A Middle-Age High School Musical

I’ll admit it. I’m one of those people who often wishes that in real life, everyone would burst into song and dance numbers, just like in a musical. In a magical, well-choreographed way, not a cheesy, oh-my-god-I-think-this-show-has-jumped-the-shark kind of way.

Street musical scene from Isn't it Romantic movie

You’re eating with family in a restaurant, and all of a sudden, the patrons at the table next to you start to argue. In the middle of the argument, the man stands on the table and begins to sing in a dramatic way about feeling misunderstood. The woman joins in, too. The rest of the patrons become the chorus, and then, the waiters break into a perfectly timed dance, complete with plate juggling.

Too much?

Sorry. Blame it on my 80s upbringing and mormon TV commercials, with the kid who broke Mr. Robinson’s window, and the kids who learned that they are better off to never tell a lie (an even small one!).

Speaking of 80s upbringing, yesterday, I went to the MixTape Tour — a dream concert for anyone who was a teenager in the 80s. Some of the best 80s artists were playing. No, not Journey, though that would have been cool. Okay, no, not Madonna. Not the Cure, not Depeche Mode, not…

New Kids on the Block. It was New Kids, okay?

New Kids on the Block MixTape Tour concert

Plus Salt n Pepa, Naughty by Nature, and two of my 1987-88 favorites, Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. About 95% of the crowd that packed the arena were middle aged women like me, reliving our teen years of big hair, jean jackets, and like, totally awesome music. The other 5%, I am convinced, were men who were dragged along for the ride.

From the beginning to the end, this was no ordinary concert. Every artist in the stage kept encouraging us to join in, sing along, and dance out hearts out. And we did, in a wave of nostalgia and excitement. Sometimes, we even turned toward our neighbors, who were absolute strangers a moment ago, and shouted the lyrics at one another, all while waving our arms and gyrating our hips, in unison with the performers.

It wasn’t exactly a spontaneous musical moment. It was planned, right down to our expensive seats. But there was something incredibly magical about being swept up in a moment of song and dance with tens of thousands of other Gen Xers, waving our hands in the air like we just didn’t care, and taking in one last gulp of the best part of our teen years.

Me smiling in front of an arena

Me, as a teenager at a concert (for the 2nd time around)

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And Now, For the Complete Opposite (aka: Vent)

Vent time.

Because honestly, I am too cheerful and positive to do much venting. I tend to keep it in my own head until the lightning dissipates. But, I feel that this must be expressed.

So the thing is, I do not date. At all. Zero dates. Zero romantic interest. Zero flirting with anyone. Period. I am single, but permanently unavailable.

There are two big reasons for this. The first is that two years ago, when I was healthy and happy and in love with myself and in love with my life, I ventured into the dating zone. And it happened. I ended up in a relationship with the man of my dreams. No exaggerating. He was ideal for me, and we were compatible in every possible way. He assured me that he was not looking for something temporary, or just for sex, and I believed him. I allowed myself to be open and vulnerable, and I fell in love with him.

Then, he left.

But here I am, two years later, and I still love him. And I know without a doubt that there is no other man on this earth who could come close to being as compatible with me as he was. And even if someone could come close, he would not be him. So there’s no point in trying.

Reason two — when he left my life, the pain was unbearable. In fact, it is still unbearable. I still cry, sometimes, to think of his absence. It still dampens good experiences to know that he is not there to share them with me, nor can I even tell him about it. I hate that I ever got so close to him, or allowed him to matter to me, because now I have this painful, horrible lack of him.

Lesson learned: Do not ever allow myself to get close to anyone or allow them to matter to me. I know how that story ends, and it is not happy.

I will never date again. That is a part of my life that is over. Done. Behind me. In the past. No romance. No relationships. And absolutely no sex.

Now for the vent. It bothers me, like really bothers me when people tell me that I need to keep an open mind. Be flexible about this — the one thing that I am not at all flexible about. Keep an open mind, because one day you may meet someone who… (Fill in the blanks).

Imagine if I went running in a high-crime neighborhood at night, because everyone else said it was the thing to do. Yes it’s risky, but so what? It’s fun and special and makes life exciting! Now imagine I got assaulted while out running, and beaten almost to death. When the broken bones were healed, and most of the lacerations faded to scars, let’s see…should I go running in a high-crime neighborhood at night again, especially knowing now what I did not know then? Should I keep my mind open to the idea, because I might not be assaulted the next time?

Of course not! I’m not crazy!

And say I were to go mountain climbing, because everyone else believed that it was the best experience of their lives. Imagine I climbed up high, and was amazed by the view. Wow! Hooked on mountain climbing. Best experience ever.

But then, my rope snapped without warning.

Down I fell, head slamming against the rocks, the fall breaking my ribs, nearly crushing my lungs. Now imagine that months later, when I can walk again and breathe on my own, and life is back to a new, though chronically painful version of normal, people were to say, “You should keep your mind open to climbing the mountain again. It can be a healing experience, to get back up there.”

Hell no.

Seriously…WTF? Oh, because the fall maimed me but didn’t kill me, I should be willing to put my life at risk again, because hey, the next rope may not snap, and I’ll reach the summit?

Forget that! Who needs a summit? I will never go near another mountain. Never touch another rope. I may read about mountain climbing from the safety of my room, but I wouldn’t climb a mountain again if someone were to pay me ten million dollars to do it.

And that is how I feel about dating.

Bend, Don’t Break (aka: Flexibility)

Every athlete knows the importance of stretching. During training or before the big game, you have to take the time to do slow, gentle stretches. You do it to stay flexible. You do it to avoid injury. A tight, rigid muscle is a muscle that may tear.

It’s a pretty natural concept. You see it all the time in nature, too. A palm tree’s flexible trunk can sway with strong winds and stay intact. But put a rigid oak tree in its place, and the same wind storm may snap its branches, or uproot it from the ground.

Palm trees bending in the windBroken oak treeFlexible bends. Rigid breaks.

Really, we can apply the need to be flexible to nearly every part of life. In our careers, for example, it’s important to keep learning, keep pushing ourselves to grow and to expand our skills. The jobs we do today may change in the future. Our ability to perform our jobs may change, too. But if we stay flexible, if we keep our minds open to how we may best adapt when changes come, then we will be more prepared to handle it.

Switch directions

Years ago, I used to be a public school teacher of young children. But then, changes came. I outgrew the work I was doing. I also outgrew the paltry salary it paid. And state budget reductions caused my job, along with many others in my field, to be slashed. I was jobless. I was also overqualified for similar, even lower-paying teaching jobs in the private sector.

Luckily, I was flexible. I had a backup plan — a career field I had been thinking of switching to for years. In my mid 30s, with no work experience in that field, I went back to school, got an internship, and made the jump. Today, I am established in a career that I adore, doing things that challenge and stretch me, and earning a decent salary, too.

Being flexible means being willing to change direction, and considering a new plan when the old plan fails. Your oven breaks just before you’re due to cook Thanksgiving dinner? Fine. You buy a catered meal this year. Or borrow a neighbor’s oven. Or take the family out to a restaurant. Bend, don’t break. Rain interrupts the holiday barbecue plans? Bring it indoors. Turn it into a board game or sports-viewing party. Pull together a taco bar instead of grilled burgers. Bend, don’t break.

Flat eartg

Of course, it’s not possible to be flexible in all things. While it’s healthy to keep our minds open to other possibilities in many things, it’s just as healthy to stand firm in our convictions in some things. Believe in God or don’t believe in God. Feel strongly about your political views. Fight for causes you know inside to be right and just. However, if you just learned that the earth is actually a globe, and that science has proven it in many different ways, you may just want to reconsider your uh…worldview. While you could choose to hang on to those old beliefs you grew up with about the earth being flat, why would you when evidence to the contrary is staring you right in the face? Not all beliefs are worth breaking for. Just saying.

Stay flexible, peeps.

Hey Batter Batter! (aka: Adult Sports)

“Hey batter batter batter, SWING!”

Familiar words from my childhood, which intermingle with the smell of grass, dirt-smeared white knickers, and the heavy feel of cleats on my feet, scraping against the ground. My little league teammates and I sat around in the dugout, chewing Big League Chew bubblegum and, encouraged by our coaches, yelling out unsportsmanlike taunts to the other team.

Go back, go back

go back in the woods!

Your coach ain’t got no spirit

and your team is no good!

I was a catcher. Kind of a lame position to play, in retrospect, since I had to stay in a squat position for most of the game, and had exactly three tasks:

  1. Catch the ball. A lot.
  2. Return the ball to the pitcher.
  3. Don’t get hit by the bat.

I guess I did pretty okay at these. I also did pretty okay at batting. I’m a leftie, and often got walked by pitchers who were freaked out that I was standing on the wrong side of the plate. I was okay with being pretty okay, and I enjoyed playing softball. But softball was nothing compared to soccer. In soccer, you got to run and move and try out cool tricks and, well, do stuff all the time, instead of standing or sitting around, waiting for something to happen.

Even the major leaguers get bored waiting around.

When my kids were growing up, only one participated in little league baseball. My oldest son did tee-ball and coach pitch, and he was also pretty okay. But for him, just like for me, soccer had the louder siren song, so he abandoned the baseball diamond for the soccer pitch.

A few days ago, I decided to give softball a whirl again. A Meetup group I’m a part of was getting together with another group of mostly middle-aged wanna be athletes to play at a local park. It had been many years since I’d played, so I was pretty nervous that I’d play like a total newb. There were no dirt-smeared knickers or cleats, but the air smelled like grass (no, not that kind of grass). It was exactly as I’d remembered it, though the kids were all aged 30-50-something, and the pitcher would keep pitching the ball until you got a hit, so no one struck out.

I played third base, hoping that I’d see lots of action. But the ball rarely came my way, and runners were often intercepted before even reaching second base. So, there was still a lot of standing around, waiting. A few innings later, I was starting to wish I hadn’t skipped my Sunday morning Zumba class. I mean, how on earth did we kids manage to wait and wait and wait in those pre-cell phone days? Oh yeah. Go back, go back, go back in the woods…

Finally, I stepped up to bat for the last time. Each inning, I’d managed to get a base hit, except for one pretty little pop fly to center field that got three of us out and ended the inning. *Groan*

The pitcher lobbed the ball my way, and — CRACK!! I’ve got to tell you…when you hit the ball hard, and it’s just right, there is nothing like the sound the bat makes when it strikes the ball and sends it soaring. Nothing.

I wish I could say I hit a home run. Or even got an RBI. I didn’t But base by base, I got to fly like the wind, until at last, I reached home plate. Boom! That was the feeling I’d been waiting for all morning. The reason why baseball players can stand all the waiting, waiting, waiting. Because when something finally happens, it’s like a thunder strike. Almost as great as scoring a goal in soccer. Almost.

And it doesn’t even matter that I didn’t hit a homerun. Who cares whether I made it home all at once or one base at a time? The point is that, I made it home.

Plastic Planet (aka: Zero Waste Lifestyle)

Happy Earth Day, fellow earthlings!

Let’s celebrate with a delicious meal, shall we? How about some plastic tacos, a plastic salad, and a plastic chocolate cake for dessert? No? Not such a fan of plastic food?

Sadly, every year, an increasing number of sea mammals, fish, and birds are found dead with their stomachs full of plastic. Our plastic. The unfortunate meals we served them when we threw out those plastic water bottles.

According to recent studies, 8 million tons of plastic trash end up in our oceans each year. Plastic, which takes more than 400 years to decompose, is quickly on its way toward outweighing the amount of fish there are in the sea.

“What?” You say? “It’s not my fault. I always recycle our household plastics.”

I get it. So do I. I figured that those mega-packs of single plastic water bottles I kept buying for our family’s convenience were fine. After all, we were always certain to toss them in the recycle bin when they were empty, as we do with all our household plastics.

But according to a recent study, most of those plastics aren’t actually being recycled. In fact, only 90.5% of all plastic waste has ever been recycled. 12% is incinerated, and 79% accumulates in landfills and the nautral environment, including our oceans. (Royal Statistical Society, 2018)

Does that mean it’s hopeless? Is our planet simply doomed to end up like a garbage-infested wasteland, like on the movie, Wall-E? Well, yes, if we earthlings don’t start making different choices. But the good news is that it may not be too late to turn this around.

Many communities and individuals are taking the concept of waste reduction to what many may consider an extreme. They are going beyond producing less waste, and instead aiming to create zero waste.

That’s right. Zero Waste. Empty trash cans. Nothing new added to the landfills and oceans to choke our sea life and pollute our planet. It is a lifestyle that requires some discipline and some participation from retailers and communities in order to be truly successful. Most of all, it requires a change in the way we choose to consume. It’s easy to use paper cups and plastic utensils, then discard them. It’s more challenging to be mindful of the effects of or choices, and to choose reusable dishes instead.

Here are the main principles of a Zero Waste lifestyle:

Reduce — Reduce the amount of waste you create. Refuse to purchase items that you don’t need, or items which may add to landfills. That means saying no to those mega-packs of plastic water bottles and using refillable containers instead. It means choosing to skip the straw in that cold drink. Or, if you can’t live without the straw, buy a set of reusable metal, bamboo, or silicone straws, such as these:

Reusable straws

Reuse — Pack your food items in reusable glass containers, drink from reusable water bottles, carry reusable shopping bags to the store. A goal of mine is to start bringing washable mesh bags to the store and farmers’ market to use instead of those plastic produce bags.

Recycle — If it can be recycled, recycle it. But try reducing and refusing first, so that you hav less waste left over to recycle.

Unsure about how to recycle some things? Try terracycle.com for free programs in your community that help you to dispose of hard-to-recycle items in an earth-friendly way. For example, did you know that you can bring your old coffee lids, snack wrappers, and coffee capsules to your local Subaru dealership for recycling? Check here for you nearest participating dealership: https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/subaru#@38.53979322637243:-121.42445184328136zoom:9 .

Rot — Compost organic waste. And hey — did you know that you can now buy “plastic” eating utensils made from plants, which are 100% biodegradable and compostable? When I can’t use stainless steel utensils, these are my favorite to have on hand.

Maybe we’ll find that going Zero-Waste is just way too out-of-reach for most of us. But in the process of aiming for Zero, we may just find that we succeed in reducing our own impact on the planet.

Three Little Letters (aka: it’s Better to Know)

It’s time for us to talk about something with three little letters. Something you’ve all heard of, but many people are afraid to talk about.

No, not sex. *Rolling my eyes* Believe me, I am the last person you’d want to discuss sex with. It’s really not one of my strengths.

But it is related to sex. And the three little letters are an acronym. Today’s topic is HIV.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. In the U.S. alone, more than 1 million people are infected with HIV. And 15% aren’t even aware that they are infected. That’s 1 in 7 of you who are walking around with no idea that they are carrying a potentially lethal virus. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/statistics

Don’t you think it’s better to know?

HIV used to mean a death sentence. Not even that long ago, up to half of those diagnosed with HIV would go on to contract AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Today, if HIV is diagnosed in time, those living with the virus can be treated with ART drugs (anti-retrovirals) to suppress the virus and help you to live a longer, healthier life.

HIV never even used to cross my mind. It just wasn’t something that had anything to do with me. In my entire life, I have had only 3 sexual partners. The first was my husband of 17 years. I naively thought that STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) don’t apply to married couples. I was totally safe. Protected.

Until my ex-husband began cheating with prostitutes.

The moment I learned about his misdeeds, I did two things. 1 — I stopped having sex with him forever. And 2 — I had my gynecologist test me for everything.

Because it’s better to know.

Note: HIV can be spread through semen and vaginal fluids, through oral sex, or blood, such as during a blood transfusion or by an infected needle.

My second sexual partner was an acquaintance of mine. We had a sexual relationship that lasted for months, and was, to the best of my knowledge, monogamous. We also used condoms. But still, after it was over, I got tested for STIs.

Because it’s better to know.

My third sexual partner was a man I met on eHarmony, whom I nickname “Z” on this blog. (He is also my final sexual partner, as I will never again have sex with another person). We lived in different cities, but we dated for a few months by telephone and text, as well as in person. I enjoyed every aspect of our relationship very much — including sex, which was surprising to me, given my past negative experiences.

After he broke up with me, it took me more than a year and a half before I worked up the courage to get tested. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was afraid, that there was even the slightest chance that he hadn’t been honest with me about his HIV-negative status.

But knowing your own status, I realized in the end, isn’t about your partner. It isn’t about how much you love him, or how much you trust her. It’s about your own personal health, and the ability to make wise decisions.

There are a number of ways to get tested for HIV. You can ask your primary physician, or your gynecologist for a test. (Remember — they are not there to judge your lifestyle!). You can visit a walk-in testing clinic. You can use a home sample-collecting kit, which you mail in for results. Or you can do as I recently did — use an over-the-counter oral testing kit called OraQuick, which costs around $40 and is available at Walgreens drugstores. Be sure to test at least 3 months after having sex, as there is a false-negative window if you test sooner than that.

If you are sexually active don’t know your HIV status, then it may time for you to test and get some peace of mind for you and your partner or future partners. Or for yourself, even if you are celibate, like me.

It’s better to know.

I Need a Name for this Salad (aka: Plant-Based Goodness)

Eureka!

I have created a salad that both salad lovers and the salad-averse can enjoy.

Kind of a low-salad salad.

Seriously. It’s filled with plant-based goodness — quinoa, walnuts, chopped dates, and a little arugula, just so that we can say we ate our veggies. 😉

Yes, in fact, I do almost always have fresh flowers on my table. 🙂

Okay fine, it is not completely plant-based, because this recipe includes feta cheese. I can’t help it. I have a serious thing for feta cheese. Until there’s a good vegan option, it will always be my biggest reason for not going all-out plant based. Well, that, plus occasional grilled steak burritos. Or lamb gyros. Or pad thai with shrimp.

In my defense, I call myself a flexitarian, not a vegetarian. I include meat or seafood and other animal proteins in my diet up to 20% of the time. Which nutritionists say is the third healthiest way to eat, just after the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet.

As I was saying, this salad has some feta cheese. But you can always skip that part, if it’s not your thing. Either way, you’ll get this wonderful nutty-sweet combination of flavors.

This salad was my attempt at a copycat version of a salad I enjoyed at a local restaurant. They named it “Autumn Harvest Salad.” But I think it tastes great no matter the season, as do my three teens. So what shall I name my version? Not Just Arugula Salad? Gotta Have Feta Salad? The Salad from Jupiter? Seriously, nothing sounds just right. I’d love some ideas!

Here’s the recipe. Feel free to adjust amounts to suit your own tastes (especially since I’m better at throwing it together than figuring out the actual amounts I use!):

“Insert Name Here” Salad

Quinoa, 1 cup uncooked

Arugula, around 3-4 oz.

Walnut halves or pecan halves, 3/4 cup

8 dates, pitted and chopped

Feta cheese crumbles, 2-3 Tbsp.

Raspberry-walnut vinaigrette, at least 1/2 cup (also works great with pear vinaigrette, or any other fruity vinaigrette. Or use balsamic vinaigrette if you wish to cut down on the sweetness).

Directions: Cook quinoa according to directions on package, drain, and refrigerate overnight or until chilled. Toss quinoa together with other ingredients, then chill together for at least an hour. Enjoy as a main course or hearty side dish.