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Archive for the ‘The Good Stuff’ Category

In the last post, we examined where we are right now in life in order to identify where we might want to be in the future: the health of our bodies, our spirits, and our relationships as well as the dreams or passions we have not yet pursued (or maybe even identified).

With this in hand, let’s move on:

Step #2. Same drill. Quiet place; journal in hand. Read through your initial entry. Anything to add or edit? Does it still feel honest?

What leaps out at you from your work? Do you notice any patterns—boredom and overeating; stress and impatience; lack of self-assertion and a feeling of victimhood?

Did you identify something you always wanted to pursue or to learn? Are there disappointments you uncovered? Are some elements of your life story simply incomprehensible to you—how did you end up here, you ask?

Sit with these for a minute. What tugs at your heart? What calls to you? What sounds absolutely awful or completely thrilling? What needs a closer look?

Also read over your assessment of your primary relationships. Any action plan needed here? Fences that need mending or habits that need adjusting?

You aren’t writing anything, necessarily. You’re just noticing habits, patterns, ways of thinking, and how yesterday’s work makes you feel today.

Now. Begin creating your reinvention plan. This is the eulogy moment. What do you want people to say about you after you die? How do you want to feel about your one and only life? Begin to articulate the big, sine qua non items. The ones you cannot die without having accomplished. Make a list of them. Not an overwhelming list—the top three or four. The big ones.

Choose one. This is your project for this year. And maybe for next year. If it’s that important, you may work on it for the rest of your life. Break this goal down into manageable steps that you can start doing tomorrow. What’s the first step, then the second? Travel to Africa? You’ll start by researching your options with the goal of having a plan in place this year. Lose 35 pounds permanently? Research your options with a goal of having identified a realistic, lifelong approach this week that you can begin practicing next week. Learn how to play the flute? You’ll need to find an instrument and a teacher…

Next, review those primary relationships—kids, extended family, spouse. Have you identified tendencies to work on? Habits to develop or break? Relationships that need attention? Relationships that need special nourishment or a new approach?

Don’t overlook the one relationship that is most critical to your longevity and quality of life. “If you’re in a happy marriage, you will tend to live longer. That’s perhaps as important as not smoking, which is to say: huge,” says Lyle Ungar, one of the researchers of that data-driven longevity calculator I mentioned in the first post. Knowing that someone in the world knows you intimately, loves you, and has your back adds measurably to quality of life. It makes sense, then, to focus especially on this relationship in your life review—to test its soundness and ponder how it might be strengthened.

List one or two specific steps you can take immediately that will make any of these relationships stronger. Also write down one or two habits or personality traits that impede them—that you should work to change.

With a path identified (for the year, at least) and the initial steps delineated, you’re ready to begin. Let me just add the wisdom of a few professionals and life-reinventers who have walked this path before.

Practice gratitude. Every day.  “…allow yourself to be grateful for the things you…have. Anger is never inspirational but gratitude is,” writes the best-selling albeit hyperactive author, James Altucher.

Goals, such as those you just articulated are important because “if you don’t have long-term goals, you run the risk of doing lots of little things every day—cleaning the house, sending emails, catching up on TV—without ever making a contribution to your future,” says Art Markman, psychology professor and author in this article.

Stay flexible. Change is never static. Reinvention is an ongoing process. You’ll have to rinse and repeat again next year (or next month) to make sure the goals you set today are still relevant and important and that your progress is unfolding according to plan. “Too often, we give up just when we need to push harder, and persist when we actually should quit,” writes one author.

Change is never easy. Expect setbacks; anticipate resistance. Anything really challenging and worthwhile will take time to accomplish, so if it’s really important, don’t shortchange yourself. Persevere through the tough spots. “The most successful self-reinventors are those who understand that they have time and are willing to use it to invest in their own skills and education,” writes this author.

Declutter. Yes, you read that right. Downsizing, clearing out, cleaning up can feel both psychologically freeing and is also metaphorically linked to ridding your life of things that hold you back—mental clutter, too many commitments and obligations, relationships that are buzz-kills or worse, according to Margaret Manning, blogger and creator of sixtyandme.

There. You did it. I hope you feel empowered or at least optimistic. You should now have a roadmap for the months ahead. I’d love to hear how the project is working for you and if you have suggestions to refine it.

Good luck.

The Fullness of MidlifeNeed inspiration? Some of our “The Fullness of Midlife” podcasts are on topic: Lesley Jane Seymour on reinventionKate Convissor on overcoming fearsDeborah Robinson on appreciating our own bodies and treating them wellI, Joan Vernikos on how movement keeps us capable.   

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I had a shock the other day.

In an unguarded moment, I ran across one of those life expectancy calculators. You know, the kind that will tell you how many years you have left on earth after 10 minutes of softball questions.

Basically, I believe that predicting how long you’ll live is a fool’s errand—any of us could get hit by alien laser rays or a schoolbus tomorrow. But my data-driven heart was sucked in by this calculator, which was developed by professors at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and based on 400,000 data samples collected by the National Institutes of Health and the AARP.

Now, I know that I fall in a healthy category for weight, activity level, and absence of chronic disease. But, still, the results shocked me.

Ninety-six. My estimated life expectancy is 96.

This is enough time to live a second adult life. This is enough time to start another career or follow a dream or pursue a passion. This is not enough time to waste.

So, that’s the challenge I put before you (and myself) this January: the macro view; the life-reinvention perspective. Because no matter how much time we have (or think we have), why squander it in self-defeating, fearful ways? Or simply by drifting through a handful of years without direction?

Reinvention isn’t a quick-fix project; it isn’t a lose-five-pounds resolution. It’s a project we could (and should) work on for the rest of our lives, periodically reviewing and adjusting our goals to see if they still fit.

Now—today—is a good time to start.  So I put before you the proprietary MiddlesexMD Reinvention Project. Ready?

Step #1. Take stock. No shortcuts here. Sit yourself down somewhere quiet. Open to the first page of the Reinvention journal that you bought for this occasion. (You did get one, didn’t you?) Today’s task is to examine the important aspects of your life. As realistically and objectively as possible. You can’t envision a new you without a solid understanding of who you are now, right?

How’s your health? (Obviously my first question.) Are you content with how you feel? How do you feel about your eating/exercising habits? Your weight? Your overall mobility? Your blood pressure and cholesterol levels? Your mental acuity? Do not indulge in guilt or leap to quick, feel-good resolutions, just assess your physical self realistically.

How’s your spirit? Do you feel lonely? Optimistic? Afraid? Content? Discontent? Restless? Do a full-spirit wellness scan. Are the physical and spiritual linked in some way—being overweight and depressed, for example? Are you handicapped by free-floating fears or anxieties? Does stress nibble at the corners of your life—or maybe devour the whole enchilada? Do you feel unsettled and discontent or grateful and happy?

What is the source of your greatest joy or satisfaction? What are you good at? What are you happiest doing? Where does your passion—or your pleasure or your interest—lie? What have you always wanted to attempt? Do you have dreams that you decided had passed you by or that you are too afraid to try? Is there anything you would regret not having done before you die?

Examine the health of your most important relationships. Our closest relationships are the sources of our greatest joy and satisfaction as well as our greatest heartbreak and frustration. We expend a lot of  energy repressing, denying, or making excuses for broken relationships, whether with family, lovers, or friends. Does this sound true for you?

Are you keeping up with friends and loved ones, or have you let important relationship wither on the vine? We also sometimes endure relationships that kill our spirits, that are toxic to our psyche and sometimes our bodies. Resolve now to examine them with a clear eye. You don’t have to do anything today except be honest with yourself.

Write it all down in the journal. This is the first day of your new you.

Okay. Take a deep breath. You’re done for today.

The Fullness of MidlifeNeed inspiration? Some of our “The Fullness of Midlife” podcasts are on topic: Lesley Jane Seymour on reinventionAmy Eller on intentional life designDruscilla French on understanding ourselves.

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Life moves fast. That’s a truism for everyone, but this tumultuous year, time seems to have whizzed by on steroids. Still, I don’t want to tumble into 2018 (yikes!) without one last glance over my shoulder at the year that was.

Maybe my glass is half-full, but one word that comes to mind in describing the practitioner side is “innovation”—an unusual flurry of it. New treatments for menopausal symptoms, such as Intrarosa, have recently been introduced; it looks like Addyi may have new energy behind it; and new products, such as the women-designed vibrators from Dame, have come to market. I’d like to believe that this problem-solving innovation is a result of our many voices expecting answers along with a growing social awareness of both the normality and challenges of menopause.

“Community” is another word that comes to mind as I think about 2017. Not one, but many communities of women (and men) who are passionate about de-stigmatizing menopause, making it a normal, even exciting, transition to a different, yet still fulfilling life, and to keeping love and sexuality squarely in the middle of it. These include professionals like Dr. Pam, whose documentary we recently mentioned, and Mary Jo Rapini, just one of many colleagues whose work is all about living mindfully and abundantly.

I’m also thinking of online communities, like RedHotMamas—and this blog as well—that create an entertaining, informative space to address all things menopause. Here’s a list of the Top 50 menopause blogs from Feedspot. (Spoiler: We’re number 3!)

A natural outgrowth of our MiddlesexMD community is our new podcast, The Fullness of Midlife. In this series of interviews, we explore diverse stories, perceptions, and insights with the women (and men) who cross our path. Check it out! You’ll be entertained and inspired.

Then, of course, there’s you—the community of MiddlesexMD women who share your stories with me personally or on this blog. Who write to ask about our products. Who listen to our podcasts. You are the reason and motivation for everything we do here at MiddlesexMD. I am gratified and humbled every day by your trust, your stories, and your spirit.

So here’s to another year of opportunity, fulfillment, meaning, and challenge.

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We had a power outage for a few days mid-month. If you want to discover the stuff you’re made of, experience a small tear in the fabric of life, like losing power in winter. I discovered that I am made of tissue paper.

It was a temporary and brief interruption. An inconvenience. But as the hours dragged on, I became increasingly impatient. Appointments didn’t happen; work piled up; my phone couldn’t charge; I was entirely offline. I couldn’t afford to lose this time! I called the power company. I checked for updates obsessively. I ignored the fact that teams of (mostly) young men were working around the clock in bitter weather to get us all back online.

Then, after power was restored, and I had rescheduled appointments and comfortably reordered my life, I came across a blog post from my colleague, Mary Jo Rapini (who was a recent guest on my podcast, too).

She lives in Houston and, while her house was unaffected, she regularly interacts with those who lost everything to Hurricane Harvey. For these survivors, life can’t be so easily resumed—it isn’t a matter of flicking on a switch. They are living in temporary housing or with friends and relatives. Significant parts of their lives—homes, pets, photographs, precious possessions—are gone forever. Many, if not most, of those affected will deal with PTSD for a long time.

That story is repeated for thousands of people throughout the world—in California and the Middle East and Africa. I can’t really imagine being in those circumstances, and I suspect that tissue paper doesn’t hold up so well.

Mary Jo’s message cast my small discomfort in a new light. I was complaining about a paper cut, while others not so far away are recovering from an amputation. It was a helpful reality check.

“Love is a verb,” says Mary Jo. Love manifests itself in actions large and small. Hidden and heroic. It reveals itself in the work that only you can do in this world, whether that’s taking care of grandchildren or founding an orphanage.

Love and gratitude is what this season is all about. I’m taking that more seriously these days. For starters, I’m grateful for that power outage.

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Here’s an idea to spice up a holiday evening: Gather your coffee klatch girlfriends, or your BFFs, or even your sisters and/or daughters, make popcorn and margaritas, and watch “Love, Sweat, and Tears,” the new documentary about menopause.

Even better, snuggle up and watch it with your partner, because the red thread running through all the information about hot flashes and mood swings is that our sex lives don’t have to be disrupted or put on the shelf forever because of menopause. We can still be sexual beings; we can still be attractive; we darned well can still have sex.

Sound familiar?

The movie was a labor of love for Dr. Pam Gaudry, an ob/gyn who specializes in treating older women. After years of consulting with patients in the throes of menopause, Dr. Pam came to realize that of all the difficulties accompanying menopause, the most disturbing to many of her patients was the disruption of their sex lives. Losing this deep and intimate connection with loved partners was the most distressing part of menopause. And she knew that losing sexual intimacy is completely unnecessary.

Dr. Pam wants to educate women about menopause, about how to stay vital, healthy, and sexually fulfilled. She wants to blow up the social stigma surrounding menopause (that we’re dried-up old crones). “Women should look forward to this transition,” she says. “I want them to know what to do to protect their vaginas so they can have exciting, comfortable, and worry free sexual intercourse for the rest of their lives.”

In the film, Dr. Pam travels across America interviewing actors, comedians, clergy, medical professionals, as well as ordinary men and women about love and menopause. Joan Rivers is the headliner, in what turned out to be her last interview before her death in 2014. “I’m on a mission,” says Dr. Pam in her interview with Rivers, “to save menopausal vaginas in America.”

“Well, sign me up,” says Rivers.

In the course of the film, Dr. Pam interviews several colleagues that MiddlesexMD readers have met—Mary Jo Rapini and Dr. Michael Krychman. I make a cameo appearance, too.

Basically, Dr. Pam covers the same ground that we do here at MiddlesexMD because we have the same mission and message. She does it holistically, with humor and a lot of sage advice. “I want women to know why they must protect their vaginas,” she says. “I want estrogen in their vaginas when they’re going into the ground. And no woman should die without using a vibrator.”

You can rent the movie on YouTubeNetflix, or Amazon. (Run time about an hour and twenty minutes)

Do not hesitate to gather selected friends and family and watch this movie together. For you and your honey, it’s required viewing. A pop quiz will follow.

 

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Six weeks before Christmas, and we all know the drill. We muddle; we fret; we scour, until… we find that perfect, thoughtful, useful, attractive gift for those special people in our lives who just happen to have everything. Does it feel like an exercise in futility

While you’re scrounging around the Internet labyrinth, you might include a quick spin through our MiddlesexMD shop. We’ve already done the searching and the testing to suss out the highest-quality products that you (and we) can trust. And you won’t find a selection remotely similar in the mall. Guaranteed.

While you might not want to give your mother a vibrator for Christmas, other products might tick all the boxes for a thoughtful, attractive, useful gift.

For the special women in your life—mother, daughters, friends: Knowledge. Navigating the rocky shoals of menopause is no picnic. Simply understanding why and how our bodies are changing and knowing what to expect can sometimes make a huge difference in how we weather the storm (listen to our recent podcast on this subject here). For example, understanding why we could suddenly gain weight and have so much trouble losing it can be an epiphany. And that’s not to mention the challenges of maintaining a vital sex life.

You might consider these books for a nearly menopausal friend, sister, or daughter:

If you like our website and find this blog helpful, you might like Yes, You Can: Dr. Barb’s Recipe for Lifelong Intimacy. It’s a collection of the common-sense explanations and explorations of health and sexuality that’s made MiddlesexMD one of the most popular blogs for the over-50 crowd. I share my decades of experience in treating women’s menopausal and sexual issues in, I hope, a sisterly style.

The practice of mindfulness can be an important factor in stress relief, overall well-being, and tangentially, a vital sex life. We think it’s so important that we’re happy to include The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh. This is a classic in the canon of books on meditation, spirituality, and mindfulness. It might be a thoughtful counterpoint to the feeding frenzy of the holidays.

Better Than I Ever Expected by Joan Price. We’re a fan of Joan’s straightforward yet lighthearted style. The book is a good overview of the multi-hued issues that accompanies menopause, especially as it relates to sexuality. This may be a good choice for women who want to warm a tepid relationship or for those embarking on a new romance.

We’ll step out on a limb here and recommend She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman by Ian Kerner as a gift for a receptive lover. Dr. Kerner is a clinical sexologist who explores the anatomy and psychology of sex. In this book, he does not overlook his personal struggle with sexual dysfunction. Described as “straightforward, intimate, and exuberant,” this book is highly recommended by many experts and doctors.
Everyone loves a good cookbook, and The New Intercourses: An Aphrodisiacs Cookbook is one we love. This book covers it all, exploring the history of aphrodisiacs, pairing recipes for decadent foods with the time of day, the season, and the stage of a relationship, all presented with lush photography. It even includes recipes for massage oils and bath salts and oils. This book is a delight for all the senses.

Speaking of sensual delights. Feeding the mind is fine, but a gift that pleasures the senses is what the holidays are all about. Any of these would be lovely choices for a romantic partner or a female friend.

The Lelo massage candle is a unique gift for your intimate partner or a sweet encouragement for your menopausal bestie. Made with a rich soy, almond kernel oil, and shea butter, the candle melts into a silky massage oil. It also comes in alluring, grownup scents, such as black pepper and pomegranate or snow pear and cedarwood.

High quality massage oils with natural ingredients and subtle scents are a pleasure with or without a partner. Check out our Kama Sutra or Just Love oils for the best of both.

The Sliquid O Gel is a racier gift for your Sex In the City girlfriend. Both lube and warming oil, O gel takes stimulation to the next level. With peppermint oil and menthol, O gel soothes and warms. Not for everyone, but exactly right for a more experimental someone.

For your romantic partner. We’ve gathered some unique products to share with your one-and-only. Slip them in the stocking or on the pillow along with a rose, a bottle of bubbly, your favorite sound track or all of the above.

Our Stocking Stuffer kit may be as much about you as it is about him, but we’re thinking he’ll be happy that you’re into making sex good for both of you. The kit contains the Jolie vibrator—a small but perky little number that you can both play with, a bottle of Yes water-based lubricant, and a small box of romantic, magnetic poetry. With any magnetic surface, you could create your own Shakespeare in Love boudoir. Express sentiments that take you beyond the day-to-day.

Romantic Vows for Affectionate Lovers gives you a playful way to express your feelings. Choose from 72 cards that seduce, promise, and describe. Hide them in his sock drawer or take turns surprising each other. It’s a low-pressure, flirtatious way to keep the flame alive.

One of our newest offerings, the Fin vibrator is a powerhouse in a teensy package. Made “by women for women” at Dame Products, Fin is comfy, unobtrusive, and intuitive. It’s also good for couple play. All Dame Products, including this one, come with an engaging instruction manual to get the most out of your toy.

Color him chocolate? And why not? You can do just that with our Lover’s Body Paint. A 2-ounce bottle of rich chocolate or caramel (or both?) and a soft brush and your lover becomes your own edible canvas. Or vice versa. Messy, silly, and surprising. The perfect stocking stuffer.

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MORE ON THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET

A while ago, I recommended the Mediterranean diet as part of a healthy weight-loss regimen for that post-menopausal muffin top. But it’s so much more than a “diet” and has so many proven and critically important health benefits that I decided to circle back and dig a little deeper into the Mediterranean diet and the lifestyle that surrounds it.

It would be hard to pin down one way of eating that adequately sums up the Mediterranean region. People in southern Spain eat differently from those in Morocco or Greece, yet researchers have identified several commonalities of the region that produces some of the healthiest and longest-lived people on the planet. Case in point: two of the five “Blue Zones”—places with the highest concentration of centenarians in the world—are located in the Mediterranean, including Sardinia, where men live as long as women. (The ratio of male to female centenarians is 1:1.)

Granted, a long and healthy life is the result of many factors beyond diet, not the least of which is the genes you were born with. Nonetheless, the way you eat is critical to your health, and unlike your genes, is something you can control. (Along with several other contributors to longevity. More on that below.)

Despite its broad and diverse geography, several characteristics are common to the Mediterranean diet.

  • An emphasis on fruits and vegetables, mostly local, fresh, and often home-grown. This goes beyond carrot and celery sticks to include colorful and flavorful salads and dishes incorporating eggplant, tomatoes, mint, cucumber, and avocado, for example.
  • Also lots of legumes, such as dried beans and peas, nuts, and whole grains (although most of the traditional Mediterranean bread and pasta isn’t whole grain, it doesn’t hurt to improve on tradition).
  • Lots of fish, some poultry, and very little red meat. Fish also contains heart-healthy Omega-3 fats.
  • Lots of olive oil and very little additional fat from butter, margarine, or vegetable oil. All by itself, olive oil is chock-a-block with substances that support good health and protect the heart, such as antioxidants, Omega-3s, and oleic acids. Olive oil that is labeled “extra virgin” and “cold-pressed” is minimally processed and retains more of the original plant nutrients. (Read this article from the National Consumers League for a discussion on what these terms mean in the US and what brands are most likely to adhere to the labeling.)
  • Minimal sugar. Most sugars are obtained from fruit sources
  • Dairy in the form of yogurt and various cheeses.
  • A little red wine with a meal.

That’s it. Simple and delicious. Notice that this approach to diet isn’t vegetarian or vegan. It isn’t gluten- or dairy-free. It isn’t a fad or a flash-in-the-pan. These traditional diets have been around for a long time. Numerous studies confirm that, in addition to weight loss, the Mediterranean diet has powerful protective factors from cardiac problems and some types of cancer.

According to literature from the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet is “associated with a reduced incidence of cancer, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer. For these reasons, most if not all major scientific organizations encourage healthy adults to adapt a style of eating like that of the Mediterranean diet for prevention of major chronic diseases.”

How’s that for an unambiguous statement from a leading medical organization?

While diet alone is an important contributor to health and longevity, it sure isn’t the only one. This is because those long-lived individuals in the Mediterranean and other Blue Zones are embedded within communities and cultures that support both mental and physical good health. These are cultures that tend to engage in activities that naturally involve movement: gardening, walking, housework. They are surrounded by a network of kin and friends that provides a sense of purpose, support, and well-being. They know how to de-stress, maybe with a nap or a drink with friends. And they disproportionately belong to faith communities.

These elements, of which diet is a part, have been around for a long time. These cultures have a deep wisdom to impart to the rest of us born within more modern and less mature cultures. While we won’t be able to replicate life in a Blue Zone, we can look to them for guidance.

Maybe the easiest way to start is with diet. But a lifestyle of commitment, community, faith, and natural movement is a decent goal to shoot for as well.

To help motivate you, here is a Mediterranean-inspired recipe (bonus! appropriate for the season) from the lovely Intercourses cookbook, which explores the playful nature of sex and the aphrodisiac qualities of food.

ROASTED PUMPKIN AND GINGER SOUP

½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1 pound peeled pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 Delicious or other sweet apple, peeled, cored, and cut into slices

2 to 2 ½ cups chicken stock

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

¼ cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Devon or clotted cream

Madeira or amontillado sherry

This easy-to-make soup will get you feeling very cozy on a brisk autumn evening. The recipe calls for fresh pumpkin or squash; if you prefer, you may substitute a pound of canned pumpkin or frozen butternut squash, but in that case limit the simmering time to 7 minutes.

Yields 2 or 3 servings

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Set aside.

Place the pumpkin and apples in a large saucepan and add enough stock to cover. Stir in the ginger and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the pumpkin is tender, about 30 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Or, working in batches if necessary, transfer the soup to a blender and puree. (If you’re using an especially powerful blender, definitely work in small batches, as the steam released by too much hot soup may cause the blender’s lid to blow off!) Return the pureed soup to the saucepan and add the cream in a thin stream, whisking as you do so. Add the salt and pepper and stir.

Spoon a dollop of Devon cream into each soup bowl, and drizzle 1 or 2 teaspoons of Madeira on top. Pour the soup into the bowls and garnish each with some toasted walnuts.

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