I Am a Best-Selling Author

May 1, 2019 by

If you have toddlers, I recommend this anthology. My Kansas niece has an essay in it, and while I haven’t read it yet, I have read her other writing, and she is extremely funny. So enjoy!

Renee Robbins. Writes.

I am too!

The first anthology in which I have the privilege of being included dropped on the 26th, and already it is first on Amazon in books about potty training. I’m secretly hoping it hits #1 for “Books About Unconventional Uses for Air Freshener” but it could be a minute on that.


It’s not actually about potty training. Apparently there are some references in there.  There are several potty references in my essay, “For Whom the Smell Tolls” alone. I feel like I made a significant contribution to the book’s best seller status.

Here is the link.

If you read it, please leave a review. Please leave a nice review. Please leave a nice review that mentions my essay as one of your faves (too much?).

This is an extra post. You will still get one for May. Calm down.

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Obsessions with Death?

December 10, 2011 by

Women are supposed to live longer than men, but in my family, it doesn’t usually work that way. Both my grandmothers died before their husbands. My maternal aunt died before her (ex)husband. My mother’s died before my father. Two of my mother’s cousins (that I know of) died before their husbands. And my sister’s died before either of her two (ex)husbands. It is true that my other two aunts outlived their husbands; one outlived two husbands! But is that the exception that proves the rule?

Is this the normal thinking about death after one’s sister, say, has died? I hope so. I hope it will go away, soon.

Father in dementia

September 18, 2011 by

My father started losing his mind last fall, but no one noticed. It didn’t begin to be apparent until late spring, after he had a pacemaker put in to monitor his newly diagnosed atrial fibrillation — medication wasn’t doing the trick. His doctor thought his short-term memory loss was perhaps due to the medication following insertion of the pacemaker; I thought it was the surgery itself, since I’d heard of the elderly father of a colleague who’s also suffered some dementia after insertion of a pacemaker. But after a visit to my father in the summer to start the process of taking over his finances, and going over the mail that had piled up on his desk and examining his checkbook, it became clear to me that the loss of his “executive function” began last fall — when he’d stopped balancing his checkbook. The piles of mail on his desk included many bills, some opened, some left unopened. He clearly couldn’t deal with it any more, but he wasn’t yet ready to ask for help.

(to be continued)

Hard-boiled Eggs

May 28, 2011 by

Remember those egg-shaped holders that used to be on refrigerator doors? My mother would hard-boil eggs and keep them on the door next to the uncooked ones — and she would mark the hard-boiled ones with a penciled X so we would know which were which. Long ago I used to do the same. Then came the years when I basically stopped buying eggs — fears of cholesterol, salmonella? My husband would occasionally buy some for breakfast, but I just stopped thinking about eggs.

A week ago I made a frittata for two. Naturally, there were a lot of eggs left over. This morning I hard-boiled six of them, ran them under cold water, penciled the X on each one, and put them back into the egg container. Then I wanted to call my  mother and tell her what I had just done. And since I can’t, I’m telling you.


February 6, 2011 by

Yesterday, I attended a yahrzeit ceremony for my mother. Technically, yahrzeit refers to any yearly anniversary of a family member’s death, and there’s a specific term for the one-year anniversary (the end of the formal mourning period), but we’re not religious, some of us are atheists and others not even Jewish, so terminology doesn’t really matter. And technically, what out family did could hardly be called ceremonial, but more about that later. Just as in much of life now, we engaged Internet technology to bring together family members from Boston, Connecticut, Virginia, North Carolina, and California — although relying on Skype’s premium conferencing to function on a mix of PCs and Macs using either cable or broadband resulted in a very choppy experience. It took almost half an hour to get everyone online, and we were never able to see everyone’s face or hear everyone for any lengthy period. However, my sister recorded the gathering, and let’s hope she’s able to export the audio in a usable format.

I went through my journals for the couple of months after my mother’s death, collecting thoughts I hadn’t yet posted here (not wanting to repeat myself for anyone who’s actually read this blog) and found a few nuggets, for instance:

1. “The sadness of depression feels different from the sadness of grief. Depression sadness is heavy, dark; it pulls you down to the bottom of the well so you barely see the light of the sky above. Grief sadness is lighter, more diffuse; it bubbles up to try to fill the gap in your life left by the loss, which it can never do.”

2. Three weeks after her death, I felt like I had turned a corner, “which I both wanted and didn’t want to turn. I wanted to look forward, but looking forward meant doing it without my mother. I want to look forward, but I don’t want to lose her. What I want is, partly, to substitute people to whom I can send things. I want living people at the other end of those relationships, not the memory of a person who’s gone…. I remember a line from the movie ‘I Never Sang for My Father’: ‘Death ends a life but not a relationship, which goe on searching for a resolution, which it will never find.'”

3. A few weeks later, I’m feeling tremendous loss, but “I don’t know what I’ve lost. My mother wasn’t the cuddly sort. She didn’t hug, she wasn’t touchy-feely. It’s not like I’m aware of wanting her to be like that, but on some level I want her to comfort me for losing her. I’m angry at her for exposing me to her mortality, and mine.

I’d also brought my knitting; in case I didn’t feel like saying anything, I could channel my mother and knit throughout. But that didn’t happen. Almost everyone had something to say in the ceremony part, but we also had a lot of fun watching my grandnephew, A., playing with some new software that could focus on a face and apply weird hair, strange hats, even new faces (a cat, an alien, a fun house mirror reflection) or big glasses. The most exciting outcome was that my nephew in California wanted to continue family reunions like this more regularly, like twice a month. He’s going to research other Internet conferencing software, free or inexpensive, and we’ll all try to met like that again.


February 4, 2011 by

Whenever I see an Access-a-Ride van, I think of my mother. Even before she had moved up to the assisted living place, I had looked up the requirements for this form of transportation for the elderly and disabled, at standard Metrocard rates. The staff at the assisted living place said they could help with the application, and my mother would have to get to the closest office for a physical assessment. Once she had moved up here, I could see that would be a formidable hurdle, but it was still on the to-do list before her heart attack.

Meanwhile, I had fantasies about how we would use Access-a-Ride: to go to a movie, to a museum, even just to come visit us. On the down side, Access-a-Ride wasn’t nearly as reliable as a bus or subway, or even a taxi or hired car: you had to reserve it 24 hours in advance, it wasn’t considered late until half an hour after the requested time, and you had to wait at least an hour before you were entitled to call a cab and charge the fare to Access-a-Ride. Planning to go to a 2 p.m. movie and return by 6 could become an all-day affair. In the end, we never had to deal with those problems, we never had a chance to feel the inevitable frustration. Yet seeing the Access-a-Ride vans now, I still miss those excursions and missed meetings and hassles we never had.


January 28, 2011 by

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. I’ve been rather overwhelmed at work by a new production system coming in, with training off and on all week, and it wasn’t until I wrote the date on the page of notes I was taking yesterday that I realized, with a pang, what day it was. “I’ll think about this later,” I thought — llike Scarlet O’Hara.

J.D. Salinger and Howard Zinn died the same day my mother did. She loved literature (I wanted to ask her if she’d ever read Salinger, but too late) and she was a red-diaper baby (had she read Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”?). I couldn’t help imagining the three of them on the train to that afterlife I don’t believe in, my mother sitting between Salinger and Zinn, each of them talking to her, one about writing and the literary life and his hermitlike existence, which she might have appreciated, the other talking politics, which she would have agreed with. I imagine her turning her head from one to the other, nodding occasionally, maybe asking a question, maybe interjecting a small comment, but I don’t think either of the men would have let her get a word in edgewise even if she’d tried. And I imagine her feeling escorted by just the right men into the next stage, which she didn’t believe in either.

(Note: the spellcheck on WordPress accepts “Salinger” without comment but underlines “Zinn” as questionable. But then it also underlines “spellcheck” and “WordPress.” No political subtext there, I guess.)

If Only…

January 26, 2011 by

I work at a publication that receives many books. In the book room today I saw a volume with this title: “Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese.” When I was growing up, we kept goats. My mother milked them and made cheese; we sold the goat’s kids to the local Greek community at Easter and kept some of the meat, drank the milk, ate the cheese. (The milk was okay, as milk goes, and because it is lower in fat than cow’s, cow’s milk tasted so rich whenever I drank it at a friend’s or at school.) I so yearn to tell my mother about this book, maybe ask her about recipes or any other trivia in the book. But this is the only way to do it, writing here, into the ether…

Catching Up…

January 22, 2011 by

This is the anniversary of the last week of my mother’s life. In my head I’ve been recapitulating all the details I can remember or that I wrote in my journal: her heart attack on January 11, my visits to the hospital and inability to find a doctor to talk to, a doctor finally telling me on January 15 that he was releasing her to hospice care, the movers  (ah, yes, the movers again) finally arriving and my sister and I frantically unpacking and setting up my mother’s one-room apartment for her return in the evening of January 19. But for what purpose? Thinking about the movers just makes me angry, at them and myself, and regretful, which is no help,  no comfort.

Although when my mother did finally return to her apartment on January 19, she lay down on her bed, looked around, approved of what she saw. “I didn’t expect it to be so nice,” she said, and the shelves of her bookcase, with books and tchotchkes, were so neat. I felt really pleased, that all the angst had been worth it, just for that one moment.

While she was in the hospital, my mother told me she was visited by a Dr. G., who I later learned was a gerontologist, who wanted my mother to be in a study. When I spoke to Dr. G., she said my mother was the first person she’d met who knew what she wanted (about the end of life, about death) and was ready for it. My mother must have told her that we’re atheists, because when Dr. G. followed the previous comment with “God bless her,” she immediately apologized for mentioning god and said she didn’t mean it in a theological sense. Dr. G. told my mother she would be her doctor and would come to see her once she was back home, but she never did–and when my mother was back in the hospital the following week, she never came back despite my repeated calls to her office. When I asked my mother if Dr. G. had visited during her second hospital stay, she said, “No. And she’d better hurry up”–sounding annoyed and also as if she could feel the end nipping at her heels. She had been looking forward to being in Dr. G.’s study, even if she was the only one. (And perhaps because she would be the only one?)

I did speak to one of Dr. G.’s associates, who mentioned that my mother should have been taken to the gerontology ward instead of the cardiac ward–was there some sort of turf dispute? And all my efforts to contact her, to find out what had happened–why hadn’t she seen my mother again? what exactly caused my mother’s death? was there an infection that exacerbated all of her existing health problems? or was it just the combination of all those health problems?–were met with nothing. Yet another loose end, to fiddle at, to turn my grief into frustration and anger. And for what purpose? Keeping alive my most recent connection to my mother? And perhaps I, too, was looking forward to Dr. G.’s study of people who know they are dying, who know what they want and who are all right with it.

A Year Ago Today…

January 19, 2011 by

It was Martin Luther King’s birthday, and my mother was still in the hospital, because of the holiday, after her heart attack the week before. It had taken several days before I was able to talk to her doctor at the hospital, even though I had left all my phone number, but he said he only had my cellphone number, which had no voicemail or unknown phone calls coming in. Very poor communication. The doctor told me  he was releasing my mother into hospice care and that he had talked to her about that already. When I asked her if she remembered the doctor mentioning hospice care (which she hadn’t told me about), she said, her voice strong, “Yes, I do, and I’m all right with that.”

Fro the next three days, I was on the phone with anyone I could talk to, recommended by the hospital social worker or people at my mother’s residence, about care for my mother when she got out of the hospital. There were so many different people in so many different positions with so many different jobs, connected in ways not well explained, but I was trying hard to figure it out. The weekend social worker at the hospital was very helpful, far more than the weekday one, who had left the following note in my mother’s room for us on January 15:

“No rehab beds are available at either Jewish home. Nothing will happen over the weekend. Therefore, by Tuesday I’d like a decision whether you want to go forward with placement, or can mobilize the resources for home care.”

What did “rehab beds” mean? “Placement,” I think, meant nursing home, but she never told us that “nursing home” meant “rehab,” or that “nursing home” might well be temporary. Instead, I thought “nursing home” was an alternative to her own apartment, and I was not at all ready to send my mother to a nursing home if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

On this day a year ago, here’s how I felt, according to my journal: “I’m recognizing that stomach-sinking feeling as the same sense of dread I had after [my daughter’s] accident. I’ll be doing something normal, like washing the dishes, and that sense of dread, that something awful has happened, or will happen, will sweep over me.”