Previous month:
October 2009
Next month:
December 2009

November 2009

Doughnuts and Laptops

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. I don't usually rely on my rusty French, but somehow, "the more it changes, the more the more it's the same thing" sounds better in French, and this aptly describes Thanksgiving at our house. We don't vary the menu (at least we haven't since our daughter-in-law Katrina joined the family which required adding regular mashed potatoes to the usual sweet potato casserole recipe I got from Cousin Judy many years ago). Same great food, served in the same bowls and platters, the same branches of bittersweet gracefully surrounding the candles, the same last minute scrambling to make sure everything gets to the table hot,.

Some things, however, do change because we change. We're all a year older, and it shows the most in the grandkids. When we went around the table to say what we are thankful for, almost-six-year-old Leo gave his thanks in Spanish and three-year-old Grady spoke in paragraphs rather than the two or three words strung together with his mother's help last year. The place cards, made on Thanksgiving morning by the kids, will grace all future Thanksgiving tables. For the first time I put fresh thyme in the stuffing, and it did not go un-noticed. So some things actually are different.

Around noon on Thanksgiving, with the turkey in the oven, we took our usual walk around the nearby reservoir, accompanied , as always, by a Nerf football. But this time, Leo and his dad decided to run ahead. We lost sight of them, and when they rejoined us, we realized that they had detoured to a just-off-the-path Dunkin' Donuts where they bought doughnuts and coffee for all. We sat on some rocks consuming multiple doughnuts as multiple passerbyers wondered why our family would be eating doughnuts right before turkey.

That was a change.

The other notable change came after the grandkids were in bed. Our three adult children, three open laptops, end of conversation.

Some changes are not the same thing.

The Fourth Thursday in November

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. We are all together. Seth has come from Brazil. Jeremy and his family have come from Maryland. These are the moments I cherish. When did I start worrying that each Thanksgiving could be the last we are all together? Of the last thirty-eight, there was only one that we weren't all together, and that was when Jeremy was living in Chile.

The house barely accommodates us all now that three year-old-Grady needs a real bed. The refrigerator is bursting at the seams because this group requires three different kinds of milk, dozens of cartons of yogurt, two dozen eggs, several kinds of juice and all the usual items. This is the one time of the year I miss the two ovens and two refrigerators of the house where the boys grew up.

November is a mean month. It's gray and damp and the last leaves have fallen. Spring seems so far away. Thanksgiving is the saving grace of this month, and, once again, we have so much to be grateful for.

Good Luck, Bad Mood

Every year when the heating season gets serious, we call the furnace people. It seems that without their yearly visit, heat doesn't get up to our third floor. With Thanksgiving guests about to sleep up there, we made our annual call. I don't get why their "fix" only lasts one year, but that's not the only thing I don't get.

On Thursday the furnace man came. Then he left for an emergency. When he came back, we were eating supper. He did his magic. As he left, he said, "By the way, I turned off your hot water heater because it is leaking and you are about to have your nice basement flooded. " "So we can't use the hot water?" I stupidly asked. "That's right," he said as he disappeared into the night.

That's our good luck. Without the furnace man visit, we would have had a flooded basement.

With Thanksgiving a week away, imagine the nightmare we missed. Last year our carbon monoxide detectors went off in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, and the fire department was shooing us out into the cold before we knew it. Needless to say, I am very grateful to the furnace man.

On Friday, the plumber came and as Peter's email to me at work (subject line: "Hot for you") reported, by six p.m. we were back in hot water land.

So why the bad mood on Saturday morning? Too much to do, too little time. What was I thinking when I invited people for dinner the Saturday before Thanksgiving? How will I get everything done for my favorite holiday? After we got the big grocery shop put away, it seemed more manageable. I love my friends who are coming for dinner. And before I know it, all of my family will be together for the first time in seven months.

And so the bad mood passes.

No Ifs, Ands or Butts

I have been thinking a lot about butts lately as part of assessing my aging body. (I'm tempted to say here that I've tried to put all of this behind me.)

In ancient times, i.e., my father's era, the saying "I'd like to have that swing on my back porch" was not an uncommon observation. But swings and back porches are pretty rare nowadays as is that comment. More recently, my half-sister who is ninety-one speaking of her rear told me that she often has the feeling that someone is following her, and then "I realize it's actually me."

I, myself, always had an ample rear end, but lately I've noticed that it seems to have flattened out. I turned to Google for answers. If you search for "aging butts," you get 7, 810,000 hits. I only looked at two. One confirmed that this phenomenon happens to all females of a certain age. The other showed before and after pictures of women, some as young as their early twenties, who have had butt lifts.

Who knew?

Old Things

I use my flour sifter once a year when I make my Thanksgiving pumpkin bread. I pulled it out of the cupboard the other day because pumpkin bread freezes well, and it is one of the few Thanksgiving must-haves I can make in advance.

When I took that pathetic sifter out of the closet, I thought about how long I have had it. My roommates and I bought it in Woolworth's fifty years ago when we set up our first apartment. It's old. So is my ironing board, purchased for that same apartment. Our Woolworth's plastic china cracked and leaked in the first year, a foolishly cheap investment. But not the sifter or the ironing board.

Since my recent use of the sifter, I have been noticing how old other things around our house are. I have three plastic clothes-pin-like devices to hang laundry over the bath tub when I travel. At home, they hang on a hook on the back of my bathroom door. I bought them fifty-one years ago for my first trip to Europe, and although they've turned yellowish, they still work.

My sewing box contains spool after spool of thread bought over the years. Some are inherited from my mother. I can't even think about how old they are, but I can tell hers from mine because hers are wooden, and mine are plastic. In the top drawer in my bathroom is a nail brush with a yellow plastic handle that has my maiden name written on a piece of adhesive tape I put across it when I went to overnight camp sixty years ago.

Of course, I have photos that span generations, but they are in a neglected box under the eaves of the third floor. My flour sifter, my plastic clothespin-like hooks and my nail brush, however, are still useful.

And, more or less, so am I.

Major Minor Surgery

Three weeks from today I will have what the nurse practitioner called major minor surgery. I will have the growth that is causing calcium to leach from my bones removed from my parathyroid gland. It's called major minor because although the surgery is quick and usually does not require an overnight stay in the hospital, there are things like vocal chords nearby so it takes a skilled surgeon to do it well.

Yesterday was my pre-op visit. During the pre-op appointment, they check to see if there is anything else wrong that might preclude the surgery. They take blood, do an EKG and ask endless questions.

I had thought I was pretty cool about my upcoming surgery, but now that it is getting closer, I am thinking about it more, at least sub-consciously. For example, on the night before my pre-op appointment, I dreamed that I overheard a conversation in an elevator. Two people were talking about my surgeon. I had consulted two physicians before choosing this surgeon; I had met with him and liked him, and he has an excellent reputation. According to the two people in my elevator dream, he had died. I was greatly relieved when I woke up.

My appointment with the nurse practitioner yesterday started out really well, i.e., she asked me my age, and when I told her, she was taken aback. She couldn't believe I was 71, so she said. (I wonder if she does that with all her patients.) Then she proceeded to ask me all the questions that I had already painfully answered on a form as I sat in the waiting room. That seemed like a waste of my time or hers.

Anyhow, I seemed to have passed the tests so it looks like a go. Now I just want it to be over.

And I want no more dreams about elevators.


Technology—Primavera, Amazonas, Brazil and Silver Spring, Maryland

Our son Seth, the Brazil correspondent for wrote from the town of Primavera this week. He went to the Amazon, away from his usual post in Sao Paulo, to check out education in Brazil's biggest state (Amazonas). He will be writing about how education works in a region where there are few roads, and kids go to school by boat (I hope Seth will forgive this simplified or possibly inaccurate account of his purpose there.) From Primavera this week, he wrote about the town's electrical system. When there is gas for the generator, everyone watches soaps and/or soccer on the town's few TV sets. See "Soccer and Soap Operas in the Amazon" at

More than 3,000 miles away and in a different hemisphere, his brother Jeremy launched a web business this week. I think the idea came to him and his friend about a month ago, and it's up on the Web already. He didn't have to worry about a generator. (I hope Jeremy will forgive me if I oversimplify what this business is about.) will offer discounts of up to 70% from specialty web businesses—it's a shopping site, with a different angle. If you like bargains, you might want to sign up.

How unbelievable is it that two brothers are 3000 miles apart yet the news from both this week is about technology. Two very different technologies.

P.S. to Loren in Maryland, I really, really do like raking leaves.

I do not consider ironing a chore. While I mindlessly run the iron back and forth over anything wrinkled, I can let my thoughts wander where they may. Sometimes I listen to music or a ballgame, but mostly I daydream.

Watching wrinkles disappear gives me pleasure. (Wish I could iron away my own!). It's almost like meditating except that you accomplish something. And you're never done. There will always be more to iron in the future.

Last week we fired the company that takes care of our lawn and leaves. When we got two bills in one month that added up to $400 for our postage-stamp-sized back yard, I decided that was it. For half of that amount, we can buy a self-propelled lawnmower and do it ourselves.

So that's why on Sunday, a beautiful fall day, I was in the back yard raking. How satisfying it was to smell the soil of the garden beds and the still-green lawn. How satisfying to stuff the brightly colored leaves into a bag and stamp them down. How I yearned for the fall smell of burning leaves of my childhood. How good it felt to rake until I wanted to stop.

Like ironing, raking is mindless. And like ironing, you're never done.

Overdoing It

Peppermint Patties are one of my favorite treats (after Starbucks coffee ice cream, of course).

One of my favorite activities is veging out at on Friday nights with a good Netflix movie.

And I never end the day without reading in bed, even if it is only for five minutes.

On Friday, I enjoyed all three.

  • I ate lots of Peppermint Patties at the Halloween party at work.
  • I watched a heart-wrenching movie about a friendship between the eight-year-old son of a Nazi concentration camp commandant and an eight-year-old boy who is a prisoner there.
  • Before turning out the light, I read a book about medical mistakes, written by the doctor who will be performing surgery on my parathyroid gland in about a month.

Is it any wonder that I wrote this at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning because I couldn't sleep?