Great to Good


Tim Curry  supposedly said that the dreams of youth are the regrets of maturity.

I try not to have too many regrets, but sometimes it’s harder than others to stay juicy.

I recently turned 59. And something about realizing it was my last year before turning 60 made me reflective. The sixties are the decade of retirement and endings…I mean, I know in my head that’s not true, but that little negative voice popped up and said I’d better take stock of what I’ve done in life.

Or maybe it was the drivers’ license.

I live in South Carolina. In its wisdom, my state refused to make its drivers get the kind of license that the rest of the country uses because it’s hard to counterfeit, which I guess we need in this post-9/11 world. But South Carolina thumbed its nose at the Feds until it realized that meant we couldn’t travel without passports. So now we need to get new driver’s licenses.

It took forever and about 300 pieces of paper to prove I was who I said I was. The woman at the photo counter said I could take my glasses off. And I could smile. I had some witty quip. Don’t know what it was, but while I said it, my mouth fell open into a wide laugh, my eyes squinted, and my chin tucked, making about five extra chins. And, click! There’s your photo!

I look like a pasty pumpkin with raisin eyes.

Think I’m exaggerating? My husband looked at it and visibly shuddered.

Try living with THAT for 9 years when the thing expires!

So, of course, I obsessed and stared at the photo all the way home.

But what if it did? Photos don’t lie, right?

And if I’m wrong about the way I look, what else am I wrong about?

And then, I thought about the (very) long list of things I may never achieve:

  • Be a great dancer
  • Be a star athlete
  • Play the piano
  • Start a nonprofit
  • Run for office
  • Get my novel published


I am realizing that I will never be great. At anything. That being good – or even average — is going to have to be good enough.

Business books tell you how to go from good to great. I’m learning how to go from great to good.

But ultimately, I think I’d rather keep falling on my ass after the leap than sitting on my ass refusing to even try.

And that driver’s license? I got it retaken. And I did smile, but not the full-on chortle that brought out the extra chins. It’s not going to be on any magazine covers, but it’s not going to scare the children, either.


Daydreaming youth



“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”

From “Warning,” a poem by Jenny Joseph

“If you’re trying for eccentric, you’re well on your way,” my husband says, when I tell him I may just use a parasol today, a funky electric blue umbrella I bought in China to keep the glaring sun off in the Forbidden City.

What he sees as eccentric I see as practical. The sun is out and I am walking quite a distance, but rain is forecast. I want to protect my skin, but I know a heavy rain will ruin most of my hats. So, a parasol seems the perfect solution. At the last minute, reluctantly, I stow the parasol on the off chance that the Charleston Fashion Police are patrolling.

For a minute, I forgot Iris Apfel.

I have always adored Iris Apfel, the 94-year-old style icon who dresses like nobody else. I’ve never met her, but I feel like she’s a friend.

“If you put something together and it doesn’t look so good, the fashion police are not going to come take you away,” Iris has said. “And if they do, you might have some fun in jail.”

I have had many style ideals, whether or not I actually achieved them. Hot and sexy when I was younger, professional but still sexy when I was in my 30s. Classy when I was in my 40s. And now, in retirement? I think I’m heading for eccentric. I’m transitioning from Hot Mama to Earth Mother. My shoes are flat so I can walk. My purses are small and cross-body so I can have my hands free for coffee or dogwalking. And my hats are big. Bright color makes me happy. I dress not for my husband, not for other women, but at long last, for me.

“When you don’t dress like everyone else, you don’t have to think like everyone else,” Iris says.

Iris would have worn the parasol.

Iris Apfel A



A Sliding Door Life


Did you see the movie, “Sliding Doors?” It starred Gwyneth Paltrow and it came out in 1998, the same year as her Oscar-winning performance in “Shakespeare in Love.” I remember the movie not just because she played a character named, “Helen,” but because the movie depicted two parallel lives she could live, depending on the quirk of fate of whether she caught a particular train. I remember that slight off-balance feeling of seeing two lives played out simultaneously.

I get that same feeling these days.

I am old enough that I have lived many lives, in many places. I have been a different person in each, with the cast of characters to suit that particular life.

There is the slowed-down Charleston lifestyle I live now, with new friends and my husband. There was the competitive D.C. lifestyle I lived, chatting over Starbucks with fellow Beltway commuter warriors. There is the New Orleans family lifestyle where we eat, drink and laugh to excess and at high volume.

I become those people when I am in those places.

But sometimes, worlds collide.

Like the other night, when I was at my office holiday party. We were at a D.C. club listening to New Orleans music because my boss happens to love the music from my native city. I was enjoying being back in D.C. with my colleagues. And then I looked up and my ex-husband was there with his wife. Quick, which Helen should I be? The professional Helen, the New Orleans Helen who dances to Kermit Ruffins with abandon, or the friendly ex-wife?

Or, like the time I was at a professional development workshop and found out that the presenter went to college with my husband, and one of the fellow attendees was someone I hadn’t seen since high school. That may not sound like much for those of you who stayed in your hometown, but this was in D.C. And my husband had gone to college in L.A. And I had gone to high school in suburban Illinois.

Worlds colliding.

I find that I need transition time as I get older, time to wrap my head around the different layers of Helen dancing in the same time zone.

Maybe you’re different. Maybe you’re the same you, no matter what. Old friends, new friends, you’ve never changed who you are or how you act. Bravo to you if so.

As for me? I just find I need to adjust my shuffle so I don’t get caught in those sliding doors.

Sliding Doors



Do you go out to dinner with your friends, or do you cook for one another?

I was wondering because it seems that I went through life stages with dining out.

Back in my early 20s, I often entertained at home, reveling in the new experience of playing hostess. Armed with the Silver Palate, I whipped up lovely dinners of cheap food and cheaper wine. I lived in Milwaukee at the time, and everyone seemed to live close enough for a spontaneous dinner.

When I hit 30 and had my daughter, restaurants were out of the question in my new city of Washington, DC. Of course, my darling was an angel, but my friends’ children? Unruly hooligans who made fine dining a distant memory!

When our children grew old enough to stay at home without babysitters, no one wanted to sit in beltway traffic to get to a friend’s house. The compromise was to meet at DC restaurants in the middle of the Virginia-Maryland-DC triangle. Our paychecks had grown along with our children, so we could sometimes indulge in the latest foodie hot spot.

And now, in our Charleston, SC semi-retirement? Home has become a haven. We’re selective about who we let in because people tend to leave behind whatever energy they came in with. For some, we always meet at restaurants. And, for a select few, we cook.

It used to be a luxury to eat at the trendy restaurants. Now, it’s a luxury to cook a meal for friends who are close enough that they don’t really care if the soufflé sinks. We used to crave the buzz of a popular restaurant; now we long for a place where we can actually hear our friends’ witticisms.

I may not turn out food that rivals the latest gastro-orgasm of a celebrity chef, but more often than not I prefer a friend’s bon mot at home to a bon appetit in a fancy restaurant.

Where do you eat with your friends, and what stage are you in with dining out?

Dinner with Friends