Month: October 2015

I Hate Packing!


I’m a lousy packer.

I love to travel but I have failed to master the intricacies of packing a suitcase. Actually, packing is not the problem; deciding what to take is the real problem. When my husband and I visited our daughter in New York for three days, I ended up taking the large suitcase better suited for a month’s visit.

In retrospect, the real problem is the weather. We visited our daughter in October. That’s Autumn, the time of the year when it could be 90 degrees one day and 40 degrees the next.  It could be raining; it’s even possible to have an early snow storm. So what should one take? Shorts and a t-shirt or long pants and a sweater?  Sandals or boots and a winter coat?

There’s still another issue: activities. Are we going to stay home most of the time or go out for dinner and the theatre? Will we end up working together in the yard or will we visit relatives? Do I need “at home” clothes or should I bring a nice outfit? Maybe I need more than one nice outfit in case we go out several times; the fashion police frown on wearing the same thing two nights in a row. And, of course, I need shoes to go with each outfit. With all these questions unanswered, there’s only one solution: bring everything.

However, we still haven’t touched on the other essentials such as make-up and medications. There’s dry skin lotion, deodorant, face cleanser, electric toothbrush, regular toothbrush (in case the electric brush runs out of power) and toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, style gel, hairspray and sunscreen. Of course we can’t forget daily medications (which seem to have doubled and tripled as we age). I also bring a large bag of “in case I need them” medications. These include Tylenol, an antihistamine, left-over antibiotics (please don’t tell my doctor), pain medicine in case someone (God forbid) is injured and in pain, (a prescription I filled but didn’t need after a dental procedure), bandages and an antiseptic. I was a Girl Scout at one time and I’ve always believed in that motto, “Be Prepared”!

I imagine at this point you are probably feeling very sorry for my husband who has to lift my heavy suitcase into the car, out of the car, onto the airline baggage check, etc. Not to worry- I consider this his weight lifting training and believe ardently that my suitcases are keeping him in good shape. But I am also aware that not everyone packs like I do.

For instance, I have a friend who travels a lot and she is masterful at packing. She takes one medium suitcase wherever she goes and has certain clothes that she knows, through trial and error, travel well and can be washed and will dry overnight. I did manage to pack like this once, when we went to Africa on an animal sight-seeing Safari. We were limited to one medium bag each, a condition that truly tried my abilities. I started packing three weeks ahead, taking clothes out and putting new ones in; then replacing them again. I do have to admit that having a smaller suitcase and fewer clothes definitely made traveling easier but by the next trip, I fell back into my old habits.

My seven year old granddaughter was here for a visit and she has a very unique method of packing. My husband and I watched while she unpacked two rather heavy containers of children’s hand lotion, two stuffed animals, three small dolls, four bottles of children’s nail polish, an iPad, a comb, three DVD’s of children’s movie, one book, and a folder of math problems to be solved before she returns to her class. Our concerns about clothes were quickly solved when her mother entered the room with an armful of t-shirts, skirts and shorts. I was left to wonder what kind of packer she would be as she grew older.

Of course there is always the “I don’t need anything but the clothes on my back” kind of packers. They tend to be in their early twenties and in “seeing the world” mode. A backpack with essentials (bottle of water, one change of underwear, small package of soap and a little money) seems to suffice. When their clothes disintegrate after too much wear, they simply wire home for enough money to replace them. Ah, to be young again – although I must admit I don’t remember ever being able to travel this way.

On one trip I was forced to exist with the clothes on my back for three days when the airlines lost my suitcase. Except for a few essentials I purchased at the drugstore, I slept in my underwear and wore the same clothes every day. In some ways, it was liberating. I never had to think about what to wear or what was appropriate. And everyone we were traveling with knew the situation so I received a lot of sympathy. However, I was awfully glad to see my suitcase when it reappeared.

Someone once told me that packing is a metaphor for life. If you take too much, you may be carrying around too much baggage in your head. If you pack light, you’ve let go of all that old baggage. I don’t agree; I think the only baggage I’m carrying around is literally in my suitcase and my problem is simply that I’m afraid whatever I leave home is exactly what I’m going to need while I’m away!

But in the end, it’s not the things you take with you but the journey itself (I think that’s a quote from somebody). Please do not emulate me; take only what you absolutely need and enjoy your family, your travels, and the rest of your life. Travel light, my friends.

On Self-Preservation

Once again, I am at the beauty shop, getting my hair colored and cut. The color is already in, seeping through my hair follicles, changing the grey roots and faded color to vibrant auburn. In twenty minutes or so, the stylist will shampoo the dye out and then I will sit quietly in the chair while she trims my hair, shaping it back from a shaggy mess into the style I like. I will watch her work in the large mirror I am facing and, once again, enjoy the metamorphosis from tired old lady to vibrant fifty or sixtyish some-what attractive woman (or so I hope).

My mother had red hair and when it began to fade, she quickly turned to dyes. At 92 years of age, her hair was still red and she looked at least a dozen years younger than she was.  When she died, she left behind a drawer full of creams and lotions to diminish wrinkles, freckles and age spots plus a large bag full of makeup. In my 30’s and forties, I observed her efforts to fight aging and vowed long before I had even one grey hair that I would go into maturity gracefully. I would accept the changes in my body (and on my head) as a natural part of life. Dye would never touch my head and I would celebrate the wrinkles on my face as evidence of a life well lived.

Then I attended a workshop titled “Finding Your Colors” and discovered I was an “autumn”.  My color wheel (the colors that complimented me) was the same as the September/October landscape in the northeast; burnt orange, brown, shades of yellow, darker reds, muted greens. With this knowledge, I began to shop for new clothes that would complement my hair and skin tones. I bypassed black and grey items and, over the next few years, my closet started to resemble a glorious fall day.

Then the first grey hairs appeared. At first, I either ignored them or pulled the offending strand from my head. Of course, that hair grew back and it was usually accompanied by a dozen more. Eventually I was confronted with a choice: Do I stick to my feelings of aging naturally or do I accept the fact that grey is not a good color for me and do something about it?

First, I discussed the choices with my hair stylist. She suggested a natural hair color that would wash out more quickly but would not harm the environment or my head. This seemed to be a good compromise. Immediately, I loved the color (auburn) which was a close match to the natural color of my younger days. I received a lot of compliments and felt like I’d shed at least a dozen years. However, this color didn’t last as long as I would like and, as my hair turned grayer, the product failed to cover my roots.

I was faced with a hard decision: stay with my original declaration and go into old age looking old (plus wearing a color that wasn’t in my palette) or give it up and dye my hair on a regular basis.  I pondered this important existential question for at least ten minutes.

A few years later, I began to notice that my eyes were not as prominent and my eyelashes were fading. One day, I was walking past the cosmetic section of the department store when a young woman in a colorful smock stopped me and asked if I’d be interested in a makeover. I had never worn much makeup but this sounded like fun. So I said yes, sat down in her chair and gave myself over to her ministrations for the next 30 minutes. When she was done and I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. My first impulse was to go immediately to the bathroom and wash my face. But then I looked a little closer and there were a few things I liked, such as the eyeliner and mascara. And that large red spot on my right cheek had totally disappeared. Before I walked away from the cosmetic department, I had spent over seventy dollars on makeup, which was, of course, what this was all about.

So I added a few new items to my bathroom drawer. That’s when I became aware that getting dressed in the morning or going out in the evening was taking a little longer. The eyeliner would slip from my hand and leave a crooked black line above my eye. The mascara would smudge and run down my cheek. I was going through a lot of tissues.  When my hair stylist told me she would soon be offering permanent eyeliner treatments, I actually considered it. My pledge to go naturally into old age was disappearing as fast as the wrinkles were appearing!

The dermatologist was my next downfall.  I went for my yearly check-up and, while I was in the waiting room, I noticed a cabinet full of skin products. I went to check them out (which is exactly what they wanted) and noticed a wrinkle cream that was “Dermatologist Recommended.” Well, why not give it a try? Unfortunately, my insurance didn’t cover the cream but I was hooked. I’m still not sure if it works, but I’m addicted, certain that my face will fall into total disrepair without it. However, I now see a dermatologist who has a sign in his office that says he neither sells nor recommends beauty products.

I know I should wear my age gracefully and proudly. I have seen other elderly women whose faces openly show their age and the trials of their lives and I admire them. When I encounter these beautiful faces, I am entranced with the wrinkles, the crevices, the laugh lines, the faded but vibrant eyes, the (sometimes) sparse white hair. I stifle the impulse to talk to them and ask them about their lives and usually settle for secret glances in their direction. I am drawn to the beauty of natural aging.

And yet, I have chosen, as my mother did before me, to make use of a few products to either slow down the aging process or to hide it! My biggest fear is that I will someday be in the hospital or nursing home without my hair stylist and my little bag of cosmetics and will be unable to apply a little lipstick, a thin line of eye liner, a splotch of mascara and my children and my friends will say, “Wow. She looks so bad and has aged so much.”

So I am thinking of pre-hiring a friend or a cosmetologist who will automatically be contacted if I’m in this position and she will apply the necessary elements to improve my looks. And then, wherever I am, I will be happy.