Movie Night: “The Martian”

October 8th, 2015 by


Wow. What a movie! I’m not a science fiction fan and didn’t love “Gravity,” for example, but “The Martian” isn’t a science fiction movie. It’s a movie about science – big difference. It’s also a movie about hope and ingenuity and it’s such a positive statement about the courage of astronauts undertaking dangerous missions. Go NASA, in other words.

Matt Damon is great as the astronaut who gets inadvertently left behind on Mars during an aborted mission. He’s all alone on the lonely planet while everyone at NASA, including his crew, assumes he’s dead. From here on, the movie could have been a bore like the Robert Redford sailing movie from last year, “All Is Lost.” It could also have been like “Castaway” in which Tom Hanks talks to his volleyball (or was it a soccer ball? a basketball? can’t remember). Instead, it’s a survival story that’s truly about surviving. Damon’s character grows potatoes in his organic, hermetically sealed garden and sustains himself that way. He manages to get his electronics working to the point where he can communicate with his command center and slowly there’s a mission to bring him home.

Ridley Scott of “Alien” fame knows how to shoot a movie for maximum effect. He’s a terrific director and should get an Oscar nom for this one. (Note: Seeing it in 3D was amazing!!!) He makes you feel as if you’re on Mars with Damon and experiencing everything he’s experiencing.

I won’t reveal more about the plot, and will just end by saying “The Martian” is what moviegoing in a theater is supposed to be about: a grand entertainment. This is not one to wait for on TV.



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Movie Night: “Grandma”

September 23rd, 2015 by

Grandma poster

This one’s been on my To-See list, simply because there aren’t a lot of star vehicles for actresses of a certain age and I like to support them when they happen. Besides which, Lily Tomlin is an icon. She played memorable characters in her comedy routines back in the day, and now she plays a memorable character in “Grandma.” Written by Nick Hornby and directed by Paul Weitz, it’s a slight movie – barely an hour-and-a-half long – but it offers Tomlin the chance to play a misanthropic lesbian poet whose work was once all the rage. Her partner of 30-plus years has died after a long and costly illness. Her well of creativity has pretty much dried up. She has no money (and, in fact, has cut up all her credit cards and made a mobile out of them). And her ambitious, over-caffeinated daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) doesn’t speak to her.

One day her granddaughter shows up asking for money to pay for an abortion, and she and Tomlin set out on a 24-hour road trip of sorts to try to come up with the money. Among the old friends Tomlin hits up for the cash is an old boyfriend, played by Sam Elliott. As much attention as Tomlin is rightfully getting for “Grandma,” the movie also gives us a Sam Elliott we haven’t seen before. He’s vulnerable. He’s hurt. He’s not the strictly macho guy we’re used to seeing, and his scene is powerful stuff.

I can’t say “Grandma” stayed with me – the story is thin, as I said, and quite predictable – but Tomlin fits right into her role, and her voice and image are hard to forget. She may just be the sentimental favorite at Oscar time.


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Movie Night: “Black Mass”

September 19th, 2015 by

black mass movie poster

I’m not one of those rabid Johnny Depp fans, but I loved his performances in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” (the first one; in the rest, he became a cartoon), “Chocolat,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and others. He’s had a long career for someone who’s hardly ancient, and if you ask me, most of his films have been awful. His collaborations with Tim Burton (“Sweeney Todd,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Edward Scissorhands”) were way too over the top for me, and his high-profile box office duds (“The Lone Ranger,” “Dark Shadows,” “The Tourist”) made me wonder if he was losing his talent or just needed a new agent to help him choose better projects.

Now he’s being called the “Comeback Kid” and an Oscar contender for his star turn as Boston gangster Whitey Bulger in “Black Mass.” It’s a solidly commercial film – nothing art house here – that focuses on Bulger’s criminal exploits and cozy relationship with the FBI. Whitey, like many a hardened movie gangster, kills, orders his underlings to kill, but is nice to his mother and brother and helps little old ladies across the street. There’s a lot of blood splattered on car windows, in other words.

What’s different about “Black Mass” (different from the Scorsese movies, for example) is it’s less operatic. Based on a book by two Boston Globe investigative reporters, it tells Bulger’s story in both a dramatic and almost documentary style, which I liked. The violence, while necessary, isn’t the hide-your-eyes kind, and the actors all do great work here. (And this is an actor’s movie; the female parts are window dressing.)

Depp adopts a raspy growl of a voice, as if he’s led a hard life with lots of cigarettes. The makeup that ages him is heavy and distracting, but his icy blue eyes signal his criminality, as well as the dead front tooth that, even on those few occasions when he smiles or laughs, says, “I’ll whack you if you look at me wrong.” He’s completely believable as this guy from start to finish.

I don’t see “Black Mass” as a Best Picture choice – it’s not of that caliber – but I’ll be stunned if Depp is overlooked in the Best Actor category. He’s back for sure.


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My New Motto: Life Is Too Short to Finish Books and Anything Else That Doesn’t Satisfy

September 17th, 2015 by


I must be getting wiser in my Medicare age. I used to feel compelled to finish virtually everything. I used to sit there watching movies that were boring me or annoying me or giving me no pleasure or escape. I used to at least try to eat everything on my plate in restaurants even if the food wasn’t especially good simply because I was paying for it. And I used to finish every book I bought – 100% of the time. I’m a writer. I felt it was a courtesy to my fellow authors to finish their work – the work I’m sure they’d labored over just as I labor over mine.

Not anymore. If I find myself saying, 50 pages into a book, “I’m not relating to these characters” or “This story is going nowhere” or “This writing leaves me cold,” I put the book down and move on to the next one in my queue. What a feeling of liberation!

Broadening this approach, I’ve also figured out that I don’t have to like everybody and everybody doesn’t have to like me – and I’m not talking about Facebook “likes.” I had a very disagreeable phone conversation with one of my new neighbors recently. At first her attitude stunned me. And then I said, “F*^k it.” I’m learning that even a pleaser like me doesn’t have to befriend everyone. Time is not to be wasted on people who are negative and, in the case of the neighbor, downright nasty. And friends who no longer behave like friends – people who aren’t supportive when things are going well or when they’re not – have no place in my life and it’s O.K. to let them go. I don’t love getting older, but I do love being able to say, as the writer Dominique Browning put it in her terrific piece in The New York Times, “I’m too old for this.” She was speaking primarily of our constant criticisms of our appearance, but the piece resonated with so many people that it was one of the top-viewed Op-Eds the week it ran. Here’s a look.

Fashion & Style | First Person
I’m Too Old for This


There is a lot that is annoying, and even terrible, about aging. The creakiness of the body; the drifting of the memory; the reprising of personal history ad nauseam, with only yourself to listen.

But there is also something profoundly liberating about aging: an attitude, one that comes hard won. Only when you hit 60 can you begin to say, with great aplomb: “I’m too old for this.”

This line is about to become my personal mantra. I have been rehearsing it vigorously, amazed at how amply I now shrug off annoyances that once would have knocked me off my perch.

A younger woman advised me that “old” may be the wrong word, that I should consider I’m too wise for this, or too smart. But old is the word I want. I’ve earned it.

And let’s just start with being an older woman, shall we? Let others feel bad about their chicken wings — and their bottoms, their necks and their multitude of creases and wrinkles. I’m too old for this. I spent years, starting before I was a teenager, feeling insecure about my looks.

No feature was spared. My hairline: Why did I have to have a widow’s peak, at 10? My toes: too short. My entire body: too fat, and once, even, in the depths of heartbreak, much too thin. Nothing felt right. Well, O.K., I appreciated my ankles. But that’s about it.

What torture we inflict upon ourselves. If we don’t whip ourselves into loathing, then mean girls, hidden like trolls under every one of life’s bridges, will do it for us.

Even the vogue for strange-looking models is little comfort; those women look perfectly, beautifully strange, in a way that no one else does. Otherwise we would all be modeling.

One day recently I emptied out an old trunk. It had been locked for years; I had lost the key and forgotten what was in there. But, curiosity getting the best of me on a rainy afternoon, I managed to pry it open with a screwdriver.

It was full of photographs. There I was, ages 4 to 40. And I saw for the first time that even when I was in the depths of despair about my looks, I had been beautiful.

And there were all my friends; girls and women with whom I had commiserated countless times about hair, weight, all of it, doling out sympathy and praise, just as I expected it heaped upon me: beautiful, too. We were, we are, all beautiful. Just like our mothers told us, or should have. (Ahem.)

Those smiles, radiant with youth, twinkled out of the past, reminding me of the smiles I know today, radiant with strength.

Young(er) women, take this to heart: Why waste time and energy on insecurity? I have no doubt that when I’m 80 I’ll look at pictures of myself when I was 60 and think how young I was then, how filled with joy and beauty.

I’m happy to have a body that is healthy, that gets me where I want to go, that maybe sags and complains, but hangs in there. So maybe I’m too old for skintight jeans, too old for six-inch stilettos, too old for tattoos and too old for green hair.

Weight gain? Simply move to the looser end of the wardrobe, and stop hanging with Ben and Jerry. No big deal. Nothing to lose sleep over. Anyway, I’m too old for sleep, or so it seems most nights.

Which leaves me a bit cranky in the daytime, so it is a good thing I can now work from home. Office politics? Sexism? I’ve seen it all. Watching men make more money, doing less work. Reading the tea leaves as positions shuffle, listening to the kowtow and mumble of stifled resentment.

I want to tell my younger colleagues that it doesn’t matter. Except the sexism, which, like poison ivy, is deep-rooted: You weed the rampant stuff, but it pops up again.

What matters most is the work. Does it give you pleasure, or hope? Does it sustain your soul? My work as a climate activist is the hardest and most fascinating I’ve ever done. I’m too old for the dark forces, for hopelessness and despair. If everyone just kept their eyes on the ball, and followed through each swing, we’d all be more productive, and not just on the golf course.

The key to life is resilience, and I’m old enough to make such a bald statement. We will always be knocked down. It’s the getting up that counts. By the time you reach upper middle age, you have started over, and over again.

And, I might add, resilience is the key to feeling 15 again. Which is actually how I feel most of the time.

But I am too old to try to change people. By now I’ve learned, the very hard way, that what you see in someone at the beginning is what you get forevermore. Most of us are receptive to a bit of behavior modification. But through decades of listening to people complain about marriages or lovers, I hear the same refrains.

I have come to realize that there is comfort in the predictability, even the ritualization, of relationship problems. They become a dance step; each partner can twirl through familiar moves, and do-si-do until the music stops.

Toxic people? Sour, spoiled people? I’m simply walking away; I have little fight left in me. It’s easier all around to accept that friendships have ebbs and flows, and indeed, there’s something quite beautiful about the organic nature of love.

I used to think that one didn’t make friends as one got older, but I’ve learned that the opposite happens. Sometimes, unaccountably, a new person walks into your life, and you find you are never too old to love again. And again. (See resilience.)

One is never too old for desire. Having entered the twilight of my dating years, I can tell you it is much easier to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of anticipation and disappointment when you’ve had plenty of experience with the shoals and eddies of shallow waters. Emphasis on shallow. By now, we know deep.

Take a pass on bad manners, on thoughtlessness, on unreliability, on carelessness and on all the other ways people distinguish themselves as unappealing specimens. Take a pass on your own unappealing behavior, too: the pining, yearning, longing and otherwise frittering away of valuable brainwaves that could be spent on Sudoku, or at least a jigsaw puzzle, if not that Beethoven sonata you loved so well in college.

My new mantra is liberating. At least once a week I encounter a situation that in the old (young) days would have knocked me to my knees or otherwise spun my life off center.

Now I can spot trouble 10 feet away (believe me, this is a big improvement), and I can say to myself: Too old for this. I spare myself a great deal of suffering, and as we all know, there is plenty of that to be had without looking for more.

If there can be such a thing as a best-selling app like Yo, which satisfies so many urges to boldly announce ourselves, I want one called 2old4this. A signature kiss-off to all that was once vexatious. A goodbye to all that has done nothing but hold us back. That would be an app worth having. But, thankfully, I’m too old to need such a thing.


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What I Read, Watched and Ate: Favorites of Summer 2015

September 9th, 2015 by


I know, I know. I could have posted a pic of late summer tomatoes, which have been luscious here in CT. Or corn on the cob, fish on the grill, a lobster roll or an ice cream cone. Instead, I gave you a Cobb salad. Big deal, you think. But it’s not just any Cobb. The one above was a creation of one of my new favorite places, Kingsley Tavern in Kent. It’s made of really fresh romaine, avocado, blue cheese, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, celery, chicken and – drum roll – the crispiest, most delicious bacon I’ve ever tasted, all dressed in a light, tangy vinaigrette. I craved a salad on a hot steamy night recently, and Kingsley’s Cobb delivered.

But there were many treats of summer of the edible variety: the grilled prawns at Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish in North Salem, the swordfish at Terra Sole in Ridgefield, the chocolate tasting dessert at Arethusa Al Tavolo, the blueberry pie from the Bridgewater Village Store. To say I ate well this summer would be an understatement.

I was a book glutton too. I devoured novel after novel over the past few months, and while I didn’t love every single one, I did love reading in a joyous, leisurely way. Among my favorite novels were: Days of Awe by Lauren Fox, Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet, Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont, Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, Disclaimer by Renee Knight, Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor and Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill. I’m looking forward to a whole crop of fall books.

In addition to sports on TV, classic movies on TCM and non-stop news on CNN (it was the summer of Trump, after all), I belatedly discovered Weeds and binge watched the Showtime series with abandon. What great writing, not to mention the performances by Mary-Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins. I also went back and re-watched The Affair, also on Showtime, in anticipation of the first episode of Season 2 on October 4th.

I only went to a handful of movies in the theaters this summer, and the few I saw didn’t come close to making a favorites list. “Love and Mercy,” the Beach Boys movie that garnered mostly good reviews, was long and meandering, and though Paul Dano was great and the inside-the-studio stuff was interesting, I was less than enthralled. “Trainwreck,” which I expected to adore because of the hilarious Amy Schumer, wasn’t funny. I don’t know how else to say it. I sat there waiting to laugh and didn’t. And “Ricki and the Flash” was fun in the way it’s always fun to watch Meryl Streep do her thing, but was otherwise forgettable.  I can’t wait for the big Oscar-y movies to open. On my must-see list are “Grandma” with Lily Tomlin,  Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” “Black Mass,” the Whitey Bulger story starring Johnny Depp and “Carol” with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, to name a few.

Bring on fall!

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My Friend Died, and It Sucks

August 4th, 2015 by

Laurie & Peter in SB

Michael and I were living in Florida, about to move to LA, when I got an email from a woman named Laurie Burrows Grad. She said she was chairing a Penn Women Author Event to commemorate 100 years of women at the University of Pennsylvania, where I attended the Annenberg School of Communications. She asked if I’d be willing to participate. I wrote back thanking her for thinking of me but explained that I was overwhelmed with my imminent move to Los Angeles. She wrote back that she lived in LA and that if I needed anything when I got there, I shouldn’t hesitate to call her. “And you’ll come for dinner and meet my husband Peter,” she added.

“How nice is that?” I said to Michael. “They don’t even know us.”

Laurie and I continued to email and we discovered we’d soon be neighbors, that the Beverly Hills duplex Michael and I had rented was only blocks away from her house. She offered yet again to have us over for dinner and we looked forward to it.

On our first night in our Beverly Hills rental, friendless and furniture-less, since our stuff was on a Mayflower van making its way across the country, Michael and I were surprised by a knock on the door. It was Laurie and Peter with shopping bags containing goodies to eat and drink and little battery-operated lights we could put on the floor by our air mattress until our lamps arrived.

“How nice is that?” I repeated to Michael.

Laurie was beautiful inside and out, I discovered, and Peter was hilarious with the ability to mock you in such an endearing way that you didn’t mind being mocked. (The first time he saw me, he nicknamed me “Bones.” Normally, when people joke that I’m skinny or scrawny or bony, it makes me mad, but Peter? I loved that he had a special name for me, just like he had special names for all his close pals, because he said it with such affection.)  Both he and Laurie had huge hearts, and the word “generous” didn’t begin to describe them. (And I’m not just talking about the fact that they’d raised millions of dollars for the Alzheimer’s Association as a result of their “A Night at Sardi’s” benefits.) Oh and one more thing: they adored each other. You could see it in their eyes, in the way they treated each other, in the way they touched each other. When you were around Laurie and Peter, you were thrilled to be in their orbit.

And we were definitely in their orbit. Laurie and I would talk on the phone forever and then email right after. Michael, who doesn’t make friends easily or often, couldn’t get enough of Peter. While Laurie and I would be in her kitchen kibbitzing, he and Peter would be downstairs watching porn channels on TV and laughing like idiot boys waiting for their mothers to scold them. We’d go out for dinner. We’d go to the movies. We’d spend New Year’s Eves together and Oscar night and all the rest. And when they said, “We’re staying at a friend’s on the beach in Santa Barbara for the weekend. Want to come?” we not only said yes but became so enamored of Santa Barbara that we moved there.

I was emailing and texting with Laurie this past weekend while she and Peter were on their annual trip to Vail. She was telling me what a good time they were having and I was telling her the latest about CT, where Michael and I had bought a house in April to spend more time with my mother. I missed the Grads now that I was on the East Coast again, but we’d recently had lunch with them when they came to NYC and we pledged to spend more time together when we flew back to CA over the winter.

Then came a terrible phone call on Sunday morning: Peter had died.

Just like that. While I was sleeping. While I was completely in the dark.

I woke up assuming they were enjoying their last day in Vail and instead Laurie was dealing with the loss of her beloved Petey. How could this be true? How could someone who’d been so alive, so vital, be here one minute and gone the next? I couldn’t fathom it. With one big exception, I’d been remarkably lucky in the friend department when it came to good health. Yes, I had just turned Medicare age, but all my buddies were fine, a few aches, pains and prescription drugs aside.

Not Peter, apparently.

No one didn’t love Peter Grad. No one. He could walk into a room and charm even the crabbiest person. He could play a round a golf with Joe Schmo and the President of the United States and put them both at ease. He could elicit a laugh even on your gloomiest day and then order you a pizza or grill you a steak. (No one made eating as much fun as Peter. With him, food was entertainment.)

Laurie is bereft, naturally, and I feel helpless that I can’t take her pain away. I wish my mother didn’t have dementia so I could ask her what her friends did or said that most comforted her after my father died.

I only hope that the outpouring Laurie’s getting from people will ease her grief a little. She did have the good fortune to be married to the love of her life for a very long time. May the gift of that sustain her.

RIP, Petey.


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Following in My Mother’s Footsteps

June 1st, 2015 by

Mom tracksuit

A few years ago, when Mom was still able to fly across the country and visit me in California every January, I bought her a fancy tracksuit at Neiman Marcus for her birthday. It was black velour with little rhinestones on the side front pockets of the zip-up jacket, and she loved it. She not only wore it for lounging around the house, but she wore it on the treadmill for her early evening workouts while watching the news.

Yes, treadmill, the professional-grade machine that had a prominent place in her finished basement and was so big it dwarfed her. The woman was in her mid-90s but utterly disciplined about going on that machine every day and walking for an hour, and she’d been sticking to her exercise routine for years. It kept her trim. It kept her feeling productive. It gave her a sense of control, which became especially important when her memory began to deteriorate and she needed to rely more and more on Sandy, her full-time caregiver, who filled in the blanks when she couldn’t remember where she was going or why. She did her laps on the treadmill when she could no longer contribute to her monthly book group discussion and stopped going. She did her laps on the treadmill when she could no longer tell you who was president. She did her laps on the treadmill when she could no longer drive a car. The treadmill was her touchstone, a way to prove to herself and the rest of us that she was still in charge of her body and mind. She even got a new, more high-tech model not long ago, as if to say, “I’m still here. I’m still me.”

And then she stopped using the treadmill the way she stopped watching the news. At 98, she’s unsteady on her feet, shuffles more than walks, needs help getting up from the sofa.

But did she admit any of that when I broached the subject of my taking the treadmill to my new house in CT so I could walk in inclement weather? Absolutely not. Here’s how the conversation went.

Me: “Mom, how would you feel if I bought the treadmill from you, since you don’t use it anymore and I need to exercise indoors now that I moved here?”

Mom: “What do you mean? I still use the treadmill every day!”

Me: “Uh, no you don’t.”

Mom: “Of course I do! I go downstairs and walk for an hour!”

Me, getting the picture and not wanting to agitate her: “Right. Well then, never mind. You keep it. Absolutely.”

A few minutes later, Thelma, who was covering for Sandy that afternoon and whose kind and gentle manner calms Mom, came into the room, sat down with us and said very diplomatically to my mother, “Jane would really like to have your treadmill. Wouldn’t you like her to have it? You don’t need it anymore.”

Mom: “Of course. Why shouldn’t she have it. It’s not even a question.”

It was as if I hadn’t asked the first time and gotten such a negative reaction, as if this were an entirely new subject. Now I didn’t know how to proceed. The last – and I mean the very last – thing I wanted to do was strip my mother of any vestige of the life she’s enjoyed, the life that has enabled her to live so long and so well, not to mention take advantage of her memory lapses. If she felt the treadmill was still important to her, then that was that and I wouldn’t bring it up again. I’d keep looking for a used one on Craigslist. No biggie. But if she didn’t have a problem with me taking it, that would be great too. Which was her “real” answer? To hang onto her treadmill or relinquish it and, perhaps, her sense of independence?

I went home and resumed my Craigslist search – until Sandy called.

“Your mom wants you to have her treadmill,” she said. “We talked about it. She knows she can’t use it anymore.”

I asked “Are you sure?” over and over again. This was tricky terrain for me, as I said. I wanted to respect my mother’s wishes, but I’d been confused about what they were.

“I’m sure,” said Sandy. “Besides, I’m not letting her use it. It’s not safe for her now.”

Not safe for her now. Sandy’s words made the decision easier. She was the one living in the house with Mom. She was the one who helped her bathe and gave her her medications and held her hand when they crossed the street. She made me understand that taking the treadmill would be an act of care for Mom, not a theft of her identity, as well as an act of care for me, for my health, given my much-too-sedentary lifestyle. And wasn’t that what good caregiving was all about? A balancing act between taking care of loved ones and taking care of ourselves? Hadn’t I written a book on that very subject?

The treadmill is now in my basement. The first time I turned on the TV news, stepped onto the machine and began to walk, I teared up. I pictured Mom on that thing, watching the news, hardly breaking a sweat, and I felt sad that I’d lost the mom she used to be. And then I quickly rethought my visualization. Instead, I imagined her standing off to the side cheering me on. “The treadmill was a big part of my life and now I’m passing it on to you, dear,” I heard her say. And then, because my mother has a sense of humor, I also heard her say, “Just don’t be a slacker and stop using it.”



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No More Caregiving from 3,000 Miles Away

May 22nd, 2015 by

Mom and me birthday

I haven’t spent my May 2nd birthday with my mother in many years. I’ve been living in California and only visited her in Mt. Kisco, in New York’s northern Westchester County, in the summers. After Mom turned 98 on her birthday in January and her cognitive abilities deteriorated further, it became very clear that talking to her on the phone and getting reports from my New York-based sister Susan and from Sandy, Mom’s live-in caregiver and majordomo, that I wanted to be close by; that I needed to be close by. There were other good reasons to move back to CT but Mom was the primary one. Celebrating my birthday with her, as I did in the photo above. was a treat.

What I’ve discovered spending time with her is that she’s holding her own in many ways. She still has an amazing vocabulary, still has her sense of humor, still remembers plenty. But she doesn’t remember plenty too. Gone are the anecdotes about my childhood. Gone are the anecdotes about her two husbands, my father and stepfather. Gone are the anecdotes about her friends, most of whom she has outlived.

But just when the sadness of all this creeps into my head, I remind myself to find the silver linings in Mom’s dementia. My book, You’d Better Not Die or I’ll Kill You, was all about finding the silver linings in caring for a loved one with a chronic or progressive illness. I not only wrote about the humorous side of being married to a man with Crohn’s disease, but I encouraged the other caregivers I interviewed (a mother whose son is autistic, a wife whose husband has MS, a son whose two parents had Alzheimer’s, etc.) to find humor in their situations too. Being able to find the positives in even the darkest times – and laughing about them – keeps us sane.

So….what are the silver linings with my mother?

For one thing, she’s no longer estranged from her older sister. As I wrote in The Huffington Post a while back, she forgot she was mad at my aunt after ten years of their not speaking to each other, picked up the phone one day and called her. The conversation was friendly and cheerful as if there’d never been an angry word between them. (My aunt, who’s 100 now, has the same level of dementia as Mom.) They’ve been good buddies ever since. How that’s for an upside of dementia.

For another, every time I come to the house to visit Mom now, it’s a pleasant surprise to her. “Nobody told me you were coming!” she exclaims as soon as I walk in the door, even though I’ve spoken to her only minutes before on the phone to let her know I’m on my way. “This is such a wonderful, wonderful surprise! I can’t get over it!” See? Another upside: my mother is always really, really happy to see me.

But the most personal upside by far has been the fact that my mother’s dementia has changed the way she feels about my writing career. Let me back up and explain.

During a recent phone call, she said, “What’s new, dear?”

“Just taking a break from writing to say hi,” I told her.

“Writing?” she said.

“I’m working on a new novel,” I said.

“You write novels?” She sounded flabbergasted. “Nobody told me that!”

I thought I’d misheard her. A former college professor of Greek and Latin, she values words and had never forgotten that I earned my living through words. It was as if she’d suddenly forgotten who I was.

“Why don’t you walk over to the bookshelves across from your bed,” I suggested trying not to show how shaken I was. “You’ll see a lot of books with my name on them.”

She put down the phone, went to look, and came back on the line. “Oh my goodness! I can’t believe my daughter writes novels! I’m so impressed, dear, and so proud. I bet they’re the best novels ever written.”

Well, now she had done a complete one-eighty. I write romantic comedies – novels that have hit bestseller lists, been translated all over the world, and sold to Hollywood. Most mothers would be thrilled to have a daughter who was a successful author, and Mom was thrilled. She called me her “little celebrity,” woke up early to watch me on the “Today” show, and planted herself in the front row at my bookstore signings where she bought multiple copies and had me autograph them. Naturally, I’d assumed she read the books too. I was wrong. She didn’t read them, certainly not all the way through. And the fact that she didn’t – I discovered this after I’d just given her the galley proofs of a forthcoming novel and minutes later found her combing my library for “something good to read” – was like a stab in the heart.

Mom and I had always shared a very close bond. She was my anchor after my father died when I was six. I followed in her footsteps in college and majored in Greek and Latin. I graduated Summa Cum Laude, as did she. I earned a Phi Beta Kappa key that she wore on her charm bracelet. We were smarty-pants women together, rolling our eyes when grammatically challenged people said, “Between you and I.” So imagine my hurt to learn that my novels weren’t up to her intellectual standards, that my work was the sort of facile, mass entertainment she dismissed. The knowledge of her disapproval created a breach in our otherwise loving relationship that was always lurking beneath the surface, unspoken.

And yet now, during our phone call, Mom had just validated the work I had spent my adult life laboring over. In her cognitively impaired state, she had uttered the magic words at last: “I bet they’re the best books ever written.”

So yes, caring for aging parents with dementia can be a struggle and there are times when you long for your parent the way he or she used to be, but when there are silver linings, we have to grab them with both hands. I grabbed my mother’s compliment about my books and will never let them go.





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Eating (and More Eating) in My New ‘Hood

May 15th, 2015 by


I didn’t actually order the above menu item at @ the corner (yes, that’s the name of the restaurant, since it’s right on the corner of the charming town of Litchfield). I ordered the “salmon fricassee,” which was an absolutely heavenly entree consisting of a bowl of perfectly cooked salmon surrounded by a simmered sauce of artichoke hearts, olives, white beans and super ripe cherry tomatoes. I loved this place – the food, the ambiance, the fact that they give you a healthy pour of wine – and am grateful to our friends for introducing us to it.

In between all the house stuff (yesterday we had another visit from the electrician and a delivery of our patio furniture – oh, and our lawn got mowed for the first time – and today will bring the guy who, hopefully, will fix our garage door openers that suddenly don’t work), we’ve been revisiting the area’s restaurants we’ve liked and trying new ones. My waistline is expanding accordingly as is my credit card bill. I must stop the madness or I’ll be forced to eat this.

friskiesSunday night brings the finale of “Mad Men” and there’s no way I’ll be at a restaurant during that. I’ll be in my living room, glued to the TV, probably crying, probably second guessing the ending, probably expecting Matthew Weiner, the show’s creative genius, to tell us it’s all a joke and “Mad Men” is coming back for another season after all. Yeah, like that’s happening. Sigh.

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And Look What Else Surprised Us

May 8th, 2015 by

cherry tree

As I’ve said, I’m not a garden person so I don’t know what plants, trees and shrubs will turn out to be until they reveal themselves in the spring. This cherry tree at the front of our property was a happy surprise. It’s so pink and joyful that it makes me smile every time I look at it.

And the house itself is coming along. Yesterday the mason came to repair the brick patio. The day before that the plumber came to repair the outdoor shower. On and on it goes, but we took a break from all the headache-inducing stuff and had our first dinner guest last night. Michael broke in the new BBQ with a terrific chicken with pesto and I made a ton of roasted vegetables (Yukon gold potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and carrots – very colorful) and a salad with mixed greens, endive, tomatoes, cucumbers and walnuts in a mustard vinaigrette. Yum, if I do say so myself. Our guest brought us a wonderful house present: a large wooden bowl he’d made himself. He’s a very talented woodworker so I’m thrilled to have one of his signed creations and can’t wait to make a big salad in the bowl.

On the book front, my agent and I decided to change the title of my novel before the manuscript went to editors for submissions this week. Instead of going out as Farm Fatales, the spinoff to Princess Charming is now called Three Blonde Mice, which is also the name of the planned series the book will kick off. I just hope editors love it as much as I do. We shall see……….

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