(Photo courtesy of Pexels)

I’m going to bring up someone not worthy of mentioning to make a point.

Several years ago, I worked for a group of weekly newspapers, or what might be known in the vernacular as rags. We had to tolerate a lot of crap from some competing reporters and the public. It’s not easy being the little guy. Some people thought we were hacks, and didn’t mind telling us.

One day, my editor told me to write a piece about the head of the Ku Klux Klan in Connecticut, who happened to live in the town I was covering. When he answered the phone, I identified myself and my newspaper.

“Ah, the big leagues,” he sniped, followed by a sinister chuckle.

I felt embarrassed and humiliated until I considered the source, who ended up giving me the interview (not that I was eager to give him press at all.) But our exchange has stuck with me because he was the ultimate putdown artist. He puffed himself up by putting others down. We have many public examples of this, but plenty of people do the same thing.

If you blog, you undoubtedly can relate. When you tell some people you blog, their eyes glaze over and they seem utterly disinterested. Why would in the world would anyone want blog?

So here’s my answer: I couldn’t care less. I’ve never aspired to write a book (not that there’s anything wrong with it), so I’m not giving up the dream. It may be some people’s dream, but it’s not mine. (Yes, I think I stole that line from a song.)

Everyone assumes that if you write, you want to write the great American novel. People have given me books on how to write a novel (Steven King), but I’ve never had the desire. Someone was kind enough to give me Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which I read during a particularly dry creative period. If you’re feeling the least bit stuck, read it. Her method works.

I don’t want to write a novel because I have no idea what I’d write about, and have a short attention span. I’m pretty sure I’d get bored two chapters in. Fiction writing takes time, commitment, patience and good time management skills, none of which are my strong suit. It also helps to have a plot and characters in mind too.

We all have different strengths, and I know my limitations. A few years ago, I took a watercolor painting class. We were doing a still life. I could not for the life of me get my cup and saucer to sit on the table. I brought the picture home, and my son laughed. “What’s your problem Mom?” he asked, erasing a couple of lines and getting them to sit properly.

I stopped going to the class after that. I wanted to be an artist, but it wasn’t happening. In fact, it gave me a splitting headache. You’ve got to find a niche, and journalism suited me. I’m nosy, curious and enjoy talking to people. I used to say the worst part of the job was the writing. It never came particularly easy.

I’ve had a byline since I was 15. I wrote a glowing review of Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus, complete with a sketch of the cover, for my high school newspaper Highlights. My older sister Joanne was the editor-in-chief. When I was named to the position a year later, she wrote that she suspected nepotism was involved. I don’t doubt it.

I remember feeling like a pretender following in her footsteps. She was far more intellectual and studious, graduating third in her class, winning the French Award, and going to Smith College. She considered becoming a writer like famous Smith grad Sylvia Plath (not that she wanted to emulate everything about Plath) before turning to law.

I was a bit more laid back. I didn’t get the point of school until about sophomore year. I was more of a free spirit, the kind of kid who was sad on the school bus when summer vacation ended. Things shifted when I became interested in English, and began reading some assigned books to the end.

My focus shifted to journalism during sophomore year at Wheaton College, when I took literary journalism with a reporter from the Boston Globe. We had assignments every week, and he liked my stuff. He encouraged me to get an internship at the Hartford Courant during winter break junior year. I worked in the Life/Style department and wrote an article about dry skin in winter. I was on my way.

Back then, there was no such thing as career placement at colleges. You spent days sitting in front of your Smith Corona electric typewriter sending out cover letters and resumes. I quickly got the message: unless I had graduated from an Ivy league school or had a master’s degree, I wasn’t getting on a big paper. I was welcome to apply when I had five years of experience on a major metro. Until then, get lost.

So I worked at small papers and took a lot of flack. People like to put down the little guy. One reporter was particularly brutal. She quit one large daily to move to a rival paper because she didn’t feel the first one was worthy of her. She ultimately quit journalism to pursue her dream of fiction writing. Before doing so, she left a trail of inferiority complexes in her wake. She made it perfectly clear to everyone that she was too good for journalism.

So is it better to sit in your ivory tower and write things that will never find an audience, or jump into Blogging Central with its free platforms? I never thought I would blog. Up until a year ago, I didn’t even read blogs and wondered why anyone would. But journalism as I knew it changed while I was busy raising my kids.

When I tried to get writing jobs, they were gone. My hometown newspaper doesn’t use copy editors any more. People who’ve been working at newspapers for 30 years as editors are now reporters again, happy to have paying jobs.

There are no writing jobs for a 59-year-old woman who’s been out of circulation for 20 years. Well, there may be jobs, but I can’t cover another Planning & Zoning Board or Sewer Commission meeting. They were hard enough to tolerate when I was 25.

Some of the best pieces I’ve read all year have been on WordPress, and I’m not just saying that in hopes that they’ll spotlight my blog. There’s a site called Longreads featuring in-depth stories about people and places. One of the best things I’ve read on Longreads is a piece by ESPN Magazine about Tiger Woods. It’s the first thing I’ve read that explains his fall from grace.

So let’s all keep writing, and hitting the publish button on WordPress.






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The old house.

You can’t go home again. And maybe there’s a good reason.

I drove by my old house about a month ago after meeting with a friend. It was spur of the moment, a flight of fancy on a sunny day that could almost pass for spring. It wasn’t out of my way, just a five-minute detour on my way home.

I justified it by saying if someone was outside, I’d stop and catch up. But I really just wanted to see the house where I brought the babies home, raised my first yellow Lab and hung out on my neighbors’ decks for 13 years.

It was that kind of neighborhood, like a verse out of the Monkees’ Pleasant Valley Sunday.  Ordered lots filled mostly with capes, colonials and ranches from the 1920s to the 1960s. Meat sizzling on gas grills – not charcoal – every weekend.  Homeowners mowing lawns and tending to beautiful roses flourishing in the soft sandy soil and salt air.

What we lacked in space we made up for in location. Just three-quarters of a mile from Long Island Sound and a 10-minute walk from downtown, we had quick access to the beach, harbor, railroad station and local businesses. One of our favorite things were walks after dinner to Gulf Beach, or leisurely loops to nearby streets to see Halloween and Christmas decorations with our son in the jogging stroller.

I fell in love with the neighborhood one day while driving through town. I was in my early 30s and in full nesting mode, desperate to leave our rented condo where I couldn’t hang pictures. We’d been having trouble finding a landing spot.  It was 1990, and housing prices were soaring. We were looking, but nothing was grabbing us.

And then it happened. While driving through the neighborhood, I got this incredible feeling of comfort and security, sort of the definition of home. I could imagine myself there, strolling to the beach. I could settle in the shadow of the huge maples, making it seem more shaded street than main drag. We knew tons of people in town from our work on the newspaper, so I imagined them popping by. (This never happened, unless you include my mother-in-law, who had a knack of popping by five minutes after my son began napping.)


We had a lot of fun in our tiny garden.

We found a cape that had undergone few changes since it was built in 1929. I detested the light blue vinyl siding, dreaming of restoring its original white wood shingles, but kept it to save money and time. I also disliked the tiny family room – a converted garage that was confining and always cold – but never got around to knocking down a wall to expand it. (These were the first things the new owner did when he moved in.)

We decided to move when the kids came along. We were on a busy street, terrified that they’d be hit by a car. We also outgrew the house. Toys and plastic kid paraphernalia were everywhere, and the walls were closing in on us. We scouted area towns for about two years before I finally found a place about 30 minutes to the east.

But a funny thing happens on the way to your new life. You move on, but you assume your old house is frozen in time, like the time capsule you and your neighbors buried in 2000 to mark the new century.

Time marches on, and everything changes. People put on new wood shingles, huge additions and junk the basketball hoop that took so long to cement in straight. They unearth the perennials and blaze roses that climbed the wooden fence in a blast of red every May, replacing them with curved stone walls.

Don’t get me wrong. The changes are a vast improvement to our tenure there. Remember, I was living with a younger version of The Curmudgeon, who quashed every improvement I proposed. It’s just bears no resemblance to the place I lived. At all.

Our tiny plot was perfect for sunny perennials planted with no real thought to layout or blooming times. Over the course of 13 years, thousands of dollars and countless hours were spent on plants and herbs, though it was never the showplace of the neighborhood. Not even close.

When my son was old enough, vegetables joined the mix – staked tomatoes, white eggplants and green peppers as fat as baseballs. In a nod to my Italian heritage, I installed a small fountain at the center of the garden. One Saturday, my neighbors Greg and Rich came over to help me lay a pea stone walkway around the garden.

It was that kind of place – neighbors helping neighbors, and deck parties every weekend. I was heart-broken when I peeked into the yard shortly after moving and saw that the plants had been pulled out. I never realized you could have such an emotional attachment to plantings, but I’m here to say you can.

The house has gradually changed over the years, but is unrecognizable in its current incarnation. The back’s been blown out, making room for a huge two story addition. The four-season porch is a two-car garage. The backyard deck is more house.

Any trace of us ever living there has been obliterated, unless you include the backyard garden shed that was there when we moved in. I hate that shed. I opened the shed door to get my seeding trays, and a squirrel jumped onto my head, leaving me with a huge bruise on my left temple and cuts on my scalp. Oh, and a round of rabies shots. Out of everything, the dastardly shed remains.

I’m not sure what drives us to look at our old houses, but part of it must be a desire to go back in time. We change – the scale, mirror, AARP card in the mailbox and calls about hearing aids tells us so – but we expect our old houses to remain unchanged. So much of us is contained in the walls of our houses that we expect – or maybe hope – that a little bit of us remains.

So I can’t go home again. Well, I can. My mom still lives in the house where I grew up and it’s nice to settle into my dad’s worn recliner in the family room. The recliner is the one place I can still almost feel my dad. He spent the bulk of his time in that chair, a nightly bourbon (or two?) at his side and pontificating about life.

He spent his final days in that chair, telling me not to worry about his swollen legs and feet, that he had seen plenty of patients with much worse swelling from heart failure. And I think that as long as he was in that chair – and not in his bed – we could both convince ourselves that it was true.

Of course, it wasn’t. But I will always appreciate him being a father, and trying to comfort me instead of worrying about himself, until his final breath. I guess the recliner reminds me of that every time I sit in it.

All things belonging to the earth will never change – the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth–all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth–these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever. – Thomas Wolfe, author of You Can’t Go Home Again

My Calm Curmudgeon


The Curmudgeon was very happy the Thayer elevator was working on Sunday.

The Curmudgeon is my hero.

He spent 10 minutes stuck in an elevator at the Thayer hotel in West Point, N.Y., and didn’t flinch. When the doors were finally pried open by hotel staffers, he emerged with one request: “I’d just like to go up to my room, take off my jacket and comb my hair.”

What a stud. As everyone in the lobby panicked, scrambled for elevator keys and called the fire marshal’s office, my sweet Curmudgeon showed grace under fire. He even made a business call during his sudden confinement.


Getting stuck didn’t seem to faze him.

You don’t think there’s anything new to discover after a marriage of 34 years, but The Curmudgeon is full of surprises and contradictions. A man who is terrified of mice jumped into the roaring Atlantic to save a drowning woman. A man who stresses over forgetting Bisquick for a two-week summer vacation is calm trapped in a tiny box suspended by cable.

We arrived at the Thayer late Friday after a two-hour drive to watch our son’s tennis team play against West Point and some other colleges. His team was not expected to do well – and didn’t – but we love the sprawling campus overlooking the Hudson River. Last year, his team stayed at the Thayer, while we stayed in a Hampton Inn in Fishkill, N.Y. We vowed to stay at the historic Thayer if we returned this year.

Located just inside the gates of West Point, the Thayer is about the closest we’ll get to being in the military. You need to show ID at the gate, and it’s clear you’re inside a military campus. You awaken at 6 a.m. to the distant sound of cadets chanting in unison as they run through campus. It’s not intrusive but charming, reminiscent of Richard Gere and company in An Officer And A Gentleman.

As you fret about your daily exercise goals – shall I jog or hike today? – students in army fatigues carrying 50-pound packs walk-jog by you. “Hey,” I say to the Curmudgeon. “I guess it’s time to go watch the candy-asses play some tennis.” I’m only half kidding. We can’t even convince our 20-year-old son to run a little to get in better cardiovascular shape.



The Thayer lobby.

Walking the hallways lined with portraits of famous generals and prominent West Point graduates (Stonewall Jackson’s outside our room, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is just down the hall) instills an enormous sense of history and pride. The portraits and plaques remind you of the sacrifices made to protect our country and flag. It floods you with a spirit of patriotism, something in short supply these days.

The Thayer reminds you of everything good and right about our country – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You momentarily forget the issues fracturing our nation, and are proud to be an American. You long for our leaders to begin governing the way our founders intended.

The fact that our visit coincides with national and local marches to protest school shootings across the nation seems fitting. At the end of the day, after all the debate and dialog, every American wants to feel safe going to school, houses of worship, the movie theater or the mall. No matter what your stand on gun control, it’s hard to debate the right to feel safe.

One of the most interesting aspects of being at West Point is the need for ID to get anywhere, and remembering to have your license handy. This is hard for me because I have one of the most disorganized wallets in the western world.

Armed officers want to know where you’re going, and why at all times. As I pulled to the Thayer gate to return to the tennis center on Sunday, a guard asked if I had weapons or guns in the car. “No, of course not,” I said.

He apparently didn’t like my tone, or something about me. “Step out of the car ma’am, and open the trunk,” he said. I was allowed to enter after a cursory inspection of the trunk.


We spent a fair amount of time in the tavern named for Gen. George S. Patton.

The Curmudgeon disappeared to park the car shortly after we checked in around 10 p.m. After he was gone for 15 minutes, I suspected he had stopped into the kid’s room on the first floor. He can never resist a chance for alone time with our son. In fact, he loves telling me when he calls him from school, adding, “Did you hear from him too?”

I was just starting to get annoyed when my cell phone rang. It was The Curmudgeon shouting over a loud buzzing sound. “Hey, I’m stuck in the elevator. Can you get someone to help me?”

I ran to the lobby, and summoned help. A security guard kept asking me if he was OK. “Yea, he’s just stuck in the elevator and wants to get out,” I said. “We haven’t even really gotten into our room yet.”

The Curmudgeon remained remarkably calm. His only complaint was a ringing in his ears from the emergency buzzer. But I began to get a little panicky. An admitted claustrophobic, getting stuck in an elevator is among my worst fears. Getting stuck in a small elevator with no emergency door on the ceiling would freak me out.

After some fiddling and cursing, the door flew open. The Curmudgeon was leaning against the back of the elevator. He looked surprised, almost shocked, that he was suddenly sprung.

The manager rushed over to see if he was OK. She asked if he wanted to go to the hospital. When he declined, she said she’d need to write up an emergency report. The Curmudgeon agreed, with one caveat: “I’ll talk to the fire marshal all night,” he said. “But if I don’t eat something, I’m going to pass out.”

The Curmudgeon scored free drinks and dinner in the restaurant tavern for his trouble. And when we checked out on Sunday, he made sure it was 10 minutes late, making up for his lost time in the elevator.

Angel of Mine


I’ve got a little angel on my shoulder.

She emerged from the shadows a few days ago, alerting me by Facebook Messenger that I had a typo in a blog post. The next day, she returned, telling me that I had forgotten a “T” in it.

“Damn,” I thought. “She’s good. I didn’t even see that.”

She told me she’d understand if I want her to stop, but I don’t. She’s looking out for me. I didn’t ask for her help, but she’s giving it. What kind of fool would turn that down?

It’s rare to find people who are pulling for you in this dog eat dog world, but sometimes they emerge out of nowhere. My angel used to work at the same newspaper group that I did, though we never worked together. I met her at a newspaper reunion several years ago, and we struck up a conversation about insomnia. We became Facebook friends, and she’s become one of my most faithful blog followers.

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve my angel’s unwavering support, but I’ll take it and I’ll run with it if you don’t mind. It’s rare for women to be so encouraging and supportive of other women’s creative endeavors. I’m sorry if that sounds jaded, but I’ve been on the receiving end of mean girls over the years. When I find a really kind girl who wants me to succeed, I’m going to shout about it from the rooftops.

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Sometimes winning is getting over the finish line with a little help from your friends. I spotted this trio in the New Haven Labor Day 5K (2017).

I think we all have a mean girl or two in our past (or present) – those who seem to dislike or alienate us for no apparent reason. Women are especially unforgiving and bizarre in friendships. One day, you’re best buddies, while the next you’re no longer speaking – and you don’t even know why.

The things we get annoyed about with our friends could fill a book: she calls too much; she doesn’t call enough; she only calls when she needs something; she never comes up for air; she only talks about herself and never asks about me; I feel like I’m her therapist; how dare she cancel on me at the last minute? Well, isn’t that nice she’s going to lunch with that friend. She never does that with me.


I don’t know why it’s so hard for women to discuss our annoyances with friends, but it is. Oh, we tell other friends what’s driving us crazy about them, but we won’t tell them to their face. And often, you reach a point where it’s just easier to drop them (or be dropped) than work things out.

I have been a not so great friend at times. This happens when I’m feeling overloaded in my personal life, and resent the demands of friendship. Instead of owning up to my feelings, I withdraw. My friend and I stop speaking, making both of us unhappy. The relationship becomes strained, and sometimes breaks.

I’ve been fortunate to have some very understanding friends (and sisters) who love me in spite of my mistakes. They’ve accepted my apologies, and we’ve moved on. I have other friends who I never talk to because they’re unwilling or too proud to forgive. About the only thing you can say to people sometimes is “I’m sorry.” We tell kids to say it when they hurt their friends, but won’t do it ourselves.

Just like no means no, sorry means sorry. You can’t say “I’m sorry but.” The Curmudgeon has tried this with me and it drives me crazy. “Just stop at sorry. Just stop at sorry, OK?”

I’m not going to name my angel because that would truly embarrass her. But I  appreciate her wanting the best for me, and going out of her way to help me. She is sort of a guardian angel, keeping watch over my writing so I don’t make a fool out of myself. She’s my virtual safety net as I dance on Blogging Central’s high wire.

What’s your take on guardian angels? I believed I had a guardian angel as a young girl, knowing that someone or something was looking out for me in the world. But I forgot about my angel as I grew up, dismissing it as fantasy along with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

But religious folks I know – and I know many – tell me that guardian angels are very real. In one chapel I frequent, six carved angels preside over the altar. A Dominican nun told me that angels are present, but will only come to your aid if called upon.

“They’ll only help you if you believe and ask,” a nun recently told me.

So this has been my problem all these years. I’ve neglected angels in my midst. That explains everything.

Though I have no proof angels exist, I did find a silver religious token several months ago that read, “You are protected by angels.” Perhaps this foreshadowed my editing angel. I will never know for sure.

What surprises me most about my editing angel is her willingness to help me without expecting anything in return. She could say nothing and silently joke about my editing shortcomings, but she’s there. I think we all need a few angels like her in our lives.

Several years ago, I left one newspaper for a chain of weeklies. I needed a change, and it paid a lot more. Besides, I had the chance to start a new weekly. I worked my tail off on the first issue, and was proud of the result. But I was crestfallen to learn a woman I had worked with, and who had come to my wedding, had taken out a red grease pencil and tore my work to shreds.

Someone told me about it, and it hurt. Did doing that make her feel better? And why did she feel the need to cut me down? I liked her, and we were colleagues for five years. That really put me on notice that people can turn on you the instant you walk out the door.

Women need to pull for each other more, or if you’ll excuse the expression, “lean in.”  We’re all in this together, so let’s help each other out and work together.

This came up a few days ago during a conversation with my 16-year-old daughter, who runs track for her high school team. She was assigned a teammate and the two were supposed to pace each other. Pacing means staying together, working as a unit.

The girl was supposed to stay with my daughter, but spent the entire practice running ahead of her. My daughter arrived home angry and confused. Why was her teammate so intent on beating her in a practice?

I sadly told my daughter that this is often the case with women, particularly in sports. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE to win. But I’m not going to step over people or cheat to do it. And if I lose, so be it. It’s not the first time, and certainly won’t be the last.

Sometimes, you win when you see that little “1” in your Facebook Messenger, and notice your editing angel spotted a mistake. Sometimes you win when you finish a road race, and help others over the finish line. You certainly win when you pull for another person and wish her success instead of failure. And you definitely win when you pace someone, and stay with her instead of leaving her in your dust.


Memory Lane


You can say what you want about social media, but it has its perks.

  1. It keeps you connected with family and friends around the world.
  2. It keeps you connected with high school and college classmates. I’ve attended my past two high school reunions because of Facebook. My class has its own Facebook page. It’s updated regularly and keeps us abreast of events and news about classmates – the good and the bad. It’s an invaluable tool for keeping us connected.
  3. It’s a wonderful way of publishing my blog, and having people weigh in with their own experiences. I love when people read something I’ve written, and tell me how it relates to their own life. You rarely get this type of feedback in newspaper reporting. Good news reporters keep professional distance between themselves and a subject, trying not to insert opinion. In blogging, you can let it all hang out and let the chips fall where they may. (Yea, that’s a cliche. I know, and I’m using it anyway.)
  4. It’s a unique way of communicating with your childhood best friends, in this case Lizzie and Robin. I met Lizzie when she moved into the neighborhood in third grade, and Robin when she moved into the house across the street a year later. I guess you could say we were the best of friends. I mentioned something in passing about Lizzie’s wedding in a blog post yesterday, and here’s the photo today. Talk about instant gratification.

This photo was shot at Lizzie’s wedding in the late ’80s. I was thrilled that it was at her parents’ home because it’s my all-time favorite house. Located on a rocky bluff above Long Island Sound, it features wall-to-ceiling views of the sound. What makes it so cool is that it looks like a traditional sprawling Colonial from the front, but features an open floor plan. It’s the perfect marriage of old and new, traditional and modern.

My favorite part about the house is everything. It features broad expanses of slightly off white walls filled with her father’s stunning photographs. My favorite is a huge black and white photograph of a group of boys on the streets of London in the ’60s. It used to hang over the fireplace in their old house in Orange, CT. Now, it occupies a wall just off the living room.

Lizzie’s father Ronnie was an accomplished amateur photographer, the kind of guy who would take three weeks every May and spirit off to Europe with her mom to take pictures and tromp around the countryside. Her Grandma Tamarkin would come in from Missouri, and hold down the fort for Lizzie and her brother David. I don’t remember much about Grandma Tamarkin, just that she was tiny and always wore her hair pulled back.

I love the floors in the house too. Wide-planked and probably original to the house, they’re stained a deep dark brown, lending richness and warmth to the gallery-like space. The main floor is devoid of walls, supported only by columns. Area rugs (Oriental, as I remember) anchor various seating areas. My favorite is the living room overlooking the sound. It’s as close to feeling outside while you’re sitting inside that you’ll get.

Lizzie’s wedding was a traditional Jewish affair held in the backyard. It was relatively small, so I was honored that she invited The Curmudgeon and me. It was a beautiful day, and the sun sparkled off the water. I don’t remember much more, just that the setting was glorious and I loved the house.

I’ve always dreamed about living on the water, and I get that chance once a year when we go to South Carolina for a week. It’s not nearly enough, but I’ll take it. The rest of the time I get by with my sound machine tuned to ocean waves.

What makes this house so charming is its understatement. Unlike many palaces built near the water, it doesn’t scream wealth, power or privilege. You get the sense that the occupants of this place have their priorities in order, that they subscribe to the theory “less is more.” Don’t get me wrong, it is a stunning house, complete with a dock and a guest house. It just doesn’t shout it from its rooftop like some other places I’ve seen.

Simplicity. Class. Elegance. Attention to detail instead of square footage. I wish we could see more houses like this in Architectural Digest instead of Fifth Avenue penthouses where a single chair costs $7,000. Most of us operate in a world where $7,000 is a huge deal – a new furnace or used car for the kid who just got his license. I don’t know many people who can or would shell out that much for a chair. Reading about people who do is more off-putting than inspiring.

Of course, not everything about Facebook is hunky dory. Here are just a few of my pet peeves:

  1. People (friends) who like everything certain people post, and never throw you a bone. Ever.
  2. Friends who post pictures of parties or events that you weren’t invited to attend.
  3. People who scroll through your feed and never make their presence known. As in, never contribute to the conversation.
  4. People who brag about everything their kids do.
  5. People who don’t like your initial post, but then join the conversation when someone else comments on it.
  6. People who are not on Facebook, but ask you for information from Facebook because as you know, they’re not on Facebook.




Professional Jealousy


I had no idea that when I put The Curmudgeon through law school 30 years ago, he’d morph into my toughest critic.

The Curmudgeon doesn’t read my blog.

It’s probably a good thing. I asked him to read my post about Mothers Against Drunk Driving because it contained some legal jargon and in his spare time, he’s an attorney. I was also looking for feedback because he tells me everyday how much he enjoys reading a sports columnist in our daily newspaper.

“Have you read his column?” he says, pulling out his article about University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie’s firing, and reading it to me word for word. “This guy is really amazing.”

It reminds me of listening to my grandmother brag about our cousins. I love them, but she insisted on carrying on about them when she was visiting us. It’s like dating a guy who talks about his ex-girlfriend, or a mother who brags endlessly about her children.

Growing up, we knew a family with three children – a biological son, an adopted daughter, and a biological younger daughter. I felt the adopted girl’s pain every time her mother carried on about her younger sister. I think everyone did. It was incessant, over the top and embarrassing. It taught me empathy at a young age, but more importantly that some adults are complete jackasses.

Kids notice when parents, grandparents and in-laws do this. And about the only thing it does is stir up feelings of jealousy and competitiveness. You end up resenting people who are the focus of incessant bragging, even though you realize it’s not their fault.

I didn’t have to worry about this because my parents didn’t talk about us. The last thing they wanted to do when they went out was talk about seven kids. I’m not even sure my mother knew that I played tennis in high school. Oh wait, she did. She sewed me a few tennis dresses, including a pale yellow one trimmed in white rick-rack. But outfits were as far as she went. She didn’t come to matches, nor did she ask if I won or lost.

She wasn’t my co-pilot; she was my mom. She was smart enough to know my victories or losses were not hers, that I had to learn to navigate the world on my own. We could all take a lesson from that generation. You can bet those moms weren’t receiving letters addressed to “co-pilots” from college admissions offices, as one of my sisters did last week.

We didn’t have to worry about my parents’ friends rolling their eyes hearing stories about us on Saturday nights. They did their thing, we did ours. We didn’t hang out with them on vacations – that’s the last thing any of us wanted. My parents socialized with the adults. We hung out with our three cousins and four “fake” cousins, kids of my father’s best friend.

There was a great divide between parents and kids, and we all liked it that way. Being away from adults gave us time to bond. Anyone with cousins knows what I’m talking about. It’s a unique relationship. You’re related, but you don’t live with each other so there are no fights.  You share the same grandparents on one side, but there’s a whole other side you know nothing about, nor do you much care. You always believe that your cousins like you better than their cousins on the other side. I’m pretty sure mine do.

Like many adults, I don’t see my cousins often enough. I’m not sure why that happens, but it does. Plans to get together are complicated by distance, work schedules and kids’ school and sports commitments. Nothing takes a bigger toll on family time than sports, particularly in high school with mandatory practices and benching for skipping. It’s unforgiving, a little like The Curmudgeon reading my piece.

He didn’t even get to the end of the first sentence when he began nitpicking. “Do you mean you drove drunk once when you were a teen-ager or more than once?” he asked. “I think maybe this is what you’re trying to say, or you should re-word it so it’s clearer.” “Are you sure this is the right word, because it doesn’t sound like it is.”

Two seconds later, he was asking for more information about a kid I mentioned, and clarifications about other statements. “Geez,” I thought. “Are you done yet?”

“I’m just acting like your old editor John. Think of me as John,” he said.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that if John questioned my work like he did, I would have walked out on the first day. I’m pretty sure that nothing would get printed if attorneys were editors. This wasn’t a brief. It was a blog post whipped off in a fleeting moment of inspiration. If I didn’t publish it soon, it was destined to linger in my draft bin with more than 100 other unpublished posts.

He continued to read a few posts, saying nothing as he scrolled. He finally got up without a word. He doesn’t know it, but he’s a perfect follower. He didn’t say anything negative – just nothing at all. I don’t mind, but if I have to hear another word about that sports writer, I’m going to be really mad.



March Madness

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A pussy willow covered in catkins. This one managed to survive a series of storms that downed other nearby trees.

First it was blue birds in my yard. Now, pussy willow shrubs and trees have me in a frenzy, searching woodlands, swamps and highway banks for branches covered in tiny fuzzy catkins.

“You’re addicted to pussy willows,” my daughter observed. “No, I think I’m obsessed,” I said. “There’s a difference.”

I’m not sure what it is about these early spring bloomers that sets hearts a flutter, but I  love pussy willows, so named because their furry blooms resemble little cat’s feet. Their appeal is universal. They remind us of hikes in the woods, Easter egg hunts, spring bouquets on Grandma’s dining room table, and dried twigs in clear vases on teachers’ desks.

I’m not talking about pristine pussy willows in bundles in the floral section at the supermarket, though those are lovely too. I’m talking about pussy willows in the wild: sprouting in creek banks, wetlands and among tangles of weeds on roadsides. They’re easy to spot if you look up. The trouble is most of us spend our time looking straight ahead, failing to see what’s around us.

I spotted my first pussy willow tree last week. Driving through a friend’s neighborhood, I noticed a large pussy willow had blown over in a storm and was on its side. It was a beautiful tree, with branches covered in thousands of silvery-grey silky soft puffs resembling fur. Whoever named the pussy willow was a genius. With its fuzzy blooms, it really does look like a cross between plant and animal.

I hastily tore off a few branches, but vowed to return with my clippers the next day. And though I was tempted to keep my find to myself, I did the right thing. I shared my discovery with my friend Barbara, who descended upon it within an hour of my text. Suburban women are like vultures when it comes to plant road kill. It doesn’t take long to discover it, and go in for the spoils.

I’ve lived in Guilford, CT., for 15 years, and never noticed pussy willows until now. They came on my radar in late January when my older sister and I were discussing forcing branches. She forced pussy willow from her backyard shrub for the state garden show competition, walking away with a first prize blue ribbon.

“You know, they grow in the wild,” I said. Of course, she knew. But I had forgotten all about them. Growing up, we had at least three pussy willows in a stand of trees in our side yard. They were fairly tall, interspersed among several white birches, assorted vines, prickers and moss.

That area was an oasis for kids. The pussy willows were great for gathering into bouquets, while the birch branches provided their own entertainment. We’d break off a few birch twigs, and whittle off an inch or two of bark, exposing the flesh and sucking on it. It tasted like birch beer, not necessarily my favorite soda flavor, but a delightful natural treat.


Another view.

A series of storms destroyed the pussy willows and birches, marking the end of an era. Our next door neighbor replaced them with an evergreen privacy screen, lacking the charm and grace of the previous inhabitants. The pussy willows and birches invited exploration, while the evergreens demanded privacy. It’s amazing how much you can say with landscaping.

With our charming trees gone, the side yard held no interest. We gravitated to the other side of the property, where a level clearing at the foot of a slope became home to our swimming pool. Though many complain that pools don’t make a lot of sense in New England because the season is so short – Memorial Day to Labor Day unless it’s heated – our pool was a home run.

Between swimming, pool parties and the upkeep, the pool kept us busy and out of mom’s hair. And staying out of mom’s hair is a major accomplishment when you’re one of seven kids who could find a way into mom’s hair without even trying.

Why pussy willows and why now? I have no idea. It may signal a general slowing down of my mind and body with one kid away at college, and another about to turn 17. It’s amazing how much time, energy and attention children consume without us realizing it. Or it may just be my first step toward the old age home. Only time will tell.

With my son and the whirlwind that is he away, my mind has slipped into another gear. It’s as though the world’s an I Spy picture, and I’m just now able to discern things hiding in plain sight. With him managing his own life (sort of), and my daughter with one foot out the door, there’s space to notice things that I was unaware I wasn’t noticing.

My fascination with pussy willows is a little like the 5-year-old boy gazing at the large fish tank at the pediatrician’s office last week. As his mother scrolled her I-Phone in the receptionist’s line, he tugged at her arm to look at the fish. After three or four failed attempts to coax her, she came over and looked for about 20 seconds before getting back to her phone.

I remember my son at that age, and was tempted to shout, “Put the damn phone down and look in the tank. You will be longing for these days in 15 years, begging for a chance to find the big fish in the tank with your little guy.” But I didn’t because that would be weird and extremely inappropriate. Besides, I was exactly like her when my son was 5 – trying to grab moments of time between the craziness.

But the kids are onto something. Years ago, I wrote a piece about laughter. Did you know that most kids laugh about 50 times a day, while adults average a piddly three? I’m afraid there are some people who never crack a smile. Think about that one the next time you opt for the I-Phone instead of the fish tank.

Kids are the perfect height for noticing the wonders of the world: fish, frogs, ducks, turtles, birds, bunnies, lizards, Johnny jump-ups, praying mantis, grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies. Kids look up, down, and all around. They make snow angels and roll gigantic balls for snowmen, while adults fret about downed trees and clearing roads.

Kids get it, they really do. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that we were kids, but we were. And maybe that’s the point of the pussy willows. They remind us that the kid is still in there. We just forget, and maybe that’s why some adults we encounter – including ourselves at times – are so nasty, miserable and envious of other people. We’ve completely forgotten about pussy willows.

They’ve been there the whole time. We just need to look.





MADD About You


Photo boards of some victims of DWI crashes in Connecticut line the offices at MADD’s Connecticut chapter headquarters in East Haven.

If you grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you know at least one person who was killed in a drunk driving crash.

For me, it was a beautiful girl with red hair and fiery spirit the year behind me in school. I didn’t know her, but knew who she was. She went to my church and was part of a large Irish brood known by everyone in town.

She was killed after the car she was riding in slammed into a tree late one night returning home from her summer job. In an instant, she was gone.

Back then, our attitudes and laws about drinking and driving were pretty lax. We hopped into cars after partying without much thought of crashing or getting arrested. One of my friends from Fairfield Prep drank so much one night that he passed out at a toll booth on the Merritt Parkway. No one took his keys, or called his parents. They simply shook him awake, and told him to move on.

Did I drink and drive? Yes. I wasn’t drunk, but I would fail today’s standard for designated drivers, which is no alcohol. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth. We were all a little dense back then.

Today, we know better. Drunk driving laws have been toughened, lowering the standard for drunk driving from .10 to .08 in Connecticut. Stricter penalties, mandatory jail time for repeat offenders, and ignition locking devices are in place to keep drunks off the road. But MADD’s biggest achievement may be in changing attitudes.


Beer cups after a road race.

Today’s teens, young adults and parents are much more aware of the dangers of drinking and driving.  Designated drivers are assigned or overnights arranged at friends’ houses keep kids safe after a night of drinking. Schools have also jumped on board, hosting alcohol free post-prom and graduation events.

It’s worked. Today, half as many people are dying in DWI/DUI crashes in Connecticut as 1984. MADD is proof that you can make inroads and save lives if you’re persistent.

MADD is proof that change is a slow process borne of years of conviction and dedication. It shows that change can happen if people make enough noise that lawmakers must listen.

It’s proof that if laws and attitudes about DWI can change, stricter laws can be adopted to prevent gun violence in schools. It won’t happen overnight, with one day of student walkouts or one national march. Like MADD, gun safety advocates must gear up for the long haul because changes take time, a very long time.

MADD started with one California woman, Candy Lightner, who took her devastation and anger over her daughter’s 1980 death in a DWI crash and sprung into action. Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter was walking to a church carnival when she was struck by a repeat DWI offender. Lightner committed herself to changing attitudes toward DWI, which she termed society’s only acceptable form of homicide. Today, MADD is among the largest non-profit advocacy groups in the nation.

Like Lightner, Janice Heggie Margolis unwittingly stumbled into her role as Connecticut chapter MADD president.


Eric Zimmerman was killed by a drunk driver in Milford, CT. I covered his court case, and interviewed his heart-broken mom.

While working in a hospital emergency room one night, a 4-year-old boy was rushed in and later declared dead after a DWI crash. The boy was standing on the passenger seat, and catapulted through the windshield on impact. Janice, a registered nurse, went to break the news to the driver: the boy’s father, who was too drunk to comprehend what he’d done.

“I had a baby at home so I had to do something,” she said.

Instead of a nursing career, she committed herself to MADD. She was still saving lives, but in a different way. She admits she was green when she started out. What did a nurse know about the court system? She credits court officials and judges with showing her the ropes.

Over the years, Janice, 66, has been a tireless victims rights advocate, appearing in court, working with families and lobbying for tougher DWI laws. She can take pride in her work, which has drastically cut the number of drunk driving deaths in Connecticut.

Janice attributes the reduction to public awareness, ride services like Uber, and interlocking devices requiring people who’ve been arrested for DWI to blow into them to start the ignition.

If you’re arrested for drunk driving, your car is equipped with an ignition interlock device requiring you to breathe into it to start it. You pay for the device, but like many things, people figure out ways to circumvent it. They have other people blow into it, or borrow cars without the device. Sadly, someone who wants to drive drunk can always find a way.

Though often feeling as though she taking three steps forward and two back, Janice said she’s seen progress since the late 80s. Between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2017, ignition interlock devices stopped 144,010 intoxicated drivers in Connecticut. That’s 144,000 times that people were too drunk to drive, and tried to do it anyway.

The number of drunk driving deaths is also dropping. In 1984, 252 people were killed in DWI crashes. In 2016, that number dropped to 100. But it’s a constant fight. And Janice points out that no devices prevent people from driving under the influence of drugs, another major road hazard.

One of the conference rooms at MADD headquarters in East Haven is filled with poster boards bearing the images of people killed in drunk driving crashes. I asked Janice how she handles sitting in the room. The images of smiling faces whose lives were tragically cut short is haunting. But Janice doesn’t see things that way.

“I see it as I’m having lunch all these people every day,” she said. “It’s an honor to sit in this room and honor their memory.”

Today, Janice is the oldest MADD president in the nation. But if you think 35 years is enough or she’s thinking about retirement, you’re wrong.

She’s made inroads, yes, but there’s so much more to be done. And as she’s proven, she’s in this for the long haul.

Mob Mentality


Checking out the road after Wednesday’s storm. The plow stopped because snow-covered branches blocked the road.

I ran into a friend who was searching for wild mushrooms at a walking trail. As my friend Wendy and I joined the hunt, she said, “Maybe we’ll find a Kindness Rock. I’ve found a few of them here.”

“What we really need,” I said, ‘is more kindness and fewer rocks. Why spend time painting rocks when you can do actual acts of kindness?”

“Blog that,” Renee said, sounding a little like an editor. “That’s your next blog.”

Turns out, it is. After spending a few days without power, folks  turned testy, taking out their anger on our town’s Facebook page. The trigger? A nasty nor’easter that brought rain, wind, thunder, lightning and snow, leaving branches and twigs looking like they were coated in thick flour. Oh, and leaving lots of us without power.


The end of a branch covered in snow made a spectacular shape.

When one woman shared her frustration entering her third day without power, she was skewered with snide remarks. The woman proposed a tax break on the cost of buying and installing generators. It was just an idea, but people let her have it.

“Stop Bitching,” “Just be glad you’re not in Puerto Rico.” “Preparation is key if you live in New England. With no plan shame on you.” “Look at it as family time without electronics.” “Good tree stewardship can prevent power outages.” “Tripping over the dollars to pick up the pennies.”

Everyone once in awhile this happens on the Facebook page, and it’s like watching a train wreck. Someone complains, and soon the negative remarks begin. In no time, people pile on until it’s a verbal lynching.

It makes me wonder why anyone would post anything on this page. Though it’s generally a feel-good place featuring local photographers’ landscapes or heart-warming stories about people, places or pets, it sometimes turns nasty. And honestly, you never know what’s going to set off these Yankees.

No sooner had the woman posted her remark than people began calling her entitled, spoiled and critical of the lineman doing their jobs. It’s funny how people interpret things to justify their own views. It also shows a growing unwillingness today to listen to people’s point of view.


I’ve never seen branches covered in such thick snow. They almost looked like they had been breaded in flour.

Kindness is much more than a word, or a rock. It’s consideration for other people and their circumstances, opinions, and feelings. It’s giving them a break when you don’t feel like it, or waving them into traffic when you haven’t moved in five minutes. It’s letting them merge onto Interstate 95 instead of speeding up and running them off the road.

It’s letting someone pull out of a side street instead of crossing their bow. It’s stopping at crosswalks and waiting patiently. It’s putting on your turn signal, and definitely not tailgating. It’s letting people with two items in front of you in the supermarket checkout line. It’s holding the door instead of letting it slam in someone’s face. (This happens to me about once a day. I usually respond with a loud, “Thanks.”)


No Way Out: Snow-heavy branches blocked our road. We cleared it by shaking branches and small trees, allowing the plow to pass.

It’s offering to move over to let someone else sit down. It’s thinking before you speak or post, asking yourself if you’re adding to the conversation. It’s building up instead of tearing down. Making eye contact and smiling at strangers, paying it forward without telling everyone about your good deed.

It’s waiting your turn, and offering to help someone instead of assuming they have a cell phone. It’s stopping into a nursing home to visit elderly folks who never get visitors, or inviting someone into your lap lane instead of ignoring them. It’s handing someone tennis balls instead of slamming them in their direction when you miss a shot. It’s not being a jerk, and realizing there are other people in the world besides yourself.

It’s not putting someone down just because you don’t agree with something they said. It’s considering their point of view, not tearing them apart with sarcasm, or acting like a know-it-all. It’s treating people the way you want to be treated.

I considered posting a comment on Facebook saying that I understood the woman’s position, but I didn’t want to be verbally attacked. I didn’t feel like opening myself to public scorn or ridicule. I didn’t necessarily agree with her idea, but I wanted to defend her. I certainly don’t think she deserved to be attacked for voicing her opinion.


The snow was wet and heavy, but beautiful. This is a shot of my neighbor’s tree shortly after the snow stopped Thursday morning.

Losing power turns a lot of us into idiots. I’m a complete nut when it goes out, mainly because I like the conveniences of modern living and don’t enjoy roughing it. I’m the one telling The Curmudgeon to haul the portable generator out of the garage two minutes after power goes out.

“Let’s give it awhile,” he says. “Maybe it will go back on.”

“What’s the point of having it if we’re not going to use it?” I snap. “And if we’re going to use it, why not just get it out there now?”

Everyone in my house hates generator, a bright yellow Champion 6800 that I bought after a storm knocked out power for eight days about five years ago. The Curmudgeon is loathe to use it. My son claims it’s poorly designed, with only a single awkward handle to pull it. My daughter is afraid of it, thinking she will be electrocuted when taking a shower.

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The most hated machine: the portable generator.

But it is a game changer and I’m glad we have it. For an investment of about $2,000 (about $650 for the generator and $1,300 to wire the house), it powers the furnace, hot water heater, well pump, refrigerator and a few lights. It’s not much, but it’s the difference between functioning and freezing in the dark without running water.

After power was restored about 5:30 p.m. Friday, I thought about posting that I had a generator available if anyone wanted to borrow it. But these portable generators aren’t much good unless the furnace and well pump are wired for them. Without that, it’s just a couple of plugs for lights and maybe the refrigerator on an extension cord.

The kindest thing would have been to offer it anyway, letting people decide if it was worth the hassle. But I didn’t do the kindest thing. I did the easiest thing, which was nothing.

I was heartened to open Facebook today and see that a resident offered to loan her generator to anyone who needed it. She’s got the right idea. Don’t just think or talk about kindness, do it with an open heart. It’s a good lesson, something we can all strive for the next time we lose power. I just hope it’s not too soon.

Toughing It Out


My Dad and I at Wheaton College, Norton, MA., commencement, 1980.

This week is tough.

My mother-in-law Maureen died at age 72 on March 5, 2004, after a brief but horrific battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Five years later nearly to the day, my father died at age 82 of heart failure. Both lived long and full lives, but losing two of the most powerful and influential people in our lives was heartbreaking.

I’ve never been particularly fond of early March, and I could feel that odd creeping of the anniversary of deaths last week. I was a little off (more so than usual) and then I thought, “Oh, of course. How could I forget?” When I shared this with my mom, she said, “Yes, I try not to remember what happened at this time of year too much.”

My mother, a registered nurse, was my Dad’s primary caretaker always, but more so during his final weeks. His shouts of “Gerry!” became sort of like a baby’s cry, frequent and insistent. Hospice workers told us that we would cherish the opportunity to be with him in his final days, but I still have yet to come around to their point of view. Watching someone you love die is the worst thing in the world.

Both my father and my mother-in-law were two of the toughest people I ever knew. They were physically strong, but I’m referring to their personalities. Both were extremely opinionated, almost bombastic. They were strident, and commanded rooms. My father had a wicked Sicilian temper, and my mother-in-law was a know-it-all.

But it all came to a crashing halt when they became gravely ill. My mother-in-law tripped over a dishwasher door in May injuring her knee, and by July was so dog-tired that she went to the doctor for blood tests, which came back normal. She had no appetite and was losing weight, but her primary symptom was extreme fatigue.

This once robust matriarch lacked strength to walk a short stretch of beach to test pond water for bacteria, or rustle up dinner. By the fall, she remained without a diagnosis, but spent most of her days on the living room couch reading and sleeping. When we finally learned that she had the most aggressive form of Lou Gehrig’s disease that attacks the lungs, we were devastated. She died within six months of her first symptoms.

My Dad suffered with heart disease, ironic for a cardiologist who spent his medical career helping people with heart problems. In his later years, he had an ablation and a pacemaker to control his irregular heartbeat, but he detested when it would go off because he would feel a severe shock that terrified him.

He used to tell me his heart was like an old jalopy – broken and junky, but good enough to get him from point A to point B. As a cardiologist, he knew all too well what his condition would do to him, but he remained the eternal optimist. He always underscored the importance of a positive mental outlook, noting his patients that followed instructions without argument often fared better than those who were emotional or upset.

Watching both of these wonderful people in the final stages of life taught me a few things:

  1. When the s&*t hits the fan, you can’t do anything about it, so embrace life while you’re healthy.
  2. When someone you love is sick or injured, the world as you know it ceases to exists.
  3. When you’re critically ill, your family will be the ones to come to your side and care for you (hopefully).
  4. There is nothing more important than spending time with people when they are terminally ill. There is nowhere more important to be.
  5. No one really understands what it’s like until they go through it.

Care-taking for relatives is a whirlwind that’s physically and emotionally draining. But it’s also a financial hardship. People are forced to leave their jobs, and many never return. Many caretakers must take unpaid leave or quit jobs, adding finances to the list of worries.

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Matt Laufer and his mom Jane Miller Laufer.

A few months ago, one of my former high school classmates Jane Miller Laufer took to her Facebook page to update us on her in-home clothing business LuLaRoe. A weary looking Jane announced that she was putting the business on hold to care for her son Matt, a paraplegic who had taken a turn for the worse.

As her voiced quivered, Jane explained that she had moved into Matt’s house, and was his full-time caregiver. She said it was his wish that he remain at home for as long as possible, but she was clear: he was terminally ill and not going to recover. “He has his good days and his bad, but he is dying,” she said.

A registered nurse, Jane is eminently qualified to care for her son, but I wondered how difficult it would be for a mom to wear the two hats. I decided to ask Jane. I wasn’t sure she’d get back to me. She is very busy with her son, working the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift, before turning over duties to a night nurse.

But I had an inkling she might message me back, and she did. “Whatever I can do to help,” she wrote.

I interviewed Jane for a piece on proposed legislation to would provide paid medical leave for Connecticut residents. Her story is heart-wrenching and compelling, giving us a glimpse of the human side of full-time family caregiving.

To read Jane’s story, visit: