The 70-Something Blog is now The 80-Something Blog. Stay tuned in ten years for The 90-Something Blog!

On Renting

It’s a bit strange to be living in a rented apartment after fifty years of living in homes we owned. We will do everything we can to make it feel like ours, but it’s not. And that’s OK.

Although we moved twice this year, we still have too much stuff for an apartment that is considerably smaller than our apartment in Washington. So finding places to put things away is a challenge still to be met. The bathrooms have beautiful pedestal sinks, but no storage space so we are about to give The Container Store a lot of business. And what should be our linen closet contains a small washing machine and dryer so our sheets and towels are temporarily in boxes and on closet shelves.

Some of the surprises are good. Our living room and dining room furniture are perfect for the space. I was delighted to find a full-length mirror on the back of our bedroom door. The guest coat closet is generously large. And unlike the black granite kitchen counters in our former home, the kitchen counters here are bright and easy to keep clean.

Our art is not yet on the walls and our books aren’t yet on the shelves. Framed family photos are in a pile.

But it’s beginning to feel like home.


Oh, the Places You'll Go!

 

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Pictured above is a Steiff teddy bear snuggled between assorted bedding that hasn’t yet found its permanent place in the chaos of our new home in Cambridge.

Teddy is the only possession that Peter has from his childhood in Germany before his family fled the Nazis when he was six years old. Admittedly, he’s a bit shabby, but the places he has been made me think Dr. Seuss best-seller Oh, the Places You’ll Go! about life’s challenges and opportunities.

Teddy has lived with Peter in Germany, Holland, England, New York, Boston, and Washington. On Peter’s sixty-fifth birthday he showed up in New York City at a hotdog stand in Central Park where the hot dog vendor, following a script prepared by our son Seth, claimed that he was a long-lost friend of Peter’s who had been looking for him for years to return Teddy, which, of course, he hadn’t. (I had mailed Teddy to Seth for the hot dog vendor’s participation in the New York City scavenger hunt that he and Jeremy had dreamed up for Peter’s birthday.)

Seuss’ book is intended for new graduates, but it reminds us that adventure lies ahead, even at our age. Teddy looks a little worse for wear, (like us), but he’s ready. So are we…I hope.


You Can Go Home Again

 

How many times have we driven East on the Massachusetts Turnpike?   Hundreds. Going home from New York City, the kids’ summer camp, or weekends in the Berkshires. But this time was different. We were going back to Cambridge after nine months of trying out a new life that didn’t work for us .

Although the many Massachusetts license plates looked strange after months of driving behind cars with plates bearing the District of Columbia’s slogan “End Taxation without Representation”, the streets and houses and stores looked pretty much the same as when we left.

But we had changed.

After a day of driving back, we spent the night in a Cambridge hotel. Early the next morning on the first of August, with our hearts pounding, we went to see our rental apartment for the first time. We introduced ourselves to the concierge, got the keys, and opened the door.

I was prepared for it being flawed and to live with the imperfections that come with renting for the first time after owning our own home for fifty years. What I wasn’t prepared for was the breathtaking view of the Charles River. It made it easy to overlook the last tenant’s picture hooks still on the walls, or the not-solid wood closet doors or one or two other defects.

The apartment is the perfect size for us. We love the location and we will take the time offered by a one-year lease to figure out what’s next.

Hopefully, staying put.


Celebrating Fifty Years

The other night, our two sons and our daughter-in-law took us out for dinner to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary.   It was a beautiful, not-humid-by-local standards, mid-summer evening, and we ate outside at a restaurant we all like.

After we got up to date on our son Seth’s life (he had just flown in from a month in Brazil), the kids asked us for the secret of our long happy marriage. My immediate response was “our amazing children”.

But they wanted more.

For one thing, we’ve always liked many of the same things—classical music, traveling by bicycle, cooking, going to movies. In our whole marriage I remember only one bitter disagreement—it was something about the children, but I forget what—that caused me to stop in the middle of a morning run with Peter and sulk for the rest of the day.

We shared much of the work. When a child was sick, Peter would stay home if it wasn’t a teaching day for him, and I would stay home if it was.

The pride we take in each other’s accomplishments was another reason for our successful marriage. But most of all, we were just plain lucky. We lived in good times, we had good careers and wonderful friends.

The fifty years went by way too fast. Given the chance, I’d live them all over again.


Moving to What?

Boxes are piled up.  Stuff is given away.   Good-byes to our neighbors in our retirement community have been said.  Moving is happening.  But to what?

The last time I moved into a space I’d never seen, I was seventeen years old and a freshman in college.  We've been inside the building that we are renting an apartment in, having considered buying a condo there a few years ago.  But since we couldn’t get to Cambridge to look at the apartment itself, we asked a friend I’ve known since I moved into that college dormitory to check it out for us.  She sent pictures and commentary, but I’ll be holding my breath when we open the door for the first time.

It’s in a wonderful location and people tell us that it is a terrific community, but exactly how many closets does it have?  Will its wonderful expanse of windows let in the cold winter winds?  We wish we hadn’t given away our long fleece robes when we moved south.  Who knew that ten months later we would be back?

It is amazing how quickly we got into moving mode.  It’s a bit easier this time, but I don’t want to make a habit of it. 

We’re closing a chapter and embarking on a new adventure.  Wish us luck.


Barack and Michelle

The National Portrait Gallery may be my favorite museum in Washington. The official portraits of all U.S. presidents and other distinguished Americans—from Pete Rose to Toni Morrison—are marvelous and alone worth the trip.

The Gallery shares the landmark Greek Revival building that once housed the U.S. Patent Office with the Smithsonian American Art Museum whose contemporary art you might not love, but have to see.

We put off a visit to the museum because the portraits of Michelle and Barack Obama were drawing crowds and who wanted to wait in line to see two paintings?

But we couldn’t return to Massachusetts without seeing the controversial portraits ourselves. Yes, they are different in person. And yes, they are different from past presidential portraits (The portrait of Bill Clinton by Chuck Close is pretty different too.)

I didn’t like Barack’s portrait. I didn’t mind the Hawaiian flower background. I just didn’t think it captured his spirit. As for Michelle’s, it’s a beautiful painting. But not of Michelle Obama.


Packing-up-Twice Advice

Here are some mid-packing reflections from a twice-in-twelve-months mover.

First, don’t do it. Period. It’s probably better to spend nine months producing a baby if you can.

Second, it’s amazing how clarifying it is when you haven’t used or worn something for nine months. St. Albans Church has been the recipient of some lovely things that I couldn’t bear to give away before the first move. Noticing that I hadn’t used something since we moved made it easy.

Third, I am more confident in my packing skills. This time I got a head start by buying my own packing paper. (Although many newspapers are smaller today, they still sell the original newsprint size paper for packers.)

Fourth, because we are downsizing further, I sold (actually almost gave away) some furniture early on. It cleared some space for our packed boxes, and I’m fine without it.

Still to happen—we are giving away our big TV—it’s ancient by the standards of today’s technology, and we will replace it with one that isn’t. So for a couple of weeks until we get a new one, we’ll be forced to read. Not a bad idea.


Unfinished Business

I emailed my cousin Gerry the other day with the following question:

“Do you ever think about how you might not have understood your parents’ aging until now?”

I found his response insightful and asked if I could quote him, especially if I called him “wise”. So here it is—food for thought from my wise, handsome, 76- year-old cousin.

“Right up to the day my father died I thought of my parents as ageless and eternal.  After all, they were my parents.  And that they were growing old and ever closer to death, while obvious, did not ever really register.   The sadness, the fear, the retrospection and satisfaction, the overall uncertainty of their last years was less than a mystery to me.  It simply passed me by without notice.”

Gerry went on to say that on a visit to his parents just months before his father died, they talked about financial matters, caring for his mother, etc. In the only way he knew how, his dad was saying good-bye.

“How I wish we had all been able to share a longer and deeper valedictory, talking of love and joy, disappointment and hope, offering one another something that at the time I could not name nor even recognize as missing.”

And in his email giving me permission to quote him, he added:

“What we wouldn't give to have them back even for a short while to address the unfinished expression of our love for our imperfect parents.”


Warning Signs

Warning Signs

Although I don’t think our decision to move to Washington was a mistake that we could have predicted, I might have missed some early warning signs that it wasn’t working out.

For one thing, we never opened a bank account here.  We loved the personal service at our Cambridge bank, and we do our transactions online anyhow.  So we stayed with it.

We never subscribed to The Washington Post and my computer’s home page remained The Boston Globe. (We do watch the local news sometimes, but like local news everywhere, it’s mostly weather, sports and murders.)

Our apartment’s balcony overlooks a lovely courtyard, but we didn’t buy any outdoor furniture for it in spite of Washington’s beautiful spring.

Although we developed a roster of Washington physicians, we still kept in touch with our Boston doctors, and we stayed in our Boston healthcare system. 

I think part of me knew that I wouldn’t be happy here from the day we arrived.  I just refused to see it. 

I am grateful that we had the opportunity to be near our kids. And I am grateful that we were welcomed so warmly to our retirement community. But, most of all, I am grateful to be able to go home.


Do We Want to Know?

Recently, medicine has made great strides in predicting who will suffer from some of the diseases we fear.

Studies of people with mild cognitive impairment using machine-learning techniques and beta-amyloid imaging may be able to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease up to two years before the first symptoms appear.

And studies of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations allow us to know if we face an increased risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer. These are just two examples of scientific advances that might complicate (or save) our lives.

And now, there is news from the “Medical Brain” team at GOOGLE. According to Bloomberg News, using artificial intelligence software and thousands of data points, it is possible to predict, with reasonable accuracy, the outcome of a hospitalization, how long it will last, and if the patient will die.

Would you want to know?