Farewell to the Mom-Mobile

After 13 years of driving my practical van, there’s a new vehicle in my life. It’s a sleek sedan with a racy profile and metallic gray paint. A protrusion on the back of the roof looks like a small shark fin. The Michelin tires flash more chrome than rubber. Its technology system, which has a two-inch-thick manual that is too daunting to read, is so sophisticated that the car can practically drive itself. Its rear seats are heated. Despite a few nods to practicality – including a very roomy trunk — it is a sexy car.

Bob and I kept the 1999 Toyota van that once served as the “mom-mobile,” for trips to Lowe’s and in case one of our grown children needs it to move to a new apartment. But the old black warhorse, with numerous scratches and 186,000 miles under its belt, no longer has the pampered spot in our garage. The sexy car is parked in that spot now, and the unglamorous van is parked outside the house, next to the garage window, peering in like a jilted accountant spying forlornly on his ex and her personal trainer.

I don’t drive the van much any more – just enough to keep its battery turning over – but every so often I look through its windows, or sit in it and breathe in the old-car scent and the memories. When we brought home the van I was 44, newly remarried and newly relocated, with a blending family and a bonus baby. We brought John, now 13, to the apple orchard in the van when he was just a year old, running around the orchard with a half-eaten apple in each hand. The van brought our son Ben on his paper route during icy afternoons. Its front seat served as a psychologist’s couch during the years before the kids could drive themselves, when they’d (very) occasionally share their worries and ask our advice.

That car survived a rear-ender on a cold January night, when I had picked up my daughter Rachel and her friend from basketball practice and I foolishly changed lanes without signaling. Its rubber bumper still shows the bash from a parking lot hit-and-run in State College, PA. Our grown sons took the van to the Outer Banks six years ago, stopping at numerous souvenir shops selling hams and Confederate flags along the way, while we drove ahead in the sedan. Beach sand from Cape Cod to North Carolina still dwells deep in its battered car mats. Crumbs from a cookie baked in 2005; sliding doors sticky from spilled Juicy-Juice; stains on the gray velour seats from a preteen with motion sickness…they are all still there; badges of valor on a vehicle that did its job, year in and year out.

When I drive the van now my hand goes to the wrong place when I shift from park to reverse to drive. I feel a twinge of impatience when the van doesn’t accelerate as fast as I expect. The new car is fast becoming the regular car.

Old cars always make me feel wistful and a little melancholy. Every unloved car in the junkyard once made someone’s heart quicken. After a year or two new cars stop exciting us, and after a decade they become a problem, until we need to do the math to decide whether the cost of maintaining them is worth it.

But for now, the old van is our retired hero…no longer in active duty, but still venerated and appreciated. Its 186,000 miles are a symbol of how far we’ve come.

The Mom-Mobile's replacement.

The good cook’s curse

I admit first of all that I come from a family of culinary Olympians. My earliest memories entered my temporal lobes via the nose: my mom’s fragrant Sunday gravy cooking over the stove for hours; the fragrance of garlic sautéing in olive oil on meatless Fridays; the anise-scented biscotti that my Aunt Rita made, Aunt Chickie’s stuffed cabbages; Aunt Anna’s ricotta cheesecakes; Aunt Theresa’s pizza. All were crafted from scratch, sometimes requiring a day of effort, often with the help of a cheerful coterie of aproned aunts.

Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmom’s house was like an Olympic opening ceremony, with wave after wave of outstanding specimens. The salad, pasta with meatballs, the turkey itself with all the trimmings, the desserts that my aunts brought in. Even the simplest food was prepared with great brio and great love, and served in lavish amounts, one gold medal winner after another.

Bad cooking — involving something that came out of dented Ragu cans, an envelope of Spatini or a box with that awful Kraft logo — was something that non-Italians did. We Italians did things the right way, the way we learned from our mothers, with no shortcuts. Any event where the food was stingy or halfhearted was a flop, something to be whispered about afterwards. We avoided most dinners at Protestant churches for this reason.

As I grew older, and learned the basics of mixing meatballs and cooking pizzelli from my mom, I learned that cooking well is not only a way to show love; it also attracts admiration and attention, and puts people in your debt: neighbors, coworkers, boyfriends. This sounds very screwed up but it’s the truth. Anyone who is the least bit insecure can relate.

Yet, while I crave the attention that comes from the results, cooking for me has always been a solitary sport. While the meal is the performance, the actual process of cooking is both grueling and all-consuming, like practicing for hours at the barre before a ballet. I can be in the kitchen for most of the day and lose total track of the time. It is a way for me to lose myself, to tune out the world by disappearing into something all-consuming. That’s why I never answer yes when an anxious guest asks if I need any help, even though we’d probably all enjoy one another more if the meal were a group effort.

So even during my busiest times as a working woman, I always considered skillful cooking as a duty and a pleasure that could not be sacrificed. For my daughter Rachel’s third birthday, when I was heavily pregnant with son Ryan, we spent the day in Philadelphia visiting the old Please Touch Museum, but I still found time to make her a homemade cake in the shape of a train, replete with Oreo wheels, pretzel logs for the flatcar’s cargo, and a boxcar filled with M & Ms. When I coordinated one office Christmas party, I had it catered but still cooked for eight hours. When anybody visits us, whether it’s family or strangers, I feel like it’s a command performance in the kitchen. The command doesn’t come from my family and friends – who probably wish I would just relax — but internally.

But lately I have found myself envying people who’ve let it all go; who can spend the morning before a dinner party cross-country skiing, hiking with their families or reading a good book, or can just transfer some salad from a bag to a bowl and hand their spouse the hamburgers to barbecue for guests. Who can share the same kitchen with a box that has “Kraft” on it. Or who can – as one acquaintance, a well-heeled mother of eight – tell a hungry child at dinner to “just microwave a baked potato.”

Good cooking can be both pleasure and compulsion. It’s a hobby that borders on extreme sport. It’s so absorbing that I not only forget myself, but I also tune out everybody else.

A beautifully cooked meal from scratch is a gift, but nowadays it’s an impractical one. Many times Bob has suggested that we “just have a salad” for dinner but I never act on it. My in-laws, when they visit, beg me “not to fuss too much” but I can’t.

Lately, as I move through middle age and with only Bob and John and I left at home, I am trying to be more relaxed in the kitchen. I’ve given myself permission to top Price Chopper pasta with a jar of Barilla vodka sauce (with some fresh basil sprinkled over it all.) We’ve been making Kraft macaroni and cheese more often; Stouffers if people under 13 from outside the family are dining with us. We’ve discovered the wonders of frozen corn dogs and meals from a Trader Joe’s sack tossed into a hot skillet. Sometimes we even have sandwiches for dinner.

Somewhere in heaven my grandmother is thinking about staging an intervention.

So they’re moving out — should they take their furniture?

My friend Jane shared a funny story, one that I am sure will resonate with any middle-aged parents whose children have left the nest. She allowed me to share it with my readers in the hopes of stirring some discussion – and frankly, she and I would both like to hear some opinions from other parents of grown kids!

Her son Patrick, after a few years living at home post-college, was moving to Cambridge. Jane came home a few weeks ago to find Patrick and friends moving a bookcase from his bedroom into a waiting vehicle.

“Why are you taking that?” Jane asked.

“Well, it’s mine isn’t it?,” Patrick answered, very innocently.

“We did buy it for you, but it belongs to the house,” said Jane. Patrick answered that Jane and her husband Rich also bought him a laptop, and that the bookcase was in the same category.

Now Patrick is not a disrespectful kid whose had everything handed to him. He has studied hard and worked hard, graduated at the top of his class at a very competitive college, and has made his parents very proud. Still, you have to wonder how much of his bedroom is his by law and how much belongs to the house.

“You’re not taking any of the silverware with you, are you?” asked Jane, with mock suspicion. She let him take the bookcase.

Jane shared her story with a number of our friends, and all had different reactions. Some felt she was right; others felt that kids should be able to take their furniture with them when they move.

Our grown kids have taken plenty of old furniture, but only stuff that had been updated with something else. Since we are a blended family, we occasionally face ethical questions in this area. For example, my kids’ grandparents left them some fine old end tables, which are beautiful but very traditional. Neither of my kids wanted them but Bob’s kids were thrilled to have them. So we figured that my kids’ grandparents, who were good souls, wouldn’t have minded.

Our biggest problem is just the opposite from Jane’s: we wish our fledglings would take more from the nest. Our basement is filled with old posters with brass frames and cracked glass; class pictures from the early 1990s; flea-ridden Beanie Babies; a frame for a trundle bed that hasn’t been slept upon since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were popular. And lots of pole lamps, which Bob seems to collect. But I digress.

Patrick and his girlfriend Olivia hosted Jane and Rich at their apartment a few weeks ago. Patrick was regaling his folks with a story about each piece of furniture and where he found it. The bookcase, he said slyly, was a Craigslist find.

Would love to know where other parents stand. What should kids be allowed to take with them when they leave?  And in the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that our son John has two bureaus in his bedroom that had been mine when I was five years old!  The scary thing is that I still remember when the furniture guys brought them into the old bedroom that I shared with my sister!

Tulle time: building a wedding dress, and a bond

Erin Lucien is among the most fearless men I have ever met. He hasn’t climbed steep mountain faces, taken up cliff diving or vacationed in the Amazon.
Instead, the Redwood City, CA-based home remodeler fulfilled a promise he made to his daughter more than 20 years ago: to make her wedding dress.

The daughter, Danielle, marched down the aisle a month ago today, and my story about it was published yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s a link.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/10/09/LVMK1L3VRO.DTL

Erin Lucien is 56, and has never shied away from getting out of his comfort zone. But this one project was a giant leap for a man who had never sewn before. His daughter, a former tomboy who fished by his side when she was small, says it has strengthened their already-strong bond.

All of us in middle age can point to many times that we sacrificed for our children. We sacrificed our time, our money, our sleep, our careers when they were small. As they grow older and develop lives of their own, we can take pride in what we did for them and what they have done for themselves.

While the need for sacrifice hopefully goes away once they’re grown, so do the opportunities to strengthen the bond. We walk a line between treating them like the adults they are and wanting to delight them like we once did with homemade Halloween costumes, fanciful birthday cakes or custom-built dollhouses. To delight a grown young man or woman sometimes requires that we do some growing on our own. It means being willing to try something unfamiliar and challenging because it will give us one more cable to pull our grown kids closer.

The wedding dress took courage on Erin’s part and trust on Danielle’s part. Erin, who has rebuilt kitchens and bathrooms and invented a few whimsical household items, had to learn how to handle $100-a-yard silk. He read “Sewing for Dummies,” watched YouTube videos and visited local fabric stores to ask a lot of questions. He labored over the muslin prototype, fussed with three layers of skirt and fretted over the engineering of the straps. He wasn’t afraid to throw out things that didn’t work. The process took several months.

A number of people wondered whether Danielle was making a mistake. While she had another dress bookmarked in case something really went wrong,Danielle said she knew in her heart that her dad would come through. When she walked down the aisle last month, both she and Erin knew that they did the right thing.

Hours later, during the post-reception cleanup, one custodian complimented the bride’s dress, and Erin told him that he had made it himself. The man wordlessly and reverently extended his hand.

What Erin did for his daughter can inspire similar awe in any adult who has watched their grown children grow more independent, feeling both pride and regret. But it shows that the opportunities for truly delighting our children don’t go away as they age, if we are just willing to be fearless.

Which poor people deserve our help?

Conservatives like to accuse the media of being too liberal. Maybe it’s because we spend so much time covering the downtrodden that we get angry about the economic and social circumstances that put them there.

I admit to having some liberal bias. I believe that a certain level of health care should be guaranteed for everybody; that nobody should go hungry in a land with so much food; that no one should have to sleep on the street. I think that those of us who’ve been fortunate should help out those who have been dealt a bad hand. I think that the rich can pay a little more in taxes and still live far better than the other 99 percent.

But sometimes you meet people who test those convictions. “Hank” is one of them.

I met Hank more than a year ago when I was editing a weekly newspaper. He came into the office to ask if somebody could write a story about his family’s dire straits. A friend was planning a fundraiser for his family, and he was hoping that we would publicize it. Hank was panicking because he was unemployed and about to lose his subsidized housing and was worried that he, his wife, and his severely disabled daughter Lori would be put out on the street. He was hoping somebody would read about him and offer him help.

He was unkempt and reeked of cigarette smoke and clothes that had been worn too long. A gray stubble peppered his jaw, and his bloodshot eyes teared up as he spoke about Lori, hobbled since birth with a deformed leg, in her 20s and robbed of a normal life. He said that health problems limited how much he could work.

I gently asked him about where he had gone for help, and he mentioned his daughter’s doctors, the town’s social service agency, and local officials. But he said he came up dry every time.

Slowly he started to tell his life story, and as he did the tears stopped. He spoke of alcohol problems and failed marriages. His first wife left him when she was pregnant, after finding out that her own sister was also pregnant with his child. He had a sly twinkle in his eyes when he told that story. Then, when he told me he had a $25,000 credit card bill because he brought his daughter “a few nice dresses,” the last of my sympathy ebbed away.

I mumbled to Hank that I would see what I could do, then struggled with what to do next. Does he deserve a story that was a play for sympathy? Was he a downtrodden man to whom life had dealt an unfair hand and who deserved a helping hand from government and charitable neighbors? Or was he somebody who had lived irresponsibly for too long and now wanted the community and the system to bail him out?

I would guess that most of the people who are struggling today fall into the first category. But if we strengthen the safety net for them – as I still think we should – we have to figure that a few Hanks will land in it, too. And so will people like “Iris,” a home health care worker who takes care of an acquaintance’s 90-year-old mother. Iris trades her food stamps to a family member for cash so she can buy cigarettes and booze, stuff you can’t buy with food stamps.

Our views of the disadvantaged tend to have one of two faces. The sympathetic see the Joad family. The unsympathetic see Precious’s momma. Between these extremes are millions of the unemployed, underemployed, elderly and sick who are finding it harder and harder to get by.

Hank and Iris are the poster children for those who want to cut away at the safety net, who feel that the poor got that way because they are irresponsible, made bad choices and didn’t work hard enough. Many might question whether their hard-earned money should pay for government-subsidized housing, food stamps and other programs that Hank and Iris depend on. The unsympathetic characters like Hank, and the people who know how to scam the system like Iris, ruin it for the millions of struggling families who truly deserve some relief, and a helping hand.

But does that mean we let everybody fend for themselves, as some would suggest?
If we don’t strengthen the safety net, what happens to people like Hank’s disabled daughter?

Why yoga stresses me out

Until about five years ago I hadn’t thought about yoga for about 30 years, and it was a quaint and dusty memory from my high school and early college years. But about seven years ago it became hot again, especially after women saw what it did for Madonna.

So I tried it again last year, seeking to recapture the zen-like state and serene accomplishment I felt in high school – when I was leaner and more flexible – and conquered the “plow” and “headstand” positions in gym class with Mrs. Rush.

It was not as I remembered.

The studio, above a busy pizza parlor, was packed elbow to sharp elbow with stressed women determined to de-stress themselves whatever the cost. Clad in their Lululemon yoga pants, they unrolled expensive mats and stretched, with the same serious expressions as elite marathon runners before the big race. This yoga was a big deal.

My friend Jane and I had decided to take a “special” of five introductory classes to see if yoga was right for us. When my friend tried to unroll her own mat – a cheap and worn one rented for $1 from the studio – a woman clad in chic yoga gear gently but pointedly interrupted her.

“This is my spot,” she said.

The class was led by a petite blonde, who dimmed the lights and pressed a button on the big gray boom box, releasing a soft trickle of new-agey music. She delivered her instructions in a sweet and low voice, coaxing us into sun salutes, “child” poses, leg lifts, and positions that required extending our arms and balancing on one leg, like upended toy airplanes.

This would have been OK if the studio had not been crowded with at least 18 or 20 people. But we were unable to move our limbs into these contortions without nervously checking the GPS of our neighbors’ legs and arms.

Another challenge was the construction of a new building behind the strip shopping center. Our journey towards nirvana was constantly thwarted by the clanking of structural steel and the staccato pounding of the jackhammer.

But through it all, our leader’s soothing voice continued telling us to relax, to let all our cares go. “I wish she’d hurry up,” I thought. I furtively looked around for a clock and wondered when I could go home and have a glass of wine.

Jane called me the following week. “I can’t go to yoga because I have a meeting,” she said.

A Zen-like relief flooded into my whole being.

“Me neither,” I said. I poured another glass of wine and felt incredibly centered and relaxed.

Any mental hoarders out there?

Does anyone else out there hoard thoughts, memories, obscure facts, jingles, ephemera, trivia, minutia, etc., like others hoard newspapers, dried-out pens and last month’s half-eaten pizza?

Anyone else ever feel as if your brain is an attic with too much clutter from facts, trivia, song passages, memories that are no longer needed? Does it leave no room to store important things, such as your nephew’s anniversary, an appointment, the location of an overdue bill, the fact that your mom had a tooth pulled two days ago and might need a phone call?

Why can’t we call in the experts?

Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a business like “Got Junk?” to de-clutter your brain, and cart away all the unnecessary stuff? As I go through my brain I’ve already found a few things I’d get ready for the truck. Here is just a very small sampling:

Entire dialogs from certain Sponge Bob episodes
The disco music that accompanied the “Corn Silk” makeup TV commercial in the 60s (It sounded something like the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.”
The names of every one of my grade school teachers: Sister Maria Stella Maris, Miss Welding, Miss Kallam, Sister Mary Boniface, Sister Paul Mary, Sister Dennis Mary…and their disrespectful nicknames: Melon Head, Pruny, etc.
Lyrics from one-hit wonders of the 1970s
“Chumbawumba”
Carter’s Spankypants
The introductory guitar riffs from obscure songs on the B-sides of long-forgotten albums
Songs that “Miss Worm” sang on Captain Kangaroo
“Tantum Ergo” and other Catholic hymns in Latin, unsung since the third grade.
Names of the children and spouses of people I met 16 years ago, but not their last names.
The menus of nearly every wedding I ever attended
Phone numbers of childhood friends who moved a long time ago. I can’t remember their new phone numbers.
Names of all the boats that used to dock next to my first husband’s boat 30 years ago.

While I am digging up more, I’d love to hear about what others might add to the pile from their own personal stash. Weigh in!

O, Jackie! So glad you never knew Rebekah

By now the entire universe is buzzing about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s candid interviews about her White House years, released 47 years after they were taped. Her daughter Caroline, the curator of the tapes, has presented them in a new book and has talked about them in reserved, carefully staged interviews with the media.

For those of us who came of age in the 60s, the realization that Jackie is human – and capable of gossip, pettiness and insecurity – does little to change the impact she had on how we lived. Her style, her class and her fortitude inspired all of us. They became calcified in our memories long before these new tapes had the chance to re-mold them.

The hats my mother wore to Sunday Mass, the camel double-breasted coats we wore every winter, the tartan plaid lunchboxes we carried to the school bus stop (when everybody else had Flintstone lunchboxes) were all influenced by Jackie’s understated style.

Moreover, her classy bearing was an inspiration even to those of us who were not raised in Newport, who grew up in working-class mill towns like mine. Whenever we struggled with the inevitable cruelties of the playground and schoolyard, whenever we faced slights that had us hanging on to dignity by our fingernails, my mom gently reminded us to do what Jackie would do.

Hold up your head. Sweep right past them. Say nothing. Be as regal as a queen, as impenetrable as a Sphinx.

I wonder if how long Jackie would have been able to keep this protective shield charm going if she were a young First Lady today, married to an achingly attractive, charismatic President with a wandering eye. As years went by she had her struggles with paparazzo Ron Galella and author Kitty Kelly. But could Camelot and her regal image have survived Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks?

Would the New York Post have trained a long lens on Jackie as she sunbathed on Onassis’s yacht — looking for signs of cellulite, wrinkles and frizz that can be circled in red on page one? Would a Murdoch minion have tapped her cell phone? Would her secrets, her self-doubts, her faux pas, her makeup-free days be fair game for the front cover of “In Touch” magazine?

Just imagine the headlines that could have resulted if those taped conversations had been captured in real time:

Jackie ‘a dud’ with in-laws
JFK’s semi-nude White House romps
Jackie calls author ‘lesbian’
First Lady trashes Pat Nixon’s perm
Puppy love: Smitten Khruschev delivers pooch to White House
Indira a ‘prune?’
Jackie disses MLK
Sukarno takes Jackie as second wife

I’d like to think that some public figures like Jackie are beyond the reach of meddlers who feel nobody is entitled to a private life. I’d like to think that her class, her contributions as First Lady and her accomplishments would put her in a different category than the long list of public figures ruined by their private slips of the tongue and indiscretions. Today the pedestal of public admiration is as precarious as a stilt, and in a heartbeat can turn into a rail for a tarred-and-feathered fallen hero.

Something tells me that it’s a good thing that Jackie lived in an earlier, more respectful era, so that in our minds she can remain like the heroine of a silent movie: beautiful, brave, classy, perfect…and silent.

Verbal toupees for “older” people

Can anyone suggest some good euphemisms for “elderly” or “older” that don’t sound like euphemisms?

A verbal toupee to cover up our embarrassment with becoming old, or describing someone who’s old? So many adjectives have been designated only for use with older people. If they were products, you’d most likely find them in the back pages of AARP Magazine, next to the stair lifts and vacuum pumps for erectile dysfunction.

Is the word “vigorous” ever been used to describe a baby? Is “youthful” ever used next to anybody else other than an older woman or an indiscretion? Will a “cougar” ever be a spotted animal again?

I especially hate “spry.” It’s never used to describe a younger adult; only somebody who’s old. When I read the word “spry,” it infers “they are in surprisingly good shape when everybody expects them to be decrepid” or “they can get around without a walker…isn’t that amazing?” You never hear that word “spry” used to describe a 20-year-old track star.

Until a few years ago Spry was a solid vegetable shortening…a competitor to Crisco. If I remember that, then I guess I am old enough to be spry!!!!

Please feel free to share your own favorite (or most dreadful) euphemisms for those of us in midlife and beyond.

The most glamorous mother-in-law

Lois, my mother-in-law, turns 79 today and I Don’t Know How She Does It.

She still walks five miles a day; has thick and gorgeous auburn hair and wears a size four. She is almost Nancy Reaganesque in her petite glamour — only far more liberal, earthier and Jewish.

On the occasion of her birthday I looked through some old photos of Lois and she always looked younger than her age. A 30-year-old photo of her with my stepdaughter – her first grandchild — shows a radiantly smiling blonde whose skin even looked dewy. She was pushing 50 then and still looked like she was in her late 20s.

“Who’s your plastic surgeon?” asked one of her friends not too long ago.

No plastic surgeon here; just lots of discipline, great genes and most importantly, a determination to celebrate every day.

When she learned she was diabetic a few years ago, Lois gave up white bread and desserts and shaved even more weight off her already-petite frame. Now she weighs about what she did when she was a harried young mom with four rambunctious boys.

She’s a great walking partner (when I can keep up with her) who shares gossip and stories nonstop as we briskly clock the miles, turning a workout into a girls’ night out at a Nancy Meyers movie. She talks about people I’ll never meet but somehow I’m enthralled.

She also has boundless energy and is one of those people who constantly has to be doing something. Even when she is watching television her knitting needles are clicking furiously, creating the latest of dozens of afghans she has made for people she loves. Sometimes when I watch her I feel so tired that I have to lie down. Maybe I’m eating too many carbs.

When she took my 29-year-old stepson to Europe a few years ago, some of his friends assumed he was accompanying his doddering grandma on the trip.

“I’ll be lucky if I can keep up with her,” was Jesse’s response. And he was right. She matched him step by step around the Swiss Alps and Barcelona.

She loves so much to organize and re-organize things, in her own home and wherever she visits. Even her refrigerator shelves look like a display in a Michael Kors boutique, while mine look and smell like a crypt.

I’ve learned to relax and enjoy her efforts to organize me. In fact, I have now outsourced this job completely to her.

“Lois, I’m saving some closets just for you!” I tell her before she visits, and I can sense her gleeful anticipation over the phone.

Lois’s own closets are bursting with élan. I have never seen her wear sweats, except for our walks. Soon after we’ve arrived home, sweaty and dusty, she is showered and tastefully coifed and made up, wearing a pair of curvy jeans and turquoise jewelry.

And I guess what’s most inspiring about Lois is her loyalty and protectiveness of the people she loves. She can be headstrong and opinionated, and isn’t afraid to go to bat against anybody, whether it’s her husband’s oncologists or the host at the El Torito restaurant, who wouldn’t give us the table we wanted by the window. My father-in-law, who battled cancer more than a decade ago, is alive because she was a pit bull with the doctors. She knew his charts even better than they did, and never hesitated to point out things they might have overlooked.

So happy birthday to a woman who’s a great role model in how to age gracefully!