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Monday, May 19, 2014

Fuddy Duddys Unite: It's Good for You.


  Are you “set in your ways?”
Do you have rituals you just have to perform at certain times of the day? 

     A novelist wrote of a character that “she sought the consolation of underwear.”  As for me, I find my consolation in pink flannel pajamas with hearts printed all over them..

     I cherish the cozy feel of the soft fabric, but getting into them is just one of several steps in a bedtime ritual I choreograph as carefully as I used to for my children.

1.      MY PJs.

2.      My back exercises.

3.      Two minutes of tooth brushing.

4.      Popping into bed (that delicious moment). Pillow under knees, just so.

5.      Radio tuned to my cheerful local station. 

6.      My crossword (with a certain pencil).

7.      My book.

                         No wonder going to bed leaves me totally exhausted!

                         What are the things that you just have to do in a certain way?


          When you are not only quirky but quirky alone, you can act as oddly as you want (at least within the walls of your own house).   I love to talk to myself. 

           I used to goof up around the house (trip over a rug because I’m reading a book, pour the orange juice in the coffee mug) and would chide myself – “You idiot! What a klutz!”  Nowadays, I have knocked that yammering self-critic off my shoulder and  reassure myself: “That’s what I love about you — you are so funny!”   When life deals another random blow I say  “There, there, sweetheart, of course you are upset; let’s sit down and talk it over.”

Sometimes I conduct whole conversations. 

“I’m so embarrassed.”

“If I were you, I’d be embarrassed too”

“But you are me.”

I stick to rules for these things. When a snatch of song comes to my head, I have to sing it out loud, as much  as I can remember.  This works well with short ditties, like



                              Makes you feel ambitious!

                              A giant of a cereal

   Is Quaker Oats.

     It gets stickier when it’s a ballad with lots of verses, like “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night,” leaving me frustrated when I can’t remember it all the way to “and the little ones chewed on the bones, O!”

     Poet Marie Howe says that the rituals of ordinary time, like the water glass you’ve just rinsed and held up to the light, are to be cherished.  “Life is so daily,” Virginia Woolf once exclaimed.  I find myself clinging more and more to the particulars of daily life.  My pink pajamas, my bedtime quirks, my need to stand under the flowering crabapple tree to gaze and gaze, are ways of slowing things down as life streams by, faster and faster. Our fuddy duddy habits seem so solid when, after all, we are passengers on the Titantic in dire need of something to cling to as the deck tilts under our feet. 

           Fuddy-duddies, unite!  Tell me about your lifelines.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Lobby Day!




The first of the two alarm clocks I had set for 5 and 5:15 AM shrilled as I woke to pitch black skies and a forecast of heavy rain and thunder storms to last all morning long.

But we had to drive to Lansing, the Michigan state capital, which is two hours from my house!

“This is the worst moment,” I reminded myself, as I always do when leaving for a trip before dawn. “Things will get better.”

As I gazed out the kitchen window, eating cereal rendered tasteless by my nervousness, I heard a distant rumble.


As I drove through the downpour, a bolt of lightning flashed like a white arrow aimed directly at the carpool spot my friends and I had chosen.  Nobody was there. For quite a while.

I am little old lady, getting older and littler by the day.  Why, with a nervous stomach and fatigued to the gills from a medical procedure the day before, was I doing this to myself?  My beloved earth and everything I love upon it is already past the tipping point of climate change, so why bother? Why not just live out my days not worrying about how things will be after I curl up my toes?

That’s just not me. When I see an injustice, I always figure that if I don’t act against it I am complicit in it. My soul cried out to do something, no matter how hopeless, against our lovely planet becoming uninhabitable for my grandchildren or, if things continue the way they are going, for any human beings and many other species as well.  So I spent the winter studying two issues that seemed especially important for Michigan – the way fracking contaminates our waters and the air we breathe, and how to switch from carbon polluting fuels to clean energy.

If I go at all this alone, there is reason for hopelessness. In reading about these issues on the web, however, I discovered that others had been there before me and done a lot of useful groundwork.  The Sierra Club is especially fact-based and well-organized, providing research and frequent calls for specific actions on the very same issues I am interested in.

And then came the call — Come to Lobby Day!  I rounded up two friends for the adventure. Here came one of them through the heavy downpour, to relay us north to pick up the second.  We were off!

There was a bad moment when we thought we had lost our way in rain-drenched Pontiac, but she is good with maps and we reassured each other that we were on the right track. We arrived at our other friend’s home, took a pit stop, hopped into her car, and were off.

There was a bad moment when she thought her muffler was falling off just as we were turning north to Lansing, but nothing happened and we found a parking lot only a block from the Lobby Day site.

What a miracle of organization!  Every kind of “talking point” had been sent to us by email, there were two conference calls with preparation and advice for meeting with legislators, and the (very) young man who stood up to welcome us explained a complex-to-set-up but efficient process for visiting State Representatives and Senators.  Each group would have a Lobby Leader experienced in the Capitol who knew how each one had been voting, how many Sierra Club members were in his or her district, and other useful tidbits.

My team consisted of just me and Mitch, a large and imposing forty-something with a harried look.  We were both taken aback at the sight of each other, I at the higher expectations on me for remembering facts without a larger team to share the burden; he, I suspect, at the frail little old being he was saddled with.  I told him I was better at making earnest, heartfelt points than remembering numbers, so we divided what we would say accordingly.

As we went from office to office we turned out to be a very good team, he with the numbers and contents of specific bills and striking anecdotes like the fact that frackers were spraying unpaved roads with their toxic wastewater; I with my conviction that my rights as an individual citizen would be abrogated by refusals on the part of fracking companies to disclose what was in their toxic fluid.  I came up with a good point about the lakes in the Oakland County watersheds being so threatened with contamination that property values might plunge; Mitch got their attention with the fact that not a “lump of coal” is mined in the whole State of Michigan so that we have to pay more for it than we would using our own resources.  We both waxed eloquent on the cheapness of, technical advances in, and job creating possibilities of Clean Energy.

They were all Republicans, sworn to follow the party line on global warming, but they or the staff speaking for them listened politely to our points and even seemed to learn something.  My own

                         Rep. Mike McCready, Mitch and Me  (My goodness! I really am a Little Old Lady!)
state representative, Mike McCready, was apologetic for focusing on other committees so that he was not fully up on our issues, but promised to look into them and seemed interested in what we had to say.                                                              
Who knows whether any of the folk we talked to on Lobby Day will actually change anything in their policies? I am more convinced than ever that the point is to do something.  If you just sit there passively and watch the world fall apart underneath you,  there is nothing but guilt and despair.  And the only thing for despair about climate change's impact on our beloved earth, writes Joanna Macy, is “Active Hope.”  “When we perceive our deeper identity as an ecological self that includes not just us but also all life on Earth, then acting for the sake of our world doesn’t seem like a sacrifice. It seems a natural thing to do.”* 

There are follow-up letters to write, getting busy drawing others into action, and a feeling, when the wren sang his heart out in my sun drenched garden this morning, that I was doing everything in my power (and going way beyond my comfort zone while doing so) to ensure there would be many more glistening May mornings for the wren and  both of our descendants long after I have gone.

*Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, p. 76.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tongue-Tied in the Suburbs

When we decided to move to the Detroit Metropolitan Area, one of the most segregated communities in America, we chose a suburb with an excellent high school for our fourteen year old daughter, where her grandparents lived. But our friends were astonished. How could we, who had always fought for civil rights, move to suburb so racist that every house deed still forbade Blacks and Jews to live there?

“Maybe we can do some good,” I answered. “People might listen to us since we’re white like them.”

It wasn’t long before I was put to the test. One day after our tennis game we were talking over coffee in the Racquet Club lounge.

“I have to move out of Lathrup Village,” announced Betty angrily. “It’s changing —you know what I mean. And the housing values are going down.”

What I wanted to do was tell her she was ought to know better than to engage in white flight. But Betty had a temper. I couldn’t think of any other way to put it, so I kept quiet.

That silence haunted me for weeks. If I didn’t say anything, I was condoning Betty’s racism. But what could I have said?

I called a friend in Lathrup Village.

“Tell her,” said my friend, “that I have lived here for fifteen years and think that the diversity enhances the neighborhood. Also, the housing values have gone up 15% in the last two years.”

I didn’t want to get into a tiff with Betty. I have noticed that when people are angry, they stop thinking; the surge of emotion seems to blow a fuse in their brains.

I called another friend who gives workshops on racial healing.

“Yes, you should interrupt oppressive speech,” said Mary. “That’s what we call being a white ally. Here’s what you need to do. Know your facts. Be sure that you stick to ‘I’ statements. Don’t point your finger at Betty or get into blame by using ‘you’ phrases like ‘you shouldn’t say that.’”

That was a poser. I practiced a bit. “I,” “I,” Let’s see: "I would enjoy living in a more diverse community myself. And I have a friend in Lathrup Village whose property values have gone up recently.”

Eager to do the right thing, I went back to the tennis court, but Betty didn’t bring up moving. Instead, one day, someone mentioned affirmative action.

“My grandparents came from Poland,” said Betty in a petulant voice. “They worked hard and they made it. I don’t see why Black people can’t do what we did.”

“Facts,”I muttered frantically to myself; “’I’ statements, no ‘you’ statements, and no blaming.”

“I think many of those European immigrants planned their journeys in advance,” I said. “They saved up money for their passage, and had relatives in America to help them. It must have been much harder for African Americans who were kidnapped and enslaved, had no money or friends, and were deliberately separated from their language and tribal groups when they were sold.”

Betty seemed startled, but she didn’t argue. My other friends looked interested, not at all antagonistic. As for me, I felt elated. I had found a way to stand up for my moral values when racist or anti-Semitic or sexist remarks went flying around. I just needed to read up on some more facts, work on my temper, and practice making“I” remarks in front of my mirror until I could get a genuinely non-blaming expression onto my face.

Want to give it a go? Here are some scenarios. Can you think of what to say?

· You have just been to lunch in a hotel dining room with a white business acquaintance. As you walk back to your car, she realizes she has left her pocketbook at the table, by her chair. You go back to look, but it isn’t there. She declares:

“It would be right where I left it if they hadn’t hired so many black waitresses.”

· Your daughter likes to sit with African American students in her school cafeteria. Her friends say “We don’t see why you bother to hang out with Black students. They don’t want to be friends with us; why else would they always choose separate tables?”

  • You are at a cocktail party, standing in a group of five people. One of them is a very tall African American. A white man asks him what his sport was in college, and adds “I bet you played basketball.”

Send me some of your ideas and we can figure out what will work.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Road Trip!



I am not one of those senior citizens who dislikes winter and always wants to travel south to get away from it. My brain, which slows to molasses in heat and humidity, works much better in the cold. But this winter was different.   It snowed and snowed and when it wasn't snowing the sky loured drearily, so steadily overcast that all through February I only caught a glimpse of the blue sky once or twice. I felt walled in. I itched with cabin fever. When a friend asked two of us to fly down to Florida, spend four days at her condo, and then help her drive back to Michigan, I lept at the offer.
Along the way, I came up with some travel tips you might find helpful.

Flying South 
  • Those of you who are frequent and sophisticated flyers probably know this already, but I was astonished that my travel companion was able to book both our flight and our luggage  via Travelocity and to get our boarding passes and baggage checks printed out twenty four hours ahead of time. 
  • Does your airport have a terminal that is smaller than the main one? This shortens the security lines, since there are fewer people checking in, and there was no line at all where we checked our bags in outside. In Detroit, the North Terminal has much shorter lines than the main one. Too, it has a terrific bookstore and nice coffee shops near the boarding gates.

  • If you are seventy-five and older, you don’t have to take your shoes off!

  • Take a sandwich, since few airlines serve meals anymore (peanut butter and jelly doesn’t spoil in your handbag). Beverages will be served and that will give you something to have in your stomach during flight.

  •  Do chat with strangers — other people are full of interesting quirks.  Here’s a lady I talked to who was accompanied by a wide-eyed little dog whose round head protruded out of her personal wheeled suitcase like a ball of dandelion fluff. “Jasmine always travels with me,” said her owner, “ though it is terribly expensive to bring her along.”


The Road Trip

            After four lovely days of basking on the beach in the sun and walking along it when it got cooler, touring Naples, visiting friends and relatives and happily lolling around, we three set off for home. I'm an old dog, but I can learn new tricks. Here are some that I picked up along our way
  •  Take turns driving, as long as you hold up; if you don’t hold up,                don’t drive.  I did fine the first two days but, as it got colder and the heat in the car had to be turned up higher and higher it made me dizzy so asked my two friends to do the driving.
  • Don’t drive at night.  It isn’t just our vision that is compromised as we grow older; it’s our judgment. We still make perfectly good decisions; we just make them slower. Combined with not being able to see very well, that can be a lethal combination. One night we drove into the turn lane on the wrong side of the pitch dark roadway.

  • Pack old underwear.  One of my travel companions disclosed that, on trips that last a week or so, she packs her weary old underwear and discards it day by day, leaving room in her suitcase for souvenirs. Some friends who went to China carried this even further, leaving everything behind they weren't wearing on their backs!


  • Snoring. This was an acute problem from our first night together in the condo, where my roommate and I took turns sleeping on the sofa in the living room. I really don't like to travel alone these days but snoring (mine and theirs) has made me hesitant to travel with friends  as often as I would like. It is so humiliating to wake up in the morning to find that you’ve done something you don’t remember doing – all three of us did it though I suspect I was the worst offender.  So, we went out and purchased nose strips and all three wore them. These helped a bit, but we still kept each other awake. One night on the road, we got a suite  with a pull out bed in a room where you could close the door. That solved the issue for one of us. Alas, the best solution for snoring is separate rooms, worth the expense because you are not exhausted when you have to get up and drive the next day.

  • If the repair engine light goes on, find a dealership.  It might just have been one of us putting the gas cap back on the wrong way, but the dealership in Ocala, Florida found a serious problem with the fuel line, so we stopped over to get it fixed.  It took three hours, but imagine what it would have been like if we had ground to a halt as we drove through the Tennessee Mountains.

                                   Snow In The Mountains

  • Choose your motel during the day so you have your reservation assured for when you are all tired out from driving.   One of us had this handy-dandy guide to the interstate highway we were on all the way – Dave Hunter’s Along Interstate 7    (I think there’s one for route 95 as well — go to It has useful information like what radio stations can be found along the road, what county you are in should a tornado alert be broadcast, and the history of various locations alone the route. It shows the road going North and South on separate pages,  each with motels, gas stations and restaurants listed  along the way.  After lunch we did looked up motels we thought we would get to by sunset,  and make our reservation via cell phone.

  • Take an audible book along — preferably, a good long one.  We listened to a thoroughly engrossing novel which lasted all of the way home. Even then, three discs were left so  after we were all rested up we foregathered to tote up our bills and to hear how the story ended.

  • Go along with other people’s ideas.  I wouldn’t have thought to tour the local library but one book-loving friend always does this so we did too. One morning, when I was anxious to get off, my friends wanted to stop at an Artisan Workshop where we had an delightful browse. And who would have thought of choosing Ikea as a perfect place to have lunch?

Home at Last

       What do you know — the Florida sunshine, heart-warming companionship and the excitements of the road trip got my mind off of myself so thoroughly  that when, at last, I stumbled through the snow to my door, my cabin fever had been knocked right out of me.



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Turkey Panic!


Here comes Thanksgiving, with my annual Turkey Panic. Is there anyone else who has reached a ripe old age and, having prepared Thanksgiving dinner for what seems like eons, still gets her knickers in a twist over baking that great huge bird?    


Illustration published in The Birmingham Eccentric, Nov 23 1992, by T. Graves

 I have kept this picture for years, covered with scribbles and post-it notes. You would think memos like “14 lb took whole 5 hours,” “Use foil at browning time, not throughout,” “In at  9 done by 12.30 but too dry – baste more,” or “O.K., no problem – cooked in 4 hours,” would reassure me that I have lived through this before and will again, but I always confront some new worry.

There was the time my ten year old daughter opened the oven so many times to baste the turkey that it took eight hours to cook. There was the time when I roasted it at home and brought it to my younger daughter’s apartment an hour’s drive away, only to find it stone cold and dried out on arrival. There was the year that my older daughter became a vegetarian because she didn’t want to eat anything that “had eyes and could look at me.”  She was delighted with her Tofurkey, but the rest of us felt weirdly guilty feasting on our succulent bird. Then there was the time when my younger daughter ordered a complete dinner from Whole Foods because she would be coming home from the hospital with her new baby on Thanksgiving Day.

            “Put your forks down,” declared my son-in-law, brandishing a ladybug he had found in the stuffing. “We can’t eat this!”

            Thawing a frozen turkey was always problematic, so I decided to order a fresh one, only to find it icily solid, fore and aft.  I telephoned the butcher in a panic. He told me to immerse it in lukewarm water for an hour and a half on each side; it felt like giving a bath to a wrinkled baby.

            When the family is all at the table and we are saying grace at last, it is always, always worth it. In 2001, in spite of the enormous tragedy of 9/11 and my husband’s death the year before, our hearts were full of thanksgiving for two new arrivals in the family.  My granddaughter had been born on September 18 and then, in October, my younger daughter and her husband underwent an arduous trip to Ukraine to bring my seven year old grandson safely home. The first time he saw a potato he wanted to peel it and cook it. He only spoke Russian, but  it was clear to us that he had spent a lot of time in the orphanage kitchen.

         He was puzzled by the turkey on his first American Thanksgiving, but wolfed down a big serving of the mashed potatoes he had prepared himself. Then, with an enormous grin, he realized that he could ask for more.

(Written for for November 21, 2012)       



Wednesday, October 24, 2012



            Although I still have friends who refuse to have anything to do with them, I fell in love with computers early and hard.

             In the beginning I was as resistant as anyone when my boss insisted that everyone in our office had to learn to use a computer, and that we must attend a course to do so.

            “He is trying to make us into our own secretaries,” I moaned, glaring at the heavy hard drive that had been inserted under my desk and at the weird Zenith monitor cutting my work space in half.

“Mother,” said my daughter, a computer science major, “here’s the thing. I’ve had to watch you correct page after page of the books you are writing; I can’t bear to see how frustrated and upset you get. With the computer you won’t have to white out all your mistakes or go back and rewrite from scratch. You can cut and paste — move sentences and paragraphs around without having to type every page all over again. How many drafts do you think you throw away?”

            “Oh, eleven or twelve for every page,” I replied sadly.

The problem is, I’ve had a mild case of dyslexia all of my life, which means that I just plain miss a lot of typos and grammatical errors, necessitating rewrite after rewrite.

            “Just take the course. When I get home for Christmas I’ll sit down with you. It’s really easy – you’ll see.”

            So I trotted off to that word processing course where we were handed  light blue notebooks which I remember very fondly for the world they opened up to me. Although the learning curve in those days was very steep indeed, from the first time I moved a paragraph from one page to another and saw a clean copy of a page scroll out of my printer, I was hooked. No more was I wading through a quagmire of typos and erasures; every time that azure screen came up, it beckoned me to new worlds of thought and imagination.


      Then, there came email.  It was cumbersome and full of coding marks in its early versions, but I wonder if I would have such a lovely correspondence with my daughters during their college and young adult years if it hadn’t existed?  It is always special when a hand written letter comes through my mail slot, but in the days of snail mail I never heard from my childhood friends more than once or twice a year. Now, we email back and forth several times a month about the books we are reading, what we think about politics, and how to heal family vicissitudes. I have always been a volunteer and grassroots activist; now email makes it exponentially smoother. Instead of moiling and toiling with telephone trees and leaving messages, I can send reminders to volunteers with a click of the mouse and get stirred to action by emails from causes I support. I’ve been through two presidential elections using a handy dandy “Dashboard” for making campaign calls.  I set up my trusty laptop on my kitchen counter, and a screen pops up with a script for what to say that day to a chosen nearby group (seniors, women, for example). There is a name and address and a telephone number, with boxes where I can check off their presidential choice and whether they want to volunteer themselves.   

I was glad when cell phones came along for the safety they provided on car trips, and I used mine for travel until, one day, I went for an upgrade and purchased an I Phone. On this marvelous invention I can get my email, check the status of my stocks, take and send photos, find out what the weather is like, play a game of solitaire, access the Internet, check the status of my flight or the progress of my train, get the latest from all of my favorite news stations and watch episodes of shows that I have missed.  And I have gotten my hands on some truly miraculous “apps” (applications).

Nxtnutrio takes a picture of the bar code on food I am thinking of purchasing and tells me whether it is genetically modified or contains something I am allergic to. Drawfree is a word-guessing game I can play any time with my granddaughter far away in Colorado, with Leafsnap I can take a picture of some leaves to identify trees. My absolute favorite is TuneinRadio which brings me any station on earth — broadcasts from New York City or Madison or Boston or California. I am so entranced with this service that I have bought a gizmo which looks like a miniature boom box into which I slot my I Phone to amplify my radio shows. I keep it next to my bed so that if I have insomnia I can tune into BBC London’s breakfast program where the host puts me to sleep again by reading the newspaper out loud.

            Then there’s my GPS which, like my cell phone, I bought for safety purposes. I have a mild case of night blindness — not enough to stop driving but enough to make it hard for me to make out house numbers when I am going out to dinner.

            “You have reached your destination,” announces Charles in his British accent, “On the left hand side of the rrroad” (he has trouble with his Rs).

            The original computer voice had a much nastier tone —controlling, and mean spirited. A friend and I were on a road trip to Toronto. I told her how intensely I disliked the GPS  cyber bitch.

            “You don’t have to put up with her,” said my friend, “Go to settings; what does it say?”

            “Australian – we can have Australian,” I replied; “Or American—north or south. And, oh look, we can have British: male or female, and cockney or standard. Let’s try standard.”

            When we arrived in Toronto we discovered that we were staying in a neighborhood called The Annex, a maze of one way streets and confusing street signs.  Charles was right at home, and guided us plummily through the weekend. 

             For older people scornful of technology, I can’t emphasize the element of safety enough.  If you have a flat tire or your car breaks down, with a cell phone you are one click away from rescue; think of the difference between waiting in the heat of summer of the cold of winter for someone to come along and help. In case of an accident or sudden illness at home I have a Mobil Help system, which responds to a button I wear around my neck. Its speaker box asks me if I need help and, if I don’t respond, calls my daughters, a close friend, and the nearest emergency medical technicians. It came with a little all in one button and response device I can take along in my car and use at my summer cottage, making me feel much better about being all alone out there in the woods.

Enthusiast though I am, I’ve experienced the inevitable technological goof ups. Just after I purchased the Mobil Help service and had taken its  GPS device to my cottage,  I inadvertently sat on it. The next thing I knew I had frantic telephone calls from both daughters and my friend, while an ambulance siren wailed in the driveway.

            “Never mind,” said a policeman who also turned up, “It’s obvious that we need to know where you are, and now we do.”

Nor is Charles infallible. From his satellite up in the sky he can’t tell the difference between dirt roads and paved ones and has left me bouncing along over boulder strewn rural byways. I was going out for dinner one night to a house on a street that curved around so that it had two entrances onto the main road. He took me up the wrong one and announced that I had reached my destination when I hadn’t, refused to stop saying so and redirect me. Fortunately, I had my I phone with me and could call my hostess for directions.

            I am always trying to start my television set with my I phone; the other day I tried to dial a telephone number on my remote control.

            People complain that technology is eroding our humanity, making us forget how to talk to each other.  I agree that nothing is better a face to face natter with a good friend, but how about being able to use my I Phone to message back and forth with a daughter who is nervously awaiting a major operation? It is always reassuring when my younger daughter messages to let me know her plane has safely landed. My teenage grandsons have reached a non-communicating phase; without Facebook, I’d never know what they were up to from one end of the year to the next.

            Having always felt that it is our sense of humor that makes us human, the Internet’s  treasure trove of jokes has provided frequent balm for my soul. When a second grade granddaughter is coming for a visit I go to Prairie Home Companion’s handy dandy repository of second grade jokes.  When I am down and despairing, which happens more and more often as age nibbles away at my sensibilities, something hilarious from a friend arriving in my email can completely change my day.
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