50 Things I've Learned in 50 Years

Winter Spiced Molten Chocolate Cakes

A few days ago I turned 50 years old, a good point in life for a little self-reflection. It occurs to me that getting on in my life has been aided by far more stuff than this, but these are the narrowed-down essentials that make me smile, that I work on, believe in, or that have somehow aided in my betterment so far. This is by no means an exhaustive list, is in no particular order, and if the next 50 years are anything like the first, this list will certainly evolve.

  1. Remember the person you were when you were five years old. That is the essential, true person you were before you became convinced that you should be someone else. Go back, find her and be her.
  2. Bad times do not last forever, and human resilience is amazing. Trust your resilience.
  3. Give yourself feast days. Eat nutrient-dense, low calorie foods in moderation six days a week, and live a little on day seven. It makes life worth living and you can still face yourself in the mirror.
  4. Feel good and good looks will follow. Place your effort on being healthy in mind and spirit first, and you’ll always be a knockout. When you feel your "Pow-ey Wow-ey" factor sinking, it's time to take a look at your spiritual, mental, physical and social health.
  5. Never be afraid to make a midstream adjustment. Sometimes one is simply called for.
  6. It is better be alone and lonely than to be with someone and lonely.
  7. Listen to your Wise Self. Her quiet, clear voice will tell you everything you need to know. Sometimes life can't be worked out with a pro/con list, and that Wise Self voice comes in pretty handy.
  8. Natural fibers. Cotton, bamboo, alpaca, wool, cashmere, silk and linen. Spend the money.
  9. Get outdoors. Fresh air does you good, even in inclement weather.
  10. Moisturize the eye and neck areas daily beginning no later than the age of 25. You won’t be sorry.
  11. Most rules are generally only flexible guidelines. Rely more on your common sense than the rules.
  12. Wear your good jewelry. Every day. With jeans, or your bathrobe. There simply are not enough dress-up occasions to get your full enjoyment from the special treasures lying in your jewelry box.
  13. Do things that are a little scary once in a while. Facing them shows you what you’re made of and grows you bigger than you thought you’d become.
  14. Martyrdom is so completely unattractive.
  15. The best weight maintenance / weight loss / healthy eating program is to eat, for the most part, food you cook yourself. Studies show this is true across every culture and demographic.
  16. Bring only things into your home that you find useful and or beautiful. That one bit of self-editing is all you need to have an attractive, uncluttered and functional space.
  17. Promise yourself good things and then seek them. Imagine the life you want, then go ahead and live it.
  18. Have one simple show-stopping chocolate dessert in your recipe repertoire that you can count on. See below for mine.
  19. Each person is born with wondrous qualities that would be missing without his/her presence in the world. Approach everyone (including yourself) that way, and you’re likely to get along.
  20. Expect some turbulence every now and then. Hang on loosely and smile. With enough practice you may even be able to throw your arms up in the air and say, “Whee!”
  21. If you think your kids are cool when they’re young, just wait until they are adults. Wow.
  22. Don’t give yourself all away. Make time to read, walk, meditate, knit, swim, hike or whatever it is that feeds your soul. You’ll have more and better stuff for everyone else in the end.
  23. Offering direct and clear communication is one kind thing you can do for others around you. They cannot know what you are thinking unless you tell them.
  24. A relationship reflects the sum of its parts. The work you continue to do on yourself can only make your relationship(s) better.
  25. Giving compliments costs you nothing but contributes well to the world. You never know the positive effects your sweet words may have, so dish them out sincerely and generously.
  26. Fall in love with a person’s essence, then when his or her ideas, thoughts and behavior change you can easily accept those changes as growth rather than an upset to your paradigm.
  27. Don’t sequester yourself from opposing ideas. Open-mindedly listen to “the other” news station once in a while; read “that guy’s” book. You may find your views shifting, but if not, it’s so wonderful to say, “While I may not agree, I've considered your point of view,” and mean it.
  28. Tell people that you love them. Whichever one of you outlives the other will never regret having said/heard the words.
  29. Contrary to what we were told in the ‘70’s, love means occasionally having to say you’re sorry. When you mess up, say so and apologize. It’s the fastest way, if one exists, to reconciliation.
  30. Buy yourself flowers on payday. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you.
  31. Pay off your credit card monthly.
  32. Enjoy the process at least as much as the outcome.
  33. Invest in a good pillow.
  34. Set the table nicely, even if it’s dinner for one.
  35. Get yourself your own toolkit and be handy with it.
  36. The Golden Rule still works and always has.
  37. Start a new project only when you’ve completed the old one.
  38. When doing a task, ask yourself if you can take it any further before ending it. Don’t leave the last bits undone, for yourself, or the next guy.
  39. Hold doors for people. Every little kind gesture makes the world better.
  40. Servicing your car routinely pays off.
  41. Flossing regularly and having a dental checkup every six months pays off.
  42. A very good friend is worth two psychiatrists.
  43. A very good friend listens, but is not afraid to be honest with you when you’re off-base.
  44. Yoga is an exercise that can be done until your last day on earth, no matter your condition. It’s never too late to start.
  45. Limit your daily beverage consumption to water, tea and the like, and your health will improve without making any other changes. Ask yourself how many healthy, fit people you know who drink diet sodas or lattes every day.
  46. Singing off-tune is better than not sing at all. Dancing clumsily is better than not dancing at all.
  47. Most talent is a passionate interest dressed up in lots of hard work and practice.
  48. Mental illness is as real as heart disease or asthma. The stigma will be eliminated when we can agree on this fact.
  49. Exploit every minute of your life as though they are numbered. They are.
  50. I’ll always have a lot to learn.
Fourteen Ounces of Chopped 72% Dark Belgian Chocolate

This is my adaptation of a recipe from Epicurious that I first made for a dinner party in January of 2004, and have made many times since. It is easy to put together, can be made even days ahead for convenience, can be both rustic and elegant, and is versatile in your choice of how to spice or flavor it and with the accompanying ice cream. It can be served inverted onto a serving plate, as shown here, but perhaps looks a little less rustic when served in their ramekins. One last note: I regularly get 10 servings in my ramekins, and have often stretched it to serve 12. I've held these in the fridge for up to two weeks, baking them off as needed.

Winter Spiced Molten Chocolate Cakes
14 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 heaping teaspoon ground coriander
1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
6 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup AP flour

Additional powdered sugar and cocoa powder for garnish

Generously butter ten 3/4 cup souffle dishes or ramekins. Stir chocolate, butter and all spices in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth, stirring frequently. Cool slightly.

Whisk eggs, egg yolks and vanilla in a large mixing bowl to blend. Whisk in 3 cups powdered sugar, then chocolate mixture, then flour. Dividing the batter equally, fill the buttered dishes to to the top. (Can be made several days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Preheat oven to 425˚. Bake cakes until batter has risen above dish, top edges are dark brown, and centers are still soft and runny, about 15 minutes, or 18 minutes for refrigerated batter. Run small knife around cakes to loosen. Allow cakes to rest in dished 5 minutes. Using hot pad and holding dish very firmly, place serving plate gently atop one cake at a time and invert onto plate. Dust with powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Serve with ice cream of your choice.


    1. Love your list. It is a great reminder of where to keep our focus. The dessert looks yummy and I love the centerpiece. :) Happy Birthday!

    2. A hearty happy birthday to you! This is a fantastic list - every single thing is something to remember. I better get some eye cream!

    3. Congratulations on your amazing 50th. Quite an accomplished list. You are so kind to share this with us and there are some definite reminders for us to take hold and maybe even use one or two for a new year resolution.

      Good luck and best wishes for the New Year,

    4. Very interesting Recipe...Spiced Chocolate...really changes the flavor....Great thought! Thanks for sharing

    5. Happy Birthday!!! Those are some amazing words of advice - thank you for sharing!

      Have a healthy and a very happy new year!

    6. Happy 50! I loved your 50 things and couldn't agree more. #8 makes me think you are a knitter.

    7. Happy birthday! I loved this post! I think I need to bookmark it more for your list than for the recipe (not a chocolate lover here!) so that I can come back and reflect at length on each point.

    8. Happy Birthday! I darn near cried reading your list. I needed reminding of some of those things. So true. Such a great reflection of life as it applies to all of us. Thank you so much for sharing.

    9. That is a lot of learning and a great start. Happy Birthday.

      Happy New Year!


    10. Happy Birthday Pam! Great list with helpful, practical and sound advise. Happy New Year and may it be filled with much happiness!!!!

    11. Happy happy birthday!!! :D What a great and thoughtful list you have compiled, each point seemed truer and more insightful than the last. And the molten cakes? To die for. <3

    12. Happy birthday and thank you so much for sharing what you have learned with us. I really like the one about wearing your best Jewelery every day. It is so true!

    13. Happy Birthday. That is a wonderful list. I'm going to print it out and post it somewhere I can see it every day.

    14. Happy, happy birthday...I'm a 1960 girl, too...but I could never top your list...wonderful thoughts to ponder!

    15. happy Birthday sweet friend! I hope it's been wonderful. I loved your list. Lots of wisdom there and my favorite one is "saying your sorry". It works wonders in relationships. Love your outlook on life. Hugs!!!

    16. Great list! Thank you for sharing your wisdom, and the spiced chocolate cake recipe with us!

    17. aah, so many of your list made me smile, but #14 was priceless. Happy belated birthday, and a joyous new year! Theresa

    18. Happy birthday! Thank you for sharing your list. There's a lot of food for thought there.

      Have a Happy New Year and Great 2011 with your Baby!

    19. lovely post and cake
      happy new year to you and family

    20. Happy birthday - such a lovely posting. Although I didn't start moisturizing until affter 50! (Does sunscreen count?) I love the idea of a wondrous quality in all - oh yes. Happy New Year -may 2011 bring you all good things.

    21. One great list! Provocative, thoughtful, sensible. Great qualities at any age. Great reminders for all. And the chocolate! Yes!

      Happy birthday!
      And happy New Year!

    22. the first (and only) cake I ever learned how to make from scratch! this recipe is a favorite of ours. our edits include subbing cayenne pepper for the white pepper and adding a little bit of nutmeg and ginger powder.

      a very happy birthday to you! can't wait to see you soon.

    23. Happy birthday and happy new year!
      Love your list, especially #34.
      Best wishes for a delicious 2011!

    24. I admire the wisdom. i hit 50 last year and I am so conscious of what I don't know.

    25. Very wise for only 50! I hope you had a great birthday.

    26. Spoken like a very wise woman! The world would be a better place if we all followed your list. Happy 50th and Happy New Year!

    27. A post-script to my earlier comment -- I've been wearing my diamond earrings mucking the horse stalls, thanks to your suggestion!

    28. Aahhh, you all bless me so much. Thanks for the favorable response. It's true, yes, that most of what we know we learn before leaving kindergarten? And the rest? From the School of Hard Knocks!!!

      Janis, yes, I knit. My picture of heaven looks something like a yarn shop!

      Lizzy, happiest of happy 50 to you as well. Did you have the cool white go-go boots when you were five? And disco fever when you were 17???

      Rosemary, you made my day! You must be the most beautiful stall-cleaner in the world, and good for you!

      I'd love to hear all the nuggets of wisdom that all of you have acquired as well, so please do share.

      My very best to all,

    29. A little belated, but happy birthday! I am so sorry I never replied to your blog comment a couple months ago; I admit, I was still getting going at that point and was disorganized. :)
      I'm always excited to meet other bloggers in the area, so I will definitely keep following your blog. (It's been in my Reader since your comment!)
      Thanks for the advice x50, it was a great list!

    30. That's a wonderful, honest, realistic list of "essentials" for a life of 50 years. I, too, am looking at 50 in about a month (on Feb. 7th), and I find myself pondering the essence of my life in the same way lately. Though I admit that 50 as a number doesn't much appeal to me, I sure wouldn't trade the benefits of all my experience for my cuter, skinnier, 25-year old self. (She may have been cute, but she didn't know who she was or what she wanted!) So pleased to have stumbled upon your blog. Looking forward to many more visits here.


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