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September 2010
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October 2010

Now Hear This

My primary care physician is great.  I have been going to him since, while substituting for my regular doctor, he ordered an emergency appendectomy.  The wrong call might have meant there would be no me and no

But my last visit to him didn't have such a great outcome.  He was a little too zealous in removing some ear wax.  That caused a bit of bleeding in my ear, so he prescribed some antibiotic ear drops as a precaution against infection.  From that moment on, my left ear felt clogged.

I made an appointment with a physician assistant a few days later—she couldn't figure out what was wrong.  And that is why I found myself at the ENT doctor's office Wednesday.  First they gave me a hearing test.  For those who haven't suffered through one, don't do it if you are claustrophobic. You have to sit in a dark phone-booth-like space, listen to various sound levels of beeping, and push a button when you hear something for what seems like hours.  

Next I had my appointment with the ENT doctor.  She found a blockage in the affected ear, caused by some ear wax and some flakes from—you guessed it—the antibiotic eardrops!

She was able to remove it all with a minimum of pain, but then she decided that to be sure, she should look at my ear canal with her fiber-optic gadget.  This required numbing my nose with some foul-tasting spray, and threading this thing with a light on its end through my nose to my eardrum. She told me I have a "beautiful" eardrum.

With my unclogged ear, I rushed back to work.

Just another day at the office.


Until last Friday, I had not volunteered in a first grade classroom for thirty-two years. Things have changed.


For starters, my six-year-old grandson, Leo's first grade class learns in Spanish. The only English spoken in his classroom the day I visited was between the teacher and the visiting grandmother.

In addition, the elementary school has a computer lab, and the kids behave as if they were born with "mice" in their hands. On the downside, however, there are signs in every corridor about how bad it is to bully others.

My touristy Spanish helped me to understand some of what was going on, but Señora Cunningham soon sent me to the office to punch holes in piles of Spanish vocabulary word cards.

Toward the end of the morning, I joined Leo's class in the library for a story. The children gathered on a rug, and I sat in a child's chair to the side. When the story ended, a bespectacled, freckle-faced boy turned to me and asked, "Whose mother are you?"

That hasn't changed.

The Teacher

My husband Peter is a born educator.  For more than thirty years, he taught computer science at Boston College.  I knew he was a good and caring teacher, but I didn’t know how good and caring until his retirement party when colleagues quoted his former students who praised him to the sky. 

Peter misses his college students, but he hasn’t stopped thinking about education.  For a few years now he has been teaching fellow-retirees subjects he, himself, wants to learn about.  But that wasn’t enough.  Now he is also volunteering at a public middle school where he is teaching sixth-graders about computer programming.

So every week Peter, who is eighty, teaches fifteen kids the youngest of whom is eleven and eighteen seniors, the oldest of whom is ninety-five.

I couldn’t be prouder.



One of my favorite younger colleagues just returned from her third three-month maternity leave since I hired her over seven years ago.  She doesn’t report to me now, but we eat lunch together occasionally and we are Facebook friends, so I manage to keep up with what’s going on in her life.

On Friday, when I stopped by her office to welcome her back, I commented on some new pictures of her children. Sam, Laura’s first child, is five and his sister Caitlyn is three.  Sarah was born in July. 

“It seems like only yesterday that Sam was born,” I remarked.

“The days are slow, the years are fast,” said Laura

Spoken like a mother.


Our friend Barbara lost her husband to pancreatic cancer five years ago. They were a great couple and great friends. They laughed easily, noisily and irresistibly. They were ideal neighbors for the twenty years that we lived nearby.

We manage to get together with Barbara a few times a year, but we all have busy lives and we don't live in the neighborhood now, so it's not that easy.

A week ago, we were able to spend a day with Barbara visiting artist open studios on Cape Ann. It was a crisp, clear fall day, and the artists' homes all had ocean or inlet views and flower gardens that frost had not yet touched. A perfect day for our outing.

When we stopped for lunch, we talked a bit about Barbara's husband Carl and how much everyone misses him. I know Barbara has many happy things in her life, including four grandchildren age three or younger who live nearby. I asked her if she had adjusted to her loss.

"Adjust? No," she replied. "Adapt? Yes."

Tears without Reason

Peter and I are plowing through Season Two of "Friday Night Lights," a TV series about Texas high school football. The latest episode we watched was all about families. Families broken up and breaking up. Families struggling and families making progress. It was about facing up to issues, and working to make things better.


In other words, it was about life.

When the episode ended, it looked as though some things were better. Of course, they will get worse again, or the series would be over. But we felt this episode had a hopeful ending.

Peter and I held each other tight for several minutes before turning off the TV. And for some reason, my eyes filled with tears. Why had we been so moved by this? What chord had it struck?

I have no idea.


Our son Seth has not slept in the same bed for more than three nights since early June. He has been traveling cheaply in South and Central America, Mexico, Bermuda, Barbados, Puerto Rico and the U.S., blogging about it as The New York Times Frugal Traveler.

It doesn't seem very long ago that I vowed that Seth would never cross the street alone. I have gotten used to his crossing the street and more, but I still miss him every day.

However, it's not as bad as it sounds. Email has been a blessing. Although he has not always been within internet range, most of the time I know I can reach him online. Thanks to Skype, I can even "see" him when he calls from remote locations around the world.

And now, there's Twitter. Just a few words that let me (and his followers) know what he is up to. I get daily emails from a service that alerts me when he has posted a tweet.

We hadn't heard anything from him for way too long when Thursday morning Nutshell Mail alerted me to a new tweet. Sure enough, "Back in NYC after accomplishing the near-impossible: 6 days, 6 nights in Los Angeles without setting foot into a car."

Big sigh of relief, thanks to Twitter.

A Promise

A year ago this weekend was born. Jasmere is a social shopping website that seeks out lesser-known specialty retailers and brings their products to national attention at discounts of up to 70%. It was conceived and developed by our son Jeremy and his business partner Andy. One of the things that makes Jasmere special is that the more people who buy, the cheaper the price of the item. No one's credit card is charged until the offering is closed, when everyone gets the lowest price.

One of Jeremy's responsibilities as co-founder is to keep customers and merchants happy, a responsibility that he takes to heart.

Take last week. Jasmere offered caramels from a start-up called Mouth Party Caramels. The owner was concerned that if she got too many orders, her small staff couldn't handle them fast enough. So Jeremy, who lives about an hour away from Mouth Party Caramels told her that if she was overwhelmed with orders, he and his partner would come to her kitchen and help with the shipping.

And last Friday, that's what they did. Jeremy and Andy assembled boxes for three hours. They had a lot of fun, and they ate a lot of caramels.

My own order hasn't arrived yet, but when it does, it will taste better because I will know that it was packed with love from Jeremy.


I have been doing laundry for fifty-some years in pretty much the same way. I sort the whites and the darks, wash the permanent-press stuff on a separate cycle, bleach and put away the summer whites in September, etc. It all added up to five or six loads a week while the kids were home, usually three loads a week for just the two of us.

I don't know what possessed me recently when I decided to change my routine so that I don't have to settle for either just-right-dried clothes and still damp towels or bone-dry- wrinkled clothes and just-right-dried towels. My new plan was to wash our towels separately.

It took a couple of weeks to amass enough towels to fill an extra-large load. (Supply of towels is not a problem. The only thing we have more of than towels is incomplete sets of measuring spoons.)

Yesterday, I washed my first towels-only load. I removed them from the dryer, and instead of throwing them over the sofa for the final drying, I folded them and put them away.

This took fifty years to learn?