At the Women's march

At the Women's march
All Lives Matter

Never Again

Never Again
We Won't Go Back

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I received a lovely phone call last night from an old friend. Hedy married David’s best friend, Erv, more than fifty years ago, and remained Erv’s and our good friend even after they were divorced and even after she moved some distance away from us. In our conversation Hedy talked about the memories she had of David over the years, and I asked her to share them. She talked about the time she dated him (before I had met him – and which I knew all about), and she talked about how much she appreciated our making the long drive to see her on two occasions – the sad one when Erv died and the happy one when their granddaughter was Bat Mitzvah’d. Hedy asked if it was too painful for me to hear these memories, but I relished them and appreciated hearing through her voice and her memories how much she too loved and admired my David.

These are the messages that mean the most to me – the conversations and the notes in which people share their memories of David, because through all these memories he lives on. There’s the junior high school teacher who wrote to me of a time when David came to speak to his class and had the students mesmerized by his talking about his career in radio. (I know what a tough audience junior high schoolers can be!) Or the young man who wrote about how David had welcomed him into our home at a crucial time in his life. Or the trainer at the gym who told me of the good conversations they used to have. Or the young woman who lived next door to us as a little girl and still remembers his smile and how he helped her single mother clear away the snow in her driveway.

Some of these memories are new to me, or forgotten, so they give me the gift of seeing still another aspect of who he was – and what his impact was on people outside our family. I’m grateful for this gift.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I am deeply appreciative of my friends and family who phone or visit me after David’s death, but when they ask this question, I don’t know how to answer. I’m not “fine,” and I’m not “okay.” I could say that I am, but what a lie that would be. So I have tried out various answers, like these:

“I’m taking it one day at a time.”
“I have a lot of support from my family and good friends.”
“I’m putting one foot in front of the other.”
“I’m eating and sleeping.” (Actually, I’m doing a little too much of the one – people have been much too generous bringing tempting sweets – and too little of the other – I’m discovering TV shows I never watched before -- but I’m sure that will change.)
“I’m breathing.”
“I’m getting stuff done.” (And there’s a lot to do, I’m finding out.)
“Compared to what?” (This, only to a close friend who appreciates black humor.)

What I find most helpful for well-wishers to ask is, “What did you do today?” or “What are you going to do tomorrow?” Specific questions that I can give specific answers to.

Everyone in this situation is different, of course, and everyone experiences a major loss differently, so I’m not giving any advice – just saying what it’s like for me. I’d like to know how other bereaved people answer this question from kind people who really want to know.

Monday, October 19, 2009


On October 13, 1955 when I was in my last semester at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia I had a blind date with a radio announcer named Mark Olds. By the second date I knew I wanted to marry him. Four weeks later he proposed and I barely let him get the words out of his mouth. We were married a month later, December 18, 1955. I learned that his family called him David, his first name, which he didn’t use in the wider world because he hated to be called “Dave.” I called him David – the rest of the world knew him as Mark. (When our eldest daughter first went to kindergarten, she came home and asked me, “What’s Daddy’s name?”)

On Saturday, October 3, 2009 David and I attended the Bat Mitzvah of the granddaughter of a close friend. We danced the hora, and then a little later were the only couple on the floor dancing to a Frank Sinatra medley. He was a terrific dancer, much in demand as a dance partner. After we drove home in a heavy rainstorm, David took off his dress clothes, put on his high rubber boots and slicker, and cleared leaves that had been clogging the drain in our driveway. The next morning we took a little time for some pillow talk before he went out for bagels. When he didn’t come home in a reasonable time I went looking for him and found him in our car in the parking lot of the bagel store, seemingly asleep. The bagels were in the back seat.

When I couldn’t rouse him I called 911, and our local Port Washington police and rescue squad quickly came and took him by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital, where the doctors told me he had suffered a stroke. He received excellent and timely care, but he never regained consciousness, never felt any pain or discomfort, and died in the Palliative Care division of North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York on October 8. I had slept in his hospital room the previous two nights, and so I was there when he left us. He was 88 years old, and we had often talked about the day when one of us would go first. We had promised each other we would not use heroic measures to sustain life when a meaningful life was no longer possible, and I fulfilled that promise when he needed me to.

David and I had been together for just a few days shy of 54 years. He was a wonderful man, husband, father, grandfather, and friend. He was my best friend, my rock, my staunch supporter. I know that our daughters, our grandchildren, our close friends, and I will get through this terribly sad time although we will never get over his loss. We’re all grateful that we had him as long as we did.

Obituary notices were published in Newsday and the Port Washington (NY) News.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Jane Brody, personal health columnist for The New York Times and a grandmother, wrote a really important article yesterday, September 29, headlined “From Birth, Engage Your Child with Talk.” This generation of mothers is different from ours in many ways – one being those ubiquitous cell phones. Yes, I know, we use them too – but when we’re with our grandkids? Rarely. In her column, Jane echoed a point I made in the introduction to SUPER GRANNY:

“I often see parents talking on their cell phones while they are out with their children—walking in the street, pushing them on playground swings, or riding a bus—being more involved with the phone conversation than with the child. But I never see a grandmother opting for cell phone over child. No matter how busy we are, when we take time out from our careers and our other activities to be with our grandchildren, we know that this is an event, a precious interlude, one that we want to experience as fully as we can. We know how fast children grow up.”

Jane quoted communication experts on the importance of talking, reading, and singing to young children right from infancy, and she gives a lot of good pointers on having the best conversations – pointers that we grannies can also use. Just a few of her good examples:
* Talk while doing things and going places and point out sights along the way.
* Use simple but grammatical speech – no baby talk.
* With a baby who’s not talking yet, guess what she or he wants, and then answer with words.

She doesn’t mention in this article teaching babies how to sign, which I described in SUPER GRANNY as another way to begin communication with preverbal children. I only wish I had an infant or toddler in the family that I could talk to these days!

Thursday, September 10, 2009


This post isn’t about grandparenting – but it affects grandparents. Parents too. In fact everyone. Mark had had a hiatal hernia for some years, which he managed to keep in check with either prescription or over-the-counter medications. Recently, however, it became more troublesome, and his gastrointestinal doctor recommended that he have it surgically repaired. He had the operation two weeks ago, and he is recovering well. However, I want to pass on some of what I learned from the experience.

1) Don’t schedule elective surgery when your own doctor will be out of town. We didn’t learn until Mark tried to schedule his presurgical testing appointment that both his internist and his cardiologist would be out of town the week the surgery would take place. This created a little scheduling glitz, but the more important issue came up when the heart monitor he wore in the hospital seemed to show an arrhythmia. The question arose: Was this something he had had in the past that his doctor was either treating or didn’t consider a problem, or was it something new and therefore more problematic? There was no way we could get this information since both his doctors were away, and as a result the surgeon who was seeing him in the hospital (the doctor who had performed the surgery went away immediately afterwards so his associate whom we had never met was taking care of him) cautiously recommended that he stay in the hospital an extra night. By the following day, the heartbeat seemed normal, the hospital cardiologist said he could go home, and a follow-up visit after his own heart doctor returned reassured us that he was fine. The lesson: Even if surgery is scheduled, if you find out that your own doctors will not be reachable, postpone the surgery.

2) If anyone in your family (including you) needs to be in the hospital for any reason, it's very important to have someone with you, from morning to night if possible, and sometimes even overnight. During a previous stay when Mark received a knee replacement, I was able to keep a nurse from administering a medication that the nurse on the previous shift had already given but had not written down. Also, while patients are recovering from anesthesia they may be a little disoriented and it’s important to have someone to help them be comfortable. The nurses are too busy to be in the patient’s room all the time, and sometimes too busy to come quickly when needed. If the patient’s advocate is there, she or he can go out to get the nurse when necessary.

3) Ask for specific written instructions upon discharge. Mark’s surgeon told me while Mark was in the recovery room (still under anesthesia) that he should first be on a liquid diet and then move to a soft diet. I heard him, but I have to confess that I was distracted by my concern for my husband, and didn’t ask for specifics, like when he could switch from liquid to soft, what constitutes a soft diet, how long he should be on this, and so forth. We also didn’t establish what activities he could do, and how soon. We were confused, since the surgeon’s stand-in gave us some instructions for a low-residue diet (no rice, no bread or rolls), and the hospital meals included those items. When we got home I downloaded a low-residue diet from the Mayo Clinic website, and then asked Mark’s gastrointestinal specialist who had recommended the surgery for a written diet. Between the two, we worked out something that seemed to work, but I should have asked for something before the surgeon left town.

I hope I won't have to use this hard-won knowledge, but if there is another hospital stay in the offing, I think I'll be better prepared.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


This past weekend Opa and I drove Stefan, our firstborn grandchild, up to Oswego, where he’ll be studying this fall at this branch of The State University of New York. Oswego is a “partner school” of Osnabrueck University in Germany, where Stefan is pursuing a degree in Cognitive Science (an interdisciplinary approach to studying the mind, with an emphasis on the interaction of people with computers). As an exchange student, he can pursue the same basic curriculum and get credits toward graduation.

It’s very different taking this grandchild generation to school than it was when we took our daughters. I remember very well when we drove Nancy, our firstborn, to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and I didn’t anticipate what a wrench it would be. We had two younger daughters at home, I was deeply involved in my writing career as well as my family, and thoughts of an “empty nest” were far from my mind. But then, much to my surprise, after we came home from Ohio, I went to the supermarket here on Long Island, saw someone I barely knew, told her about taking Nancy to college – and burst into tears. An era had ended. While I may not have shed tears in public after taking our younger daughters to college in their turns just a few years later, each one brought the mixed feelings of satisfaction that our major parenting jobs were coming to an end (we thought), along with a feeling of loss that our major parenting jobs were behind us (we thought).

One big difference, of course, is that Stefan and his sisters have not lived with us. They have lived an ocean away, so actually up at school Stefan is geographically closer than he has ever been. Another difference is that Stefan did not go to college directly from high school as all our daughters did. But the biggest difference is – as I have told interviewers who have asked, “How is being a grandmother different from being a mother?” – as a grandmother you don’t worry so much. You’ve been there before, you have confidence that obstacles can be overcome, and that challenges become growth experiences more often than they become problems.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I can’t believe how much time has gone by since I was last in these pages – so much that Susan, my new granny friend on emailed me to find out what was wrong. Nothing at all was wrong – things were very right. I was just too busy being with my grandchildren to write about grandmothering. Since I get to see my grandchildren from Germany and their mother, my daughter Jenny, only once or twice a year, when they’re here Opa and I clear the decks and make no non-family plans.

We played Scrabble, Pictionary, Boggle, and “Stinker” (see p. 114 of “Super Granny”). Opa and Lisa got to see “Ice Age 3,” and we all got to see and love “Up.” (It presents a funny and often moving picture of old age and friendship between young and old.) We went to the beach, we did artwork for Mak-a-plate plates and mugs, we took photos (especially Maika, who has a wonderful eye for subjects and composition), we had a delicious Un-Birthday cake and made up for it by jogging, biking, and taking long walks. The time flew by, and now there’s a little time to write before our grandson, Stefan, comes to visit.

The evening when my daughter Nancy had to leave the beach to take Anna, 17, to her flight for a youth conservation project in Idaho, Nina, 9, stayed with us. As she was about to go to sleep that night she buried her face in the tee shirt Nancy had worn that day and announced, “I’m going to take Mommy’s tee shirt to bed with me because it has her nice motherly smell.”

One highlight of our week on Long Beach Island, the New Jersey seashore community where we (variously including other daughters and grandchildren) have been renting a house for the past eleven summers, was a visit from another new friend in my granny network, Barbara from Nana's Corner. Thanks to reading her blog, I had learned that she lives in New Jersey and also vacations with her family on Long Beach Island. We exchanged phone numbers, and I was so glad that this busy grandma, teacher, poet, and blogger made time to come down to see us, accompanied by her lovely daughter and adorable baby grandson. To see Nana and Oma together, see the photo on the right-hand side – another family affair, taken by my husband and enhanced by my daughter, Dorri. It was a delight to meet Barbara, and I look forward to staying in touch. Talk about social networking!

Sunday, July 5, 2009


One of my favorite stories in recent days is the one about the 40 or so men in a small town in Pennsylvania who marched a mile in women's high-heeled shoes to raise awareness and money to stop violence against women. One of the marcherssaid that his “red-light-district-red” satin heels “Hurt in 10 different ways. My heels, my soles, my calves, and even my back.” Good for these men to know what we go through!

I read about this march along with other terrific stories on, the website of Veteran Feminists of America, the organization that celebrates those of us who were active in the Second Wave of the women’s movement. The First Wave began in the 19th century and focused on winning the right to vote, and the Third Wave continues today with activism in our daughters’ and granddaughters’ generations.

VFA defines the Second Wave as the years from 1963 (when Betty Friedan’s landmark book The Feminine Mystique was published) through 1975, the 12 years when the greatest number of women were involved. During this time women took their employers to court to overcome job discrimination, fought for women’s right to be in control of our own bodies, forced changes in credit laws so we could legally sign contracts for mortgages, forced authorities to pass and implement laws punishing rape and domestic abuse, and so on and so on. And we marched. And we protested. And we wrote letters. And we instilled the principles of gender equality in our children, both daughters and sons.

VFA has held reunions and honored many prominent women, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Congresswoman Martha Griffiths; Virginia Allen, former Director of the Women's Bureau; and other greats. Future events will honor athletes, journalists, the women's health movement, and women in business and finance. DVDs of events are, or will, be housed at major women's history libraries. And together with the University of Illinois Press, VFA has published the book Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975. I am immensely proud to be included in this book – and very humble when I read the other biographies of women who did so much to change our society. We have seen tremendous changes in our lifetime, and as a result our children live in a very different world.

Go to the website – you’ll have a good time! You’ll even see a little notice about Super Granny – she gets around. After all, she's a woman of her time.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


A few days ago I was interviewed by Bobbi Conner, host of the radio show “The Parent’s Journal,” which is carried by about 200 stations around the U.S., as well as the Armed Services Network. (I’ll post here when I find out when it will be aired.) Bobbi asked some really good questions – including a couple that focus on the value of grandparents spending time with grandkids, and some of the positive aspects of this for the child, the grandparent, and the parent.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered a wonderful interview I was once privileged to have with the amazing anthropologist Margaret Mead. I had been asking her about issues relating to child care. She told me, “The worst thing is just having the mother boxed up with the baby 24 hours a day, which nobody ever meant to have happen in the whole history of the human race. Babies are most likely to develop into well-adjusted human beings when they are cared for by many warm, friendly people – as long as most of these loved people remain in the infants’ lives.”

And who fills this bill the best? The grandmother, of course. We’re the next best thing to a parent. As another stable relationship in child’s life, we’re there. We can give parents a break, and they can relax knowing we'll take loving care of their offspring. And in some ways we’re even better than a parent – well, at least, different. Our role is different -- for one thing we don't have the responsibility of socializing the children so we are free of those pressures. Also, at this time in our lives we usually have more time than a busy parent does, more patience, and more of an understanding that so many of the things we worried about never materialize, so we can be more relaxed than the parents can be -- and than we were as parents.

Then too, sometimes a child needs to talk to someone who’s not a parent but who they know is just as concerned with their happiness and well-being as a parent is – here’s where grandparents come in, to offer a different perspective from the one they can get from their parents, friends, or siblings. We’ve been around the block a few times, and we can draw on a wealth of experiences.

Plus, we’re one more person in their lives they can have fun with.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


This post is in answer to Little P's question commenting on my post about bringing back presents for grandchildren, in which she asked why we chose this trip.

My husband had been wanting to go to Dubrovnik for years; we had heard that Croatia is beautiful; and then a brochure from SmarTours came in the mail and the places, dates, and cost were all right for us. Both countries are indeed blessed with lovely sites. One high point was walking the city walls in Dubrovnik and seeing the marvelous views of the sea, the old forts, and the red-tiled roofs of the houses below. We also enjoyed admiring the architecture of the buildings by the river in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. And so much more.

I had known nothing about Slovenia before, and very little about Croatia. Thanks to a little reading that I did ahead of time and to the info from our tour guides, I came back with a better understanding of both countries and their often sad history. I always like to prepare for a trip by reading travel narratives and novels set in the place where I'm going. This time I got some of the flavor of both countries by reading "After Yugoslavia" by Zoe Bran, an account of the author's return trip through the area; "The Sound of Blue" by Holly Payne, a novel set partly in Dubrovnik and partly in a camp for Croatian refugees; and "They Would Never Hurt a Fly" by Slavenka Drakulic, a powerful and painful account of some of the defendants in the 1995 war crimes trials in The Hague, asking what happens to ordinary people that can turn them into vicious killers.

One big plus about travel for me is that it sensitizes my antenna for news. I have found, for example, that when a place I have visited is written about in the newspaper, I am more likely to go beyond the headline and read the whole article-- and to have a special understanding of what's going on there. I feel a new linkage to the people of that country, its government, its trials and its triumphs. And so it is now, with this part of the world about which I had been so ignorant. I know I don't have to visit places to understand them, but for me this brings them closer when I have walked their streets and spoken with their people. And so I hope to continue to visit -- and to learn about -- more places in this big world.

Monday, June 15, 2009


GRAND is a terrific online magazine for grandparents, which subscribers receive monthly in their computer's inbox. I had a subscription to it in its former paper life, and now I really enjoy the online version. The April, May, and June issues are especially enjoyable for me because they all carry excerpts from SUPER GRANNY (grin). I like the other articles, too, full of good information and good ideas.

The powers-that-be at GRAND have offered a free subscription to all my readers. To get it, check out this website: and then click on the word "Subscribe" on the top right corner of the screen. It doesn't say "FREE" but if you enter my code (superg), your subscription will be free.

To find my story in the June issue about running with my grandson, go to page 32. My other stories -- all about adolescent grandchildren -- are about taking a grandchild to breakfast (April) and texting (May).

I hope you like the magazine, and I’d love to hear from you about it.

The editors are currently looking for GRANDParent of the Year nominations. If you would like to nominate anyone, they would be happy to hear from you.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I’ve been away from these pages for a few weeks because Mark (Opa) and I went to Croatia and Slovenia, with a brief visit to Bosnia-Herzegovenia. We were away only two weeks, but somehow catching up with work before and afterwards, and getting ready for the trip and re-entry afterwards ate up a lot of time. We saw some beautiful picture-postcard scenes along the Adriatic coast and some very sad reminders of the war in the Balkans during the 1990s. And we met a number of other grandparents – this is, after all, the demographic that has the time and the money to travel.

Even though none of us were with our grandchildren, you could tell that thoughts of them were ever-present. One grandfather looked everywhere for dolls in ethnic costumes for his granddaughters that were “not in plastic cases [the dolls, not the granddaughters] but were real dolls that the girls can drag around with them.” A grandmother stocked up on local postage stamps for her grandson’s collection. Several people hit the computers at the hotel every day to connect with children and grandchildren. And so it went.

We sent postcards to everyone as we always do, letting them know we were thinking of them and giving them a little taste of another country. Then, throughout our twelve days of active sight-seeing I looked for presents that I might bring the grandchildren. I ruled out cheap souvenirs since they all have too much stuff already and don’t need more to clutter up their homes. I ruled out expensive jewelry because I like to shop for good gifts where I know the merchant and can return if there’s any problem. I knew we didn’t need to bring anything, since one of my daughters has said, “Please don’t bring a present every time you come – the children are happy just to see you.” And we weren’t gone any longer than a typical gap between seeing the family.

But I didn’t feel right coming home empty-handed after we had taken such an extensive trip, so I kept looking – and I finally found a solution for the four granddaughters in an unlikely little souvenir shop: little change purses made of handkerchief-linen fringed with lace (for which Croatia is known), with little zippers. Easy to pack, inexpensive, and easy to push to the back of a dresser drawer if the girls don’t want to use them. For our 20-something grandson there was nothing that seemed useful or entertaining enough to bring home. We’ll have to buy him a little something when he comes to visit us this fall.

I wonder how other grandparents feel about bringing souvenirs from trips for grandchildren. A “must,” a “maybe,” or a “forget-about-it”? Let me hear from you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


“Why are these sharks biting each other?” Corey and Tyler wondered. When the two teenagers went to find a senior staff member of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, they learned that serious biting (more than a nibble) is a typical aspect of shark mating behavior. This was one more piece of information that these volunteers, along with their siblings, Jordyn and Morgan, have learned during the hundreds of hours they have given to the center, usually with their Gram, Barbara Van Heest, who has logged 3,000 volunteer hours over the past ten years.

Barbara began taking her four grandchildren who live near her in Virginia Beach to the center when they were toddlers, and as soon as each turned eleven, the minimum age for volunteering, they all began to work along with her.

“I think it’s important that the children learn to give back. They’re fortunate in what they get in life, so it’s good to pass it on,” Barbara says. Also, she emphasizes that the volunteering is not just a question of giving -- the children get benefits from it themselves. “I see them becoming comfortable talking to the adult visitors, answering their questions, gaining self-esteem because of the knowledge they now have about marine life.” (One other plus for the older teens has been meeting young people they’ve gone on dates with – after some adult screening, of course.)

Now Corey and Morgan, both 16, have logged a total of about 680 volunteer hours over the past five years, and are docents at the center on the weekends. Their 13-year-old siblings, Jordyn and Tyler, have already volunteered for about 150 hours each. All the volunteers, young and old, attend classes regularly to learn about the animals and plant life at the center.

Barbara picks up the children at eight in the morning on volunteer days and takes them over to the center, where a day’s activities may include touching sting rays, turning over horseshoe crabs, or showing visitors how to tell whether a blue crab is male or female and which snakes are venomous.

Thanks to all the public service the family has given over the years, the Van Heest family received the Volunteer Hampton Roads Family of the Year Award from the Center, for Barbara’s establishing “a legacy of service through her grandchildren and instilling a commitment of conservation through education.” (Hampton Roads is a 2000+-square-mile area in Virginia including dozens of cities, towns, and counties.)

For other grandmothers who would like to instill a family tradition of volunteer service, Barbara has this advice: “Get involved yourself, show by example, and stay close to your grandchildren – even if they live at a distance, as do the two of mine up in New Jersey.”

Monday, May 11, 2009


A couple of bloggers whom I follow (Susan of and Joan of have been talking about hair color lately, a topic I’m always ready to blather about.

My mother was 33 when I was born and already so gray that someone seeing her on the street pushing me in my carriage asked her if I was her granddaughter. She went home and burst into tears -- but she never colored her hair. She had beautiful fine silvery hair that she wore short all her life. I wore my almost black hair shoulder-length until my early forties when I kept finding gray hairs and didn't like the looks of long gray hair, so I cut it short. I didn't do anything about the color until I was 64 and tired of being the only gray-haired women under 90 in any large gathering. (60% of American women color their hair, and since this includes younger women the percentage of women who color their gray hair has to be much higher -- I've never seen that figure.)

I colored it brown, a color I wasn't crazy about, because dyed black hair looks too artificial, and my complexion is too dark to be a blonde or a redhead. But what I really didn't like was the revenge of the roots. Since I'm short I was convinced that taller people were always peering down and seeing those telltale white hairs at my scalp. I also didn't like the bother and mess when I did it myself and the expense when I didn't. And it seemed to be coarsening my hair. Two summers after coloring it, I cut my hair a little shorter than usual and went hiking in Wales. Apparently enough sun shone between the daily rain showers to bleach the brown and that, plus ordinary summer sun, lightened it enough so that it almost seamlessly went back to gray, and stayed so for a few years.

Then two years ago I got bored again with my gray hair and went to Paul Sharakan, the man with magic fingers who cuts my hair, and told him that I wanted a streak like the purple one his wife, Louise, a talented artist, used to have before she let her hair go gray. Karen, the colorist, didn't have any purple dye that day, but she did have some red on hand, so I got red highlights, and that's what I've had ever since. Who knows what the next chapter will be? I get into some interesting conversations with strangers, both young (often with wild streaks of fuschia or turquoise color in their own hair – or shaven totally bald) and old (including a question from one man asking me if I had been a party to an axe murder).

So this is somewhat of an extravagance -- but less than dinner for one in a typical New York restaurant, and I justify every extravagance in my life by saying that I never wanted (or had) a fur coat or a diamond ring. I'm sure that over the years I've spent much more than I would have spent on both of those, but it eases my conscience.

I’d love to know what other grannies think about and do about gray hair. Let’s dish about it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


This lovely literary compendium, edited by Barbara Graham and subtitled: “27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother,” was published last month by HarperCollins ($24.99). Its 27 essays provide windows into many different emotional faces and phases of grandparenting and what it can mean to be a grandmother.

Reading these grandmothers' stories, I sometimes feel that “ping!” of recognition: Yes, I’ve had that feeling too. And at other times I marvel at how very different their feelings are from mine. Who are these women who write so well from their hearts?

• Barbara Graham, the book’s editor, got my total attention when she described her “besotted state” of being a grandmother, her joy at the new grandbaby’s parents’ decision to move near her, and then her grief at hearing that they would be moving an ocean away, to Europe, with this precious little girl. I immediately felt again my own grief when my own children made that last decision (which I wrote about at the time, 21 years ago, and then posted to these pages).

Then there are the other grandmothers you come to know intimately in these pages, like:
• Lynne Sharon Schwartz, who likens a grandmother’s love to teen love: “the same giddy absorption, the same loss of all sense of proportion, the same transcendent idiocy.”
• Marcie Fitzgerald (a pseudonym), who adopted her grandson because of her daughter’s emotional illness and is experiencing parenthood all over again.
• Judith Viorst, who feels competitive toward the other grandmother for the children’s love and affection.
• India-born Bharati Mukherjee, who celebrates her family’s mix of cultures as she describes the naming ceremony in New York for her China-born granddaughter and who contrasts her own upbringing with those of her children and grandchildren.
• Anne Roiphe, who keeps telling herself that frank and open communication about grandchildren has its limits -- lest she offend her daughter.
• Lynn Lauber, who as an unmarried teenager gave her biological daughter up for adoption, found her as an adult, and now revels in being “Grandma” to her daughter’s daughter.
• Then there’s Abigail Thomas, the “lazy Nana” of twelve grandchildren who doesn’t sound lazy at all, but who wants, among other things, to “play with her grandchildren and then have their parents take them away.”

I liked reading these and the other stories in the book one at a time, savoring each individual tale, musing on each one’s insights, pondering on the many ways in which every grandmother and every grandparent-grandchild relationship is unique. “Eye of My Heart” offers a store of riches to help us grannies understand our roles a little better.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


The story I wrote about Lana and her granddaughter Heather in SUPER GRANNY focuses on the singing and hand gestures that Lana, a professional flutist, teaches both her grandchildren, Heather and Jayden. But the story about how they became Lana’s grandchildren could be the stuff of another musical genre, with a plot that could make a powerful opera and that shows why Lana is truly a Super Mom.

I first met Lana Noone on Long Island where we both live when I attended a lecture and film that she presented about Operation Babylift. This program brought more than 2000 Vietnamese orphans to the United States back in April 1975. Over a hectic three weeks, 26 flights left Vietnam with babies and children on board to be adopted by American families. One of these babies was a little girl whom Lana and her husband, Byron, named Heather. Tragically, Heather lived with the Noones for only six days before she died of complications from pneumonia.

While the Noones were still grieving for Heather, they learned of another baby girl who needed a home, and the next month they took 4-month-old Jennifer into their home and their hearts. Four and a half years later the Noones adopted a brother for Jennifer, and today Jennifer and Jason, both in their thirties, are both teaching. Six years ago Jason and his wife named their first baby Heather, in tribute both to Lana and to the baby sister Jason and Jennifer never had a chance to meet.

Lana became a missionary for global adoption, bringing her story to the world through her speaking and also through her book, “Global Mom: Notes from a Pioneer Adoptive Family.” Now Lana, Jennifer, and other panelists with a close connection to Operation Babylift will be speaking on Monday, April 27 in Washington at an event organized by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. As Lana told a New York Times reporter, “I used to think that being a mother would be my therapy. Instead it became my mission.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009


On her most recent blog post (at Nina Lewis wrote, “One of the blessings of the Internet is ‘finding’ new friends,” and she went on to write about how she and I “met” on the Internet. This is a sentiment I share – and I’m a little frustrated now because I left a comment on her post (I think) to this effect, but so far it has not appeared. Navigating in cyberspace is sometimes an adventure.

Nina went on in her post to review SUPER GRANNY, and then she embarked on a new cyber-adventure for both of us – she conducted an audio interview with me on Skype, which you can download and listen to here . The interview runs about 20 minutes, takes a little while to download, and may tell you more than you ever wanted to know about me. But the best thing is that you can also hear about other grandmothers and some of the things they do with their grandchildren.

I have enjoyed “meeting” both grandmother bloggers and grandmother “doers” (not mutually exclusive categories) on the Internet. A number of the grandmothers I interviewed for SUPER GRANNY were strangers to me until I read something online about their activities. I heard of some of them through a terrific service called Google News Alerts. You go to, click on ”More” at the top of the page, click on “even more,” until you reach a menu that includes “Alerts.” A box will appear that will let you type in whatever topic you want to keep up to date on. I have alerts for “grandmother,” “breastfeeding” another topic I write about), and a couple of others, and every day I receive a message from Google with reports on these topics from media around the world.

By following up some of these reports, I have been able to “meet” and get to know grandmothers with whom I’ve continued to stay in touch – and yes, whom I now consider friends.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


A couple of days after I returned from a visit with my eldest grandchild, now 26, I found these pages, written in 1988:
He showered me with sweet kisses. He bestowed on me flurries of warm embraces. Over and over again, he said those wonderful words, "I love you." He also told me, "You are my best friend." Knowing he couldn't keep his promise, he told me, "I'll always stay with you. I'm never going away." But -- as I knew from the start that he would -- he left.

And now my house, still full of everything it held before he came into it, feels empty. His leaving exposed a great vacant space. The rack where his toothbrush hung stands stark and bare. My neat rooms, no longer strewn with his books and his clothes and his treasures, look abandoned. The occasional scrap of paper bearing his doodles or his writing bears witness to the mountains of paper he used while he was here.

I come across a shirt he left behind. I wash it, I hold it up, I remember how he looked in it, and I cry into the soft cotton, knowing I won't be seeing -- or feeling -- him in it any more.

I know he had to leave. I know he loves me. But knowing this doesn't stop the pain of missing him. When he was with me, our time together was not unalloyed bliss. Every day we argued, sometimes several times a day. Sometimes he lost his temper, sometimes I lost mine. Sometimes he blurted out, "I hate you!" and his words drew my blood.

I felt devastated after every quarrel. Even though we got along better toward the end of the few weeks we spent together, neither of us could figure out how to stop the bad times altogether. If we had had more time together, I think we would have come to understand each other better. Still, despite the tempestuous outbursts, once each storm ended, we were close again. Our rages and tears never killed our love, and our loving closeness painted the landscape of our days together.

And now I have to pick up my life where it was before Stefan squirmed his way into my heart, into the good life I knew with my husband in this house still filled with Stefan’s presence. My husband loves Stefan, too, this five-year-old grandson of ours of whom I write with such passion.

One day Stefan said to my daughter, “Mama, I want to marry you.” “I’m already married,” Jenny smiled. “I know, but if you weren’t, I would want to marry you.” And then he turned to me and said, “Oma, I wish you could sleep in my bed. I wish I could stay with you for a hundred thousand days.”

So. He wants to marry Mommy, but he wants to sleep with me. Yes. A grandmother is like a lover, a mother like a wife. I am not with him all the time. I am freed of both the responsibility and the routine of everyday life. I can shower love on him when she “doesn’t understand” him. I can indulge him, while she has to socialize him. I am associated with presents rather than punishment. No wonder the bond between grandparents and grandchildren is so strong!

For the five years before Stefan came to live with us for these short three weeks, I was able to accept the distances between us. I was able to accept the fact that his parents had chosen to live a continent away from us. Our visits together were never more than a week – and always where they lived. This time was different.

This time they came into my world. This time Stefan and I, just the two of us, spent hours, days together. This time I fell head over heels in love – always knowing that we would have each other for only a short time, that this time he would be going an ocean away. But I didn’t want to protect myself by keeping my distance. I flung myself into my days with this little boy who enchanted me with his liveliness, charmed me with his affection, delighted me with his humor. And the more I loved him, the more I felt his love for me.

And so I grieve, not only for the absence of this golden child in my life, but for my absence in his. It’s hard to leave a best friend, even when you’re going with loving parents. It’s especially hard now, as Stefan goes to a strange country where he knows neither the people nor the language, into a life soon to be turned upside down by the arrival of a new baby. Yes, Stefan will deal with his losses, but oh, how I would love to help him ease the pain!

Like generations of grandmothers before me who have watched their children and their children’s children follow their own stars as they chart their own courses through life, I stay in my world as Stefan goes off to his. I love him and I miss him – and I know that both our lives are richer for the presence of the other in it. I look forward to the day when we can be reunited, and meanwhile, I bless the telephone and the international mail service. And I am grateful for our whirlwind romance.
Twenty-one years later:

So yes, it has been hard having Stefan, his mother, and his younger sisters living in Germany all these years while Mark and I and our other children have been here on the east coast of the U.S. I would love to have them close by. But we’re grateful that they’re all healthy and growing up (or grown up) well, and I think about the era when my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Russia, never to see or even speak to their own parents again. We know how lucky we are that we have been able to see all of our geographically distant (but emotionally close) family a couple of times a year, either there or here. Meanwhile, we’ve taken advantage of all the forms of communication that have sprouted over the past twenty years, so we can all stay in close touch. And now here I am savoring the good visit we had with Stefan last month in Florida, and looking forward to this summer’s longer visit from Jenny, Maika, and Lisa.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


As Susan Griffin wrote in “Eye of My Heart,” edited by Barbara Graham (more about this lovely book in a future post), “When you become a grandparent, you cannot escape the fact that you are older, soooo much older … and much closer to death.” You begin to realize that your time is limited.

As travelers in this stage of life, even as relatively young grandparents, we have much to gain from reading Jane Brody’s new book, subtitled “A Practical Primer to Help You and Your Loved Ones Prepare Medically, Legally, and Emotionally for the End of Life,” published by Random House. Brody, a popular New York Times health writer and a grandmother of four, has plunged into a topic most of us don’t want to talk about, read about, or think about – but which is crucially important.

As she writes, “Even the healthiest of lives must come to an end. In this book I hope to help my readers make that end – for themselves and for those they love – as peaceful and, yes, as enjoyable as it can be.”

The book covers virtually everything you could think of to this goal, including the intricacies of preparing an advance directive and the limitations of the living wills most of us think will honor our wishes. It emphasizes the need to talk with family members, including healthy young adults, to state clearly what measures you and they would want in case of debilitating illness or injury. The long-drawn-out court battles over comatose patients like Karen Ann Quinlan and Terri Schiavo prompted some 59 million Americans to fill out living wills, and the recent tragic injury of Natasha Richardson illustrates the necessity for family members of any age to tell each other what they would want in such devastating circumstances.

Some of the other issues covered include dealing with a grim prognosis, taking care of someone with a terminal illness, relieving pain, and making a person near the end of life as comfortable as possible. Brody also faces controversial topics like assisted dying and the all-too-common situation of doctors abandoning terminally ill patients when they feel they can do nothing else. The book is easy to read and down to earth. The list of tactless comments to the recently bereaved verges on the ridiculous, like the person who asked a woman whose husband had committed suicide, “Are you going to get a dog now?” Of course, a following section offers suggestions for helpful things to say and do. Throughout the book, a wide range of books are recommended for further help. In this section my favorite title is “Don’t Ask for the Dead Man’s Golf Clubs: Advice for Friends When Someone Dies.” (Can you believe this is based on a real request??)

Despite the gravity of the issues in the book, there’s humor too, partly through the cartoons sprinkled throughout. My favorite is the one with one woman telling another “I’d like to be buried in this outfit, if I can lose ten pounds.”

Both my husband and I have read through this well researched and practical book, have resolved to act upon some of the recommended measures (like revisiting our own living wills), and will be keeping it handy as a reference for the years ahead.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Years ago I wrote a little article about the places I might never have seen if my children weren’t there – and if I were not going to visit them. Let’s see – there was Eugene, Oregon; Ajo, Arizona; Yellow Springs, Ohio; Annandale, New York; and Eagle, Alaska. Now I could say the same thing about going to see my grandchildren. We’ve taken the short (2-hour) drive to Whitehouse Station, New Jersey to see Anna & Nina; and the 8-hour flight and one-hour drive to Nauheim, Germany to see Lisa, Maika, and Stefan. Fortunately, they all come to see us too.

This past week, Mark and I went to Homestead and Redland, both in South Florida, where Stefan was working on organic farms during his semester break from Osnabrueck University in Germany. He made his arrangements through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), through which young people from all over the world go to organic farms around the world and work four hours a day for room and board. His first farm, Paradise Farm, proved not to be so paradisiacal for him, so he was fortunate to find a happier spot nearby at Nature’s Acre.

By the time we came down to Florida, Stefan had fulfilled his work commitments, and we were free to go to the Everglades, Key Largo, John Pennekamp State Park, the Fruit and Spice Farm (a Dade County park), and Miami Beach. We packed a lot of togetherness and activity into three days. We jogged together, beached together, had long talks over dinner, and took lots of photos. I loved the years of having grandbabies and grandtots, but now I appreciate the very special joys of being able to enjoy the company of adult grandchildren, and feeling the love still flowing both ways.

On the plane coming home, Sharon, our 20-something seatmate, was traveling from her home in Costa Rica to New York, to spend time and show her love for her 93-year-old grandma. I assured her that her grandmother would be thrilled by her visit. I know some things.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I started this blog when I first began to think about writing a book for grandmothers, way back in November 2006. And now, after many conversations and much correspondence with grandmothers around the United States and abroad, SUPER GRANNY: GREAT STUFF TO DO WITH YOUR GRANDKIDS has been published, is in book stores, and has started getting feedback.

I’m so happy that people have been saying good things about SUPER GRANNY that I want to share some of these nice words. If you don’t want to hear the loud music of me tooting my own horn just stop here – and come back to my next post. If you can stand my shouting from this virtual rooftop, here are some of the comments that have appeared so far:

"Sally Wendkos Olds's excellent book is a must read for all grandparents, especially those that ever wondered what to do with their grandchildren on a rainy day.” Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., president of the Foundation for Grandparenting

"A great book for granny's (and grandfathers) who don't want to depend on the amount of money spent to enjoy grandkids, but instead depend on imagination, and ingenuity . . .a treasure of tips for giving every grandkid lasting experiences and valued memories." Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D. (Dr. Toy)
“It has the most modern and varied collection of ways to connect with grandchildren from babies to teenagers I’ve seen in a book of this type. … I highly recommend Super Granny for its fresh, interesting approach to promoting a deeper connection between generations.” Katharine Zenke, GRAND Magazine

“If you've ever needed grandparenting inspiration, meet Super Granny! This book … lives up to its title. …It's not just the activities that are valuable; it's meeting the remarkable grandparents who contributed their ideas and their stories.
“The book is nicely organized, with sections for grandchildren from infancy to 3, from 3 to 6, from 6 to 11, and finally from 12 to 18. Each vignette begins with a description of a real-life grandmother and something she does with her grandchildren. The vignette is followed by a more detailed description of how to carry out the activity. Olds also uses icons at the top of each chapter to indicate the expense of the activity, the type of activity it is, and so on.”

“I planned on coming back to the Introduction after skimming the chapters. However, after reading the first sentence I was drawn into your thoughts on being on a super granny. WHO IS A SUPER GRANNY? You are! Everything you said is true! …. I like the way I can use your book as a guidebook.
“[Y]our book is wonderful. It's not a run of the mill to-do list. Although you do include a great list, it's way more, it is a sweet sharing of the love we cannot contain for these special people, and a guide to pouring it out--- in buckets.” Play Wit Me Nana blog:

“Author Sally Wendkos Olds … has created a book to help today’s grandmothers make the most of their time with their grandchildren. … a wealth of ideas … categorized by age groups … and rated by expense, difficulty, energy level required and type of creativity involved. … activities especially suited for long-distance relationships.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

And the most important critic of all:
"I'm halfway through Super Granny already. I love it!" My granddaughter, Lisa.

More lovely words from:

Barnes and Noble reader-reviewers:
and reader-reviewers:

Monday, March 9, 2009


Well, we all grow older – and some of us even see our children enter middle age, but who would have thought that Barbie would hit the mid-century mark? Today, March 9,2009 is the day that Barbie celebrates her 50th birthday, with not a gray hair or teensiest wrinkle. You can celebrate with her by buying a modernized version of the original 1959 doll for the 1959 price of $3 from today through March 14 at (and here’s the rub) “participating retailers.” Good luck in finding these retailers and the doll.

When my oldest daughter first started playing with this grotesquely proportioned doll (with the large breasts that Mattel’s Ruth Handler felt would raise girls’ self-esteem by seeing what they could grow into – huh?), I worried that Nancy would buy into our society’s emphasis on unrealistic body image and focus on that rather than developing her abilities. She and her friends would spend hours with Barbie and her friends. Happily, though, Nancy outgrew Barbie, went on to earn a Ph.D., enjoys her work, and has a healthy worldview. She has two daughters, the younger of whom (age 9) still plays with the old Barbies we keep in our attic. I’m not worried about Nina. That’s one of the great things about grandchildren: by now you have learned that most of the worries you had about your children never came to pass, so you don’t have to waste time and psychic energy thinking about them.

My one regret is that I didn’t save a few of those pristine $3 Barbies that I could now sell for mega-bucks (in 2006 one sold for $27,450). But I don’t spend time thinking about that either.

According to, “Barbie Millicent Roberts - was "born" on March 9, 1959, in (fictional) Willows, Wisconsin. First introduced as the original Teenage Fashion Model, Barbie(R) doll has since had more than 108 careers, represented 50 different nationalities and collaborated with more than 70 different fashion designers. With one Barbie(R) doll sold every 3 seconds somewhere in the world, Barbie(R) remains the world's most popular doll and a powerhouse brand among girls of all ages. Through the decades, the Barbie(R) brand has evolved with girls, extending into entertainment, online and more than 45 different consumer products categories. Barbie(R) has never been married (she just likes wearing wedding gowns), she is "just friends" with Ken and her "real" measurements are 5 inches (bust) x 3 1/4 inches (waist) x 5 3/16 inches (hips). Her weight is 7 1/4 ounces. And, despite much discussion and controversy, Barbie(R) is in fact just an 11 1/2 inch doll ... or is she?”

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Joanne Kaufman’s article in the March 5 issue of The New York Times is headlined “When Grandma Can’t Be Bothered,” and starts off with what seems to me like a clear exaggeration: “For every Marian Robinson, who retired from her job to take full-time care of her grandchildren, Malia and Sasha Obama… there is a Judy Connors, who loves her two grandchildren but has no interest in Candy Land, peekaboo or bedtime stories.” The piece goes on to talk about grandmothers who are adamantly uninvolved.

This article feels like a man-bites-dog story, in which a writer discusses something so unusual that it’s of special interest. Sure, there are hands-off grandmothers, and I’ve heard of a few, but from my reading, experience, and contacts, they’re far fewer in number than the Marian Robinsons of this world. Of course, many of today’s grandmothers cannot leave their jobs to raise grandchildren full-time, but in the process of writing my book, SUPER GRANNY: GREAT STUFF TO DO WITH YOUR GRANDKIDS, I have met many working grannies who offer part-time care, or who manage to find time to pitch in when needed at odd hours and days.

As I was researching my book, I signed up for a free service offered by Google, called “Google Alerts.” To bring me news about grandparents and grandchildren, the robots at Google comb newspapers around the U.S. and abroad for stories about “grand” doings, and send a daily report. Reading these reports, I was impressed by how involved today’s grandmothers are with this younger generation. Despite the fact that a great many of today’s grannies have important jobs themselves, perform valuable community services, pursue time-consuming hobbies, and often live far away, the great majority of them are there for their children and grandchildren, and find many ways to have fun with them.

One of the women quoted by Ms. Kaufman said, “I raised two children whom I love dearly . . . I was a stay-at-home mom. Then I discovered when I started my own career that there was a whole other world out there.” Hello??? This woman seems to frame the issue as an all-or-nothing affair, which seems to be an extremely rare way of looking at it. I don’t judge hands-off grandmothers for their choices, but I do think that those who have this kind of attitude are depriving themselves of some glorious experiences. To read the New York Times article, go to:

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Ever wonder how you can teach manners to your rambunctious preschool grandchildren without coming across like a disciplinarian? You can take a leaf from the program at the Escuela Preschool in Minot, North Dakota, where four- and five-year-olds invited their grandparents to a tea party.

At Escuela, the children’s teacher, Paula Simonson, put on a hat and let the children choose hats for themselves and for their grandparents. Then Ms. Simonson sat with the youngsters, teaching them how to hold a teacup correctly, how to nibble on a cookie, and how to talk politely with their grandparents. She even suggested conversational topics that the children could raise with the older generation, like the weather – or asking Grandma “how she’s feeling after her gallbladder operation.”

This is a great activity that any of us grands can do with our own little ones. In fact, two of the grannies whose stories I tell in SUPER GRANNY did something similar. Once a year Patti takes her six granddaughters to a teahouse that has a huge trunk full of fur boas and other dress-up items, “where they get a chance to use their good table manners.” And about once a week Carol hosts her grandsons at a festively set table (including animal-face paper plates) and has conversations ranging from favorite colors to the solar system.

I was so tickled recently to see, at the Dolphin Bookshop here in Port Washington, MANNERS CAN BE FUN, the Munro Leaf book about manners that I had when my daughters were small – and that I even remember from my own childhood. I think this is the one that taught me to cover my mouth when I yawned, by showing a huge open mouth. There are a lot of things I don’t remember – but this is one that I do. It made quite an impression – and I’m glad this childhood classic is still being published, sold, and teaching manners in a delightful way.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Nina, 9, and Anna, 16, came to visit this weekend -- and we made the chocolate cake in a mug. We benefited from the suggestions of other grannies -- to spray the inside of the mug before baking, to mix the ingredients in a separate bowl -- and to decrease the time of zapping in the microwave. We baked the cakes for 2 minutes each and also fooled around a little bit with the ingredients after Anna was horrified at one cake calling for 3 Tablespoons of oil. She cut it down, I think to 1 Tbsp, and both cakes, which we made separately, turned out fine. Each one was plenty for two people, especially with scoops of ice cream. The best part was peering through the microwave window and watching the cake rise suddenly and magically above the top of the mug. Thanks to all the grannies who did this before we did! Always good to stand on the shoulders of giants in the kitchen.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

100 Things I Have Done in My Life

I found this on Grandma Henke's blog, which she found on Alice’s blog, which she found on another blog. So it's gone viral. I loved ticking off the things I've done (especially running a marathon at age 60 & bungy jumping -- at 70+), and planning to do some of the others. Check it out!

1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables.
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run.
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job.
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant

Friday, February 13, 2009


They say that when you forget something at someone's house, that means you want to go back again. So the good thing about grandchildren forgetting things when they come to visit means that you know they'll be back. The bad thing, though, is when they forget something important for school or after-school activities that they need the next day -- and they live too far away to come back for it. What do you do?

What we did, at my daughter Nancy's suggestion, when Nina forgot her piano lesson book, was this: I scanned the two pages she would need into my computer and then I emailed the pages as attachments to Nancy. She got it within minutes, Nina was able to practice, and I gained a new appreciation for the confluence of technology and grandparenting.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


A follow-up from Diane, a friend of the friend who originally sent this to me. (I'm still waiting for a grandchild visit so we can do it together.)

"This definitely works. And, the visual - through the microwave window - is outstanding and will astound any child (and adult!). [See the wonderful photo
she sent]

My microwave nuked it when it went for 3 minutes. I cut it back to 2:45 and next time will try 2:35.
I didn't add chocolate chips
I used a cocoa that had sugar in it.
There is always gunk in the bottom of the mug that is hard to get out.
I used a small dish to mix the egg and liquids - just made it easier for a 8 year old.
The end result is more science than gourmet cooking - the cake tastes like anything baked too long in a microwave. However, add a scoop of ice cream and it's quite yummy! Don't let it cool - it's hard."

Thanks, Diane!

Sunday, February 1, 2009


I love it when I learn from younger generations. One of my new gurus is Lisa Zaslow, a professional organizer whom I have known since she was a little girl playing with my little girl. Lisa can see how busy her mom (my friend Fran, who is quoted in SUPER GRANNY) is -- between grandchildren, work, and play -- and so Lisa understands that today's grannies are not sitting around twiddling our thumbs until our grandchildren call or visit. We make the time for them -- and that means making the most of the time we have available. One way to do this is to be productive about the tiniest chunks of time.

One of Lisa's regular free e-bulletins emphasized the usefulness of thinking about our lives in 5-minute intervals. Recognize yourself when she says, "This is particularly useful for people with short attention spans and who like variety"? Here are some of her suggestions (and mine) for what you can do in 5 minutes:
* Make a to-do list.
* Pick the most important thing on today's list and spend 5 minutes moving it forward, by, say, making a phone call, sending an e-mail, creating a spreadsheet, or starting a file.
* Make a list of things you can do in 5 minutes.
* As the first item write "Make a list." Then you can cross that one off right away!
* Recharge your batteries by meditating, having a healthy snack, or doing a few jumping jacks.
* Throw out the pens and pencils that you hate, that you never use, and that don’t work.
* Delete a few old emails.
* Enter a new contact into your database or Rolodex.
* Water your plants.
* Send a joke to a grandchild.
* Or, as I just did, put a new post on your blog.
* Choose one tip. Set a timer for 5 minutes. See how much better you feel.
* Use this handy internet timer:

Lisa Zaslow is the founder of and is a nationally recognized expert and speaker on organization and productivity. Lisa helps individuals and businesses to be more productive, more organized and less stressed. Her expertise is regularly featured on television on shows including HGTV’s Mission: Organization and in publications including The New York Times, Real Simple, and Entrepreneur. Lisa is the author of “Can’t I Just Shred It All? 101 Quick Tips to File – and Find – Your Important Papers”, available at Contact Lisa at (212)866-9493 or

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year!

As a grandmother, I love China. When Mark & I went there a few years ago, we saw grandparents everywhere taking care of their grandchildren. My favorite was a village woman carrying twin 1-year-olds on her back, with both babies wearing the split pants popular there. And whenever we had the littlest problem, our Chinese guides told us to emphasize our advanced age, since this is one part of the world that still venerates age and the aging.

So I’m looking forward to celebrating Chinese New Year. The holiday begins on Monday, January 26, but don’t worry if you can’t celebrate tomorrow -- celebrations typically last 2 to 4 weeks. In China celebrations used to last that long because farmers couldn’t plant crops during the winter anyway, but now that so many Chinese live in cities, celebrations usually run about two weeks. Like Jewish holidays, Chinese New Year is dictated by the lunar calendar (based on phases of the moon – rather than the solar calendar, which has a fixed number of days – 365 or 366), it never falls on the same day from year to year.

Families clean their houses before the New Year to get rid of bad luck from the year before and accept good luck for the new year; they buy and wear new clothes; and children get little red envelopes with money in them to assure prosperity in the year ahead.

Eating is always a good way to celebrate – either in your favorite Chinese restaurant or at home. For some good, easy recipes you can go to: Symbolic foods include dumplings (because they look like golden nuggets" says Daria Ng), oranges ("because they are perfectly round, symbolizing completeness and wholeness"), and long noodles ("served to symbolize long life").

For other ways to celebrate at home, including craft ideas, books for kids, and popular traditions, go to In cities with sizable Chinese populations, you can often see wonderful parades. We have taken our grandchildren to New York’s Chinatown parade featuring fireworks, marching bands, and the “lion dance,” in which several dancers get under a long decorated costume and dance together to scare away bad luck.

So I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 24, 2009


The following recipe came from a friend (who didn't make it) who got it from a friend of hers (who didn't make it). And I haven't made it yet either. I'm waiting for a visit from a grandchild so we can make it together. I can hardly wait. Meanwhile, I'm putting it out here so that one of you grannies reading this can get inspired -- and can tell me whether it's really as good as it sounds. Also, if anyone knows where it originated, I'd like to give credit where credit is due.

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug

Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
Pour in the milk and oil and mix well..
Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.
Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.
EAT! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).

Sunday, January 18, 2009


On Tuesday, as I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama on TV with a group of fellow Obama supporters, I wore a silver medal with the profile of Abraham Lincoln on the front. Around the edges of the medallion are the words: "WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE, WITH CHARITY FOR ALL" and the date Feb. 12, 1809. On the other side of the medal are the words "Awarded by the Public Ledger to Sam Wendkos for Merit in Essay on Abraham Lincoln -- 1909." (These days I need a magnifying glass to read the writing.) Exactly 100 years ago, at the age of 10, my father won this medal from a Philadelphia newspaper for an essay that he wrote for a contest held 100 years after Lincoln's birth.

It's especially meaningful to be wearing it now, 200 years after Lincoln's birth, to the inauguration of our 44th president, a man who could never have been elected to this position without Lincoln's role in our country's history -- and who speaks often of his debt to and connection with this 15th president of our United States.

My heart bursts with pride. And it bursts with gratitude, too, to the two women who guarded this small treasure: my grandmother, Dora Wendkos, who saved this medal and eventually passed it on to my children's grandmother, my mother, Leah Wendkos, who saved it for so many years and then passed it on to me. I treasure it and plan to pass it on to my daughters and to their children. I'm sure one of those will value it as much as I do. And so I see an important role for us grandmothers -- to protect and preserve important family memories and heirlooms.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


According to Stephanie Azzarone, president of Child's Play Communications (a marketing firm that specializes in products appealing to moms), at a recent Marketing to Moms conference, a speaker from (a great website!) reported that a recent study found that the typical grandparent spends nearly $1700 on every new grandchild in the baby’s first year of life.

The first grandchild gets most of the booty, since first-time grandparents outspend repeat grandparents by about 25%. Furthermore, many grandparents create their own nursery in their own home, complete with baby furniture (69%), diapers (54%) and baby food (57%). And the more grandchildren you have, the more likely you are to spoil them. So we grandparents certainly seem to be doing our bit to shore up the economy!

Saturday, January 10, 2009


What a treat – Last weekend Mark (Opa) & I went with our daughter, Nancy, and her daughters, Anna (16) and Nina (8), to the Pinegrove Dude Ranch in Kerhonkson, New York ( A makeover from one of the old Catskill Mountains hotels (better known as the “borscht belt” and the launching of many a comedian’s career), Pinegrove turned out to be a great place for intergenerational fun, with something for everyone.

One horseback ride per person per day was included in the overall price, and you could sometimes get an extra ride by going standby. A few years ago when Mark and I rode horses in the Camargue delta in Provence, I used my best high-school French to plead for the oldest, calmest, slowest horse they had. Here at Pinegrove, because of the snow on the ground, all the horses walked slowly along the trail, and I didn’t need to know any horsemanship other than the basic talk we all got at the beginning of the 40-minute ride.

Nancy and the girls, all good swimmers, spent a lot of finger-wrinkling time in the heated indoor pool – but since it’s hard to heat the pool room on cold winter days up to the sweltering tropical heat I require to get wet, I just served as the cheering section. Mark & I played ping-pong and got most of our exercise picking up the balls that went wildly around the room. We needed the exercise after what felt like nonstop eating -- besides the breakfast and dinner served in the dining room, lunch and snacks were available all day and evening. At night we watched cowboy Chris McDaniel do his amazing rope tricks, some with volunteers from the audience.

Anna and Nina played laser tag and ping-pong, Anna shot pool and (almost) entered the hula hoop contest. Then there was snow tubing, which they all did; ski instruction on a little hill (since when do people ski without poles?); arts and crafts; bucket toss; the fitness center where I checked out the treadmill and watched the snow coming down outside; and Bingo, where Nina won Pinegrove dollars that she happily spent in the gift shop.

Bingo was a revelation to me. I hadn’t played since I was in school, and I hadn’t realized that there were so many different ways to play. Also new to me were the cards we used, on which you could cover called-out numbers just by pushing a closure tab -- a lot easier than keeping track of markers that always seemed to slide off their proper place, which is what I remember. For any family reunion or good-sized group of any age, the variations (which you can find by googling “Bingo variations”) make the game more fun. First we played standard Bingo. Then “H” Bingo, where you have to cover all the numbers in the first and fifth columns and the center row to make the letter “H.” Then a couple of other variations, and finally elimination Bingo, in which the goal was to be the last person in the game with no numbers covered. Anyone who had a number called out on his or her board was eliminated immediately. Here’s where Nina was the big winner. But after a fun weekend together, we all felt like winners.