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April 2013

Checking in with Florence

It’s been fourteen years since I learned that I have a half-sister.  She is twenty-one years older than I am and was eighty-two when she found me. There is no way to make up for the years we lost, but we are in touch regularly now.

When I checked in with Florence last week, she wasn’t her usual upbeat self.  Now ninety-six, she has just given up her car.  “I failed the vision test,” she explained.  She also told me that her legs aren’t working very well, so walking is a problem.   But she does walk to the corner to pick up groceries. She uses a “senior ride” service so that she can still go to the movies with friends, all of whom are younger than she is and used to depend on her for rides themselves. 

But when Florence admitted that she is “finally feeling old”, I was surprised.  At seventy-five, I’m not feeling like a spring chicken myself.  But if I can be like my half-sister, I have twenty-one more years to be young.

I’ll go with that.

Lean In

If you haven’t heard of Sheryl Sandberg, you haven’t been paying attention. Chief Operating Office at Facebook, formerly with Google and the U. S. Treasury Department, Sandberg’s book Lean In landed at the top of the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list upon its publication in March.

It is The Feminine Mystique for her generation.

In the book, Sandberg argues that gender bias is still common in the workplace. As one of many compelling examples, she tells us about two sets of students who were shown the same venture capitalist resume.  For one group, the venture capitalist’s first name was Heidi, for the other, Howard. The rest was identical. 

Understandably, students in each group found the individual competent.  But the “Howard” group found Howard “appealing” and the “Heidi” group found Heidi “not the kind of person you would want to hire or work for.”

Until both men and women find Heidi as appealing as Howard, women will have a hard time taking their place at the table.

Looking at it from the viewpoint of my generation whose options were pretty much limited to teaching, nursing, or marriage, it seems that we’ve made great strides.  Sandberg’s book acknowledges that, but shows women how to move ahead.  

You can get the basics by joining the millions who have listened to her TED talk at

Boston Strong

Watertown is my destination when I’m headed for Target or Home Deport.  But most of the time, it’s a place I drive through on my way somewhere else.

But Watertown became the world’s town on Thursday night when one of the Boston Marathon terrorists eluded police there.

In neighboring Cambridge, we obeyed our governor’s order to “shelter at home.”  Normally, an unexpected Friday off would have been a productive one.  I would have changed the closets over to spring, or got started on a project.  Maybe even read a book.  But on Friday I spent the day watching TV until I couldn’t stand seeing the same images over and over again and turned on the radio. And then back to TV after the bloodied boat cover was found. 

When our law enforcement officers got the suspect out, alive and without further loss of life, the world sighed in relief.  We watched our neighbors in Watertown cheering as the police and fire vehicles left the scene, job well done.

In my car doing errands Saturday morning, I heard a tribute to those who kept us safe, and my eyes filled with tears.

Boston Strong! 

Tragedy in Boston

Patriot’s Day is a holiday in Massachusetts, but not for me.  Nonetheless, I love the spirit that surrounds the Boston Marathon.  When the kids were young, Peter used to run it, and we would cheer him on.  It’s a time when the world is watching Boston, and most of the world is represented in our city’s famous race.

At three o’clock on Monday afternoon, I heard about the explosions.  Word spread quickly thanks to the Internet.  That people were injured was apparent, but no one knew how many and how seriously. 

No more work was accomplished that afternoon—everyone was checking on loved ones and watching the same frightening footage of the scene over and over again on their computer screens.

That evening the emails poured in.  A college roommate I hadn’t heard from in years. A young woman who used to work for me, now a medical resident and out of touch for some time. My brother, Peter’s sister, and my 101-year-old Aunt Ruth.  All wanting to know that we are safe.  All sad for those who suffered and for Boston.

On Tuesday we gathered outside work for a moment of silence and remembrance that brought tears to my eyes and 9/11 feelings of vulnerability.  Since then, we’ve been hearing about heroic helpers and acts of generosity by the people of Boston.  Even Stephen Colbert paid his respects (

This was the 116th Boston Marathon.  There will be a 117th Boston Marathon next year, but it won’t be the same.

Missing Sue

Our neighbor Sue has moved to assisted living.

When she and her husband Leo came to our neighborhood, she knocked on everyone’s door to introduce herself, much as if she were running for office.  In fact, her nearly one hundred neighbors would say that’s exactly what she was doing.

Sue became our “mayor.” Before we knew it, she had formed a committee to lobby the city and our neighborhood streets got repaved. Soon after, the town aborist checked our aging trees and planned replacements.  Sue was our organizer.

Sue reigned at our twice-yearly neighborhood block parties, bringing updated lists of addresses and introducing new residents. She was a force.

A few years ago, Leo died.  Shortly thereafter, Sue began to lose her vision and she developed other health problems.  Her grown children and grandchildren didn’t think she should stay in the house on her own, and eventually she gave in. Two weeks ago, she moved. 

I got Sue’s address and wrote to thank her for all she did for us and to tell her that we miss her.  She replied that she had loved living in the neighborhood, watching it come together, introducing folks to each other. She added, “ I am sad to leave and I envy everyone of you.”  

Neighborhoods turn over, but somehow Sue’s departure is different.  It is a loss for us all.


My mother always looked terrific.  She had impeccable taste in clothes, an enviable figure and a thick head of gently curling silver hair.  She looked stunning at her 80th birthday party in a black designer knit skirt and top with a blue appliquéd design.  You could take her anywhere.

I’m lucky to resemble Mother in many ways.  But she did have a gene that seems to have skipped her daughter’s generation, i.e., the shopping gene.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like to look nice.  I dress professionally at work.  I buy classic clothing and wear it for a long time.  But I never liked shopping and at seventy-five, I hate it.

It seems that my options are becoming fewer and fewer.  Since I got my new knee six years ago, I rarely wear heels.  So dresses are not a good option except in the colder months when high (but flat) boots work.  My upper arms are finely toned, but my neck and cleavage zone, not-so-good.

I’m thinking about this now because I have two rather dressy events coming up, and I’ve already returned empty-handed from two shopping expeditions.

I may have to resurrect a couple of outfits tucked away in the guest room closet.  These events are not about me, and probably no one cares what I wear.

The problem is that Mother would be disappointed.


I heard a short talk by Cheryl Saban the other day.  She is the author of What is Your Self-Worth? a book about women and self-esteem. 

Picture a beautiful age-less woman, elegantly dressed, standing in front of a group of about twenty women and two men, holding up a crisp $20 bill.  “Who would like this, she asked?”  All hands went upward.

She then crumpled the $20 bill in her fist, and held it up again.  “Who would like this?  Again, all hands went up.

Next she dropped the bill on the floor and ground her stiletto heel into it.  Still, everyone wanted it.

Finally, she took the crushed, trampled bill and ripped it.  All hands went up when she asked if anyone wanted it.

“Still worth $20?” she asked. 

Point made, she gave the $20 to the young woman sitting next to me.

Dialogue at the Dressmaker

When I took a pair of slacks to my seamstress’ shop the other day, someone was in the small draped changing area, so I sat down to wait. I overheard the following:

 Customer:  “When I ordered it on line, they asked for my measurements, but it's way too big.” She went on to say that it was for the after-party of her October Las Vegas wedding so she wasn’t in a hurry. 

Dressmaker:  “It’s beautiful, but it is a lot of work to take it in because of all the feathers and beads. Can’t you send it back?’ 

Customer: “No, I bought it online and they  don’t understand English.”

Dressmaker:  “OK. I’ll do it, but I’ll have to charge you $150.” 

“It doesn’t matter,” said the young woman, as she came out of the dressing area clutching an unbelievably unbelievable dress.  A pinkish-salmon color, strapless beaded top and a skirt of feathers, the length of which was, shall we say, immodest?

When the customer left, I asked the seamstress, who was shaking her head in wonder, why she agreed to alter the dress.  “Oh, because I don’t know how to say no,” she replied.  She was as perplexed as I was as to why anyone would wear such an outfit.

After she pinned the slacks I had brought in for alteration, I said, “Unlike that future bride, I can’t wait until October to pick these up.

I’m at the age when I don’t plan that far ahead.