I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Aging

Comfort Food

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Jangled

I’m a little jangled right now. My son started his first day of 11th grade, which I dealt with by feeling overwhelmed with stress on the work front. My daughter leaves tomorrow for her second year of college, which leaves me feeling excited, proud, melancholy, and old. Less stressful than Year 1, but still emotional. I took a too-hard, too-crowded, too-much-rap-music (wtf?) yoga class, which made me angry and tearful: My hip is cranky; who are these people who CAN do this class? Clearly I am getting too old. Maybe I will just sing and knit and get fat. Yowza!

Jangled.

Thursday night, I dreamt that my pet parakeet had a new water dispenser and I realized that she could drown in it if I didn’t watch over her at all times. Do you think I am worried about my children? As our pediatrician counseled us at baby-proofing stage, only half-joking: “Never let them out of your sight.”

Friday night, I dreamt that my hair suddenly was much grayer. I wondered if I should begin to color it, debating between being my authentic self and not wanting to look too old. Do you think I am worried about aging? Who IS that woman in the mirror and what did she do with my 35-year-old self?

When doing some back-to-school errands with my daughter, someone made a strange turn at an intersection. I thought about my son beginning to drive and was overcome with the dangers of driving and the fear of losing them to an accident. Which would be devastating.  Which led me to musing at how wonderful both my children are. Precious, good, honest, empathetic, better than me, better than my husband. How is it possible that these two amazing human beings are my children? Which led me me to tears at a stop light. Praying that they survive the dangers of everyday living.  Overcome with love and gratitude.

Jangled.

Clearly, I am in need of some comfort food. The problem is that traditional comfort foods (Macaroni and Cheese, Oreos and Milk, Pot Roast with Gravy) are too rich. I don’t enjoy these foods. I feel too guilty.  And too full.  For me, comfort food is simple and easy, includes favorite childhood foods, can be eaten in large quantities, and is healthily guilt-free.

When I was a little girl, we had a neighbor with an extensive garden who would let me eat tomatoes warm off the vine. They were perhaps the most delicious food ever. I never tire of good tomatoes but am usually frustrated that they never live up to my memory of those garden tomatoes.  Every summer, my mother would make a simple salad of tomatoes and avocado.  She must be one of the first people who put together a simple composed salad without any lettuce. Who needs lettuce!

The local tomatoes have been pretty good this summer. And, ballerina-eating-trick: you can eat vast quantities of tomatoes without incurring a lot of calories. No need for lettuce, the tomatoes form a delicious base for salads and require minimal dressing. While I don’t eat very much meat any more, I do love chicken and indulge in it occasionally.  This is one of my favorite go-to salads and is what I had for lunch on this day of mixed and jangled emotions.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 1 small grilled chicken breast
  • ½ cup leftover brown rice
  • ½ beefsteak tomato
  • ½ avocado
  • Corn, cut from 1 leftover cob (I always make extra corn on the cob for leftovers)

Dice everything into roughly equal sized small pieces. If you are OCD, like me, you can even make sure that you have the same number of pieces of each ingredient, insuring that each bite has a little bit of everything.

Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 2 Tablespoons plain greek yogurt (ballerina-eating-trick: Replace some fats with plain greek yogurt. Adds tang and has fewer calories and fat. I use plain greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches.)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

Whisk together and spoon over salad.

1 large salad for lunch – good for jangled nerves, especially if you share the salad with your college-bound daughter.

Wisdom

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Or Maybe I’m Just Lazy

August is here. My favorite month. Slow. Heavy. Delicious. It’s like Sunday – a pause before the busy, busy, busy-ness kicks back into high gear. September used to be my favorite month. When I was young. I loved the start of school. A new year full of hope for reinvention and ambitious achievements. My ambition is quieter now. I’m a little less jealous of other people’s success and wealth, a little less determined to achieve some kind of fame or greatness, a little more comfortable with me.

A little.

So when I woke up this morning and thought about my usual Sunday activities (Yoga! Laundry! Grocery Shopping! oh my!), I felt tired. And a little sad. Anticipating the end of August before it’s hardly begun. I’ve been operating at my usual relentless pace and along about now, August to be exact, my body and my soul say STOP! I used to get migraines – forcing me to get into bed and slow down. Or I would get depressed, crying and overwhelmed, unable to get out of bed. Now, I feel the warning before it gets too bad. Slow down. Change up the routine. Do something different.

I decided to take a Restorative yoga class. Slow. Heavy. Delicious. You sink into props, focus on your breath, and float. Savasana all the time! What could be better? I felt guilty. Negotiating and arguing with myself. What’s the matter with you, you lazy slacker? Where’s your enthusiasm for Downward Dog and multiple vinyasa’s? You’ll get fat! Come on! Get out of bed and go to yoga! NO. My body and soul said. I need rest. I need to give myself permission to rest.

When I got “into” yoga, at midlife, in my mid-forties, I latched onto Ashtanga yoga. It was the perfect practice for an aging ballet dancer Type A personality. I loved the vigor, jumping back and forth, flinging myself upside down, contorting myself into twists and binds. I adored my teacher Constanza. ADORED. Like a loving, but stern ballet teacher with a whip, she would insist “You must put your whole palm on the floor!” Lying on me to get my head to my knees or pressing my arm clasp to the floor behind me or wrapping herself around me to get my arms into the proper bind. Exhausted, I had no breath to chant the closing invocation. I would collapse, drenched in sweat, into Savasana at the end of class. Emotionally drained, I had a few sobbing savasanas. Midlife was hard. She would hug me, look me in the eye. “Sally, (which she pronounced “Solly” in her low voiced Colombian accent) you must breathe. Yoga is a breathing practice.”

With some regret, I decided Ashtanga yoga was not good for my chronic neck pain and I gave it up. But I can’t quite give up an athletic practice. However, I am now so tuned into potential neck pain, that I am more and more the person in the class who rests in child’s pose instead of striving for another vinyasa. These athletic classes are filled with ego.  Filled with many younger-than-me people ambitious to be thin and strong, to achieve a high level of skill in the pose, to win praise from the teacher. Oh yeah, been there done that. When one of the younger men in the class said to me something like: “It must be good to be your age and know when to rest.” I was flummoxed. My age? Surely I am no older than you? But, the truth of the matter is that he is easily 10-15 years younger than me. Wisdom? Enlightenment? Self-knowledge? Or maybe I’m just lazy?  Or worse, OLD.

At the same time that I discovered Ashtanga yoga, I also discovered Restorative yoga. It was a January and the studio was filled with new years’ resolutions yogi’s. The active vinyasa class I planned to take was full. My heart sank. I rolled my eyes. Oh okay, I’ll take Restorative. I reluctantly placed my mat, annoyed, waiting to be bored and unimpressed. Instead, one of the wise “old” people in the class was friendly and introduced me to my now-favorite yoga book, Meditations from the Mat. Then class began and I floated off into bliss, not boredom. Reminding me that you learn something from every yoga class, every yoga teacher, if you listen. I still hear Constanza’s voice, “Yoga is a breathing practice!” But more and more, the teacher’s voice that I listen to is my own.

Slow. Heavy. Delicious. Breathe and enjoy August.

51

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Abiding Between Youth and Old Age

I am feeling all of my 51 years, no longer young but not yet old.  There is still so much I want to do.  To say.  To be.

I thought I would be GREAT by now.  Free of all my neuroses and at the height of a successful career.  I was never sure what that career was going to be, but I was going to be At The Top.  Brilliant writer.  Transcendent dancer.  Insightful teacher.  Inspiring leader.

It took my 40’s and several years of mid-life reflection to get to 50.  I find that each decade ends in the next one.  And now, at 51, I am fully ensconced in this one.  51 is simply 51.

51 is not the new 31.  I am angry at the marketers who insist we look and behave younger than we are.  I don’t want to be 31.  It was a good year, don’t get me wrong, filled with all the joyful beginnings of a new decade, with a new marriage and a new home and the promise of new life.  But at 51, I have gone through so much more living.  I’ve loved.  I’ve lost people I love.  I’ve had children (one of the experiences worthy of the word “awesome” in my mind).  I’ve lost a few jobs.  And survived.  And learned a lot about myself and other people along the way.

Why dismiss that experience?  Why do we elevate the giddy impulsiveness and anxiety of youth in favor of the patience and intelligence that comes with living life?

I still nervously pick my cuticles, compulsively measure my food, and procrastinate by getting lost in anxious thoughts.  But it is lessening.  I am aware that my tendency toward a sense of depression is a go-to habit – a vestigial way to elicit attention and make an excuse for my perceived failure to be great.  When I notice my tendency to complain, to feel sad or unworthy, or not ready, I now try to do or say something different, something honest.  It allows me to approach my day and the people in it with a more positive and open energy.  Call it happy?  Could it be?

Cyndi Lee discusses the concept of abiding in her book May I Be Happy.  Abiding is the stage between Arising and Dissolving.  Between Inhaling and Exhaling.  Between Birth and Death.  Between Youth and Age.  We work so hard at living.  What will I be when I grow up?  Who will I be with?  Who will my children be?  What will I achieve?  What will be my legacy?  Suddenly you realize that you are grown up and you are what you are.  Maybe it’s time to pause at the transition and just be.  Let go of the grasping ambition, the punishing hard work.  And just be.  Me.  Abiding.

For me, one of the pleasures of being 51 is enjoying pop culture (well, some of it) with my children and remembering parallel experiences from when I was the same age.  My daughter loves Taylor Swift.  I have happily chaperoned a few concerts and admire Swift’s song-writing talent and ability to capture the essence of her age.  Instead of writing an essay on mid-life filled with regret and dissatisfaction, I decided to turn Swift’s tribute to 22 into an anthem for 51.  I figure it will take me a year to perfect the lyrics and record it for YouTube.  At that point, I can call it 52, which rhymes much better with Ooh-Ooh.

51  (Sung – affectionately and enthusiastically – to the tune of 22, by Taylor Swift)

It feels like a perfect night to dress up like yogis

And stay home with the family, uh uh, uh uh.

It feels like a perfect night for reading The New Yorker

And wait up for my daughter, uh uh, uh uh.

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

It seems like one of those days

Noticed jowls in the mirror

Can’t wear high heels, uh uh, uh uh.

It seems like one of those days

Woke up at 4 in the morning

To do list is growing, uh uh, uh uh.

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

It feels like one of those years

Still living for each paycheck

Thought I’d be rich, uh uh, uh uh

It feels like one of those years

Still seeking the perfect life

Thought I’d be there, uh uh, uh uh

Yeah,

We’re happy, sad, tired, stressed, and wise at the same time

It’s maddening and menopausal.

Oh, yeah

Tonight’s the night when I throw off the covers

In a sweat

Uh oh!

I don’t know about you

But I’m feeling 51

No longer want to be 22

But still have much to do

I finally know about me

And what I want to be

Not sure it will be all right

But let’s keep dancing like we’re

51, ooh-ooh

51, ooh-ooh

As for birthday celebrations, I whole-heartedly believe in them, for me and for you.  This is your day.  Like your name, it is uniquely all about you.  Celebrate you and share in the celebration with your friends and family.  Ask for what you want.  Be sure to have a cake with candles and a wish.  I am not a fan of cake.  And virtually refuse to eat it.  It is dry and tasteless and not worth the calories.  Unless, of course, it is my birthday and the cake is chocolate – dense and moist – and ideally homemade.  With icing smeared off from the plate.  And then I allow myself a sliver and I savor every bite.

Glazed Chocolate Cake with Sprinkles (from Gourmet)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • Sprinkles!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter bottom and side of 9×2 inch round pan, then line bottom with parchment.

Sift together dry ingredients.  Beat together butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add eggs 1 at a time, then beat in vanilla.  Reduce speed to medium-low and add dry ingredients, alternating with milk.

Transfer batter to cake pan.  Bake until cake begins to pull away from side of pan and a wooden toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.  Invert onto a rack and cool completely, 1 hour.

For glaze, bring cream to a simmer in small heavy saucepan over medium heat, then pour over chocolate in a bowl and let stand 1 minutes.  Gently whisk until smooth, then stir in corn syrup.  Coll completely, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.  It will thicken.

Peel off parchment from cake.  Pour glaze onto center of cake and spread to edges with a spatula.  Decorate with sprinkles!

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