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October 2009

Nagging Questions

My former boss is just back from a couple of months in Europe. He reports that in the half-dozen countries he visited, people take lunch hours, and go home at dinner time. He said that they work to live.

Question: Why do we have so little time for ourselves and our families in the USA?

Our country has become polarized. No matter who is in power, the other party wants to see them fail.

Question: Why can't we find a way to work together toward shared goals?

Healthcare is on everyone's mind. After years of trying to come up with a reform plan, we have not yet succeeded.

Why can't we do as well as the majority of the other industrialized nations that insure everyone, spend less on healthcare and have better outcomes than we do?

The loss of homes and jobs from Hurricane Katrina happened more than four years ago, and many thousand are still displaced.

Why can we put men on the moon, yet are unable to get people back into their homes and jobs?

According to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, CEO's on average take home 821 times as much as a person working for minimum wage.

Question: What's wrong with this picture?

Why do I have so many questions?


Still in Brazil

It's been almost a year now that our son Seth has been the Brazil correspondent for He lives in a very exciting country. But I miss him every day.

Thanks to Skype and email, it's not as bad as I had feared. We don't have to rely on those thin blue air letters that my parents had to wait days for when I took off to Europe by myself a million years ago. What's more, he's been home twice, and we have visited him in Brazil.

And there have been some great moments. One was watching him via YouTube as a guest on the Brazilian equivalent of the Jay Leno show being funny in Portuguese. (We don't understand Portuguese, but people were laughing.) Today is another of those moments. In today's New York Times Travel Section, Seth wrote the cover story about the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, the feature about 36 Hours in Montevideo, the interview for Why We Travel and answer to a question about Rio and a Side Trip to Paraty in the Q&A section.

I hate that we can no longer hop in the car at 9:00 a.m. and be with him by 12:30 p.m. as we could when he lived in New York City. Now we have to travel more than fifteen hours in Delta Airlines' painfully uncomfortable seats to visit him in a country that has a language we can't pronounce.

But today I am very proud of him, and it's almost OK that he is where he is.

Joy and Sorrow

The son of dear friends got married last weekend. The wedding was held at a gorgeous spot overlooking the Hudson River. People came from as far away as the Philippines. Two families, each having their own reunion and getting to know the other family on this wonderful occasion. A beautiful bride of Chinese heritage, a tall and handsome groom, and a wedding party in fall colors to match the riot of colors on the nearby hillside.

Except that the bride's father was dying of cancer, and we knew that he might not live to see his daughter's wedding. The stress and fear took a toll on both families, and there was nothing to do but wait.

And wait we did.

The priest announced that the ceremony would be slightly delayed because the father of the bride had been mistakenly taken from the hospital to the hotel where the guests were staying, rather than to the site of the wedding. The flower girls picked up the petals that they had prematurely strewn in the aisle. The guests talked in hushed tones. The quartet played on.

At last the ceremony began, an hour late. The flower girls, adorable in their deep red dresses, re-dropped the petals from their baskets. The groomsmen came down the aisle followed by the bridesmaids, also in deep red gowns. Everyone stood as the bride's mother and father appeared at the head of the aisle. This brave, brave man had the will to live to see his daughter marry, and there he was, in a wheelchair, oxygen streaming through a tube, probably full of pain medication, but wearing a tuxedo. His wife and son lovingly pushed him down the aisle, with the bride at his side.

I passed out all the tissues in my purse to people in my row. There was not a dry eye among the guests.

The ceremony was long. The bride's mother's anxious eyes looked tenderly upon her ill husband as often as upon the bride. It was difficult to imagine what was going through her mind. But they made it through the ceremony and accompanied by a nurse and wrapped in blankets, the father was able to greet family and friends, and seemed to be quite animated during the reception.

I assumed he had been taken back to the hospital, but after lunch, his daughter and her new husband and her brother wheeled him onto the dance floor where the photographer snapped pictures of this unforgettable moment.


Good Shopping Karma

I had been looking for the right pair of shoes to wear with a new outfit I bought for a wedding.  The more I looked, the more determined I became, but I couldn’t find anything suitable.  Then, the night before we were to leave for the wedding, I decided to give it one more shot. I drove for eight minutes to the nearest Macy’s, thinking it wasn’t much of an investment of my time.

Macy’s didn’t have exactly what I wanted, but I spotted a pair of shoes that might do, and they looked comfortable as well as chic.  But, as luck would have it, they didn’t have my size.  The very nice sales lady offered to look on the computer to see if they were available in a different Macy’s.  At first I told her not to bother because I needed them immediately. Then I decided that I liked them enough to buy them even if I couldn’t get them right away, and told her to go ahead and look.

The computer indicated that they had them in my size in several Macy’s stores, including the store I was standing in.  Sure enough, they had been put away in the wrong place.  The very nice sales lady found them.  They were a perfect fit.

I  walked out of the store with another customer who also found a pair of shoes she loved, although not exactly what she was looking for.  We had bonded at the cash register over our good luck.

It was good shopping karma all around.

A Day Off--Almost

Monday was Columbus Day and I didn't have to go to work. We didn't set the alarm so we slept an extra hour. We got up and baked a new gluten-free coffee cake together, and it wasn't half bad.

I put on my blue jeans and Birkenstocks and went to work because I wanted to. I went through endless emails in my Inbox and either answered, deleted or filed them. I could do that because I wasn't interrupted. (OK, Peter did call from The Home Depot to see if we wanted to spend an extra $10 so that the new toilet seat lid he was buying would close slowly rather than with a bang.)

I made myself a cup of ginger peach tea with a teabag brought from home because I knew the office would not be heated for the holiday. By lunch time, I felt like I had accomplished a week's worth of work so I left.

I biked home under a sparkling sun, splashing light off the reddest maple tree leaves I have ever seen, thanks to our cold and rainy summer.

I had lunch with Peter at home. I took my bike in for its winter tune up and bought some gifts for the grandchildren from my favorite toy store.

I made a roast chicken for dinner and I read a book.

It was a heavenly day.


To-Do List

On October 26, 2006, Kevin Johnson, our tile man, replaced all the tiles around our bathtub. Trust me, it was necessary. Peter and I had spent a lot of time choosing the tiles. They are contemporary, and I love the look. So when he left that day, I told Kevin we would be getting back to him soon. Because the new tile looked so nice, we wanted to also use it on our bathroom floor which is so old-fashion that it's back in fashion. (Think little white squares edged in black—or just remember your bathroom floor when you were growing up.)

Kevin said, "Great, but if you are thinking about replacing the bathroom sink or cabinet, you need to do that before you put new tile on the floor." Alas, three years later, we are still not ready to have him back.

That is just one example of things that have been on my to-do list way too long.

Just his morning, I noticed that the cloth napkins we use every day (to save trees) are really looking shabby. Replacing them is far easier than looking at bathroom renovations, but it's still another thing to do.

I think I never catch up because I work full time and can barely get the laundry, the grocery shopping, and the watering of my plants done. And now that I am doing my former boss' job in addition to my regular one, it's even harder to keep my head above water.

There is an upside to all this, however. By shopping only when absolutely necessary, I probably have saved enough money to pay for a couple of years of college education for our grandchildren.

I have promised myself that in a month or two when I'm back to doing only one job, I'm going to get the bathroom updated.

And buy some new napkins.

Don’t forget to Turn off the Stove

I sent an email to Peter while waiting in an airport on Tuesday. It is not that unusual for me to be away for a couple of nights on business, but we do miss each other on those occasions.

However, there are some plusses for Peter when I am away.

  • He gets whatever section of the paper he wants at breakfast
  • He can turn the TV volume up very high
  • He can leave on every light in the house all night long
  • He has our computer all to himself


Most important, he can eat things I don't allow in the house. For example hot dogs, sausages or anything else with nitrites. Or all the things that are not gluten-free that I can't eat. While I would grab a couple of eggs in his absence, and eat whenever I felt like it, he will prepare a full meal and he will eat it precisely at 6:30 with the news.

All that is fine with me. But I do worry that my absent-minded ex-professor husband will forget to turn off the gas burners on the stove. Therefore my most important task when I am away is to write him an email. The last line is always the same.

"Don't forget to turn off the stove."


Five of my good friends are named Barbara, and we are all about the same age. (Is there a "Barbara" born after 1950?) The one from farthest away was in town for her older brother's funeral, and she and her husband Dan came for lunch yesterday before heading back to Los Angeles.

I have known this Barbara for exactly fifty years. We see her and her husband every couple of years, and we are not in touch that often between visits. But within moments of being together, we are back to being as close as when we shared an office all those years ago.

There is something about being with people who knew you "when". Barbara had just gotten married when I met her (not to Dan), and had just left a "career" as a Radio City Rockette. We were so young then, but I regarded her as a sophisticated big sister because her career as a dancer (short though it was) meant she knew how to get around in the world, and I was just an ordinary political science graduate with no serious boyfriend. Back then, if you weren't married or engaged when you graduated from college, it was pretty bad, especially if you weren't trained to be a teacher or a nurse.

Yesterday, the four of us chatted away before and during lunch, laughing a lot because both men are funny. But after lunch, we women stayed in the kitchen while our husbands returned to the sofa.

It was then that the years melted away. Yes, our circumstances have changed. But despite our very different lives, Barbara and I share the same joys and the same concerns, the same worries and the same hopes. My eyes filled with tears when she talked about her brother. And she hugged me as I discussed some of my own challenges.

And then they were off to the airport. I'm not sure when we'll see each other next, but I know that when we do, the years will melt away again.



It has taken me a year to be able to write here that Peter, my husband and best friend, has Parkinson's Disease.  For some time he had been experiencing fatigue and having other issues that could be, and often are, symptoms of ageing.  He had seen his primary care doctor and a geriatrician, but they were unable to come up with an explanation. 

It took a retired doctor whom Peter barely knew to suggest Parkinson's Disease.
In June of last year, Peter went on a bike ride with some friends. At a lunch three months later, Peter sat next to the retired doctor who had been on that bike ride. He asked Peter if he could tell him something that he (Peter) might not like to hear.  Peter agreed.  The doctor told him that he had noticed on that early summer bike ride that, while off his bike, Peter walked in a gait that suggested Parkinson's Disease.  When Peter got home, he Googled Parkinson's Disease and then sent me an email at work saying "I think I know
what's wrong with me."

Within weeks, he had an appointment with a neurologist.  There is no actual test for Parkinson's Disease, but responding to Sinamet, a drug that replaces what is not produced by the brain of people with PD, is a good indicator of the disease.

The good news was that the wondering about what was going on was over.  The bad news was that we were faced with a serious disease that has a lot of uncertainty related to it.  We had no idea about how the disease would progress.  Would Peter's quality of life change significantly?  Would we need to move out of our house?  Would we have to curtail our active lifestyle? 

There is no answer that works for everyone, but everyone wants an answer.

More good news is that Peter is coping well.  The Sinamet has helped.  .  Peter does not complain.  We have learned a lot about the disease in the past year. And we have learned to accept some of our limitations and to be grateful for what we can do.

Peter used to remind me that we always forget to say "I'm fortunate because my big toe is not hurting today."

Well, my big toe doesn't hurt today