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)


22969780450_7900dac0cc_o (2)

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 »

Nov 17, 2015 - Retirement    No Comments

Practicing ’til it hurts (my partner)

Ellen Bradley wears a football helmet to play tennis – when I’m her partner.

My first serve during a recent match bounced off her noggin and popped over the net, but for some reason did not qualify as a “let.” The second almost took off her ear. The third, she assured me, only grazed the edge of her racquet.


                   Ellen practices her defensive
                          tactics with Barbara

Ellen is lucky that my serve has all the power of a thrown noodle. And I’m lucky to play doubles with an incredibly patient and encouraging group of women.

Toss higher, I was advised. Point your feet toward the net corner pole, was one suggestion. “Give me a second to get out of your way,” pleaded my next scheduled partner. Take up tiddlywinks, thought everyone else.

This summer I took tennis lessons, hoping to surprise my fall league-mates with a big girl serve instead of the side-arm Lob of Death. Smalls     Sometimes I win the point because the receiver has dozed off waiting for the Lob of Death to land, but each time I feel like Smalls in “The Sandlot” when he hand-delivers the ball instead of throwing it.

Our league plays “first in.” If it’s your first serve of the set you get as many attempts as needed to reach the service square. My opponents have time to get a pedicure, air dry their toes and re-tie their laces before smashing my Lob of Death down the alley.

I’m reluctant to name my tennis teacher, because it’s not her fault that I’m in the Double Fault Hall of Shame. “What should we work on today,” she would ask. “Everything,” I’d reply, feeling like everyone in “Groundhog Day” except Bill Murray.

The other day my father re-told a story about a not-very-good golfing buddy in Florida who bragged that he was the No. 2 golfer at Kings Point. My incredulous father said, “If you’re No. 2, who’s No. 1?” “Everyone else,” his pal replied.

That’s me on the tennis court, with a well-earned lack of confidence.

A friend recently asked if I’d like to learn bridge. I’m tempted. In bridge, it’s no insult to be the dummy. No one’s ever been injured by a crazy card shuffler. The only thing hurt by a poorly played hand would be my pride.

But I’m not ready to retire my racquet. Despite Einstein’s riff about insanity, I’m determined to keep trying. Please watch out, Ellen: Don’t endanger that great smile by looking my way.

Nov 13, 2015 - Family    3 Comments

Playing the cards you’re dealt

“I like to sit at the edge of my bed and think. It looks like I’m davening, but I am just thinking,” my father dictated as I sat beside him with my laptop earlier this week. “Sit back, Jerry, sit back, everyone says. You’re going to slide off.”

unnamededitedDavening, pronounced dah’-vening, is Hebrew for praying. I remember his mother, my Bubbi, nodding in frequent prayer. My father, however, is often just nodding off. And the other night – whether davening or dozing — he leaned on his recliner’s remote, which tipped him forward until he did slip­­­­ off.­­­­­

Dad is slipping – slipping away. And he knows it.

So I was glad when I visited the next day that he agreed to let me type up his thoughts. In recent years, my 85-year-old father has written up lots of stories about his growing up and his take on life, but his fingers and eyes aren’t cooperating like they used to. His mind, however, remains sharp. Read more »

Nov 4, 2015 - Retirement    No Comments

Retirement is a full-time job

This vacuum sucks.

And not in the way a vacuum would consider a compliment.IMG_1748 (2)

After taking out and shaking out the floor mats and dropping six quarters into the machine at the corner Mobil gas station, I expected crumbs, seeds, kernels, fuzz, leaf bits, gum wrappers and dirt to leap off the car floor and into the blue hose. I expected a suction that, if accidentally aimed at the cat, would require the screeching feline to be retrieved from the machine by its tail.

This vacuum had all the pull of John Boehner.

But in my semi-retired status I have no semi-valid excuses for a dirty car. And on this decent fall day, I was desperate to do something semi-useful while continuing to avoid raking our leaf-carpeted lawn.

After the disappointment at the gas station, I decided to give my aging Kenmore upright a shot. First I had to move the grill, bicycle and old patio chairs (replaced but, true to form, not discarded) to the other side of the garage to be able to pull the car in near an outlet. Then I lugged over Old Faithful and plugged her in.

I guess none of has the suction we used to. Still, she did better than the Mobil vacuum, with no quarters required, and Ms. Kenmore toppled over onto the concrete floor only five or six times, without cracking her plastic body. Next I dusted off a spray bottle of leather cleaner from the first Roosevelt administration and spruced up the seats, shined up the dashboard and successfully killed another afternoon.

Having checked off a chore that wasn’t even on my to-do list, I suddenly remembered one that was: staining our two cement steps to protect the repairs made in the spring by Tom, a mason by trade and my go-to guy for anything more complicated than changing a three-way bulb.

My painting ability begins and ends with knowing which end of the brush to hold, assuming someone has correctly handed me the brush. But Tom assured me this is something I can and should do.


My first mistake was agreeing with him. My second was, in a spurt of newly retired enthusiasm, buying a can of stain and a sprayer, knowing deep in my heart that having to mix stain with water, fill a sprayer, and spray was a disaster waiting to happen. Suddenly it was two months later and three weeks into October, with colder, darker and wetter days looming and the window of opportunity closing.

I called Tom in hopes of a bailout. You can do it, he repeated, encouragingly. You should have bought stain that you don’t have to mix with water. Use a two-inch brush. Be sure to clean the steps with bleach first. Remember you need a pod (whatever that is) to hold the paint and water. Get a good drop cloth and it will last you the rest of your life, he added, while I’m thinking that lifetime guarantees don’t impress me at this stage of the game.

To my surprise, Tom showed up 20 minutes later at Sherwin Williams, where I was fretting over brushes, drop cloths and non-diluting stains, and guided me through the purchase. To my surprise, he still expected me to do the job myself. And to my surprise, I did.

Now, darn it, I’ve got to pick up the rake.


Oct 31, 2015 - Family, Saratogian Archives    No Comments

Chocolate-coated guilt is not a bad affliction

(An extended version of this post originally appeared on Nov. 2, 2002 in The Saratogian)


What a sad sign I saw on my morning walk: mini Snickers and Crunch bars still in their packages, one here along the sidewalk, another near the curb, one nestled in fallen leaves beneath a shrub, little lost treasures no doubt dropped by careless trick-or-treaters, strewn about like chocolate-covered, plastic-coated seeds.

Ah, Halloween.

The richest and fattest country in the world thinly disguises its children and sends them door-to-door to beg for candy. You can’t beat it.

Halloween 1999 - Vertical

Joe and David celebrate Halloween in 1999.

Of the few good reasons for having children, #1 is so you can steal the dark chocolate and coconut from their Halloween bag without them minding or, if necessary, without them knowing.

My kids are at that touchy in-between age – young enough to want candy, but too old to look cute in a costume. When both decided not to go trick-or-treating, I panicked.

Would I be reduced to lurking in alleys, snatching pillow cases from pint-size princesses to satisfy my mounting Mounds mania? Of course not. I would wear a white jacket, carry a clipboard and claim to be the City Department of Public Safety’s Candy Inspector. Read more »

Oct 26, 2015 - Family    3 Comments

Practicing the punchline for dad’s funeral

Barb and siblings with Gerry

Jerry looks comfortable with his three kids, Steven, Barbara and Robin.

Are you comfortable?
A reasonable question to ask of my 85-year-old father for whom so much has become difficult: hearing, seeing, walking, breathing.
But he’s the one who likes to do the asking, a set-up for a punchline that he’s trained his children, grandchildren, aides, friends and even his rabbi to deliver, with a shrug: Eh, I make a living.
The other day he and Rabbi Dan spent more than half an hour together in the furniture-packed living room of my dad’s apartment. Afterwards, the rabbi told me my father instructed him to practice the joke he wants told at his funeral, with specific directions that the punchline be shouted from the pews by those of us in the know.
Yes, at his funeral. Which, the doctors say, could be days, weeks or a very few months away. The other day my father learned he has a malignant tumor that he decided not to treat. Don’t worry, he said, cancer won’t kill me. Not being able to breathe will.

My father likes to point bit by bit from head to hip, reciting which parts are gone, dead or dying. He outlived his wife, and he’s lived with diabetes, kidney disease, two bypass surgeries, the addition of a pig’s heart valve, macular degeneration, hearing loss, the replacement of a hip and now, cancer. When he tips forward in his medical recliner and suddenly zonks out, we think, today’s the day. Then he gets a second wind in time to catch the Off-Track Betting station’s replay from Belmont. Give me my sheet, he demands, checking to see how well he fared following favorite trainer Linda Rice.
My father had a premature wake of sorts four years ago when the doctors promised he was a goner. Turned out, as the rabbi explained, God wasn’t ready for him and, as my brother assured him, neither was my mother, may she rest in peace. Nonetheless, after being told death is imminent, accepting the end and saying all his goodbyes, it took a while to come to grips with still being around.
This time is different.
And so, Rabbi Dan needs to practice. Read more »