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. 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 piling 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:



Cover The Distance


Philip congratulates Mary after completing Sunday’s YMCA mini-triathlon.

I’m tired of survival of the fittest ruining everything.

After writing a piece about one of my former high school classmates with a gravely ill paraplegic son, I raced out the door for a briefing on a mini triathlon Sunday at the YMCA. I began stressing about it, wondering if I could do it with a case of the sniffles and a bigger case of nerves.

And then I got a huge dose of reality, and a double shot of humility. I thought about my classmate and her son fighting for his life. I thought about people who wish they could  participate. I asked myself if my performance, or whether I looked horrible in our team photo, mattered.

I decided it doesn’t. No one except someone with an incredible amount of spare time would care how I looked or fared. So when swimming coach Tess urged me to correct my very poor swimming stroke, I didn’t. When my husband looked at me as if to say, “Why the hell are you doing the breaststroke?” I shrugged. When my running coach Maureen stopped her Honda Civic and ordered me not to walk, I didn’t until she was out of view.

In the end, it doesn’t matter – not a whiff.  Float, paddle, peddle, cruise, jog, walk, crawl. Cover the distance. Life’s not always about coming in first, even if you’re the competitive type like me. It’s hard for me to let go of my edge, but I’m trying.


Mary Kelly crosses the finish line.

For the record, I finished third from last among 11 competitors. I was among the oldest women and there was no escaping it: a 59 in black Sharpie was scrawled on my left calf, in case anyone saw it and got the urge to beat me. But guess what? When I began the running leg, I was dead last. So much for motivating anyone.

The one woman I did pass in my age group, Mary Kelly, couldn’t care less. And the one guy I passed, Philip, 48, was power walking, taking along his kids and a buddy for the 3.1 mile final leg. Spotting my kids near the outset of run, I begged one of them to join me. I needed to be lifted up, even by an ornery teen telling me to get moving.

And then Kayne West’s song “Stronger” miraculously came on my I-Phone. “Now that that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger.” I listened to that song 10 years ago when I began running again after a long break. It was in the best shape of my running life when a dog mauled me, sidelining me for more than two months. I stopped running for years after the dog bite, mainly because I was terrified of being attacked again.


The group the night before.

But I began running again in the summer of 2016. I heard running was good for anxiety, and I had plenty of that. I needed endorphins to level me out, and guess what? Running and fresh air made me feel better.

Pounding my feet to “Stronger,” I found my groove, though it didn’t last long. I had to stop and walk several times to catch my breath. I was, to use my latest favorite term,  “gassed.”  I usually can’t stand walking during races, but I didn’t care. Some days covering the distance is all you can do.

When my energy waned again, the theme from Rocky came on. Honestly, I don’t think there’s a better song for motivating people when they feel like packing it in. I played it at least five times in the second part of the run, and am convinced I couldn’t have staggered home without it.

This is the second mini-triathlon I’ve done, and it was harder than the first because I knew what was involved. You swim 36 laps (a half-mile), spin for 45 minutes or 13 miles, and run (or hobble) for 3.1 miles. “Why are you doing that?” my mother asked. “And I don’t want you to do it if you have a cold, OK? Just forget about it if you’re not feeling well.”

Don’t you love mothers? They give us an out for everything. My mother has never understood my interest in sports, which began about age 13. She’s not athletic or competitive, which I love. I got my competitive drive from my father, and often joke that as the second of seven girls, I was the son he never had.

I loved my first mini tri. We were a tight-knit group training in spring when everything is full of promise, and did our tri last Mother’s Day. I had a lot more trouble settling into this group. We began training in mid-January, jogging on treadmills because it was too cold or dark to run outside. I couldn’t swim with the group on Tuesdays because of a previous commitment. The only saving grace was the spinning. We had spiffy new bikes and a much bigger spinning room.

The first time around, I made a buddy in a woman named Heather, who needed my help and support running. I got to know Heather well, and we motivated each other. I didn’t have Heather this time around, and I missed her.

This second group was more fractured – loosey goosey if you will. I liked everyone – Erin, Heather #2,  Amy and the others – but I didn’t feel I was making any connections. I felt alone.

But as we gathered in the Y lobby for last minute instructions and pep talks from our coaches, I looked around, and finally felt something. We were all in this together, whether we realized it or not.

Without Heather #1 at my side, I struck up conversations with whomever happened to be on the next treadmill or spin cycle. People opened up about their reasons for doing the tri. Most people just felt they needed a challenge, or to kick up their exercise regimes a notch or two.

Philip, who sat on the spin bike next to me during the tri, said “I did it because I’m tired of being fat.” Oh yea? Lost any weight? “Yea, but I keep finding it,” he joked.

But Mary Kelly was different. The first week, Mary told me that she had just completed chemotherapy for breast cancer, and was still receiving infusions during our training. This was Mary’s fourth tri. She said the thought of doing another tri often kept her going during her grueling days of chemo.

As I sat with Mary and Eileen, a whip smart official at Yale, a few weeks ago, Mary said, “When you get breast cancer, everyone says, ‘Oh, you’re so brave to go through the chemotherapy.’ I’m not brave. I don’t want to die.”

Mary has an incredible approach to tri training that I’m sure she applied to her treatment. She puts her head down and does what she needs to do, oblivious to the time it takes to get the job done. She was the most focused member of our group, an inspiration to us all.

When she tried to pull out the cancer card on Sunday while changing out of her swimsuit into her cycling gear, her friend said, “You can’t say you’ve got cancer any more. You had cancer.” We all smiled.

We all have different things that inspire us through dark or difficult times. One person’s celebratory trip to Paris is another person’s mini tri. It’s just important to have a brass ring, something to keep you motivated and keep things interesting.

Just before going under for a colonoscopy last year, the anesthesiologist asked me to think of a place I’d like to go. “Montana,” I said wistfully. He laughed. “That’s a first,” he said. “Usually people say Europe or tropical islands. Montana?”


Philip finishes with part of his contingent.

Hey, I was being honest. Deep blue sky as far as the eye can see. Wild animals roaming freely.  Hadn’t he ever heard of the song “Home on the Range?”

Along with Mary, there is the married couple Bud and Lisa. I love these two because they refuse to sit next to each in the spin room, and Bud never answers when Lisa asks, “How’s your heart rate Bud?”

Veterans of prior tris, they have both had their share of health problems. Bud underwent brain surgery after his last tri a few years ago. He’s in his 70s now and has to be careful.  A few weeks ago, they decided the swimming is too much, and dialed it back to a biathlon (cycling and running).

Since I was the last one out of the pool this time around, I’m thinking a biathlon might make a lot of sense for me too.


Momma’s New Gig


CT-NOW President Cindy Wolfe Boynton blows me a good  luck kiss.

Momma’s got a brand new gig.

My friend and former editor Cindy Wolfe Boynton asked if I’d take charge of the National Organization of Women’s Connecticut chapter’s blog. I’m handling its content so Cindy can do other things, including running for state representative, teaching college courses, leading CT-NOW, advocating for adoptee rights, being a wife to her husband Ted, and mom of two young adult sons.

I’m sure that’s not all she’s doing, because she’s one of the busiest people I know. She wrote a play about her mother’s battle with Parkinson’s disease, has written a couple of books and leads a quirky walking tour called Spirits of Milford that visits famous ghosts sites.

She’s someone you want to be around because she’s on a mission to make the world a better place. Years ago, she asked me to sit on a committee to collect gifts, clothing and throw a Christmas party for residents at the Beth El Shelter, Milford’s homeless shelter. She also got me involved in a movement to open adoption laws in Connecticut so adoptees born before 1983 can access their original birth certificates. Cindy’s an adoptee, while I’m the mom of two adopted children.

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My favorite Maltese Eli.

She’s a person who sees endless possibilities instead of obstacles. When Internet trolls took potshots at her for supporting Hillary Clinton, and entering the race for state representative, she kept their ugly comments on her Facebook feed. When I asked her how she deals with unkind remarks, she shrugged. “People can be so cruel. I guess I just let it roll off my back. I learned that from Linda Bouvier, my editor at the Milford Citizen. She didn’t let anything bother her.”

When I reminded her that Facebook is not a newspaper and she has the right to remove such comments, she looked as if it had never crossed her mind. She is the rarest combination of big-hearted yet tough as nails. I’m hoping a little of her resolve rubs off on me. I still remember every nasty remark anyone ever said to me when I was a reporter.

“So, what’s up? What are you doing, sitting at home writing blog posts all day?” she asked. “What’s the story with your blog? How did this whole thing come about?”

She’s always had the impression that I’m pampered, like a Maltese with a tiny ribbon in its hair with a jeweled collar and leash. And I suppose by some people’s standards, I am. I was lucky to stay home with my kids, but I know what it’s like to work and scrimp. I put my husband through law school on a $12,000 per year reporter’s salary. We qualified for free blocks of federally-funded cheese, and I bought paper towels one roll at a time.

I explained my blog is an outgrowth of my inability to find a job after being a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. I have a part-time job and volunteer, but my blog is my baby. I write every day, though 75 percent stays in the draft bin. I don’t make a dime off it, and I like it that way. If you want to ruin something, make it your job instead of your passion.

I blog to share my thoughts and take on life, to work out things that perplex, amuse, interest or move me. I don’t have an axe to grind. I just want to share my stories, and for you to weigh in if you’d like. I love feedback. It means you’re paying attention.

Like a lot of things in her life, Cindy has a great vision for the CT-NOW blog. She’d like to feature stories about women facing issues because of their gender. I wracked my brain for women who could be profiled over the next few weeks. And then I realized that I could have used CT-NOW when I launched my job hunt two years ago. I’m convinced I was dismissed as a job candidate for positions well beneath my pay grade because I’m a woman over 50 (OK, over 55, but who’s counting?)

I suspect I was a victim of sex and age discrimination, that when people looked at my college graduation year (1980) they thought, “Why is she applying for jobs when she’s nearing retirement age?” Job hunting at this age is humiliating. It’s even worse when the neighbor down the road tells you she’ll put in a good word, and you still hear nothing.

I believe that age discrimination is becoming as big a problem as sexual discrimination in this country.  Sally Koslow wrote a brilliant piece on this subject last summer in her piece entitled, “Hire A Woman’s Your Mom’s Age” in the New York Times. Reading her piece was one of the first assurances I had that I wasn’t a complete loser, that other women had tread similar paths and survived.

As my accounts to Indeed, Monster and LinkedIn sat woefully silent, I was flooded with news about new college graduates landing jobs for well over $100,000. I was happy for them, but dispirited and depressed. I found myself regretting my decision to stay home with my kids, and urging young moms to keep a foot in the workplace lest they never work again. I was haunted by the expression, “Out to pasture.”

At cocktail parties, I’d tell everyone that society has no respect for stay-at-home moms, that we’re viewed as second class citizens who spend all day watching TV, nibbling on bon bons and spending our husband’s (or partner’s) hard-earned cash. A part of me believes there’s still this perception, that we’re lazy and took the easy way out.

I’ve heard of women who have penned novels at kitchen tables, and painted murals while their kids were sleeping, but these are superwomen. Most of us just want to put up our feet and watch a TV show or read a book without being interrupted when the kids are finally in bed. At least that’s my goal.

Women need to realize that we’re all in this together, that when one woman is discriminated against, we all suffer. Over dinner with two couples, a woman I went to high school with complained about stay-at-home moms looking down on working mothers.

My former classmate is a divorced mom who worked full-time to support her two children. Despite her job duties, she made a point of attending school events. One day when showing up to a field trip, a stay-at-home mom glared at her and announced, “Oh look who showed up. Doesn’t Mrs. So & So look nice in her fancy boots?”

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? And sometimes it feels like we just can’t win. We’re all doing our best – holding down jobs, taking care of kids, parents, the house and the dog, and trying to carve out time for self-care. But the self-care more often than not goes out the window. Just ask any woman who plans to hit the gym after work, and has to skip it because of dinner, the PTA meeting or the book report due the next day.

I’m convinced that women hold the power to do great things if we unite and take more active roles in changing things. It’s easy to sit back and criticize, quite another to put yourself out there to affect change. I’m convinced mothers must take the lead in ending school shootings. Organizations like the Sandy Hook Promise are doing great work, but they can’t do it alone. We need to get out there and make our voices heard.

PB233269 (1).jpgCarolyn Milazzo Murphy is blog editor for the National Organization of Women-Connecticut chapter. She is a freelance writer with more than 30 years experience in journalism. She writes the, and is active in many community organizations. She can be reached at

Level With Me Stud


Having Level Up Stud following me makes as much sense as this scene snapped at Lyman Orchards Golf Course in Middlefield, CT.

My YMCA swimming instructor thinks my latest blog follower is a Russian Bot.

After telling her that Level Up Stud is now among my followers, she said, “Yea, that’s a Russian Bot.” Why else would a young guy with a beard, sunglasses and a come hither expression be following me?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m flattered whenever I get a new follower. But I’m confused. This guy is young, cute, buff and possibly hip. Why is he bothering with a blog about curmudgeons, Labrador retrievers with squinty smiles, and ornery teen-agers who hate talking in the morning?

His blog is a little provocative. It’s not dirty. Well, maybe just a little. There’s some stuff on it right out of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Just to be clear, not every woman loves those books. I read the first one, but was bored silly with the second, and never even cracked open the third. It’s got nothing to do with feminism, objectifying women or my disdain for spankings. I just thought it was dumb.

This doesn’t mean I think you’re dumb if you liked the Grey trilogy. Remember, I watch and went to a Maury taping, so I’m in no position to cast stones.

But having “Level Up Stud” enter my safe space makes me a little self-conscious, and I don’t even know why. It’s like the day my neighbor Ken plopped into the next chair at the hair salon as I sat there with root color and a plastic cap on my head. “Hi Ken,” I whimpered. He nearly jumped out of the chair. “Oh hi, I didn’t even know that was you,” he said.

Just to be clear, most women feel a little vulnerable when we don’t look our best, or what my sisters and I used to term “Ug.” This includes sitting in the salon chair, parading around pool decks in our bathing suit, jogging on the treadmill and baring our soul in our blogs. It has nothing to do with vanity. It’s about letting your guard down, or literally letting it all hang out.

Having guys enter the mix changes the dynamics. You’re suddenly well aware that you’re wearing a shower cap with gunk on your temples, or that your rear end is like Jello as you jog on the treadmill. It’s not that you mind that three gents are on rowing machines behind you. But you’d be a lot less self-conscious if they’d leave. I think this is the theory behind all women’s gyms. Many women just don’t want to be on display in certain situations.

Perhaps the best example is the YMCA’s warm pool, where two dozen older ladies in shower caps bob and weave every morning during water aerobics. There’s something enormously comforting about sharing the pool with a bunch of grandmothers. Anything  you do – even the elementary backstroke – seems daring by comparison, and they’re the friendliest group of ladies.

But the sense of security vanishes when a young guy in a black Speedo thrusts open the door, and struts by on the pool deck. Suddenly, all eyes turn to him, and his tiny suit screaming “SPEEDO” on the rear.

“What’s he doing here?” I whispered to the swim instructor. “And why is he strutting? Everyone in the pool is old enough to be his grandmother.”

“It’s called ‘shiny,'” she said. “What?” I asked.  “You know, sparkling. Something that catches your eye.” Oh, eye candy. Why didn’t you say so? But this guy wasn’t shiny because he thought he was giving us a thrill. That would be like me walking through an assisted living facility, and thinking I’m hot because the old guys think I’m cute.

Spoiler alert: strutting is never cool, unless you’re my friend Joe who tends to strut after hitting a winner in Pickleball. It’s actually kind of cute the way he does it. In fact, we gave him the title “best strutter” during a superlatives bit one year. But in all other cases, it’s actually a turnoff, at least to women I know.

My greatest issue with crossing the great generational divide is this guy viewing me as old and possibly saying to his friends, “You should see what this old bag is writing about. God, she’s duller than dirt. Is this what happens to chicks (well, make that hens) after 50?”

Of course, he’d be justified. Bluebirds, lavender farms, Christmas shops, Stitch Fix and monasteries are not exactly scintillating topics. I’m sure he’d have a lot more fun on a site about young women who can’t be taken seriously because they’re so smokin’ hot.

So in the interest of full disclosure, here’s what LUS needs to know if he plans to stick around:

  • While you’re planning your next workout or sexual conquest, most of us are wondering what’s for dinner, or snipping branches in our yard to force for some late winter color.
  • While you’re power-lifting, we’re wondering if we should go for the cortisone shot in our elbow or stick it out for another month.
  • While you’re rightfully admiring your rocking bod, we’re dashing by the bathroom mirror so we don’t have to look. With any luck, we won’t slip on the tiles and almost break our neck.
  • We can’t believe how hard it is to run. OK, let’s call it jog. Or better yet, stagger.
  • The Big M stands for menopause.
  • The Big C stands for cancer.
  • The sudden urge to urinate is often caused by the Big M, but many people fear it’s the Big C.
  • Sometimes taking care of your body at this age can feel like a full-time job.
  • I have a Twitter account, but don’t know how to use it.
  • I still have no idea what a meme or GIF is.
  • I detest I-Phones.
  • Alexa is a petulant little pain in the neck. Do machines have to be difficult too?
  • I haven’t bought a song on I-Tunes in two years because I can’t figure out how.
  • X-Box is a complete waste of time.
  • I detest guns. I interviewed James Brady and his wife Sarah after he was shot by John Hinckley for an article about tighter gun regulations. This does not mean banning guns. It means making sure they don’t end up in the hands of lunatics. I’m convinced that women will have to take the lead on ending gun violence in schools, much the way they changed drunk driving laws through Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
  • I don’t care if you think I was just on my soap box. I was. I’m tired of young innocent kids being killed by guns in this country.
  • I can’t stand people who text and drive, so cut it out.
  • No one over age 30 uses the term “friend group.”
  • No one over age 30 gets the whole hookup thing. Well, we get it, but we don’t really approve.
  • Women over 30 don’t get the whole obsession with big butts. Just so you know, we’ve been dieting and keeping gyms in business to avoid that look for years.
  • Women my age don’t understand why young guys don’t like body hair. Chest hair was king in the ’70s and ’80s. See: Tom Selleck or Burt Reynolds.
  • My swimming instructor thinks you’re a Russian bot.
  • Strutting is never a good idea. So figure out another way to walk.
  • Everything sags as you age, but the eyelids are the biggie.
  • If you are hot, which I suspect you are, try not to let that be your defining characteristic.
  • Most women would take a funny guy over a dull hunk any day of the week.
  • Take care of your teeth. There’s nothing sexier than a man with a beautiful smile.
  • When life hands you lemons, which it will, make lemonade.
  • Winning the race does not mean crossing the finish line first. It means trying your best, and going back to help other people cross the line before you get the beer.
  • Good grooming is essential.
  • Call your mother.
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    Some grooming essentials courtesy of my nephew Brian, the best groomed teen-ager I know.


Pizza Party


They were there to play tennis, but they had New Haven’s famous pizza on their mind too.

We live 20 minutes from New Haven, CT., one of the best places for pizza in the United States.

The pizza is baked in coal-fired brick ovens with homemade sauce, sweet mozzarella and heavenly crust as thin as Saltines. Pepperoni, meatballs, and sausage and peppers are popular toppings, but you can also get a white clams casino pie with freshly shucked clams and bacon. We’re lucky, we really are.

When bigwigs are in town, which is often the case as home to Yale University, they make a beeline to famed Wooster Street.  There’s even a quaint arch spanning the street lit in the colors of the Italian flag to herald your arrival to “Little Italy.”

When we talk to friends who have moved from the area, they talk about the pizza and how much they miss it. It’s impossible, they say, to find a decent pie in Virginia or South Carolina. We don’t know how lucky we are to have Wooster Street pizza in our backyard, they say.

The trouble is, we rarely go to Wooster Street for pizza because places like Frank Pepe’s and Sally’s Apizza are always so crowded. People line up outside long before they open, even on a Sunday afternoon in the rain or snow, for the privilege of getting in and gorging on the famous pies aka “Ah-beets.”

I understand, but like a lot of locals (OK, townies if you wish) I can’t be bothered. I don’t like lines, but what I hate even more is having people breathing down my neck and staring at me while I eat. I feel pressured, like people are thinking, “Hurry up already. I want your seat.”

My friend John lives on Wooster Street and when we were trying to figure out a place to go for lunch, he proclaimed, “Any place but Wooster Street. I refuse to stand on line for pizza.”

We tried to go out for pizza in New Haven last night. Our son was in town with the Holy Cross College tennis team, and asked if we’d treat them to some authentic New Haven pizza. What I wanted to say is we’d take them out if they beat Sacred Heart University, but I didn’t want to put too much pressure on them. As it is, they had to listen to my unsolicited analysis of their matches afterward.

What I will say is that pizza seemed to be foremost on my son’s mind. I’ve never heard this kid talk so much about pizza. It’s as if he just realized he lived 20 minutes from New Haven. He had the silly idea that you can call for a reservation, but it doesn’t work that way. In New Haven, you show up, stand in line and suffer like everyone else. Hey, I didn’t make the rules, I just follow them.

We dismissed Pepe’s and Sally’s because we knew they’d be crowded, opting for Modern Pizza. Modern has great pizza, but usually isn’t as busy because it’s off the beaten path on State Street. The Curmudgeon and I congratulated ourselves on picking Modern, figuring we’d stroll in on a Sunday night at 6:45. We assumed everyone would have eaten earlier, or would be home getting ready for the week ahead. Isn’t this what most normal people do on Sunday nights?

We figured wrong. At least 30 people were packed in the entrance when we arrived, and a few others milled outside. It was so crowded that The Curmudgeon couldn’t even make his way in to ask how long it would be for a table of nine.

We were looking at an hour’s wait, maybe longer. And we really couldn’t wait that long. The kids had a 90-minute ride back to school, and the dog hadn’t been fed. But it really came down to the frustration of living so close to something, yet always having it out of reach.

It would have been one thing if we expected a long wait, but we were completely blind-sided. And yes, we felt a little foolish expecting it to be empty. We clearly know nothing about other people’s dining habits.

With little time and nine growling stomachs, we did the only thing possible: we called Marcos Pizza in nearby Branford, CT., ordered five pizzas and announced that we would be there in 15 minutes. Upon arriving, we smiled at the empty parking lot, and were thrilled when we entered and a table had been set up for our impromptu party.

Two pizzas came out on silver pedestals within five minutes of our arrival, and the other three arrived minutes later. The only thing missing was my glass of white wine, which arrived in a juice glass resembling an oversized shot glass. Yes, I would have preferred a stemmed wine glass, but you can’t have everything. Sometimes, you want to sit down and just eat pizza without any hassle.

Ice Cream & Tears

IMG_0611It was a quick shop: two half-gallons of strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge and butterscotch sauce.

It was an unusual selection for a Monday afternoon in mid-February, but who am I to judge? I had dashed to Ashley’s Ice Cream, the expensive place in town, the previous day for two scoops of chocolate chip ice cream topped with chocolate sprinkles. I justified it by treating my daughter to ice cream, and even sprung for a small cup of soft serve vanilla for the dog.

This would be fine except that it’s Lent, a time for abstinence. Hadn’t the deacon explained the importance of Lent just two hours before? And though I hadn’t specifically given up ice cream, I gave up snacking between meals for Lent. No matter how you slice it, ice cream is a snack.

But a few things were at play. I had worked out incredibly hard the day before, and feeling somewhat entitled. And I’m one of those people who’s having a little trouble settling into Lent, which began earlier than usual this year. Even a nun I know complained about the first day of Lent coinciding with Valentine’s Day, noting “You’d think God could have planned this better.”

Giving up things for Lent is tough in February because we’re already feeling so sorry for ourselves. We’ve weathered the short days, gray skies, snow, and Facebook posts with toes in sand and palm trees. But we’re still scraping windshields, slipping on black ice, and hitting treadmills instead of pavement. Even the dog had trouble this morning, pump-faking three times before managing to hop in the car.

In the interest of full disclosure, I also gave up wine for Lent. My brother-in-law John, a newly minted Catholic, did this last year. I thought it was quite impressive because he works in the liquor industry. I have stopped drinking cold turkey before, and know it can be done. The problem is I haven’t done it yet, and we’re nearly a week into Lent.

I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m going to attribute it to Lent’s early start. That sounds better than a character flaw, drinking problem, tremendous lack of willpower and discipline, or just throwing in the towel.

But back to the guy with the basket of decadence. I spotted him roaming the dairy section, I think because he resembled the father of a kid who almost killed my son during a basketball game. The kid clocked my son as he went for a lay-up, sending him crashing to the floor. I was afraid he had broken his neck, but he was just roughed up.

The kid was ejected from the game, and ultimately banned from the league. I always felt sorry for his father. I had known him since the kids were in 1st grade. He looks like a kid himself with his lean frame, low slung Levi’s and faded logo T-shirts. The guy with the ice cream was a dead-ringer, and for a moment I wondered if it was the basketball thug’s father.

But it wasn’t. This guy was in his late 30s or early 40s. His worn jeans hung off his body,  and he looked a little shell-shocked, like he hasn’t spent too much time in supermarkets. You can spot these guys a mile away because they almost look apologetic as they dart between aisles. They’re out of their element in a place where everyone else means business.

There was no express line, so ice cream guy got behind me in the check-out line. I was buying groceries for myself and someone else, meaning I was splitting orders and taking twice as long as everyone else. I glanced at him with his basket of items, and waved him ahead of me.

“No that’s OK,” he said. “I’m fine.”

“I insist,” I said. “I’ve got two orders. I’m going to be here for awhile.”

He slipped in front of me and piled the ice cream and fixings on the belt. He fumbled with the basket and when I looked at the ice cream, he explained, “I’m buying this for my daughter. She just had her first break-up. You know, puppy love.”

“Uh oh, emotional eating,” I said. “Are you sure you want to encourage that?” I sounded like one of those know-it-all matrons that I found so annoying in my 20s and 30s. But I said it jokingly, and even the cashier giggled.

“No, it was actually my idea,” he said. “My wife died last June, and I’m still getting the hang of parenting a 14-year-old girl without her. I thought this situation called for ice cream.”

I wasn’t prepared for his explanation or his candor, but I was incredibly moved. I thought I might cry, so I resumed loading my groceries onto the belt. I finally muttered, “Ah, well it can’t hurt. And I’ve got a teen-age girl at home so I’ve done this too.”  I began thinking about his wife: Did she die in an accident or was she sick? It doesn’t matter, but we all do this. Did he have months to prepare or was it sudden? Does he have other children? I suspect he does.

I thought of his daughter without her mom during her first break-up, and my heart ached. Girls that age (well, any age really) need their moms to assure them that everything will be OK, that they’ll find true love someday.

Moms buy your first bra, fix your stupid sewing project, and assure you bad dreams are just dreams. They slide over to let you into bed, promise that you’ll slim down when you grow a little, and tell you to put on more make-up before the junior prom.

Moms are our role models, the first women we think are beautiful and want to emulate. They let us play dress-up with their good shoes, and make mink stoles out of fake fur for our Barbie dolls. They stay up until 5 a.m., until we finally roll in from the senior prom.  They come to our side no matter what, even when we’ve got big kids of our own.

I’m lucky to have my mother, though many people I know, including my husband, cousins, and some very close friends, are not as fortunate. I know they miss their moms. One friend who was struggling with a problem confided, “I just wish my mom was here so I could talk to her about it.”

I can’t imagine how hard it is for a teen-age girl to lose her mother at such a tender stage of life. As a mom, my worst fear is not being around for my kids. I think this is the ultimate fear for most moms, and why we worry so much about getting sick. We want to be there for our kids.

Though clearly out of his element, this father showed me that he’s trying his best while still dealing with his own grief.  Strawberry ice cream with all the fixings won’t mend a broken heart, but it’s a good start. I suspect his wife would approve.


Big Fat Italian Holidays


The Happy Host: The Curmudgeon during his cleaning duties on Thanksgiving. 

Let’s clear things up.

The Curmudgeon did not write a letter to advice columnist Dear Annie complaining about hosting my family for Thanksgiving every year.

Every so often in our 34 years of marriage, The Curmudgeon has asked me if I wrote a letter to an advice columnist. The topics are always about marriage – mostly pet peeves or division of labor issues.

I always assure him that I have not, though I’ve been tempted.

Dear Annie: What do you do when your spouse is hacking for two weeks, refuses to go to the doctor, and his co-workers question your fitness as a wife? Dear Annie: What do you do when your husband’s eating noises drive you insane? Dear Annie: What do you do when you ask your husband if you can run with him, and he replies, “Can you do an eight-minute mile?”

I admit that The Curmudgeon was justified in fearing that people might think he penned the letter to Dear Annie. The writer asked if he was being an old curmudgeon objecting to footing the bill, and entertaining his wife’s extended family every Christmas Eve. I mentioned this to my sister, and she said she suspected I wrote the letter.

I used to be a faithful Ann Landers reader. But I’m not a regular reader of Dear Annie. I don’t know why. She seems like a nice person with horse sense. I love Amy Dickinson, who writes the Dear Amy column for the Chicago Tribune syndicate, including the Hartford Courant. I read two of her books, praised her on her Facebook page, and even went to see her when she visited R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT., last year.

But I’m not a regular reader of any advice column. In fact, The Curmudgeon had to bring this most recent letter to my attention.

Besides both being old curmudgeons, there are some uncanny coincidences: the wife comes from a family of seven kids (yes), and everyone assumes that she will host Christmas Eve dinner every year. (Yes. Substitute Thanksgiving for Christmas Eve.)

The guy takes umbrage with the fact that no one offers to host the holiday, and complains about the cost and effort involved. He grouses that guests invite 16 to 19 extra people without asking, yet his wife has no problem with it. This does not happen at our house, though we have hosted extra people. I think new people add interest to gatherings where the guest list is often referred to as “the usual suspects.”

The Curmudgeon has thought or complained about everything in this guy’s letter, but so has everyone who has ever hosted a holiday. Everyone wishes they were a guest. Everyone wants to relax instead of setting up folding tables and chairs, ironing tablecloths, polishing silver, and rummaging for guest towels. Everyone wants to look their best instead of standing in the closet five minutes before guests arrive, and wondering what to throw on.

The difference between being a guest and a hostess can best be summed up by an experience I had in DSW Shoes about five years ago. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and everyone was looking for cool boots or shoes for their holiday outfits. I was envious and a bit peeved because as a hostess, you aren’t thinking about footwear. You’re thinking about picking up the turkey, making sure you have kitchen twine, and a baster that works.

“Those women are clearly not hosting the holiday like Mommy,” I told my daughter. “Now, let’s find a pair of shoes that fits you and get out of here before I lose it.”

I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving since I was 32. I got the gig after my Dad complained that my mother had enough to do for the holidays, and it was time to pass the baton. I volunteered, thinking, “Sure, I’ll do it. How hard can this be?”

I had no idea that one moment of hubris would haunt me for 25 years. With the exception of one year that I traded Christmas with my sister Janet, Thanksgiving is my holiday. It’s fine. I’m happy to do it. But I always wonder, and often ask, my guests what they did with their block of free time.

“Oh, you went to the football game?” That sounds fun. “You ran in the Turkey Trot and drank five beers?” Awesome. “You ran the dog, watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and napped?” Nice!

As our family has grown – I think I was up to 30 guests this year – it’s easier because everyone brings side dishes and desserts. That means I’m an assignment editor, and my family claims I’m very good at delegating. It’s gotten to the point where I say: Just bring what you did last year. If you want to do a different recipe, go for it.

People are happier about making things when they can put their own spin on them. They also like to be known for their specialties: Dewey, king of stuffing, and master turkey carver. Nancy, the great antipasto maker. Patty, queen of creamed spinach. Nicki, the dessert princess.

Hosting a large crowd can be overwhelming, but it’s reduced my workload. After years of making everything for Thanksgiving, I’m down to the turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy (with Mom’s help), a few pies and my appetizer table. If this keeps up, I may eventually just have to supply the place.

So here’s the takeaway:

  • The Curmudgeon did not write the letter, but he could have. I did not write it either.
  • The guy who wrote the letter is an old curmudgeon. As the late Ann Landers would say, “Quit yer beefing.”
  • If you are entertaining, do it with an open heart. No one wants to go to a house where the host is annoyed.
  • Dear Annie advised the guy to talk to his wife, and tell her how he feels. It’s good advice, but it won’t change things. He’s going to be hosting Christmas Eve next year because that’s what you do in big families. You grin and bear it, and always take one for the team. You’d rather do that than make waves.
  • If you go to a family gathering, pull your weight. Offer to bring a food item, bring a bottle of wine, and help serve and clear courses. There’s nothing more maddening than hosting, and having people watch you scramble without offering to help.
  • Don’t koloky yourself. My mother coined this term for guests who come, park themselves in front of the TV and do nothing. I’m pretty sure every family has a code word for this.
  • Thank the hosts upon leaving. It’s not polite to eat and run.
  • Consider offering to host the holiday even though there is no way you ever will.
  • Everyone secretly wants to be an advice columnist.