Baby Boomer Woman: Barbara Hannah Grufferman

by Anne Holmes on July 20, 2010

Welcome to NABBW member, Barbara Hannah Grufferman, author and former magazine publisher, who not only shares her life with us, but how she became healthy, fit and fearless, a great combination for baby boomer women today.

  • Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself? Raised in Brooklyn and Queens, I’ve been living in Manhattan since graduate school.  I was studying Social Anthropology at NYU, but the magazine publishing business beckoned with a good salary, a little glamour and a small expense account. I left graduate school to pursue a different path, and never looked back.  I’ve been a publisher of many different magazines, and even started a few.  Before I decided to take a hard-earned sabbatical from working (when I was 45), I was the president of an international conference company.  I guess you could say I was always in the “communications business” which is what I love to do.  Deciding to write The Best of Everything After 50 was a natural progression for me.  I wasn’t sure what I needed to do (or not do) after I turned 50 to be healthy, fit and fearless . . . so I did the research, used the programs, and shared everything I learned by writing the book.  I’m having a blast!
  • Tell us about your family; married, divorced, children, grands, boomerangs or parents living with you, etc. I was the quintessential workaholic, with no time for serious dating, let alone marriage.  But a good friend felt otherwise (luckily), and introduced me to Howard in a very sneaky way one summer day in 1992.  By the second date, we were talking about where we would live after we married.  The following summer, the mayor of Positano, Italy, officiated at our wedding at the Town Hall on June 28, 1993.

One year to the day, our first daughter was born, at 27 weeks.  Sarah weighed 2 lbs., 2 oz., and today she is a gorgeous, smart, healthy young woman who just celebrated her 16th birthday.

Elizabeth entered the world 3 ½ years later . . . without the drama, but with a head of beautiful strawberry blonde curls.

Last year, we added Gunther the Wonder Dog to our family – a Brittany we rescued through the National Brittany Rescue Network.

Howard and I both have our mothers, we each have a sister, we each have one nephew, one of whom just got married, and they now have a son, Max. Life is good.

  • What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s? I was born in 1956, so I was a child in the early 60s, an adolescent in the late 60s, and a teenager in high school, and then college, in the 70s.

Summers in Brooklyn during the 60s were amazing.  No one locked their doors.  None of us went to camp.  We had to rely on our own creativity to stay entertained day in and day out.  I don’t even remember adults in our lives during the summer except when they fed us breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Otherwise, we were out, about, biking, putting on plays, breaking open rocks with a hammer, playing stoopball, handball in the park, roller skating (not blading!) with the key hung around her necks.

It’s was just fabulous beyond belief.  We were never bored, we barely watched TV (but found time to read — a rule handed down from my mother).

At night, everybody would sit outside on the stoops of the attached houses, gossiping, and watching over us as we continued to play even after it got dark.

Every Tuesday night, my grandparents (with whom my mother, sister and I lived, as my parents were divorced and my father had stayed in Georgia) would take my sister and me on two buses to Coney Island. It was always the same – my grandmother would set up the picnic blanket and lay out the food, while my grandfather would dive into the water, showing off a bit, while my sister and I would tip toe in.

By 9pm, the fireworks started, and by 9:30, we were packing up and heading back to the bus.

We had very little money, but who knew? Such joy.  Such unadulterated happiness.

  • What qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women? I’m compassionate, hard-working, and very entrepreneurial.  I wasn’t always fearless . . . but I am now.
  • What inspires you? I’m inspired by my daughters.  Being a mother has been one of the most important, sometimes difficult, always interesting, and never boring things I have ever, and will ever do.  Howard and I are raising them to be confident, brave and compassionate, and so far, I think we are succeeding. I’m also greatly inspired by women over 50 who are re-inventing their lives, starting companies, volunteering, engaging in the world in ways that I never thought possible.
  • What brings you the most pleasure in midlife? Looking back and knowing that I have no (or, very few) regrets.  I can honestly say that I am more relaxed, confident, fun now and that makes me happy.  I’m thrilled with my family and friends, and with my new life as an author and speaker.

But, probably the most pleasurable is connecting with other women over 50 and together, exploring everything it means to have our best lives after 50.  It’s a wonderful journey.

  • Do you have any interesting hobbies? I wouldn’t call running a hobby, per se, but it is something I love, and which I do at least three times a week (with Gunther the Wonder Dog).  But, I run slowly and take walk breaks every few minutes. The program I follow was created by Jeff Galloway, and it’s outlined in detail in my book. Some of my best ideas and problem-solving comes to me when I’m running.

I also love to knit. I started out knitting the usual – hats, mittens, scarves, ponchos – but now I’m more interested in “knitting as art.”  Much to the chagrin of my family, there are quite a few of my “knitting art” pieces displayed around the house.

And, I’m an avid reader.

  • Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite. One of my favorite authors is Joe McGinniss, who is currently holed up in Alaska next door to Sarah Palin’s house, while he is doing research for his next book.  Joe is known for his best-sellers such as Blind Faith, but my favorite book of his is “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro” which is about a little soccer team in Italy which goes from the bottom of the barrel in terms of ranking, to the top.

Joe spent a year with the team to see if they could sustain it and do it again.  The book combines travel writing about Italy (my favorite place to travel to), a story about achievement against all odds, and an insiders view of how Italian soccer really operates. It’s fascinating and Joe’s writing makes you feel as though you are truly there.  I found myself jumping up and down on my bed one day while reading about a particularly exciting match.

Another favorite book, which I pull out and read every ten years, since high school, is Green Darkness by Anya Seton.  It has everything I love most about historical fiction – the middle ages, romance, adventure, and terrific writing.  Love it.

My favorite movie (I have so many) is probably The Night of the Hunter, with Robert Mitchum. It is a beautifully filmed movie, pitting good against evil (Robert Mitchum’s character is the epitome of evil).  I first saw it when I was around 10, and it left such a lasting impression on me.  The children in the movie are trying to escape from Robert Mitchum.  The adults are so clueless (until they meet Lillian Gish). The children soon realize that they just have to fend for themselves.  And they do . . . brilliantly.

  • Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go? We only travel together as a family, and usually just the four of us.  We love hanging together. Our favorite place to visit is Italy, and if we really want to just do nothing but read, swim and eat . . . we all love the sleepy island of Anguilla for a week or so. We also love exploring New York City with the girls.
  • Do you practice preventive medicine? Please elaborate.  Absolutely!  That’s one of the most important focal points of my book, and what I tend to talk about most when I speak to groups. I believe in the “do/don’t do/listen to your body” approach to good health and well-being.
    • Do: take calcium,Vitamin D, multi-vitamin and fish oil every day.
    • Do: eat more greens, less processed foods, whole grains instead of white flour and rice.
    • Do: move your body every day.  Do: get your screening tests (colonoscopy, mammogram, etc.).
    • Do: wear sunscreen.
    • Don’t: smoke, drink too much, gain too much weight, sit in the sun without sunscreen or for too long.
    • Listen to your body for changes and don’t wait to see your doctor if something feels wrong or different.

It’s not that complicated, but I’m amazed at how many women (and men) don’t follow these simple steps.

  • What do you stress about? I’m like most other women, I’m sure.  Some things we all stress about (our children, our husbands’ health, our finances, our own health, the state of the world, terrorist attacks, the BP oil leak, and so on), and some are exclusively mine. And the good news is, I don’t stress out too much.

I’ve learned that there are some things we can control, and if we can control them, then do so.  Then, there are others we cannot control, and those you should try not to think about too often.

When you’re stressed, the best thing you can do is exercise or have some good sex.

  • Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go? I’m really happy with how I look and feel. In fact, I’ve been told that I look better than ever.  I follow the programs I recommend in my book, and my weight is where it should be. I work out, I take good care of my skin, and it’s all working.

Sure, I have lines and crows’ feet around my eyes.  I’m in my mid-fifties!  And, it’s sometimes very tempting to visit a dermatologist or plastic surgeon and say, “Wrinkles begone!”  These days, procedures, both invasive and non-invasive, are incredibly easy to get and are safe. But, I’m not there yet and I may never be.

My whole philosophy is this:  Don’t try to look younger, because if you do, you’ll be profoundly disappointed.  It isn’t possible to look or be 30, or even 40.  We’re not!  What we SHOULD try to do is look and feel our best at whatever age we are!  I’m 53 right now, and I want to feel and look my best at 53.  That’s my goal.

  • Have you re-invented yourself, and if so, how? I decided, at the age of 51, that I wanted to write a book. And I did.  I also wanted to think through how I lived my life, and the choices I was making – nutrition, health, fitness, style, hair, makeup; everything. I feel as though I have completely reinvented myself to more closely reflect my life, goals, dreams and age . . . now.  It’s all wonderful.
  • Do you plan to retire? What does that mean, really?  My goal is to have good health for as long as possible, which will let me do whatever it is I want to do.  That could be anything!
  • Are you doing anything to GO Green? Yes.  Two years ago, we gave up the car we kept in NYC.  I walk everywhere, or take the subway or bus.  So does my family.  We recycle, are conscious about using less electricity and I even use a disinfectant that I make myself, instead of store-bought brands with harsh chemicals.  We’re trying!
  • Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife? It was the moment when it dawned on me that I was actually in my 50s.  The other decades – the 20s, 30s and 40s, all felt like one seamless decade to me.  But, this one – my 50s – clearly was different.  My life was filled with change on all levels, and I wanted to make sure I had all the information I needed to live my best life, with health, vitality, energy and style.

This “wow!” moment caused me to think about writing the book, which was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  I have a new career, have made throngs of new friends and am spending most of my days celebrating women over 50 through my writing and speaking engagements.

  • Do you still have unfulfilled dreams, and are you doing anything to accomplish them? I’d like to take the idea of The Best of Everything After 50 to a wider audience through television, and am working right now on making that dream a reality.  When my book launched, I appeared on the Today Show.  It was clear from the response that women around the country really felt connected to my message, and I want to get that message out to as many people as possible, as often as possible.  I’d like to also write a few more books, travel to new places, and knit a huge wall hanging of my own design.  These are only a few of the dreams I still have knocking around in my head.
  • How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community, your world? I believe I’m making a difference in the lives of women over 50 with my book.  Also, I volunteer whenever possible, donate money to several causes, and am a founding board member of RXCompassion, (coming soon!) which is dedicated to promoting compassion, specifically in the medical field.
  • Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why? My mother, for sure.  She raised my sister and me, with the help of my grandparents, as a single parent, and while working as a secretary.  When I was 2, my parents divorced, and my father moved back home to Georgia.  The next time I saw him I was in my 20s, and it was under difficult circumstances – he was dying of lung cancer.  My mother taught me that we should always work hard, be honest, never live beyond our means, read every day, and always be financially independent. She is also a lot of fun.
  • If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be? Feel free to be as serious or fun as you choose. Fearless After 50!  You can’t reinvent yourself, or take chances, or try new things . . . unless you are fearless.

Visit Barbara’s website where you can learn more about her fascinating “boomer” journey as a writer, speaker, and advocate for women, and also her book, The Best of Everything After 50.

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