Wearable Memories

I sat next to a frail, elegant woman and noticed the heavy, man-sized ring on her index finger. “Was that your husband’s ring?” I asked. She nodded, and showed me the chain around her neck. “This was my mother’s,” she said.“I understand,” I told her. “I wear my mom’s wedding ring.”

ring hand shutterstock_30986500

Many of us have things from loved ones – dishes, furniture, artwork, needle points, jewelry, clothing. But it is this last group of items — things we wear — that most intrigues me. These represent the private, personal connections we indulge in. Often, the items we wear are jewelry; rings are the most common. When my mother first died, I wore her wedding ring on a chain around my neck. Eventually, I put it away. One day, years later, I took off my wedding band and quietly put hers on my finger instead. I’ve worn it ever since. It just felt right.

I’m not alone, I know. One friend wears his mother’s wedding ring on his pinky finger. Another wears her mother’s bracelet. She says she feels like she is visiting with her mother when she has it on. Sometimes, the item represents an event of special significance. One friend said of a ring her mother gave her, “I rarely take it off because it is the very last ‘thing’ that she ever gave me and I feel as though a piece of her is always with me.” Sometimes the memories are less painful; one friend wears earings she gave her mother as a gift because she remembers shopping for them together.

The items we wear are not always jewelry. Some are clothes. On the outside, they appear ordinary. One friend wears her mother’s Mickey Mouse shirt. Another friend thinks of his dad when he wears his father’s golf shirts. I wear two tops that belonged to my mother-in-law. They are from Chicos, and I like them. But they are more than just clothes. Every time I wear them, I think, “Today I am wearing Bubbie’s shirt.”

Often, there is no single point in time when the item becomes special. It belonged to someone you loved, they died, and you decide to wear it, perhaps as a way to honor them, perhaps as a way to remember them, but mostly as a way to keep them close.

What I find so intriguing, what makes this appeal to me so much, is that it is all very personal and private. No one knows, when they look at my hand, that this is my mom’s wedding ring, and I like it that way. I covet our special relationship. When things have been part of someone else for so long, and they become part of your daily life as well, there is a connection, a continuity, a closeness, that is comforting. And perhaps that is the gift we receive from items we wear that belonged to people we loved. They comfort us.

What do you wear that belonged to someone you loved, and why do you wear it?

Your Opinion Matters…Until You’re Over 65!

As a Baby Boomer, I am accustomed to feeling important, which is why it bothers me that I will soon become invisible. All my life, I’ve been courted for my influence and my buying power. Once I reach 65, my opinions won’t be worth squat. In survey after survey, I’ll be lumped into an “over 65” category that assumes I think and purchase just like an 85 year old. And I don’t like it.


Companies want to know how old you are so they can understand differences in priorities and spending habits. Once you reach 65, however, you lose the preferences that define you as an individual or a cohort. You become part of a group whose members presumably all think alike – the old.

The 65+ population has significant spending power, so you would think companies would want to know a lot about them, but apparently not. This is more than dumb marketing; it’s ageist. Though seemingly innocuous, these surveys perpetuate stereotypes and marginalize older people. They influence the young, and, even worse, they influence older adults who may adopt these beliefs themselves.

I tried being devil’s advocate. Maybe it’s because the surveys are mostly online, I suggested, and people 65+ aren’t online. That’s not true.  According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 54% of people over 65 use the Internet (up from 13% in 2000). One third of people over 75 are Internet users, and twelve percent of people over 75 use tablets. Use of technology by seniors may not be as high as with younger age groups, but if you want data about how people 65+ think and spend money, there are plenty of senior Internet users to provide answers. Of course, that is not the impression surveys give.

Next, I tried another argument. Maybe 65+ individuals aren’t major consumers of consumer products and services. As a Senior Move Manager who spends most of her time in the homes of people 65+, I can assure you they are still big consumers, although what they spend money on may change.

I admit, for companies like Urban Outfitters  and H&M, segmenting age beyond 65 may not be important. But how does that explain this Chicos customer satisfaction survey:

    • Under 25
    • 25 – 34
    • 35 – 44
    • 45 – 54
    • 55 – 64
    • 65 or older
    • I prefer not to answer

Chicos seems to think that the under 25 year old group has different opinions than the 25-34 year old group, but that everyone over 65 thinks alike. That’s odd, because I spend a lot of time in Chicos, and I’ve never seen anyone under 35, yet alone under 25. But I’ve seen a lot of people 65 and older.

What’s even more insidious is that this value system is the standard in survey creation. Grapevine Surveys and Constant Contact, two email marketing platforms, both illustrate age segmentation with age brackets that end with “65 or older.” Users who plan to design their own surveys assume this is what they are supposed to do, too.

Fortunately, some organizations get it. In a report entitled Is “Seniors”‘ One Demographic Group? ESRI, a reserch organization, concludes:

Seniors” represents a large and diverse consumer market that will continue to grow. It has previously been under served and has significant wealth and money to spend. In the past, product manufacturers have focused on trendy products to catch the eye of young consumers while creating one-size-fits-all solutions for seniors. But seniors aren’t just one group.

Knowing the customer is key to success with seniors, just as it is with the population overall. …Companies that address seniors as discrete segments with unique needs can position themselves for success in this growing and increasingly profitable market.”

I am happy to report that some companies do see the light. Last week, I received a survey with age segmentation that went to 85. I wondered what forward-thinking group realized that seniors are not all alike. It was from a funeral home.

Giving Home for the Holidays

iStock_000004921287Small house gift


This holiday season, we’re not going home, we’re giving home — to patients and families who come to the area for specialized medical care. It’s through an organization called Hosts for Hospitals, and if you have extra bedrooms, you can give home, too.

Hosts for Hospitals is a non-profit organization that provides free lodging to patients and families who come to the Philadelphia area for specialized medical care. It’s one of a handful of services like this around the country, but more are growing.

So what’s it like to be a guest host? We’ve been doing it for about 10 years now. We provide a clean bedroom and bath, access to a refrigerator and a shelf in our pantry so guests can cook or keep snacks. Guests do their own cooking and laundry. We provide a roof over their heads, and a place they can call home while they are away from their own home. If they weren’t staying with us, most guests would need to stay in hotels or travel 3-6 hours per day by car. For some, hotel bills would be tens of thousands of dollars.

When we first started as hosts, I got a pretty notebook and left it in the guest room so guests could write a message if they wanted to. We keep cards we’ve received from guests too, and over the years it has become a sweet reminder of strangers who became friends.

You can tell that pets are a big part of our family since most of the cards and the entries in the book start with, “Dear Margit, Bill, Poppy, Stryder, Tiger, Peabody and Ernie.” Pets are one of the things that Hosts for Hospitals screens for when they match hosts and guests; we cannot host anyone with pet allergies.

What are our guests like? Well, they are all different. Some are patients, and some are family members. Our youngest guest, 8, stayed with us (with his mom) for four months as he waited for serious spinal surgery at Shriners Hospital. Our oldest guest was 75. Bob was our handiest guest. He was here to receive Proton Beam Therapy at Penn and was home most of the day, so he kept looking for repair jobs to do around the house. He fixed a hole in our fence, took down a small dead tree and finished a quarter round project my husband had started. He took our greyhounds on so many walks they were exhausted. It was great!

Some guests, like Bob, are at the house much of the day. Others spend most of the day at the hospital. All of them, if they are home at 7 pm, watch Jeopardy. My husband makes it clear on the first day that from 7 till 9 he owns the remote, but they have access to our high speed Internet service.

Guests come for various conditions, all serious or unique enough to require specialized care not offered nearby, but not necessarily life threatening. We spend a lot of time laughing with guests. But some conditions are serious. We’ve had guests receive grim prognoses while they were staying with us, and a father who stayed with us while his 21 year old daughter waited for a heart-lung transplant. He left a note one morning, “Thank you for allowing me to stay at your home. It made a difficult time much easier. However, I will not be coming back. Michelle is not expected to live past this morning.”

Hosting is not for everyone, but for us, it has been easy and incredibly rewarding. Our guests make us realize how lucky we are, not just to be healthy, but to be able to offer something they so value, that is so easy for us to give.

The Healthcare Hospitality Network (HHN) is a professional association of over 200 unique non-profit organizations that provide lodging and support to patients and families who are receiving medical care far from home. HHN has a toll-free referral line and searchable database with information about programs throughout the country. HHN also helps communities and organizations develop hospitality lodging programs, and help existing members become more effective at serving families.

Perhaps my perspective about Hospitality Housing is unique. As a Senior Move Manager, my career is spent in homes with mostly empty bedrooms.  I can’t help but think about how well those rooms could be put to use giving home.

Happy holidays from Moving Solutions.

Organizing in the Face of Illness

Blah, blah, blah, blah, You Have Cancer, blah, blah, blah…

That’s about all you hear when you receive a serious diagnosis. Then you start to research your condition, investigate treatment options and plan your future. You are so stressed, the last thing you want to think about is getting organized. Yet, getting organized can do a lot to reduce stress for both you and your family.









This post was inspired by Albuquerque professional organizer Hazel Thornton’s blog article Organizing to De-Stress a Major Illness. With her permission I have put my own spin on her original content, which can be viewed here.


Organizing Your Medical Records and Important Papers

When you face a major illness, you feel out of control. One way to feel more in control is to create a control binder. A control binder keeps all your medical records and important papers together and organized, so you can find what you are looking for when you need it. You may keep it at home, or take it with you to medical appointments.

Create a Control Binder.  Get a 3-ring binder with tabs, create sections for research, second opinions, medical history, appointments, treatment plan, medications, contact information for health care professionals, and a miscellaneous section. Chances are your insurance and billing papers will fill an accordion file all by themselves, so establish secondary storage for overflow.

Organize your Important Papers.  Before entering the hospital, you will be asked for copies of important papers, including advance directives (Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney). LifeinCase® is an example of one personal document storage system, but there are numerous products with varying price points.

Organizing Your Support System

People with support systems are healthier and recover more easily from illness than those without them.  Your support system can be a network of family, friends, neighbors, loved ones, colleagues and professionals. It can be uncomfortable to ask for help, but think about how you would feel if the tables were turned, if a friend or family member were ill. Give them the same opportunity to do for you what you would be happy to do for them. Not everyone can or wants to help the same way. Fortunately, there are many ways to help and a number of free online tools make it easier for everyone involved.

Appoint a communications director. Communicating the same information over and over to concerned friends and family can be emotionally and physically exhausting. This applies to both the person who is ill and to caregivers. Designate a trusted friend or family member to speak on your behalf. Caring Bridge is a free web service that connects people experiencing a health challenge with their family and friends. With CaringBridge, you can communicate en masse, rather than one by one, and they can stay in touch with you. MyLifeLine is a similar site. If several people need to be kept aware of your schedule, calendar sharing programs like Google Calendar may be useful.

Designate a support services manager. There are all kinds of services that may be helpful to you and your family.  Do you need meals prepared? Your dog walked?  Your car serviced? Food shopping? Someone to accompany you for medical treatment? Someone to take your mother-in-law to the doctor’s (which you ordinarily do)?

Your support manager can organize these activities, providing you and your family the support you need and offering friends many different ways they can help. Online tools such as Lotsa Helping Hands, Care Calendar, and Meal Train let friends know what you need help with and when, and enable them to schedule when they can help.

Your support system could help you with housekeeping chores, or you may qualify for Cleaning For a Reason, a program that provides monthly free house cleaning for cancer patients.

This is no time to worry about whether bills are being paid on time. If you are responsible for family finances, appoint a trusted advisor to take over this task or to help you accomplish them.

If you’ll be getting care out of town, hotel stays for you or family members can be expensive. Check to see if the medical center participates in a hosting program, like Hosts for Hospitals that provides patients and family members with free lodging.

 Organizing Your Medications

Major illnesses usually involve major medications. A organizing system that works for 2 or 3 prescriptions may not work for a dozen or more, many of which change frequently. You’ll need a system to keep track of what you’ve got on hand, when they need to be renewed, what you need to take and when, and what you’ve already taken. Many kinds of daily and weekly pill dispensers are available. Since medications may make you drowsy or unable to focus, designating someone to help you manage your medications is a good idea.

Organizing Your Self

Stress and medications both impact memory, decision-making and the ability to focus. Keep a notebook handy to jot down reminders of calls you need to make, grocery lists, questions for doctors, etc.  Create checklists to help with daily routines, doctor visits and health care treatment. offers hundreds of pre-made templates as well the option of creating your own.

Be kind to yourself. This is not the time to beat yourself up over all the things you are not doing. Give yourself permission to do less by asking for help and putting some things on “back burner.”  This may mean relaxing some of your standards, and forgiving yourself for accomplishing less than you would like.

Nearly everyone knows someone who is in the midst of a health crisis. Maybe you are the person who is ill, or maybe you are the caregiver. Maybe it is your family that is going through this, or maybe it’s a friend or relative. Often, you wonder what can I do?  Keep this post. Share this post. Offer to help when asked.

On a personal note. My youngest was 3 when I was diagnosed with cancer (he is now 27). After treatment, I remember sitting on our porch on a glorious spring day with him on my lap, thinking, “It doesn’t get any better than this moment, right now.” But soon I was back at work, in my old routine, and the lesson of what is truly important receded. Serious illness often brings with it a mindfulness of what really matters in life. Hold on to it. It is the one gift your illness is giving you.

Much of the information for this post was taken from a blog article by professional organizer Hazel Thornton at Organized for Life in Albuquerque, NM, home of The Clutter Flow Chart Collection  — with these handy tools by your side, clutter will simply flow out of your home, office and life!

Walk Like No One is Watching

When I was seven, I was expelled from ballet class for lack of coordination and absence of rhythm. The ballet teacher wasn’t being cruel; she was being realistic.


I have never been able to dance. I watch other people dance and it seems so effortless. But when I try it myself, I look like Elaine in the infamous Seinfeld episode featured above. Actually, she dances better than I do.

Needless to say, I seldom dance in public. I don’t dance in private either. Even alone, I am so self-conscious of how poorly I dance that I can’t enjoy it. It’s not just dancing. I have difficulty clapping to a beat. If there is a gene for rhythm, clearly, I am missing it. Only my foot stomping seems unimpaired.

That is why I love walking. For decades, I have walked to music, first to cassette tapes and now to MP3 music. When I walk, my body seems to know how to keep time to the music, or maybe it doesn’t, but I am so wrapped up in the sensations of movement and music that I don’t care. I swing my arms wide, I raise them up high, I wave them in slow circles. I may look ridiculous, but I love it.

Did I mention that I also sing while I walk?  My singing is almost as bad as my dancing. I never sing in public… unless I am walking. Then I sing loudly and gloriously. Sometimes I sing to the melody, sometimes I create harmony. Wearing headphones, I can’t hear the outside world, so I imagine they can’t hear me. This assumption is wrong, of course, as the many stares I receive bear witness. I have seen people smile at me. I have seen people pull their children closer as I pass, lest I be both dangerous and crazy. I don’t care. Nothing embarrasses me when I am walking.

I’ve given much thought recently to the concept of mindfulness, of being totally in the moment. I confess that I am not mindful in most aspects of life. Too frequently, I mentally multi-task, thinking of one thing even as I am doing something else. But not when I walk.

When I walk, I am totally in the moment. It is just me, the music and the sound. It is exhilarating to do something that you love mindfully. Though I am not religious, it is while I am walking that I feel most spiritual, most grateful to be alive.

So I am OK with my ballet teacher; I bear her no ill feeling. I may not experience the same joy as others do when I dance, but in my mind, I am always in tune and on beat when I walk. I walk joyfully. I walk exuberantly. I walk like no one is watching.

Acres of Diamonds in My Own Backyard

margit yearbook cropI am looking forward to my Girls High 45th reunion. Though I’ll be happy to see the girls with whom I was friends, that’s not what has enticed me to attend.

I knew very few of the 500+ girls in my class, but I have “met” many of them, so to speak, through a Facebook group we started 5 years ago, for our 40th reunion. I am attending the reunion because I want to meet them anew; they are really interesting women!

The Urban Dictionary describes “diamonds in the rough” as individuals who have hidden or exceptional characteristics and/or future potential, but who lack the final touches that would make them truly stand out in the crowd. That’s what I’ve decided we all were back then, in high school. We were diamonds in the rough.

At first glance, naturally occurring diamonds are quite ordinary. Their true beauty as jewels is only realized through the cutting and polishing process. That is what happened to us, I think, to my classmates and me.

Like diamonds that have been formed by years of immense pressure, we have been molded by our experiences and choices. We’ve matured, we’ve evolved, we’ve metamorphosed, and our facets have been exposed. Like diamonds, we have depth, we have strength, we are unique.

So that is why I am looking forward to my Girls High reunion. My hair will be cut and my nails will be done, but I won’t need any jewelry. I have acres of diamonds in my own backyard.

My Left Breast

I never minded having implants. In fact, I considered myself quite lucky to live in an age when they were possible. But I minded not having them quite a bit.

mlb picAlthough implants last most people for decades, mine acted like tires — they  needed to be replaced every 60k miles. So when I went  in for my third  set, I wasn’t worried. I knew the drill.

When I awoke from anesthesia, however, I had a surprise. The surgeon  had found evidence of an infection. He  started me on IV anti-biotics and had me admitted. I could get a new implant when the wound healed, in four months.

At first, I railed. Not because the implant had been removed. There was no option; I knew that.  But I had no chance to mentally prepare for not having a breast. Although my actual mastectomies were 19 years earlier, I had immediate reconstruction. There was never a period when I was actually without a breast…until now. The next morning, the  nurse removed my dressing, and I gazed at my left breast, where the implant had been.

I was determined to Continue reading

What Weight Watchers Taught Me About Atonement


My husband and I collect stones with words on them: love, health, family, even Beshert. Until recently, one was missing. We wondered how we had thought the collection complete without it, so we added a new stone: forgive.

Forgiveness is a central theme of the Jewish High Holidays. We ask God to forgive our sins, and we forgive those who have wronged us. What I don’t see emphasized is the need to forgive ourselves. Self forgiveness — the ability to say, “Who I was before doesn’t dictate who I will be in the future” — seems to be at the core of atonement.

I often think about a sentence I heard at a Weight Watchers meeting:

Your eating can be out of control at 10:00 and back in control at 10:05.

I love the insight this phrase suggests. It speaks to the hopeful promise that whatever your failings, you can forgive yourself, change and move on. Forgiving yourself, however, is harder than you might think.

I can list proudly many things I have done as a parent, but I have a list of shame as well. When my children were young, I was a yeller. Every parent yells at their kids at times, but I yelled a lot. One day, when my daughter was 12, we went to the grocery store.

I gave her a list of things to get. When we met at the check-out counter, she had gotten the wrong thing and I yelled at her. A few minutes later, in the parking lot, a woman approached me and said Continue reading

Where’s Maria?

What does it feel like to have dementia? In Where’s Maria, you experience first hand the confusion, anger and humiliation that people with dementia experience every day. Could this be your mom? Could it be you someday?  I don’t remember much before this moment.  I don’t recognize exactly where I am, although this recliner chair fits me like a glove.  A female talk show host on the television is blathering on and on about some burst of insight, but it’s not Oprah and I don’t care for the knock-off, dime store psychology.  The imitation is enough to make me shift in my seat and utter something in annoyance, more of a raspy croak than my usual gentle voice.  I glance to my right and the grey-haired man next to me smiles with his eyes and a tangle of memories are suddenly swept out the corner and set adrift, cascading down in my mind as sparkly as water splashing off of sun soaked rocks. hands I feel a flood of joy and break into a face-splitting grin, which is quickly replaced by a concerned and furrowed brow.  He looks surprised as he reaches for my forearm and gives me a gentle pat. “Are you getting Maria off the bus?” I ask him. He continues to pat my arm, turning his attention back to the Oprah Winfrey imposter. Typical.  He never responds to anything I ask the first time.  I guess I’ll have to go get her myself. I start to stand up, my knees grinding in revolt, and somebody rushes from the across the room and pushes me back down into my seat. This actually hurts a little.  I must have strained my back carrying laundry up and down the stairs.  I swear the amount of laundry these kids produce… This lady is pointing her finger at me.  I’m told to stay .  Like a dog-trainer scolding an errant beagle, she says it three times in escalating volume.  Why is she so angry?  The fourth time she is pushing down on my shoulders so hard that I have no choice but to push back. I realize that the bus is almost at the end of our street and, at this rate, no one will be there to meet her.  Sunny must be home with her baby.  I think Shane is at football practice with his son.  Or maybe with his dad.  I can’t keep them straight.  Poor Maria won’t know what to do.  The thought of her standing there, alone, looking lost and afraid, causes me to panic. I am quicker this time, and get to my feet before the lady can bully me any further.  The grey-haired man also protests my actions, reaching for me from his recliner, which makes me really angry considering it’s his six-year-old daughter too. I shout something at Continue reading

The Last Time I Was Mothered

second graveI don’t understand mid-life orphans. They complain about caregiving responsibilities, and then, when their parents pass away, they lament about being orphans. They say they feel bereft, unmoored, devastated by life without parents. Don’t they realize how lucky they are? Having elderly parents is a privilege some of us never had. 

If you’re a mid-life orphan, you’ve had the pleasure of parents for most of your adult life. You danced with your father at your wedding, you shared your joy with them when your children were born. You were able to show them the person you’ve become, and your children were able to know their grandparents. As they grew older, you were able to return the nurturing and love they gave you. Instead of mourning the loss of your parents, you should be glad for the time you had with them.

I became an orphan when I was young, and there are millions like me. My dad died when I was 7, and my mom, when I was 26. I grew up in the 50s and 60s, when hardly anyone was divorced. I didn’t know anyone besides me who didn’t have Continue reading