Milestone Birthdays: How to Totally Love Them Without Feeling Old

Children blowing out birthday candles to illustrate the included quote: "We mature in knowledge and wisdom, but never leave the playground of our hearts."

Birthdays are typically a time for celebration. Until they’re not.

As youngsters, we eagerly anticipate all the trappings that make up our special day: a party with family and friends, decorated cakes, colorful balloons, and gifts! All those wonderful things that make the day so special.

But, as we grow older birthdays can evoke a sense of longing and even sadness. Especially the milestone birthdays. We traverse the nine years between each turn of the decade uneventfully, and then BOOM. You’re the Big 6–0, or wherever you happen to be on the aging continuum. 

Big is right; I’m five pounds heavier than I was at 50. Probably because I never pass on a birthday cake (or any cake for that matter.) 

Each year, as we add another candle it’s a reminder of time passing. During our twenties and thirties, we’re so busy building a life that time almost stands still. Granted, we’re racing every day from morning till night, to beat deadlines, keep appointments, and get a thousand things done. But, we’re focused on the tasks and not how quickly the calendar pages are turning.

Then one day we wake up and realize everything is slowing down. The family, financial, and work demands decrease significantly as children leave the nest and retirement looms.

This slowing down begins to affect us physically and mentally, too. Presbyopia, a change in the ability of our eyes to focus, begins in the forties. This literally happened to me overnight. One day I was reading Stephen King’s The Stand, completely unaided, and the next day I needed magnifiers. 

Balance becomes an issue. Putting on pants while standing suddenly turns into a challenge and “senior moments” occur more often. It’s no wonder we get a little depressed at birthday time, wondering what else may be lost in the upcoming year. 

I was naive when purchasing a ceiling fan with a pull chain for my bedroom. The contractor asked why I didn’t get a remote control model, informing me that they didn’t cost much more. He then asked if I really wanted to stand on the bed, in ten years, to turn the fan on and off. Suddenly, I pictured myself trying to put jeans on without falling over. The next day I exchanged the pull chain for the remote style.

But, as young adults we actually look forward to the next decade, thinking about all the exciting opportunities it will bring. We’re confident in our abilities, optimistic about the future, and feel like we have all the time in the world.

Old man looking in mirror at his younger selfAnd therein lies the problem. Once we reach a certain age there’s a sense that the really good stuff is behind us. All we have to look forward to are frequent doctor visits and senior discounts. We finally have more time for hobbies and interests, but now that precious time is running out.

The real insult is that we begin to resemble our parents, while on the inside we still see and feel like our twenty-something selves.

So, how do we drop the negativity and adopt a happiness mindset about our milestone birthdays? Here are a few suggestions:

Consider the Alternative

First, it’s important to remember that growing old is a privilege not afforded to everyone.

I think of my high school classmates that aren’t around to complain about aches and pains. One guy was killed on a motorcycle a month after graduation. Another died in his thirties. A beloved friend battled cancer, on and off, from middle school through middle age and then passed away shortly after the 35th reunion.

I’ve been extremely fortunate and when I start feeling down about aging, I remember these folks. They missed so many of the joys that only come from growing older, and there are many. Acknowledging those joys on a regular basis reminds us to count our blessings.

Learn From the Past

Understanding who we are today is the first step to learning the lessons from yesterday.

We’re all products of our environments: intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. How we respond to people and life’s many ups and downs ultimately determines what kind of journey we’ll have.

There’s a wealth of experiences, good and bad, that we accumulate over time. The longer we live, the more we gain. But, experience is only useful if we learn from it. We must look back with a critical eye and recognize areas where we fell short.

And forgiveness for past hurts is a necessary component to embracing the future. Holding on to grievances prevents us from successfully moving forward. We must forgive others, as well as ourselves.

An honest commitment to better choices increases our chance for lasting happiness.

Older IS Wiser

If we’re able to learn from the past then we’ll recognize just how accomplished we truly are.

Recognizing the tragedies and triumphs we’ve dealt with in life, and survived, is quite empowering!

We’re better able to sort through our many experiences and relationships and decide which ones to keep and which to throw away. Because not all people and situations are healthy. Some are downright toxic.

As younger people we often don’t see things for what they are; we see them as we want them to be. The very idealism so admirable in youth can be a double-edged sword. Inexperience blinds us to reality and results in decisions based more on fantasy than facts.

Reaching middle-age without a self-assessment on our past lives dooms us to repeat the same mistakes. Growth simply can’t happen. So, take an honest look.

It’s All Relative

Some folks are old at 60, while others are young at 80.

Most 80 year-olds are typical: many no longer drive or travel much beyond their church, grocery store, and the doctor’s office. The world shrinks in proportion to their aging bodies.

But, everyone ages differently, and there are exceptions to the rule. Take Yuichiro Miura for example. In 2013 Miura became the oldest person to climb Mt. Everest, earning him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. While the vast majority of octogenarians are taking the stairs a bit slower, he scaled Mt. Everest!

Another inspiration is Sister Madonna Buder, affectionately known as the Iron Nun. As a Roman Catholic religious sister and a Senior Olympian triathlete, she holds the world record for the oldest woman to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon at the age of 82. Yes, you read that right.

These two amazing people illustrate that age really is just a number. And that number doesn’t automatically define our quality of life. It largely depends on genes, diet, exercise, and attitude; three of which we do have control over.

It’s never too late to make healthy changes that positively impact our well-being. My goals don’t include mountain-climbing or world records. For me, it’s more about feeling well, strengthening muscles, improving balance, and dropping a few pounds.

female cyclist riding bicycle along mountain road in summer

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

We know the routine by now. Eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, eliminate bad habits, etc. A few small changes, done consistently, can and do make a difference.

By the time that next milestone birthday comes around, you’ll be happy to celebrate the new and improved version of yourself.

And don’t forget the cake. We deserve to indulge on occasion because life in moderation is a life well-lived. So, enjoy!



Weekend Coffee Share | Simple Pleasures

Weekend Coffee ShareIf we were having coffee I’d ask how you define “simple pleasures” in your life today.

Since my mom died almost two years ago, I started feeding the birds. It was something she always did. I also started doing it as a way to entertain the new cat that adopted me while Mom was in declining health.

We have ceiling to floor windows in the den that look out at a small side yard. There are large arbor vitae trees that provide a home to many birds. I placed several feeders, as well as a bird bath in this area.

I then put a cat tree near those windows and enjoyed many happy hours watching Miss Kitty stalk and “attack” our feathered friends from inside the glass. Even the squirrels would climb up onto the feeders and taunt our poor feline! I’m not sure who was more entertained, the cat or myself.


I lost my mom first and then my kitty. I gave the pet items to my son who has two cats of his own, but the bird feeders remained; a constant reminder of what I’d lost.

I considered getting rid of them because watching those little feathered creatures was painful at first. But, I slowly realized that they came to depend on me. Kind’ve like my Mom and Kitty did. 

Sure, my furry friends managed without my help before and could again. But, winter was coming, a season when freezing temps and snow make food and water scarce here in the northeast.

The menagerie of wildlife isn’t limited to just birds, but also includes rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, raccoons, and the occasional skunk. Knowing that my efforts improve their quality of life makes me feel really good inside.

 There was no way I could let them down and it was a win-win for all of us. So, I continue my ritual of going out every morning to fill the feeders and put out fresh water. I also offer up a variety of fruits, vegetables, and peanuts. As the weather turned cold I even invested in a heated birdbath to prevent the water from freezing.

There was a time when I good-naturedly laughed at my Mom’s concern for the outdoor critters. It was during my busiest years, working and raising a family, and I couldn’t imagine devoting any of my precious time and energy to the wildlife; there just wasn’t enough of either.

But, times have changed.

Cardinal on bird feeder in winter

With the kids grown, my parents gone, and a semi-retired lifestyle, I now have the time. And I consider my caretaking of the backyard animals one of my simple pleasures. I get a tremendous amount of joy looking out the window and seeing them feasting on the goodies I put out. 

I have lots of simple pleasures these days: the occasional bubble bath, good books, walks in the park, playing photographer, writing, lunch dates with friends, and so much more. 

And, of course, spending time with my family. We don’t even have to be doing anything special; just hanging out is best. No deadlines, no expectations, no dress code. Just being comfortable in who we are and making memories. 

Time seems to be the common denominator. We spend so much of our lives working and hurrying to the next thing that we don’t really have time for simple pleasures. It’s all we can do to manage the basics. 

I’m proud of all that I accomplished so far. It took a lot of hard work to raise the wonderful family that I have. It wasn’t easy getting the college degree as an adult. There were heartaches and tears along the way, but that’s life.

And, as with most things in life, there are trade offs. Apparently, the tradeoff for gray hair and creaky knees is time spent doing the things we want to do versus what we have to do.

At this stage of the game, I think it’s well worth it.

What about you?




How to Think About the Legacy You Leave Behind

A road through the forestWho would’ve thought that a mundane spreadsheet I’m creating for my mom would get me thinking about life, death, and what remains when we’re gone?

Certainly not me; however, that’s exactly what happened.

But, first I have to go back to 1983. After a brief, but excruciating battle with lung cancer, my father-in-law passed away at the age of 48.

I was only 22 at the time and didn’t have much experience with death. We had just returned from the hospital grief-stricken that a strapping, six-foot-five-inch man, who “hadn’t been sick a day in his life” was gone.

I remember my mother-in-law asking me to get a sweater from her bedroom. When I stepped through the doorway something caught my eye. It was his work boots. They sat next to the bedside table quietly insignificant other than their dark color, which contrasted against the blue pastels of the room.

Then the realization struck me; these boots stood for all that was left of the man we knew and loved. They represented his legacy and the core of who he was. These well-worn, beaten Wolverines spoke to all that he accomplished over the years, including a successful construction company. 

Sure, there were lots of other possessions: clothing, toiletries, sporting goods, tools, books, paperwork, memorabilia, and so much more. Years later we were still finding his belongings, tucked away in boxes and drawers.

It was then I understood how death is a great equalizer. It shows no bias or favoritism. Death doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve acquired in life. It takes our most valuable possession and leaves the rest behind. 

As a young adult, I’d always felt that death was too far away to worry about. However, that jarring discovery enlightened me. With the passing decades, I’ve watched the gap between my youth and old age slowly shrink and I’m aware of it now more than ever.


My mom has a list of phone numbers written on a lined sheet of white tablet paper. The front is covered and it continues onto the backside.

There are notations in the margins, old numbers crossed out, new ones written in, some unidentifiable smudges, and a faint coffee ring near the bottom. 

It consists of family, friends, neighbors, favorite restaurants, doctors, and the skilled nursing facility that became my dad’s last home. I’m not sure how long she’s had it, but it has definitely seen better days.

I decided to type it all into a spreadsheet, sort it alphabetically, and make it easier for her to read with a larger font. As I entered each name and number I crossed it off on the paper. 

Glancing down the list I noticed how her handwriting changed as it grew longer. The script slowly became shaky over time and reminded me of the notes my grandma used to write. 

Suddenly, that tattered paper took on new significance. I stopped crossing out the names so I could salvage something that was uniquely hers. Instead, I started putting a check mark next to them. 

The entries themselves told a warm and familiar story: Patty’s Clippers & Cuts, Dr. Jill, Plaza Pizza, D’Onofrio’s grocery delivery (Tues. & Thurs.) and Vets Fish Fry, among others. Each name and number signified a small slice from the lives of both my parents. 

Then there are the intangibles; those things that can only be felt. The love, kindness, and life lessons given from the heart. The funny nicknames and the faint sound of laughter if we close our eyes and concentrate. A special song or dish at Thanksgiving; the fragrance of a certain cologne.

It’s funny what we leave behind. There’s a wealth of physical items that are easily identifiable and some that baffle the survivors.

We don’t recognize as we accumulate our stuff that it tells a small part of a larger story. These are things that are packed up for charity, passed along as mementos, or kept for the connection they provide to our loved one.

Unsuspecting things, like a handwritten list that can never be duplicated or a voicemail that relives the past, if only for a few moments.

We leave much more behind than what’s stored in the basement or in our bank accounts. We leave memories of who we are and how we lived.

What kind of memories will you leave?