Those Bright College Years


***Happily Presenting a Guest Post Written By My Husband, JP, After Much Nagging***

Hard to believe my niece already received a college acceptance this month — via email of course.  That news had me drifting off to reflect on that special time of life – my freshman year in college.

I have always seen the 1968 – 1972 period as a kind of  “revolutionary window,” from the Los Angeles riots and Prague Spring to Nixon-in-China, layered over with really cool music. 1970 when I started college was smack in the middle.

I was the first in my family to go to college, a Vietnam-era, baby-boomer, whose parents came to this country just before I was born. They both had sixth grade educations so just the knowledge that I was going to college was its own achievement. Leaving Michigan to go to a school out-of-state, taking a plane to get there, those were big deals.

I had no idea what to expect, no one had told me what college would be like. The only pressure to succeed was what I placed on myself.  After all, this was a time of turmoil over “The War,” coming on the heels of major urban riots.  It was not the 1950’s with people eager to get started on the American Dream.  Did the America Dream still exist?

When I first walked across the New Haven green with a single suitcase and my prized electric typewriter, I heard the sounds of “Carry On” by Crosby, Stills and Nash blasting out of a speaker hanging from an Old Campus dorm room.  One of my new roommates had already posted an enormous picture of Chairman Mao on the ceiling of our dorm room. I was your basic all-around jock from the Midwest, rooming with the very radical son of college professors and a quiet oboist from the Savannah who spoke French to his parents on our single landline phone.

I had been transported from Henry Ford’s hometown to a campus that had recently been shut down in solidarity with the black panthers, anti-war protests abounded, the spring of the 1969 strikes was just behind us. It was the fall of 1970.  No cell phones, no PCs.  The telecomm revolution was presaged I suppose by the trickery passed on from some MIT students that enabled one to make long-distance phone calls for free. (Not that I ever did that.)

We didn’t wear uniforms, unless you counted bell bottoms, long hair and jeans with holes in them.  Never mind that many of my classmates came from some of America’s most burnished ‘burbs.  I learned quickly that every major city in the U.S. had its equivalent of Bloomfield Hills, the fanciest suburb near my hometown.

While many of my classmates came from privileged families, it was considered bad form in 1970 to be personally ambitious at a time when grizzled veterans of ZPG advocacy (zero population growth) handed out literature just outside the dining hall.  Back then they looked to me like they had the wisdom of the ages.  I realize now that they were 19 and 20 year-old sophomores and juniors.  Something about all these people who sprouted enormous amounts of head and facial-hair, coupled with dressing as if they had just emerged from 60 days of living homelessly, gave them an aura.

My college class was only the second freshman class of women – co-education had finally come to the land of 1,000 male leaders.  We took it as a given that the traditions were to be shaken and turned upside-down and inside-out, at least for a while.  Is it the same for college kids now, in the post-9/11, post-Title IX era?  Or has the Internet/iPhone/Instagram  transformed what we enjoyed as the cocooned, experimental, experiential experience of college in the early 1970’s?

Entering a dorm in the evening after classes was an olfactory and auditory magical mystery tour.  In the era well before iPods and little white ear plugs, listening to music was hardly a personal, private experience.  Music was to be shared, played as loudly as possible, so that the walls became part of the reverb.  Cat Stevens, Beatles, Stones, Robert Plant, Hendrix, Chicago, Led Zeppelin, Carole King, James Taylor, Clapton resonated in my head.

Why did Traffic sing that “John Barleycorn Must Die”? And just where was the watchtower that Jimi Hendrix sang of?  Beats me.  There was something tribal about listening to “In a gadda da vidda”  with new friends in darkened dorm rooms.  I still have those album covers, waiting to spring the music on my toddler grandson when he is old enough for me to explain to him what a turntable is/was.

What will the first year of college be like for my grandson 17 years from now?  What will be the “revolutionary” stuff that he experiences?  What sorts of cultural icons will his freshman year feature?  I look forward to being around to discuss it with him.



(Readers: Can you see now why I married him? Thanks, JP, for sharing your memories. I will stop nagging you now. Sure.)


Filed under Baby Boomers, College, Husbands, Midlife

A Caterpillar Becomes A Butterfly in the Land of the “Semi-Retired”?


So a lawyer, a rabbi and a scientist walked into a bar…

Actually what really happened is that a lawyer, a rabbi and a scientist walked into a coffee shop. That line might be humorous if I had said the three of us  met in a bar. We did not. Though we are not unfamiliar with bars; sticking with lattes at 10 a.m. on a Thursday seemed the wiser choice.

The key to that last paragraph, in case you missed it (do you read as quickly as I do?) was that three friends got together on a weekday. In the mid-morning. Yes, you may realize, we could do that because we no longer work full-time.

We are allies in that fuzzy transitional period that comes after leaving long-held employment. Still active and productive, minus the regular pay-checks, yet nowhere near ready to a settle in for a quiet life of gardening and knitting.

(with many pardons to those of you who garden and knit 100% of the time.)

But the three of us admit to having trouble even getting the R” word out of our mouths. Just when did retirement become such a difficult word to utter?

So defensive am I about my current status that I tell people I am “semi-retired,” with the emphasis on the “semi.” I may not be lawyering anymore but I write, I advise, I volunteer. All active verbs. My friends, the scientist and the rabbi, are also similarly engaged. Which is important because if you tell someone in the DC metro area where we live that you no longer have a full-time job, watch out!

Last week at a cocktail party I had to attend – getting that inevitable question from a man I just met:

What do you do?”

I started to explain. Then watched as his eyes glazed over. Quickly he looked over my right shoulder in a desperate search for someone, anyone, on the other side of the room who might be more “interesting” to talk to. Someone who HAS A JOB and better yet (because this is the DC metro area after all) HAS AN IMPORTANT JOB.

Uh, excuse me, I see a friend, nice meeting you.”

Thanks so much, didn’t really want to talk to you either.

While I was more amused than offended, if Mr. Cocktail Party had given me more than twenty seconds, he might have learned (IMHO) that I’ve become a  more interesting person now that I am semi-retired. I have time to think the occasional deep thought, to read widely and to tap into the creative side of me long-lost while legally engaged.

Time I didn’t have when my weekday schedule looked like this:

1) go to the office,

2) sit in my chair,

3) answer emails, draft documents, talk on conference calls, do research, get on another conference call,

4) eat lunch (easily the highlight of my day),

6) do more of #3,

7) get up from my chair,

8) leave the office.

Next day: repeat as often as our mortgage company deems it necessary.

How interesting is that?

But I understand the reaction I get from people who didn’t know me in my former life. Semi-retired is a fluid space in which to exist. It can make people squirm a bit; people who still must operate on set schedules, clinging as tightly to their job identities as I once did.

I’m a consultant! I’m a doctor!  I’m a real estate agent! I’m a therapist! I’m an editor! I run a business! I do marketing!  The still-fully-employed world seems to be mocking me and my semi-retired allies – You don’t have an identities any more, take that!

Perhaps we don’t – or maybe they are just in the process of evolving, our identities less easily categorizable than they once were?

Kind of an uncertain, uncharted but exciting DIY project.

Being semi-retired is the search to keep our old selves but try out new ones, still us, but without the laminated plastic photo i.d. cards that once got us into the buildings where we worked.

I thought about these evolutions in identity when reading to my 16-month old grandson the other day. Reading one of his favorite books – “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. The little guy takes charge of turning the pages after he pokes his fingers into the paper holes that show the trail of foods the caterpillar ate en route to his own identity change. Apple, Swiss Cheese, Pickle, Cupcake (sounds like some of my favorite law firm lunches.)

On the last page of the book the fully fed caterpillar morphs into a butterfly. And maybe I am stretching this metaphor too far, I don’t think my rabbi or scientist friends would like to be compared to caterpillars. Nor have the three of us suddenly become gorgeous butterflies. Hardly.

But it is rather liberating to have crossed over the divide from full-time, desk-bound life to being a full-time person instead. If only Mr. Cocktail Party could have given me another moment or two to explain what it is that I do now. Much more colorful than being a lawyer, I think, but still not quite a butterfly.











Filed under 1st Grandchild, Baby Boomers, Books, friendship, Law firm life, Lawyers, Midlife, Reading, Retirement, Semi-Retired, Women, Working Women, Writing

When Cupid’s Arrows Stray – “Tough Love”



When I was thinking about love during this week before Valentine’s Day, I visualized the greeting card aisle with its many categories. A card for every kind of love.

Sweet cards for child from parent. Sentimental cards to send to grandparents. Romantic cards for new loves. Sexy cards for not-so-sure-we are-in-love-yet loves. Clever cards for the long married. Even valentines for your aunt, your teacher or your best pal.

There is another different kind of love for which no valentines exist. Some of us who are parents may know it as “Tough Love”.

When I first heard about the concept of “Tough Love”, it ran counter to all of my Mom instincts. Rare is the parent that doesn’t want to protect and provide for her child. For as long as you can. And if your child colors within the lines and follows all the rules that society sets, you won’t have to stop protecting your child and providing for him or her until it’s time to leave the nest. All grown up and ready to seek their own loves.

But what if you have a child who not only doesn’t color within the lines but doesn’t believe that those lines apply? And when it comes to rules, decides that flouting them is better than following them? Up to a certain point, independent behavior is to be applauded but when it evolves into the land of out-of-control, then you, the parent, start asking yourself – is the love you are giving the answer or part of the problem?

And that is about when someone told my husband and me about “Tough Love.”

The name sounds like an oxymoron. Love, in the most ideal sense of it, should come easily and feel good. And if and when love becomes too difficult, that is when relationships fall apart and lovers part ways.

But you can’t part ways with your child. While marriage may not be forever, parenthood is. So when positive parenting falls off a cliff, you might have to turn, as we did, to “Tough Love.”

To demonstrate love to your oppositional, willful, non-compliant – you pick the descriptor – young adult, the experts told us, you have to set boundaries. Be firm (but be empathetic.) Stay united and consistent as parents. (Good luck with that one.) Definitely stop solving (or trying to solve) their problems.

And the big one, the first commandment of  “Tough Love”? Let them make their own choices – and, incredibly hard to do, let them learn from those choices or suffer the consequences, no matter the emotional or physical cost.

We tried. It worked some, didn’t work, then did again. Looking back at that period of time, those watchful days and worried-out-of-our-minds nights,  I can’t believe we got through it.

For if “Tough Love” is hard to apply to your own child, it is even harder upon a marriage.

One person in a marriage is always more of the tender sort, the other more able to harden his or her heart as necessary. One person in a marriage says “let’s give in just this once”, while the other says “no, we can’t help with that, we have to be consistent.”  One person in a marriage says “the hell with consistency, this is our child we are talking about” and the other person says “I know, that is why have to set limits.”

So we argued often, pushed and pulled, our marriage had many rocky days and certainly as a couple we won no awards for “most consistent application of the principles of  “Tough Love.”

Yet very slowly and very incrementally, it got better. Our lives now aren’t perfect. Far from it. But this Valentine’s Day, how ironic is that for timing, I am now able to reflect that we are in a better place. We have reached some semblance of stability. Our marriage is strong, our child’s life is more settled, all our lives have calmed down.

Still we are on the rollercoaster of parenting a young adult child who has a fiercely independent spirit – but the rollercoaster is now the kiddie kind, with lesser hills and smaller valleys. And when the bumps come, as they do, and always will, we know how to ride them out.

That is our love. No longer as “tough” as it once was but firm, we have stuck to that. The empathy part, also a daily principle. It isn’t romantic or easy or exhilarating.

But we have gotten through this tunnel of  “Tough Love” and have come out the other end. Intact. Still in love with each other and still in love with our child. What better Valentine’s Day gift is there than that?





Filed under Adult Kids, Family, Marriage, Midlife, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids, Relationships, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

It May be Easy for You but It Isn’t for Me!

itssoeasyPlease allow me a short but important rant.

I hate it when people tell me that something is easy to do – when it may be easy for them, but isn’t for me.

I dislike having to ask my math-savvy husband for help with percentages. How to calculate a percentage was apparently taught in 4th grade arithmetic and I like to think I was out sick all that year, but I wasn’t.

JP, what is 18% of 2,000?”

And he responds, “That’s easy.

Aaaaargh, for you maybe, but not for me.

I also have difficulty with anything remotely mechanical. When I ask my 20-something son, “Remind me again, how do I send a video from my iPhone?”

He will sigh and say, “Mom, that’s so easy.”

Maybe for him but never for me.

In my law firm days I had a mental block when it came to drafting insurance provisions in radio station event agreements (that sounds boring even as I write it but things can go awry among the overly-creative.)

So I would walk down the hall to a colleague, “Mark, can you give me that model insurance language again?”

Inevitably he would reply, “Sure, but that’s so easy.”

If it was so easy, then why was I asking him?

Of course, there many things that do come easily to me. I’m well read and have a huge vocabulary.  I’m a champion google researcher and a natural at twitter. I’m known for my ability to find a typo on a menu within 20 seconds (“gilled” shrimp, anyone?). I type fast and think even more quickly. I am also very modest.

Perhaps I am more sensitive as I get older to having my ability gaps pointed out? Or do all of us, at any age, get a tad prickly when it comes to things we just can’t master?

I do try to be patient with others who have these same kinds of ability gaps.

Someone in my family (no names here) wasn’t sure if when you boil water for pasta, you should start with cold or hot water. Sigh. I didn’t say a word.

And while it is easy for me start up Roku, get to Netflix and find a movie to watch, someone else in my family continues to remain confounded by that process, no matter how many times it is explained.

There is also someone I see regularly (say every night when he comes home from work) who is still unclear as to how to make a comment on a Facebook post.

Remind me, where do I post the comment?” this person regularly asks me. This is someone who has a very high intellect, is proficient in several languages, and a whiz at car repairs but even he doesn’t find everything so easy.

So the next time you spot me struggling to use that stupid self-check out scanner at the CVS, feel free to offer to help.

But please don’t tell me – It’s so easy” - or I might write about you in my Blog. That’s so easy for me to do.

















Filed under Adult Kids, Blogging, Communications, Family, Law firm life, Reading, Relationships, Social Media, Women

9 Things To Do If You Want To Turn 92

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Better to have a birthday than not, says my Dad very matter-of-factly. Consider the alternative, he often tells me.  His 92nd birthday is this Sunday, February 1.  (and yes, it does fall on SuperBowl Sunday, perhaps not a coincidence.)

His pragmatic approach to life – serious when he needs to be, humorous when not, and some great luck in the health department – has gotten him to this milestone.

But exactly how has he managed to reach it?

I thought about this and wondered. For this is a man whose idea of exercise is to lift the remote ever so slightly to aim it at the TV. He eats salami, drinks beer and sees his doctor for lunch, rather than for a check-up.  As a lawyer who still goes to the office every day to the firm he founded in 1951, he strongly prefers to give  – rather than take advice.

Perhaps what keeps him going is his love for his family? – not that I have ever heard him actually say the word “love” aloud.

A tough guy, Mr. U.S. Marine Corps, WWII Vet, he shies away from emotion. But he shows it by his actions, always being there with wise counsel when my sister and I need it. Staying strong for us when our Mom died young. Taking joy in his four grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and one toddler great-grandson. And now taking tender care of his wife, my stepmother, as her dementia sadly advances.

If I knew precisely what got him to this point of great age and great wisdom, I would bottle it and win a Nobel prize. But since that is extremely unlikely to happen, I decided, in the spirit of Dr. Seuss, a childhood favorite, to make an educated guess, and offer the following:


9 Things To Do If You Want to Turn 92

It is not easy to turn 92

You have to know just what to do.

First, you stay married for a very long time

And Second, be frugal and save every nickel and dime.

The Third thing to try is to go to the office every day

And on the weekends to watch Eli athletes at play.

For the Fourth, you must get the Sunday New York Times

 To do the puzzle speedily, in ink, no matter what the rhymes.

And the Fifth thing to do to be at your best?

Take regular naps, enjoy getting your rest.

Sixth? Call your kids every Sunday at 10:30. sharp

But keep the calls brief, you don’t want to carp.


Now we are at number Seven, which could keep heaven at bay

Find time for the spiritual, perhaps even pray.

And the Eighth, what could that possibly be?

Provide counsel for many, without charging a fee.


But the Ninth thing, the one that we treasure the most?

It’s when you tell jokes, laugh loudly, even at your own roast.

For it is your humor, your sense of the absurd

That lets you stand out from the ordinary herd.

Repeat all of your stories, not one of them is new

And yet each time you tell them we get another view.

Of your fair-minded approach, your sense of what’s right

The battles to skip, and which ones to fight.


So there you have it, the Nine things to do

If you want to reach the wise old age of 92.

Take my advice if you want to become a sage like my Dad

And then what a glorious life, you will have had.


Filed under Aging, Aging Parents, Family, Lawyers, Moms, Relationships

Keeping Secrets that Shouldn’t Be



It was likely not intended to be an ironic gesture when my parents gave me a “Chatty Cathy” doll.  At age eight having to pull a string on a doll’s back to hear a saccharine voice say “I love you” and “please take me with you” grew old quickly.

While I didn’t particularly like little Cathy, I did identify with her chatty side.  Growing up, I became very familiar with the terms “talkative”, “gabby” and less kindly said, “blabbermouth”.

As someone who over-shared long before that term was invented, I wasn’t very good at keeping secrets either. I did not share them purposefully, nor because I liked to gossip, but because of my tendency towards candor. For ill or for good.

I had learned to hold my tongue by the time I became a lawyer. Client confidentiality was Law School 101. And 102, 103, 104, et al.

(A reassuring note here to my former law firm clients: my lips were always zipped and remain so.)

And it wasn’t only clients who shared their secrets with me.  Across from my desk there was a chair I had silently labeled the pregnancy chair. Female associates would take turns coming into my office, closing the door, sitting down in that chair and saying –

Nancy, I need you to keep this confidential.”

Probably they told me their mom-to-be news because I tend to give off those maternal vibes that invite younger women to confide in me. I kept their happy secrets, even though the rest of the firm had already guessed by seeing their sudden interest in baggy blouses.

I am also the frequent recipient of other kinds of secrets. Secrets that I also keep, all the while thinking they should not be so. Those secrets that arise out of feelings of social stigma.

Such as:

Please don’t tell anyone, I’m just not ready to share, the rest of our family doesn’t know that Sam has been diagnosed with bipolar.”


You can’t let any of our friends know that Rachel had to leave college because of her depression.”


My niece Emily has an eating disorder. My brother’s in denial. We don’t know what to do. Please don’t say anything.”

I get it, I do. Strangers, acquaintances, friends feel safe confiding in me the news that mental illness has reached their family because I’m an involuntary expert, an advocate for awareness of and an advisor on young adult mental health.

But it makes me angry, I admit, when people imply or outright tell me that mental illness should be kept a secret. That it is something that you don’t want to tell anyone for fear others will judge you, or wouldn’t understand or think less of you or of a member of your family.

I recently went to a funeral of a young woman who had mental illness. She did not take her own life but she did die as a result of her illness. It was, as we learned in law school, the “proximate cause” of her death.

Many friends and family shared their memories of her caring nature, her warmth, her intelligence. One or two of those who spoke made vague references to her “struggles”, to the “challenges” she had faced in the past few years.

But not one of those who offered tributes mentioned the words “mental illness”. Not one.

Yet all of the people who got up to speak were also intelligent. People with the best of academic pedigrees who well knew the meaning of the words “mental illness”.

What were they afraid of? If she had died of cancer or diabetes, surely the cause of her death would not have been hidden.  Do we fear talking about mental illness because people with cancer or diabetes don’t act oddly or worry to excess or often have to leave college before they graduate?

Of course, it was the choice of this young woman’s family to characterize her life – and her death –  in whatever manner they wished. Who am I to judge, I said to my husband when we talked after the service ended about what was said – and what was not said.

And I don’t judge, I never would. I know how extraordinarily hard her family tried to help her.

I am still left with this feeling of sadness, not only at her tragic and premature loss but that I know why she died as did probably every other person at her funeral.

Everyone kept it a secret. That secret that no one wants to talk about. The secret that too often keeps teens and young adults from seeking help, that stops families from reaching out, that limits the research that needs to be done, that prevents each of us from supporting each other when we most need it.

Far better, I think, if we all became Chatty Cathies as to mental illness.  If we can talk about it, the shame lessens, the stigma dissolves and young women and men might not have to die.




Filed under Adult Kids, College, Family, Lawyers, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Moms, Parenting, Women, Young Adult Mental Health

From Kale Life to Real Life (and why I prefer the latter)


I wake up in the morning to a stream of sunshine coming through my bedroom window.  As I stir in bed, our freshly bathed dog snuggles in closer. I turn on the radio to listen to the news on my favorite show – NPR’s “All Good News, All The Time.”

Relaxing against the pillows, I smile when I hear that ISIS has fled to the planet Mars, that Syria is now a paragon of democracy in the Middle East and that the President, the House of Representatives and the Senate are best buddies.

I rise from bed, shrugging on my cashmere robe, take a quick trip to our recently remodeled master bathroom with its steam shower and head downstairs. A mug of freshly brewed coffee, made from the finest just-ground beans, is waiting for me, along with a bowl of  home-made granola, fresh berries and fruit.

As I sip my organic orange juice, I contemplate the day ahead. Soon my personal trainer will arrive and lead me through Pilates exercises in my fully equipped exercise studio. Then I will shower, change into my size six pants and top, and head out to my spacious back deck, laptop in hand, where I will spend the rest of the sunny morning writing my blog and drafting the free-lance articles from which I earn a substantial income.  After a productive morning of writing, I will…

Oh, wait, that was my fantasy life, not my real life. Can we try this again from the top?

Waking up, cloudy day, inhale the aroma of our odiferous terrier who is barking loudly at the sound of the departing school bus outside.  Listen to the  “All Bad News, All The Time” radio show.  Could never afford much less keep clean a cashmere robe. Master bathroom does not have a steam shower. No fresh granola either and if I have berries, they are often well past their sell-by date.

(the fresh coffee part is true, however, courtesy of my husband. thanks, JP.)

After breakfast I think  – very briefly – about exercising.  Maybe I should take a walk? My excellent internist (who weighs maybe 120 lbs and wears sleeveless tops to show off her Michelle Obama-Toned-Upper-Arms) has recently urged me to do something more “cardio” than my usual Pilates class once or twice a week.

But the old exercise bicycle in our basement is rusty from disuse. My sneakers are upstairs, I am just too comfortable in my sweat pants and old beach hoodie to change into walking clothes –  and besides, doesn’t it look like it will rain soon? Better not risk going outside. I’d rather sit and write. So I do.

If you spend much time on social or any other media these days, you are hereby forgiven for thinking that your own lifestyle does not measure up.

The latest trends, the blogs I follow, the tweets I see are all shouting the same messages:

  • Get up Early!
  • Eat Healthy!
  • Exercise Often!
  • Sit Less!
  • Live in the Moment!

But my idea of living in the moment is to put 24/7 CNN on mute – which I don’t think is what the mindfulness gurus intended. (and if you’ve been paying attention to the world news as much as I have lately, why would we want to be living in the moment when that moment is just terribly awful?)

Also I hate kale, too chewy, too fibrous, though I love greek salads; does feta cheese qualify as “eating healthy”?

That recent admonition that we should limit our sitting time? –  well, that comes a little late. I sat at my law firm desk holding a phone to my ear on one endless conference call for thirty plus years. Now that I am writing, here I am right back in front of a computer. Sitting.

I’ve never been a fan of mandated exercise either. In college, where we had to take P.E. for two years, I did poorly at badminton (those balls are so tiny, who could see them?) and nearly failed dodge ball.

While I am still contemplating getting out of bed, some of the people I follow on social media have already written 800 words of powerful prose or are returning home from their early morning spinning class.

But while I admire those with such self-discipline, I have and will always resist being told what I should or shouldn’t be doing.

In my kindergarten report card (kept with others in the lower bottom drawer of my Mom’s bedside table), my teacher commented that while I always followed directions, I always questioned them too. That hasn’t changed.

So while I know I should be getting up earlier, eating healthier, exercising more, sitting less – and yes, living in the moment, even if the moment is dreadful, I have to find my own motivation to do these things.

Be assured that I will continue reading all of the “you should be doing this” articles, blogs and tweets – perhaps for the same reason I enjoy looking in the lit-up windows of homes at night as I drive by them, imagining what the lives are like of the people who live there.

And while my fantasy life does sound great (if my newly remodeled bathroom comes attached to a contemporary, shingled-house with decks overlooking the ocean, even better.), right now – in the moment! see?  – I am completely comfortable with my kale-free, often-seated and 100% imperfect real one.


Filed under Blogging, Communications, Social Media, Women, Working from Home, Writing