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June 2009

Traveling with Friends

We've been traveling with our friends Christa and Gordon for twenty years and, except for a few days in Paris or Rome on our way somewhere else, we haven't been to the same place twice. Until this year.

We decided to return to the Hudson River Valley in New York State because we missed too much on our first visit. Gordon didn't have enough time at the Franklin Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park; we never got to nearby Eleanor Roosevelt's home or the Vanderbilt Estate. As for me, I had to go back to the Culinary Institute of America because they served me just-baked gluten-free bread. We had been on bicycles for our last visit, so this time we wanted to hike along the Hudson River. We also wanted to revisit the outdoor sculpture garden at the Storm King Art Center.

We managed to do it all in four days (although this required leaving Gordon on his own at the Roosevelt library while we went off hiking).

Our highlights:

The Culinary Institute of America: On a beautiful site overlooking the Hudson River, the campus includes three gourmet restaurants. Graduating students cook, serve and clean up under the supervision of their instructors. Many go on to become famous chefs. The head chef at McDonald's is a graduate.

Storm King: About a forty-minute drive south of Hyde Park on the other side of the Hudson, the Storm King Art Center is set on five hundred acres. The sculptures are by internationally-known masters. Maya Lin, whose Vietnam Memorial graces the Mall in Washington, DC, has a new installation called Waves, built on eleven acres that were formerly a gravel pit.





Any trip is even better when you share it with good friends. We like to travel with Gordon and Christa because we know them so well. We know that they usually sleep a bit later than we do. They always have coffee after dinner and we don't. If the rooms where we are staying are not equal, we flip a coin to decide who gets first choice. And wherever we go, we can count on Christa to find wild raspberries by the side of the road.

One great thing about being old is old friends.


Healthcare reform is in the headlines again (or should I say still?). I don't know if Congress will come up with the cost-saving reforms we need, but I have one strategy to recommend—less surgery, more physical therapy.

I had to quit a game of badminton with my son Seth five years ago due to a sudden shoulder pain. A physician assistant in orthopedics looked at my X-rays and saw a partial tear of my rotator cuff. He recommended two orthopedic surgeons and told me to choose one;

When I asked if physical therapy (PT) was an option, he said I could try it, but would end up having the surgery and then have to have more PT anyway. I opted for physical therapy alone, and my rotator cuff has been fine ever since.

About six weeks ago, I started to have serious hip pain. Every time I was on my feet for an hour, I couldn't even step up a curb without help. I was sure I needed a hip replacement. I decided that I would ask our personal trainer Kathy about it at our next session. (Kathy is a physical therapist as well as a trainer.)

When I explained my symptoms to Kathy, she asked me to sit down cross-legged. Normally, with a hip problem, this is very painful to the groin, according to Kathy. It wasn't painful for me. She thought my back might be the problelm (so much for my self-diagnosis) and gave me a bunch of new stretches to add to my routine. She suggested that I try them for a couple of weeks, and if there was no improvement, get an X-ray of my hip and back to see what was going on.

It's now almost three weeks since her visit. I have stretched and stretched. I now have no pain after being on my feet for an hour. Kathy solved my problem, and in the process, saved my health insurance provider some money.

Imagine the savings if more people tried PT before surgery.


My passport expired in March, 2006.  I’ve had my new one for three years. 

As part of my “what do I need this for?” crusade, I decided to throw away the old passport.  But not before I looked at every country stamp.  It was like a travelogue.  There were stamps from France, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand, all places where we had bicycled, first with groups and once we figured out how to do it, on our own.  There were stamps from Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana where we took our grown-up sons to celebrate the start of a new century and two important birthdays. 

We visited Czechoslovakia and Germany one summer after biking in Switzerland.  We went to Mexico.  We spent some time in Chile to visit our son Jeremy who lived there for a year. We rented a flat in England for a week one March, and met a friend there on his way back from climbing Kilimanjaro.  On that trip we ate an outrageously expensive birthday meal at a restaurant that I had to call a month ahead in order to get a reservation.

When I got that passport in 1996, I had no idea that I would visit all those amazing places.  Turning its pages now brought a flood of wonderful memories.

I couldn’t throw it out.




I've been to a lot of farewell events in my career. People move on, and change is good. These events usually are scheduled at the end of the work day. I try to drop by at the beginning because the toasts can get long, and they tend to be quite predictable. If I arrive early, I can often slip out before the speeches begin.

But this week, it was my boss who was leaving, and the speaker was his deputy director-- me. We did his farewell a little differently. We had it at breakfast. We invited only the people in our department—about 50. And knowing how much he dislikes being praised in public, we limited the toasts to one-- mine. I spoke for all of us, but my speech was only 93 words long. I was emotional, but controlled. I gave him a memory book in which we had all written our good wishes.

He made a gracious, and also short, response, giving us all the credit for his success.

He is a class act

Bad Think/Good Think

I used to have a bright red double-breasted wool suit with gold blazer-type buttons. I wore it year after year because it looked great on me (or so people said). One spring when I was putting it away for the following winter, I had a frightening thought. What if I would not be alive to wear it in the winter? That is the first time I remember acknowledging that I wasn't so young any more. It did not feel good.

That was eight or ten years ago. The suit is long gone to Goodwill, and I'm still here. But reminders of mortality come more often now. I call them bad think, and I try not to dwell on them.

Here's another example. We have a lot of possessions. I hope our children will want some of them. But I've been thinking lately that the kids shouldn't have to go through all of our useless (to them) belongings after we die. So occasionally, I look in a closet or a file drawer to see what I can get rid of to make our stuff less a burden for them. Is that bad think or real-life think?

In our back yard, we have two huge Japanese lilac trees that bloom in alternate years. Right now one of them is blanketed with cream-colored blossoms. It is a breathtaking sight. Today I became concerned about how many more times I would see that tree bloom so gloriously. That's bad think.

Instead, I should think about how fortunate I am to see it blooming right now.

I Can’t Slice a Cantaloupe Straight

There are some things I do well. Some things I am OK at. And some things I just can't do. For example, I have a slice of cantaloupe every morning for breakfast. It's delicious and good for me. You would think after all these years, I could cut it right. But my piece is always lopsided. Even if I start at the right spot on the top, my knife just doesn't follow the curve of the melon. It's a mystery.

Music is another thing I'm bad at. A few days ago, I read about Stanley Drucker, who is stepping down as principal clarinetist from the New York Philharmonic after 61 years and 10,200 concerts with the orchestra. I never got beyond playing "On Top of Old Smokey" on the ukulele when I was a camper, and even then, I couldn't carry a tune.

I am also a complete failure when it comes to keeping my emotions to myself. I cry over Hallmark commercials and Mother's Day cards. I could go on and on about my shortcomings, (and my family could probably add plenty) but I won't.

Now that I have passed 70, I have decided that it's OK for me to limit my singing to the shower, to give up trying to be Barbara Walters and to have forgotten how to solve quadratic equations.

But not being able to slice a cantaloupe straight…I have to work on that.


Summer House

My husband Peter owned a piece of land on a private pond on Cape Cod. A few days after we met, the house he had built on the property was struck by lightning while he slept, and burned to the ground. He came to work the following Monday with singed eyebrows and an interesting story about his sleeping in the nude and the volunteer firemen bringing their wives along.

That happened in the summer of 1965. When we married three years later, we looked into rebuilding, and were told it was risky because the newly-designated National Seashore could take over any new house any time. We built the house, and after ten great summers there, they took it from us. And did nothing with it.

Three years ago, we took a look at it when we were in the area and were sad to find the house completely uncared for. Shortly after our visit, however, someone became interested in the work of our now-deceased architect, and began to raise money to restore the homes he had designed.

That is why we got a phone call from a stranger the other night. He identified himself as an architect who had been commissioned by a trust to restore our house, and he wanted to know everything. He wanted details about the house and how we furnished it. He wanted plans (we don't have them) and pictures of the house with us using it (we do have them). The Trust wants to restore the house to be the way it was in 1970 when it was completed.

Our house will serve as the Trust's office, but the architect told us that they are thinking of renting it to tourists.

We're hoping to be first in line.


When I had my annual checkup last November, my internist noted that there was a slight irregularity in my blood numbers. He suggested that we test my blood again in six months. I made a note in my calendar and forgot about it.

In mid-May, I repeated the blood test. This time my internist sent the results to a hematologist. And now I have a diagnosis of CLL or chronic lymphocytic leukemia. This is a condition in which your body produces too many white blood cells. The bottom line is that there is a huge range of possible outcomes. According to my hematologist, who is now a very important person in my life, some people live for years with this condition. But not everyone.

It turns out that I have probably had it for a long time. A blood test from 1996 showed too many white cells, and my count is really no worse now than then. That is good news. I also don't have any other types of white cells that are irregular or any swollen lymph glands. That is also good news.

I will have to have my blood tested twice a year and my lymph nodes once a year. Although I have what could become a serious condition, I have just a speck of it, or as the hematologist called it "Stage Zero". I am not worried, but given the choice, I would prefer not to have it at all.

It's just six days since I received this news, and I am almost done processing it. Soon it will be just one more thing to be factored into my very good and lucky life.