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August 2008

July 2008

Living on the Fumes

Vacations end. That's why they are vacations. The trick is to bring some vacation home with you. I always plan to remember how unimportant some of the issues at work seemed while I was away. In the past, I have succeeded in living on the fumes for up to two days. I want more.

I decided I needed some rules to guide me. Here they are:

• I will settle in each day before I check my email. I will attend to the projects on my desk, before those on my desktop. I will not reply immediately to each incoming message. (I will turn off the beep that announces them.)

• I will take a lunch hour. No more salads at my desk.

• I will close my eyes and take ten deep breaths twice a day.

• I will consider the big picture when confronted with problems.

• I will imagine myself somewhere I feel peaceful, and see how important the problems appear from there.

• I will place a photo from my vacation on the bulletin board above my desk to remind me of that place

• I will schedule my next vacation.

I have now finished my fourth day back at work, setting a new record of stress-less-ness.

I'm on a roll. And I haven't even got the picture up yet.

You Probably Don’t Want to Read This

Everyone knows that grandchildren are perfect, at least in the eyes of their grandparents. Therefore, you might not want to read further because this is about our 20-month and four- year- old grandsons, and not yours.

In our nine short days on vacation together with our grandsons and their parents, here are some things I have learned.

  • Going from one-word to two to three-word sentences can happen in nine days, as can independent stair-climbing and descending.
  • A four-year old can start most sentences with "Actually…" or "At some point…" The rest seem to start with "In olden days…"
  • One can laugh at made-up "jokes" that make no sense.
  • Shooting hoops can be a four-year-old's day-long activity, and somehow a 20-month old can participate, except when napping.
  • Throwing rocks into a stream is endlessly fascinating, especially if the grandparents provide the rocks.
  • There is a new kind of unconditional love in my life.


The Anniversary Gift

Our children took us out to dinner to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary last week while we were vacationing together in the Berkshires.

As we left the house, Jeremy placed a big computer-paper box in the back of the car. The box appeared on the table in front of me and Peter after we ordered our dinner. It contained a blue bath towel and some crunched up newspapers. Under the newspapers was Jeremy's laptop.

On the laptop was a PowerPoint presentation. To honor our anniversary, the kids had emailed friends and family asking for memories and photos of us to put into a book, and friends and family came through.

Predictably, my eyes filled with tears.

I couldn't believe the amount of time that our sons and daughter-in-law had to carve out of their busy lives to make this happen. Several contributors had required phone assistance to scan in their photos. Seth actually picked up some photos left with a doorman in New York City because a childhood friend of mine who lives there doesn't have a computer!

There could not be a better anniversary present.


Our boys went to a YMCA camp in the Berkshires starting at age 10. We chose Becket because it was not competitive. Rather, it focused on developing character. Although we prefer not to take credit or blame for the people out children are, we do thank Camp Becket for helping us.

Both boys attended for years. Seth was a village director, overseeing a group of counselors in 1991, and Jeremy took a summer leave from his job to lead a group of Becket campers to China in 1996. Since we are vacationing half an hour away, Jeremy arranged a visit to camp. After all, in six more years, his son could be going there.

Becket looked pretty much as it did 28 years ago when we dropped off Seth.

We, of course, are very different.

Our visit brought back the anxiety of leaving a first-born to someone else's care, of the worry when at 15, Seth went off to work with fellow campers in a tiny village in Kenya, and then Jeremy at 15 to Sweden and Russia.

So much was the same—the sailboats, the four-square courts, cabins with no electricity, no I-pods or email allowed. Just boys being boys.

The camp director set aside a table for us in the dining hall at lunch, and we were joined by a fellow camper of Seth's who is now the camp pediatrician, like his father-in-law was when our kids were there. It was very noisy, but very organized. During the after-lunch announcements, we were welcomed and introduced as heroes (well, the kids were the heroes). The campers erupted in cheers.

It was déjà vu all over again.

What Christa Sees

Faithful readers of this blog know that my friend Christa is always upbeat, and that she is part of the couple with whom we have biked on vacation almost every year since 1989.

However, there is much more to Christa. For example, she sees things that we don't see. If we are biking along a country road in Italy, and there is an edible berry along the way, she will spot it. During the summer that we bicycled in the Alsace region of France, Christa spied a tree full of just-ripe cherries on our first day. Perhaps the cherries were not meant to be publicly available, but that would never stop her. Thanks to Christa, we ate lunch under a just-found cherry tree every day.

Christa and Gordon came to visit us in the Berkshires last week. While walking across the deck to the front door with her suitcase, Christa stopped and pointed out the berry bushes along the brook below. That evening our dessert included the freshest black raspberries you can imagine. We hadn't even seen them.

I asked Christa why she notices things others don't. Her answer was interesting. When she was a tiny child in Germany during World War II, her family didn't have enough to eat, so they encouraged the children to find berries or food of any kind. Also, in Germany, children study nature more. School children keep a book of grasses one year, wildflowers the next. And finally, Christa is a professional photographer, taught to see what others do not.

She is very good at it.

Someone Else’s House

For the first time ever, we are on vacation in someone else's house. We are in a gorgeous spot in the Berkshires, in a huge renovated red barn in the woods with three levels and a zillion windows. The kitchen has twice as much counter space as mine at home, and the window above the sink looks out over a bubbling brook that rushes under the front deck. There are two brand-new baby birds living in a bush next to the brook. There are berries to pick, a hammock to rest in, and other people's books and games for entertainment. And…no work!

We were a bit disoriented when we arrived six days ago. But now we know where everything is, including, for example, the iron that is in locker #1 (of six full-sized high school lockers) in the laundry room.

We know where the dump is and where to buy the best pre-made salads. We are two miles from a famous museum and one from a botanical garden. It's heaven.

And did I mention the most important thing? Our boys are here and our grandchildren are here and we will have the most time together that we have had in more than three years.

Life is good.

Six Months of Blogging

The 70-something Blog is now six months old. Since January 10th, I have written 60 entries, and I've loved doing it. Here's what's great about blogging. It's writing what you want to write when you want to write it. There are no deadlines. There are no editors. It's not exactly like keeping a journal, but it has some of the same benefits. Supposedly journaling is good for your health. I know I always feel terrific when I click on the "publish now" icon .

When someone tells me that they found my thoughts resonated with them, that they have the same joys or worries, I feel even better.

People ask me how I choose a topic and why I don't run out of ideas. Sometimes I write about something that happened that day. Sometimes I write about things I've been brooding about or that have to do with being seventy. I have a long list of things to write about, but I almost never look at it. I do have to write down my ideas when I get them because otherwise I'll forget. But isn't that a 70-something thing?

So to those of you who read my blog, thanks. I hope you'll keep doing it because I plan to.

Learning from Tina, Part I

My friend Tina loves to give. She doesn't need an occasion. She just gives. And I have been the lucky recipient of many of her gifts. But more than that, I have learned from her how much fun it is to give, especially the unexpected gift. Once when I was with her at a pottery show, she admired a black vase. So I bought it for her. I don't know who was more pleased. When Tina sees something she thinks someone would like, she just buys it. The first person who said, "It's better to give than receive" definitely had Tina in mind.

Tina called today. She's planning to come see our grandkids when they are in town. She asked me for their exact ages. It wasn't until I hung up that I realized why she asked. I'm sure that she will be bringing something age-appropriate for them when she visits. I told Peter that I should call her back to try to talk her out of it.

"That wouldn't work with Tina," he replied.

Big Differences

Then: I thought my not being married by age 22 was a disaster. (So did my mother although she never actually said it.)

Now: Does anyone I know get married by 22?

Then: I swore I would never let my first-born cross the street by himself.

Now: I'm happy when he sends me an email from an unpronounceable city in Brazil.

Then: Every night I came home to an exciting "date" (with my husband).

Now: I'm relieved just to see his car in the driveway.

Then: Each of us could polish off two thick lamb chops with all the trimmings and wish we had more.

Now: One is the max.

Then: A year was a year.

Now: It's a minute