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August 2008

My Tree

There is a maple tree outside my office window. Although it is more than three stories high, which means it is also outside of the windows below and above mine, I consider it my maple tree.

Some springs there is a bird's nest in my tree, and if I look carefully, I can see baby beaks reaching above their nest for breakfast. Often a pair of squirrels frolics among its branches. Occasionally, a hawk perches there and glares at me.

When the fall comes, my tree's leaves are a riot of oranges and reds. On Friday, I noticed that my tree had four red leaves among the green.

Tomorrow is Labor Day. Another summer is behind us.

I Rock

I had a productive meeting with a new colleague this afternoon. She is 27 years old (a mere 43 years younger than I), and I am enjoying working with her. (Hanging out with young folks is one of my favorite things to do.)

When we realized we needed to reproduce a brochure we didn't have at our fingertips, I thought I might have a PDF of it buried in my email files somewhere. Shortly after she left, I found it and forwarded it to her.

Her email reply? "Dean Kugel, you rock!" I'm still grinning about it.

How about that? I'm 70, and I rock.

The Minute-Long Summer

Tomorrow is the beginning of the last real week of summer, although the calendar tells us we have another four weeks to go.

Why can't summer be as long as February, I wonder? The summer days are longer; we don't have to take the time to bundle up each time we go out; no snow shoveling, no making sure the wood fire in the stove doesn't go out (just kidding). Why does it go so fast?

On Friday, I asked my office neighbor, "Wasn't it last Friday yesterday?" That's how the summer weeks fly by.

Time-speed-wise, I feel that life is going like the summer—too fast. I don't have enough time to do all the things I want to. Retire now? Retire later? How to choose? How long will I be healthy? Should my motto be "carpe diem"? ("Seize the day," for those of you whose Latin is even more pathetic than mine.)

One thing is certain, I'll be moaning about how fast the summer went a year from now, that is if my luck holds.

And How Many Fights Have You Had?

A graduate student meeting with me yesterday asked about my family—admittedly, it's hard to miss the pictures of them when you visit my office. He asked how long Peter and I had been married and when I replied, "forty years," he had a follow-up question. "And how many fights have you had?"

The odd thing is that I had an answer.

"Two", I replied. (Bickering does not count as fighting—if he had asked how many times we've bickered, the answer would have been "thousands.")

I vividly remember one wintery day twenty-some years ago when Peter and I were out running. We were fighting about the children (that time and also in the other major battle we had). I was so angry that I refused to keep running with him, and he went on by himself. I could tell you today the exact place where I stopped, but I can't recall the details of the fight, possibly because he was right. I was miserable the rest of the day, but he seemed to bounce back immediately. (Holding on to anger is a subject for another time.)

My guess is that the graduate student fights a lot with his wife. I know they have had some challenges to work on. I told him that I don't think that the number of fights is a good measure of the success of a marriage. But the question was an interesting one.

And how many fights have you had?

E-mail Lament

At the end of the work day on Friday, I sent an email to a colleague who is on vacation in the Austrian Alps. On Saturday morning, I had an answer from him. It arrived in my Inbox at 6:27 a.m., when I was, thankfully, asleep. "I'm reading this from an Alp with bad connections," it began.

It reminded me of a time on a different mountain this summer when I was slower than my bicycling companion going up a killer hill. He waited at the top as I panted and puffed my way up. Not to waste a moment, he was reading his email on his Blackberry when I arrived.

Is there no such thing as a vacation anymore?

But, you may ask, why was I reading my work email on a Saturday morning? Is there no such thing as a weekend anymore?

My 96-year old aunt doesn't do email. There was a letter from her in today's mail.

It was nice.

Oh No, Not Another One!

I noticed it last night while brushing my teeth, but I hoped it was just because I was tired. After seven solid hours of sleep, I could no longer pretend it might be something else.

Yes, I have a new wrinkle. Actually, it's about three new little lines, horizontally across the bridge of my nose. They appear to have been the result of a stealth attack.

A variety of creams, plenty of drinking water, and the daily use of 30 SPF sunscreen, even in the winter, have been part of my wrinkle prevention arsenal for years. But I know that I am fighting a losing battle.

I guess worse things could happen…and they will.

Ridge Road: A Dramatic Documentary

It was 1989. We lived in a great neighborhood with plenty of friends for our kids. But that summer, a key Ridge Road family was moving away. Our boys and a friend decided to make a video of the neighborhood as a going away gift. They borrowed a video camera (think one grade above the home movies of the 1950's). It was bulky and unreliable, but they managed to interview all of the neighbors without breaking the camera. Considering the technology and the experience of the producers (none), it was funny and moving and some of its classic lines are still in our repertoire, e.g., "Mmm Mmm Mmm, smells like a barbecue".

Technology changes, so a few years ago, fearing the VCR technology would disappear, I had the video made into a DVD so that we would have a copy for posterity. But when YouTube came along, our children decided that everyone who lived on Ridge Road back then should have a chance to see (a much edited) version of "Ridge Road: A Dramatic Documentary on the Internet, 19 years after it was produced.

They introduced the condensed version on YouTube as follows:

"The Rowe family moves to New York City, ripping a hole in the fabric of a utopian corner of 1980s Boston suburbia. Three young filmmakers with virtually no talent (but dashing good looks and keen fashion sense) capture the moment."

Have a look.

My Mother’s Voice

While doing some serious moping around the house the other day, I heard my mother's voice in my head. "Nobody likes a sourpuss," it said, bringing back visions of me as a grumpy adolescent suffering because some boy hadn't called or I had suffered some other great setback in my teenage life.  But I have this nagging doubt.  Am I still a grump?  I do have friends who seem to like me, but who knows?

I thought of other times I hear her voice.  For example, "Eat now because you might be hungry later." That sounds as odd now as it did then.

Mother also had the habit, usually practiced as we were walking down the street, of saying "SB."  That was her code for "shoulders back," her incessant reminder that I have bad posture.  Despite her exhortations, I still have bad posture.  And I still hear her saying "SB" in my head, alas.

Or my all time favorite, "If you practice the piano, you'll always be popular because people like to gather around and sing."  This statement would be made as I was listening to my friends playing kick-the-can outside while our kitchen timer sat on the piano ticking away until I was allowed to stop practicing and join them.  By the way, in my entire adult life, I have never gathered around the piano to sing with friends, with the possible exception of Christmas parties.

I asked my children for examples of what
I say over and over that will remain in their heads forever.  They couldn't come up with anything.  I'll have to work on that.

Bad Moods, Good Moods

I woke up in a bad mood today. I did not want to be nice to anybody. So I grumbled to Peter, the only anybody around. Poor guy, he didn't do anything except say "Good morning."

It's a Saturday morning in the summer. The days are still nice and long. I've just had a wonderful vacation and a good return to work. Manny Ramirez's replacement scored both of the runs that allowed the Red Sox to win 2-1 in overtime last night. So what gives?

Well, for one thing, I over-watered a big plant, and spent a lot of time mopping up the living room floor (and this happened before breakfast). And somehow, putting the laundry in was a more annoying task than usual. Not to mention that there was almost nothing edible in the house since we haven't done a big grocery shop since we got back.

And then I remembered. Saturday is really just another work day. The same tasks come around every week. Errands have to be done. On vacation, I didn't even know what day it was. So my vacation-good-mood has become my Saturday-bad- mood.

Alas, some things never change.