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February 2010

January 2010

Machu Picchu

After a magical week in the Galapagos Islands, I expected an add-on to nearby Peru to be a letdown.  But Machu Picchu had also been on my must-see list for years.  And so we went.

Machu Picchu is “one of the new seven wonders of the world.”  An Inca city from the 15th century, abandoned by its inhabitants in the 16th century because of the Spanish conquests, it was in such an unlikely and hard to reach spot high in the Andes and so hidden by an overgrowth of vegetation that it was not fully re-discovered until 1911. 

No list of “places to see before you die” would exclude Machu Picchu.

Since we were coming from sea level to 8000 ft, we spent a few days in the (lower) Sacred Valley of the Incas to adjust to the altitude. This is an agriculturally-rich area with farming both in the valley and on terraces built high into the mountains.  There, the fields are still plowed by oxen.  It was the rainy season so everything was lush and the green and iron-red mountains, part of the Andes, are “new” enough to present impressive ragged edges.

The village of Urumbamba and the nearby Inca fortress at Ollantaytamba were a good introduction to the savvy and strength of the Incas.  From Ollantaytamba,  it is an hour-and- a half-train ride through the valley to Aguas Calientes followed by a twenty minute bus ride on a narrow climbing road from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu site.

Words or photos cannot adequately capture Machu Picchu.   It is a city of 80 acres that once had a population of several thousand people.  The buildings left by the Incas are built of huge granite boulders fit together with precision to make temples and living quarters.  We spent hours climbing up trails and among the terraces used to grow crops and through the remains of these buildings.  The mist moved in and out among the peaks; the view changing from moment to moment. 

The Incas of Machu Picchu worshipped the sun and moon and nature.  Their stories have been mostly lost, but the power of their spirit is still there.

And it is very moving.

A Dream Come True

I’m a push-over for animals in their natural habitats.  There is something about peering into nature without disturbing it that gets me every time.  I loved visiting Alaska, especially Denali National Park.  Watching Mt. McKinley emerge from the clouds at sunset with a moose in the stream just behind me brought tears to my eyes.  Three years later, I wept in the Johannesburg Airport at leaving behind the elephants, giraffes, and lions of Zimbabwe and Botswana.

And now I have returned from my dream vacation to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.  Visiting there is a privilege.  The giant tortoises, some over 100 years old, the baby sea lions and their mothers, and the blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance, are not afraid of us because they have no predators and visits by humans are limited.

Dolphins playfully dive near our ship. Iguanas are on almost every rock, flamingoes with their pink reflections in the gray lagoon feed at sunset. We snorkle with sea lions, turtles and assorted sizes, shapes and colors of fish.

A dozen of us and a naturalist in a zodiac, leave the ship for different adventures, a different surprise for each of seven days.  White beaches, black beaches, even a green beach.  Golden iguanas on land only.  Marine iguanas black on one island, red and green on another.  Islands “uplifting” from below or sinking to gradually disappear in a million years.  Walking on what was once the sea floor.

When we took the final zodiac ride to shore for the flight back to the mainland, I watched our beautiful ship sparkling in the sunlight get smaller and smaller. 

As usual, the tears came.

My Body

I feel great.  Most of the time, nothing hurts.  Yet lately I have begun to feel that my body is letting me down. I received a diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia last May.  Even though it is “Stage Zero,” it has to be watched. In August I found out that I had a growth on my parathyroid that was preventing calcium from being absorbed by my bones.  That resulted in (successful) surgery to remove an adenoma (benign tumor) in early December.  Ten days later I had a colonoscopy, and since a few adenomous polyps were removed. I have to be watched carefully and have another colonoscopy in three years, rather than the normal five to ten years.

It struck me that, body-wise, things are going in only one direction and it’s the wrong one.  As a friend who has had breast cancer put it, sometimes you feel like a walking time bomb. 

What can I do?  I already exercise rigorously. I try to limit the amount of red meat I eat.  I pack in the fruits and vegetables.  I (usually) manage stress well.  I (usually) get enough sleep.  I am aware that luck has a lot to do with what happens.

But that doesn’t stop me from feeling like a walking time bomb on occasion.

A Tough Question

I often wonder what being almost eighty means to my husband Peter. We can say that fifty is the new forty etc. but no one thinks eighty is not old. 

Does he get up every day, grateful to be alive?  Does he think about the possibility that he could die that day, and if he does, what does it mean to him?  And to those of us who love him? I know, any of us could die any day, but still…

So I asked him.  “Do you think about dying every day?”

His answer was a swift and unequivocal “no”.  “Life is too interesting and there is too much going on.” he said.

And that was the end of that.

Coffee Ice Cream Re-visited

This is not the first time I’ve written about coffee ice cream. It’s my favorite food in the whole world, but only if it is made by Starbucks.  When Starbucks ice cream disappeared from my grocery store over a year ago, I called the customer service number on a container I had in the freezer, and learned that the brand had been sold to Unilever, the huge conglomerate that owns Ben and Jerry’s, Dove soap and just about everything else.  Customer service told me that Unilever was going to use Starbuck’s recipe. 

It took a long time for Starbucks ice cream to reappear in the grocery store, and when it did, it was only in pints and the price had gone up 50%.  So I rebelled and tried every other brand of coffee ice cream—Edy’s, Friendly’s, Brigham’s—you name it, I tried it.  Tonight, while not enjoying Friendly’s mocha chip, I finally decided that I deserved better.

I announced to Peter that I was going to bite the bullet and go back to the Starbucks brand, no matter what the price. 

After all, I am getting old. I need to make the most of every day.

Birth Date

I don’t like it when someone asks me for my date of birth.  My health plan, my credit card provider and others are always asking me to confirm that date to prove that I am who I say I am.  When I had surgery recently, several nurses and at least three doctors asked for my date of birth. (I know that it’s because they wanted to make sure they were performing the right procedure on the right person.)  Often I add a “regrettably” when I reply “2/17/38”.  And if the question is asked in person rather than on the telephone, I hope for a “Really? You don’t look that old!” response.

1938 sounds like ancient history in 2010. And more often than not (unless I am with Peter), I am the oldest person in any group.  That is why I am looking forward to April when Peter’s high school class has its reunion.  It seems to me that except for any trophy wives (or husbands) that might be there, I am going to be the spring chicken when the class of ’47 gets together.

I can’t wait.

70-something is two!

Exactly two years ago, I wrote the first entry of the 70-something blog. Since then, I have posted 211 entries, and there have been 12,594 visits.  (I’m sure Huffington Post gets more than that in one day, but who cares?)  I have written twice a week, every week. I plan to keep it up until I start the 80-something blog.  I hope I can, and I hope you will stick with me. Here’s what my first entry said.

“You are invited to join me on a journey into my seventies. Thirty-seven days from now I will celebrate the beginning of my next decade. Ten years ago, I kept a journal of my 59th year in preparation for turning sixty. Sixty sounded very old then. I had no idea that in my sixties, I would travel to Cuba, I would bicycle in New Zealand, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark, Ireland and more, that a child of mine would publish a book and another give us two grandsons. I didn’t know I would study beginning Spanish or still be working at a job I love after 27 years. I certainly didn’t expect to replace a knee. I didn’t know that I would have to give up gluten for the rest of my life.

So what will the 70’s bring? Sure, some sad things—a given as we age—but I will try to embrace change and appreciate each day. A big order, but I’ll do my best.

Over the years, I’ve published a lot of “personal” essays and even more travel articles as an extracurricular activity. But this is my chance to write what is important to me. I’ll let you know my triumphs and my low-points.

I’ll probably write about my parents and being a parent. I’ll write about the role exercise plays in my life and should play in yours. I’ll share my thoughts about ageing in the workplace. I’ll report on my efforts to catalogue my wrinkles.  And more.

Please stay tuned”

Holiday Wrap Up

After eleven days of not waking up to the alarm clock, it was time to go back to work. It is remarkable that we can put our work life behind us for the holidays and come back refreshed, only to find that just because we didn't think about them, the tasks left unfinished are still there.

I was struck this year, more than in the past, by the changes that took place in that relatively short period of time, some happy and some sad. One colleague proposed to his love on a stuffed sofa in front of a raging fire while listening to live jazz. He couldn't stop grinning as he told us his story of going to the bathroom to practice his proposal while she wondered if he was ill because he was gone so long.

Another colleague, who had lost her mother just weeks ago, lost her grandmother over the holidays. Unbearable sadness for her. And one of our students lost his 21-day old -newborn after several near miracles in the neo-natal intensive care unit. There is no solace for him and his family.

Good and bad things happen all year long. Yet when they happen around the holidays…

New Year’s Tradition

I've had the same date for New Year's Eve for forty-five years. I am grateful to Peter for that. And I am grateful that for many years, we have shared New Year's Eve with our wonderful friends, Tina and Harvey. For a long time, the four of us would go to the movies and then to a very special dinner, cooked at their house or ours in alternating years. And for the last several years, we've gone to their vacation home in the mountains, usually cooking together for a bunch of their friends there. But this year, we stayed in the city because their beautiful new granddaughter was visiting from the west coast with her parents and we were babysitting with them.

My contribution was a special salad with candied almonds and mandarin oranges and a sinful cake that contained two cups of heavy cream, six eggs and a pound of chocolate. We ate giant shrimp, great cheeses, various other appetizers and a to-die-for prime rib. We took our shoes off. We drank good wine. We hugged each other at midnight and we went home.

It's a wonderful tradition.