Mary Beth Writes

Have you ever considered joining a gang?

Three times in my life I have been a Gang-Member.

FIRST – When I was a little kid in a rural elementary school. There were about 10 girls in our class and we became a gang by necessity. If we didn’t make friends with each other we were going to be lonely - and we were also going to be at the mercy of those stinky boys.

We started Kindergarten together and were classmates through 8th grade. I learned the glories of gang life from those lovely South Hamlin girls.

SECOND - My husband and I moved a Chicago neighborhood where, in the beginning, we didn’t know anyone.  We also didn’t have family close enough to help us get some time away from our youngsters.

I was talking about longing for a break with some friends who also had a toddler – and whose parents also lived 200 miles away. We didn’t know how successful we were going to be when we decided to organize an evening play date for our kids. We asked another couple if they were interested and soon after that, a fourth family joined. Over the next five years, one night per week, one of the couples would mind all 5-7 of the little kids for about two hours. We fed them a simple supper and then they played together. The 3 non-hosting couple used that time to go on non-glamorous dates; often nothing more than two hours to talk without interruptions. 

I can’t remember when Larry (one of the dads) started calling this “Bridge Club” --which was the hilarious name that stuck.  We belonged to a gang of parents who figured out a free and simple way to give ourselves a break - and to give our kids a regular experience of “gang/family”.

THIRD - Can a person create close friendships when one they are already well into their 40’s, 50’s or beyond?  I didn’t know what I was doing when “the Marys” started - and neither did Mary Kay.

She liked reading my local newspaper column.  When an opportunity came along to meet for a lunch (she and her husband donated money to a cause I was championing) – we talked for the first time. It was a fun conversation and time flew. I recommended a Barbara Kingsolver novel I’d just read. Later that day I lent the book to her.

A few weeks later she called to return the book so of course we had to talk about it. After an hour of fun conversation  I wanted to suggest we meet again but I was wary.  Without overthinking it, I suggested we meet the following week, only she should bring a friend and I would, too. It seemed to me (and it still does) that “four adults” is less intense than two adults.  It isn’t going to be co-dependency; it’s just going to be an evening out.

This evolved over a few months into five women. The coincidence was that we all had a Mary in our names so we became "the Marys".  We have met at many different time and locales over the years, although our main ritual is mornings at a local coffee/tea shop.

As women will do, we talk about anything and everything. How to pack a suitcase; where to shop for what; how to send photos of the grandkids on iPads.  We talk about our children, husbands, pastors, priests and churches, volunteer obligations. We worry about health, money, jobs, retirement, the world and our hair. We are liberal, generous and we all read news and novels. All of us have traveled more than the average bear although none of us is even close to wealthy or privileged.

This is what I was aiming for when I started to write tthis.

If you are trying to thoughtfully shape the way you live to be less about money and more about the richness of a good life – and if you don’t belong to a gang already – you might want to start one.

It is wealth itself to belong to a small group of consistent friends who know you, listen to you, who will tell you their tales of triumph and despair and the awesome new recipe they tried this week. This is NOT the same as therapy, but sometimes its close…

There are all sorts of research reports that indicates our bodies and souls heal better when we can tell our story is a safe place.  

Hearing that someone whom you love and respect is having the same worries and misgivings somehow that takes away isolation and fear. Yep, I can feel my health changing as i age and it makes me nervous. Yep, modern politics infuriates me way too often.  Yes, my kids are my life but they also make me crazy. I am worried, I am relieved, I am happy, I care about what’s happening to you.  These conversations are balm to our spirits.

So how does one do this?

Here are my best clues, observations, and tips:

  • Make it bigger than 2. Two people or two couples is too small. You don’t want to marry them; you just want to explore camaraderie!
  • If you like one other like-minded person, ask them to find a pal and you find another. Now you won’t all be from the same church or neighborhood or family. Diversity is interesting.
  • Experiment with times.  The weeknight Bridge Club dates were good – we’d leave our house at 6, be back home before 9. Small breaks, over time, were the key. The Marys used to always meet on a Saturday, now the weekday varies but those two hours add spirit and energy to our lives. 
  • We don’t gossip.  I don’t talk to one Mary about another in a critical way. We don’t want to divide ourselves into “teams”, we want to be whole. The only time there are secrets is when one of us reminds the others to bring birthday cards.
  • We don’t plan many Big Events.  Yes, in 15-plus years of friendship there have been some parties with husbands, some weekend adventures.  But in general, we are not about expending a significant amount of time, money, or planning for complicated occasions. 
  • We seldom meet at each other’s houses.  We all have welcoming homes, but when four women are coming over for coffee, the hostess is going to spend energy to vacuum, bake a treat, wash the bathroom and all sorts of other stuff which will change our time together. We are not about Martha Stewart hospitality; we are about simple conversation, support, and laughter.  To keep our agenda clear, we drink our chai and latte at Wilson’s.
  • We coordinate and we share can't-wait updates (new grandchild! husband got hurt! I lost two pounds!) by email.  We also check in to make sure there are at least 3 of us to meet for coffee. We rarely call on the phone. 
  • We all have other friends and we are respectful of that. People have friends, family, other obligations and connections, other passions.  One of the pleasures is to hear how our other friends are doing in their lives, too.

I just did some fast math. Yes, in the past 18 years I think I have paid more than $2000 in lattes (the only time and place I drink them). In return I have sailed the Friend Ship with four kind and generous women. We have all retired, many of our kids  have met sweethearts, married, and had their own kids. I’ve watched the sun set over Lake Michigan with these friends many times (in the summer we often met at Lake Michigan with collpasible chairs and snacks from home). Once I travel to London with my daughter; the best night we enjoyed there was with the sister and nieces of a Mary; we were treated to a gorgeous seafood and champagne meal! 

If you want your money’s worth from life, put down your wallet and your long, long list of duties and desires. Find a new friend, and then find two more. Have a cup of coffee, say what’s on your mind, and see where it goes.


Dedicated to my husband and Jack, Steve, Tom and James with whom he rode bikes every Saturday while was at coffee. Sometimes men do the same thing women do – just a little differently…



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Retired Chicken Observations 3/22-2018

Two things I have been thinking about lately. Both are related to retirement income and retirement adventure.

1. Last week Len and I went to our Social Security office to sign me up for Spousal Benefits.  It took me several run-throughs to understand what “spousal benefits” are. Since then I have talked to several other people who were also unclear on the concept.

My confusion was this. I was already getting Social Security based on my earnings when I worked (as opposed to what I did when I stayed home and raised kids. But let’s not go there now. Grrrr.)

Franc’s Wildly Successful Life

This is a long piece of writing and I am proud of it. If you don’t want to read it all – here are my take-way points about how my friend Franc lives well on a surprisingly small income:

Mindful Chickens 2/24/2018

1.  We did it!  We called, explained what we thought we needed to do, made appts, were home for the appts, rec’d the estimates about - fixing the gutters and getting the house painted.  I think one of the reasons we usually do it ourselves is because this process is so daunting and time consuming.

The gutter guy is coming next week; we are looking forward to no rivulets when it pours. 100-year old houses built on non-waterproofed rubble foundations, like George Washington, cannot lie about what’s happening outside your basement walls.

Mindful Chickens - The Snickerdoodle Edition

1. When we were sick in January (with flu and cold) Len used the CVS card that I had signed up for last year and then barely used.  He bought several OTC medicines plus a cool-mist vaporizer using that card, which saved us 20%. That was helpful.

2. While I was under the weather I signed up for Starz in order to binge-watch an Outlander season.  After I watched TV for two days I canceled the subscription, thus paying nothing.  This is the third year I have done this.  Why do they let me do this??

Frugal Stuff/ Flu edition 1/22/2018

1. I donated blood Friday morning. This is a free mini-checkup every two months; they take your pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and check your hemoglobin levels (iron). They send your blood to be checked for various diseases such as Lyme disease, West Nile, and Zika.

DO NOT donate blood in order to determine if you have a disease or not. If you think you might be ill, go to a doctor or clinic and deal with it. 

But, if you (like me) need an extra reason to be generous, the screening to give blood is not a bad perk.

Two Piquant Recipes, No Waiting

This is not a recipe blog. You may sometimes wonder what kind of blog this is, but I bet you have figured out we’re not here to cook. Still, sometimes I come across amazing recipes and today I want to share two of them,by referring you to the sites where I found them.

How do I find these sites, you ask? 

Simple. Google the name of two or three ingredients you would like to use up. This takes you to recipes that use those foods; you decide if you want to try them.

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