Sep 16, 2016 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

The metamorphosis of Stewart, from fat cat to fragile feline

Stewart sniffs at meals with medicine sneaked in.

Stewart sniffs at meals with medicine sneaked in.

This evening the cat fell out of bed.

Not the bed, actually. He was snoozing on an end table on our back porch. I was five feet away, grading papers on my laptop, and jumped to a THUD!

He was on his side on the wooden floor, just lying there.

Like when my late mother fell out of bed. And a few years later, my late father. Now Stewart.


Stewart looked at me. What the heck just happened? I picked him up. I petted him. He jumped off my lap and blithely padded away, preserving his feline dignity.

I’m worried.

Stewart isn’t eating enough to maintain his weight.

For most of his 15 years Stewart ate nothing but dried Friskies, and plenty of it. He had a mashed potato belly that swung as he walked and spread when he reclined. Even after losing one incisor to infection, he managed to put away the hard stuff.

Hard, soft, canned, fresh -- please eat something, Stewart

Hard, soft, canned, fresh — please eat something, Stewart

More and more often, though, he’d scarf it down and almost immediately throw it up, which I wrote off to gluttony. After a while, at the vet’s advice, I reduced the feeding, and in a year’s time he lost a pound, same as me but much more significant percentage-wise. Year after that, he lost a pound and a half. And in the last few months, he’s been dropping ounces like melting snow.

No more fat cat.

The vet said try canned Friskies to see if he stops throwing up and regains his appetite.

She was right, sort of. He doesn’t puke after licking at pretentiously labeled “pate” with allegedly real bits of salmon, turkey or “mixed grill.” But he barely finishes a spoonful of it. Or anything else.

It’s not for lack of trying on my part and his, with moments of hope. He’ll lustily lap up torn up bits of Dietz & Watson low-salt turkey breast, or tiny cut-up pieces of grilled chicken, canned anchovies, or solid white tuna, or a sprinkling of grated pecorino Romano. But next time I offer whatever he seemed to enjoy, he sniffs and turns away.

He still goes for the dry food, though not as much as he used to. And if he gulps it down, he’ll often throw it right back up. Usually on the rug.

Stewart was the name he came with when we adopted him, back when the kids were grade-schoolers, and he has remained an undemanding, unassuming member of our otherwise empty nest.

He greets me at the door with a meow and a long rub against my black slacks. He plops into my lap, forcing me to stop typing and fully experience the pleasure of scratching a grateful cat behind the ears. He responds when called more quickly and enthusiastically than some children – except for occasions of late when he’s hiding in the back of a closet. Oh, Stewart.

Stewart’s black, white and brown fur is still soft and full (except where it was shaved). But where for years he looked stuffed, he now is eerily chiseled. On the verge of fragile.

He’s had X-rays. He’s had his belly shaved to smooth the way for an ultrasound. Neither turned up anything definitive about what might be inside him that could cause him to waste away. I sliced pills in two and smashed appetite-inducing, nausea-reducing medicine into tuna that he left mostly untouched.

I’m not inclined to put him through surgery to determine if, for example, he has cancer, nor do I want him to suffer through treatment. We’ll let his life run its course.

He doesn’t seem to be in any pain. He runs up the stairs. He jumps on the table. He uses the litter box. He purrs. He seems content. A good cat. A cat.

Time for bed, Stewie. He follows along with a jaunty jingle of his break-away collar on which his name and our landline are etched, heaven forbid he gets out and takes off. I don’t want to lose him.

My once well-padded tabby curls his bony back in the crook of my arm, tucked in for the night, safe from mysterious ailments and unbidden falls.

Jun 23, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

#NoBillNoBreak — Vote and be counted on gun laws


Dem sitdown tonko Dem sitdown 1Forty-nine.

That, apparently, is the number of innocent people who had to die in one massacre for the Democrats in Congress to say enough is enough.

What’s the magic number for the Republicans?

What will it take for the Republicans to revive the ban on assault weapons, a weapon of war; to keep guns out of the hands of people on “no fly” lists; to demand common sense background checks and waiting periods for people who seek to own a gun?

An amazing and wonderful thing happened today.

The Republicans put the House of Representative in recess and stopped official broadcasting to prevent discussion, let alone a vote, on common sense laws — but the Democrats refused to be shut down. The Democrats broke the House of Representatives rules and continued to show their own video, holding a sit-in and declaring “no bill, no break,” broadcast literally all day by wonderful C-Span for the world to see and share.

Nothing like this has happened, ever.

I am so proud of the civil disobedience of the Democrats because they are trying to make important change and, I hope, making it impossible for the Republicans to ignore.

A polite but misguided caller to c-span tonight said the Democrats want to place people’s safety and the Second Amendment in jeopardy: “They are wanting to take away our guns completely so the terrorists can come into this country and take it over.”

The opposite is true.

The Supreme Court, in striking down bans of handguns, has made clear that the standard for self-defense in the home is not necessarily the same standard in public.

“The Second Amendment … simply does not present as tall a barrier to gun regulation as some would have us believe. The bigger barrier is the political disagreement about how to protect the public from gun violence,” explained attorney Eric Ruben in a recent piece in the New York Times. Ruben is an expert on the Second Amendment and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice (and happens to be a 1999 graduate of Saratoga Springs High School).

Americans overwhelmingly support the obvious expansion of background checks and denial of guns on people on no-fly lists.

The Republican should do the right thing: Allow a vote on these basic bills, and stand up and be counted.



May 9, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Basement cleanup turns up more than chipmunks

Basement chalk love note

My parents’ chalkboard love note was a basement find I will handle with care.

basement kid artwork

Childhood art projects need not be kept forever, the now-adult artist assured me.

basement curlers etc

Fifty-year-old electric rollers — you sure no one has use for them?

When I was about to become semi-retired I promised my husband I’d clean out the basement.  Ten months later, it remained on the to-do list.

Then I saw a little chipmunk scramble up the foundation of our 148-year-old house and disappear behind the ceder shakes. Two days later, I saw a fat (or heaven help me, pregnant) one do the same thing.

The pest control guy walked me around the basement, ducking under and over pipes. Here are spots where they can get right in, he said, pointing out holes above the rock walls and below the nest-infested insulation. Here’s where they’re storing food, he said, waving toward piles of maple tree seeds in the corners. And here and there were chipmunk droppings, which, I realized, were nothing compared to mice droppings, which were here, there and everywhere. Yuk!

Warning to Chip, Dale and the Mouseketeers: Game on. First thing tomorrow the guy’s coming back to shop vac, disinfect, plug holes and set traps.

Truth be told, I don’t go to the basement except to empty the dehumidifier, write in the water meter readings for the city, bring up the turkey roasting pan on the fourth Thursday in November, and lug the Christmas decorations up in December and down in January. But I psyched myself up this weekend to do a Big Cleanout. Heavy duty contractor garbage bags from Allerdice, check. Respirator mask that wouldn’t fog my glasses, check. Broom, dustpan, paper towels, work gloves. IPad tuned to live-streaming WAMC and IPod clicked to soundtrack of “Hamilton.” Enough with the lists. Get to work already!

Throwing away stuff is like eating healthier. No one can nag or cajole you into doing the right thing. You have to decide for yourself when you’re ready to take pictures if necessary and part with that which neither you nor anyone you love will need, want or miss.

Ten hours later, five monitors, printers and computers are piled on the porch, destined for recycling at Staples. A bin of designer summer dresses that I loved, looked swell in 27 years ago (not blaming my 26-year-old, I’m just saying) and have absolutely no explanation for not passing on two decades earlier, will be donated to the shop that benefits Saratoga Hospital. Classic building toys that my kids outgrew in the ’90s are heading to the Franklin Community Center. And five swelling 42-gallon bags of crap are twist-tied in the garage awaiting a trip to the dump.

But some things I found down there were inarguable treasures. To me, anyway.

In a folder was the first page of the first story I wrote on deadline (on a manual typewriter, I might add) in my first journalism class, the assignment that hooked me into what became a lifelong career. “Not a bad lede,” was the high praise from the instructor, Dick Thien, using the old journalism style spelling for “lead” to refer to the opening of the story. “Good first effort on deadline.” He subsequently hired me as an intern in the newsroom of the daily paper he ran in Binghamton and later helped me land my first reporting job at The Saratogian.

On a shelf was a clock my father had carved out of wood, painted and decorated with a loving message on the occasion of the birth of his second grandson, and nearby was a ceramic lamp of a young athlete he made for grandson No. 1.

And in a container of stuff I’d stored without investigating after my parents passed, I found an iPad-sized chalkboard from pre-computer days. In yellow chalk my father wrote “I LOVE MURIEL. Jerry” and my mother had added, “I love” with an arrow pointing to his signature. I love you both, I told the chalkboard writers, and miss you terribly.

Purging tons of junk was incredibly good for my soul. So was discovering things worth saving.

Mar 25, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Don’t miss your shot to see Hamilton


Peggy and Barbara are high on “Hamilton.”

The first question people ask when they learn I’ve seen “Hamilton” is not “How’d you like it? but “How’d you get tickets?!”

Eat your heart out and hang on to your breeches.

You, too, can buy tickets — for next February, if you don’t dilly-dally. Don’t throw away your shot.

The “Hamilton” hype has been so overwhelming that I intended to share its shortcomings, but I can’t think of any. What falls short are my efforts to describe what makes it dazzling, ingenious, entertaining and moving. Read more »

Mar 22, 2016 - Journalism    No Comments

Brave journalists shine light in world’s darkest corners

ATDAnna Therese Day makes her living looking for trouble – and reporting on it.

She and people like her are the reason you know what you do about what’s happening to people in countries, especially in the Middle East, where conflict, repression of human rights and deadly crackdowns on dissent are the norm.

As a sister journalist, I couldn’t be prouder of this incredibly smart, bold and driven young woman. As a mother, I need a Tums.

Anna loomed larger than life in late January at a women’s luncheon in Saratoga Springs because she spoke not from the podium as planned, but via large-screen wall-mounted monitors — from an undisclosed location in Cairo.

She couldn’t get out of Egypt. Not safely, anyway. Read more »

Mar 7, 2016 - Retirement    No Comments

Dear Radio Diary: It’s me, Barbara

“Arbitron” showed up on my caller I.D. so often last month that I finally decided to pick up and tell whoever it was to get lost. Turned out they were calling to ask me to keep a Nielsen Diary for one week of listening to the radio (you know, the thing that came with your car and is built into your alarm clock). If I agreed they would send me a small cash gift.

radio-grandma-memeHmmm. I wondered whether anyone besides semi-old, semi-retired white ladies is listening to the radio, and how they figure in podcasts. I wondered how honest I’d have to be. Well, it would be for only one week, and my only paying gig is as a college adjunct. I’m in!

In the mail came a packet from Nielsen containing two copies of their Radio Rating Diary with instructions and a crisp George Washington in each. My husband had no interest in participating, so I pocketed his buck and mine. Halfway to a grande latte.

The diary asks you to note the time, the station (including Internet or satellite), and whether you’re listening in your home, car, work or “other place” – like the deli counter at Price Chopper, where WAMC’s “The Media Project” livestreamed through my iPhone as I ordered a half-pound of low-salt turkey breast – but fails to ask about podcasts. Read more »

Jan 23, 2016 - Retirement    2 Comments

13 lessons from retirement

Six months into semi-retirement (having left the daily newspaper business to teach University at Albany students how to enter it), here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Getting dressed is overrated.
  • Full-time, part-time and no-time employees spend weekdays doing the same thing: Slurping coffee while scrolling Facebook, shopping online and playing Words with Friends. The only variation is the paycheck.
  • You find unfulfilling the transition from bossing around humans to

             My only employee now is a cat.

    giving orders to a housebound cat (Get off my keyboard! Stop throwing up!), despite similarly indifferent responses.

  • You feel less guilty about time spent watching cardinals at the bird feeder, but more guilty about not keeping it filled – and a little sorry for the cat yearning to be free.
  • The exertion of an afternoon reading “The New Yorker” is enough to warrant a nap, even if you only read the cartoons.
  • No longer pressed to plan and do the week’s grocery shopping on crowded Sundays, you end up running to the store on Monday — and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (if dressed).
  • Every day is Saturday.

Read more »

Jan 15, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

I’ll get you next time, Powerball

IMG_2058 (2)

A hopeful Barbara Lombardo prior to Wednesday night’s drawing.

I hate the Lottery.

I hate governments that cheerfully and powerfully promote this wasting of money.

I hate that governments pretend the rationale is to benefit education, as if education would not be funded through traditional taxes. Would sales drop if they said the betting covers toilet paper in public office buildings?

I hate when people throw away their pocket money on an investment that promises to pay off way better than a savings account, but is actually more likely to end up with a zero balance.

And yet, on Wednesday, I made it a point to plunk down two bucks for a shot in the almost $1.6 billion Powerball drawing.

A shot in the dark, that is.

I – and you – had a one in 292.2 million chance of hitting the jackpot for each ticket, according to the New York Times’ Daniel Victor, who provided the math (that is too complicated for anyone who hasn’t taken a Regents exam in the last five years) and put it in perspective. He wrote that if you put the names of every American (about 300 million) “in a giant bowl and selected one at random, the odds of picking President Obama are not far from the odds of winning the Powerball.”

Not to brag, but I picked Obama, twice.7c687debe61f4b5aca1f1465811bbd05

Okay, it was on a ballot, not in a bowl. But what I heard, Victor, is there’s a chance. Yeah! Jim Carrey couldn’t have said it better – though his odds of winning the girl of his dreams were only a mere one in a million.

I could write this column for any big drawing that captures the public’s imagination and I doubt that I won’t ever have to change the lead to “I WON! I WON! I WON!” I won’t be any richer than I was the before. In fact, I’ll be another two dollars in the hole. We all know it’s a sucker bet.

So what’s the pull of Powerball?

The fun of it.

The camaraderie that comes with holding one of more than 440 million tickets tucked into people’s wallets or fastened onto their refrigerators. The fantasy of getting something really huge for practically nothing. The ridiculous optimism that the New York Lottery targets: Hey, you never know. The fun of what you’d tell your boss (20-plus years ago, in a perfunctory pre-jackpot drawing newspaper story, my then-boss had two words in mind for his boss, and they weren’t “happy birthday”).

Besides, this time people won. Wednesday’s was the 20th Powerball drawing since the last time a winner was picked, back on Nov. 4, according to Reuters. The jackpot will be shared by the holders of three winning tickets, each worth about $528.8 million.

IMG_2062 (2)

Shattered dreams…

So what if, as CNN’s Jacque Wilton Smith reported this week in an article about Powerball, “You’re more likely to die from a bee sting (one in 6.1 million), be struck by lightning (one in 3 million) or have conjoined twins (one in 200,000).” (Wonder what those last odds are if you’re past child-bearing age – or male?)

“People keep playing,” he continued, “most likely because the thought of winning is much more fun that the thought of being attacked by a shark (one in 11.5 million).”

Very true, Jacque. But I have a cousin in Montreal who years ago was attacked by a shark in Florida and survived, all limbs intact. If he could beat the odds in the ocean, why not me at the corner store?

Jan 12, 2016 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Hunger in Saratoga is real – and so are ways to help

Twice a month a cadre of volunteers deliver three days’ worth of no-frills food to people in Saratoga County who are homebound, shut in, or otherwise unable to pick up — let alone buy — basic groceries.

I’ve been a third-string back-up delivery driver ever since my adult sons were barely big enough to get their arms around the food-filled boxes. I wanted the boys to see that poverty and hunger are neither abstract nor far away – and that every person can do something concrete to help.

Together we headed down dirt roads to unnumbered trailers. We lumbered up creaky apartment steps and along hallways that hadn’t seen a paintbrush in years. We’d get buzzed into cheerful senior housing and knock on bell-less doors in mobile home parks.

cans and boxes IMG_2049 (2)

Volunteers prepare food for delivery at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs

We left boxes where requested, sometimes on a clear kitchen table in a nicely kept apartment and sometimes on the frighteningly crammed counter of a hoarder. Occasionally we’d see a kid or two; more often we’d meet an old person grateful not just for a box of food but for a few minutes of company.

This past Saturday I participated in another part of the program, filling the boxes for delivery. It was quick and easy, because more than 30 people had responded to a call for helpers, even at 8 a.m. on a weekend.

“We usually have a core of 16 regulars, but we were down to eight,” explained Chuck Kochheiser, who runs this terrific program at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church and was heartened by the turnout. Read more »

Dec 16, 2015 - Family, Saratogian Archives    No Comments

Holiday shopping season is not for sissies

(A version of this post originally appeared on Dec. 14, 2002 in The Saratogian)


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Christmas in 1989 with David and a newborn Joe

Done with your holiday shopping? Then what are you doing reading this? Get going.

Nothing like a Saturday stalled on Route 50 at Exit 15 to get you in the holiday spirit.

Admit it. You whine about parking two blocks from your downtown destination but you’ll burn a half-tank of gas winding up and down the rows of the mall lot for a spot that’s more than two blocks from the stores.

You burn the other half a tank idling, wondering if those people are going to pull out or are just loading up their trunk, and if they are leaving could they please get a move on.

Here’s a bit of holiday song trivia: “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” was inspired by the first parking lot to fill to capacity the day after Thanksgiving. Read more »