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October 2019

A Plethora of Barbara(s)

We had two consecutive out-of-town weekend visitors this month, both named Barbara.  There are three Barbara(s) living in our apartment building.   Barbara was my next-door neighbor and close friend as I was growing up.  My brother’s high school love was a Barbara.  My sophomore year hallmate and senior-year roommate were both named Barbara.  And so was our next-door neighbor while our kids grew up.

I was a fan of Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Walters, Barbra Streisand, and Barbara Bush. If they had been born today, they would have been Madison Stanwyck, Ashley Walters, Olivia Streisand, and Sophia Bush. 

Now that I am forgetting people’s names, I am grateful that I know so many Barbara(s).

Re: Collecting

When I was a pre-teen, I collected autographed photos of movie stars, such as Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Cary Grant and James Stewart.  I ordered them from movie studios. I’m pretty sure they were free.

Our younger son Jeremy collected TV guides—those sections that used to come with Sunday newspapers.  (Remember?)  Every time someone I knew traveled, I would ask them to pick up a Sunday newspaper and bring back its TV guide, so Jeremy had TV guides from all over the world.  When we moved out of the house he grew up in, there was no Craig’s List or E-bay that we could use to offer them to the world so he reluctantly (and we happily) recycled four computer paper boxes full of them. 

Jeremy and his older brother Seth both collected soft drink bottle caps, the kind you used a “church” key to open.  I particularly remember one time in the Atlanta airport when our connecting plane was delayed.  The boys, who ordinarily would have been bored, had the chance to look for bottle caps on the floors of the Atlanta airport  because there were so many they didn’t already have. (Bottling plants were local then.)

The other night, when Seth texted from the Atlanta airport where he was waiting for a connection to Rio,  I asked him if he was looking for bottle caps. I was surprised when he replied that he had no idea what I was talking about.

I still can’t get over it.




More than a dozen years ago, we went out to dinner with our pals Gordon and Christa after a long day of biking somewhere in France.  As we took our seats at the table each of us let out a noise that was a cross between a grunt and a sigh. 

First, we giggled. Then we realized we had made a sound that older people make. We decided that that could not be possible, and we agreed to make an effort not to make that sound when we sat or stood in the future.

I thought of that the other day in class when the woman next to me made a similar sound as she got up for our ten-minute break, and when she sat down again.

I smiled. 

As part of my weight training, I do a sit-down and stand-up exercise holding twelve-pound weights for fifteen repetitions.  It’s the only part of my weight routine that I hate. 

But I sit and stand silently.

Ancient History

My new friend Jenny, invited a mutual friend and me to lunch.  As we enjoyed her delicious lentil soup, Jenny asked me how Peter and I met.  I told her that in 1965 when I was starting a new job, my red VW bug hadn’t arrived and there was no way for me to get to work by public transportation. My new employer told me that if I could get to Harvard Square, someone could give me a ride to work until my car arrived.  Lo and behold, on my first day of work, a red VW pulled up in front of the Out-of-Town Newstand in Harvard Square and the driver asked if I was Judy.  That driver was Peter.

Almost three years later, I grew tired of “dating” and I told Peter that my lease was going to self-renew in a month and that I was either going to break it or break up with him. 

I had been spending my weekends at his apartment. (My mother died in 1989 so I guess I can say this in public now.)  One Sunday, shortly after my “ultimatum,” Peter went to buy a newspaper.  Unbeknownst to me, he had taken my key from my purse, used it to get into my apartment and “borrowed” a ring from my jewelry box.  He took it to a jeweler the next day who used it to size the engagement ring that Peter had commissioned.

He presented me with that ring and a marriage proposal the evening that Bobby Kennedy was shot.  So happy and so sad all at once.

However, the ring that Peter “borrowed” from my jewelry box was a fake gold band that I had used with a previous boyfriend, and it was about three sizes too large.

I haven’t told that story in ages. It’s still a good one.


What Matters

If your parents could parachute into your life for a visit, what do you think would surprise them the most? They may have been around to see desktop computers, but they would be surprised to learn that the phone in your pocket has more computing power than those desktops, that you pay your bills online or that something called Facebook has 2.4 billion users.

They wouldn’t know that using the word “they” as a single pronoun is now grammatically correct or that someone could run 26.2 miles in under two hours or that people don’t buy encyclopedias anymore.

All that is important, but what I’d want my parents to know is what amazing great-grandchildren they have.  Isn’t that what really matters?

My Big Brother

My older brother, Don, turned eighty-five the other day.  Don and I have not lived near each other since high school.  Although we talk and email, it’s not the same, and I regret that I can count the times I have seen him in the last ten years on one hand.

We’ve lived quite different lives.  He’s had three wives and five daughters.  I’ve had one husband and two sons.  He loves golf and bridge.  I don’t do either (although I learned bridge very young to make a fourth player for our family).  His successful career was in business; mine in academia. I think he likes red meat more than I do.  He’s still darn good looking.

We grew up in the same household, and I can picture Don coming home after school and eating a half-head of iceberg lettuce with our mother’s home-made thousand island dressing as if it were yesterday.  I remember his fake sneeze that prevented me from hearing the announcer tell us what was coming next on Let’s Pretend, just to annoy me.  As the younger child, I got away with more than he did, but throughout high school, I was Don’s little sister, and that could be good and bad.

Today, I just wish I could give him a big hug.


My Babies


When" Zara" tacked a note on the mailroom bulletin board asking if anyone would be willing to babysit her plants for the summer, I sent her an email saying I would do it.  In no time, a young Sri Lankan woman appeared at our door surrounded by green leaves.  She was going to visit her parents for two months and she was thrilled that I was willing to take care of her plants while she was away.  She left quickly to finish packing.

I introduced our own plants to our guests, and I treated our guests as if they were our own.   I even re-potted one of them.

When Zara returned at the beginning of September and came to pick them up, she was thrilled at how they had thrived. I could only think about how hard it was for me to give them back.  So I asked her if I could take a cutting from a couple of them and see if I could get them to root.

Pictured above is my first success.  It’s in the only piece of pottery that I ever made (circa 1972).  I check it for new leaves every morning. The other plant cutting took a bit longer to root, but it will be ready to pot soon.

Plants and flowers (and flowering plants) give me great pleasure now-a-days.  And that’s good.


If I Could Be a Fly on the Wall...

Have you ever wished you could be a fly on the wall?  That you could be an invisible observer of some meaningful event?  Perhaps your child’s first date or her first day in the Oval Office?  

Lately, I have been wishing I could be present, but unseen in a specific Boston University classroom in which fifteen graduate students are studying neuropsychology.  They all appear to be in their mid-twenties.  Except for one eighty-nine-year-old named “Peter”.  The professor invited him to join the class  because there was no room for him in her undergraduate version of the course.

So every Tuesday he and his walker take a Lyft or Uber to BU, and the students always save a seat for him. 

Peter is interested in the brain and he knows quite a bit about it.  But he was not happy with his performance on the first exam because he had just as much trouble remembering the brain’s many parts as he does remembering names of the people he meets at parties..  Since he’s not taking the course for credit, the only thing that hurt was his pride.

But I give him a lot of credit for taking on a challenge like that on top of Parkinson’s and an approaching 90th birthday. 

I would love to observe that class, but only if I could be a fly on the wall.

Technology and Aging

If you are lucky enough to grow old, you face a choice—age in place or choose one of the many other available options.  Unfortunately, one size does not fit all.

If you decide to age in place, technology that didn’t exist in our parents’ generation offers you lots of advances that could make life easier.  (See

Let’s start with Uber and Lyft, an easy and relatively inexpensive way to get where you have to go.  (I love not having to dig into my wallet for cash when we arrive at our destination.)  More and more, people are telling me that those who give up car ownership come out ahead financially—insurance, upkeep, and traffic tickets add up. And for those of us without garages in places where it snows a lot, it’s even better.

How about grocery shopping? Peapod (and many grocery chains) are happy to deliver anything they sell.  Even better, you’re not limited to pizza when you want dinner delivered. Grubhub and the like offer lots of restaurant choices.    If you prefer home cooking, there are services that deliver recipes complete with the ingredients you need to make the meal yourself. 

Beginning to worry about driving to your cabin in the mountains?  Soon, they tell us, a driverless car will take you there.

And then there’s Amazon—like it or not, it allows you to shop for anything without leaving home. 

We’re promised that things like telemedicine, personal care robots and much more are in our future. Whether or not you decide to stay in your home, technology is making aging easier.

But not easy.