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February 2020

Back to the Gym

Two months and four days after my knee replacement surgery, I decided to go the gym.  My physical therapist had said I could try the exercise bike (gently).  Although there was no “Welcome Back Judy” banner at the gym, there was something comforting about returning to my normal pre-surgery routine.

I started out easy and gradually increased the resistance on the bike.  My heartbeat soared.  I felt like a new person. And a very lucky one.

Clean as Clean Can Be

John and Hector, natives of Nova Scotia, cleaned our home for forty years.  Sadly, Hector died shortly before we moved to Washington and John was cleaning by himself and had to drop some of his clients.  When we moved back to Cambridge nine months later, I was disappointed when John told us he couldn’t take us back.

But life goes on, and now we have Quelme, an attractive Brazilian woman who cleans for a friend of ours. Quelme's hair assumes a variety of unusual colors. and they all look good on her.  She has a young daughter who came with her the first time she came to out place because Quelme’s English is, shall we say, “insufficient” to negotiate with clients who don’t speak Portuguese.

We always know when she has been here, because the pictures on the walls are crooked, the towels in our bathroom have been elegantly folded, and the toaster settings have been changed. But our apartment shines.

Quelme cleans so hard that she breaks things pretty regularly.  We had to ask her to stop dusting the TV controls and moving the wires around, because the TV never worked after she cleaned.

She broke the toilet-cleaning brush the first time she cleaned for us.  Next, a very special kind of light bulb. Following that we found a metal part of our sofa bed on the floor, part of the mechanism that changes it into a bed.

Quelme was here on Monday.  On Tuesday, when I grabbed a Kleenex from our Lucite holder in the bathroom, one side of the box fell off.  She had leaned it back against the base so the damage wouldn’t be so obvious.

She never reports these events—except the light bulb—because she doesn’t know how to tell me in English.

But Quelme makes our apartment sparkle.

Not So Bad

Peter and I always go to his neurologist appointments together.  At first, I went out of curiosity, but now, I go because I am an important member of a team trying to deal with his Parkinson’s Disease.

The doctor always asks Peter what day it is and where he is.  She asks him to remember three words.  Last week they were nose, knee and computer. Moments later she asked him to repeat them. She asks him to spell “world” and then asks him to spell it backwards.  Sometimes I hold my breath on the backwards, but he gets it right every time.  She asks him to copy something she has drawn.  And more.

I always come out of the appointment feeling happy because she always has a plan to deal with his difficulties.  She is firm and demanding, very positive and a superb neurologist.

As we finished, I asked her how she thought Peter was doing.  She had a twinkle in her eye as she replied, “Not so bad.” 

I’ll take that.


More than a decade ago, we learned that Peter had Parkinson’s Disease.  Fortunately, he has managed his symptoms quite well, because as of today, there is no cure.  But his voice has become softer as it often does with Parkinson’s patients.  It used to sound like Alan Alda’s—deep and rich.  Now, I find myself responding “What????” whenever he talks to me from more than a few feet away.

But, lately, I am also missing words in theaters or even on TV.

So I had my hearing checked and, sure enough, I have moderate hearing loss.  I’ve read enough to know that if your hearing is deteriorating, the longer you wait to correct it, the harder it is for your brain to adjust.

In a couple of weeks, I will join my many peers whose hearing deteriorated before mine.  People seem to feel that hearing aids send a message of oldness.  I think that’s true.  What’s surprising to me is that I don’t care.

I just don’t want to miss out on anything.

Why I Blog

I write the 80-something blog to process my life.  I notice more because I am looking for things that I might want to write about.  But I also benefit in another way.  People that I’ve never met tell me how they feel about what I’ve written.

Two surprising things happened recently.  First, I received an email from a woman who had bought a copy of my book for her mother’s 70th birthday. She wondered if she could offer her mother a conversation with the author to make the present more meaningful, and I agreed to talk with her.  But before that could happen, the daughter came to Cambridge for work, and she asked if we could meet for coffee.  The result—a two-hour conversation with an accomplished and charming young lawyer from Brooklyn.  And a new friend.

Even more unexpected was an entry from a man’s blog in which he wrote about how much he enjoys reading 80-something, despite our differences.  He wrote about how I sit in on lectures at Harvard, while he walks his four dogs in Nevada.  He said that he is younger than I and he suspects that we don’t share political views.  But he added, we have some things in common. We both love our long-time spouses, and we both have occasional aches and pains.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all focus on what we share with each other rather than what we don’t?

See Aging*Monday*Wednesday*Friday Blog.

Age Is Just a Number

We went to a dinner party Friday.  There were eight people there.  It was part of a series of dinners for people who live in the condo association (where we rent) to get to know each other. 

Peter looked particularly handsome, and I told him so before we left home.

When it was his turn to introduce himself to the group, he mentioned that he will turn ninety next month.  There were audible gasps, and someone said he thought Peter looked about seventy-five.

The next morning I mentioned this to Peter and he said he didn’t “feel” seventy-five.  He said he felt about 105.  “And how does 105 feel?” I asked him.

“Creaky,” he replied. 

Where Are the Oatmeal Cookies of Yesteryear?

I loved the gluten-free oatmeal cookies they used to sell at Trader Joe’s.  But they don’t have them anymore.  Sure, they still have gluten-free chocolate chip and gluten-free ginger cookies by the same supplier, but, for me they don’t measure up.

So, when I was planning a visit to friend who is recovering from a hip replacement, I decided to bake oatmeal cookies, enough to give her and a healthy portion to be left at home for me. 

I think the last time I baked oatmeal cookies was when I was in seventh grade home economics  class, and I remember them being very tasty.  This time, I used the recipe from my tattered copy of The Joy of Cooking, 1964 edition.  The recipe instructed me to sift the dry ingredients.  Somehow my sifter, 1960 edition, made it through our move to Washington, DC and back to Cambridge, but I bet nobody under seventy even knows what a sifter is.

I produced a couple of dozen badly shaped, and slightly under-done oatmeal cookies.  They were definitely edible, but they were no match for my memories of my seventh grade home economics class

Aches and Pains

I often hear my mother’s voice saying things like “Eat now, because you might be hungry later,” or “Nobody likes a sourpuss.”  But lately, I have been hearing my father’s voice saying, “I ache all over.”

My brother Don and I are the oldest of a group of cousins on our mother’s side who are beginning to ache like we do. A to-remain-un-named cousin emailed the following last week: “Every day I have a new ache or pain it seems.  I have been relatively problem-free all these years and now it's all starting!”  Sound familiar?

At the moment I can legitimately say that I am in pain.  But it’s temporary pain from physical therapy designed to keep my recently replaced knee from causing future pain.  In this case, “no pain, no gain” is correct.

But what about the other aches and pains?  Perhaps we can’t avoid them.  But we can avoid telling the world, “I ache all over.”