"Inert Knowledge"

Long Life Learning, a fascinating (at least to me) book by Michelle Weise is about an “as you need it” approach to education.  The author quotes Alfred North Whitehead about what he calls “inert knowledge,” the kind of knowledge that disappears from our brains because it is not used in the real world. 

Boy, can I relate to that…

Weise relates a study done in a prestigious boarding school that asked returning students from two different years to retake the same science final they had taken just three months earlier. The average grade in the class dropped from a B+ to an F.  Not a single student had retained the concepts they had been tested on just three months earlier.

Something to think about…

Where Am I?

The clock on my bedside table tells me that I am writing this at 1:45 a.m.  on March 9th.  But my body thinks it is 3:45 p.m. because I have just returned from a far-away vacation.

So, while my laundry basket is overflowing and my dresser is strewn with stuff dumped from a suitcase, I want to capture my neither-here-nor-there feeling.

In early December, I decided I shouldn’t wait any longer to travel to Cambodia and Vietnam.  My friend Christa, always up for adventure, agreed to join me in taking the last two spots on a Road Scholar trip to visit both countries.   And that’s where I’ve been.

There is much to reflect upon after two nights in Sien Reap, Cambodia, followed by seven nights on the Mekong River with sixteen other curious travelers—including a visit to Angkor Wat and the killing fields of Cambodia, followed by the swarms of motorcycles on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, along with its war-related museums and monuments and its oppressive heat and humidity—all part of being thrust into a totally different world.

In addition to that overflowing laundry basket and an empty refrigerator, I have a quite confused body.

And tremendous gratitude for an unforgettable journey.

Now back to reality and, hopefully, some sleep.

The Soft Skills Comeback

Times they are a-changing.

The technical skills so much in demand in recent years are skills that Artificial Intelligence possesses--and can potentially use faster and perhaps better than humans.   Aneesh Raman and Maria Flynn, in their New York Times guest essay When Your Technical Skills Are Eclipsed, Your Humanity Will Matter More Than Ever, give the impression that the huge increase in computer science and information technology college majors (up 41% in the last five years)  may be coming to an end.

As a liberal arts graduate, a humanities comeback suits me just fine.  And as Minouche Shafik, who is now the president of Columbia University, said:

“In the past, jobs were about muscles. Now they’re about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart.”



I’m not sure what prompted me to attend a performance of the Harvard Glee Club on a recent Friday night.  Even less sure about why a friend agreed to go with me.

We joined an enthusiastic audience of fellow students and parents and siblings of the performers. 

The chorus members (mostly male) were decked out in navy blazers, khaki trousers and crimson ties, clearly not their daily attire.  They had just returned from a three-week tour of Europe, and they seem to have had a marvelous time.

I couldn’t tell you what they sang, but it was all good.  I was struck by the following: one, all the fun they were having, two, how the pieces were each conducted by one of the chorus members, and three what full heads of hair young men have!

Note to self:  Watch calendar for next performance.

Optimizing Life Expectancy (Maybe)

Here are three things that can optimize our life expectancy: 1) Healthy eating, 2) Regular exercise, 3) Sleeping seven or more hours per night.

I’m all set with 1) and 2).  3) is my challenge.

Here are some sleep help ideas from The Washington Post’s “Try This.” 

  1. Schedule your worry time before bedtime.  Think about what you can do about your worries in the next two weeks and make a schedule for the action you might take.
  2. First thing in the morning (if needed) ask yourself “What am I scared about today? What am I sad about?  Be present to your feelings early in the day and then move on.
  3. When awake in the middle of the night: Listen to a long, pleasant novel or a travelog.  (If read in a British accent, that would be best.) Or you can always watch old “Friends” episodes.
  4. Set parameters for when you go to bed and get up and keep to them.
  5. No napping allowed.

Good luck!


Forgetting Regretting

We all have wasted precious time wishing we had done something differently. It’s best to let regrets go, unless there is something we can do about them.

Psychologists Neal Roese and Amy Summerville report that the top six biggest regrets in life center on the following (1) romance, (2) friends, (3) education, (4) leisure, (5) self, (6) career, (7) family, (8) health, (9) spirituality, (10) community, (11) finance, and (12) parenting.  They also come to the positive conclusion that regrets offer “opportunities” to do something to overcome them.

Over my lucky, long life, I am sure I regretted something in every one of those categories.  (Well, maybe not parenting!) At this stage of life, I try to concentrate on things I am grateful for rather than what I would have done differently.

Here’s some good advice from an unknown source:  There's a reason why your windshield is bigger than your rearview mirror. Where you're headed is much more important than what you left behind.


What do you picture when you hear a person referred to as sprightly?  When someone refers to you as sprightly, are you pleased?

When I hear sprightly, I picture an elf-like old lady, who although being energetic and in good health, probably isn’t expected to be around much longer.  Definitely not me, or so I thought.

Until last fall.

First, my very own son, after hosting me in Brazil last October, and watching me negotiate hilly cobble-stone streets, and troop through beautiful botanical gardens in grueling heat “complimented” me on my “sprightly-ness”.

And recently when a technician approached to help me get off the table after an Xray for some chronic hip pain and saw me already up on my own two feet, she commented on my feistyness.

Maybe sprightly isn’t such a bad word after all.

Body Report

In my 70’s, I used to blog a lot about my body—the good, the bad whatever was on my mind. I remember documenting the three little horizontal lines that suddenly appeared between my eyebrows one morning. I also recall my dermatologist’s strong suggestion that I never look into a 5x mirror.

Let’s put it this way.  My body was not getting better.

Now that I am in my mid-eighties, I have a different approach.  This body still can walk four miles.  It still can go up and down stairs and I still can put my carry on in the rack above my seat on the train or plane.  What more do I need?

However, last week I asked my dermatologist if there was anything I could do (without requiring surgical intervention) about the newish puffiness around my eyes.  She named a few products I could try, but she wasn’t all that convincing.  Nonetheless, I bought a tiny tube of something at a CVS where now all things over $1 or so are behind lock and key.  So I needed a salesperson to help me.

That salesperson tried to convince me that I should also buy what she called a roller to push the cream into my skin. The “roller” looked a bit like a razor but where the blade would be, there is this roller thing.

I can’t believe I bought it.  But it is pretty and pink.  You keep it in the refrigerator so it feels nice and cool against your skin.

Thus far, I see no difference.  It probably will never make a difference.  And I can’t believe I fell for her sales pitch.

However,  I must admit that using my new roller feels pretty darn good.



Peter and I produced two incredible, but wacky, sons.  Usually, I don’t blog about their shenanigans, but this one takes the cake.

For the 3rd Mardi Gras in a row, Jeremy and a colleague appeared at the University of Maryland’s newest dining hall on Tuesday at its 7:00 a.m. opening.   There, for $8, they were able to eat as much of whatever they wanted from a huge variety of food stations. 

But these two don’t stop at breakfast.  They remained in the dining hall until the 9:00 p.m. closing time, eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for their original $8.  Jeremy set up his desk at a table and worked (while piling on the calories) all day long. At the end of the day, he had gained 6.2 lbs.

This is a kid whose most recent Halloween costume was Donald Trump’s Mar A Lago bathroom, complete with shower curtain, gold (painted) toilet seat, chandelier and legal storage boxes. And who celebrates his birthday every year with a clementine-eating contest with worldwide attendance on Zoom.

No further comment


I am about to lambast “old-old, ” a term used to describe anyone alive at age 85 or older. That includes me. But what does old-old mean?

Actually, what does just plain “old” mean?  Are we as old as we feel?  If that’s true, my “oldness” changes like the weather.  When I am walking to the subway, bundled up from head to toe and observe others hatless with open jackets, I don’t feel so youthful.  But when I climb the stairs in my apartment building without puffing, I feel quite fit and young.

To me, “old” is the (formerly) chic, chocolate-brown suede bomber jacket that has hung unworn in my closet since I retired, and, sometimes,  “old” is the woman looking back at me from the mirror.

Would I like to be age 30 again?  No way.

But 75 sounds good.