Over the Hill

A few weeks ago, visiting my two young grandsons and their moms, I emerged from my bedroom for an outing wearing makeup, including tinted lip moisturizer. I rarely wear makeup, and it didn’t go unnoticed. “Why are you wearing lipstick, Gigi?” the nine-year-old asked. “Um, I guess so you won’t think I’m old,” I floundered. “You are old,” he replied.

I knew my grandsons—and anyone under the age of thirty (at least)—see me as old, with or without make-up. They accept that and would not have said so had I not appeared looking different. My mother always wore bright red lipstick (there are still several tubes in the bathroom cabinet), that was how I knew her and she looked odd without it. And when I caught a rare glimpse of her without her glasses in my young years, she didn’t look like herself. In the end, she wore neither lipstick nor glasses, giving in to her face being old and her vision unimprovable with corrective lens. Is that giving up or acceptance of what is? Is there a difference?

So why do I sometimes wear makeup? All I can come up with is that when  I look in the mirror, I don’t want to look old to my own eyes. I don’t feel old. I feel like forty or fifty, decades both difficult and empowering when I was learning to live my own life and truths. Now I want to look my inner age, at least to myself. Looking “old” scares me a bit, truth be told, especially after watching my mother’s transformation. It’s about fear, not vanity. It’s my own inner ageism.

I’m in the last third of life, there is no denying that and I am determined to live it mindfully. I’ve started reading The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul, by Connie Zweig, PhD, which addresses the issue of how we see ourselves as we age. 

I’m also reading Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life, by Louise Aronson, which is more about how society views elderhood. The author tells of a med school professor who asked his class to quickly, without filtering, write down the words that come to mind when they hear the word “old.” And then to do the same when they hear the word “elder.” Try it! She continues in later chapters to talk about how medical professionals discount and disrespect elders. I think I’ve found a new passion.

Words like “over the hill” reinforce our inner stereotypes about aging. I recall telling my family, planning my fortieth birthday celebration, “no black, no ‘over the hill’ references.” Even then I knew my mind about that. Forty sounds so young at 70! Thirty years ago, I never gave a thought to being 70. But thirty years from now, if I’m still here, I will be the age my mother was when she died. And I think about it a lot.

But for now, I tell people I’m “restoryed,” not retired, which sounds too much like “done.” I’m not done by a long shot. I’m preparing for an epic road trip in October through California, planning to hike in eight of the state’s nine national parks. “Are you going by yourself?” I’ve been asked with incredulity. “Yes, yes I am.”

Taking Care of Business . . . and Yourself

A reader’s story reminds us of the importance of getting legal and medical powers of attorney (along with end-of-life wishes) in place while your loved one is mentally able to consider and sign the orders. And, when things change, to take care of yourself.

FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT. By the time I decided that Dad could not live on his own, it was too late to put Medical and Financial Powers of Attorney in place. I had to go through the process of becoming my dad’s court-appointed guardian. Families should look at the financial and medical powers of attorney as much as a will, living will, or trust account. Dad would have been willing to let his children have those powers but we just were too slow in getting something in place. I had a full-time job, lived over two hours away, and visited two weekends a month until I realized dad needed more care. By then, he clearly would not have been able to sign the legal documents needed (in good conscience on my part).  Take care of the finances, discuss them openly, and be prepared for push back. My siblings were very willing to let me take charge and live with dad as long as their inheritance was not touched. It became clear it was an important factor as I asked them about paid care for dad. None of them were willing (or able) to bear those costs, but didn’t want to give up their “stake” in the estate.

SELF CARE.  I could not cope with the stress of taking care of dad, managing his affairs, managing my own affairs, and working part-time to keep myself sane. I ended up going to my own primary care physician and getting a prescription for an antidepressant. Then a stronger one, then a stronger one. I stopped eating, went to town only for groceries or doctor appointments, and was isolated. I wouldn’t answer calls or texts from friends; I barely communicated with my children. I needed help with dad and, even though I am a reasonably intelligent woman, I could not dig myself out. Dad’s death was my release. I tried to find resources to help with Dad, but there just isn’t much in my county. What there is takes forever to book an appointment. Families need to build a good support network and not be afraid to ask for help and have back-up care regularly scheduled as well as for emergencies. I didn’t have those resources and they are essential.

Sonja S.

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

The Story:

I didn’t often make muffins for my mother, I don’t remember why, although she probably would have rejected the blueberry skins in these. But when I opened my airbnb in 2017, homemade granola (recipe here), homemade applesauce (recipe here), and muffins were on the breakfast menu. (It’s my favorite part of being an airbnb host.) I try to make muffins that match the season; in August, it’s blueberry! Here are not one, but two recipes!

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1 T baking powder
¼ cup vegetable oil
4 T butter, melted
¾ cup buttermilk (I use powdered buttermilk)
2 eggs
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
zest of 2 lemons
1¼ cups blueberries (fresh or frozen; if frozen mix with a bit of flour)
Coarse sugar for topping, optional


Preheat oven to 350º. Prepare 12 standard muffin cups with liners, lightly oiled.
Lightly beat together oil, butter, vanilla, lemon zest, eggs, and milk.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Add dry ingredients to wet. Mix until combined. Don’t over-mix.
Gently fold in blueberries.
Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups, filling ⅔ of the way full. Sprinkle with raw sugar for a lovely crunch (opt).
Bake for 24-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Place muffins on wire rack to cool completely.


Blueberry Whole Wheat Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

1/4 cup butter softened
1/2 cup sugar
zest from one lemon
juice from one lemon
1 egg lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 T poppy seeds
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1-¼ cups blueberries (fresh or frozen, if frozen mix with a bit of flour)

Glaze (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 T lemon juice fresh squeezed


In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar.
Mix in lemon zest, lemon juice, egg, milk and vanilla
Mix in poppy seeds, whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Mix just until combined.
Bake at 400º for 15-18 minutes in lightly-oiled muffin liners.
Let cool slightly for 5 minutes and then remove from tin. Continue cooling on a baking rack.
While muffins are still warm, but not hot, drizzle with glaze, (or sprinkle with course raw sugar).

Mothering Rhymes with Smothering

When Mama tells me not to touch my mouth or eyes while I have a cold, I cut her off as she is about to tell me why. “Stop,” I say, holding up my hand, palm out, “just stop.” I don’t tell her to stop mothering me, I know she would say, “I am a mother, Gretchen, I can’t just stop.” And I know she believes the definition of mother is “Never, never stop instructing.” I don’t want to get into that conversation with her. She’s 98, she is not going to change. But I do need to protect myself.

I know there are those whose mothers are no longer with them who would give anything to be told to button their coat, and I get that. Perhaps I will eat my words when that day comes. But while there are many things I will miss about my mother when she is gone forever, I don’t think constant instruction will be one of them, even in a symbolic way.

Instruction has always been the part of mothering she has felt most confident in. I think she hasn’t quite known how to interact with her competent daughters, and so she clings to what she knows. I don’t think she realizes when she does it to me, the effect is that I feel cut down. It didn’t bother me when I lived 2500 miles away and heard it over the phone line. I was living my own life, and doing it quite well. I could brush off her instructions on how I “should” be doing whatever. And, of course, she didn’t really know I was washing dishes without using a dishpan. And if I were Michelle Obama living with my mother in a big white house, doing my competent part to keep the most powerful country in the world running smoothly, and my mother told me to cover my arms or I might attract unwanted attention, I would probably be able to blow it off and remain firmly in control of my grown up status.

But living in her house, doing pretty much everything wrong; and not being a wage earner in a job where I feel like I am in control and appreciated, it’s hard not to feel twelve. So when she tells me to pull the chairs out from the dining room table when I’m vacuuming, I tell her that I know how to vacuum. And when she suggests my coat is not warm enough, that I will catch cold, I tell her that colds are caused by cold germs, not cold weather (or wet hair). I also tell her I know that every mother from the 1950s believed that, she was not alone. (Also, it is sixty degrees, or I would have had a different coat on.)

Rebecca had dinner with her the other night and the conversation turned to the fact that Mama used to take the train to Seattle to go to the eye doctor, and she had to take a cab or the bus from King Street station to the clinic. Rebecca asked her if it ever amazed her that she did all of that by herself, if she was proud of herself. “Well,” she said, “I’ve always taken care of myself.”

“So,” Rebecca said, “you were independent and capable of taking care of things. Why don’t you believe that your daughters are capable in the same way? We do come from you, you know!” She said one never lets go of being a mother, and you had to be a mother to understand. (Rebecca is not a mother, so ouch to that.)

Rebecca knew it was pointless to suggest a mother could also be proud of what her children have done and become, and be proud of instilling in them a sense of confidence and ability. Mama doesn’t know how to be proud of herself, and that makes it hard to take any credit for her daughters’ accomplishments.

I used to feel like a grown up, but these days I think I won’t again until I am the oldest generation in the family. By then, perhaps, my own children will be ready to be the oldest generation. And will tell me what to do and how to do it.