A Note From My Mother

I was born on Friday, February, 14,1964 in Waterville, Maine. That makes me fifty today.  I harbored a hope that a new decade would make me feel different, like discovering a latent super power.

Instead the morning greeted me like most.  I wrangled our teenagers up and off to school.  Leo texted me Happy Birthday, no call.  Lila annoyed me as she finished her math homework in the car, even though I promised myself I would be more patient in my fifties.

I guess patience is not my latent super power.

The plan for today is to lay low because of the marathon this weekend. I need to conserve my physical and mental energy. Tonight Matthew and I are going out to listen to music. Later this spring, I’m taking a short trip with a friend to mark this milestone.

I have absolutely nothing to complain about, I know.

That’s why I feel so terribly guilty for emotionally flailing today.  I didn’t expect this. It began with the ordinariness and gained momentum when my mom called.  I started to cry.  She said exactly what I needed to hear.  She reminded me that the big birthdays with zero’s need time for grieving as well as celebration.  My mom gave me permission to meet fifty on my terms.  I didn’t have to be happy.

I’ve flailed about all day, with breaks to be grateful and laugh with friends.  It’s OK though, I have a note from my mother.

Fifty.  Downtown Austin.

“Look, I really don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive, you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. And therefore, as I see it, if you’re quiet, you’re not living. You’ve got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy, colorful and lively.”  ― Mel Brooks —


I was running out the door last night to pick up Georgia from practice when I saw the package in our mailbox on the porch. It had Richard’s distinctive handwriting and I knew what was inside. He was sending me something for my birthday on behalf of Marcia, my dear friend who died three years ago this spring.  I am blessed that she loved me like a daughter.

The letter ends with, “This remembrance of hers is sent with much love – Richard.” The cotton in the box and the black velvet pouch smell like her. I didn’t know that I remembered how she smelled, but there it is, distinctively Marcia. I had seen the silver chain of dime-sized hammered metal links around her neck many times, usually with a casual sweater.  Marcia was sophisticated and stylish but this necklace was a rare piece of her jewelry that could fit into my simple, athletic, thrown-together approach to fashion. She would have picked it out for me.

Richard got it right.

In my thoughts and heart, Marcia accompanied me in the car as I made my way to the gym. We both agreed that middle-age is the time when your friendships with women move to another level of meaning that is unimaginable when you are younger.

If I could only pick one word to characterize my last decade it would be WOMEN.

The family of women I have built during my forties has been my most treasured achievement outside of my life with the kids and Matthew.  When I was younger I was somewhat of an outsider, most often by choice. I didn’t really understand other women, particularly when they moved in groups. I preferred men or to be by myself.  It was easier that way.

A shift occurred in my late thirties. It began in playgrounds and the hallways of preschools, over cups of coffee and during long runs on hilly wooded trails, on desperate calls and through inside jokes. By my forties I found myself surrounded by women I loved.

They hug me when I’m undeserving, don’t flinch when I’m imperfect, lead the way, and shine the light on my strengths.

Together we belly-laugh, shake our fist at the sky and cry, get sick and recover, raise families, bury parents, volunteer, cook, downward dog, travel, play, console and celebrate.

They are the people I design escape plans with and then go back home.

They get me through all the bruises and triumphs of kids, the realities of marriage, and the painfully joyous process of growing up. I know with a devotional certainty that I’m a better person for letting their love and courage lift me to a place that is always safe and accepting.

To the women in my life, you know who you are, thank you for seeing me through to fifty. Our lives are joined together like the silver links of Marcia’s necklace.

I love you.

And Then There’s Maude

“You’re turning fifty?”

Now imagine that question asked in slow motion by a wide-eyed incredulous twelve-year-old girl from my daughter’s gymnastics team. The words came out of her mouth laden with disbelief as if I said that I was turning into a lemur.

Her sweet mom took a quick read of my facial expression to gauge my reaction. I laughed and asked her why she was surprised.

“You don’t look fifty,” she answered.

I’ve noticed that people think that telling someone that they don’t look fifty is the best compliment they can come up with for a person on the verge of turning fifty – particularly a woman.

What they are really saying is that I don’t look old … yet.

Fifty is definitely the gateway to old. Little kids think the number is dinosaur ancient. Teens associate it with their parents. Twenty-somethings pity the loss of youth. Thirty-year-olds are way too busy with career and family to have an opinion.

On the other hand, people in their forties are a little leery of fifty, like perhaps it may be contagious.  It is, if you’re lucky!

I’m not sure what fifty is supposed to look like. When I was a kid I thought the coolest “old” person on television was Maude, played by Bea Arthur in the sitcom of the same name. I liked her flowy sweaters and jackets that traipsed after her as she paraded across the set. She was bossy and wise-cracking and did what she wanted. She did not look or act like any of the middle-aged women from my life as a child.  I suppose that I wanted to be Maude when I was old.

Fifty-year-olds don’t share a uniform profile. I will wear the number differently than another. Instead of focusing on what I look like, I want to celebrate arriving at this milestone healthy and content, surrounded by family and friends and curious about what’s next. It’s more about who I’ve become and where I’m going.

I am a partner, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, dog mama, friend, social worker, marathoner, gardener, artist, writer, yogini, traveller, volunteer, photographer.  That’s what my fifty looks like and yes, I feel the most beautiful when wearing flowy sweaters that trail behind me when I walk.


Lady Godiva was a freedom rider,

she didn’t care if the whole world looked.

Joan of Arc, with the lord to guide her,

she was a sister who really cooked.

Isadora was a first bra burner

Ain’t ya glad she showed up?

And when the country was falling apart

Betsy Ross got it all sewed up

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s Maude

And then there’s that uncompromisin’ enterprisin’ anything but tranquilizin’ Right on Maude!!!

Lyrics from theme song for the sitcom Maude

One final note: I know flowy is not a word but it should be.

Welcome Back Eli

I don’t write about Eli very much because he asked me not to mention him without his consent. It wasn’t hard to do. There has been distance between us over the last couple of years. The same strain occurred with Leo during middle school and seeped into 9th grade. Whereas Leo was silent in his disgust for me, Eli is very vocal.

I’m not sure that Eli has ever forgiven me for leaving him in the attention vacuum between his older brother and two demanding babies.  In recognition of his place in the birth order, I began taking Eli on trips alone to give him respite from the squeeze of the middle.

It turns out that Eli is an excellent travel companion. We visited France, San Francisco, Yosemite, and Olympic National Park.  Our trips were always perfect and helped to take the sting out of our push-pull at home. During the last couple of years neither of us talked about traveling together.  On our road trip through Montana with Leo last summer, Eli spent a lot of the time mad at me.

When I picked Eli up from rowing last night he was in a great mood. We joked and laughed all the way home. At the stop light, I looked over at him and it hit me that the thaw in our relationship has been happening for months now. We are more natural with each other again, kinder.

As we drove through the dark, he suggested that we take a trip to Washington DC together this summer.

We both want to see the pandas.

My friend Shelly took this picture of Eli and me after hiking near Grenoble, France.

Almost Fifty


 ‘‘One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” – Paulo Coelho

Fifty is not the new forty.  Let’s face it, fifty is fifty.

While talking to other tail-end boomers and reading what the media and blogs tell us about being middle aged I find that there are four major approaches to turning fifty out there.

The first and loudest camp is the pro-fifty crowd. By listening to this group you’d think that middle age was just one big find-the-best-part-of-yourself fest. This group plans to never age or die. They eat kale, do triathlons, change careers and have great postmenopausal sex.

Then there’s the survivalist group. They definitely know they are aging and want to stop it at all costs. They also eat kale but on a restrictive life-extending 1,000 calorie diet. Many in this group gets an extra colonoscopy each year AND will tell you their triglyceride levels at a cocktail party.

On the flip side, there are those who have given up. They have lost their jobs, their health insurance and well being. This group of fifty year olds do not have a lot of hope. It’s a young world out there and it’s hard to find your way. This isn’t just an outlook but a social/economic/political issue.

Of course there are those who don’t give a damn and are just living their lives.

If we boomers are honest, we can recognized a little of each of these perspectives in ourselves. Much of the noise out there sounds a lot like whistling in the dark to me. I for one am not whistling. The tune I was trying to carry is being drowned out by the ticking of the clock. It’s not the biological clock of my thirties, this is the sound of mortality.

I know I am going to die.

At almost fifty, this line of thinking can leave me feeling like it’s over.  As a counter balance, I am fortunate to have many thriving friends and mentors who are Old. Capital O Old. Our culture hates the word, particularly middle-aged people. I use this word with the greatest of respect. If we are lucky the ultimate destination is OLD.

Ask any person in their seventies if they are living the new fifty and they will chuckle.

Standing here at the brink of fifty, I am fully aware, but not-so-accepting, of the fact that in a hop, skip and blink of two decades I will be seventy. One of my Old friends once picked up a comb and ran her thumb down the teeth, smiled and said, “This is how fast the time goes.” For me the sense of urgency is palpable.

I realize that I need to get off my lower-than-it-used-to-be butt and move a bit faster toward living. To do more, love more, make more mistakes, keep promises, show more kindness, make amends, take more risks, follow through. Let go of the hesitation and leap; to hear the clock as a heartbeat, a breath. A metronome for staying in the present.

When I tell people that I’m almost fifty, it is more often than not greeted with, “You’re at the halfway mark.”

More whistling in the dark.

If you look at statistics, I passed the top of the mountain about a decade ago. I’m more like at the timber line on the other side, going down.

Time is an illusion and the mountain analogy is too. In actuality we are all dancing from the most fragile, beautifully shimmering thread of the present moment. There is no solid mountain beneath us. There is no thinking, eating or exercising our way out of this predicament. It is universal. It doesn’t change if you are almost fifty, twenty or eighty.

When my friend Marcia knew she was losing her battle to cancer she organized a glamorous birthday party for herself. People came from all over the country. It was her pre-funeral. She didn’t hide it. She wanted to celebrate her life with the people she loved while she was alive and feeling well enough to have fun.

Marcia always said, “Nobody gets off this planet alive, so what are you going to do?”


I took the photograph at the Bastille in Grenoble, France.

Three Medals

I ran my first marathon on February 18, 2001,  four days after my 37th birthday.  I was newly pregnant, about a month along.  After discovering we were having twin girls, I contacted the organizers of the race and asked if I could have two additional medals, one for each of my daughters. When our girls are feeling challenged or frustrated, I remind them that they ran a marathon as an embryo.  It always makes them smile.


Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth. Age is an honor, it’s still not the truth – Vampire Weekend

Fifty looks like a scary number. I’ve been barrelling toward my birthday with all the genuine optimism I can muster.  I know I’m surrounded with so many blessings. I truly feel it.

However, with less than a week to ground zero I’m starting to lose my enthusiasm. Fifty. The word makes me grimace and my eyes well up. It sounds old.

I’m having one of those days where I willingly pile a lifetime of regrets, wasted days, faded loves, squandered opportunities and loss on my chest like heavy stones. I can’t breathe.

So much stupidity. Not enough courage. Days I can’t get back. People I can’t touch.

I will rally. But for this moment I take a certain comfort in laying under the stones. I want to hold on to them, feel their heaviness, and remember every mistake, misstep and careless gesture.

The weight is a summons to live purposefully.  To have more courage.  To find the acceptance to leave the stones on the ground as to not burden what’s left.

Almost fifty.


I took the photo at Pedernales State Park, Johnson City, TX.


When I was a girl of eight or so, my grandmother showed me how to carefully cut the stem of the Milkweed plant after we discovered a fat yellow, black and white striped Monarch caterpillar on a leaf. She talked me through how to gently place the plant and the creature in our empty glass jar. We had already poked holes in the metal lid. Carefully holding the jar, we walked home and put our guest in a quiet corner of the kitchen.

Every other day we added a few fresh Milkweed leaves until we found the caterpillar hanging from the lid forming its chrysalis. Like magic, a butterfly appeared in about a week. If we were lucky we witnessed its outing but more often than not the butterfly emerged alone, the torn translucent remnants of its chrysalis still hanging. We let the butterfly go at the end of the beach path where the Milkweed grew.

We were midwives to at least a half dozen butterflies that summer.  It was pure wonderment.

Over the years, I attempted to recreate the scene for my kids with the store bought kits that send the caterpillars in the mail – they were not Monarchs. The mealworm looking caterpillars arrived in a plastic jar.  I placed the larvae in their snazzy butterfly habitat along with the provided food.  We waited and watched.

Metamorphosis is an intrinsically stirring event. However, the mail order version never matched my memories of Milkweed and Monarchs. Back then metamorphosis was more than a common science project or YouTube video – it felt more mystical and connected to nature.

Across cultures and in many religions, the butterfly’s life cycle is a symbol of transcendence and rebirth.  I have learned that a caterpillar’s astounding ascent to butterfly has less to do with death or decay and more with actual transformation.

Within the chrysalis the caterpillar dissolves into a soup of cells that looks a lot like snot. The light yellow and green goo contains the cells of the caterpillar’s brain, nerves and muscles.  How this goo recombines to form a butterfly is still a mystery. A clue lies in the blueprint of its future form that each caterpillar carries within itself. When scientists dissect a caterpillar they find that some of the butterfly structures have already formed before pupation.  It resembles a hologram that is super thin and gets pushed tight up against the chrysalis exoskeleton. It does not liquify like the rest of the caterpillar.

Here is the freaky part.

Scientists have conducted experiments to determine if the butterfly has any awareness of its life as a caterpillar. They want to find out if there’s any “being” continuity through the stages of the butterfly’s life-cycle.

In one study, caterpillars are exposed to an unappealing odor, something like nail polish remover, while being administered a non-lethal jolt. They are exposed to the combination over and over again until the caterpillars try to escape when they smell the odor and are trained to loathe the smell.  Weeks later, the caterpillars pupate and, in this experiment, become moths.  All of the moths that were exposed to the jolt as caterpillars hate the smell.  Only half of the moths in the control group had the same reaction.  It appears that the memory of the caterpillar survived with the adult moth.

It follows that within each caterpillar is its future and within each butterfly is its past. Metamorphosis seems more like a process not an annihilation, a transformation not a death. Perhaps we are not so dissimilar from the earth bound caterpillar and just maybe our version of our butterfly self is already within. We live in a culture that tells us to look outside ourselves for answers, buy-this-do-that quick fixes.  At almost fifty,  I’ve come to know that it’s about finding the blueprint inside and then letting the magic happen.


I took the above photo (one of my last film rolls) in 2008 when I was in Xilitla, Mexico at the remote surrealist sculpture park at Las Pozas.  We hiked to the top of the waterfall pictured.  While walking along the stream above the falls, we saw four Blue Morpho butterflies silently fly across the water.  I had my camera but it all happened so fast and I remember not wanting to miss the experience by trying to get a picture.  I will never forget the sunlight and the iridescent blue of their wings.

Visit RadioLab to learn more about the study referenced in this blog.


Fifteen Hard Miles

“For me, running is a lifestyle and an art. I’m far more interested in the magic of it than the mechanics.”  Lorraine Moller, Olympic Marathoner

I will run my third marathon on February 16th, two days after turning fifty. I train alone, without music, even on my long 15 and 18 mile runs. I don’t care about my finishing time or latest trends and gadgets. For me, running has always been a moving meditation. I meet myself on the trail, one step at a time.

For the past six days I’ve kept to an intense running schedule that has wreaked havoc on the rest of my life. About now is when I want it to be over. The coming week will be even more demanding, followed by five glorious days before the race when I will cut back and rest.

I ran a hard 15 miles this morning. I was planning on running 18 but I didn’t have it in me. My calorie and water intake was off leaving me shaky and nauseated. My doubting self appeared in my head.  She sounded a lot like my daughter reminding me that the Greek messenger sent running 26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens collapsed and died after completing his mission. My training has been sporadically interrupted by an unexpectedly cold winter and its soporific effect.  As the race nears I’m beginning to question if I’m sufficiently prepared to complete the marathon.

Can I really pull it off?  My last marathon was a decade ago.

Hell yes! One step at a time.

What I liked about today’s arduous, sometimes miserable, fifteen mile run.

  1. Top on the list is listening to the pieces of conversations that blur by me and come together in my mind as a collage of lives and emotions. I feel like one of the angels in the film, Wings of Desire, wandering through a black and white Berlin listening to people’s thoughts.

  2. The Boy Scout parade on the Congress Avenue Bridge – I love a parade.

  3. The people on the trail preparing for the upcoming marathon – all ages, sizes and abilities.

  4. The babies in strollers and the dogs at Riverside Dog Park.

  5. Cliff Shot Turbo Gels, Double Espresso.

  6. Everything seems right with the world after a run, even a hard run.

  7. I. CAN. RUN.


I have a short essay on the back page of the February issue of Austin Woman magaziine. They asked for pictures of me, Matthew and the dogs from which they created a drawing of Matthew as a blonde and me in a wedding dress. I have never worn a wedding dress. It’s funny but I don’t care – it’s a big thrill for me. This is my second published essay!


Toby and Maude