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November 2009
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December 2009

Movie Week

We subscribe to Netflix. We like to hunker down with a movie and microwave popcorn on Sunday nights, an escape before the hectic work week begins. Yet sometimes, a movie we've ordered sits unwatched on the kitchen counter for weeks. Once we even cancelled our subscription.

But, for us, the week between Christmas and New Year's is all about going out to the movies. So far we've seen Invictus, (Morgan Freeman is wonderful as Mandela) Broken Embraces, (anything directed by Almovadar and starring Penelope Cruz is worth braving the cold) and Avatar (That one was for Peter, but I'm a good sport). We'll see La Danse on Sunday and sometime between now and then we'll fit in It's Complicated. After that, it's back to Netflix.

Happy New Year.

Grumpy over Christmas

I know that I have no right to complain. Everyone was home for Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday anyway, and it is reasonable for Jeremy and his family to visit his in-laws in sunny California over Christmas. Seth was in Rio (see the guy with the camera in the photo below) reporting Sean Goldman's return to his American father that captivated Brazil and gave Seth a chance to do some reporting for CBS. (Not that he would have come home again anyhow.)

When my assistant Margaret left for the holidays, her long weekend was to be one party after another since most of her large, close family lives nearby. We, however, have never lived near relatives, and it is at holiday time that we wish we did. Our favorite annual Christmas party didn't happen this year, and our second-favorite ended a couple of years ago due to a divorce. I imagine that everyone else is having a wonderful time together (although it is possible that some of them might not be having such a wonderful time together).

We listen to Christmas carols and go to a movie.

And I am grumpy.


Travel Guides

I don't go to the office between Christmas and New Year's so I work on my list of overdue household projects. This holiday season I planned to weed out our overflowing bookshelves. Thanks to the big snowstorm last weekend, I got an early start. I decided to take the "low-hanging fruit" by getting rid of outdated travel guides. My thought was we would want to buy new ones if we ever return to those places.

There were eight Michelin Green Guides on one shelf. Together with the relevant maps, they were our guides on many bike trips in France. Our Michelin Guide to Paris is the most worn because we started and ended so many trips there. But the guides to Alsace-Lorraine, the Dordogne, Burgundy, Loire Valley, Provence and Brittany have a lot of life left in them. Except that the most recent one is ten years old.

Before I threw them away, I glanced at a few pages. And I got carried away by the memories. Like the time in the Dordogne when we missed a turn and got lost on a dirt trail that wound through farm fields. We stopped at the nearest farmhouse to ask how to get back on the road. Peter asked the farmer for directions and our friend Christa talked to his wife. These separate conversations occurred in French, where, admittedly, our fluency left a bit to be desired.

When Peter and Christa came back to our bikes, they reported completely contrary instructions. We still laugh about that experience.

And then there was the time that we needed to cross a river in Bordeaux. The map showed us the road to take—it was a long downhill ride to the river, the breezes cooling our hot, tired bodies. But when we got to the river, there was no bridge. So we had to ride back up that big hill and find another route. It was exhausting, but it made a great story.

Sitting on the floor next to the bookshelves, I allowed myself to get totally lost in our Green Guides. The memories of those wonderful trips were irresistible. At the end of the evening, I put all the books back on the shelf.

I just couldn't toss them.

My Favorite Five Minutes

It always surprises me to see little kids without jackets when I am bundled up to keep warm outside. Trouble staying warm is another one of the increasing number of growing-older symptoms that I've encountered since turning seventy.

So it comes as no surprise that when Peter and I go to bed at this time of the year, there are four ice-cold hands under the covers. This does not encourage us to rush into each others' arms.

That is why my favorite five minutes of the day are between 6:05 a.m. when our alarm goes off and 6:10 a.m. when I have to get out of bed. I turn off the alarm and reach over to the toasty-warm body lying next to me.

And for those five minutes, everything is right with the world.

The Longest Night

I always look forward to December 21st because it means that we have turned the corner on the short days/long nights season. This year, however, my longest night came a week early. At least it felt like the longest night while I was preparing for my colonoscopy.

I managed to get through work that day by feasting on a diet of Jello and bouillon. But once I got home and began my actual preparation for the procedure, the night in front of me seemed very long. For anyone who has not had this experience, there is no preparation for the preparation. You just have to swallow hard (and often) and get down sixteen eight-ounce glasses of a disgusting beverage in four hours.

As I darted between the couch and the bathroom, Peter made himself some pasta with bacon and garlic for dinner. The bacon smell was tantalizing, and I planned to have some as soon as my nightmare was over. I grumbled through the evening, shivering despite two fleeces and a blanket. (What is it about that stuff that makes you freezing cold?). Peter reminded me that a colonoscopy is optional, and I do it to prolong my good life.

At that point, I wasn't so sure that I wanted to live long enough for my next one.


My good friend and colleague Kathleen, who is seven years younger than I am, decided to take a very generous early retirement offer. (I declined the same offer.) The day before Thanksgiving was her last day at work.

I know what's it's like to not have Kathleen around because she was away for six months in 2008 while she fought lymphoma. This is different. It's permanent. Sure, we'll remain friends, but when I find an unexpected moment to take a lunch break, she won't be just upstairs to join me.

Then on Thursday, we had a good-bye luncheon for Louisa, another colleague who is taking early retirement. She, too, is younger than I am. That leaves me as the only representative of my generation among my close co-workers.

Having younger colleagues is a plus in many ways. It's great to be able to talk with them about their dreams and aspirations in a time when they have so many options that didn't exist when I was their age. Their challenges are different, but my perspective from having been around for so long can often be helpful to them. I love it when they ask for my guidance. I try not to dwell on how things used to be.

When I want to do that, Kathleen is only a phone call away.


I'm in good health for someone edging up to age 72, and most of the time, I am just plain grateful to be here.

But even with an incredibly able surgeon in a top-ranked hospital, and a not-so-dangerous operation, I was not a happy camper as I waited for my parathyroid surgery last Thursday.  Except during a couple of pre-op appointments, I had managed to avoid thinking about this unwelcome event until I left work the evening before.  I told my assistant, Margaret, that I couldn't wait to see her again.  For her, the next day would be normal.  Not for me.

Over the years, I have had a handful of successful surgeries for fairly generic things like acute appendicitis and a knee replacement. I am good at recovering. But still, surgery is surgery, and it is never guaranteed that nothing will go wrong. 

I find that once I am alone in the hospital, I retreat into my own zone.  It's just me, the doctors and the nurses. I am completely in their hands.  I don't think about anything except getting through the surgery.  I know I will feel worse when I leave the hospital than when I came in, but I just hope to leave on my own two feet.

And I did feel worse when I left the hospital eight hours later.  A sore throat from the breathing tube, sort neck from the surgery, and lightheadedness from the anesthesia.

Now, a week later, I'm back to not thinking about my parathyroid. I've checked surgery off the "to do" list, and I am ready to move on to the next challenge.

Hopefully, it won't be in a hospital.

Dinner for Four

Until our older child went away to college, dinner at our house was a command performance. The four of us ate together unless one of us had a compelling reason not to be there. We had some standard meals that worked for everyone. Not a week went by without Rice Krispie chicken or hamburgers (cooked outside no matter what the temperature). When the kids were in high school, sports practice may have determined the hour we ate, but never whether we ate together.

Those days seem like ancient history. Except for two years ('95-'97), the children haven't lived in the same town as we have since college, and the four of us without guests or family just never happens. Except for last Sunday. Jeremy's family had left for Maryland and Seth wasn't leaving for Brazil for a couple of days, and that left the four of us, just like old times.

I felt like I was giving a dinner party. I prepared my best marinated flank steak. Peter made polenta. We lit candles and had a glass of wine. We all commented about how long it had been and how unusual it was to be just us.

It was over way too soon.

And Now There Are None

One week ago our children and grandchildren all arrived together for Thanksgiving, but there were three separate departures. On Sunday, Katrina and the grandchildren left for home without Jeremy because Jeremy had to be here for a meeting on Monday, and the kids needed to be back for school. Jeremy flew home Monday after his meeting. 

Today Seth left for New York on his way back to Brazil. That was the hardest departure for me because he is so far away, and we have no plans for when we will be together again.  When the kids leave, I feel an ache deep in my stomach no matter what the circumstances.

The refrigerator, bursting at the seams last Wednesday, is almost back to normal.  A smidgen of gravy and a bit of cranberry sauce are the only leftovers remaining.  The sheets are changed and the towels are washed, .folded and stowed away.  The last Lego has been picked up, I think.

Some wonderful images of the long weekend remain.  Almost-six-year old Leo joining me in my stretches is one.  He can bring his knees to his chest effortlessly, unlike me. And then there is our just-three-year-old Grady saying that he was going to paste a "humongous" star on my sweater.  OK, the star was about the size of a quarter, but I did like the word.  I picture the kids all over Uncle Seth whom they adore.  And I am loving the memories of the beautiful bonding between Grady and Gramps.

I am thankful for Thanksgiving