Monday, April 29, 2013

Aging (not so) Gracefully

Have you seen this video?

If you haven't, please take a few minutes to watch it. It's worth it. :)

Like a lot of woman (at least, as the Dove video implies), I tend to focus on my flaws. I don't consider myself a vain person. Watching me pull my eyebrows up with my fingertips and scowl at my reflection, my husband disagrees. Let's face it, if you are a woman in your 40s (or 50s, or 60s...), its hard not to cringe a little when you look in the mirror. It doesn't help when you are shopping at TJ Maxx on a Monday and the cashier asks if you are over 55 (when you are 42!). I told her that I was not and I was going to go play in traffic. OK, maybe I am a little vain after all.

I feel like I have some control over the way my body looks. I know that I have to work out at least 5-6 days a week, and although I don't really deprive myself of anything, I know I can't eat absolutely EVERYTHING I want. My body is not perfect by any means, but it's not bad for a 42-year-old woman. I've (literally) worked my butt off for that. But though a workout can tone muscle and improve the overall shape of the rest of my body, working out does nothing to tone the face. Once your face starts aging, unless you plan to resort to fillers or surgery, fuggedaboutit. 

25 years younger (and 20 lbs heavier)
When I was growing up, I LOVED laying in the sun. I would spend hours either swimming, laying on a pool float, or just laying in a lounge chair covered with tanning oil (or sometimes baby oil). The darker my tan, the better [I thought] I looked. I even won the "Best Tan" contest at Sandals Antigua on our honeymoon. (That may have had something to do with the fact that I had a good base tan from the Florida sun, whereas the fair women from the great white North had essentially fried their skin, subjecting themselves to the native hawking aloe spears on the beach saying "You burn...I earn!") When I was a teenager, my father  (who has had more than his share of skin cancer removed) would say to my greased-up self, "Someday, you'll be all wrinkled and you'll be sorry you did this to yourself." Dare I admit, Father knows best? He was oh-so RIGHT!

I have a cousin who is actually 6 months older than me, who spent far less time in the sun growing up than I did. Even at 43, she has the most gorgeous peaches-and-cream complexion you could wish for. My complexion is far from enviable. My skin has definitely lost elasticity and is becoming thinner with each passing year. I have new dark spots popping up every day (I never had freckles growing up). Wrinkles? I've got plenty and you know something? That is one area where being thin is definitely NOT an asset. If I thought that gaining 20 pounds would plump my face up and make me look like my Senior yearbook photo, I'd start bulking up immediately. But I know darn well those 20 pounds would not land anywhere near my face (or my bird chest, which could use a little meat). Nope, all 20  would distribute themselves between my belly, butt and thighs.
Oh to be 22 again! :)

So, what's an aging woman to do? Well, there are plenty of anti-aging products out there that "guarantee" that wrinkles will be less visible, dark spots will diminish, skin will be firmer and have a more even tone, etc. etc. etc. Olay, Neutrogena, Burt's Bees, L'Oreal - none of them have made me look any younger (or any different) than I did before I used them. I even tried some Kiehl's products (courtesy of my niece who was studying to be an esthetician - I can't afford to drop beaucoup bucks on such luxuries). Although the Kiehl's avocado eye cream was amazing - it didn't take years off, nor did it erase my crow's feet or undereye bags from stressful sleepless nights. So, creams, lotions, and serums are out. 

Fillers (like Restylane or BOTOX), although tempting, certainly have their drawbacks. For starters, the price! I know that I don't have a few hundred dollars to shell out make my wrinkles (and any expression of emotion on my face) disappear for a few months. Let's face it...they're gonna come back. About 10 years ago, I had Bell's Palsy. For nearly six weeks, I lost all control and expression in one side of my face. It was freaky. I don't really care to go through that again. If I can't afford fillers, obviously surgery is out too. Facial plastic surgery can go very well, or it can go horribly, horribly wrong. I don't really want to look like a dog with her head sticking out a window going 90 mph or have a permanent look of surprise on my face either.
Big mistakes like letting someone take a close-up photo. ;)

I've become quite proficient using Adobe Photoshop in the past few years, but I've always avoided using it to "doctor" photos of myself. Yes, I did make myself a mermaid, but that was just adding a fish tale and a shell top to an existing photo. I've also Photoshopped a good face shot of myself onto a bad one when everyone else looked great in the family photo. But, I always hesitated to use Photoshop to see what I might look like without my wrinkles. That is, until now...

It really makes you wonder how much of what we see in magazines is real, doesn't it? I would be lying if I said that I love my "before" picture. I kind of wish that I did look a little more like the "illusion." But, that's not me. I'm not going to stop smiling just because doing so makes my crow's feet more pronounced. I (like many, many other women) just need to learn to focus less on my flaws and more on the blessings that God has given me. A genuine smile that comes from the heart looks great on everyone!

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy

P.S. I just finished shopping at TJ Maxx (on a Monday - i.e. Senior Discount Day again). This time, the cashier said, "You are nowhere near 55!" That's what I'm talking about! ;D Must be the new haircut (thanks, Kelly!). ;)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Things I Learned in San Antonio

Paseo del Rio
I visited San Antonio, Texas for the first time last week (once again representing my company at a conference, seeing as an actual vacation is still out of reach). In spite of the fact that it was a weekend conference and I've now been working for 10 days straight, as always, I tried to make the most of the time I had in the city. I even got to see my niece and grand-niece who drove over on Saturday and spent the night at the hotel with me. :) I didn't encounter any stalkers at IRA this year (thank goodness), but I did learn a few things. Among them: 

San Antonio is much prettier than I ever imagined. ~ I must admit, I didn't have high expectations for San Antonio. I somehow pictured a dry, dusty old-west type of a city. Kind of like the Ghost Town on the Brady Bunch. Although there is plenty of history in San Antonio, it was far more beautiful that I thought it would be. 

A river can run through just about anything. ~ The first thing that amazed me about San Antonio was the San Antonio River that flows (literally) through the city. The river is extremely narrow - probably half the width of our canal - and shallow too. The shady, tree lined Paseo del Rio (or River Walk) features shops, restaurants and hotels. There are pretty bridges every couple of blocks that allow access to the other side. It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. There were also ducks everywhere. Not the ugly Muscovy ducks we have in Florida, but pretty Mallards. It was the first weekend of Fiesta when we visited, so the River Walk was packed Saturday night. Sunday morning though, it was desolate and peaceful again, as the partiers were sleeping off the tequila. 

Mariachis are kind of scary. ~ I have never been particularly drawn to mariachis, but when I first saw them singing to tables of patrons at some of the restaurants on the River Walk, I thought it was kind of cool and very San Antonioish - especially considering the fact that it was Fiesta weekend. I did observe that one requirement of being a mariachi appeared to be wearing pants that were at least two sizes too small. Just because they're stretchy doesn't make it ok. 
As I learned at Rita's on the River, where a group of three mariachi's were serenading (?) the diners two tables over from us, they are very loud. And they take requests. And they just keep performing. (It was like they were never going to stop.) After about 15 minutes, they moved on to the table next to us. Not only could we not hold a conversation, we got up close and personal with those tight pantalones. No mas! We prayed that they would not decide to perform for our table (we even tried to convince my grand-niece to start crying if they came over to us). We didn't have to worry. It appears that they only sing to patrons who are Latino. Maybe someone can explain that to me. No matter. I was happy to see them move on.

The Alamo is very small. ~ I had been warned about this. It is true. The legendary Alamo is tiny. It is also located right across the street from the Hyatt and right down the block from Fuddrucker's. Kind of takes away some of the historical charm. I didn't have an opportunity to go inside because it was closed by the time I visited, but there isn't a whole lot to it. 

Trees grow very big where there are no hurricanes. ~ Although I wasn't able to actually enter the gardens at the Alamo, I was able to see them (and, of course take pictures of them) through the gates. There was the most incredible old tree that had the longest branches I had ever seen. The cypress trees along the river were also huge and beautiful.

People you'd never expect are authors of children's books. ~ I was standing at our booth when I saw a man and woman walk by. The man looked very familiar to me, but I didn't immediately recognize where I knew him from. A few seconds after he passed by, I realized it was Mike from American Pickers. I wondered why on Earth he was at the International Reading Association conference. Turns out, he wrote a children's book (thanks, Cynthia, for finding that out for me!). Small world. :) My inner Wang is so disappointed I didn't get a picture.
Looking up the face of the Emily Morgan Hotel

San Antonio's architecture is amazing. ~ The city has some of the most ornate old buildings I've ever seen. Spooky as it is, I have to admit that the Emily Morgan Hotel had the most impressive architecture. The "grotesques" depicting medical ailments (as the hotel was originally the Medical Arts Building) were creepy, but the other sculptural details of the building were breathtaking. Many other historic buildings in San Antonio had equally interesting architecture.

Tower Life Building
lit for Fiesta
San Antonio is a busy railroad hub. ~ I realize that San Antonio is pretty centrally located in Texas, which would make it a convenient spot for a transportation hub, but I never realized how many trains pass through the city in the wee hours of the morning. A Saturday morning, no less. Blowing their horns. The first morning I was there, I counted no less than FIVE trains passing by between 3 and 6 a.m. It sounded like they were running right next to the hotel, but after daybreak, I realized that the tracks were actually pretty far away. FYI...if you stay in downtown San Antonio, bring earplugs!

Dairy Queen's menu heads south of the border in Texas. ~ We stopped at Dairy Queen for Blizzards one night and I was tickled to see that the DQ menu had been Texified (or Mexified). Not only can you get the usual frozen treats, burgers, hot dogs and chicken tenders, you order jalapenos on your burger and you can also get tacos and something called "Jalitos". ;) Ole

People in San Antonio are very friendly. ~ Everyone I encountered in San Antonio, from the staff at the Hilton, to the waiters in the restaurants to the cashiers at the shops, everyone was so welcoming and kind. The senoras y senoritas especially were really looking out for me. The female guard at the convention center stopped me on my way in, thinking I had missed a couple buttons on my oxford shirt (she must have thought I had partied too hard at Fiesta) She didn't realize that I was wearing a shirt underneath it. It was sweet of her, though, to make sure that I wasn't exposing myself to all of the reading teachers. The cashier at the Five and Dime gently scolded me for buying a bag of cashews and a Coke Zero for lunch, telling me that what I was buying was not a meal and that I needed to take better care of myself. LOL! ;) I promised her that I would eat a good dinner (and I did). There are a lot of good people in San Antonio.

Tower of the Americas
at sunrise
I still have a lot more to see... ~ There were a number of really cool places in San Antonio that I didn't have an opportunity to see in the short time I visited the city. I may be going back at the end of June (it might be a little hot) for another conference. If so (and I can find time to do so), I hope to visit a few more places, like La Villita Historic Arts Village and HemisFair Park. I would LOVE to watch the sunset from the top of the Tower of the Americas (although it was pretty darn nice from the hallway of the 22nd floor of the Hilton). :) As with just about every other city I've visited for work, I hope to take my family there someday. Traveling is just not the same without them!

Con Amor y Aloha ~ Nancy

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Inspired (Inspired by Pat Monahan)

This morning, as I checked out Facebook (as I always do first thing in the a.m.), something on the Ticker caught my eye. Seems that Pat Monahan (the lead singer of Train, a band whose latest CD "California 37" I am currently obsessed with) has a blog. His latest blog post was called "Inspired" and it was all about the things that inspire him (and the things that "bore the shit outta [him]"). If you care to read it, go to I have to say I agree with a lot of what he said. His blog post inspired me to blog about what inspires me. So, here goes...

  • The Sunrise - Nothing makes me feel closer to God than watching the sky change colors as the sun comes up every morning. He paints a different masterpiece every day of my life. With nothing but the beauty of dawn and the sound of the breeze (and sometimes ocean waves if it's blowing hard enough out of the east), sunrise is my time to reflect. 
  • Perpetually Positive People - Who doesn't love someone who is (genuinely) positive and upbeat? I specify genuinely because I know quite a few people who appear to be positive and you know darn well as soon as you walk away, they are bad-mouthing you. Those people don't inspire me. The honest-to-goodness, always-looking-on-the-bright-side people do. I recently learned of the passing of a former co-worker of mine who was the number one most perpetually positive person I've ever known. This woman ALWAYS had a kind word and a smile on her face - even as she battled breast cancer and was going through chemotherapy. I never saw her down - tired, maybe - but always smiling. I know that she is an angel now. ^i^ She was a true inspiration, as are the other people like her that I've met in my life. 
  • The Beach - Shelling is my ultimate therapy. For me, this is the most relaxing activity on earth. Walking along the shoreline (or snorkeling in the ocean just beyond the shore), catching a glimpse of that perfect shell and catching it right before the waves wash it away. Heaven on Earth. I also love to just watch the waves. Each one rises and breaks a little differently, kind of like the sunrise. There is no place I'd rather be than the beach. Maybe I should try going to the beach at sunrise. Talk about inspiration.
  • My Family - Each member of my family is an inspiration. My husband inspires me to not sell myself short (he's always telling me that) and to try and not let things get to me (which is so much easier said than done). He has mastered the ability to "let things go." He rarely lets anything bother him. That is inspiring. My daughter has the most amazing self-confidence I've ever seen in anybody. Mind you, there is a BIG difference between arrogance (which is one of those things that irritates the (%&@ out of me) and confidence. She's got confidence. She believes in herself, works hard, and is never afraid to chase her dreams. I'm so thankful for that. That is inspiring. My son inspires me with his passion for skateboarding. He is so determined to learn and master tricks - he practices all the time (and loves it). He is also a genuinely considerate kid (rare for a 14-year-old boy), and has a great sense of humor to boot. That is inspiring. Even my dogs inspire me by showing me unconditional love. No matter what kind of day I am having (or anyone else in my family for that matter), we can always count on two smiling faces and wagging tails when we come home. They are always happy to see us. That is inspiring.
  • Random Acts of Kindness - I just love seeing people do things for others out of the goodness of their hearts. Without being asked. Sometimes secretly. Without expecting anything in return. Just because it's a nice thing to do.
  • Photography - I have written about my love for photography before. There is something about capturing the beauty of a sunrise, a breaking wave, or just a moment in time that is amazing to me. I truly believe that you can never take too many pictures. I'm sure that some people would disagree with me.
  • ANYTHING that Makes Me Smile - From friends and family who can ALWAYS make me smile and laugh, in spite of my mood, to movies, TV shows and music - anything that brings me pure joy inspires me. I have friends who I can go long periods of time without seeing or speaking to, but one phone call, one email, one Facebook comment can leave me grinning from ear to ear and laughing. They are the BEST! I find certain TV shows hysterical. Mike & Molly is one that always makes me crack up. Sometimes, I even snort when I'm watching it. When it comes to music, naturally Duran Duran always brings back happy memories and makes me smile. Train's (sometimes silly) lyrics are what has really drawn me to listen the band. They always make me smile when I'm singing along, off-key, in the car. Some of my favorites:
    • "She was caught in a mudslide, eaten by a lion, got run over by a crappy purple Scion." ~ 50 Ways to Say Goodbye
    • "Just a shy guy lookin' for a 2-ply Hefty bag to hold my i-i-i-i-i love." ~ Drive By
    • "Not Etta James, Bob Marley or the dude that had Pop Rocks and soda at the same time." ~ You Can Finally Meet My Mom
    • "Can't swim so I took a boat to an island so remote, only Johnny Depp has ever been to it before." ~ Mermaid

OK, the last one (ANYTHING that makes me smile) really just encompasses everything else now, doesn't it? ;) My life is truly full of inspiration. I won't get into the things that bore (or bug) the s**t out of me, because if you read my blog, you already know what those things are anyway. We'll keep this one totally positive. I'm actually glad that Pat Monaghan ended his post with, "What inspires you?" I ask you to ponder this yourself. It really will make you realize how blessed you truly are.

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy

Monday, April 1, 2013

PompaNO Beach High School For You!

Obviously NOT (and yes, I know that whoever created this sticker could've used an editor!).

As I sit here writing this, I'm feeling kind of numb. That's actually a good thing because the numbness dulls the heartache. Sometimes I wonder if I could sue Broward County Public Schools for rape, considering the number of times I've been screwed by them over the years. I never professed to be the greatest person in the world, but I don't think that I (or my kids) deserve the hand we've been dealt when it comes to being denied the chance of becoming "Golden Tornadoes." Some of you might be thinking, "She's just a sore loser. Big deal, so her kids didn't get into PBHS. Deal with it." But what you may not understand is, for me, it's personal.
My mom's Pompano High Senior picture.
Let's go (way) back to 1929. My grandmother, Clara Richardson (Lee) was part of the second graduating class at the newly established Pompano Beach High School. Back then, they were known as the "Beanpickers," as Pompano Beach was a farming community back then. Fast forward to the 50s and 60s. My mother graduated from Pompano Beach High School as a Beanpicker in 1954. She was the class valedictorian. :) As you can see from the commencement program, there were only 33 students in her entire senior class. Lucky for them, nobody claimed PBHS was "underenrolled" at that time. Her brother and sisters graduated from there too. By the time her youngest sister, my Aunt Henny, graduated PBHS had changed from the Beanpickers to the Golden Tornadoes. 

Rob's senior picture - PBHS c/o '82
My parents lived in New Jersey when my brother and sister were growing up, and both of them graduated from high school up north. My family moved back to Pompano Beach in 1977, when I was six years old. I attended Cresthaven Elementary, Pompano Beach Middle School (as did both of my children), and I was excited to be a third-generation PBHS graduate. My husband, Rob graduated from Pompano Beach High in 1982 - seven years before we met.

I attended 9th Grade at Pompano Beach High School, along with my cousin and many close friends (whom I have reconnected with, thanks to Facebook). I loved every minute of my Freshman year. I joined clubs, attended football games and other events. I was a good student, but I had fun too. It was everything I expected...kind of like a John Hughes movie. Little did I know that my high school experience was about to change dramatically...

Memories from Freshman year
According to the Pompano Beach High School web site, "Due to the westward shift in population, which occurred in Broward County in the 1980's, Pompano Beach High School was closed in 1985 amid much political controversy and community protest." Political controversy and community protest indeed. I attended those School Board meetings, along with hundreds of other PBHS students and their parents, BEGGING the board to reconsider. We all loved Pompano High. Many of the students (like myself) were second- and third-generation Tornadoes. The meetings dragged on well after midnight, as each person, in turn stood before the "powers that be" and plead their case. When it came time for the vote, the majority of the board members (ALL of whom lived in the western part of the county and would not be affected by their decision) voted in favor of closing the school. They couldn't have cared less about the students or the community. Ironically, one of the very board members who voted to close Pompano Beach High School is now the county Property Appraiser. Yep, the biggest check I write every year of my adult life goes to pay one of the women responsible for destroying a part of my adolescence. Tell me that doesn't suck. (Sorry, mom.)

So where did this leave the students? Well, they were divided among the three closest high schools. I was fortunate that my cousin and my very best friend were also zoned for the same school as I was, but high school was never the same. Although the school was excellent academically (it was an engineering magnet school) and I did get a good education, graduating third in my class, the social dynamics were vastly different than Pompano Beach High School had been. I never attended a single sporting event at the school, which was located in the middle of a rough neighborhood. The first week I had my car, a kid in the neighborhood threw a rock at it and busted the tail light. One of my friends was stopped by the police driving to school for a club event on a Saturday morning and questioned what she was doing in that neighborhood on a Saturday. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of friends who chose to go to that school and loved it as much as I had loved Pompano High, but it never felt like my high school and, honestly, I always felt that I was cheated out of that part of my life. 

No blue and gold tassel for me. :(
Twelve years after they closed Pompano Beach High School (although the building remained open, hosting community education programs during that time), in 1997 the school reopened as Broward County's first all-magnet high school. By this point, I had a baby of my own and had hope that she would go to Pompano High, as her great-grandmother, her grandmother, her mother (though for only one year) and her father (who graduated in 1982) had. 

As the years went by, another baby came into our family and we ended up moving from Lighthouse Point to Pompano Beach (actually, to the the same neighborhood where I had grown up). Fortunately (or so I thought), both of my children were excellent students, earning top grades and test scores. Although I knew that Pompano Beach High School was a magnet school, I believed that surely my kids would get in! They were hard-working, well-behaved kids who lived right in the city!

When it came time to apply for PBHS for Alana, I enclosed a letter with her application, detailing her family's history with the school and what a privilege it would be to continue that tradition. Two of her teachers also wrote letters of recommendation on her behalf. I thought for sure Alana would be a Tornado. In March of 2010, Alana's friends started receiving acceptance letters to PBHS, but no letter came for Alana. Surely there had to be a mistake. I'll never forget the Saturday afternoon the mailman brought the letter stating that Alana hadn't been accepted and was number four hundred (something) on the waiting list. All but three of her friends had gotten in, many of whom had lower GPAs and test scores, some of whom didn't even live in the city or who didn't attend public school in Broward County. Suddenly I felt like the blue and gold "Go Tornadoes" foam #1 hand that had been stored in my childhood closet all these years had put its index finger down and raised "tall man". I was stunned, disappointed, heartbroken, angry, bitter, frustrated - SO many emotions - none of them positive.

Rob's and my PBHS yearbooks
I contacted the magnet coordinator at PBHS and was told that the selection process was a strict lottery and there was nothing that could be done. Alana could reapply in December for the second semester, if she wished. I tried having friends who worked for the school system pull some strings for me. It didn't help. My mother even ran into our local school board member and asked him to help. It didn't make a bit of difference. 

So, Alana ended up continuing the Communications/Broadcast Arts magnet program (from Pompano Beach Middle School) at Deerfield Beach High School. You know what? She LOVED it and never wanted to switch to Pompano. A few of her friends who had gotten into PBHS ended up switching schools (some to Deerfield!). Alana is now a Junior at DBHS,  maintains a 4+ GPA is co-editor of the school newspaper and will be Editor-in-Chief next year. She is thriving, in spite of the curve ball she had been thrown.

This December, it was Chase's turn to apply. He really wanted to go to Pompano Beach High School. For convenience alone, it would have been awesome, but of course, I had other reasons for wanting him to go. Once again, I submitted his application once the magnet window opened. I even sent updated FCAT scores in December, as suggested by his magnet coordinator. A couple of weeks ago, Chase's friends started posting on social media about receiving their acceptance letters. Nothing arrived for Chase for several days. Can you say deja vu? I thought, "This cannot possibly be happening AGAIN!" But, it happened again. Chase did not "win the lottery." (He's too nice to say it, but I know that he secretly wishes he hadn't been born to Mrs. Friday the 13th.) There is no waiting list now. If spots open up, they hold another lottery. Delightful. 

The letter. :(
So, I contacted Mr. Romance (yes, that's really his name), the CBA Magnet Coordinator at DBHS to find out how I register Chase. Being Spring Break, I didn't expect a response this week, but I received one within an hour. After Spring Break, I called the CBA office and they could not have been friendlier or more accommodating  DBHS is happy to have my kids, and for that, I am very grateful. I decided to email Ms. Young ^ and request that Chase remain in the wait pool once he is registered at DBHS. I also explained to her about my family's history at PBHS and how it would mean so much to have Chase attend the school. In the letter, I also let her know how great the CBA Staff at DBHS had been. :) Do you think I received a response? Go ahead...guess! Did you guess, "No!"? Congratulations! You win the lottery!

When Chase returned to school this week, he learned that a lot of his friends are swimming in the wait pool with him. None of the three PBMS students who live on our street were accepted. One of them has a mother who graduated from PBHS and had a sister who would have been a Senior they year they closed it. She is also a teacher at Pompano Beach Elementary, which is right next door to the high school. I'm sure she's not too happy right now either. :( Most of Chase's friends who didn't get into Pompano are planning to continue the CBA Magnet at Deerfield, so at least he'll be in good company.

I think that what frustrates me the most is the fact that the whole process sends a glaring message about "leveling the playing field". Just because you work your butt off and are a good person who does the right thing doesn't give you any advantage over someone who works half as hard and just doesn't care. Hmmm...remind you of anything else? I truly believe that the school board should give first priority for Pompano Beach High School to good students who live in the city, THEN go to a lottery system for everyone else. As my father pointed out, the school board complains that they have no money because of all of the bussing. Well, DUH! How about letting kids attend the school closest to their homes? Nobody ever said that you had to be intelligent to work for the government, though.

I'll admit, there is still a part of me that is hoping for a miracle (I'm such a glutton for punishment), but I know that wherever my kids end up, they'll do fine. I believe that, like Alana, Chase will continue to do his very best, whether he is a Buck OR a Tornado! 

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy