May 292016

I mistakenly referred to a calculator as an adding machine at work where I’m administrative staff in a hospital. Everyone burst into raucous laughter, followed by taunts about my age. Senior moment?

Did I conjure up the image of Eustis, the bookkeeper from “It’s a Wonderful Life” from my co‑workers? I doubt any Gen Xers or Millennials can identify Eustis. Besides, it’s a black and white film. Younger people don’t like black and white movies.

Being one of the oldest at my workplace is new for me. I started full‑time work in May 1980. (Yes, indeedy, 36 years ago. People who have worked four decades say “indeedy.”)

I started before the Challenger blew up, before “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev,” before 9/11. Before most of my co‑workers drew their first breath. Until my present job, I was among the youngest on my team.

At work, I’m frequently lost in the conversation. I don’t get my co‑worker’s jokes, and they certainly don’t get my quips. They talk about the 80s as ancient history. They see me as a child reading McGuffey’s Reader while a boy in overalls sticks my pigtails in an inkwell. They don’t listen to NPR. They understand nothing of the classics, and by classics, I mean everything from Steve Martin to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire to Beethoven.

No one understands my jokes, literary references, or anything I say. I used the phrase “a pox on our house” the other day after a series of computer outages. My colleagues thought I was babbling in gibberish.

I referred to Mercutio’s epithet on the families of Romeo and Juliet. A quick Google search revealed Mercutio said “plague” a word which any hospital worker should know. One of the sources I used said “pox” was an archaic term not used today. Yes, indeedy. My co‑workers probably don’t believe it, but I wasn’t around in Shakespeare’s time.

(Time for a pop culture reference none of my colleagues will get. They often call what I say “random.” Perhaps it’s authentic frontier gibberish, as originated in a 1970s Mel Brooks flick “I think we’re all grateful to Gabby Johnson, for clearly stating what needed to be said.” It’s a double entendre. You can’t get the pop culture reference from the 1970s without knowing who Gabby Hayes is from the >30s and >40s. From black and white films, the ones the kids won’t watch?)

I don’t see myself as old. I don’t feel old. Isn’t 60 the new 40? Three of my grandparents looked ancient at 60 (one grandfather died in his early 50s.)

A 2015 study surveyed attitudes about aging in Europe. “Someone who is 60 years old today, I would argue, is middle‑aged, but 200 years ago, a 60‑year‑old would be a very old person.” Dr. Sergei Scherbov, from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, led a joint project with New York’s Stony Brook University, looking at how life expectancy has increased. The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found people across Europe were currently viewed as “old” when they hit 65.

So what is middle age now? Remember the old saying “life begins at 40”? If you married at 18 or 20 and started a family, you were footloose and fancy‑free at 40. (Of course, most males had a job for life, and looked forward to a pension at 65, but that’s an entirely different story.)

We are healthier, working longer by choice or financial resources, and looking better than our parents or grandparents at the same age.

Or paraphrasing Billy Crystal as Fernando Lamas said on vintage “Saturday Night Live,” “We look mar‑veah-luss.”

Let my co‑workers laugh. They might learn something from me. And I’ll take it in stride.

Tomorrow I’m taking in my son’s abacus to show them how we cave women used to count in the days before adding machines.

Believe me, I can give it out as well as I can take it. When I drove the company van the other day, I changed all ten pre‑sets on the radio to NPR. That’ll teach ‘em.

This is an edited version which was picked up at Senior Wire Service in May 2016. The original Raven Lunatic post may be found here. Also cross-posted at BlogHer.

Nov 252015

Re-Published from “The Newburgh Magazine” December/January 2016, pages 34-37.

May 272014

Click on introduction image to bring up the entire article.


Published November 2013 in the “Day Tripper” column of the Knox County Boomer magazine.

May 272014

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Published November 2013 in the “Day Tripper” column of the Knox County Boomer magazine.

May 272014

Click on introduction image to bring up the entire article.


Published February 2014 in the “Day Tripper” column of the Knox County Boomer magazine.

May 272014

Click on introduction image to bring up the entire article.


Published April 2014 in the “Day Tripper” column of the Knox County Boomer magazine.

Apr 262014

Southern Indiana is at the peak of spring blooming, and it is glorious. My Japanese maple has leafed out with vibrant dark red leaves. Our dogwood offered a spiritual nudge by blooming cross-marked leaves on Easter morning. The fragile pear trees punctuate almost every neighborhood along with tulip trees and bushes in pastel shades. Everywhere there is renewal, rebirth, and the reminders that spring means hope.

I’ve lived in Indiana all but six years in Florida and summer in Wisconsin. To me, one of our state’s joys is the regularity of the four seasons.

During my first autumn in Florida, my Fort Wayne friend Doris sent me a yellow mailing envelope full of crusty October leaves. When I opened the envelope, I was overcome by the wonderful smells of an Indiana autumn.

I’ve observed. while there is much beauty in our seasons, there are some things I could live without. I also notice a regional difference between the seasons.

For the past few years in southwestern Indiana, we’ve had four seasons. I call them Ugh, Sneezing, Humidity, and Fall Festival.

Ugh is the season of black ice. While last winter brought a record amount of snow, our area is usually cold and gray and icy. We have sleet, freezing rain, drizzle and something called snizzle, and black ice. The sidewalk may appear clear, safe, and ready for customers, but one wrong step on black ice and you are done for. While I’m grateful that southwestern Indiana is often spared some of the fiercer weather of the balance of Indiana, black ice is a danger.

The next season is Sneezing.

This morning my husband and I drove to breakfast, and he sneezed from our house to Cracker Barrel. After breakfast, he wiped his eyes from the tears. Were they tears of joy from hearing that twangy cover of “Folsom Prison Blues?”

No, it was just the overwhelming, mind-numbing, sinus-sucking, everyday life in southern Indiana during allergy season. Almost every year, we turn the heat off the same day we turn the air conditioning on. So much for spring.

The end of Sneezing brings us to our longest season in southwestern Indiana, Humidity.

From the first week of May to the early part of October, we will be regaled with Mother Nature’s sweat glands. I moved to the Evansville area from Tampa Bay, Florida.

Having grown up in northern Indiana, I was thrilled to come home and be away from Florida’s pervasive humidity. I was stunned to learn that humidity is markedly worse along the Ohio River than it was in Florida. A possible explanation may be the sea breezes or the evening thunderstorms or our valley geography and all the plants spewing out along the river.

The final season between Humidity and Black Ice is Fall Festival.

Only one week in October, thousands of people will gather every day and night for a week along Franklin Street in Evansville for one of the nation’s largest and oldest street fairs. Humidity sometimes makes an appearance, which can be an ugly surprise for those already volunteering in a food booth over a hot fryer. For many of us, Fall Festival is a favorite season with our favorite goodies, ranging from fried candy bars to sausage burgers.

Indiana is a very long state; weather in The Region (far northwestern corner) can be vastly different from that in Muncie or Madison on any given day. When I went to college at Ball State, my parents west of Fort Wayne often had completely different weather, especially in the winter.

Today there’s usually six to ten degree temperature difference in winter and summer between West Lafayette (where my father lives) to our little southwestern Indiana town.

We share one season throughout the state, road construction season. I moved to Florida in 1982, and as we drove out of the state, Interstate 65 was being improved. It was still being improved when we moved back. That continuous quality improvement thing is happening today on many parts of I-65.

Two Valparaiso men recently started a Facebook campaign to change the state bird from the cardinal to the white-breasted nuthatch. I’ll have none of that. Perhaps the Indiana state bird should be the orange traffic cone.

Mar 122014

Since my son was diagnosed with autism in 1992, I’ve been involved with those who serve individuals with intellectual disabilities. I often read books by parents of children on the spectrum, the occasional clinical study, and many media articles on the subject.

What sometimes bugs me about articles I read about autism is they sometimes lack any basis in reality from what my family or others I’ve known have experienced.

Being a parent is a difficult task in today’s complicated world.  Being a parent of a child with special needs is also difficult, in a different way.

Several weeks ago, I received a copy of the book “Not Different Enough:  A Thirty Year Journey with Autism, Asperger’s and Intellectual Disabilities” written by Gloria Doty.  I chewed through this book like someone finishing a cherished desert, because the content was so rich and relevant to anyone who loves a child or adult with special needs.

Doty, who lives in Fort Wayne, was one of my church youth league sponsors in the 1970s in Whitley County. We reconnected through mutual church friends on Facebook and she shared her wonderful book with me.

She is the mother of five adult children, and her youngest, Kalisha, is the subject of the book.

Kalisha is now thirty and lives with Doty in Fort Wayne.

In her book, Doty relives in total reality some of the most difficult times and struggles of raising a child with an intellectual disability.  What is so compelling about this book is that she doesn’t hide anything from the reader.  She owns up to some of her own mistakes, which any parent – who is honest – can fully understand.

“I wanted to write a book for parents about things they probably cannot learn in a doctor’s office,” she said.  “Every child is different but there are some things that connect the dots.”

Doty explained that her daughter lives in two worlds, an adult world in which she can plan her own birthday party and deal with vendors, and a world in which she has a childlike interest in going to Build-a-Bear and stuffing a toy animal.

Doty started writing a blog ( and now contributes regularly to, part of the Fort Wayne newspapers group.

Friends suggested she write a book, because she always had a million Kalisha stories.  The book covers many personal issues that parents may be afraid to talk about, as well as dealing with the pressures of being a teenager with autism. One of Doty’s final chapters deals with her daughter being held captive in a bad situation for several days. She is a courageous writer to share these difficult details of a frightening situation her daughter experienced.

Though Doty is now her daughter’s legal guardian, she asked Kalisha if she wanted to read the book, and Kalisha responded with her usual stoicism that she did not, but wanted her story told.

Anyone involved with a person who is on the autism spectrum will tear through this book, because of its realistic, ground-level retelling of Kalisha’s life, both struggles and triumphs.

Her mom is proud of her and has every right to be. When Kalisha planned her thirtieth birthday party in February.  She handled all the invitations, arranged for Johnny, the Tin Cups’ mascot to attend, and selected the food.  She welcomed more than 100 guests, including her very first teacher from the Blue School, other teachers, relatives from out of state and Indianapolis, and many other friends.

But what made her mother really proud is that Kalisha didn’t want gifts and asked that her guests bring items for two organizations close to her heart, the Hope Center and Animal Care and Control.  The room was filled with baby things as well as many pet products.

Gloria Doty is so real in her writing of this book, and one of the stories she told made a huge impression on me, and I believe, is at the heart of describing a person who truly lives in two worlds.

When Kalisha’s beloved grandmother, Gloria’s mother, passed away, Kalisha was nine. Gloria was advised not to take Kalisha to the wake as it might upset the child too much.

Doty felt differently and took her youngest child up to the casket.  Kalisha asked why her grandmother was wearing glasses.  She said, “She’s not going to need them in heaven, y’know.”

The book continues, “Quite typically, she (Kalisha) was saddened but didn’t shed any tears.  However, she did ask if Grandma was going to help Jesus hang the stars in the sky every night. I thought that was so sweet until she continued, “I want that to be my job when I die and go to heaven. I don’t want Grandma to get my job.”  I assured her there were enough stars to go around.”

Buy her book here:

Feb 212014

Imagine if someone gave you a five-year block  and said, “You can do whatever you want.” What would you do?

I’m moving into a new phase of my life, having completed five years during which I did whatever I wanted to do, including running my own consulting business, community volunteering, and the occasional mid-afternoon nap. Next week I start a new full-time job with a wonderful health provider.

Five years ago, I could not have imagined what I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve had a bucket list of items before the term “bucket list” existed. The summer before college, three high school friends and I camped at the Indiana Dunes. We had deep conversations on hot July evenings about where our futures might lead.

My list included a smart husband, many children, and a home with Japanese maples, meaningful work involving writing, and travel all over the world.

The smart husband has been hanging around for thirty years (he calls it the “best 18 years of his life”); we have an adult son (naturally the smartest, best-looking young adult ever.)

My vintage 1970s home has two beautiful Japanese maples in the front. I’ve written in every job since 1971, and I’ve been to a few European countries and the Indiana State Fair for vanilla taffy and lemon shake-ups.

Things I couldn’t have imagined when I was eighteen showed up on my bucket list five years ago when I started this journey.

My mother died two years ago last week. Because I worked on contract for many health organizations, I was able to help my father in some caregiving duties during the last three years of her life. My brother, who lives near my dad, assisted my parents and now my father on a regular basis. Living 200 miles away I cannot be there all the time. I was able to be present more than if working a full-time job.

During this time, I took my parents on several trips. I took Mom back to her beloved Indiana University campus six months before she died. We walked through the Indiana Memorial Union, and I could see her wheels turning. She was smiling and happy; Dad pointed out things she might remember. Did she remember Sycamore Hall, once her 1950s dorm, now offices? What resonated with my mother was the little campus Lutheran Church she attended.

We flew to Washington D.C. and worshipped at the National Cathedral, where mom thoroughly enjoyed the grand music of the pipe organ. We  stood in the lobby of Union Station where my father stood in 1949 on his Camden High School senior trip.

We visited Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we took a spring garden tour and a boat ride on the lake.

We stayed at McCormick’s Creek State Park during a Harley-Davidson Convention. Every night on our evening walk, all the men flirted with Mom and asked her to go on a ride! She laughed, but didn’t go but enjoyed her talks about the motorcycles. She unexpectedly held a two-foot black snake during a presentation by the Nature Center.

After my mother’s death, my father traveled with us several times.

At eighteen, traveling with my parents was not on my dream list. Now I treasure those trips.

Since age fourteen, I worked on and off in journalism; in my dream I wanted to write for newspapers again.

At eighteen, I thought “The New Yorker” might be calling any day. That didn’t happen.

However, during the past five years, my voice came out loud and clear. Once I stopped emulating others, my own voice developed. That voice has nothing to do with – nor do I have the literary acumen – for a national magazine. However, I found my voice hidden in the people and places of Indiana, and now my newspaper column runs in a dozen communities and several online sites. I will write as long as I have the gift of my senses, and pen and paper or a computer.

During this half-decade, my husband and I also did some travel that wasn’t possible when I had more limited vacation. One of our tours was to Italy where our organized tour director kept us on schedule so we could see everything planned. When people asked why there were only two photo stops on the way to some Tuscan city instead of four, the tour director said, “All the time we have, is all the time we have.”

I move forward with no regrets. All the time we have is all the time we have.

Published on BlogHer.

Feb 122014

I write for multiple organizations in the health field, as a journalist and as a ghostwriter.  Below are links to some of my recent by-lined work for multiple clients.

Surviving a Health Crisis as an Advocate

Moving from Oral Meds to Insulin

Feb 052014

The Hoard Girls
My grandmother, LeNore Hoard Enz (the baby), with her sisters Sara Mae and Zoe Trucia around 1910.

By default, I’m the keeper of family junk that nobody else wants—boxes of  Kodak Brownie snapshots from my grandparent’s 1938 driving trip to Colorado, 35 mm slides of my brother and I everywhere from Yellowstone to Cape Cod, hundreds of photos of our own child, and stacks of fading portraits from different generations.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, we’ve collected these precious treasures that capture a moment in time. Today photography is different.  Studios like CPI, a St. Louis-based company that ran Sears Photo Studios, are closed and Olan Mills, whose traditional 1950s black and white  or sepia-toned photographs grace Baby Boomer walls, downsized in 2012.

Baby Boomers will remember standing like stair steps with siblings in a studio or a church basement, posing for a that slice-of-life family portrait.

Today, portrait studios can’t compete with an army of citizen photographers with increasingly sophisticated digital cameras. Those who stay in the business and succeed learn the tricks of the digital trade – the high school graduating picture is no longer a solitary head shot. If you can imagine it, a talented person with a good camera and good computer software can make it happen.

While the family treasures take up space, I’m glad to have them. The photos, even those printed on cheap, thin paper, all tell a story.

When our only child arrived, like other mothers I only saw his beauty and not the splotchy red mark above his nose.

I took the baby to the Sears Portrait Studio, where the clerk propped him up like an overripe melon against a tan backdrop.  He wore a baby blue sailor suit with a yellow bow tie and a knitted, lemon-yellow jacket passed down from Uncle Tony. (It is the kind of photo no adult wants his mother to put on Facebook years later.)

Twenty-plus year ago proofs took days to arrive.   Finally, this anxious new mother previewed the pictures.  The clerk lined up all the pictures, six views, already printed on very cheap paper and in a variety of sizes.

The pictures were terrible.  The baby’s head tilted awkwardly to the side, and his clothes were slightly wrinkled and askew. This new mother had not quite learned to dress her child.

“How much for all of them?” I said as I reached into my purse for the Sears “charge-a-plate” (which was what my mother called hers in the 1960s.)

I bought them all, and it cost nearly two hundred dollars.  Included in the package were four 11 x 14s. that were almost lifesize and a little frightening.

Not even this precious baby’s adoring grandparents wanted a photo that large of him.

When I run across one of these photos, I laugh, and I remember the nervous young mother who thought – and still does – her child was the most beautiful baby ever born. I remember the excitement of mailing them to friends and relatives near and far, all of whom probably have stacks of similar pictures from their own families.

Today these Sears pictures fade in the closet along with those photographs and portraits I inherited when both grandmothers and my mother passed away.

Georg Enz family in Reynolds, Indiana around 1890.
My great grandfather Charles Enz is the oldest as well as the tallest of the boys and is in the back row.

I have pictures back to the Matthew Brady era – tintypes of unknown Civil War soldiers from my father’s side of the family.  I have wedding and military and confirmation and prom pictures from my immediate family history,  I’ve organized them in black-lined cardboard boxes, and labeled them by decade.

Will this matter to anyone in the future?

What will our children keep?  Will they cherish their SmartPhones or external hard drives full of pictures, CDs, DVDs or whatever media is popular at the time?  An earpiece that hangs off Google glasses that contain all of their children’s school pictures?  A Dick Tracy-style watch with 10,000 digital wedding pictures?

Maybe I’m getting daft in my mid-to-late fifties, but I suspect somewhere along the line there will be a descendant who appreciates all that is saved.

Feb 052014

As a child, winter is about Snow Days and sledding with the family.  Children don’t think about who shovels the snow or deals with the problems caused by weather.

Even as a homeowner in my thirties, I was not too concerned about logistics.

So when we purchased our second home when we were in our late thirties, we didn’t think about snow and ice or trees falling down or wild animals from the woods.  We saw a beautiful home in a hilly, wooded setting.

Now almost two decades later we’ve watched about ten of our lovely trees die, fall down, get hit by lightning, almost anything but being removed by aliens. We’ve survived snow and ice storms, including the great big pre-Christmas story of 2004.  Two feet of snow came so fast we hardly knew what hit us.

Believe me, our next home is going to be a windowless hut on a flat surface surrounded by nothingness with a hole in the top for the U.S. Mail. And hopefully it will be located in Bora Bora.

This latest storm has really, really, really put me in a nasty mood.

Yesterday I had a meeting at the Newburgh library, about two miles from our home.  When I went to the meeting, it was chilly but nothing was happening (despite the Armageddon-like predictions of the local weather prognosticators)

I went outside about two hours after I came in, and I could barely see my hands in front of my face, let alone find my car in the parking lot.  White-out conditions, they call it.

I drove directly home, even though I needed to pick up some prescriptions and a few things from the grocery.

By the time I got home our driveway was covered with something resembling snow, except that it was loud and crunchy when you drove over it.  Our driveway goes up a hill and then makes a ninety degree turn onto a steeper hill, and if you are lucky, you’ll end up in the garage.  Three years ago we put in a new driveway and decreased the incline and removed a stone garden pit that was four feet lower than the driveway.  (Not driving into the pit was always a special winter challenge.)

But you cannot entirely remove the incline.  Newburgh is an Ohio River town, and we’re a village of hills.

I could not make it into the garage; I barely made it up the first slight incline to park on the pad that sits next to the walkout entrance.

I drive a small SUV, and it is a little top heavy and I haven’t mastered the art of actually getting it in the garage if there’s ice on the driveway.

My car sat out last night. Today I went out and ran the car for about an hour, and chipped the ice off the windows.  I was fearful of breaking the windows, but the three-quarter inch slabs of ice weren’t coming off any other way.

I chiseled my way into the back of the car because that’s where most of the good scrapers are. I was terrified to shut the big back door, for fear the sound would bring two down very large limbs that have been swaying perilously above the car since last night. There is very little wind, and these two limbs slowly move from side to side.  That doesn’t seem to be a good sign for their continued vitality.

With my oversized blue parka on and my warm black boots, I collected  two days’ worth of mail (neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, blah, blah, blah) and retrieved the garbage can.

I decided to try again to put the car in the garage. I backed up and immediately slid off into the side yard, nearly taking out the mailbox.

I guess I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.  I have a nice chicken dinner in the slow cooker, and I’m going to mellow by watching the birds at the frozen feeders. My husband will be home in a few hours. His employer is one of the few that did not close today, perhaps because hell is only partially frozen over.

And I’m also considering why the heck we left Florida for Indiana in January 1988.  Seems like a dumb decision today.

Jan 312014
Official White House photo by Amanda Lucidon

Official White House photo by Amanda Lucidon

When I was growing up, everything seemed to be coming up roses for women.  “The Pill”, those fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, Gloria Steinem getting out of her bunny suit and into tailored Chanel.

We, as women, had more choices than any generation before us.  We were raised by the Silent Majority and the “Greatest Generation” of women, many of whom worked as Rosie the Riveter and then came home to raise their children in homogenized suburban developments.

Everyone told me and my fellow Baby Boomers we could have it all.

I have been blessed and lucky enough to have most of it some of the time, just not all at once.  Five years ago, I lost my job. Not just any job, but the big job.  The one that paid a lot of money and provided my family with a great life. We rebounded; we did not lose our house like others we knew. We were very fortunate.  But, I know how close to the edge we came.

I’m also old enough to know that had I made different choices, my life might have been very different.  For better or worse?  That’s a question that cannot be answered. But many women of my era and today’s era have not had the choices and blessings I’ve had, and certainly have not had it all.  Or much of it.

Many women today are in serious financial trouble, in poverty, and on the edge. And the discussions of why never seem to quite settle down.  Two years ago  Anne-Marie Slaughter’s controversial Atlantic cover “Why Women Can’t Have It All,” stirred the pot again. Pundits like to throw this topic around, but most of the time it’s all the rage between Those Who Have and Those Who Have More.  Amy Chua’s obnoxious opinion piece about her believe that certain ethnic groups have a better shot at success in Sunday’s New York Times is a good example.

Another look down from the high horse was the lovely Republican response by an attractive Congresswoman.  Ironic that just a few days after Gov. Mike Huckabee’s rant on women’s libido and hours after the House passed anti-abortion legislation that the Republican response was given by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the most senior Republican woman in the House of Representatives.

In case you missed it, here’s what Huckabee said at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee:

“And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

Yup.  The Grand Old Party sent out a woman to shape their brand, tell their story, grease their wheels just days after this verbal pile of garbage was strewn before the true believers.  No, calling it garbage is too nice. I’ll borrow a phrase from my father’s fraternity days.  Let’s call it condensed owl feces.

None of these folks from Anne-Marie Slaughters to Mike Huckabee to Cathy McMorris Rodgers understand what is happening in the real world.

This cavalier attitude  just makes me mad.  Really mad.  And I’m mad for a number of reasons. I’m mad because women in the same job still make less than males in the same position. If they are lucky enough to have a job. According to College Times:

“Women account for 46% of the labor force, but 59% of workers making less than $8 an hour. What does it mean? It means that many women are taking on jobs that pay well under a living wage. With nearly 16% of U.S. households having women who are divorced, widowed or never married as the sole providers, this leaves many women at a distinct disadvantage and struggling to make ends meet as they dominate jobs in low paying fields.”

I’m mad that we’re still fighting over maternity leave.  This week The Diane Rehm Show featured how far behind America is compared to other Western countries when providing for maternal and paternal leave for childbirth or caring for an ailing child or parent.  In Sweden, men not taking the paternity leave can risk losing the whole thing for their partners if they don’t use their time.

I’m mad that we are fighting about birth control in 2014.  Birth control, people.  I’m not talking about late-term abortions. I believe as Hillary Clinton does that “abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.”  I’m not fighting the anti-abortion people; but the fact that some equate birth control with abortion is beyond the pale.

I have a dog in this fight because early in my career I sold an injectable birth control product.  Going to clinics that frequently saw junior high girls as patients made this issue a passion for me.  One day at a clinic in rural southern Illinois, a physician shared with me he had just delivered the baby of an 11-year-old girl. At eleven, you are supposed to be worried about slumber parties, not pumping your breasts.

I’m mad that the unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed have not been extended; and I’m very mad about the arrogant, superior attitude some politicians have about how easy it is to get a job. The sheer number of people who have stopped looking for employment has to indicate that something is up.

The state of our union isn’t, as President Obama proclaimed, strong. The state of our union is, well, weird.

I’ve said this to friends before, and I’ll say it again here.  I think the work world changed dramatically when The Great Recession hit in 2007.  History made even record it as a depression, but it is too soon to know.

What can we as women do?  We can speak up about the real issues, the hunger, the poverty, the unemployment, the lack of living wages to those who represent us in Congress. And we can also express our displeasure over the time spent on issues that seem to only polarize our country more.

Published January 31, 2014 at The Broad Side. Please comment there.

Jan 282014

Sunday is the big game, and many Americans are excited about the players, the game, Peyton Manning, buffalo wings, chili con queso, the frigid weather, and the commercials.

Show of hands here? Am I the only person in the world who could give a rat’s patootie about the Super Bowl?

I speak blasphemously, but the only thing I care less about than the NFL is college football.  (There’s a backstory here that involves years of Big Ten rivalries, cold weather, insane over-the-top fans, but I’ll leave that for another day.)

For those who will watch television, and will watch something other than the Super Bowl, there are choices.

Animal Planet adds a Kitty Halftime show to the annual Puppy Bowl.

Hallmark Channel rivals Animal Planet with a Kitten Bowl.

WLS-TV Chicago originated the tradition of the televised burning Yule Log at Christmas; now National Geographic Channel takes that one step farther with the Fish Bowl.

The Los Angeles Times outlined a few other options for the non-football fans who still want the Boob Tube to burn brightly on Sunday afternoon.

Highlights (if you can call it that) of the afternoon and early evening include:

  • A Sex and the City Marathon on the E Network.
  • The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day on AMC
  • Five “chick flicks” on TBS, starting with Failure to launch and ending with Pretty Woman
  • A Bewitched marathon on TV Land (this writer hopes it features only Darren # 1, Darren # 2 just didn’t have the right mojo.)

While I haven’t found the listings yet, invariable some network presents several of the old-time, luscious Technicolor musicals. That will grab me.

Who doesn’t adore Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse dancing in Brigadoon? Otherwise, you’ll find me in my living room chair, drinking coffee, and working my usual Sunday afternoon trip through the paper of record.


Jan 252014


SQUIRRELVISTAI don’t need to watch the Olympics or the Super Bowl or even “The Bachelor.”  Every day out my office window I see my own version of “Wild Kingdom,” complete with fun-packed action, suspense and hilarity.

I’m a birdwatcher and I have a large, squirrel-proof feeder, suspended from a four-foot shepherd’s crook attached to my deck railing with a steel c-arm.  I’ve covered the metal pole of the shepherd’s crook with aluminum foil, in theory, to detract the giant paws.

To those giant gray/brown rats that inhabit our back yard, it might as well be paper-Mache.

These rodents sashay along the deck rail, stop and look at me in my office, sneer, and then nonchalantly climb up the pole, over the aluminum foil, stop and sneer some more. Then they do a back flip and hang upside down from the pole, now able to reach out and stick their mouths in the numerous holes full of delicious bird feed.  All while sneering at me.

The Pet Food Center had some luscious bird food, stuffed with peanuts and sunflowers seeds, which the squirrels really adore.

Their ultimate departure — with their rounded filled bellies — reminds me of famous Russian gymnast Olga Korbut tuck back, flip, and dismounting from the parallel bars in the 1972 Olympics.

The squirrels look at me, sneer, and throw out their front pawing, successfully jumping back to the deck railing. They act as if they deserve a gold medal for their performance.

The suspense in this drama comes when I worry that the feeder itself will drop off the pole with the force of the squirrel jumping forward, and fall the ground below. Our deck is above a walk-out basement/ A fall of ten feet will shatter the bird feeder. (I know this by experience. I’ve punched most of the cards on my “Frequent Bird Feeder Purchase Plan.”)

Every once in a while I open my office window and shout something at them. This brings of course not a look of terror but one of ennui from these relentless beasts.

A women in my Bible study suggested we put out corn for the squirrels way out in the back yard, far away from the bird’s buffet.

I feel like this is rewarding the squirrels for bad behavior, but I’m willing to try it if it keeps those darn rodents out of my yard.

Published January 25, 2014  in “The Raven Lunatic” newspaper column.

Jan 232014

The Consumer Electronics Show brings new and amazing technologies each January. The show featured devices right out of 1960′s cartoon hero George Jetson’s space-age living room.

The Las Vegas Convention Center floor bulged with  television sets the size of my childhood hometown’s movie screen, with screens so sensitive they can detect an errant hair on an aging newscaster’s chin.

While the common wisdom is that the younger generation is the target of marketers hawking the newer versions of everything from cell phones to GPS and televisions, a recent Washington Post story dispelled that thought.  Boomers are attractive to technology marketers because of high and prolonged usage of electronics, explained Blog Tech writer Cecilia Kang:

“Boomers are helping drive a rapid growth in mobile social media, doubling their rate of adoption for Facebook, LinkedIn and other networking apps over their smartphones in the past year

“In its social media usage survey, Nielsen said in May 2011, the number of Internet users 55 and older using social media sites over mobile devices grew by 109 percent from a year earlier.”

Terrific.  Glad to know we Boomers are still good for something. Or maybe our disposable income is higher for such toys?

While I have access to and use technology, I often feel disconnected from it.  There are  too many choices. In my mid-fifties, I regularly use a laptop and a tablet/ Without a corporate expense account, I’m reticent to put out the dollars for a Smartphone.

When I pick up a friend’s Smartphone, I’m overwhelmed by the incredible amount of applications, choices, and really tiny buttons.

And it’s worse for my father, who despite having a master’s degree in science, at 83 is baffled by the additional choices on his new television remote. While Boomers and members of the Greatest Generation may be driving the electronics industry in the future, I believe there’s a huge disconnect between developers  and aging end users.

I talked with Dr. Robert St. Amant, author of “Computing for Ordinary Mortals” about this disconnect. Dr. St. Amant  agreed to answer some questions about usability as we age:

The Broad Side:  I’m often frustrated when I get a new version of something, when a familiar aspect of the prior version  is missing or completely changed. I’m hanging on to my current operating system, terrified of the new touch screens. I’ve destroyed three tablets in two years with heavy-handedness.

Why isn’t there a greater connect between design and usability?

Dr. St. Amant:  For interactive software, design should be all about usability—but usability is hard.

We can draw an analogy between a software system and a house. Architects and engineers have years of experience building houses of different kinds. There are proven designs for almost everything you might want built into a house. But, unless you can afford to have a house designed to your specifications,   house hunting involves looking at dozens of different possibilities, in person.

You’ll probably find a reasonable house, but it won’t be perfect.You may be annoyed with a  window that would be better placed , or a room that’s not quite big enough. Even if you have designed your own house, once you move in you’ll discover things you may not like.

Designers are building complex environments for a much wider range of activities than living in a house, generalities often aren’t enough, though.  People are different. Even custom software built to a user’s own specifications will turn up problems, because users typically can’t express exactly what they need, and they discover new needs as they experiment with a new system.

Some developers don’t even recognize the importance of usability. It’s relatively easy to write a program for a set of fixed requirements, but as I’ve suggested above, such requirements are hard to pin down for interactive systems. You see this whenever you come across a tablet or smart phone app with icons that convey information perfectly well but are too small to touch with any accuracy.

The Broad Side: Many Boomers/seniors are frustrated and overwhelmed by the plethora of choices offered on devices.  Why do you think Smartphone’s makers today don’t get this disconnect?

Dr. St. Amant: I think of an analogy with movies. In part, it’s because of how the industry has evolved since the studio days, but probably more because the people who spend money on movies tend to be much younger, and they have different tastes. Smartphone makers and app developers pay most attention to the people who want what they offer, and they’re mostly younger people.

The Pew National Research Center carried out a survey of attitudes about cell phone use. In it, we see some stark differences between age groups. The Baby Boomers in the study (born between 1942 and 1956—not a perfect match, but close) are less engaged with their phones than younger people. They don’t personalize them as often with ringtones or wallpaper; they don’t talk on the phone as much during their idle time; and so forth. Perhaps more important than attitude is that Baby Boomers don’t do very much with their phones compared with younger people: text messaging, taking pictures, playing games, surfing the Web.

Certain platforms, such as the iPhone running iOS or an Android phone, will impose only very light requirements on how well an app needs to play with other apps and even with the operating system itself. For example, with my eyesight fading, I recently tried to make the icons and text on my iPhone a bit bigger. I didn’t have much luck. Apple gives me control for setting the size of text dynamically—but only for apps that support such adaptations. (Even Apple’s built-in apps don’t all support different text sizes.) As for larger icons, I was completely out of luck. I suspect that this is a visual design bias based on looks over function. Bigger icons might be ugly, even if they were easier to touch without error. (Android is apparently better on this front.)

The Broad Side:  Our numbers and usage as Baby Boomers is apparently increasing. Maybe we’ll have more clout for the designers and manufacturers. How can we as consumers get the message to the designers that some of us don’t know what the hell we’re doing?

Dr. St. Amant: I can see a few possibilities:

Proselytize. One of my Ph.D. students is blind, and he works in the area of accessibility, which is concerned with making computers usable for people with disabilities. He’s passionate about the subject, and he travels around the country giving talks whenever he can about its importance. This kind of consciousness-raising can be important, in that the average (young) software developer or designer may be unaware of the scope of the problems that older users face in using their software. It has to be hammered in.

Gather behind a thought leader. I’m imagining a knowledgeable tech person with a public platform who regularly writes about what needs to be done to make systems more usable for Boomers. This is to some extent the same point as above, but proselytizing can be diffused or focused, and I think that a few well-known people can make more noise than a lot of non-famous people. The idea would be to get someone who’s already famous interested.

Complain when things work badly. Given the distributed market of app development, this probably won’t be too effective in improving individual apps, though it might in some cases. But if enough designers and developers receive reports and feedback that their work is not up to snuff for an important and under-served market, they may start paying more attention. Some may even see an opportunity.

The Broad Side: What advice do you have for Boomers/seniors who want to at least keep up with technology changes in their own lives?

Dr. St. Amant: Talk to people who like to keep up with technology. This may sound condescending, and some might say, “You mean I have to ask my kids how to do everything?” But I think it’s the best answer, and it’s not just aimed at tech novices. Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google, has written a nice essay titled “Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years”, in part to counteract the notion that you can learn to program in a very short amount of time. He writes, “When asked ‘what operating system should I use, Windows, Unix, or Mac?’ my answer is usually: ‘use whatever your friends use.’”

To generalize a bit, finding other people interested in a given technology is of more lasting value than understanding the technology itself. This isn’t a new idea. One of the largest historical figures in the creation of the Internet, J.C.R. Licklider, wrote about the potential of “online communities” back in the 1960s. The human element in computing. Face-to-face communication is also an important part of dealing with technology, even if it’s just figuring out how to use it.

Dr. Robert St. Amant is the author of “Computing for Ordinary Mortals” published by Oxford University Press in 2012.  He is an associate professor at North Carolina State University.

Amy McVay Abbott is the author of “The Luxury of Daydreams” (2011) and “A Piece of Her Mind” (2013).

Published 01-23-2014 at The Broad Side.  Please comment there.

Jan 162014

As a Baby Boomer, I must comment on the passing of Russell Johnson, “Professor” Roy Hinckley on the Gilligan’s Island sitcom of the 1960s.

ABC News confirmed Johnson died this morning of kidney disease in his Washington state home.  He was 89.

When the show originally broadcast, my family watched. The sitcom gained new life in reruns in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

My brother and I stepped off Mr. Draper’s bus about 3:15 p.m. during the school year. We grabbed a snack and headed for our family room to watch the 3:30 p.m. rerun.

Gilligan’s Island may have been the lamest, dumbest situation comedy ever, but it still remains funny in a low-brow, weird way.

The Professor played a straight man to a cast of fumble-fingered stereotypes. Although he was not really a professor, but high school science teacher, he solved all kinds of problems with ingenious creative solutions, until Gilligan messed it up.

How about rewiring that Jet Pac so Gilligan could fly up into the sky so a nearby military ship could spot him?  The Professor suggested Gilligan take the radio up with him, and Gilligan heard a report that a UFO was in the neighborhood.  Of course, the UFO was Gilligan, who flew off into a cloud causing rain which caused the ship to stop the search for the missing Jet Pac.

Yes, it is ridiculous.

To this day, my husband and I ask each other trivia questions from the show.  Recently the ME Network has been running the show in its 7 p.m. (CST) slot.  My regular news shows make me so upset that I frequently want to toss the television out the window (i.e. Chris Christie stories). Now I can turn over to ME and watch the shows I grew up with, including the original Bob Newhart Show.

Okay, so it’s not Anton Chekhov.  Sue me.

Jan 152014

Dressing up is just not my thing. I’ve never been a clothes horse. Give me a t-shirt in summer and a sweatshirt in winter, add a pair of comfortable jeans washed a hundred or so times and I’m good to go. On the feet: a nice pair of tennies in the summer, and Clark’s slip-ons in the winter!

In my professional life, I’ve worn the uniform for thirty years. You know the one. I have a closet full of tailored suits and the accompanying blouses, scarves, etc  (And in three sizes.)

With oddly narrow feet for a woman of my stature, I bought the same kind of pumps – unadorned leather a with 2-inch heel – for as long as I can remember. I have them in numerous shades, textures, and colors and many pairs of the same color in numerous stages of wear.

My idea of dressing up has changed over the years.

God bless my mother — when I look at our family slides, I am amazed at how beautifully we were dressed.  I know of only one picture of me from childhood (before college) where I’m wearing a t-shirt.  It’s one of those “My grandma went to Florida and loves me” shirts.

That’s the only one.  My parents thought t-shirts were for construction workers and were part of a uniform. (Don’t even get me started on what my father thought about my corduroy overalls I wore in college.  He had to wear them to school when he was little, and couldn’t imagine anyone making a choice to wear them.)

If I’m wearing a pair of nice pants and a decent collared shirt, well, that’s good enough for church or most meetings.  I save the dark suits for board meetings, funerals, and important interviews.

But, I love my tee-shirts. I love my husband’s t-shirts, which he uses for pajamas.  Who wouldn’t want to wake up to a man wearing a Mister Bubble shirt (that I know is as least thirty-five years old) and a pair of pajama bottoms covered with Colts logos on them?.

We both have lots of t-shirts and unless I’m off to a meeting, you can find me at home wearing one of them.

While doing the laundry recently, I found that a beloved tee-shirt with huge holes in it.  I think it was long past time for it to be turned into rags.  But, I couldn’t bear to do that, so for now I washed it and put it back in the closet where I have stacks of shirts.

This shirt is special because I bought it at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.  We were not there the day it opened in 2004, but the day after. We took our son there on a surprise trip.

Weeks before the trip, we told him we were taking him somewhere by plane. He hadn’t flown since he was a baby and we took him to Florida. We kept giving him clues, and implied through the clues that it was Branson, Missouri.  (I figured Branson would be the last place an eighth grader would want to go.)

I told him we were going to see The Lennon Sisters; he knew who they were from watching reruns of “The Lawrence Welk Show” with his grandparents.

He rolled his eyes.

Then I told him about seeing the Japanese man who plays the violin. I think I might have thrown in Andy Williams and “Moon River.”

More eye-rolling.

A couple of days later, I said, “We’re going to see Ray Stevens.”  I could not imagine that any fourteen-year-old boy would want to see Ray Stevens.  I should have known better. He loved Weird Al Yankovic.

“Mom,” he said, “That’s awesome; didn’t he do Guitarzan and The Streak?”


I can’t throw out that shirt.

A lovely day with my husband and some old friends (da Vinci, van Gogh and Rembrandt) at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. One of my favorite places in the world!

Nor can I throw out any shirt I’ve ever purchased on vacation or that relates to our son’s school days.

My favorite shirt ever was purchased at the Stratford Festival in London, Ontario in the late 1990s and showed William Shakespeare in sunglasses. I wore it until it practically was in shreds. I threw it out because I couldn’t bear to use it as a cleaning tool.  (Shirts from my last employer make a much better cleaning rag!)

I also love a black shirt I purchased at the Saint Louis Art Museum, featuring a subway map of Paris with homes of famous artists.  My Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Arts Club band shirt (The Beatles album cover with famous artists instead of the usual characters) reminds me of a great dinner with friends at the Red Bar in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida a dozen years ago.

So many others — Titanic museum, Martin Luther King memorial, Hoover Dam, and a new purple hoodie from our week at French Lick, where wonderful old friends came for the weekend. The longer you wear a t-shirt, hoodie or jeans, the softer and more comfortable it becomes.

Tomorrow I have a committee meeting, and I’ll clean up.  For now, I’m perfectly happy working on a client piece, watching the birds at my feeder outside my office window, and luxuriating in a pink t-shirt from Saint Meinrad.  A summer or two ago my Bible Study group spent a day up there, and the shirt brings back the wonderful memories of what we saw that day.

Jan 152014

Disclaimer: I am certain by making my opinion known on this I’m cursed with future grandchildren who will act like howler monkeys in public spaces.

After a hectic week, Saturday is date night. The kids  bunked with  grandparents, the Blackberry  off, and  time for an elegant, sit-down dinner with your significant other —  the first meal in a week where you actually sit down.

The ambiance of the café shatters with a familiar sound from a table across the room.

Two-year-old Zoey feels confined in her high chair and shrieks in a high-pitched whine only a toddler can produce, one that sounds like the flying dinosaurs from the Johnny Quest theme.

Should Zoey be there on a Saturday night? Should her parents leave? Should the also-stressed-out parents who want an elegant night out — away from the kids — complain or even leave?

In Houston, Texas, last summer La Fisheria  banned children under age nine after 7 p.m. after complaints from couples such as the one described above caused the owner to rethink children dining at his place in the evenings. Just this week, a Chicago chef tweeted his unhappiness about an 8-month-old baby whose crying upset neighboring diners.

Do you take your children out to dinner?

As an empty nester without grandchildren, I appreciate a child-free meal out.  I am certainly not thrilled when we plan an evening out only to have ear-piercing screams and prolonged whining from a nearby table. (To be fair to children, that could be anybody, young or old.)

However, and here’s the big question,  how will children   learn appropriate public behavior if cloistered at home until they are school age?.

I don’t support bans. Kids are just that, kids.  Sometimes stuff happens. Any parent knows that sometimes a tired child will act out in unprovoked ways for no reason. How does the parent respond? Maybe by not taking a tired child to the restaurant in the first place. There are no absolutes here.

While I prefer my meals quiet and without chaos, I’m willing to put up with some noise  in public places just as people put up with my child in public places.

There is a huge caveat in my thinking, however.

Parents need to take responsibility for their children. If a child is screaming her head off,  isn’t there a reason?  Maybe not, but don’t parents have a responsibility to take the child to a quieter place?

I was thinking about this exact issue — children behaving badly  in public — when I noticed a waitress approach a table with a mom, dad and four children.

The waitress was ready to take the order.

The children behaved perfectly, while their father stood talking on his cell phone, making the waitress and his family wait on him.  I sought an example of bad behavior from a child;  the dad was being  rude to the waitress.

Anecdotal, but it goes right back to my point. Children are children, and parents can use public space as  a teachable moment. A pancake restaurant is a great place to start; I’m not so sure Morton’s Steakhouse or Chicago’s Alinea is such a great place for a four-year-old.

If parents make the choice to take Junior to a place with white linen tablecloths and a pricey menu, I  hope they have the discretion and maturity to remove the child if he is causing a huge distraction for other diners.

I also hope they tip well.

Of course, for a screaming two-year-old, there isn’t such a thing as a teachable moment, and the child may need to be taken out.

For a child in elementary school, going to a formal restaurant presents a great teaching tool for parents. He can learn which fork to use, how to read a menu and appropriately order different courses, how to interact with wait staff, appropriate table talk, and the right way to approach and leave a table.

We used to call these “manners.”

These experiences with dining will serve him well his entire life, no matter the situations he encounters.

There are so many other public spaces that are wonderful training grounds for children, such as the public library, church or synagogue, athletic fields, theaters, and yes, even the grocery store.  Who hasn’t been in the produce section when a child has gone ballistic?

Given a reasonable approach by a parent, most children can be taught to behave appropriately in public.

Originally published August 2013 at The Broad Side. Re-written and re-published January 15, 2014 at BlogHer.