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May 2016

Learning from You

Writing blog posts for 70-something twice a week allows me to reflect on what’s happening in my eighth decade. My hope is that by sharing my thoughts about my life, I am helping others think about theirs.

But I benefit in another way. I learn from you.

Last week, for example, I received a lot of great suggestions for TV series to binge-watch while I knit the yellow pillows I couldn’t buy anywhere. Last fall, when I complained that I couldn’t find gray wool slacks with a waistband north of my belly button, a number of you suggested good potential sources. I heard from a dozen of you within hours of my Thursday post wishing for the return of fuss-free entertaining, agreeing that we should bring back “dropping in.” And I could go on…

So I want to use my 881st blog post to say “thank you”.

Food for Thought

The other day we visited a friend, more like family, who is on a tough journey called “cancer”. But this is not about that. What it is about is that it was just—a visit. There was no cooking involved. Although drinks were offered, water sufficed. It was four people, good friends who love each other, chatting and laughing like old times.

And that got me to thinking. Why does getting together have to be a production? Why do we have to choose between having someone cook a fancy meal and going to a (too) loud restaurant? What happened to just dropping by?

Pillow Talk

We just had our living room painted yellow. “Yellow is hard to get right,” our painter warned. And we got it right. When I sit there, I feel sunny.

But the green throw pillows on our caramel-colored sofa looked wrong with the yellow walls, so I went looking for yellow pillows, print pillows that had the right yellow in them, or fabric that I could make pillows with. I’ll spare you the details of my failed search.

And then a light bulb went off. I’d knit pillow covers!

I found just the right shade of yarn, and project-yellow-pillows was almost ready.

Next, I searched a carton on the top shelf of our linen closet. I found fabric leftovers from miscellaneous sewing projects, my collection of knitting needles, my mother’s collection of knitting needles, a lace collar detached from I don’t know what, and other items that won’t move if we do. The key find was the size eight knitting needles that I needed.

Now, once I find a TV series to binge-watch, I’ll be good-to-go.      

School's Out

Yesterday, classes ended in my learning-in-retirement program. As usual, I took classes in subjects I know nothing about. I figure it’s never too late to learn something new.

As a result, I can boast that I have read all 577 pages of Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, his 2014 best seller that has reportedly been bought by many, but read by few.   Fortunately, in retirement-learning, there are no final exams, but I actually learned a lot. And, it will be impressive to have that book prominently displayed, and looking like it’s been read, on our living room bookshelf. Our teacher, a semi-retired economics professor at MIT, claims that he learned something from our class too.

My other class was about how corporations work. The dozen or so students were happy to defer to the vast knowledge of our teacher, a lawyer who worked in government at the SEC, the private sector for a law firm and taught in a graduate business school. We learned how to form corporations (easy), how they are financed (pretty easy), and how they are governed (slightly complicated). We studied financial markets, takeovers, overseas operations and more (increasingly complicated). We got off on tangents about things like customer service, privacy and hiding funds in the Cayman Islands. We laughed a lot.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with all this knowledge. But isn’t it nice to have it?

Children, Stress and Mental Health

I’m not sure why we ended up at an all-day symposium on Early Life Stress & Mental Health at MIT on Thursday. But it was on our calendar, probably because of Peter’s interest in the brain.

The first half of the symposium was devoted to technical reports on the science, with titles like “Neural Correlates of Familial and Socioeconomic Stress” and “The Brain and Body on Stress: Epigenetics of Plasticity During the Lifecourse.”

The rest of the program was more about the challenges of dealing with the debilitating effects of childhood adversity. One speaker, Dr. Michael Lu, administrator of Maternal and Child Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, talked about the work his agency is doing to meet those challenges.

His second-last slide showed a grainy black and white photo of a young Chinese girl in Taipei, his mother. His family was so poor that she often had to decide between buying medicine or food. Once, she sold her wedding ring to pay for Lu’s medication.

Now, a doctor himself, heading a U.S. federal agency, he said he hoped that we could give every child the same chance to succeed that he had had. Lu’s final slide was a photo of two beaming, beautiful little girls, his daughters.

The audience gave him a standing ovation, and I don’t think I was the only one moved to tears.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

70-something readers often ask me how I decide what to write about.  Answer:  I don’t know.  I write what’s on my mind.  Some days I can’t decide what to write.  Like the other day.  Two things happened that were possible topics.
1. My friend Sheila.  Forty-six years ago, I shared an office with a younger young woman named Sheila.  We spent a lot of time laughing (and working).  As I entered the ninth month of my first pregnancy, we spent a Friday afternoon talking about possible male and female names. Sheila suggested “Seth” for a boy.  To me it sounded strong and unlikely to evoke a silly nickname.  Peter liked it too.
A boy it was, and Sheila’s baby gift was a set of book nameplates that said “Ex Libris Seth David Kugel”.  
Sheila lives in Arizona now and recently, we re-connected after many years.  She was in Boston for a day on her way to Turkey and we met for a quick coffee at the Harvard Art Museum.  Thanks to Facebook, I recognized her by her purple-streaked hair.  Needless to say, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since May, 1970 when we had the name-choosing conversation. But it could have been yesterday.  She hasn’t changed except for the gray part of her purple-streaked hair.
2.  Sex.  The other possible topic was inspired by a copy of The Harvard Independent, a free student newspaper I picked up in the Harvard Science Center where I had popped in to use the ladies room.  I’m sure I never saw that paper before, and normally I wouldn’t bother with it.  But in bold letters on the first page, it screamed THE SEX ISSUE.  I tucked it into my bag.  

I took it out to read on the bus ride home, but folded it up when I realized that a 70-something reading THE SEX ISSUE on a bus might be quite a spectacle.  It was definitely an eye-opener, but not a topic for my blog, I decided.  I re-cycled the newspaper before Peter saw it.

And...I decided to write about Sheila.

On Being a Mother

Forty-six years into it, I’m still working on being a good mother. I’ve had a lot of jobs over my (blessedly) long life, but being a mother is the hardest. It’s also the most important.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned.

  1. There is no perfect mother.
  2. There is no perfect child.
  3. You can still aspire to being either (1) or (2).
  4. Have important (but easy) rules while they grow up, like
    1. Two cookies at lunch; three cookies at dinner.
    2. Soft drinks only on the weekends (except at friends’ houses)
    3. Limited TV on school nights. (If my children were young now, it would be “No phones at the dinner table and no phones in the bedroom overnight.”)
    4. “Ask your father.” doesn’t work.
    5. Two serious sports a year is enough.
  5. And once they are grown up
    1. Don’t call them.  Wait for them to call you.
    2. Unconditionally love whoever loves them.
    3. Be careful what you ask.
    4. Manage your expectations.

If you are lucky you will eventually be rewarded with grandchildren. They’re a lot easier.

Happy Mother's Day

The Forty-Four-Year-Old Kid (Con't)

Back again in his role as the Forty-Four-Year-Old Kid, our son Jeremy reported the following:

As he left a business committee meeting held in a seventh-grade classroom of the private boys’ school where he is the chief financial officer, Jeremy learned that the next event in the room was to be a math test.

Since Jeremy works with numbers all the time and was confident he would do well, he asked the teacher if he could take the test with the kids. When the teacher agreed, Jeremy promised the students that if he didn’t beat the class average, he would buy everyone donuts.

Well, he didn’t beat the class average because he lost fourteen points for failing to show his work.

The class and their teacher enjoyed their donuts.


Over my career, I’ve had many job titles including founder, director, counselor, and dean. In the 1970’s, I was even president of our short-lived game company. But I am really excited about my new job title.

Trained as a counseling psychologist, I’ve always loved helping people to discover and pursue their passion. People who do that now are called “coaches” and in my newest pursuit, that’s what I am.

I’ve met three times with my first client who is a young woman middle manager in a growing non-profit. Her CEO has identified her as a person with great potential, and they want to invest in her. I get to help her along the way.

She is a welcome addition to my “I only do what I want to” retirement agenda.