A Unique July 13th

Today is my younger daughter’s 25th birthday. Any other July 13th, I would have been busy baking her a beautiful birthday cake and cooking one of her favorite meals. I would have spent all day in the kitchen, making everything from scratch, chopping, dicing, slicing, and mixing away while watching my favorite cooking shows on TVbirthday. I’m pretty sure I know what she would ask for as her birthday dinner: Aunt Kay’s Sesame Chicken with white rice and steamed green beans.

But, this is not a normal July 13th. First of all, my daughter lives in Los Angeles now, where she works for a film company that makes movie trailers and other marketing tools.

And secondly, the real reason why I am not in my kitchen today, though, is because technically I don’t actually have a kitchen right now. I mean, the room is there, but as of Tuesday, July 11th, none of the components of a kitchen is in there.

This is Day 3 of a full kitchen renovation, a gut-job as they call it on all the home improvement television shows. New floor, new cabinets, new countertops, and new appliances. A brand-new kitchen.

Copy of Copy of soffits and weird wood cutout over fridgeOn Tuesday, Day 1, my contractor ripped out some of the cabinets and the white appliances, including the electric double wall ovens and “built-in” microwave original to the house when we purchased it in 2004. The dishwasher and gas stove-top were things we replaced, and they are gone, too. The new-ish stainless steel fridge with French doors is the only thing that is staying in place. It is currently playing musical chairs in the kitchen space, moving from corner to corner as the contractor works around it, because it is too big to move out of the kitchen. When it was delivered two years ago, the delivery men had to take off the back door of the kitchen to get it inside.

IMG_0359 (2)On Wednesday, Day 2, out came the rest of the cabinets and some of the soffits above the cabinets. The new cabinets are going all the way to the ceiling, giving me more storage, and thankfully, less wall space to hang knickknacks and my crazy collection of vintage and reproduction copper molds.

Dragged to the contractor’s trailer with the cabinets were the countertops, light gray Formica with tiny charcoal speckles. I think they were masquerading as granite, which is what will be their replacement. Although those countertops saw their fair share of dripped Kool-Aid and Crystal Light, I always managed to clean any stains with the Magic Eraser. Copy of Copy of French Onion Soup SmirkI never cut anything directly on the Formica so there were no chips or scratches either. The only blemish was from the cooking of a very large pot of French onion soup, which I left to simmer on the back burner in a pot really too large for the burner. Boy, was I surprised when it came time to serve the soup: the large black “smirk” on the Formica backsplash has mocked me ever since. The soup was a welcome home meal for my older daughter, who had brought a friend home from college for the weekend.

white ceramic floorToday, Day 3, started with him smashing to smithereens the white ceramic tile floor. GOOD-BYE FLOOR. I am so happy to never walk on you again! I have hated that floor since we moved in. What were they thinking, a white floor in a kitchen? Every crumb, every drop, every speck, it all showed up on that white floor. That floor has seen it all: drops of plum jam as I filled Mason jars for canning, chocolate cake batter as I filled cupcake tins for church bake sales, Italian bread crumbs as I dredged chicken strips or pork chops for frying. We even bought one of those steam mops to try to keep that stupid floor clean. On top of all that, the tiles were not set evenly so if you walked barefoot in the kitchen your toes would inevitably get caught on the lip of a tile sticking up higher than the rest.

My daughter and I had a lovely chat this morning as she was walking to work in West Hollywood. She told me of her birthday dinner plans with a group of friends at a trendy dim sum restaurant. She was happy, doing her thing out there on the west coast. My contractor is busy doing his thing, tearing my kitchen down to bare walls and floor. Even though I didn’t spend the day baking and cooking, this July 13th turned out pretty good. And, in honor of my daughter’s favorite birthday dinner, I leave you with the recipe for Aunt Kay’s Sesame Chicken (or Beef)!

The Big One

It’s my birthday. Not just any birthday, either. It’s the big one. The big 6-0. As in, senior citizen discount at some places. As in AARP stuff in the mail EVERY SINGLE DAY.

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My classroom

I had a great day. My classroom was decorated with streamers, lots of little goodies and treats found their way to my desk, students brought in cards and gift cards, room parents brought in a cake, a large pumpkin spice latte, a beautiful plant, and colleagues dropped by throughout the day with well-wishes and lovely gifts. One daughter gave me a gift bag full of birthday treasures and the other daughter sent the most beautiful arrangement of autumn flowers. My husband gave me a lovely glass and crystal cross, as well as a well-planned vacation for us in the near future.

 

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Flowers from my daughter, Maddie

In spite of all of this, however, I’ve been thinking about this birthday with trepidation for about a year. I had trouble in my late fifties keeping the numbers straight. Am I 57 or 58? Sometimes I literally had to do the math. As in, “2014 minus 1956 equals 58. Yeah, that’s right, I’m 58.”

 

It’s not that I was in denial; I just didn’t care. The numbers didn’t seem to mean anything to me. I didn’t feel any differently at 56 than I did at 55 or 53 for that matter, so 57 and 58 really didn’t matter. BUT, and this is a big but, 59 hit me hard. On the morning of my 59th birthday, the first thing I thought was, “In one year I will be SIXTY.”

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Charles Dickens action figure from my daughter, Margaret

There is no doubt about it. Sixty carries a certain degree of gravitas with it. My dad was 60 when his first grandchild, my older daughter, was born. Two years later, when my younger daughter was born, my mother was 60, and for her, that is when it all went to hell. She had a physical breakdown after enduring a very stressful incident where my baby brother was lost (and subsequently found, thank God) on the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico during a historic ice storm. She nearly died, and in the ensuing tests, was discovered to need bypass surgery on several arteries to her heart, renal bypass surgery as a result of untreated high blood pressure, and a cone biopsy for cervical cancer.

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Birthday balloons from Twitter!

The bypass surgery and cone biopsy went well, but the renal bypass did not, and she came out of that operation on dialysis and on the kidney transplant list. For two years she endured dialysis and poor health until my aunt, her sister, gave her the gift of life with one of her very own kidneys. This selfless act of love gave my family twelve additional years with my mother, twelve years we would not have had were it not for Nanny Pat and her perfect match.

 

So, I was thinking last year on this day, how can I be one year from all of that? Luckily, just before my 59th birthday, a very brusque cardiologist stopped me dead in my tracks, and said one sentence filled with words that had taken me a lifetime to hear, a lifetime of yoyo dieting, faux exercising, and moaning over the fact that I could not lose weight, a lifetime to finally get, “Have you read your own medical history? If you continue on this path, you will be giving yourself insulin in a year, with more challenging health issues to follow.”

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Downton silliness from a co-worker

After emptying my purse of any and all edible items while standing at the parking pay station that afternoon, I cradled my iPhone on my shoulder while telling my husband, “I’m done. That’s it. The foolishness is over. DO NOT purchase or bring home anything from the following list: pasta, bread, white potatoes, rice, dessert.” Instead, we eat primarily from a new list: lean protein, low-fat dairy, seeds and nuts, fruits and vegetables, and beans.

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An array of cards and notes from students and teachers

A little over a year later, I am not just a sixty-year-old woman, I am a new person. After a lifetime of having little to no willpower, I now understand that my everyday routine does not have to include large amounts of carbohydrates, which turn into sugar, which is a bad thing for me. I managed to lose a significant amount of weight, and successfully make it through major holidays, two birthdays, three vacations, daily trips to the faculty room, otherwise known as carbohydrate central, and much, much more. My husband and I have changed so much about how we eat, how we order food in a restaurant, how we grocery shop, how we treat ourselves.

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Crystal and glass cross from my husband

Late this summer I joined a gym. When I walked into Planet Fitness for the first time, it was my first time in a gym. I was grossly intimidated by the shiny machines, by the endless spandex, by the stoic way in which everyone was just going about their own business getting it done. With the help of a friend and my husband, I made myself comfortable on a few of the machines and began the process of slowly getting into better shape. This was made easier by the several years of dog-walking, where I slowly increased my daily steps from dismal to not too embarrassing.

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French macarons and gifts from co-workers

Shopping for clothing in the last few months as I have continued to tone up a bit even when not losing any new pounds has become less of a dreadful experience, where I now leave with things that I “love”, not things that just “fit”. Everything I already own fits better, and a few things actually fall into that previously unknown category of “too big”. This summer I bought a bathing suit that I actually was happy with, and wore it in Florida to actually go swimming—without a cover-up.

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Birthday surprises everywhere!

It’s the little things, right, but my blood work is not a little thing. With a modest weight loss of just a little over 10% of my starting point, I reversed all my bad numbers and increased all my good numbers. I am no longer pre-diabetic and I do not at this time need a statin or cholesterol-lowering drug.

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Gift cards and a pumpkin spice latte, my favorite!

Do I still have work to do? Absolutely. My next weight-loss goal is to lose enough to weigh the “lie” on my driver’s license. My next fitness goal is to tone up my arms so I can wear sleeveless dresses and tops, especially when my husband and I go to Puerto Rico in November, which was my big 60th birthday present. I can’t wait. Flying is so much more comfortable since I’ve trimmed down a bit, and I have no fear that the seat belt won’t buckle or that I will feel like I’m spilling out of my seat onto my neighbor. Going to Puerto Rico has been a dream of mine since second grade, when my good friend Patty moved there because of her dad’s work. I can’t wait!

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Daughter Margaret and me at birthday dinner #2

And so as my big day, my big 60th birthday day, comes to a close, I feel content and at peace with my new age. I don’t think I will have trouble remembering how old I am this year, and not because I feel panicky about being this old. I feel really good about where I am right now, both personally and professionally.

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My husband and me at birthday dinner #1

My husband, who is my best friend in the whole world, worked really hard to make this birthday really special. I’ve gone out for a birthday dinner every single day since Friday! Some dining choices this long weekend have been healthier than others, but have no fear, I’m back on the wagon tomorrow! I’ll also be making a visit to Planet Fitness this week to work off some of this birthday glory before things get out of hand.

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Birthday cake from my students

My daughters have been so thoughtful and kind, just a reminder of what wonderful young women they have become. I am so incredibly proud of both of them; and while we miss having them at home with us, we are happy they are happily out on their own, making their own path through life.

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Daughter Maddie sent birthday wishes from LA!

This is my tenth year of teaching, and six weeks in, it feels like it will be my best one yet. My eighth grade class this year is unbelievable, a wonderful group of smart, hard-working, sweet, young men and women who really want to do well. They have re-inspired me to be the best teacher I can be, both for myself as well as for them.

mark-twain-quoteIn closing, I leave you with a favorite quote of the great American author, Mark Twain, who never took himself too seriously. As I start my next (seventh, YIKES) decade, I will try to remember this. I’ll keep working on my health and fitness goals, continue to grow spiritually and professionally, cherish my family and friends, and try not to take myself, or my age, too seriously. Cheers, à votre santé!