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June 2023

Remember Pencil Sharpeners?

You probably haven’t given a lot of thought to pencil sharpers lately.  Who has?

The other day a friend told me a sad story.  He likes to write with a pencil.  Recently while attending a conference, he found himself with a dull pencil.  He approached the front desk of his hotel and asked if he could get his pencil sharpened. There was no sharpener at the front desk, but a helpful employee offered to go to the inside office and fetch one for him to use.  Five minutes later, the young man returned and confessed “sheepishly” that there is not a pencil sharpener to be found in the hotel.

I, for one, have an electric pencil sharpener because sometimes you just want to do old-fashioned writing with a #2 pencil.  I also have a manual pencil sharpener that lives in a box among all the spools of thread I rarely use.

I am pleased to report, however, that the purveyor of all things (aka Amazon) will sell my friend four manual pencil sharpeners in orange, blue, green and pink, regularly $9.99, on sale for $5.98. 

Over 4,000 were bought in the last month.


The suffix “ism” has been on my mind lately.   Adding “ism” to the end of a verb transforms it into a noun.  As nouns, words ending in “ism” describe systems of thinking.  “Ism comes from the Greek word ismus meaning a belief, a way of thinking about things. “Isms” can be positive like optimism, altruism, pacifism or negative like racism, sexism, and terrorism.

Which leads me to today’s subject:  ageism. Ageism is prejudice based on a person’s age.  And as the number of older people around the world grows dramatically, it’s important to set the record straight and work toward ending ageism.

What stands in the way?  Well, we do.  We buy into the stereotype of “old folks” sitting in their rocking chairs like our own grandparents may have.  We locate ourselves (in many cases) in older people dwellings like retirement communities or continuing care facilities.  We buy (and buy is the right word) into what the cosmetic or drug manufacturers and (some) physicians say are products and processes to keep us looking younger.  It is in our hands to change this.

In her compelling 2022 book, Breaking the Age Code, Professor Becca Levy, an expert in the field of aging, demonstrates how a positive attitude toward aging can add years to our lives.

Read it.


Like many women of my generation, I looked to my husband Peter to fix everything around the house that didn’t require a professional repair person.  I don’t have Peter now, but I do have a bunch of screwdrivers and other tools that he acquired over the years.

The other day I decided I could no longer tolerate the loose seat on the top-of-the-line toilet that came with my apartment.  So, I turned to Google where I found a video addressing my very issue.  It took a while for me to gather all the tools I was going to try to use, but once I did, the job was done in five minutes.  The biggest challenge, of course, was getting on my back down to the floor between the toilet and the tub AND getting back up again.  But I did it.

Made my day.

A Day at the State House

It’s hard to believe that as a government major in college and an employee at a school of government for 33 years, I had never lobbied an official.  Until Wednesday.

Twenty months ago, my husband Peter who was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease decided that he wanted to control his end-of-life and voluntarily stopped eating and drinking.  As I wrote in The Boston Globe,  (, eight unbearably horrible days of suffering followed for him and his loved ones.

Now there is a bill in committee in the Massachusetts Legislature, to permit (under very explicit conditions) mentally competent individuals with less than six months to live to receive medical aid in dying.  The bill has the support of a majority of Massachusetts citizens, but it has never made it out of committee for a vote. 

So, I joined a “Day of Lobbying,” including individual one-on-one meetings with my State senator and my State representative.  There were maybe 200 of us lobbyists, all there because of our belief that people who are expected to die within six months should be permitted to end their suffering.

Also present were opponents to this bill, primarily disabled individuals who fear others may encourage them to end their lives if this bill passes, even if they do not wish to do so. There are many safeguards to prevent that inappropriate use of this law, but all voices must be heard.

I had forgotten how elegant the Massachusetts State House is.  It's worth a visit even if you are not a lobbyist like me.

Don't Cry for Me Argentina

On Saturday I saw a matinee of a new production of the musical “Evita.”  First staged in 1978, and made into a movie in 1996, I somehow missed both the play and the film.  Of course, I had heard the title song.  Who hasn’t?

The production had a few imperfections, but I found it mesmerizing. I went with a couple that Peter and I had shared many wonderful events with. After we parted, around 5:00 pm, I felt a little sad, so I stopped in a nearby florist shop, and bought myself a bunch of daisies, the flower that marked so many happy occasions in my marriage.

But that didn’t lighten my mood.

I had been warned by friends that unexpectedly, serious grief returns periodically after losing a loved one.  And on Saturday, I couldn’t hold back my tears as I faced the evening alone.

I texted my older son that I was in a funk, and he called.  We chatted for twenty minutes.  As always, he made me laugh.  And all with my world was OK again.

The next morning, thanks to YouTube, I listened to Don’t Cry for Me Argentina. 

My eyes filled with tears.

Widowhood isn’t for sissies.


What Do 80-something Readers Think?

The 80-something blog (formerly The 70-something blog) lets me share what’s on my mind with a lot of people, most of whom I don’t know.  I am so fortunate that readers allow me into their lives, even if only for a minute or so, twice a week.

Normally, a few readers comment on each blog post on the website or by email.  But two of my recent posts (one on Martha Stewart’s appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the other on the right to control one’s end-of-life) have elicited more responses than usual.

The overwhelming majority of comments on Martha Stewart’s cover appearance agreed with my view that showing her much-work-done-look illustrated a very negative view of normal aging.  But two readers adamantly disagreed, and I was pleased to hear their views.  Thus far, the comments on the post about one’s right to make end-of-life decision have been positive. Is that because my readers agree or those who disagree keep silent?

I wonder. 

Frequently Asked Questions

I am not a huge Facebook fan, and very rarely post anything, but I admit to checking up on some of my friends who do.

A recent Facebook post listing questions commonly asked by those age 50 and older caught my eye the other day. I ask myself the following two at least daily:  “Where did I leave my phone?  and “What did I come into the kitchen for?”

That post got 153 comments, many from people younger than 50 who can’t find their glasses or think their scale can’t be correct.

It comforts me to remember the time when my son Seth, age 16 or so, walked into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door and said, “Now what did I come in here for?’ loud enough for his then almost 50-year-old mother to realize that you don’t have to be old to lose track of what you were about to do.

Vermont's New Law

Last month, the Governor of Vermont signed a law that allows non-residents whose life expectancy is less than six months to choose to end their lives in Vermont with the aid of a willing Vermont physician.

Medical assistance in dying is controversial.  But watching my husband Peter suffer with no food or water for eight interminable days because he chose not to go on with his much-diminished quality of life has persuaded me that this option should be available for mentally competent individuals with no hope for recovery.

I am not trying to persuade others to agree with me about medical aid in dying.   What I would ask is that those who have a terminal illness and are supported by their families in their decision to die on their own terms be permitted to do so.

In Massachusetts where I live, a bill to allow this choice has never come out of committee and thus the legislature has not been able to vote on this issue.

Many residents support bringing this legislation to the floor of the Massachusetts State House this session.

I am one of them.

Whatever Happened To...?

From time to time, I miss products that used to be part of my everyday life.  For example, there was a store-bought-cookie that Peter and I loved.  It was about the size of a 50-cent piece, (remember those?) covered with cinnamon and powdered sugar, The cookies bounced around in a sealed white paper bag, sugar-coating our fingers as we dug in.

Because the name of the brand escaped me, I spent way-too-much time Googling "out-of-production cookies," and although I found things like Red Velvet Oreos, I failed to find the cookie we loved.

I do recall Peter's complaining on several occasions that we are out of synch with the world because things we like seem to fail the “stickiness” test.

It’s been a while since I have felt the need to complain that products were better in the olden days.  Then last week, I got a serious cold.  I went through a box of tissues in record time.  And this is the question it raised for me:

Whatever happened to two-ply Kleenex?