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July 2010
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August 2010

Unsung, but Not Unpaid, Heroes

When I think about how lucky I am, I tend to be grateful for my amazing family and friends who have supported (and put up with) me in ways too numerous to mention. But there are other helpers who have been in my life for years.

People I pay.

For example, there are Hector and John, commonly referred to as "the cleaning men." We have been "cleaning up for the cleaning men" for about thirty-five years. They come from Nova Scotia. I don't know much about them because we are like ships that pass in the night—they come as I am fleeing out the door to work. But except for their twice-yearly trips back home, having them in my life means I don't have to worry about keeping the house clean. That is huge

And then there is Kelly. I can't remember when Kelly started cutting my hair. I know that she was in her early twenties when I found her, and that it is at least twenty years ago. I followed her from salon to salon, but when she became a stay-at-home mom doing haircuts in her kitchen, I tried to find someone else. Kelly used to cut my hair during my lunch hour in a salon across the street from my office. She now cuts my hair in her basement, a thirty-five minute drive in good traffic, because I gave up on finding a replacement. I make the trip to her home every six weeks, through rain, sleet and hail. It's not just about the haircut.

I don't know what I would do without Kathy. Kathy is my "personal trainer." In forty-five minutes every three months, she does wonders. She is an accomplished physical therapist. When I thought my hip was about to give up, it took Kathy five minutes to figure out it was my back, not my hip. She designed a series of stretches for me that fixed that problem. When I had a partial tear in a rotator cuff, the doctor gave me a couple of surgeons. That's what doctors do. Not Kathy. She designed a series of exercises that fixed that problem. Yes, I pay wonderful Kathy, but she is worth her weight in gold.

Hector and John, Kelley and Kathy are part of my team. They are worth every penny, my unsung heroes.


When Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant, grabbed two beers, popped the emergency chute, and made his dramatic exit after an altercation with a passenger, it made the national news. Considering what flight attendants have to put up with these days, it's not surprising that he was fed up.

But what passengers put up with is not insignificant either—extra fees, less leg room, being stranded on tarmacs, charges for blankets and more.

I remember my first flight a million years ago. I was all dressed up. We were treated like royalty, meals on trays with doilies, gum and chocolates. I was determined to become a flight attendant until I found out that I was too tall and wouldn't even get an interview.

Today, although flying is safer, it is less pleasant and more complicated. In addition, because I have a metal knee replacement, each flight I take means that I have to be patted down by the TSA. Sometimes I have to wait to be checked while all my valuables sit in a gray plastic container out of my reach.

Some security people are really nice—like the young woman who wanted to know where I got my "great" jeans. Others are gruff, heavy-handed and almost insulting. Because I can never be sure how long this will take, I have to leave ten minutes earlier to go to the airport.

In the end, I get where I am going and back, often even on time. I have to accept what I can't change.

Like with so many things.


We Are Our Parents; Our Children Are Us

I vividly remember an elevator ride in the tall, concrete apartment building that my parents retired to in Florida.  I was alone in the elevator when a woman got on and said, “You must be Lillian’s daughter—you look just like her.”  That was more than thirty-five years ago, but it is only recently that I have looked in the mirror, seen my mother looking back, and realized that the woman was right.

A couple of years ago, another elevator “moment” occurred.  When I was in Washington DC on a business trip, I was commuting into the city with our son Jeremy. He suggested that I come say “hi” to his new boss at the Department of Education.  Again, big building elevator ride.  A colleague of Jeremy’s got on the elevator. He looked at me and said, “You must be Jeremy’s mother.”  It’s true that Jeremy is the guy version of me—tall and slender, narrow face.  But that obvious?

The latest look-alike is really a sound-alike. I work with a woman named Allison who could have been an opera diva.  She had seen videos made by our son Seth on the New York Times’ website.  She sent me an email telling me that she enjoyed them and added, “He has your vocal cadence.”  Something only an opera singer would notice.

We are our parents, and our children are theirs.

Kids Say the Darndest Things

My friend Susie recently reported that her nine-year-old grand-daughter Sydney had asked her why her skin was “like crepe paper".  We laughed about it.  Kids can be brutally honest.

I figured I had a few years until our young grandchildren would notice my “imperfections,” but I was wrong.  When we visited them last weekend, I mentioned to my daughter-in-law Katrina that my favorite tinted moisturizer had been discontinued, and my search for an acceptable substitute had failed.  She suggested that I try hers. And on Sunday morning I did. 

Later, driving back from lunch with the kids, Peter, who knew about my search for a moisturizer, asked how I liked it.  I replied, “The color is too light for me, but it’s got possibilities.”

From the back seat, six-year-old Leo, piped up…

“Well Grammy, you do look less wrinkly!”


Chelsea's Wedding Cake

Chelsea’s Wedding Cake

Chelsea Clinton had a gluten-free wedding cake.  That was one of the few pieces of information reported about her top-secret ceremony last month.  Until I heard about the cake, I had absolutely no hard feelings about not being invited to her wedding. 

It seems Chelsea follows a vegan diet, which is a choice.  I, however, have celiac disease and have not been able to eat anything containing gluten for ten years.  That is not a choice. 

But if they served a gluten-free cake to 450 guests as part of the (reportedly) $2 million wedding, my guess is that it was pretty darn good, and I wish I could have been there.

I have it from a friend of a friend who has a friend that was a friend of the groom who attended the wedding that gluten-free bread was also served.

Chelsea’s gown was by famed designer Vera Wang.  Prospective brides are rushing to order knock-offs.  Maybe gluten-free weddings will be the next big thing.

I can hope

Last Week at This Time…

It's been nine days since we returned from a week in Nicaragua where we joined our son Seth as he reported about traveling frugally. In the first seven days that we were back home, I found myself thinking "Last week at this time…I had just spotted Seth in the Managua airport'… or 'Last week at this time, I ate my first quesillo …or 'We were stuck in the mud on a rural road'…or 'We said good-bye as Seth headed off for Guatemala."

Of course, the week before we left home to join him, I was saying to myself "Next week at this time, we'll be with Seth in Nicaragua."

I have been doing this for as long as I can remember—telling myself that …"Next month at this time my knee replacement surgery will be over".. or "Ten years ago at this time we were in Botswana."

Is this weird, or what?

Am I a Backpacker?

Peter and I and our son Seth spent a couple of days at Rancho Tranquilo near the Padre Ramos Estuary on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua at the end of last month.  Owned by a transplanted American named Tina, the hostel occupies a gorgeous spot between the ocean and the mangrove tree-lined estuary. 

For us, it was reminiscent of overnight camp—central shower (two), central toilet (two) and sink (one) for eight thatched roofed bungalows, each containing a bed, a chair and a mosquito net.  The evening crowd at the “bar” just yards from the ocean included an Israeli, a German couple, a Dutchman, an Argentinian, a Californian, the owner’s boyfriend, the cook (a warm and wonderful Nicaraguan woman called “Mommy”) and us. 


The conversation was as one would expect –where everyone has traveled and why everyone else should go there.  It reminded me of how, in restaurants, the conversation often turns to great meals eaten elsewhere.  Rum and/or beer were the drinks of choice that evening.  Our conversations were punctuated by lightning, thunder, torrential rain, and finally, loss of electricity.

At some point in the evening, the German husband asked me why I would ever want to stay in such a place that was clearly meant for backpackers. My reply,

“Why not?” 

The Frugal Traveler in Nicaragua

Nicaragua has never been high on my list of countries to visit.  To be honest, it wasn’t even on my list. 

But when our son Seth, aka The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler, agreed to let us travel frugally with him in Nicaragua as part of his three-month Brazil to NYC assignment, the country immediately became our most-desired destination and the country where we spent a week I shall never forget.

Since Seth rarely knows where he is staying before he arrives, our only instructions were to meet him at the Managua airport’s Budget Car rental parking lot sometime after 1:00 p.m. on July 28th.   He was flying in that morning from Bogota, Colombia.  We had flown from home the day before, and had spent the morning in Granada, a colonial town about an hour from the Managua airport, fairly incompetently getting around that attractive colonial city.


Because we had no way of contacting Seth, I imagined all kinds of things that could go wrong.  But as we tried to ask the lady at the Budget counter where their cars were parked, I spied the Frugal Traveler squatting on the floor about ten yards away, computer open on his lap, planning the first day of our journey.  In the short time since his plane landed, he had bought a Nicaragua phone chip, and was calling places in the northwest corner of the country where we might stay. He then called his credit card company to see what insurance they covered for the rental car, got some Nicaraguan cordobas, and was ready to roll before I could get over the fact that we had actually found him. 

For six glorious days we watched Seth negotiate prices, directions, and keeping gluten out of his mother’s meals.  We watched him charm tour guides and taxi drivers. We came in way under our budget of $70 per person/per day including the price of the car. Although one place we stayed didn’t have a bathroom ensuite, it made up for that by having great people and stunning sunsets over the Pacific.

Seth’s Spanish is flawless, and that helped, but his commitment to mixing with the locals (and dogs) of all ages had us seeing the country in a way we could never have done on our own.

Most important, it was pure joy to have six days with an adult son who took such good care of us, while at the same time proving to us that we have not outgrown adventure.

Even at 70-something.

P.S.  You can read his views on traveling with us at The Frugal Traveler..


We have an EZ-Pass that allows us to pay tolls by slowing down to fifteen miles an hour, or on some highways, without slowing down at all.  Our EZ-Pass shaves some minutes off our trips and saves a bit of stop-and-start gas consumption, so I am glad we have one.

But like with so many other electronic items in our lives, we lose something when we lose a human interaction.

Which brings me to a sweet memory that came to me the other day as I got on the  Massachusetts Turnpike at the entrance I used to take to go to work.  I always went to the same toll taker.  He was very polite and we exchanged pleasantries every morning.  I liked him, and sometimes wondered about his life and if he enjoyed what he did. 

One day as I was leaving for work, I stopped to pick some daffodils from our garden.   When my toll-taker put out his hand, I dropped in my coins and the bouquet of daffodils.  He grinned from ear to ear, and I felt good all day.

That doesn’t happen with an EZ Pass.