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Annus Horribilis: How to live like a Queen after loss

May 14, 2021 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

Today’s blog is fictional with a fairy tale twist. It’s about a real-life princess who becomes a queen and marries a prince, who dies before she does. How does a queen deal with spousal loss after a 73-year union? For help, she calls in the authors of Suddenly Single after 50 (us) for advice. Of course, we obliged. 

London—Once upon a time, a lovely 21-year-old Princess Elizabeth II met a dashing young royal, Philip Mountbatten, who subsequently became a prince. The two were married for 73 years. 

 

Their union was a far cry from a fairy tale, although they remained married. None of this Bill and Melinda Gates splittsville for them. Elizabeth became a queen and the prince became her closest confident. He died earlier this year, which overall has been a frightful one for the queen. In addition to the pandemic and losing Philip, her grandson, Harry, relinquished ties to the throne having taken up a new life in the U.S. with his American wife, a divorcee no less, and the two went on TV to air their dirty linen in public. Her third and reportedly favorite child, Andrew, was rumored to have had close ties to sex trafficker the late Jeffrey Epstein. However, as always, the queen remained as composed about these vicissitudes as the sphinx.

Which brings us to today, a particularly frustrating one for her majesty, who may have too much time on her hands. Sure, she has her day job dealing with such delicate matters as what’s happening politically in her country, how to deal “with that wimp” Boris Johnson and whom to appoint as her heir. At the same time, she zooms with other royals who are bored to tears and then has to tackle such mundane tasks as whether to change lipstick colors, which bathroom tissues and soap she prefers and will bear the royal seal and how to shed a few pounds to stay healthy. Not Third-World problems as many like to say but her problems. 

Case in point. Her lady-in-waiting had ordered unpitted dates. Who has the patience to remove pits from so many dates? Well, someone on staff certainly would when her majesty commanded him to do so. Unfortunately, the position didn’t pay the minimum wage of 11 pounds per hour with no bonus or tips, so he balked and walked shouting, “This job is the pits.” She didn’t see the humor when the story got back to her. 

In the meantime, we were fortunate to get the inside track on a “day in the life of her majesty.” It happened serendipitously. One day the two of us received an email summoning us to the castle. Which castle you ask? Windsor, one of the 26 residences the Queen and her family own. Why us? Princess Anne, her daughter who also lost her spouse to divorce as Barbara had, knew help was needed. Margaret had lost her spouse of 42 years to cancer. After hearing us on a podcast talking about our book, Suddenly Single after 50, our weekly blog, www.lifelessonsat50plus.com, and our next book out in August, Not Dead Yet: Rebooting your life after 50, Anne suggested that her mum do a royal reach out. 

Suddenly, we were whisked off in a private jet for COVID-19 safety reasons, chauffeured in one of those elegant magenta Bentleys and ushered into the main drawing room, the one you might have seen on an episode of “The Crown.” Yes, it’s huge and could use some modern tweaks. 

Before crossing the pond, we practiced bowing—Barbara with her trainer and Margaret in her Pilates class. We worked hard on not interrupting each other as we always do, speaking loud enough so she could hear us and understand our American accents. We had printed out some concrete realistic advice; everybody likes a handout. 

For those who know us well, don’t worry about our dress. We were appropriate, Barbara stepped out of her leggings and T-shirts and Margaret out of her old worn jeans and work shirts. We wore dresses, pearls, heels and hats and brought along a few autographed copies of several of our books, including our first on family business, which addressed not bringing in offspring until they worked elsewhere. She obviously didn’t follow that rule.    

After initial introductions, a proper curtesy and an offer of tea and mixed berry scones, the conversation veered in the direction of food. Her majesty revealed that she’d put on a few pounds having turned to emotional eating and cooking to dull the pain. Why not, when your pantry is the size of a Whole Foods supermarket? Then, she confided a plan to enter the Great British Bake-Off because she was becoming quite a proficient. Since Philip’s death, she has been studying recipes online from favorite blogs, including Ina’s, in cookbooks and in handwritten recipes going back centuries. 

At that point, she revealed that she misses having a guy, leaned forward and talking in a whisper asked, “Do you think I should put my profile with photo sans crown on Silver Singles? Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is much younger, still married and now feels hip with his long hair, has been sniffing at my heels and following me around like one of my corgis. I think I could find someone more age appropriate,” she said. We suggested that she dip her toe gingerly into the internet dating pool. Barbara, once the internet dating maven, offered to help write her profile and post great photos. 

We also had to sign a confidentially agreement promising not to spill the beans about our conversation until she gave the nod. And when she did give us permission to share with others, which we are doing now, she felt so much better knowing that others might benefit. What a kind, generous heart she has, we found. 

Here are the tips we offered. And the proof is not in the sticky toffee pudding (recipe below), which came out fabulously, but in her happy countenance, big smiles and return to sunnier clothing, rouge and lipstick colors. 

Find a hobby. Baking is a great start and one she seems to relish. It gets her off her throne, she gets her hands dirty, makes a mess which often feels good and masters a new skill. She hadn’t cooked since she was a little girl in war-torn England. Also, with all those great grandchildren, she could always take up knitting sweaters or socks, volunteer to teach elocution, master accessorizing outfits with her best jewelry and purses, volunteer or write a tell-all (and share it first in an interview with Oprah!) She told us she wishes she were funnier, so we suggested an Improv class. 

Declutter so you don’t leave it to the kids to do. She has a mass of clutter to clean up and get rid of—all of Philip’s clothing, medals, swords, cars and carriage paraphernalia spread among multiple castles. She also has her own stuff to organize, given her age at 95. So, we told her like we told ourselves, break it down. Instead of thinking of one drawer at a time, we told her to think of one castle or palace at a time instead. Donate, toss, pass on to the kids. And ask for help. In her case, Andrew, who has been thrown off the job for his indiscretions, certainly has time to kill.   

Downsize. Where does she really want to live? Maybe hang on to two or three residences. She could also shed some homes by asking the kids to move in with her or she could move in with them. Put the rest on the market since prices for most properties with outdoor space and pool and tennis courts are sky high. 

Check legal documents. We asked if she had updated her will, had a healthcare proxy, living will and DNR order? Also, has she covered who gets what, the dogs, the silver, the jewels, the clothing, the fur-trimmed trains? Does she have to divide all equally among the kids and grandkids? 

Shed friends. Sadly, this one is easy since she has few left at her age except those who are looking to use her to get a good seat at Royal Astor or be invited to Buckingham or Windsor castles for tea. However, we did share how she could make some good new friends. “You have to extend yourself,” Margaret explained. “Talk to people, get out, walk about, ask how their families are, what they do and really seem interested, not faking it.” She shook her head “yes” but also had a very worried expression. We said she could check in any time with us for good ice-breaker points to make. 

Rebuild her social life with new people. While few ever invited her for dinner with her hubby, even fewer now do. So, we suggested that she entertain in one of the palaces she decides to keep. Make it simple, we reminded her. She doesn’t need to use the good stuff such as gold-trimmed plates with royal crest, sterling silver cutlery or the Waterford crystal. It would be a comedown, but today high-quality paper plates even in fancy polite society are acceptable. “People just want to mingle and to laugh,” Margaret said, adding, “Do you know how to laugh and have fun? To have fun, you have to take risks—maybe join a chair yoga group or become a singer in a band,” Margaret continued. Philip made her laugh, she said and added, “I secretly wish that Jill Biden, Kamala Harris or Michelle Obama could be my good friends even if they’re smarter. “But,” she reminded us with a twinkle in her eyes, “I’m richer.” So competitive, we thought, that will never work. 

Get healthier. Exercise, eat better—grilled fish, chicken and vegetables as well as salad and fresh fruit, make those doctor appointments you’ve put off for years. Some of those English desserts and beverages with clotted cream are fattening and can boost cholesterol. Perhaps in finetuning recipes, come up with some vegan versions of trifle or prime rib and Yorkshire pudding.   

Get rid of the stodgy purse you take everywhere. Clinging to a purse, we told her, makes her seem older. Sure, the purse is handy for holding a mirror, lipstick, mints, reading glasses and Kleenex. But who needs a purse when dining at home? However, she explained, it’s important to discretely signal certain commands to her staff. For example, if she wishes to be whisked away, she’ll place the purse on the table at dinner. Now that people know her purse ploy, we pointed out, perhaps it’s time to chuck the purse and just get up and leave. 

Go back to school or take private online classes in subjects she was dying to study. Think literature, math, science and history, we suggested. We know that as a queen-in-training, she had been taught by private tutors with a focus on British law and history. She also learned to ride horses and was privately instructed in religion by the Archbishop of Canterbury. And if she’s going to befriend Dr. Biden, Kamala Harris or Michelle Obama and hold intelligent conversations, she needs to bone up on certain core-curriculum topics.  

Tick off what’s on her bucket list and then live it up. The Queen has never worn jeans and is dying to. Margaret told her exactly what kind to buy and where to find them. The Queen has never opened her own bottle of wine, gone on a roller coaster, walked into a grocery store, a Walmart or Target, bought costume jewelry, attended a rock concert, made a bed, laid out her own clothes (she’s a 95-year-old woman who still has someone lay out her underwear), washed her own hair, cleaned a bathroom, loaded the dishwasher or vacuumed (it’s aerobic and a great way to blow off steam). These are simple tasks she could master, we shared. She also has never sent a Tweet to boost her followers or traveled and stayed in an Airbnb, VRBO or motel. 

Pass on the FB (family business) now. We brought along a copy of first book, Corporate Bloodlines: The Future of the Family Firm, and read to her passages about how too many owners and founders stay too long thinking the business can’t survive without them at the helm. We shared about the 7 Santini Moving Business. which had 70 family members, declining revenue and no profit. It eventually shut the doors. “You don’t want that to happen to you, do you?” Barbara asked. She looked appalled that Barbara would suggest such a thing. 

Make sure to leave a good legacy. As a figure of her time and our history, she needs to leave this world with the proper image--a queen of elegance, class, generosity, courage, joie de vivre and composure, we gently explained. Leave money to her favorite causes. Her values and qualities will be passed down to the next royal generations along with her stuff. And perhaps before she utters her last breath and is laid to rest at Westminster Abby, she can finally voice a public opinion about something…ANYTHING. 

When we were ready to leave, Lizzie, as she suggested we call her, seemed energized, excited and appreciative. We think we gave her a lot of food for thought for the time ahead. For you, dear readers, we are delighted to share real food, a favorite recipe for toffee pudding.


Sticky Toffee Pudding Recipe

By David Guas, Food and Wine

November 2002

Toffee Sauce

2 ½ cups heavy cream

1 stick unsalted butter (four ounces)

½ cup light corn syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

Cake

6 ounces pitted dates (those dates again—about 7 dates preferably Medjool)

3/4th cup water

3/4th cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4th teaspoon baking soda

1 pinch salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)

3/4ths cup packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream (for serving)

Directions

In a  medium saucepan, combine 1 1/4 cups of the cream with the butter, corn syrup and sugar; bring to a boil. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until a deep amber caramel forms, about 40 minutes. Carefully whisk in the remaining 1 1/4 cups of cream. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a bowl.

In a small saucepan, simmer the dates in the water over moderately low heat until the water is nearly absorbed, and the dates are soft, about 15 minutes. Transfer the dates and any liquid to a food processor and puree until very smooth.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly butter six 1/2-cup ramekins. In a small bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter with the brown sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla, then beat in the date puree. At low speed, beat in the dry ingredients. Spoon the batter into the ramekins and smooth the tops. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean; let cool slightly.

Using a small, serrated knife, trim the tops of the cakes level with the rims of the ramekins. Unmold the cakes and invert them onto a wire rack. Slice each cake in half horizontally. Wipe out the ramekins and spoon 1 tablespoon of the toffee sauce into each. Return the bottom layers of the cakes to the ramekins, cut side up. Spoon another tablespoon of the toffee sauce into the ramekins and top with the remaining cake layers. Spoon another tablespoon of the toffee sauce over the cakes and spread evenly. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the toffee is bubbling around the edges.

Let the puddings cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin-bladed knife around the insides of the ramekins; invert each pudding onto a dessert plate. Rewarm the remaining toffee sauce and spoon some around the puddings. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.



2 comments

  • Lauren

    May 14, 2021

    Loved this! So clever!

  • Susan Berger

    May 14, 2021

    Fabulous!!!


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