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September 2008

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

"…One is silver and the other gold." So go the words of an old song we sang last night with Gordon and Christa and Ted and Emilie, who have been our friends for over forty years. Lingering over dinner at Gordon and Christa's New Hampshire lakefront home on a stormy September night, we talked of politics, the financial crisis, our children, ourselves.

Away from the obligations of our daily lives and full of good food and wine, we suddenly started singing songs of our youth—"Your Hit Parade" songs, show tunes, camp songs. The others' voices were strong enough that I could sing out, off key as usual, and no one minded.

We sang "Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, men have loved you…" We sang "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" and "Good Night Irene." We sang "Why Don't You Believe Me?" and our favorites from "Oklahoma" and "My Fair Lady". We sang "White Coral Bells" and other camp songs.

We should celebrate the past and sing with our friends more often. New friends are wonderful, but old friends are gold.


Years ago, I told my boss that I knew him so well that he couldn't possibly have any secrets from me. "If that were true," he replied, "I'd have to kill myself." Now he is 80, still working, still skiing. On the rare occasions when we have lunch, I kid him about that statement.

We all have our demons, and we all have secrets, some of which we don't even share with our most-loved-ones. But having someone to tell is not only good for your health, it actually makes you healthier, especially as you age. At least that's what folks who study aging say.

All that brings me to my friend Maria. Maria and I met professionally; we often ended up at the same meetings, and once we even traveled to London together for our work. For the past ten years, our professional paths have crossed less frequently. When I get to DC or when she comes to Boston, we meet for coffee or lunch, which is what we did earlier this month.

Everyone should have a Maria. She and I instantly "connect," even if we haven't talked for months. Over the years, we have supported one another at traumatic times. Maria has a way of cutting to the core of an issue and helping me with strategies I never considered. She is a beautiful woman with a soft voice that carries a powerful message.

I can share with Maria more than with others I know. But I don't tell her all my secrets. Because then I'd have to kill myself.

Red Lipstick

You'd have to have been in outer space to have missed the kerfluffle over pigs and lipstick last week. Turns out "Put lipstick on a pig—it's still a pig," was used by both presidential candidates during the campaign. Anyhow, it got me to thinking about me and lipstick, specifically me, and red lipstick.

Lipstick shades come and go, but whenever I don't wear red, friends either ask me if I'm not feeling well or tell me I looked washed out. The trendy pale pink or bronze-tone glosses just don't work for me, no matter how many I try.

This was confirmed to me one day when the salesperson at an Origins cosmetic counter told my friends, "Only she can get away with that bright red lipstick."

Unfortunately, I hate red lipstick. I can't drink from a mug without leaving a huge red lip-shaped tattoo on the rim. Or now that I have little vertical lines (read wrinkles) above my upper lip, red lipstick bleeds into each of them despite various preventive efforts I've made.

At a breakfast I attended last week. I sat at a table with a bunch of students I didn't know and introduced myself. "Oh, we know who you are" said a beautiful Jamaican woman, "from when you spoke to our class during Orientation. I would never forget your beautiful red lipstick."

I guess red lipstick is me, like it or not.

Little/Big, Big/Little

When I was in seventh grade, we had to line up by height in gym class. (We also had to wear disgusting one-piece blue gym suits with our names embroidered on the pockets, but that's another story.) My classmate June Bennett was next to me in line. I don't remember exactly how many people were taller than we were then, but when high school was over, I was 5' 10" and she was still 5' 2". But I had a couple of uncles over six feet, and she probably didn't.

So I was tall, and therefore I thought of myself as big. Back then guys didn't date girls taller than they were, so my social life was a bit limited. (Being tall might not have been the only reason, but that's another story too.) And oddly enough, my three best friends were really short, so I spent a lot of time bending over to hear them.

In college, I still felt big, and I remember that I wore a size 12. I wear a size 6 now. Of course, when I was in college, size zero did not exist, and it does now, the clothing industry having recognized that women like to think of themselves as small. However, enough people have told me that I have a small frame that I am beginning to believe it. At age 70, when I don't care a bit about being tall, I'm down to 5' 9½ and shrinking.

When I was little, I was big; now that I'm big, I am little. Who knew?

Girl Talk

An article I read in the paper the other day got me thinking about women friends, and where they are in my life. The article "Girl Talk Has Its Limits," was about how teenage girls talk endlessly with their friends. It seems that studies have shown that too much talking as teenagers, especially revisiting the same problems over and over again, can contribute to "emotional difficulties."

But what about too little girl talk?

Most of my social life is with couples (because I am a part of a couple) and that's fine. My female co-workers, many of whom I consider friends, pretty much talk about work. Of the female friends I have known for years, I probably talk to only a handful more than once a month.

So, I decided I needed to bring girl talk back into my life, and invited my next door neighbor to come for tea without her husband. We spent over an hour together today, saying all the things we would never say if our spouses were with us. A lot of it was about our children, not what they are doing, but how we feel about what they are doing. Some was about being our age and the pluses and minuses of our "golden years". And of course we talked about our spouses. We had a great conversation.

It was strictly girl talk.


This morning as I left for work, my husband Peter told me that I looked beautiful. He does that about every six weeks. You see, I get my hair cut about that often. Most of the time he doesn't notice that I look different, but if I tell him in advance, he'll usually say something nice when I get home. Lately, however, he says it before I get the haircut just in case he might forget to do it later.

But if I forget to tell him…

Take the last time, for example. Six weeks ago, after almost 20 years of going to Kelly for my haircuts, I tried someone new because she was on vacation. I went on my lunch hour unexpectedly because I was desperate and able to get an appointment with someone a friend recommended. When I returned to the office, my colleagues noticed immediately that my hair looked quite different. They liked it, as did I.

When I got home that evening, I asked Peter if he noticed anything different about me. His eyes gazed up and down my body, and he said "no." I was miffed. I told him that all my work friends noticed immediately, my gentle way of saying "I can't believe you can't see the difference."

So this morning I told him I was getting a hair cut today.

And true to form, as I left for work, he told me I looked beautiful.

From Fussy Eater to Philanthropist

Our son Jeremy was a fussy eater as a child. We had a small mucky-green skillet in which we had to fry up a hamburger for him every night. Now that he's grown, he eats just about everything in sight. He has never met a piece of red meat that he didn't like, but can down chicken nuggets with the best of them. He recently competed with his boss to see who could gain more weight from eating churrasco,and snuck a scale into a restaurant to battle it out. They weighed themselves before and after. Jeremy gained six pounds.

But for the month of September, 2008 Jeremy is a vegetarian. Here's why. In 2003, Jeremy's friend Yutaka started Excel Academy, a tuition-free, public charter school, serving underperforming middle school students in East Boston and Chelsea, Massachusetts. Its eighth graders were ranked third out of 280 Massachusetts school districts this year. It was named Charter School of the Year in 2007 by the Center for Education Reform. Like all nonprofits, it relies on contributions to supplement its meager budget.

This month, (note: September only has 30 days) Jeremy has a bet with anyone who pledges money to Excel. It works like this. People mail checks, made out to Excel Academy, to him. If he eats a morsel of meat in September, the checks will be returned. His meatless September hasn't been easy so far, but he has $3,300 in pledges. If you want to learn more, go to

If this sounds like a shameless plug for Excel and Jeremy, it's because it is.


On the Sunday before last, I read a glowing review of Anne Roiphe's latest book, Epilogue: A Memoir. The book is about Roiphe's struggle to come to terms with the sudden death of her husband after 39 years of marriage.

That evening our son Seth called. He mentioned that he had met a nice woman named Anne Roiphe a few days earlier while they were each waiting to tape an interview for a New York TV station. They chatted a bit, and she gave him a copy of Epilogue for his mother. He read me the inscription, "To Judy—I'm going to look at your blog as soon as I return to my computer. Best wishes. Anne Roiphe"

Talk about coincidence…

The book arrived on Wednesday. Despite the Democratic convention and a Red Sox/Yankees series, I finished it four days later. I will read it again. I will tell my friends to read it.

Roiphe tells us "Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life." The book is about how she manages to do the latter. She speaks to all of us as she describes how she overcame a challenge that we all fear.

I was moved to tears at the end. When I read parts of the book to Peter, I cried again. We all deal with loss in our own way, but Anne Roiphe's memoir eloquently shows us hers.