Friday, January 28, 2011

Magnifying mirror on the wall, you're the fairest gift of all

My favorite Christmas gift has turned out to be a very practical fixture in my bathroom -my wall mounted magnifying makeup mirror. It may not be as romantic as jewelry or perfume, or as luxurious as a cashmere sweater but oh, the problems it has solved for me.

Because now I can see! I've been grappling with my midlife crisis vision quandary. I can't see far without my contacts and I can't see near with them in. It has made everyday grooming tasks like flossing my teeth, plucking my eyebrows and putting on make up a challenge.

In the past, merely applying mascara was guesswork. I'd have to squint and contort myself over the sink to make sure I'd got the wand somewhere near the vicinity of my eyelashes.

But now, thanks to my adjustable, versatile mirror, I can see every little detail on my face - every hair, every blemish, every pore, every line - at any angle. It's not all pretty, man, but at least I can see it!

Perhaps you've noticed a change in my appearance? A sudden absence of sprouting whiskers, food particles and raccoon eyes? It's all because of my beloved mirror, mirror on the wall.

Restoration Hardware has a nice collection of wall mounted and free standing magnifying mirrors that range in price from $89 - $200. A bit of an investment, but ever so worth it. And if you wait for their sale, you can get at least 20% off.

PS - I've also pictured a handy way to store jewelry, using a votive candelabra. You can drape it with necklaces and bangles and put earrings in the votive cup holders. I bought mine a couple years ago at Target.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Picturing Perfect Breasts

The site of mammogram #2
The universe has clearly been messing with me. In a month when I've been focusing on dealing with my changing body, I received a wake up call that put the issue in perspective.

Last week I went to get my annual mammogram, which is always a little stressful, because my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago (she has been cancer free since then.) To compensate for the worry, I book my mammogram at the center at Nordstrom so I can treat myself to a little shopping afterward.

Anyway, my mammogram was routine, or so I thought, until I received the test results online the next day, which included this ominous news.

In the left breast, question is raised of a focal asymmetry in the far
posterior central breast as seen on the MLO image only. This is seen
overlying the pectoralis muscle and could relate to overlap of normal

Questioned asymmetry in the central left breast, as above. Additional
imaging, which may include ultrasound, is recommended.

My doctor confirmed that the "asymmetry" in my left breast required follow up, but she didn't seem to be very concerned. I made the appointment at Evanston Hospital and vowed to only think positive thoughts.

My breasts are definitely not as full or perky as they once were - but for the next six days I began to think about them in a whole new way. I studied them in the mirror, all whole and natural and smooth and unscathed. "You're perfect," I told them, "I will never insult you again."

I dressed them up, wearing my nicest, frilliest bras - the zebra print, the red lace one. They deserved it! I closed my eyes and visualized my boobs as filled with golden light.  I focused on my left breast, trying to feel it from the inside out. "Asymetrical, humph" I grumbled, "You're just a little bigger." I planned a fun weekend- we got Bulls tickets, I had a massage.

But six days turned out to be a long time to stay positive. Dark thoughts would flit across my mind. I knew all too well from my mom's experience what breast cancer treatment would mean. It was rough and it was scary and it was damn inconvenient. I have plans! I'm in a show, we're going on vacation, I have work!

Not to mention the fear of that death thing. And my children growing up without a mother. And the stress it would place on my poor husband. And - argh! Back to the golden light-filled tits. I was sure nothing was wrong!

"I'm scared." I confided to my husband.

"I know," he said. "But get the test and we'll take it from there."

Without saying a word, he rearranged his schedule so he could work from home. Just in case.

Yesterday, At the breast health center at the hospital, the nice technologist showed me my films and pointed out a small dark spot.

"Here's what we're going to take another look at," she said. "It could be nothing, but we want to be sure."

She took a few new shots of my flattened left breast and took them off to the radiologist.

"The doctor wants to proceed to the ultrasound, but isn't that concerned."

Despite no one being very concerned, my heart pounded like a jackhammer and sweat dripped from my deodorant free armpits. I anxiously scanned the doctor's face while she scanned my chest.

"Do you see anything?"

She turned off the machine and looked at me.

"Nothing." she said. "You're fine. It's just a blood vessel. Come back in a year."

Oh the relief! I wanted to burst into song.

In the changing room I texted my husband, my mother and two friends, "I'm fine!" Of course I was; I knew it all along.

But I did learn a couple things from the experience.

  • First, medical tests suck, even when no one is all that "concerned."
  • Second, I have a new perspective about my minor health issues. Hot flashes, declining vision, vitamin D deficiency? Shoot, honey, those are the natural, piddly consequences of living to middle age. Get over yourself and stop whining.
  • Third, my body is freaking awesome, and I am going to fully appreciate it. 
And now, my breasts, my blood vessels and I are off to have a great day.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Treat your body to something hot and steamy

The view from inside
 my steam shower.
I didn't have to look far for my latest body treatment, it's been in my bathroom all along. The steam shower.

I've never used the steam function in our walk-in shower; it just seemed like a hassle. Who has time in the morning? And in the evening the last thing I want to do is get all sweaty and have to redry my hair. But now that I'm getting physical, flipping the switch and hopping in my shower seemed worth a try.

I placed a towel on the tile bench seat, sat down and took a few deep breaths of hot, moist air.  The gloomy stillness made me feel a little anxious. I mean, when I take a shower I'm very task oriented - lathering, rinsing, exfoliating, shaving. Here in the same glassed-in stall, there was nothing to do except breathe and feel really naked.

I also felt a little lonely.  I don't know if it was caused by the elemental nature of the steam, but I had this primal urge to be surrounded by women from my ancestral tribe. Do the Welsh people have a tradition of steambaths? I wondered. I grabbed a bottle of conditioner, worked a big dollop through my hair and felt immediately better. I was multi-tasking! I leaned back and closed my eyes and let the steam do it's thing.

After about 15 minutes I was slick with sweat, my face was flushed, and my heart began to thump. I'd had enough. I turned on the shower and the contrast of the cool water to the cloying steam was deliciously refreshing.

After I toweled off and slipped into my pajamas, I felt warm and rosy and clean. And I must say, my skin glowed.

I liked how I felt so much, I've steamed a couple times more (Dr. Andrew Weil author of 8 Weeks to Optimum Health recommends three time a week.) To combat boredom I browse catalogues and old magazines - things that I'm just about ready to toss, because they do get soggy in there. I also shave my legs, because the steam allows for a really close shave.

I did a little digging and discovered there are many benefits to steam bathing, such as:

1. Flushes toxins from the body
2. Relaxes muscles and joints - recovery from a workout, help with arthritis
3. Clears out sinus and helps with respiratory problems
4. Great for the skin - opens the pores, cleanses, increases circulation
5. Relieves stress

My husband has a few other ideas about how our steam shower could be used for maximum enjoyment, but I think you get the idea. The bottom line is this - getting naked, hot and steamy is good for you!

Note: If you don't have access to a steam room, a soak in the bathtub has many of the same benefits.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Shameless Author Makes Case for Pleasure

Note: This is a story I wrote for my Sex & the Suburbs column over at  It fits very well with January's theme of the BODY. Oh boy, does it ever.

In Pamela Madsen’s new book, the 40-something mother of two tells the story of her mid-life journey to find sexual fulfillment—all while staying happily married to her long-time husband.
Her desire to explore her sensuality, highlighted in "Shameless: How I Ditched the Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure...and Somehow Got Home in Time To Cook Dinner," wasn’t a criticism of her marriage; it was something she felt she needed to do for herself.

“Our sex life was just fine, thank you very much.” Madsen says in a recent phone interview. “I loved my husband, my family, my children, my life. But my libido was pounding on the door, and I didn’t know what to do.”

Sacred Intimacy and Raspberries
Madsen dipped deep into her desires through the help of healers, workshops, and therapeutic sessions in a little-known area called Sacred Intimacy (SI). Devotees of SI consider it to be a sexual path to the self, using techniques like erotic massage, visualization and ritual to help clients heal wounds from the past and find wholeness and fulfillment.

One of Madsen’s tamer sessions with her “intimate,” a gay man named Marcus, involved frozen raspberries—a treat that she wasn't allowed as a child because her mother said she was too chubby to deserve “good” food. Read the book for specifics, but after two hours with Marcus and the forbidden fruit, the author felt beautiful, gratified, and very worthy of berries in her future.

Sexy and Size 14
Madsen’s detailed and brutally honest account of her exploits is outrageous, shocking and hilarious. She certainly blows away societal expectations of how a size-14, middle-aged woman married to her high school sweetheart should behave. What Pamela Madsen wants to communicate is that everyone—regardless of size, shape or age—is entitled to pleasure.

“Women don’t have to earn the right to have pleasure in life. We don’t have to lose three pounds, or weigh a certain amount, or jog, or take out the garbage, or get a raise. We’re all entitled to have pleasure, just the way we are! And when we finally figure that out, pleasure can transform our lives.”

Madsen says her journey has helped her find sexual, personal and spiritual wholeness and made her a better wife, mother and friend. And when her game is on, she feels like the hottest thing in the world. 

To read the rest of the article over at Makeitbetter, click here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Crash Course in Nutrition for Women over 40

It's time to adjust my intake of these.
I met Dr. T*, a red hot mama nutritionist with a PhD and an undercover blog, at a holiday party in December. It was perfect timing because I'd just received the lab reports from my recent physical exam and I was in need of a dietary tune up.

Hearing my internist utter the words "high cholesterol"and "vitamin deficiency" and "medication," had been strangely surreal. Could she mean those dreary conditions applied to me?

Next thing you know I'll be carrying my teeth in a cup and  wearing Depends. No wonder I'm having a midlife crisis.

Luckily, the lovely Dr. T - who radiates fitness and health -agreed to help me make sense of my issues, which are pretty common for women over 40.

High Cholesterol
The fact that my bad cholesterol (LDL) has been creeping up  is probably related to my hot flashes. Dr. T says that bad cholesterol is likely to rise in women as they approach menopause and estrogen levels decline. She also says that LDL is only one risk factor for heart disease and others, like heredity, can be of greater concern. Still, says Dr. T, there's no reason to live with high cholesterol.

"Cholesterol is easy to fix," says Dr. T. " We know so much about it." Her recommendations to reduce the waxy, wicked stuff are:

  • Eat a diet that's high in fiber and low in saturated fat
  • Eat more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day
  • Include protein in every meal 
  • Exercise! 

She also recommends foods that contain cholesterol-blocking phytosterols like Benecol margarine.   If you want to read why these steps are important, check our Dr. T's blog post on the subject.

Making changes like these can significantly lower cholesterol for some, but if it still stays high, Dr. T says we shouldn't hesitate to medicate.  "Get on the drugs! They prevent heart disease and we know they work."

Vitamin D Dilemma
Vitamin D is essential to maintaining healthy bones and may lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cancer. Unfortunately, other than fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, few foods contain much vitamin D. The biggest natural source is sunlight, which means most of us in Northern climates are deficient for part of the year. But there're conflicting opinions about how much vitamin D we really need.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reiki Rocks! My first energy healing experience.

Here at Forty Fabulous, January is the month of the body, and this week I tried something new for mine - Reiki.

I knew nothing about Reiki. I mean I'd heard of it; I knew it was something about energy healing and chakras. But I didn't know how a session was conducted, what it would feel like, or what the benefits would be. I didn't know anyone who had experienced it, or certainly anyone who could perform it. Or so I thought.

After asking around (on Facebook, of course), I discovered a dozen friends who had all had great experiences with Reiki and three women right in my own neighborhood who are certified practitioners. Two are women I've known for years. It's amazing how when you tune into something new, you discover it's all around you.

 Reiki felt like this at times.
A friend called to tell me about Laurie Goldstein, describing her as filled with light. Actually, I think she said, "Laurie is light."

Laurie (who really is a luminous person) knew nothing about Reiki until a few years ago when she felt an irresistible calling to learn about energy healing. Now a highly qualified practitioner, she is just beginning to expand her practice beyond her family and friends. And she was willing to do a session with me.

Walking over to Laurie's house through the snow, I was both excited and nervous. I really hoped Reiki wasn't going to be weird or embarrassing. Despite my desire to live life to the fullest, I can be kind of uptight.

Here's how the session went.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Marriage 101 - A real education in Marriage

While it's a bit of a departure from this month's BODY theme, here's an excerpt from an article I wrote for on Marriage. 

One of the most popular classes at Northwestern doesn’t prepare students for grad school or a career; it teaches them to succeed at something much more important: marriage.
The class, titled Marriage 101: Building Loving and Lasting Relationships, is a for-credit course taught byDr. Arthur C. Nielsen, a psychiatrist and associate professor at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

According to Nielsen, college is the perfect time to learn about marriage. Students are forming serious relationships, but they aren’t married yet.

Nielsen feels it’s crucial for partners to understand what makes a marriage work before they commit. In his practice, he sees couples with such longstanding patterns of negativity it’s difficult to regain trust. His own first marriage ended in divorce after only a few years, and he wants to help other people avoid making similar painful mistakes.  

Click here to read the full piece.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Your best body is the one you've got right now

Since I'm writing about body issues this month, I just have to share this story.

When I went to New York City with my Mom and Aunt Mary, I knew people would mistake me for one of their sisters.  It happened the last time we travelled together and we do look alike. I vowed not to let it bother me - even though I'm of a completely different generation.

Mary, Jane and Marjie in NYC.
It was John Lennon's birthday too.
Sure enough, as we stepped into the elevator at the Lucerne Hotel on 79th and Amsterdam, an orange-haired woman examined our faces and pronounced, "You girls must be sisters."

"We are!" trilled my mother, Jane, delightedly. Since we were celebrating her 70th birthday, I just shrugged and smiled.

Other than the minor blow to my ego, our trip was hugely fun. We went to the Top of the Rock, toured the magnificent MoMA, and took a ferry out to Ellis Island. The weather over Columbus Day was gorgeous and the tourist attractions were packed. It took forever to get through the security checks because both Mary and Jane's hip replacements set off the metal detectors and they had to be scanned individually by a wand-wielding security guard.

"Just enjoy this time," advised Jane, as I stood waiting impatiently. "When you get your hip replaced, you'll have to do this too."

My hips are fine, I huffed to myself. Just because I'm related to you chicks doesn't mean I'm destined for orthopedic surgery. To prove my point, I stalked through Ellis Island like a lioness, reveling in the supple glide of my natural hip sockets.

We retreated to our suite at the Lucerne to relax before dinner and, as I uncorked a bottle of chardonnay, I could hear peals of  laughter and snorts coming from the bedroom. My mom and aunt were cracking each other up as they commiserated about their aches and pains. I stomped to the bedroom door.

"Oh come on," I said, exasperated. "It can't be that bad. Surely some things must get better with age! Tell me about them."

They thought hard.

"Well, you don't have to shave very often," offered Jane.

"At least not your body," said Mary, chortling. "And your underwear stays cleaner."

"Don't say that!" shrieked my mother. And off they went again, howling with laughter. They were having such a good time, I couldn't help but join in with a giggle and a snort or two myself (must be a family trait.)

That New York City weekend with my mom and aunt was like a time-warped look in the mirror; a familial peek into my future 20 years from now. If I'm like Jane and Mary, I might end up with artificial joints, sore feet, and a random whisker or two. But if I inherit their sense of humor, I'm sure I'll enjoy life to the fullest.

In the meantime, I'm going to appreciate everything I can about the body I've got now. I may not be young or thin, I may have high cholesterol - but I can do anything! I can do a cartwheel and dance and play three sets of tennis and run up stairs and wear high heels.

And most importantly, my hips and I sail right through airport security, baby.

Note: This isn't the first time I've written about Jane & Mary. Click here to read their words of wisdom about life in post I wrote three years ago.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It's a New Look!

Given my theme of reinvention this year, I figured it was time for a fresh look for my blog. I am really excited about taking some big risks and making some big discoveries. Hope you'll check in with me often and share your comments. Happy 2011!

Creative Crisis Step 1- Befriend Your Body

Photo from Dove Campaign for Real Beauty
In my quest to create a fulfilling midlife crisis for myself, (see below) one of the first things I want to deal with is my body. Things, as Dylan would say, they are a changin'.

Long ago, when I was on my high school Speech team, I did a reading from Ray Bradbury's story, Fever Dreams, about a kid diagnosed with Scarlet Fever who couldn't get anyone to believe his body was actually being taken over by alien microbes. Dude, I can relate.

I've been able to handle the cosmetic changes that come with middle age fairly well - the lines, the gray hair, the weight gain. But when I break into a drenching sweat in the middle of the night or can't make out the numbers on my alarm clock in the morning, I get this serious sense of disconnect. Hot flashes and cheaters don't fit with my vibrant, vixenish image of myself.

Since having a physical exam a few weeks ago, things have gotten worse. For the first time, I have conditions and they require managing. According to my doctor, I  better shape up, cut out the fat, increase the calcium, take supplements and stop drinking so much wine or I am going to die a lot sooner than I should - which seems radically unfair because I only realized last year that I was going to die at all.

Okay, so my body has some new stuff going on. We women are used to our bodies transforming, reacting and adapting - to the time of the month, to pregnancy, to our emotions. Is this stage of life really any different? Anyway, whatever shape my body is in, I need it! I have big plans for this year and I want to have the strength, energy, focus, and zest to carry them out. 

January seems to be the right time of year to focus on issues of the physical self, so that's what I'm going to write about this month. I'm going to investigate the changes that affect women's bodies after 40. My goal is to appreciate where I am, learn how to take good care myself, and ultimately, feel comfortable in my 47 year-old skin. 

Middle age is not an alien invasion - it's not even a decline. One part of our bodies, our brains, are still growing. In her book The Breaking Point, Sue Shellenbarger says "new discoveries in neuroscience support the behavioral evidence that growth and development can reignite in middle age."

Gals, my synapses are firing and my brain is sprouting dendrites like crazy. So check back soon because we are going to have some big ass fun exploring one of our biggest assets - our bods!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A New Phase of Fabulous

When I launched this blog three years ago, my first post was an essay titled "Coolest So Far" in which I described the many ways women are cooler in their forties than at any other time of life. When I wrote it I was 44, and honey, I was feeling fine. I'd discovered - why, hello there - ME again. And this middle aged version of me was fantastic!

Since then, FortyFabulous has been a celebration of a time of life that - in contrast to its frumpy image - has turned out to be surprisingly delicious.

I've addressed many topics that reflect what interests me in real life - sex, relationships, parenting, style, aging, technology, culture, and the arts. My goal has been to portray middle-aged women as the vibrant and vital hotties I know they are, so I've chosen upbeat topics and addressed them from a humorous and positive (even silly) point of view.

You won't find any discussion of serious illness, financial ruin, depression or disfunction here. There are plenty of other websites devoted to those weightier subjects, and god knows, the media makes aging out to be bad enough without my help.  I prefer to have fun and leave the angsty whining to someone else.


Three years have passed, my 48th birthday looms, and the prospect of approaching a new decade is making me squirm. I know I should embrace life at any age and yes, my fifties could be every bit as fabulous as my forties. But a little bit of darkness is beginning to seep into my sunny perspective, and it too starts with an "F." It's Fear.

What am I afraid of? Well, death of course. But not just dying - I'm afraid of dying without purpose or without ever really daring to live. I'm afraid of not taking my shot. When you're looking at 50, you can no longer pretend that you've got all the time in the world to fulfill your dreams.

The evidence is everywhere. My body is changing and it's not just cosmetic. I've been as hale as a plough horse all my life, but this year I've developed high cholesterol, hot flashes, and a vitamin D deficiency. I can't keep weight off, I can't sleep, and - unless I have two pair of glasses and a flashlight handy - I can't see a fucking thing.

I look at my family and it's growing up around me. My 14 year-old daughter is blossoming into a young woman and my 17 year-old son is looking at colleges. They aren't going to need a lot of mothering for very much longer. My parents, thankfully healthy and active, are getting older too. They have full lives and meaningful pursuits, but they aren't shaking things up much. On the big stuff, they're living out the  decisions they made years back.

I did some significant reinvention in my 40s - went to grad school, started a new career, etc. - but I've also been lolling about enjoying myself. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate my life; I know I have it good. But now I've realized that I want more!  I want to arrive at 50 living the life I've always envisioned for myself, not sighing over lost chances or buried in regrets.

Much of what I'm feeling is characteristic of a midlife crisis. In her book, The Breaking Point, How Female Midlife Crisis is Transforming Today's Women, Sue Shellenbarger writes that for many women in their late 40s/early 50s,
"A feeling of urgency arises: Now is either the time to fulfill your dreams or give them up."
Realizing that time is limited is scary, but it's also motivating. Shellenbarger says a midlife crises can be cataclysmic or gradual, but either way it's transformative, bringing about change at a crucial time of life. While often typified as a sort of breakdown, it can actually be an incredibly creative experience and bring great growth. 

"The single biggest mistake people make is in not having a midlife crisis," says psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren, "It's a signal that you want more out of life. What a great thing."

OK then, I'm up for the challenge. It may mean a bit of a shift for this blog, but I'm going to face my snaky fears head on and create my own crisis. I'm going to make room for a new me - the best me - while accepting who I am and appreciating what I have. It's my project for 2011!

I do realize I'm not endlessly fascinating, so I don't intend to write only about my personal experiences. I'm going to consult the experts and the women who have gone before to uncover common wisdom, new perspectives, and alternate approaches to making a meaningful transformation at this age.

So come along with me for the next phase of fabulous, you amazing women and men that love us (thankfully, my husband is behind me on this one.) There's so much material to explore and many moons to be howled at. It's sure to be an interesting journey!