan an hour before dinner was to be served, and I would contemplate my escape. The nights I was forced to eat liver with a side dish of succotash (lima beans mixed with corn) was pure hell on earth. Even a kid knows that the grouping of those two foods is a terrible, unpalatable combination of flavors, and I would have sold my six-year-old soul to get out of eating one spoonful of it. I tried slipping it under the table to the dog, but Mom caught on to that real quick---especially when the dog started gagging. He didn't like that junk any more than I did. My next trick was to fake cough between bites and spit it into my dinner napkin. Problem was, my siblings were doing the same thing, and after awhile my mother figured  out what was in those large, wadded-up napkins she kept finding in the trash.
     Fast foward forty years to my own kitchen, a liver-free zone, even though I'm married to a liver connoisseur. We should have included a liver clause in our wedding vows exempting me from ever serving the vile meat in our house. My husband found a kindred spirit in our neighbor, who shares his taste for liver and fries it up just the way he likes it---smothered in onions. I don't care what you smother it with, whether it's ketchup (which makes everything taste better) or seasoning---nothing is going to cover up the fact that you are eating organ meat. Just the thought of it makes me want to reconsider vegetarianism.
     I was anemic with all of my pregnancies, and the doctors encouraged me to increase my iron intake through various foods and supplements. For me, liver was never an option. I stuck with spinach and beets to boost my drooping energy. A lot of doctors recommend additional iron in the diet during menopause to help beat fatigue, and that includes the consumption of liver. The meat, which is high in B12 and protein, might be good for premenopausal women, but for older women, the high levels of iron can increase heart disease. The liver is the filter system in the body, and it can be full of pesticides and hormones. It is the organ that produces the nasty yellowish-green bile that helps with digestion. Who in their right mind wants to eat that?! It's gross to look at, it smells weird and it has the texture of chalky meat. Doesn't that just sound like something you'd want to chow down on? The next time you order a plate of calf's liver, just remember you're porking out on ol' Bessie's baby cow. That's about as appetizing as an offering of blood sausage with cod liver oil on the side.
     After twenty-eight years of marriage, my husband still begs for liver and onions. I tell him to go to the neighbor's house for it. When he comes home in a liver-induced coma, I thank the Lord for de-livering me from liver.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Born This Way

This is how the day started:

     I'm up all night hot flashing and using the bathroom. Because I'm up so much, insomnia steps in. Stupid stuff swirls around in my sleepless brain like leaves in a wind storm. Did I turn the stove off after dinner? Are the garbage can lids secure enough to keep the raccoons out of the trash tonight? Did I remember to pay my out-of-control water bill? Oh, why did I eat that last meatball? I didn't need it or want it, but it was just sitting there by its lonesome self on the plate and it was calling my name...
     At 5:30 a.m., I decide to get up, slowly shuffling through the house like a disgruntled zombie. After drinking mass quantites of caffeine, the sun is not so offensive anymore, so I hit the walking trail for a few laps. When I get back home, my legs ache and my skin is sore under the bra line. Why? Because I'm chafed. Chafed! I'm too young to get chafed, even if it's humid and 95 degrees out.
     The thought of chafing leads me down an unhappy trail of self-consciousness. I'm cresting on another wicked mood swing and have no clue how long it will last. My daughter whispers to her younger brother, "Don't bug Mom today, she's in her dark place." Time for me to retire to my bat cave and ponder the meaning of life. Alone. My inner wiring has fritzed out, and my behavior has become irratic. Yesterday I cried over a Humana commercial. Today I'm obsessed with Hershey's Kisses. Last week I went nuts because there were no clean towels left for me to take a shower. I think they sprouted wings and flew the coop because they couldn't handle my mood swings, either.
     After brooding in my cave for an hour, it's time to join the land of the living. Music is drifting down the hall. Lady Gaga's "Born This Way". Born to chafe and sneak Hershey's Kisses? Oh god, I hope not. I want to start over in a world where menopause does not exist, or at least has an entirely different meaning, such as "pause for a vacation", "pause for a Mai Tai", or "pause for cake pops." Anything but this, a perspiring woman in an "I'm Nuts For Squirrels!" t-shirt, fanning herself with a pink dust pan.
     The kids scatter like frightened mice when I emerge from the bedroom. My husband eyes me warily from the couch and quickly flips the channel to something more soothing than MMA cage polar bears circling a seal. No, no, no! Change the channel quickly! Wait a minute. What are those weird people doing on t.v.? They're dressed up like dairy cows in a bar and...are you serious? On cable t.v. before midnight? I don't think I'll ever drink milk again. Now I know I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight. What is this world coming to? Right now the world under my comforter looks a whole lot better, mood swings and all. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I'm a conglomeration of Snow White's dwarfs: Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, and a few of their cousins, Bitchy, Bloaty, Sweaty and Weepy...because baby I was born this way.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Menopausal Man

     Seldom will you find articles about a man's point of view when it comes to menopause, but the male perspective, according to my husband, needs to be told. After all, men have to live with us throughout the ordeal (remember that part in your wedding vows about 'for better or worse'?) and endure our hair-raising roller coaster ride of emotions. My husband strapped on that seat belt a long time ago and has ridden through some rough terrain with me over the past few years. When I was pregnant, he shared the experience with me through his own "phantom pregnancy". As my belly expanded, so did his, along with every weird craving I had. If I ate reuben sandwiches and orange sherbert for breakfast, so did he. When I was grouchy and crying over swollen ankles, he was miserable and swore that his ankles looked a bit swollen, too. Or at least that's what he said when his socks got too tight. Same goes for when the jeans no longer fit. It had absolutely nothing to do with all that beer chilling in the fridge.
     Whenever it was "that time of the month" for me, he could match me in crabbiness and lower back pain. I once found him studying the label on a bottle of Midol pills he was considering taking, and that's when I had to draw the line.
     Now that I have crested the hill of my youth and am peddling downward into the menopausal stage of life, guess who's riding behind me on the two-seater? Just the other day I caught my husband jotting down the 800 number for hormone replacement therapy. Problem is, I don't know if it was for my benefit or his.
     It's rough on a man, not knowing what kind of a woman he might be coming home to each night when she's in the throes of menopause. If the planets are aligned in his favor and his special numbers hit the lotto jackpot, he might come home to a sexy vixen in a French maid's costume. But  more than likely he'll come home and hit speed dial for the local priest to come over ASAP to perform an excorcism.
     Part of our shared moodiness and fatigue stems from lack of sleep, and I blame myself entirely for this. There is no such thing as a restful seven hours of shut-eye after turning 50. An over-active bladder and hot flashes rob me of this pleasure. My husband and I call it the "battle of the blankets", because all night long we play tug-of-war with the sheets. I wake up sweating, which prompts me to use the bathroom, and once my feet hit the cold, tiled floor, I'm shivering like my house has been transformed into an igloo. Meanwhile, the bed sheets are still warm from my recent hot flash, which spreads warmth to my husband's side of the bed. Now he's the one having a psuedo hot flash and he kicks off the sheet. I hop into bed, my teeth chattering, and yank three layers of covers over us. The unbearable heat wakes up my husband, who stumbles bleary-eyed into the bathroom. Just as I am beginning to dose off, I hear the toilet flush and realize there are beads of perspiration forming above my lip. After muttering a few choice words, I begin kicking wildly at the blankets that are tangled around my legs. "Get 'em off! Get 'em OFF!" My husband gawks at me. "What do you mean?" he asks. "It's feezing in here!"
     It has taken awhile, but my husband has finally come to understand the mood swings of his menopausal wife. Sometimes it feels as if there is a loose connection between my mouth and my brain, which is when all hell breaks loose and the insanity begins rolling off my tongue. "WHO THE HELL MOVED MY 'CALM YOURSELF WITH YOGA' BOOK THREE INCHES OFF THE SHELF?"  "DID YOU FORGET TO BUY THE CLUMPING CAT LITTER AGAIN? I'M NOT CLEANING UP THAT #@!*#!"   "WHO ATE MY LEFTOVER KUNG PO BEEF?!"  No wonder there has been a steady increase in our bill from the liquor store.
     My husband and kids have both learned the hard way to NEVER tell this menopausal mother to "just chill" when I am on one of my hormonal tirades over stupid stuff like missing socks in the dryer. Two go in, one comes out. Where do they go? Mismatched sock heaven? It's the little things that send me over the edge. A hurricane could be chewing up my back yard but I won't notice it because I'll be too busy yelling at the culprit negligent of cleaning out the congealed macaroni-lettuce-dog food gunk in the dish drainer. This is what my spouse has to deal with on a regular basis---a menopausal maniac.
     My husband believes in the old adage, "if you can't beat them, join them", because he has. While we share similiar complaints about aging (weight gain, fatigue, brittle nails, creaky bones), he has certain issues that I (thankfully!) do not share. Things that only a man can understand. Like testicles. According to my husband, New Year's Eve at Times Square isn't the only time a ball drops. Wait until you turn fifty and are forced to walk bowlegged. He also claims that flatulence is a problem with aging. Most of the time he feels like a helium balloon avoiding a hat pin. Just scribble "Goodyear" on his back side.
     Have you noticed that a man's ears get bigger as they age? My husband calls it the Dumbo Syndrome. Speaking of elephants, check out the skin on the elbow of you fifty-and-older spouse. Time to join a herd of mastodons. AARP has already offered my husband a gold card membership.
     Not only has my spouse had to endure hair loss and frequent bouts of butt chafing, to add insult to injury, a man his age should be driving a snazzy sports car, but mine is driving the minivan from hell. You know the type---oxidized paint, missing hubcaps, broken door handles...circa 1999. The van seizes up at every stop light and belches smoke if you punch the accelerator too quickly. Oh yeah, it's a babe magnet all right. Well...maybe to a menopausal mama looking for her soulmate in a menopausal man.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

I Need A What?!?

     A colonoscopy. The scary "C" word. Something I have been putting off for two years.  This is what you get for your birthday once you hit fifty. "Hey, happy birthday! Here's your present---a gift wrapped colonoscopy!" Thank God they don't sell home kits for that sort of stuff or else everyone would lie about their birthday and stay forty-nine forever. My husband had to drag me kicking and screaming into the doctor's office because I seriously rebelled the idea of a camera being shoved up my you-know-what. Who the hell wants that? "Wow! What a gorgeous morning! It's a great day for a colonoscopy!" Unfortunately, it's a fact of life once you reach your middle age years. The only way I agreed to do it was if my husband scheduled his procedure the same day as mine. "The family that has a colonoscopy together stays together!" My husband was four years overdue, so he was anxious to get it done. He has a history of  polyps, so he was due for the double whammy---the camera shoved into two orifices for the price of one. His first question to the doctor was to make sure the the camera they used to explore his colon wasn't going to be the same one they used down his throat. The grinning doctor assured him that yes, it was indeed the same camera, but not to worry because they would explore the throat first before heading south. That's when I interrupted the conversation and said, "No way in hell are you using the same camera on me! I don't want the leftovers---schedule me first!"
     After much ribbing from our friends and a lot of great advice ("Use Gatorade to mix the powdered medicine," "Use wet wipes for your behind, because trust me, you'll need it by the end of the day...") we faced the daunting task of getting through the "day of preparation", which is the day before the procedure. No food allowed for twenty-four hours, just clear fluids. Oh, and this nasty powdered medicine you mix with liquid and drink gallons of to clear out your colon. In other words, don't leave home because your butt is going to take you on a wild ride at the speed of light. Another word of advice---if you have to go through this little excercise in colon gymnastics, do not eat corn the week of your procedure---trust me, you'll be sorry if you do.
     On the prep day, I felt like a contestant on Survivor. No food to a "foodie" like me is like serving a jail term where 24 hours seems like 24 years.  I started chugging chicken broth and apple juice until I felt like I was going to start clucking and pecking at apples. My husband was just as miserable as me. I've never seen him look so longingly at the handful of pretzels my son was munching on in front of us. I was dying of starvation, ready to forage in the flower beds in my garden or start gnawing on the wooden couch legs. Even the dog started to look pretty tasty. The doctor said, "Only clear fluids"...I idly wondered if that included gin or vodka.
     At 2:00 p.m. that day we were due to start drinking the "magic elixir of life"---the stuff that makes you poop uncontrollably. We mixed the powder perscription with lemon lime Gatorade and began chugging. It was like the games we played in college---my husband and I stood side by side at the sink and tried to out-chug one another. I could just hear the frat boys chanting, "Go, go, go!"
     So far, so good.
     Fifteen minutes later as we sat on the sofa and watched the food channel (we were gluttons for punishment), I heard the first rumbling. It sounded like Mount Vesuvious getting ready to explode. I turned to my husband. "Was that your stomach or mine?" Gurgle, gurgle, then, "OH MY GOD!!!" and the race to the bathroom began. Thank goodness we have two toilets in the house because if we didn't, someone would be sticking their fanny in a bucket. These were not bowel "urges", these were bowel demands screaming "NOW!" Too bad we don't have a television in our bathroom because I sure could have used one after sitting in there for five hours.
     The day of the procedure, I no longer feared what was going to be done to me because I was so hyper-focused on what I was going to eat once I woke up from the anethesia. I wondered if they'd serve me steak and a big baked potato in the recovery room. That would be a nice thing to wake up to after being molested by a small camera.
     As promised, I was wheeled into the surgical room before my husband. I feebily waved "good-bye" to him as I rolled past, and he gave me the thumbs-up. It was a bit disconcerting to see so many doctors and nurses waiting in the room for me---like this was major surgery or something. That's when I glanced over at a partially hidden closet and saw these long, black, snake-like tubes hanging from hooks. The tubes looked long enough to stretch all the way to Russia. They were going to put that thing up my what?!? Before I could rip out my IV and run for the hills, the anethesiologist patted my shoulder and sent me off to la-la land with propofol, the infamous Michael Jackson drug.
     Next thing I knew, these very kind nurses-more like angels- gently woke me and asked if I'd like some coffee and graham crackers. I sat up like a seal  and clapped my hands. Food!Food! Graham crackers have never tasted so good.
     As soon as we got home (polyp-free), my husband and I raided the refrigerator. We didn't even shut the door---we just stood there in its light snacking on lunch meat and cheese sticks with the cool air hitting our faces.
     All in all, a colonoscopy is not as bad or scary as you might think. At least you can drop a few pounds in the process. It should be called "the colonoscopy diet" because you starve and then poop out everything you've eaten for the last month. Everyone should be awarded a souvenir once they finish this procedure. An "I survived a colonoscopy!" tee-shirt would be nice. Or maybe just hand them a steak.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Vitamin Shop

     My medicine cabinet looks like a nursing home has been secretly stockpiling drugs in my bathroom. Aside from all the necessities for a hangover (the three A's---aspirin, Alka Seltzer, and Advil) and the usual creams promising to de-wrinkle skin as leathery as a catcher's mitt, I also have tons of supplements on my shelves. In fact, there are so many supplements that I have to use a second medicine cabinet just to fit them all in. Each morning I lay out all my pills in a neat row like little soldiers. Other than black Cohosh for menopause, most everything else is for heart health and my immune system. Other than extreme hot flashes, irritability and an appetite that could rival Genghis Kahn's, I'm pretty healthy, but very paranoid. So I take supplements to supplement my other supplements.
     If I continue on this path of collecting every pill Dr. Oz recommends to promote longevity, I might have to buy stock in Walgreens or CVS just to supply my habit. You name it, I've got it: garlic pills, fish oil, flaxseed oil, magnesium, cinnamon, CoQ-10, Vitamin D, baby aspirin  and a multivitamin. The problem is that I take them all at once, and about 10 minutes later I'm bloated and burping garlic cinnamon fish. These flavors do not mix well together, and after experiencing that unsavory taste in my mouth, I have to wash it down with a cherry antacid followed by a cup of green tea. God only knows what that weird combination looks like in my stomach.
     But it doesn't stop there. I take fiber supplements as well, and you know what THAT is for!
     As if two medicine cabinets are not enough, my husband and I have two more "special" drawers of medicine. This is where all the gross stuff is hidden in case someone nosey uses the bathroom and wants to root around in the medicine cabinet. We should probably put a lock on these drawers because no one wants to know that one of us actually uses this stuff. And it's not me. It all belongs to my husband. Stuff like Gas X, A & D Ointment, Lamisil, Immodium, Bengay and Preparation H. Sounds like a party on the geriatric ward. He has other weird tubes in there; scary stuff that dates back to 1992, and even, Dear Lord, and enema kit. Why is the couple on the outside packaging smiling? Who wakes up in the morning and says, "Wow! Can't wait to eat some egg whites, dry whole wheat toast and black coffee with an enema on the side!!"
     My multivitamin promises to boost my energy level so that I can fold a month's worth of laundry in neat little squares, organize my spice rack alphabetically and do jumping jacks at 2:00a.m. without needing a wink of sleep. So why are my eyelids drooping down to my chin every day after lunch? I used to have crazy energy before menopause---everyone was always asking me if my morning coffee was administered through an I.V. drip. People looked at me as if I was a Chatty Cathy doll on speed. Now I'm more like sluggish Sammy on sleeping pills. Forget a measly cup of coffee---I need to carry around the entire pot in a hip holster or use an industrial size thermos large enough to serve 10 construction workers. I got hooked on energy drinks for awhile but I started getting those strange looks from people again, and besides, the kids were sneaking cans for themselves. So like a true addict, I had to hide my stash. Problem is the kids always found it, so I started counting the cans left in the case (yes, I bought my energy drinks by the case load) and leaving sticky notes all over them: "DON'T TOUCH!"...."DRINK AND YOU WILL FACE MOM'S WRATH!"..."YOU'LL BE THE VICTIM OF A SURPRISE COLONOSCOPY IF YOU TOUCH MY DRINKS!" I've since learned to limit myself to 2-3 per week, but I still hide the cans in places the kids will never bother to look, like the bottom of their dirty laundry hamper because God knows they never go in there.
     Sometimes all the pills and ointments get confusing. If I don't have my contacts in, it gets really interesting.  I once squirt nail strengthening serum into my eyes because the bottle looked similar to my eye drops. Recently my husband started to squirt a tube of A&D Ointment across his toothbrush. Guess that would have kept his teeth from chafing. Next thing you know he'll be accidentally rubbing toothpaste in all the wrong areas to prevent personal chafing.
     What I don't get is how people can actually buy prescriptions with dangerous side effects. I see it all the time on T.V. Hair loss? Take a pill. Depression? Severe indigestion? There's a pill for that too. Overactive bladder? Erectile dysfunction? Nail fungus? Insomnia? Lots of pill for that. Then the commercial quickly spits out a list of side effects easily masked by soothing music and some gorgeous, healthy couple playing frisbee on the beach at sunset. Or sitting in matching bathtubs out on a pier. Why would anyone want a pill that may cause stroke, heart attack, blurred vision, suicidal tendencies, hair loss, rashes, acne or having to wait for a bowel movement that never comes? I don't want to wake up some morning bald with a third thumb growing out of my elbow. No thanks. I'll just stick to my supplements and catch the next bus out to the senior citizens center.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Just Call Me Grandma

     Last week I accompanied my daughter to the obstetrician's office for her 19th week pregnancy check up. Thank God I brought enough food and water to last a week on a deserted island because the waiting room was PACKED. I was surrounded by young women in various stages of pregnancy, and as I sat there sweating through a hot flash and fanning myself with a wrinkled baby magazine, I realized I was the only fossil in the room. The medical assistants behind the reception desk gave me a few funny looks like, "What's the old lady doing here?  Giving birth to a dinosaur egg?" I self-consciously rubbed my stomach and remembered the good ol' days when there was actually a baby in there taking up space, causing my belly to expand like a distorted Stretch Armstrong doll. Now the only thing growing in there is my food baby. That's right. A food baby. You know what I'm talking about. Men have them too, but theirs are called beer bellies. For women, it's food babies. An accumulation of every nacho, every chicken wing and all those glasses of chardonnay sipped between bites of chocolate bars you keep hidden in your underware drawer. It's God's little joke on women, all because Eve had to take a bite out of that damn apple. Unless you have the metabolism of Speedy Gonzales or a body like a Barbie doll, most middle aged females I know have what my mother fondly refers to as "the pouch" after your babies are born. We are not marsupials---we do not need these pouches to carry our young, so what gives? I've been carrying around my food baby for years, so I can't imagine giving birth any time soon. What I can imagine is this: sitting on a park bench next to several women my age. The conversation would go something like this:
     "How far along are you?"
     "Oh, we started Junior back in 1986."
     "So when are you due?"
     "Well, I'm not too sure...maybe when I start the South Beach Diet."
     "I don't think mine wants to be born at all."
     "What kind of baby are you having?"
     "Mine is a sausage pepperoni pizza baby."
     "Mine is taco dip and enchiladas."
     "We're going to be the proud parents of cheese fries."
     "Mine is Ben and Jerry icecream....I think I'm having twins!"
     Thinking about food babies while sitting in the obstetrician's waiting room reminded me that I needed to feed mine, so I nibbled on a granola bar and read an article about diaper rashes, diarrhea and colic. I smiled. My daughter has no idea what she has gotten herself into.
     An hour and three granola bars later, I had a front row seat to the gynecological show when my daughter put her feet up into the stirrups on the examining table. I looked anywhere else in the room except at THAT.
     Hearing my future grandchild's heartbeat for the first time brought back a flood of memories. My last pregnancy was 16 years ago (feels more like 60 in dog years). Time has (thankfully) dulled my memories of labor pains and c-sections, and yet I distinctly recall simple things like my favorite blue, polka-dotted maternity outfit, the circus clown lantern in the nursery, and how incredibly good a rueben sandwich tasted after a solid week of intense pregnancy cravings. Sleepless nights, panicky calls to the pediatrician at all hours, fold-up umbrella stollers, bulky baby car seats, lost bottles, tears, pacifiers and the smell of baby powder...these things have all passed by in a blur. My daughter was once that tiny baby swaddled in pink in the nursery, and now she is pregnant with one of her own. I think of how my own body has changed these past few years, how menopause has slowly crept in and stolen my fertility. Some women view menopause as a thief who steals their youth, while others experience a greater sense of freedom. Menopause should not define who we are; it is a time of change and enlightenment. How we adapt to those changes is what determines who we are now.
     Even though I felt older than dirt that morning in the obstetrician's office among young, fresh-faced mothers, I took stock of my past and who I am today. Yes, I'm more tired, more impatient, more emotional and my body aches most mornings before I hit the local walking trail. I'm a happy but sometimes grumpy woman because I'm hot flashing in elevators or denying myself the slice of chocolate cake I so desperately crave or wasting too much precious time searching the house for things my kids "borrow" but never return (scissors, tape, markers, hairbrush...). I wear many hats these days---cook, dishwasher, maid, chauffeur,tutor, therapist, budget planner, dog walker, party planner, hostess, and family organizer. But above all else, I am a mother...a soon to be grandmother. And after last night, the proud parent of a beef and bean burrito food baby!

Thursday, September 8, 2011


     My teeth belong in the Smithsonian alongside the display for Pre-historic Cro-Magnon. It's my fault---I lived on a diet of Sugar Babies, Mars Bars and Little Debbie cakes for years until a dentist found decay in every tooth in my head. I had enough silver and gold in my mouth to open a pawn store, but eventually I learned to take good care of my teeth . Once I hit the pre-menopausal stage, things began to happen in my mouth. Bad things. Old fillings washed away to be replaced by root canals and crowns. Several months ago I heard the dreaded news no one with a $20,000 mouth wants to hear. I needed to see a periodontist! Impossible! Only old people with walkers go to periodontists! My teeth look great! What do you mean there's bone loss? Memory loss, yes, but bone loss? Could that possibly have something to do with too many years of drinking inferior white wines? I brush, I Water Pik, and for God's sake, I carry a huge roll of dental floss in my purse (at times it has also doubled as a shoe string and a trouser belt, but I won't get into that right now).
     For months I put off a visit to the periodontist, especially after hearing a detailed description of the gum surgery I was to endure. Gum flaps? Bone grafts? Sutures? No, double no and hell no. Where does that replacement bone part come from? You guessed it---cadavers. Or even a cow. The doctor also mentioned something about coral, but I was still trying to digest the word "cadaver." The office asked if I was ready to set the appointment for the procedure. It was definitely a "Don't call me I'll call you" situation. Yeah, I'll get right on that....
     More time went by and my bone loss increased ever so slowly. I kept praying that my meticulous dental regimen would cure the problem on its own, but no such luck. I contemplated using a pair of plyers and the liquid courage from a bottle of tequila, but then I thought of my older son who recently had four wisdom teeth pulled. Certainly if a 24 year old could survive oral surgery, then so could I. With the help of a few valium.
     On the day of the appointment, I looked longingly at a crunchy apple, a hard pretzel and a bag of chewy caramels. It would be weeks, maybe months, before I could indulge like that again. In the doctor's waiting room, my gaze automatically drifted toward the periodontal disease pamplets. I had to turn away or be sick.
     Once I was seated in the dental chair, the valium kicked in and I no longer cared if the tooth was pulled or if an entire cow was going to be jammed into my jaw bone. I closed my eyes and waited for the last suture to be threaded through my gum. The best part? Hearing the doctor advise my husband to pamper me all day and to let me sleep for hours on end. For once I was given permission to be a sloth and watch tacky TV shows from my bed. I was even allowed to hold the coveted remote control all day.
     Once home, my husband turned to me and asked, "So which is it? Cow or seventy-nine-year-old man?"
     "I'm not sure," I answered, "but if I begin mooing or digging through the night stand drawer for a tube of Polygrip, you'll have your answer..."

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Who Stole My Period?

    I was the last girl in my group of friends to get my period. I was also in a training bra longer than most of the female population in North America. I could never catch up with the other girls in my class. By the time I bought my first A cup bra, my peers were tossing aside their C cups for D's. Same goes with my period. While all my friends were stocking up on sanitary pads, I was still stocking up on Charms pops and gum wrappers for my gum chain. Every time one of the girls called to tell me they'd started their period, I was a bit envious.  "Do you look different?" "Do you feel like a real woman now?" "Do you know you can get P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T?!"
     I didn't get my period until I was almost thirteen, and let me tell you, it was a big disappointment. Not that I was expecting a parade with balloons, confetti and fiesta-colored tampons. I just thought that on such a momentous occasion, there would be some sort of fanfare...or maybe just a nice dinner out with my family, where everyone would raise their glass in a toast to my period and say, "Job well done! Welcome to womanhood!" I even checked out my reflection about ten times that day to see if I had changed. Nope. Still  a goofy looking 12 year old with braces and a little patch of freckles across my nose from the sun. It also didn't help that my chest was as flat as a tortilla.
     None of that really mattered. All I cared about was that I finally had my period and the right to carry bulky, cotton pads in my purse. I could finally sit in a circle during P.E. with all the other girls and complain about cramps, bloating, and the messiness of it all. The best part about having a period  was being able to avoid doing things I disliked. I didn't have to run track in P.E. I didn't have to don a swimsuit at swim parties where all the other girls were shaped like Barbie dolls. When my mother discovered the 14 wrappers from the World's Finest chocolate bars in my drawer (that I was supposed to sell in the band fundraiser), I blamed the binge eating on chocolate cravings from my period.
     I liked having my period, especially the power it gave me to manipulate certain situations. I could be moody or foul-mouthed and it didn't matter---everyone blamed my Jekyl and Hyde personality on my period. It gave me a license to act out and plead insanity caused by high hormonal levels for one week out of each month.
     This fun lasted about six months until one day when I got off the bus and started walking home, a group of boys behind me burst into laughter. I had no idea what was so funny until I got home and saw the dark stain covering my back side. That was the day I lost my power and my period betrayed me.
     I was extremely paranoid and self-conscious after that, constantly checking my underware at school for any accidental visits from "Aunt Rose." I soon hated the fact that all of my activities revolved around my period---"Sorry, can't go to the beach today. If I get in the water I'll become a shark magnet"..."Sorry, no, I can't wear the new white sun dress to the high school dance tonight because someone might think I fell butt first into the red punch bowl."
     What about the savvy girls who learned to use tampons early in their menstrual cycle? We had some unsavory names for them, smug in our certainty that there was only one reason they were actually able to use a tampon with ease. We secretly gossiped and criticized them as we waddled down the school halls in bulky pads the size of diapers. And we thought we were the smart ones!
     Fortunately, my periods became more accurate as I became older. I could pinpoint the day the spotting would begin, and the calender never lied. It made pregnancy planning pretty easy, except for the one "oops" baby, but that was the champagne's fault. If my period was a day late, it meant one thing and one thing only--that I wasn't going to see it for another nine months.
     My period remained predictable most of my life, until this past year. It simply...vanished. After the first month without it, I was terrified that I would end up on the cover of The National Enquirer: FIFTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD WOMAN GIVES BIRTH TO TRIPLETS---CLAIMS SHE NEVER KNEW SHE WAS PREGNANT! I was on the verge of buying a home pregnancy kit when a close friend snapped me out of my momentary insanity. "You're not pregnant dummy, you're menopausing!"
     "Wait a minute," I cried, "Who stole my period? Was it that twelve-year-old down the block? She's wearing makeup and she has breasts! I'll bet she stole my period!" And then the little voice of reason inside me spoke. "Who cares? You're free. Free! Burn the tampons! Use the panti liners like sponges to clean the kitchen walls. You're free!"
     Again, my joy was short lived, because although my period had stopped, the symptoms did not. Each month I'd break out in pimples (I never had acne in high school, why now?), experience painful bloating and gas (you don't want me to go there), horrific mood swings and tears over stupid things like Publix holiday commercials. The kids run for cover at the first sign of hormonal changes in me. That usually happens when my mouth forms a thin line and I start resembling Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
     For six months I lived period-free. I cleared the bathroom cabinets of all feminine products and started carrying smaller purses. All was well until the day I attended the local renaissance festival. It was an unusally warm day, and I was dressed in my renaissance finery---hoop skirt, slips, lace, the works. I crammed myself into the tight, dirty port-a-potty at the park to pee and guess who came knocking at the door? Yup. Good ol' Aunt Rose, back from an extended vacation in Bermuda, and nary a tampon in sight.
     It was a horrible period that lasted ten days (or was it ten months?) and it drained me of all energy and enthusiasm for life. Even a chocolate bar did nothing to lighten my spirits.
     The PFH (period from hell) finally faded away, but this time I held onto the box of tampons like a shield, just in case.
     Another six months passed, and it was time for my daughter's college graduation. I was so excited to get out of town for a few days and to see my daughter receive her diploma. The suitcases were packed and stuffed into the car, and after a final check on the locks and lights around the house, I took one last trip to the bathroom before hitting the road.
      You guessed it. Aunt Rose. But this time I was prepared. I blew the dust off my box of tampons and tossed them into the car. The Red Sea was not going to stop me from visiting my daughter.
       The way I see it I'm due for another period during the Christmas Holiday season. Maybe on Christmas day. Perhaps Aunt Rose will be too busy skiing in Colorado to bother me. Or maybe not.
       The calender never lies.                                                                                                                   

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hot Flashes

     When I was in middle school and heard my mother and her friends discussing hot flashes, I thought it was something scandalous. The word "hot flash" implied many things to me when I was young. A flash of great heat caused by what? Sex? Anger? Fever from the flu? In my hormonal thirteen-year-old mind, I was convinced that it meant flashes of heated sex. Is it any wonder that I cringed whenever I heard these older women discussing their hot flashes?                                                                                                       
     By the time I was in my early twenties, I had a vague idea of what hot flashes were, but I believed that it was only a problem that concerned women who were older than dinosaurs. These were the same women who clustered under ceiling fans at parties and who swiped all the dinner napkins off the table to mop their sweaty brows. Surely this would NEVER happen to me.
     Fast foward thirty years when my electric bills started soaring through the roof. The kids complained so much about the sub-zero temperature of the house that they finally had to don heavy wool sweaters to keep their teeth from chattering at the dinner table.
     "What do you mean it's cold in the house?" I asked while fanning my face with two hands. "It feels like the damn Sahara Desert in here!" I was certain that the earth had moved closer to the sun, or that it had everything to do with global warming and absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I turned fifty.
     I remember my very first hot flash. I was clearing off the dishes from dinner when I felt a hot, prickly sensation creep up the base of my neck. The heat spread down my arms and legs and left my hands feeling clammy. I ran over to the nearest air conditioning vent and waved my hand over it. "Honey, come quick!" I shouted. "Somebody broke the air conditioner!" My husband assured me the house was quite cool. Impossible! I checked the thermostat, even tapped on the glass a few times in disbelief. Seventy-five degrees? It had to be incorrect. It felt more like ninety-five.
     And just like that, the hot sensations left my body and once again I felt cool, calm and collected. Except that there were beads of perspiration across my forehead and upper lip. What the hell? I figured it had to be some kind of weird body malfunction and went about my business.
     For several months I experienced unpredictable bursts of heat that sometimes occurred during inappropriate times, but I was in denial, convinced that the whole world had gone mad when it came to indoor cooling systems. I refused to become one of those women who carry a large roll of paper towels stuffed into a purse the size of a suitcase.
     The nights were even worse, and sleep was nearly impossible. Sheets on, sheets off. Freezing one moment, soaking the sheets the next. Even my dreams became weird. Instead of dreaming about hot guys, I was dreaming about hot fudge sundaes.
     At a recent party, I realized I could no longer ignore the signs that I was indeed experiencing menopausal hot flashes. Just like all those dinosaurs in my mother's living room so very long ago.
     After two (or was it three?) glasses of Pinot Grigio, I began to perspire as though someone had turned the sun up a notch, all those bright rays searing through my skin. I tried discreetly to manuever my sweaty body under the wobbly ceiling fan but somebody beat me to it...a woman swiping her brow with a thick layer of paper towels. I recognized the tell-tale signs of a female in the throes of a hot flash---flushed cheeks, limp shirt sticking to her skin, moisture trickling down her temples, eyeliner melting down eyelids, causing the classic "startled raccoon" look, and the rapid waving of a paper plate in front of her face.
     I had met a kindred spirit.
     The woman informed me that wine increased the frequency and intensity of hot flashes, which explained why she wasn't drinking anything stronger than a tumbler of ice water at a raucous party. Right then I should have set my wine glass down, marched into the kitchen and wedged my head into the freezer until the hot flash disappeared. That would have been the smart thing to do, but I wasn't feeling very smart. Instead, I rummaged around the kitchen cabinets until I found a fishbowl-sized glass and emptied half a bottle of wine into it. At least I compensated by loading the rest of the goblet with ice. Raising my glass, I toasted my new friends hot flash, hot temper and hot fudge sundae. Cheers to middle-aged mamas!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

First menopausal moment

     The dictionary defines menopause as "The period of cessation of menstruation, occurring usually between the ages of 45 and 50. Also called "change of life."
     The problem with this definition is that it doesn't define the meaning of "change of life." No one tells you how long menopause lasts---doctors politely tell you that if you're experiencing some of the symptoms, you are merely pre-menopausal. Nor do they tell you how long this period of hell can last.
     My so-called symptoms started a week after my 40th birthday when I woke five pounds heavier. No, I did not binge on Krispy Kreme donuts or Papa John's pizza. I ate normally and excercised regularly, but over the years the weight kept piling on.
     There were other little signs of a mid-life invasion: waking more frequently at night to pee, body aches, irregular periods, constipation, fatigue and general crabbiness (just ask my family).
     Rather than calling it a "change of life" (this sounds like a gentle transition from one happy place to another, which it is NOT ), the experts should call it the SUCKY PHASE of your life that you just have to tough out until you're too old to notice or care.
     Who came up with the name menopause in the first place? Men? They have nothing to do with this---except maybe the part about dealing with their wife's rapid hormone changes. Sort of like living with a Jekyl and Hyde spouse.  Men-o-pause is not a happy word like barrel-o-beer or bucket-o-shrimp. Men do not "pause" for anything. This awful phase in life should be called "womenopause", because every woman deserves a big pause from life  when they are going through these symptoms. If younger women can get away with irratic behavior due to PMSing, then we older women deserve a break for sudden, verbal outbursts and tears, high electric bills (is it warm in here or is the earth suddenly closer to the sun?) and a monthly budget blown on diet aids and gym memberships.
     What about increased dental bills? The doctors didn't warn me about that when they told me I was premenopausal. The surfaces of my teeth began eroding in my early forties. Don't get me wrong---I have nice teeth (thanks mom and dad for all that dental work in the 1970's) and am religious about their upkeep. But sometime in my forties, things in my mouth started going South. Next thing I knew, I needed crowns, gum work, a few root canals and God forbid, a mouth guard. Now there's something for my husband to see every night. Nothing like going to bed with a linebacker. I always thought I was the lone wolf sporting a clear appliance across my teeth after the sun went down. But lo and behold, there are others out there who share my pain. Middle-aged women going through menopause and the stress of everyday life. We suppress the hormones raging inside us by clamping our jaws tight, thus causing teeth to crack. We even grind our teeth in our sleep, which wears down the enamel. Dentist see it in middle-aged women all of the time, which explains why there are so many female linebackers crawling into bed each night next to befuddled husbands.
     This is our way of life. Welcome to menopause!


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