At the Women's march

At the Women's march
All Lives Matter

Never Again

Never Again
We Won't Go Back

Thursday, December 20, 2007

terrific show

As a follow-up to the interviews that local fifth-graders conducted of senior citizens, including my husband, Mark, and me, the children, aided by a person from a nearby arts council, put together 26 skits based on what we seniors told them. It was the best show I have seen all year -- and I go to Broadway a lot!

They acted out a scene Mark had described when his jeep in World War 2 rolled over and he and his driver were both injured; they acted out my description of being in a remote Nepalese village where the children have so little compared to these modern kids; they acted out one man's memory of being caught in quicksand and being saved by his loyal dog; they acted out another man's memory of coming to this country from Italy as a 12-year-old and being put into first grade because he didn't speak English. And they acted out an 80-year-old woman's memory of having wet her pants in elementary school. This last was wonderful because they got her point -- that you can undergo something really embarrassing -- and you can get over it.

I was really moved by the way the children tuned into history through our memories, and it was another reminder of how important it is for us to tell our stories to our grandchildren. They won't know what our lives have been like, what kinds of things scared us, embarrassed us, made us happy, or made us sad -- unless we tell them.

Now, over the holidays, when so many of us are lucky enough to be able to spend time with our grandchildren, is a perfect time for letting them into our lives before they knew us. Happy holidays, everyone!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Your Maiden Name and Other Vital Facts about You

One in four adult Canadians have no idea what their grandmother's maiden name was (according to a recent survey by, an online resource for family history), and I imagine that the results for people in the U.S. would be about the same. It's a shame to lose precious parts of our family history, so it's important for us to tell our grandchildren who we are, who we were, and what we have done in our lives before they or their parents were even dreamed of. One in five Canadians don't know what their grandfathers did for a living, and I would guess that even fewer would know what their grandmothers did, even though throughout history many women have indeed worked for pay or done valuable volunteer work.

This maiden-name business is an issue that I feel strongly about. If I were getting married today, I would keep the name I had for 22 years before my marriage. As it is, I inserted my maiden name, Wendkos, into my byline sometime after I began being published when I got that a-ha! moment and realized that no one who had known me before my marriage would ever connect Sally Olds with Sally Wendkos.

With the holidays coming up, many grandmas will be lucky enough to spend time with your grandchildren. This will be a perfect time for you to tell them about your past -- what your name once was (if you have changed it) and what some of the important aspects of your life have been. One helpful tool for this is "For My Grandchild: A Grandmother's Gift of Memory," published by Sterling Publishing Co. in affiliation with AARP. It's a beautiful hardcover workbook and sells for only $9.95 in the U.S. and $12.95 in Canada. (Disclosure: the book I am currently writing, about activities grandmothers can do with their grandchildren, will also be published by Sterling.)

Have fun with your stories!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Interviews by Fifth Graders

It was like being a surrogate grandmother when three fifth-grade students at a local school interviewed Mark and me as part of a project involving a number of older community residents. My interviewers, Amy, Carolyn, and Ryan, all had lists of questions to ask, which ranged all over the place, and so I didn't talk to them as much as I had thought I would about the children in Nepal. They were somewhat interested in the lives of the village children -- but they had other questions to ask.

One of them did ask me "What was the youngest person you met there?" I told them that I had held babies in the village -- and that I was very lucky, because the babies don't wear diapers. The parents know when to hold the baby away from them, but I didn't know -- I was just lucky! They were very interested in the fact that the babies wear only shirts and thought they should definitely wear something on their bottoms. I used this as a teaching moment to say that this is what I love about travel -- the chance to see how people in other cultures do things, and that the things we take for granted in our own cultures are done very differently in other places. Amy picked up on this right away and said, "So people over there would think it was a waste of time and money to put diapers or pants on a baby!"

They asked how many children I had, and then how many grandchildren. They wanted to know the names & ages of the grandchildren. (They didn't ask this about my children!) When they heard that my oldest grandchild is 25, they wanted to know if I had any great-grandchildren.

They asked "What was the silliest thing you ever did?" I thought a minute, laughed, and said, "Putting this red color in my hair, which I just did this year after having been gray for a long time!" When I told this to a friend, she reminded me of another silly thing we did. When our kids went out trick-or-treating, we put on costumes and went out ourselves. So this proves my maxim: "Everybody has to grow old, but you can stay immature forever!"

Two of the interviewers were pretty good about listening to my answers to their questions, but the t hird needs to learn a few things about interviewing! She interrupted the other kids, interrupted me, and talked about herself!

The children will get together with the project coordinator and will write a skit based on some of the interviews. There were three fifth grade classes doing this and a number of different people being interviewed, so their play may not have anything to do with anything Mark and I said. But we'll go to the play on December 19th and find out.

It was a fun experience! And it's the kind of thing that you can do with your own grandchildren. I'll have to see whether any of mine are interested in interviewing us.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Your Grandkids' Opinions

I know that we elders are supposed to dispense wisdom by the gallon, but sometimes it pays to ask the youngest generation for opinions or advice. Later this week, as part of an intergenerational project being carried out by our Port Washington public schools and a local arts organization, Mark and I will be interviewed by fifth graders at a nearby school. They are asking older members of the community about any aspects of their lives they care to talk about -- a celebration, a difficulty, an important experience.

The teacher coordinating the project suggested that I might speak about my writing, but I wondered whether it might not be more interesting to the fifth graders for me to talk about the children in the remote hill village in Nepal where I have visited four times and stayed with local families. I asked my grandchildren -- who are much closer to fifth grade than I am -- to help me decide. All those who weighed in voted for talking about the children in Nepal.

Maika, 19, said, "I would say the kids would be interested in how children live in Nepal -- the differences and similarities to how children in the U.S. grow up." And Anna, 15, emailed me: "I would want to know where they live, the languages they speak, what they wear, their jobs, the average sizes of families, their hobbies, and what the landscape looks like." Lisa, 11, also voted for the children. So that's what I'll do. I'll take some photos along -- and offer to show slides of the village some time in the future.

And I'll please the teacher too. My writing does figure into this, since I wrote an article and a book about the people in the village. I'm looking forward to Thursday.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Wonderful World of Children's Books

Because I have always loved to read, still love reading kids' books myself and now enjoy seeing my grandchildren reading them, I was delighted to come across a great website and blog: It presents reviews of children's books -- brand-new books, new versions of old ones, and beloved classics. All the reviews are written by a team of volunteer readers, most of whom are parents and grandparents -- and none of whom have any commercial ties to bookstores or publishers. Recent reviews included books specially selected for picky eaters, children with separation anxiety, and kids (and grandparents) just looking to have fun.

I know you'll like visiting the site and finding titles that are either new to you -- or that will remind you of books you and your children liked that you may have forgotten about.

Happy Reading. I'd love to hear about some of your favorite kids' books.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Mathematical grandmas?

I just came across a terrific article by Kenneth Williams, a math teacher and author of "Fun with Figures," suggesting how we can help our grandchildren with math. And we can do it in really easy ways, like baking together and having them measure ingredients, checking a map or going to to find out how many miles apart they live from you, taking them to lunch and asking them to check the bill and figure out the tip. I know my granddaughters are learning some math when they sell me Girl Scout cookies and tell me how much money I'll have to pay on delivery. Fortunately, they don't tell me how many calories I'll be taking in after I get all those goodies! The chocolate mint cookies are still my favorites.

To read the article, go to:

And let me know how your "teaching" sessions go.

Friday, September 28, 2007

high-tech grandma?

I have to laugh at myself -- here I am writing a book about cool modern grandmas, up on the latest technology, patting myself on the back because I'm familiar with computers and cell phones and all that jazz -- and then I hit one technical glitch after another. My tape recorder gives me nothing but static, the photos I want to post on my blog come out looking as if they're reflections in a funhouse mirror, and my email freezes. I call for technical help, I ask my fellow writers, I get a special device from my friendly neighborhood Radio Shack. But everything takes soooo long. Oh, if only my teenage grandchildren were here to solve my tech troubles! In this I imagine I'm typical of many grandmas -- we can do it all, but this is one area where we're less likely to teach our grandkids than to learn from them.

What have you learned from your grandchildren this week?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Running Grandma

I loved the story in The Kansan newspaper about Mary Jane Mann, a 74-year-old grandmother in Topeka, who started to run when she was 46 and is still at it today. Why do I love this story so much? The fact that I'm a 74-year-0ld grandmother on Long Island (New York) who started running when I was 46 and am still at it today might have something to do with it.

The special bonuses from my running have included the experience of running with my grandchildren. It's been wonderful to see that, as I have gotten slower and slower, they have gotten faster and faster. But the best is that we enjoy pounding the paths together. These shared runs have included the ones with Anna at age three, pumping her chubby little arms, running with me on the beach; the three-generation races three or four of us have run every Mother's Day for the past dozen years (before going out to brunch to replace those calories we had expended during those 3.1 miles!); and the New Year's Eve when Stefan and I ran at midnight in Central Park while fireworks flashed overhead.

I would love to hear about the kinds of activities other grandmothers share with their grandchildren -- things you love to do, and love even more doing with them.

To read the September 25 article about Mary Jane, go to

glamorous grandma

Grandmas are about to get a new boost in the glamour department when Liv Ullman's next film, her first Norwegian film in 38 years, comes out. Ullman, 68, will play the grandmother of a severely ill 13-year-old girl. She has said she did not plan to star in any more movies, but that when she read the manuscript for this one, she wept with happiness. We'll have to be patient, though: the filming will not begin until this November. No word yet as to when it will be released.

Does anyone know whether Ullman herself is a grandmother? I know she has a daughter but don't know whether she has grandchildren.