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June 2019

How Old We Are

We all know how many birthdays we’ve had.  But do we know how many we want?  Sure, it will depend on how healthy we are, how lucky we have been, the choices we’ve made, what’s happening in “our” world and “the” world and more.

While doing pushups the other morning, I wondered, “How could an eighty-one-year old do twenty-one pushups every day?”  My answer: “They couldn’t so I couldn’t possibly be eighty-one."

What about you?  How old are you?  How old do you feel?  I really want to know and will report what I learn (without names of course). 



Flowers and Me

I’ve been pretty open about my craving for coffee ice cream.  I feel that fresh flowers are also a necessity in our home.  They cheer me up. I was extra happy this week when dinner guests brought us a beautiful bouquet.

A recent report supports what I already knew. A ten-month behavioral study conducted by Rutgers University explored the link between flowers and life satisfaction. It found that flowers are a natural moderator of moods and have strong positive effects on people’s emotional health.

Most weeks I buy white flowers.  What I didn’t know until now is that white symbolizes openness. White blossoms are most often associated with purity, honesty and perfection.

Need I say more?

Dinner Parties

Years ago, a 70-something friend announced that she was done giving dinner parties.  Eating out was “so much easier,” she said.  It didn’t occur to me then that my generation would feel that way some day.  But that day has come.

For me, eating out is not much of a pleasure.  Watching all the gluten-eating people at my table order from a full menu of delicious choices while I look for the few items that are marked GF (gluten-free) takes away the thrill of not having to cook.  Watching my friends chomp on beautiful desserts while I can only choose the lemon sorbet—not much fun.  (I have to admit that things used to be much worse.)

So here’s my compromise.  We invite friends to dinner at our home.  But instead of the four or five courses that I used to serve, I offer three.  I don’t use as much butter (much to Peter’s dismay) and I find that simple can be delicious when the ingredients are fresh.

Last week, we had company for dinner twice.  Peter and our guests loved both meals.

I could eat everything.



I Love My Cellphone, But...

On a recent June morning, Peter and I walked around the Fresh Pond Reservoir for the first time since we returned to Cambridge.  A stone’s throw from our former home, we have spent countless hours walking there.  (In truth, when we moved to Cambridge in 1995, we spent countless hours running there, but that was then.)

There have been some wonderful improvements made to the surrounding park over the years, and it was great to see that it continues to get a lot of attention.  What it doesn’t get is a lot of appreciation from the people who use it.  Almost everyone who was walking or running alone was on a cellphone.  Maybe they were listening to a favorite podcast or catching up with a friend, but what they weren’t doing was enjoying where they were.

Don’t get me wrong.  I rely on my cellphone.  I wouldn’t give it up. But I like to say “Hi” to people while I’m waiting for elevators or at bus stops. I like to smile at the stranger sitting next to me at the theater.

That’s hard to do when they are glued to their phones.




Quelme (pronounced I-don’t-know-how) is our lovely Brazilian house cleaner.  Our son Seth who lived in Brazil and travels there often says the Brazilians are the cleanest people he knows, often showering three times a day.  And Quelme does make our apartment sparkle.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that she has to move everything that isn’t nailed down in order to do it. Which can be a problem because she rarely puts things back correctly.  So when she leaves, I have to straighten every picture on our walls, put our bathroom rug back where I want it rather than where she left it, etc.

The other day I told Peter that we might need a new mattress.  “Every night I feel like I am about to fall out of bed,” I explained.  We took a closer look while changing the sheets and discovered that the front leg on Peter’s side of the bed was sitting on the molding at the bottom of the bedroom wall, about three inches higher than the other three legs.  We lowered it to the floor, and we no longer need a new mattress. Clearly Quelme had lifted the leg to clean under the bed.

Things are complicated by the fact that Quelme doesn’t speak much English and I speak even less Portuguese.  Once when Seth was here (he is fluent in Portuguese), I asked him to ask her to put things back where they were, assuring her first that we love her work and are very happy to have her.  He did, but nothing changed.

Then last night, our alarm clock went off at midnight.  We rarely set an alarm, and we would never set it for midnight.  I quickly turned it off and went back to sleep.  Ten minutes later, it went off again—I had pushed “snooze” instead of “off”. As I lay in bed, now unable to go back to sleep, it took me a while to figure out what had happened.

Quelme had cleaned that day.

I don’t know how to explain that one to her.  I guess I’ll just straighten the pictures AND check the alarm clock before going to bed on the days that she has made our apartment sparkle.




Eight months ago, I learned that I have breast cancer.  Having just returned to Cambridge from  Washington, DC, we were busy settling into our new apartment and re-connecting with our friends (and doctors).  My diagnosis changed our priorities, and we spent much of the fall thinking about my treatment options.  Deciding what to do was the hard part, but once we had a plan, we were OK.

For readers who asked for an update, here’s how it went.

I am pleased to report that I feel great.  My surgery went well and the month of post-surgery radiation was easy.  It was harder to find an anti-estrogen medication that I could tolerate, but after rejecting the first one I tried due to its unacceptable side-effects, I seem to be doing OK with the second. I plan to continue doing OK for the five years I have to stay on it.

No readers asked for an update on my coffee ice cream consumption, but my love of coffee ice cream is almost as important to me as my health.  So I thought I’d update my readers on that too.

I long ago had decided to limit my coffee ice cream consumption to every other day until I turned eighty, at which time I planned to enjoy this treat daily. 

I’m pleased to report that I kept my promise to myself, eating a serving of coffee ice cream every day after my eightieth birthday, until last week when I failed to find any after a frantic search of the freezer.  I debated running to the store and opted instead to eat some of Peter’s pistachio ice cream.  It wasn’t the same, and that won’t happen again.

Everything else is status quo.  Which is a good thing.



Losing Renate

My sister-in-law Renate passed away a week ago.  A year older than Peter, she lived in Manhattan until she moved to Boulder, Colorado to be near her daughter and grandchildren.

By any measure, her life was not easy.  Born in Germany unable to hear, she fled with her family to Holland and then London where she stayed with her (also deaf) younger brother in a British School for the deaf when her parents and her two hearing siblings went on to New York City.  After the war, when she reunited with her family in New York, they sent her away to boarding school. 

When I met Renate, she and her husband (who lost his hearing in college due to meningitis) and their two terrific (and hearing) children lived in Manhattan.  We saw quite a bit of them either in New York or Boston as their kids grew up.  But we weren’t as close as I would have liked.  Renate loved Manhattan, especially the museums. She and her husband were quite active and they had many friends in the deaf community.  He passed away way too young.

A couple of weeks ago, Renate insisted on leaving the hospital in Boulder after she was treated for pneumonia. She returned to her assisted living home with hospice care. She was “ready to go”. Her daughter Janine and other visitors had wonderful conversations with her during the next several days.

She asked Janine to bring her my book (70-something), re-read it and said, “You know, Judy and I had a lot more in common than I thought.” 

It’s comforting to know that we shared more than our love for her brother.




Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing up Bébé, has written a primer for women approaching their forties.  It’s called There Are No Grownups: A Mid-Life-Coming-of-Age Story.

According to Druckerman, you know you’re in your forties when you’re annoyed by how long it takes to scroll down to the year of your birth on an Internet form and you realize that you can’t wish away those sprouting chin hairs and the frown slashes between your eyebrows.

I liked the book enough to listen online to a talk Druckerman gave at the American Library in Paris.  She’s quite charming.  I’d love to have a glass of wine with her at a neighborhood bistro in Paris. 

I don’t remember reading any books to prepare myself for my forties.  Back then, I was too busy with family and career to notice my incipient decline.  As I read her delightful book, I couldn’t help thinking, “If she thinks the forties are bad, how will she feel at eighty?”


Extended Family

Twenty years ago, I learned that I had a half-sister, a daughter from my father’s first marriage that he never told us about.  She was eighty-one when we first met, and I was sixty.  We got along well, and I had the pleasure of hosting her hundredth birthday party.

Her daughter Amy is technically my half-niece, but because she is much closer to me in age, she has become a dear friend, even though she lives half-way across the country.  Tragically, she lost a son to colon cancer two years ago, but her daughter-in-law and her grandchildren live near us so we get to see her when she comes to visit them.

On a recent visit, we joined her and her two grandsons, now five and seven, for ice cream after school.  It was a joy to see the incredible connection between those boys and their grandmother, even in a simple game of “I Spy With My Little Eye”.  Amy hopes that her daughter-in-law will marry again, but she is determined to keep her grandchildren’s memory of their father alive for them. So she’ll be back.