The 70-Something Blog is now The 80-Something Blog. Stay tuned in ten years for The 90-Something Blog!

Ice Age

Before retiring, I rode my bicycle to work every day except when the temperature fell below 26 degrees Fahrenheit.  (I did switch from gloves to mittens when the temperature was under 30.) I was pleased not to be polluting the air, and the ride was invigorating.

That was then.

Now, on a remarkably-warm-for-April day, I switched from my warmest jacket to my 40-degrees-or-over jacket for a walk to the library.  It seemed like all of Cambridge was out walking to celebrate spring, but I was the only one wearing a jacket.




When this was the 70-something blog, I regularly updated readers on the status of my body.   It’s not my favorite subject now, but today I do want to talk about my fingernails.

While our children were still at home, I polished my nails bright red (The Thrill of Brazil) on Sunday evenings sitting in my favorite chair in front of whatever was on Masterpiece Theater.  You would think I’d been to the beauty salon.

No more.  My nails break easily and, more troubling, they are full of ridges.  A Google search tells me that ageing can cause nail ridges.  And they usually do no harm (except to one’s ego).

However, something reassuring happened.  You may have seen the reviews of 82-year-old Glenda Jackson’s fabulous performance as King Lear that is currently wowing Broadway audiences.  A large photo of her in this role appeared in the newspaper recently.  Her hands were thrust in the air, their fingernails streaked with ridges. 


Our apartment’s floor to ceiling windows overlook the Charles River and provide us with a bird’s-eye view of the changing seasons.  A friend said it was like a screensaver. It is—but even better.

Last week a sea of yellow daffodils blossomed overnight on the banks of the river.  The rowers in their colorful racing shells are back from their winter break, slipping through the water, their oars in perfect cadence.  The cars winding along the road on the other side of the river will soon become invisible as the buds on the trees between them and us burst into leaves.  Runners, bikers and walkers have shed their winter jackets.

Yes, a chill wind still blows, but spring is here.


Coming of Age

For me, reading about aging never seems to grow old.  (And I can’t seem to resist writing about it!) In my last post, I reviewed a “how-to” book about aging (Women Rowing North). 

Coming of Age:  My Journey to the Eighties by Madeleine Kunin, is not a how-to-age book.  Nor is it about politics.  It is a former three-term governor of Vermont sharing her experience of growing old.

Now 85, Kunin is a woman who read the same feminist books I did in the sixties.  Unlike me, she acted on what she read.  She is still a role model for women seeking leadership roles and must be delighted to see so many new women leaders in our state and federal governments.

I read this book in an afternoon.  It is completely charming.  A newcomer to writing poetry, Kunin leads off each chapter with a relevant poem.  The first, “No Longer” starts like with:

No longer will we make love

                                                                       before breakfast...

The book jacket is a recent photo-portrait of Kunin. There is a wise grin on her wrinkled face.

Women Rowing North

I just finished reading Mary Pipher’s book Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.”  Pipher is a clinical psychologist and author of Reviving Ophelia, a 1994 best seller about the challenges of raising today’s teenage girls. 

Pipher illustrates her observations about aging with stories about her own experience and that of a diverse group of women, mostly from around Lincoln, Nebraska where she lives.  She acknowledges the mistakes that led to her insights, and we benefit from her experience.  She urges us to seek new sources of joy as we age and shows us where we might find them.

According to Pipher, recent census data from the United Kingdom tells us that women between the ages of 65 and 79 are the happiest people of all.  Not sure what that means for us 80-somethings. 



A Friend Turns Eighty

 “Today is my last day as a 70-something,” a friend emailed. “I thought you might have some words of wisdom to share with me.”

“Don’t do it,” I wanted to reply.

Having now been an octogenarian for a year, however, I do have a few thoughts.

*Be grateful that you are still around. Remember that many others haven’t shared your  luck.

*Accept that eighty is different. No matter how good things have been so far, they'll be less good in the coming decade.

*Accept that (1) It takes longer to do things (2) your opinion may be sought less often and (3) the person you see in the mirror is really you.

*Seek joy in new places.

*Remember that it’s all about managing expectations. To quote Aunt Grace in Mary Pipher’s book, Women Rowing North, “I get what I want… but I know what to want.”

*Finally, don’t try to recreate your old life.  That was then and this is now.


Ifs, Ands and Butts

One of the lasting gifts of the women’s movement is our freedom from, shall we say, “restrictive” undergarments.  I am old enough to remember the great relief we felt on shedding such undergarments after a day at work. 

The following scene brought it all back to me.  As we were driving on a bridge over the Charles River near Boston University (BU) on a mild spring day, I saw a group of young women running, most wearing red BU T-shirts and short-shorts appropriate for the occasion.  They caught up with us at a red light and ran in place.

I couldn’t help but notice their cute butts in their tight-fitting shorts.  I remembered my former butt and missed it.


Merrily We Roll Along

When I was still working and running lunch time errands in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, I didn’t pay attention to the older generation. Although I know that some of them made their way with the help of canes or walkers, I was too focused on what I was doing to notice.

Now I find myself wanting to cheer those old folks on, especially because I know that any day, it could be me who has trouble getting around.  And I happen to be married to a very handsome man who goes to the gym or the bank pushing his bright red Rollator. It’s a four-wheeled beauty with storage and a seat in case its owner wants to rest.  Peter locks his to the bike racks next to the two-wheelers of Harvard undergraduates and takes the last few steps to his destination with the help of his cane.

It’s a far cry from our years of biking into Harvard Square, but it gets the job done.


Then and Now

I retired from Harvard’s Kennedy School more than five years ago. When I went back to have lunch with former colleagues or to attend a program open to the public, it always felt like going home.

But while we were away in Washington, the School completed a construction project that joined all the buildings surrounding a courtyard, so that it is now possible to go from building to building without going outside, a real bonus in Cambridge winters.

The other evening Peter and I went to a lecture in a classroom I had been in hundreds of times.  But now that all the buildings are joined together, I had to ask a random student how to get there without going outside.  He was very kind, explaining in detail which elevator to take to which floor and how not to get lost once I got there. I thanked him very much.

As we walked away, I couldn’t help but think about how every student in the School used to know who I was. Now, I am just some random old lady asking for directions.  If that student could read minds, he would have known that I was thinking “Hey, I used to be SOMEBODY around here!”




The Unwinding of the Miracle

Because we have given away so many books while downsizing, I try not to buy any new ones.  When a book review tempts me, I dash to my computer and request it from the library.  I did that twice with Yip-Williams’ book, The Unwinding of the Miracle (I actually did read two reviews) but the second time, the library reminded me that I was already on the waitlist.  (So much for my short-term memory.)

It arrived while I was confined to the sofa by my cold, and Peter retrieved it for me.  I read it in two days.

Yip-Williams received a diagnosis of Stage 4 colon cancer at age thirty-seven.  A Vietnam refugee, she had arrived in California as a small child with only partial vision. Yet she became a successful lawyer, married to the “man of her dreams,” with whom she had two girls. 

The blog that turned into Yip-Williams’ beautifully written description of her four-year “journey” spares no details, and although the book starts with her warning the reader that, “If you are here, then I am not,” you are pulling for the miracle that you know won’t happen.

Julie Yip-Williams died a year ago.