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Life in My 50s: The Adventure Begins

I hit the half-century mark today. I have to admit, this birthday feels different but not for the usual reasons. Dennis wanted to get me a fabulous “milestone” gift — an iPhone, a supercharged juicer for my green juicing, some sort of gizmo or gadget befitting a major birthday event. Much to his chagrin, I kept saying, “No.” Nothing seemed right, or necessary. There is no material thing I want or need, certainly nothing I equate with reaching 50 years old.

I think it’s because this birthday calls for something much harder to grasp and impossible to buy, a new perspective, perhaps, rather than a new phone. In the not-so-distant past, my birthdays were cause for what I called the “Birthday Triduum,” not one but three full days of celebration. If my birthday fell on a Friday or Monday, even better because the Triduum could include an entire weekend. Now I’m not sure I need even one day to mark the event. And it’s not an age thing. I long ago came to terms with the fact that it’s downhill from here in most departments. Maybe it’s the notion of turning point. It seems as though 50 years presents a nice, self-contained package of sorts, something to be archived in the basement. And today I’m unwrapping a new, empty box just waiting to be filled, but with what?

My grandmother, who still lives on her own, will soon mark her 100th birthday. As I have said time and again in recent months, if I’ve inherited her genes and determination and strength, I get to live my entire life over again from start to finish. What would I do with another half-century of living?

I don’t want the rest of my life — however long I get — to be only a time of fading, even though part of me welcomes that idea. (I’m continually threatening to live like a hermit in my basement office, but then I have to lead a Girl Scout meeting or drive one of the girls to dance or speak at a Catholic gathering and that idea goes out the window.) I think whatever comes next should be a time of growing in the important areas of my life, as a spiritual seeker, as a wife and mother, as a human being, and maybe in some of the less serious and more fun areas as well, things I haven’t yet had a chance to try but have always wanted to tackle.


I’ll see how post-50 life begins to develop in the months ahead, and you can come along for the ride. In between, I’ll share bits of half-century wisdom about everything from the ridiculous to the sublime. Okay, mostly the ridiculous since sublime is way above my pay grade. Just watch for posts tagged with the “Life in My 50s” headline.

Now I’m off to blow out some candles. Anyone have a fire extinguisher?

Embracing the daring adventure called life

My oldest godchild is about to embark on a life-changing journey, moving away from the town he has known his whole life to a new place with none of the safety nets home often provides. I remember when I did the same almost 25 years ago, leaving my reporting job at Catholic New York to drive my Chevy Chevette to Austin, Texas. In August. Without air conditioning.

That last fact alone should have been reason enough to call my sanity into question, and yet that move, along with the many life events that came after—both good and not so good— helped shape me into who I am today. Without those Texas years, I’d be different. Maybe not better or worse, but definitely different, a little less whole, a little less who I was meant to be. Read more

Why has NSS gone AWOL?

More than three weeks. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve shown my face around these parts. If any of you are still left out there, still coming back to see if I’m around, well, all I can say is, God bless you. You have the patience of a saint.

Things have been more off the wall than usual around here. It could be the fact that I’m writing back-to-back books. I turned one manuscript in on a Wednesday and started the next on a Thursday. That’s insane — even for me, and I’m the queen of insane.

On top of that, I’ve been dealing with some health stuff lately. It’s minor, but enough to slow me down, make me wonder, and cramp my style. Things seem like they’re moving in the right direction, although I’ve got a couple of issues going on that will keep me from doing my beloved yoga — or any exercises involving core strength — for the foreseeable future. Maybe forever. That has not been sitting well with me. I’m spoiled when it comes to health stuff. I expect to be able to do anything and everything with nary a pain or problem. So this is new, and I’m trying to find the lessons in all of it. I’m skirting around a couple of possibilities I hate even to acknowledge, things I think I probably need to learn from this. It’s still too early to say for sure. Maybe they’ll show up in a future post.

To give you some idea just how out of it I’ve been, here’s how Tuesday went: I almost took Chiara to dance class instead of faith formation. The only thing that prevented me from packing up the ballet and tap shoes and heading in the completely wrong direction was Olivia, who said, quite gingerly, “Isn’t today religion?” Yes, and an hour earlier than dance. Lucky we didn’t miss it completely.

After that brain spasm, I decided I needed a cup of tea to calm my nerves. It would have been delicious had I used a tea bag. Sigh.

Then about an hour later I rolled out some pizza dough and made our Valentine’s Day dinner. Dennis and I had a special pizza, loaded with peppers and onions and olives and mushrooms. It looked fabulous. I popped it in the oven, stood up to dust the flour off my apron, and stopped. Wait a minute. I don’t remember putting cheese on that, I thought to myself. Bingo. I made a pizza without cheese. Good for the heart, I guess, but not nearly as delicious. Fortunately, there was time to throw some on top and salvage the dinner. So, that’s how things are going here. I’m not sure I should be allowed to operate any heavy machinery, or even the dishwasher.

I’ll try to be back soon to post my latest Life Lines column and to share some thoughts on those lessons I’m supposed to be learning from this slow down of mine. Stay tuned…

Striving to become your ‘true self’

My latest Life Lines column in the current issue of Catholic New York:

It amazes me sometimes how a casual comment, a familiar smell or the sound of a name we haven’t heard in a while can send us spiraling back in time to a place or event we’d long ago forgotten. Memories linger on our hearts. Some we’d like to preserve forever; some we wish would stay hidden. Good or bad, they are too often the things that shape us.

I was at lunch with some friends recently, laughing and sharing stories, when one line, uttered in passing, hit me like a brick. I was suddenly on the playground in elementary school, feeling unwanted for reasons I never quite understood. As I had during those sometimes painful times of my past, I kept a dim smile on my face, hoping to hide the fact that I was aching inside, not because what was said was intentionally hurtful but because it spoke a truth I’d rather not admit.

We all want to be loved, even if we don’t show it or say it. We want to feel accepted, appreciated, and while that sometimes seems important on the surface—as evidenced by the popularity of accumulating Facebook friends by the hundreds—that kind of goal only serves to take us farther and farther from our truth. Read more

Last wishes and little stars

The new year began with a funeral, which sounds sad but ended up being so uplifting. Mary Jane had been Olivia’s violin teacher, first in elementary school and later privately. Last summer, the day before Mary Jane was scheduled to have brain surgery for the cancer that was taking her bit by bit, she insisted on giving Olivia a lesson at her home. A week after the surgery, she called to schedule yet another lesson. At first I tried to insist that we hold off, but then I realized that this was exactly where Mary Jane wanted to be, with one of her students, doing what she loved to do.

When Mary Jane died last week, the school district sent out an email inviting her former students to come to St. Thomas the Apostle Church the day of the funeral and play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” 10 minutes before the Mass was to begin. We emailed back immediately, saying that Olivia would be honored to play as long as there were other children there with her.

I loved the fact that one of Mary Jane’s last wishes was to have her students play one of the first songs she ever taught them. Not Beethoven or Bach, but a childhood favorite, probably the simplest song they would ever learn, ensuring that even her youngest students could participate.

The morning of the funeral we arrived 30 minutes early, as requested, only to walk into a sea of orchestra students, hundreds of children ranging in age from middle school through college. I was crying before I even helped Olivia take off her coat. What a testament to the power of a great teacher. We left Olivia with her current instructor to tune up and found our place in a pew.

A few minutes later, the children filed in — more than 50 cello players, at least 100 violins and I don’t know how many violas and basses. They filled the side chapel and stood ringing the entire main church. Then Mary Jane’s sister read the letter she left for her students. More tears. “When you can play Twinkle,” Mary Jane wrote, “you know you’ve made progress.”

The children lifted their bows, played the few short lines of the simple song, and then they filed right back out, but the beauty of what we had witnessed lingered long after the last note had ended.

Any teacher who has ever doubted the power he or she has to shape young lives and our world needs to remember this story. Those children didn’t come out to a funeral to play a few lines on their last day of winter break simply because Mary Jane had been a great teacher but because she had been a great person. She loved her students, really loved them. And she loved teaching them, and that clearly came through to those kids who wanted to be there to pay tribute to her.

Now whenever I hear “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” I’ll think of Mary Jane and of her reminder to her students — and to all of us — that sometimes mastering the simplest thing is a sign that we are making great progress.

Rest in peace, Mary Jane. You will be missed.

Manic Monday: Pumpkins and other fall fun

So I’ve been rather scarce around these parts lately. Sorry about that. Typically that means one of two things: Too much work or too much kid-related stuff. In recent days, the two have converged to make life totally crazy.

Between deadlines, soccer practice, soccer games, dance classes, meetings and fund-raisers for our big youth ministry trip to Indiana next month, plus the usual school events, it’s been more than hectic. And, truth be told, I’ve got two big projects in the offing. Shhhh….can’t say much about them now. But if both come through, the next year should be the craziest year ever for me in terms of work. I’ll keep you posted as that situation develops. Until then, please be patient with me and keep checking back here. I promise to show up as often as I can.

Without further ado, here’s this week’s Manic Monday…

Soundtrack: It’s been quieter than usual around here. The kids haven’t been blasting much music this week. I guess because we’re just not here enough to be singing and dancing. As for me, I’ve been keeping Pandora on my work computer tuned to my Gregorian chant channel. I needed music to soothe and inspire while not tempting me to sing along. So a little chant and a lot of incense have kept me in line while I write.

Bookshelf: Believe it or not, I am just finishing up Genesee Diary. I’ve been reading a little before bed each night. Usually I find some pearl of wisdom to contemplate as I drift off to sleep. I did dip my toes into Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, but I’m not sure I should undertake such a heavy book when I know I’ll have so little time for luxury reading in the weeks and months to come.

Viewfinder: Well, first of all, let’s talk viewfinder in general. I finally started shooting with my new Nikon 3100 SLR digital camera. Dennis and the kids gave it to me for my birthday last month — after years of listening to me whine about our point-and-shoot while constantly mentioning how much I wanted this particular camera. Then, once I got it, I said I was going to bring it back. I didn’t think I could justify the expense. I didn’t think I deserved the extravagance. I let it sit unopened next to the door in our family room for more than a week. Finally, tentatively, I opened the box and peered inside, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could find a way to keep that camera. And I did.

I took it out this weekend for some pumpkin picking shots and other random outdoor photos. Here are a few photos from the new camera. Still haven’t given the zoom lens much of a workout. Maybe you’ll see those next week. Click on any photo to see it enlarged.

A bumble bee taken with the macro setting.

Chiara in mid-jump thanks to the sport setting.

Olivia taken with the portrait setting.

Cross in the garden with toad lilies.

Chiara trying to catch a yellow butterfly.

Pumpkins galore, on landscape setting.

The great pumpkin?

Menu: The menu around here as been dullsville. Hence, no Foodie Friday posts lately. I’m joining Dennis for a bout of Weight Watchers. I didn’t officially join, but I’m tracking those stupid points and not very happy about it. Lots of fruits and veggies, which now cost no points, but not much else worth mentioning. Oatmeal and brown rice might as well be cheesecake on this new point system, which I hate. If I was going to write about food, I’d tell you about the hot cider donuts we bought at the farm yesterday. The kids said they were the best they’ve ever tasted. Not surprising since we got them within minutes of them coming out of the farmhouse kitchen. Two weeks in a row we’ve bought cider donuts and I’ve yet to have one. So if you’re out at a farm in the coming weeks, eat a cider donut for me, please.

Appointment book: Busy week ahead. Again. Faith formation, dance, ice skating, soccer, parent meeting for high school. Oh yeah, and I’m speaking at St. Thomas on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood. I’ll be discussing spiritual friendship.

The answer to one of life’s greatest questions

When this little hen walked over to my car and stared up into my open driver’s side window, I thought I was finally going to uncover one of the biggest secrets of all time: Why did the chicken cross the road?

Alas, this chicken wasn’t talking. She clucked a little, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I will say this: Based on my observations of her slow and somewhat erratic movements, her goal was, in fact, simply to get to the other side.

Manic Monday: the first of many

As a complement to my new Foodie Friday weekly post, I’ve decided to add in Manic Monday, sort of like bookends for the weekend. What’s Manic Monday? It’s a bunch of quick blasts that will cover different topics, from music I’m listening to and books I’m reading to photos and interesting quotes. It’s a blog buffet. All you can read.

Soundtrack…Adele, Adele and more Adele, courtesy of my two girls, who love, love, love this young and talented artist. Specifically they play and replay Rolling in the Deep, Rumor Has It, and Turning Tables. I’ve got cool kids.

Bookshelf…I just finished Everything Beautiful Began After: A Novel by Simon Van Booy. I discovered this book by accident in a shop at the Orlando airport when our flight was delayed for hours and hours — a reminder that having a book on a shelf where people can catch an interesting cover, feel the pages, read a few paragraphs is how you sell books. I never would have found this book just scrolling around Amazon. I loved it — beautiful, poetic, thoughtful. Everything I want in a good novel.

Favorite line: “Loneliness is like being the only person left alive in the universe, except that everyone else is still here.”

I’m also re-reading I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova. This is an amazing book about living life to the fullest and being true to yourself and the people you love. I couldn’t pick a favorite line from this one because the whole dang thing is my favorite. If you could see it, you’d know by the ridiculous amount of underlining throughout.

Viewfinder…A scene from Chiara’s sixth birthday party at Del Lanes. Thirteen kids, four lanes, three pizzas, one cake, lots of fun. This one captures all three of my kids in motion, and yet none of them are actually bowling:

Roll tape…This weekend I finally got around to watching Of Gods and Men, the true story of a group of Cistercian monks living in Algeria under the threat of death by Muslim extremists. I won’t tell you much more about the plot because I don’t want to post any spoilers. I will say this, as I said on Facebook this weekend: I wish everyone I know could see this film. It is an incredibly powerful film about courage, faith and love. If you’ve ever wanted to know what’s the big deal about the Catholic faith, what that faith looks like at its very best, watch this movie. Even if you don’t like movies with subtitles. It’s a truly beautiful film. By the time I got to the scene near the end where they are listening to Swan Lake and taking a sip of wine, I was sobbing.

Mangia…Cross another item off our Beach Bucket List. We finally had homemade waffles and ice cream. Doesn’t this look yummy?