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November 2019

Giving Thanks

My cell phone will be turned off on Thanksgiving.  All day. Those I care about the most will be in one house, around one table and/or participating in endless games of football on Jeremy and Katrina’s front lawn.  You don’t need a phone to enjoy any of that.

Thanksgiving is the highlight of the year for me, and I am grateful for another year that we can all be together.  And maybe for this one day we can try to ignore our country’s division and the global issues we face.

And…eat a lot of turkey.

The Kindness of Youngsters

Peter audits a neuroscience class at Boston University.  He is the oldest of the sixteen students in the class. The others are young enough to be his grandchildren.

In class on Tuesday, his nose started to bleed profusely.  As he pinched his nostrils to try to stop the bleeding, he did not notice that the student sitting next to him left the room until she came back and handed him a box of tissues.  Peter was impressed enough by her thoughtfulness to tell me about it.

Two days later, he and I were sitting in a large auditorium where we are auditing a class at a different university.  We arrived late and couldn’t sit together.  He was in the row behind me, and I was not aware that he was having another nosebleed.  The young man next to him did notice, left the class and came back with a handful of wet and dry paper towels.

Two small acts of kindness to a stranger made me feel a little more hopeful about the future.

My Mother Was Quite the Lady

My mother died thirty years ago.  She was a stay-at-home mom, and her uniform was what was then called the “house dress”.  As I recall, hers were mostly in pastel colors, often prints, always perfectly ironed, but not exactly chic.

It was a different story when she went out.  She always looked beautiful.  Her trim figure would show off her tasteful and stylish wardrobe.  Even in her seventies, she wowed everyone when she visited my office wearing a gorgeous navy knit suit, trimmed in red with appropriately-colored handbag and shoes. 

Just for the fun of it, I decided to see if house dresses still existed.  Sure enough, you can get a “Zipper Gingham House Dress/House Coat/Duster/Lounge Dress” from Amazon for $13.99 with free shipping.

I’ll stick with my blue jeans.


What Ails America?

One of the readings for this week’s meeting of a class I am taking on “What Ails America?” was about the U.S. war on drugs and the mass incarceration that ensued.  ( See )

Incarceration has devastating consequences for the incarcerated:  broken families, poverty, few employment opportunities and loss of the rights of citizenship including the right to vote, to serve on juries, to be free of legal discrimination in employment and housing, and to have access to public benefits.

The number of incarcerations in the U.S. grew by 600% from the mid-1960’s to 2000.  President Nixon’s 1970’s tough war on drugs was one of the culprits.  But President Reagan was even tougher. 

While today’s crime rates are at historical lows, incarceration rates are still increasing.   Can we change this?  I’m looking around for reasons to be optimistic.

Sweets for the Sweet

When I met Peter in 1965, it didn’t take me long to figure out that he liked sweets.  We were working at the same place and although I didn’t want to pursue him too aggressively, I spent a fair amount of time walking by the candy bar machine.  I know that if I got the timing right, he would be there buying an after-lunch Snickers bar.

Fifty-four years later, he still can’t pass by a bowl of candy without grabbing some.  And now, because we know it’s so good for us, we always eat a square of dark Belgian chocolate after dinner.

The other night I offered to hang up Peter’s jacket when we got home from an errand.  It felt extra heavy.  Sure enough, a bulging pocket contained a large bag of licorice sticks.

The sheepish look on his face as I pulled out the bag was priceless.  My eighty-nine-year-old husband looked like the little kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.


Educated, Tara Westover’s memoir of growing up in a survivalist Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho, may be the most compelling book I have read in years. It has been on The New York Times’ Best Sellers list for eighty-eight weeks and has sold two million copies in the U.S.. 

On Tuesday night I joined an audience of 750 to watch her interviewed at Harvard where she is a visiting fellow. Questioned first by Nancy Gibbs, former Managing Editor for TIME Magazine and current Director, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy and then by audience members, Westover was direct, and charmingly unpolished.  She was self-aware and impressive as she spoke against shunning people because of their political views.  Find something that you can agree upon and learn from each other was my takeaway.

Most of the audience had read her book, according to raised hands, and judging by the crowd around her after her interview, many of them brought their copy for Westover to sign.

I am very impressed by this woman who had never been in a school room until she was seventeen and now holds a doctorate in history from Cambridge University.

At age thirty-three, we haven’t heard the last of her.


Sixty years ago, I astonished my parents by moving to Boston.  I had graduated from college and didn’t have a job.  Most of my friends were either married or teachers (or both). I liked Pittsburgh, but I was looking for some adventure (and a husband).  It all worked out—great husband, kids, career.

But nobody knows you like your longtime friends.  In the last ten days, a childhood friend I’ve known since I was four visited us from Washington, D.C., the person I shared an office with in my first Boston job flew in from Los Angeles, and I was in touch with three high school classmates who live in Massachusetts.

At eighty-one, the people who knew me “when” are increasingly in my thoughts.  I feel a sense of anticipated loss that makes me want to check in with them.  The days are going by so much faster now. 




A Conversation about Ageism

On Wednesday morning I joined a small group convened by the Encore Boston Network to talk about ageism.  We met--eight strangers and two facilitators-- in a Peet’s coffee café conference room in downtown Boston.  I’m not sure why I was invited. Although I have been known to make disparaging remarks about the elderly myself, I am concerned about ageism.

When one of the leaders left the “e” out of ageism as she wrote the topic of our discussion on a white board, I thought I might be wasting my time.   But it got better. 

    I had read a lot about ageism, but some of these people experienced it.

One woman had been job-hunting for months.  She told us that an interviewer had asked her whether doctors’ appointments might affect her attendance. A fifty-three- year-old male had been laid off by a startup and was struggling to get interviews. 

We talked about the benefits of intergenerational workplaces, and how to get employers to see their advantages. We talked about volunteering strategically.  A woman from the State’s government talked about relevant innovative programs underway in Massachusetts.

By 2050, 3.7 million Americans will be over sixty-five.  There is a lot to be done.