Previous month:
September 2008
Next month:
November 2008

October 2008

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

In the past thirty-three years we've lived in two houses. The first, where we brought up the kids was our home for twenty years. We downsized to our current house thirteen years ago. In both neighborhoods we have made some very good friends.

Our current across-the-street neighbor went to Stockholm for the Nobel Prize ceremony a couple of years ago. He wasn't a recipient, but he was a winner's guest. Our neighbor enjoyed all the tux and tails elegance complete with someone devoted only to him to make sure that his every need was accommodated during his stay. The awards dinner itself involved 210 waiters walking down sweeping curved stairways, removing tray covers simultaneously for 1300 guests with the precision of a ballet troupe. At least that's how I remember his story.

This week we learned that our across-the-street neighbor from our first house was invited to Stockholm as a guest of a 2008 Nobel Prize recipient.

Now, how many people do you know who have had across-the-street neighbors in two different neighborhoods get invited to Stockholm as a guest of a Nobel Prize winner?

Wouldn't you like to be our neighbor?

What Are You Thinking?

If I am not chatting with Peter when we go walking, I am thinking. I may be thinking about an issue at work or about what is going on with the children. Often I think about what I will write for this blog. But I am never not thinking about something.

Occasionally, I turn to Peter and ask him what he's thinking about. His answer never varies. "Nothing," he says. Well, it seems to me that he has to be thinking about something. How could he not be?

One day I asked a colleague if his wife ever asked him what he was thinking. "Sure," he replied, "but my answer is always the same." "Nothing. "

Based on my sample of two, can I conclude that men can be in a state of non-thinking? Or are they just trying to frustrate their companions who are dying to hear their innermost thoughts?

What do you think?

A Different World

This week I spent a day at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. During my visit, I felt as if I were on a different planet. Located 7,000 feet above sea level, just down the road from Pike's Peak, the Academy's campus is magnificent. The Colorado sky seemed very close overhead. It was bright blue as it is typically, and its blueness was mirrored on the campus below by 4200 cadets in their Air Force Blue uniforms. The Academy is all about flying so the setting is very appropriate.

The courtesy extended to me by everyone I met is part of the Academy's culture. The students called me "ma'am". They were unfailingly polite. One member of the graduating class gave me a tour of the campus. He is a group commander which means he was chosen to be the leader of 1000 cadets. We walked the entire campus. Not at my best (the altitude takes some getting used to), I managed to keep up with his pace, but it wasn't easy. When he left me at my next appointment, I asked for his mother's email address so I could tell her what a fine young leader her son has become.

I had lunch with some student leaders and administrators on a balcony overlooking the dining hall. Below us sat 4200 cadets. The way they marched in, lined up and were seated with their 100 squadron-mates reminded me of the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in its precision.

The administrator who planned my day told me what a difficult adjustment the cadets have in their first year. Often, when they go home for the holidays, they are ill-at-ease with their friends and families because they have changed so much.

The cadets work very hard on their studies, but they take their sports and other activities seriously too. (Perhaps you have seen the push-ups they do for every point their football team scores?)

These men and women are training to be leaders who, along with the graduates of our other military academies, will keep our country safe.

I think we are in good hands.

My New Sister

My new sister

When it is cold and the wind is blowing, my eyes water non-stop. So, when I was out walking this morning and my tears began to fall, I thought about my sister Florence.

Growing up, I always had always wanted a sister because my brother didn't pal around with me all that much. Then nine years ago, I got my wish. It seems that my father had a family before he married my mother, a fact that he never shared with his children. When his daughter from that marriage found my brother (on the Internet) I suddenly acquired a new eighty-two–year-old sister.

Once I was over my initial shock, I knew I had to meet this woman. And I did.

We met over brunch in New York City on a gray March day in 1999. We talked and talked. Some of what she said about my father was difficult for me to hear, but she showed very little bitterness and a great sense of humor. I thought she was amazing--widowed for some time, but with a life filled with theatre, travel, and many friends. She has children and grandchildren, all who are now my relatives.

We didn't see any physical resemblance between us until we left the restaurant and were walking to the subway. The wind had picked up, and we both reached for tissues as our eyes began to tear up.

So I thought of my new sister this morning.


I am bad at waiting. I always have been. When I think of all the time I have spent waiting—in airports, in doctors' offices, for a bus.—it adds up to a not insignificant percentage of my life, especially when I add the time I spend on the phone, waiting for someone to answer my call that they say is important to them. I hate it when the medical assistant says, Dr. So and So will be with you in a moment. There I sit, freezing (why are physicians examining rooms always freezing?) as the minutes add up, imagining all kinds of life-threatening diseases that are about to be diagnosed. Is my doctor's time worth more than mine? I guess somebody thinks so.

Once I waited in the emergency room of our local hospital because a friend of my son Jeremy ran over Jeremy's foot (that is the wheel of his car ran over Jeremy's foot) by driving off while Jeremy's foot was still on the street and the rest of him was in the car. There was a big hole through his foot. Now that was a stressful wait.

Anyhow, I have developed some waiting strategies. I try to make medical appointments the first thing in the morning. I try to always carry a newspaper, a book or a pad of paper. But even when I am well-prepared, I eventually get frustrated and can think only of the things I could be doing with this precious time.

This is a woman who needs to learn to relax you must be thinking.

You're right.

World in Crisis

Unless you live on another planet, you can't have missed the ongoing upheaval on this one. Voices of doom are everywhere, except perhaps the presidential candidates, but that's another story.

The Great Depression was behind us when I was born, but my parents who lived through it talked about it often. It seemed our country had learned its lessons because up to now the economy has been pretty good for our generation, and very good for our children's generation. Because they have only known prosperous times, the kids are now looking to us for reassurance, but we are too uncertain ourselves to be of much help to them.

The possibility that our economy might fall apart for reasons we don't understand, and the possibility that it may damage our lives and our children's lives no matter what we do is scary.

We have no choice, but to adapt. We will learn some lessons, and things will get better eventually.

We have to believe that.

Old Talk/Young Talk

Our great next door neighbors are about our age. We make it a point to get together in front of their fireplace or on our patio, depending on the weather, at least once a month for a one-hour "cocktail." We discuss the latest campaign news; we discuss our children and their children. We laugh a lot.

But we also talk old talk, e.g., what it might be like to move into an apartment when the house maintenance stuff becomes overwhelming. Or we discuss the latest health news and what we are doing to stay healthy.

On the other hand, at my job, I talk young talk. I am more than twice as old as many of the graduate students I hang out with much of my work day. They are young, energetic, hoping to make the world a better place. They talk about their accomplishments and their dreams. They come to me for help in sorting out their concerns. I help them. They thank me. I love my job, and unlike me, it never gets old.

So I spend time talking old and time talking young. It's a good balance.

I’ve Got the Celiac Blues

When I opened the refrigerator door this morning I saw three loaves of special breads: artisan whole wheat, raisin, and seeded whole grain. They are made by companies with wonderful names like When Pigs Fly and Nashoba Brook Bakery. They are delicious, I am told. But I can never eat a single bite of any of them.

Almost nine years ago, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease I had never heard of called celiac sprue. Those of us who have it cannot eat anything with gluten, ever. And gluten lurks everywhere. In anything with wheat, barley or rye. In most soy sauce. In beer. In most cereals. It isn't just that we would have an allergic reaction (which most of us would), but gluten does bad stuff to our intestines over time, and that can lead to life-threatening diseases. It's not pretty.

It was bad enough to have to give up my morning bagel. But there are worse things. When we are invited to dinner by friends, I have to remind them of my eating restrictions. When they serve just-baked saucer-sized chocolate-chip cookies at meetings at work, I have to pass. When we go to a restaurant, I call in advance to be sure they can accommodate my diet, and I have to worry that someone will drop a piece of pasta in my soup, or a bread crumb on my plate.

On the plus side, more people are being diagnosed with this disease. And therefore there are more gluten-free products available online or in grocery stores. And more restaurants are paying attention to allergies in general. At home, I eat wonderful meals. And I didn't have to give up coffee ice cream. So it's not all bad, and it is getting better.

Nevertheless, some days I feel depressed about being gluten-intolerant. It doesn't make me feel better that others have worse afflictions. Seeing those loaves of bread this morning made this one of those days.

I've got the celiac blues.

Before I Forget…

I am a very bad at telling jokes. That doesn't really matter because I hardly ever remember jokes anyway.

I do remember what was probably the first joke I ever heard. It's the one about the little boy and girl at a picnic who go into the woods to pee. She watches him and says: "Now that's a handy gadget to have on a picnic."

Here are two jokes that I have remembered for three days. I want to get them down in writing before I forget them.

1. First person: Do you smoke after sex? Second person: Don't know…never looked.

2. What's the difference between a Lehman Brothers trader and a pigeon?

The pigeon can still make a deposit on a Ferrari.

By the way, I do remember some very odd things, like what I wore the day I met Peter 43 years ago and the name of my seventh grade Latin teacher. And so far I remember most of my computer passwords.

But don't expect me to tell you what happened when a minister, a priest and a rabbi walked into a bar.