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Filling the Empty Nest…

As told by Judy Reuben, AKA Rockin’ Spice!

In the summer of 2007 I woke up and felt old.  I was 59 years old and had let my relatively youthful body get soft and flabby and I was tired every morning.  At a 4th of July 4th party I met Haven DePietro. She told me she was coaching a Running for Women class in the fall and invited me to join.  Two and a half years later I’ve ran several 5K, 10K, and half marathon races with the fabulous divas I met through this program! Today, almost three years later, I am strong and fit!  Plus, I am coaching my first RFW class of fabulous women who are all looking to get fit and stay healthy.  I realize that this fitness regime has readied me for the next chapter of my life. 

Myself, Lori and Lucinda - Summer 2009 - Shamorockin' Half - 2009 with the Divas!

On June 11, 2010, my beautiful, talented, big-hearted, high maintenance daughter, Hannah, will graduate from high school.  And in a few weeks she will head off to Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. 

Of course this is the time to reminisce over those photos of first smiles, first steps, first trophies, and first dates but it is also a time to think about reinventing oneself.  Like most mothers, whether we work outside the home or not, we’ve spent the majority of our time and energy raising our children.  It’s hard, often thankless work.  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world but I’m ready now to go back to fulfilling my own dreams.

 In 1968, while studying Anthropology and Photography at San Francisco State University, I was fascinated by the work of a young British woman who went to Africa to study wild chimpanzees under the tutelage of Louis Leaky.  I always had a strong affinity for animals and the more I read about Jane Goodall the more I wanted to be her!  I wanted to go to Tanzania and study Chimpanzees.

However, my life took a different turn and I became a photographer rather than an anthropologist.  One of my first clients was the San Francisco Zoo.  It was possibly my favorite job because of the unbelievable access I had to the animals behind the scenes.  I photographed the birth of a giraffe (mothers give birth standing up), rode a rhinoceros, ate lunch with Bwana the silverback gorilla (Brie was his favorite), and the most special privilege was helping to raise two baby orangutans named Samantha and Sydney.  Every day we’d take the babies in a shopping cart from their enclosure to an area at the back of the zoo where they could roam free and learn to climb trees like their wild brethren. 


I left the Zoo several years later to travel around the world photographing a book about Tramp Freighters.  On this trip we spent a week in Shanghai, China and I begged our translator to take us to the zoo where my little orangutans had been sent.  Regrettably, Sydney had died but Samantha was still in residence.  I approached her glass-enclosed cage and stood behind several rows of visitors.  I marveled at how big she had gotten, just like any mother would do.  Suddenly she saw me and started banging on the glass.  I begged the zookeeper, through our translator, to let me go behind the scenes and see her.  Reluctantly he let this crazy American into the Ape house and there she was.  I approached the cage and she reached out for me.  We held hands and then hugged one another through the bars. Again I begged to go into the cage but the zookeeper absolutely refused, afraid she would squeeze me to death.  I cried when I had to leave.  Orangutans have a peculiar scent and it stayed with me all the way back to the hotel in the car.  The memory will stay with me always.

 Now, fast forward to 2008.  I am a private investigator living in Davis, CA with my husband and 16-year old daughter.  Who comes to town?  Jane Goodall!  She is a speaker at the Mondavi Center.  I am thrilled to finally see and hear this woman after 40 years, and to my surprise…I still want to be Jane Goodall! 

Since then I have been researching ways to get to Africa and work with animals.  My Life Coach and fellow running diva, Rebel Spice (Here are the Divas for an introduction to Lori Walters) is helping me FOCUS – hard for a woman with ADD but not impossible! I’m looking forward to living my dreams as a strong, fit woman in the prime of my life.  I’ve discovered that I am not the first person to dream of volunteering in Africa, in fact there are many websites to help me find the perfect opportunity.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Chimpanzee & Wildlife Orphan Care Project


Conservation & Rehabilitation Work On Wildlife Projects & Reserves In Southern Africa


Work With Lions & Elephants In South Africa



Have had five careers and am looking forward to all new adventures as an empty nester when my daughter graduates from DHS this year!!  I have been a photographer, magazine reporter, political pollster, jury consultant and currently I’m a private investigator.  My husband David and I run our own agency in Davis.  I run because I woke up one morning and realized I was going to be 60 years old and I felt old.  I have been running for two and a half years and completed three half marathons thanks to the love and encouragement of my running Divas (I also have a butt again!).  My name is Rockin’ Spice!!!

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