The day I turned 30, the longest margarita bar in Las Vegas was closed. Not in my honor but because the ice machines had broken down.

My expectation had been that my 30th birthday would be a milestone to remember, as much as it could be once I drank my way down the longest margarita bar in Vegas. The reality was much less exciting.

Milestone birthdays are meant to mark turning points in our lives. At five, you’re off to kindergarten. At 16, you get a driver’s license. At 21, you can legally drink alcohol. You expect these milestones to be joyous occasions and generally, they are. But not always.

When I turned five, my grandparents were on their way to my birthday party when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver. They spent months recovering from their injuries.

My friend Jason turned 21 on 9/11 – THE 9/11. There was no big party.  

When my husband Jeremy turned 30, the limo we were taking to his birthday celebration hit a deer. The driver was so shaken, he wanted to turn back and go home.

Big expectations. Real disappointments.

It isn’t just us that have expectations for these milestones; the world around us expects something from us, too. By 30, you should be partnered up with someone, if not married. By 40, you have your own home. By 50, you’re firmly established in your career. By 60, you’re surrounded by grandkids and planning for a fabulous retirement. Nothing like a little pressure.

My current circle of friends contains a number of people celebrating milestone birthdays, mostly 50 and 60. But one of them recently turned 30 and was initially less than excited to celebrate. While she’s meeting her personal goals and is happy with her life as it stands right now, society was insinuating that she was falling short of where she should be at 30. She clearly isn’t and since she just started her 30th year, who knows where she’ll be at 31?

Do our lives really have such strict schedules? Should they? We all need goals to move us forward but isn’t it up to US to set them? And it’s our prerogative as to when the deadlines, the milestones, should be. The only deadline we don’t really have a say in is our own death.

I turned 56 this past weekend. I have a husband, a dog, a mortgage, a job that doesn’t always suck, and a small but amazing circle of friends. Is my life what I thought it would be by this age? No. But then, I’m not done living it yet, am I?

Are you hitting your personal milestones as you get older? If not, how do you feel about that?

I was seven in 1973 when I got Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” for Christmas. It was the Golden Classics Library edition, hardcover, with the title embossed in gold on the spine. Santa didn’t skimp on reading material that year. I also got “Heidi’s Children” and my older sister scored “Little Women” and “Tales of Edgar Allan Poe.” We were, and still are, eclectic readers.

I grew up thinking a book was one of the most valuable things you could own. They came from everywhere: as gifts, from bookstores, rummage sales, library surplus, friend exchanges. We were rich indeed, with stacks and shelves of books everywhere. In our eagerness to dive into a new book, we didn’t really pay attention to how many we actually had – until it was time to do something with them.

We’ve started cleaning out my Dad’s house in anticipation of moving him to the city where I live, and at first, sifting through all of those books was nostalgic.

“Oh, I LOVED this book!” “I remember exactly how this one ended.” “I always wondered whatever happened to that book.”

Then the piles got taller and the boxes heavier, and the moment wasn’t so magical any more.

I never intended to be that person who had too many books. In fact, in recent years, my personal book collection has actually gotten smaller, due in part to a Kindle I swore I’d never use.

“I’m a purist!” I declared, when friends gushed about their e-readers. “The feel of the paper, the turned back corners marking my spot, the cracks in the binding of a well-read tome. THAT’S what book reading is all about!”

Then my friend, Nancy, gave me her old Kindle so I had something to read when I was in the hospital for my stem cell transplant. And it turned out to be a lot easier to throw that in my pack than a stack of paperbacks.

I’ve weaned down my own book collection by distributing them to reading friends, donating to book drives, adding to the collections of little free libraries on street corners. Some that couldn’t be salvaged went into the garbage. I never thought I’d throw away a book; in the old days, I would have just slapped on some duct tape and kept reading.

We’ve been less successful disposing of the years of reading material at my Dad’s house. The thrift stores where he lives have so many books, they won’t accept boxes full, the book drives seem few and far between, and the little free libraries I’ve found there are overflowing.

So where are they supposed to go? For now, each time I visit him, a few more make it home with me.

One of them was “Treasure Island” which I read again, just for the hell of it. It’s still a great book although as I read it as an adult, I suspected I probably didn’t understand very much of it as a 7-year-old. Good thing it had those lurid 1970’s illustrations so I could follow the story. Don’t get those in the Kindle version, boys and girls.

Do you have a plethora of books you’re trying to get rid of? What are you doing with them?

I couldn’t prance if you were throwing lit matches at my feet and I was wearing firecracker shoes. But I can full-on gallop at the end of a 16-hour workday if there’s a fire that needs putting out.

I come from a long line of Work Horses, with Show Pony flair.

A former boss once told me that in this world, there are Show Ponies and Work Horses. Show Ponies, he explained, preen and prance and put on a show but that’s all they’re good for. If you want something done, and done right, you give it to a Work Horse. Because no matter how heavy the load or steep the hill, a Work Horse finds a way.

“You, ma’am,” he said, “are a Work Horse.”

When I tell that story, and I’ve told it many times, the split is about 50-50 on whether that’s a compliment or an insult. Your interpretation probably depends on which side of the stable your stall is on.

I’ve always taken it as a compliment. That particular boss, while not liked by everyone, trusted me to get things done without micromanaging me because he knew I could do it. He could be blunt, yes, but also appreciative. Even though I hadn’t worked for him for several years by the time he was dying of cancer, he sent me an email thanking me for always being someone he could rely on and respect. I still have it.

Truthfully, I have enough Show Pony in me to trot out and put on the occasional show when called upon to do so.  But carrying the load as a Work Horse has served me better both in and out of the workplace. It’s taught me how to assess a situation, consider all solutions, and not be afraid to lean in and lead if I need to.

This year so far has been a challenging one for me, for a variety of reasons, personal and professional. When I feel like the load is getting too heavy, I think about what my old boss said. And I know I’ll figure things out. Because I am a Work Horse, damn it, and a Work Horse finds a way.

Are you a Show Pony, a Work Horse, or a bit of both?

Sometimes you see things in the predawn hours that you don’t see in the daylight. A man helping himself to his neighbor’s newspaper. A pair of drunks dancing in the glow of a streetlight. A head lying in the gutter. I wrote the original draft of this story some years ago after an early morning walk with my dog. With Halloween fast approaching, here’s a quirky little tale from my side of town.


She was sprawled on her back under an old tree, wide eyes staring up through the tangled branches at the gleaming moon. A hatch of new crickets sprang over the chubby arms and legs, and the diaper and tiny t-shirt were damp with dew. She didn’t live here. Her home was the other house on the corner, the daycare across the alley.

A pair of dogs caught her scent and nosed their way over. The big one just looked but the small one raised a leg and that’s when their owner hissed at them and shook their leashes. They dropped to the ground, whining.

The woman knelt beside the body and gently brushed her hand across the little face. Shaking her head, she whispered, “Should I put you back in your yard where they can find you?”

A light clicked on in an upstairs window and the woman froze, hand hovering. When it winked out a moment later, she withdrew, wiping her moist palms on her pants.

Someone will find you, the woman reasoned. Someone with a stiffer conscience than me.

She snapped the leashes and the dogs moved on, the walker following without looking back.

In the cool grass, the baby blinked and sighed, relieved to have been left where she lay. It had taken her hours to crawl that far, her dimpled rubber arms inching her over the lawn and across the gravel. Her bowed legs were useless; she wasn’t meant to walk or crawl. Just to be held, fed, and burped.

But she wanted more. And escape was the only way to get it. No more snot in her polyester curls, teeth marks on her toes and fingers, tug-of-wars that left one arm slightly longer than the other, or flights across the yard from boys learning to throw. Just peace and quiet and freedom. The edges of the dark sky were fading. It was time to move. She’d make for the corner of the garage, just a few more feet, before it got light. There she’d hide in the tall grass until the next night, when Betsy could travel again.