During Pet Therapy, My Dog Does the Talking

Mary Dell writes: I come from a long line of talkers, gregarious Texans who delight in telling tales and learning the back stories from strangers. My upbringing served me well while I worked in media, marketing NBC shows like the Smurfs or Saturday Night Live as story-telling opportunities. Yet now, as a pet therapy volunteer, I struggle to find words while watching my partner, a chocolate Labrador named Moose, communicate fluidly.

Pet Therapy dog

Five years ago, while casually thumbing through a New York-Presbyterian newsletter, a small-print headline “Volunteers with Dogs Needed” grabbed my attention. I was struck with the idea that this would be the perfect volunteer job, one that could help fill a growing gap in my life. With our eldest child a high school senior and the youngest increasingly independent, an empty nest loomed. Plus, I am a big dog lover – we have owned four Labs during our two-decade marriage. Yet the mostly likely candidate to be my partner, Moose, was still a rowdy and marginally obedient two-year old puppy, and I questioned his suitability. [Read more...]



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Tyranny of the Mirror: a Reflection on Aging

Lisa writes: This photo was up on the HuffPost50 Facebook page last week (see below.) It is a picture of Dyan Cannon, the well-known actress, at age 77. Cannon looks great at this age, but she looked great at every age. Yet, there was another message here, it seems, the message that this is what 77 can look like, that if we play our cards right and spend more time and more money on our looks, we too might never look old. It is a message designed to make us feel better about aging, but I fear it achieves just the reverse.

Snow White, Mirror Mirror on the Wall, aging

In the name of making us feel good about aging, to show that time’s erosion can be fought at every turn, are we are just making ourselves feel worse about an unstoppable process? Was an earlier generation, far less desperate to cling onto any and every sign of youth, far more comfortable with what nature had to dish out?

[Read more...]



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Nine Things You Should Know About Downton Abbey

Lisa writes: As inspired by our friend and fellow Downton Abbey fan, Sharon Greenthal, (Empty House, Full Mind,) here are nine things you should know about Downton Abbey.

Highclere Castle, Downton Abbey

1. Highclere Castle

The “above stairs” scenes are filmed at Highclere Castle, the 1830s great house designed by the same architect who designed the British Houses of Parliament. The similarities between the buildings can be seen in the sand-colored stone and Gothic Revival turrets. Since 1679, the family of the Earl of Carnarvon has had a home on this spot. Beneath the current house are the ruins of a medieval palace. The “below stairs” scenes are filmed at the famed Ealing Studios on set in West London.

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Is it Worth the Money?

Lisa and our good friend, Sharon Greenthal, who blogs at Empty House, Full Mind, asked the question “What is worth spending money on?” Money is a private and often touchy subject, yet the respondents were candid and their answers, revealing.  Here is the post appearing today on both blogs.

In the weeks between tossing out the turkey carcass and dragging the Christmas tree to the curb, the average American family is expected to spend $740 on gifts in this brief, intense shopping period. As the year winds down we will also give generously, writing checks for $79 billion in charitable donations or a quarter of our annual giving.

bank vault, money, bank

How we spend our money speaks to who we are and what we value. For each of us it is a trial and error process. We spend impulsively, and we live to regret the purchase. We save up carefully, and the object of our desire become obsolete or out of fashion. We buy things or experiences, we invest in education, and charity and with each step learn more about our personal relationships to money and more about ourselves.

How we spend our money is a sticky, complicated question that is burdened by the behavior of our family of origin and says something about the example we hope to set for our own children.

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Waiting for Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier: What I’ve Missed Most

Mary Dell writes: Lisa and I are among the millions of US fans who have spent the last 11 months pining for our favorite period drama. Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier is January, 5, a date already circled in red on my calendar.

Here is what I’ve missed the most during this long wait for the show to resume:

Downton Abbey cast, Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier

1. Theme Song

The gorgeous orchestration of the theme music by British composer John Lunn prepares viewers for the weekly feast of audible pleasure to come. While I have endured the wait for the program to resume, I have clicked on the YouTube recording, closing my eyes, and imagining the cast beginning to assemble at the manor house.

2. Opening Photo montage

Creator Julian Fellowes is a master of detail and the opening montage richly displays life in both the upstairs and downstairs quarters at Downton. Fellowes’ wonderful dialogue and highly textured use of period furnishings in this television production are of the caliber of feature film Gosford Park, a movie for which he wrote the script, winning a best screenplay Academy Award in 2002.

3. British History

Every Downton Abbey episode gives viewers a chance to absorb lessons in British history. The writers have already covered WWI, the influenza epidemic, the decline of the landed aristocracy, and the beginnings of the Irish Free State. Season Four is set in the Roaring twenties and a new Season Five begins production in 2014; we have much more to absorb.

4. Interior Design

I savor the details of Downton Abbey’s set design, and wonder what it would be like to live with the sweeping staircases, vaulted ceilings, and formal home furnishings. Every Sunday night I am inspired to take my own decor up a notch.

5. Parenting Lessons

Lord and Lady Grantham face challenges with their daughters and extended families that are surprisingly relatable. Watching the interpersonal dynamics presents vivid examples of parenting do’s and don’ts. The world may have changed much in the last ninety years but the challenges of parenting remain unaltered.

6. Grantham Clan

Downton has an expertly drawn cast that I love visiting every week. Fellowes made these characters real to me and I am invested in the lives of both the gilded Granthams and the downstairs help.

7. Smash Hit

Downton Abbey is a rare quality costume drama, the biggest success ever for PBS and ITV, where it is shown in the UK.  I recall watching every episode of Brideshead Revisited and Lisa fondly remember Upstairs, Downstairs. But those shows were televised in 1981 and 1971. Success like this does not come around often.

8. Gorgeous Clothes

The ladies’ period costumes are stunningly beautiful. From wedding gowns to sleeping attire, the luxurious fabrics and intricate accessories are breathtaking. Watching the show feels like playing dress-up. Just imagining the contents of the Grantham ladies’ closets makes me want to put long leather gloves and strands of pearls on my Christmas list.

9. Maggie Smith

Dame Maggie’s lines alone make the show worthwhile, and she dominates each and every scene. I lean into the TV whenever she appears to make sure I don’t miss a word (although I can count on seeing her in a Monday-morning meme with the best zinger of the previous evening.)

10. Dan Stevens’ Matthew Crawley

The hopes for happily ever after for our favorite upstairs couple ended with the Season Three finale. Though there is no doubt that Mary will thrive without Matthew, I can’t help but grieve for the what if’s in their lives together.

11. Date Night

Discovering a show that both my husband and I enjoy is a gift. On the evening of January 5, we will set a fire in the fireplace, pour two glasses of wine, and watch the Downton Abbey Season 4 Premier together. In our almost empty nest, watching this favorite show together has become our date night. I am counting the days until it returns.

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Cooking for Two in an Empty Nest Kitchen

Mary Dell writes: One of my roles as a mom has been that of chief hunter and gatherer for our family meals. To say I am bored with every single chicken dish that I have placed on the kitchen table over the last two decades is an enormous understatement. With our youngest child a senior in high school, the end is in sight for family dinners as I have known them but a new challenge looms – cooking for two.

Fortunately, Lisa and I had a serendipitous introduction to Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook, when we were all on a terrifying flight  from Chicago back home this summer. Our shared adversity fostered a friendship and, by the time we finally arrived (safely) in New York, we had learned that Katie is not only an amazing writer and cook, but also someone with a steady sense of humor, regardless of the circumstances.  She offered this advice for retooling our empty nest kitchens:

 katie workman

 

chili-636

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Why You Should Blog: A Legacy in Black and White

Lisa writes: There was a time, barely memorable, when we reflected upon our lives through letters and diaries, baby books, scrapbooks and photo albums. Committing our thoughts to paper documented them for both ourselves and posterity. The pace of writing encouraged introspection, but pens are obsolete and for most of us our thoughts remain in our heads or are shared through a stream of emails, texts, tweets and FB posts.

blogging, writing, blog

In my photo albums I have a second grader but in my home, a high school senior. Time has moved on, but until I started writing a blog, my chronicling had not. A blog is a point of personal retrospection, a way to leave something more lasting than a snap chat. This is why you should blog.

[Read more...]



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Sally Koslow Writes the Book on Reinvention

Mary Dell writes: Sally Koslow is a friend and was my writing teacher at Sarah Lawrence College.  The story of her success, including the publication this month of The Widow Waltz, and dark moments of her career are an inspiring story of reinvention.  She spills all:

Sally Koslow, Sally Koslow's The Widow Waltz, reinvention, summer fiction

 

From Sally Koslow:

Once upon a time—a long time, 30+ years—I was a magazine editor, the job for which I felt I was born. A shy kid, I learned to manage that handicap as I scaled the consecrated trajectory of high school newspaper editor/college English major/hometown newspaper intern/college town newspaper obit writer/moony poet. By the time I presented my still-reserved Midwestern self to Manhattan’s Conde Nast–which I was too big of a yokel at 21 to realize was the ooh-la-la of publishing companies–I had a fat portfolio of clippings. They helped land a job at Mademoiselle, a powder puff-y magazine with a literary edge: Sylvia Plath had once been a guest editor and the masthead prided itself on back-in-the-day, publishing the likes of Truman Capote and W.H. Auden and at the moment, Barbara Kingsolver and Jane Smiley.

In the 70s intense female ambition hadn’t yet reared its feverish head. No one expected to reach the top fast. Or ever. This allowed me to loll around MLLE until after having a child at 28, I became a freelance writer. When my son was four I returned to another magazine staff and began to rise in various ranks until McCall’s anointed me as its editor-in-chief in 1994.

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Stalking My Kids

Lisa writes: When my kids were little they stalked me.  They followed me from room to room, they banged on the bathroom door and almost never left my side.  Sometimes I loved it, sometimes it made me mental, and sometimes I worried they would never successfully separate.  I wondered why they wanted to be with me so much, stalking day and night.  I thought it might be a little like our Labrador who follows me around every evening hoping to be fed.  Yet they still seemed to want to be with me even after they knew how to open the refrigerator door.  Now I find,  it is me, stalking my kids.

Union Square in New York City, New York City, New York at night, summer in New York City, stalking my kids

Sometimes I would say to them, why do you want to come with me?  I realized that whatever I was doing would be slowed down by their presence and when I was in a hurry, I felt frustration.  But they wanted to be with me, even if the task was tedious, and irrelevant to them. If I just wanted to roam, they wanted to know where we were going. I loved being with them, loved everything about their presence, but their questions could wear me out.  They seemed happy just to be with me.
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The Generation Gap Isn’t What it Used to Be

Lisa writes: The generation gap that separated me from my parents was defined by our views on music, sex, skirt lengths, the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon’s presidency. My whole goal in shopping was to buy things my parents hated. But my children and I like the same music, have similar politics and shop for clothes in the same stores. The issues that separate me from my offspring are of an entirely different nature.

Where has the generation gap gone?  Once defined by cultural touchstones and political splits, the gap that divides the generations is now far more subtle, defined by differences in outlook and attitude, rather than fundamental beliefs.

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My sons think nothing of leaving the house and venturing out in public in their PJ bottoms. This has been a recurring nightmare of mine since 1971.

I use cash. They use credit for any purchase over 24 cents.

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Motherhood and the Empty Nest

Lisa writes: This morning, The New York Times posted a wonderful article, “After the Children have Grown,” about motherhood and the transition to the empty nest.  The author, noted psychologist Madeline Levine, confirms what Anna Quindlen has often said, that the real empty nest begins the day our youngest child graduates from college.  Yet Levine takes a different look at our children’s separation as not a single moment but rather one more step on a long path of pain and happiness that is parenting.  She explains,

Motherhood inextricably weaves growth and loss together from the moment of physical separation at birth to every milestone passed.

Yet she finds that, in some ways, parents are unprepared for this transition despite the fact that we should have seen it coming.

motherhood, empty nest, mothers and sons, after the children have grown

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Weekend Reading with Grown and Flown in Mind

This past week, Grown and Flown was thrilled to be featured in some of the blogs we love the most.  If you are looking for some new weekend reading, you might want to take a peek at these:

Weekend-Reading, favorite blogs for women, Grown and Flown, empty nest blogs

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I Don’t Really Want to be Turning 30 Again, but…

New York Times Social Media Conference, turning 30, Twitter

Lisa writes: I don’t really want to be turning 30 again.  I truly believe what I wrote about midlife being a time when we have more time, more confidence and more resources. And given this, it is not surprising that once we pass 46, we are happier.

I have largely come to grips with the underbelly of aging, the image in the mirror.  But this weekend I was at The New York Times Social Media Summit listening to 20 and 30-somethings expounded on how Twitter and its brethren have forever changed traditional news gathering as we know it and, for a moment, I could not help wishing that, once again, I was turning 30 and here is why.

[Read more...]



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Staying Young: It’s About Questions, Not Answers

Lisa writes: Recently a friend told me of a thrilling career opportunity that he had been offered and accepted. He and his wife are in their late 50s and the opportunity involved relocating to Asia. Excitement was written all over his face as he said to me, “It is so much easier to do this now with the kids gone, and us staying young. Or at least believing that we are still young.”

To me those words said everything. He looked, and I am going to guess felt, younger than I have seen him in years as he told me of the job he had never expected to be offered, in an industry from which he had retired a decade earlier. When I watched him I felt a little like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. I wanted what he was having.

On a parallel track I am watching my nearly grown sons go out into the world for the first time. They are experiencing life in the big city, minus mom and dad. When I cut through the thick layer of jealousy that comes from wanting to be my children, I realize that both my sons and my friend are at a moment in life where so many things are unknown and so much feels possible. The reason my friend is staying young is that at this moment, his life is much like my children’s, filled with more questions than answers.
Dock, looking out from the dock, rustic dock
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I Should Know Better

Lisa writes: I am over 50 and I should know better.  I should know that life isn’t always what it seems, that everyone is just doing their best and that perfect is a dangerous fantasy.  But somehow, deep, deep into adulthood, I still hold on to childish dreams.

It is much easier to imagine that other’s lives are perfect and that I can never measure up, than to realize no one’s life is perfect and I just need to work hard to make mine better. [Read more...]



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