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February 2011

Losing Sleep

I had a sleepless night on Wednesday.  And I mean sleep-less. 

Why?  I lost my calendar/datebook. Not my work calendar which is on my Blackberry, but the one with our social engagements.  It contained all our 2011 plans. It also contained tickets for upcoming concerts/plays, some Groupon coupons, our stamp supply, a $10 calling card for Latin America, plane ticket confirmations, a DC metro card loaded with $5 and (what worries me most) other things I can't think of. 

My datebook always sits in a particular kitchen drawer.  It has never left the house.  But it disappeared.  We tore the house apart, looking under every chair and cushion, on bookshelves and in drawers, and other places it couldn't possibly have been.  Eventually, we concluded that it had probably been sitting on a pile of newspapers on the kitchen counter.  Other newspapers must have been put on top of it, and it made its way with them into our recycling bag.  Unfortunately, the trash had been picked up just that morning.

If you've ever have had a wallet stolen (I have—from my house when I was in it and leaving for France the next day) or lost a treasured piece of jewelry (my mother's pearls were stolen from my hotel room), you might have experienced the sense of hopeless loss and stupidity that I felt on Wednesday night.

I knew that people were dying in Libya. I knew that people were sick and homeless in many places, and that everyone I love was fine.  But I lost sleep over my stupidity and carelessness. And over wondering where I won't remember to show up.

I made my way through Thursday.  By the end of the day, things fell into perspective.

Just 24 hours too late.

Somewhere Near the End

In 2006 at age 89, Diana Athill wrote her best-selling memoir, Somewhere Near the End, for which she received a National Book Critics Circle Award. This venerable British woman had been a book editor for fifty years, working with distinguished authors like John Updike and Margaret Atwood. After retiring, she launched her own successful writing career. The New York Times said of Somewhere Near the End that it "catalogs the indignities of old age while reminding us of how much joy can be sucked out of a physically diminished life…"


In her first chapter, she reminds us that "The individual just has to be born, to develop to the point at which it can procreate, and then to fall away into death to make way for its successors. Her memoir is about the falling away.


There are many charms and much wisdom in her book. She writes about her decision to buy a tree fern for her garden. When it arrives in a three-inch pot, she realizes that she will never see it become a full grown tree. Her message to us is clear. Buy it anyway.


Thanks to the Internet, I was able to get an update on this nonagenarian. Have a look at


Roses Are Red

When I "graduated" from Colfax Elementary School, there was no Facebook. There were autograph books. Remember them? Mine had a red fake-leather cover. People who weren't even my friends wrote in it.

Although I haven't seen that autograph book in decades, it came to mind the other day. There was one entry I'll never forget. It went like this:

"Roses are red, violets are blue

The rain on the roof

Reminds me of you


It was written by Jason, my across-the-street neighbor and fellow elementary school graduate, and it reflected sixth grade boys' sense of humor at the time. Jason went on to become a very successful sports lawyer and when our paths crossed briefly several years ago, we had a great evening talking about the old neighborhood.

But only I still remembered the "Drip…Drip".


Today I turned seventy-three. I used to think seventy-three was old, but now I know better.


Growing up, I was the youngest in my class because I started kindergarten at age four. My mother had begged the Cincinnati Board of Education to let me start school early because we had just moved there, I had no friends, and I did have four weeks of kindergarten under my belt from Buffalo, New York where school started at four for everyone.


I have a vague recollection of the test the Board of Education gave me. I remember a picture of two baby shoes and I was asked what was missing. Well, one of the shoes had no laces. I got that answer, and probably some others, right so, much to my mother's relief, the Board of Education allowed me to enter kindergarten.


As the youngest, I was the last one of my friends to get a driver's license, vote and drink legally. Back then I was always wishing that I was older.


No more. Today, on my seventy-third birthday, one of my close childhood classmates is already seventy-four and four days old. Two others will be celebrating their seventy-fourth birthdays soon. All three of these women are living proof that seventy-three can be a very good age, and I'm counting on that.


Peter asked me what I would like for my birthday.


"Nothing money can buy," I told him.

Sooner or Later

The house we raised our boys in had a family room, dining room and living room lined up to look like a football field. The wall-to-wall shag carpeting that ran from one end of the house to the other was awful. We planned to replace it immediately.


It took us ten years to rip it up, sand the floors and buy the area rugs that we continue to use twenty-five years later. We still wonder how we could have waited so long.


I thought about that yesterday because, after sixteen years in our current house, we re-arranged the desks in our small study, and it looks twice as big. Why did it take us sixteen years to figure that out?


So I have decided to turn over a new leaf. I am going to do things sooner rather than later.


There might not be that much "later" left.

Three Days and Three Generations

Our grandson Leo's seventh birthday took us to Maryland. It was Star Wars all weekend--the theme of the birthday party, the gifts and finally the long-awaited permission to see the film. According to Leo, only one other boy in his first grade class hadn't seen Star Wars. (It didn't escape Leo that his younger brother would be seeing it at age four, but Leo accepted that.)


Things are different now from how they were when our kids were seven. The accepted wisdom about party-size then was the age of the kid plus one equals the number of guests at a birthday party. There were fifteen children at Leo's.


And usually the parties were at home with possibly a magician. Leo's party was a production at a huge sports complex with games on the soccer field followed by pizza in "Party Room 1" followed by coins for the arcade games. The grandparents were exhausted.


Other memorable weekend events included my reading Animal Magazine crouched next to Grady on the bathroom floor while he pooped. I'm sure I never did that for our kids.


But perhaps the most memorable moment followed Leo's comment when his father asked him to throw away three used tissues Leo had left on the dining room table. Leo looked at his dad and in his most beguiling manner said, "Do I have to do EVERYTHING around here?!"


Leo's mother hates those words when Jeremy says them, and she does not want to hear them from her son. She was not pleased when I told her that "joke" was a staple in Leo's grandfather's repertory.


It's impossible to fight something that has been in the genes for three generations.


What We Do and What We Don't Do

A very good friend of ours who will turn eighty this year doesn’t exercise regularly.  Yet he looks terrific and very fit.  He knows he should exercise and says he will, but he doesn’t.  I was discussing this with Peter recently. He thought our friend was doing quite well, thank you.  I pressed my point.  “Exercise is important”, I insisted.

And that got me thinking about what we do and don’t do.

We exercise.  A lot.  We get help from our trainer (Kathy) four times a year.  You could say that we’re compulsive about exercise.  However, Kathy has been telling Peter that he needs to drink more water for years.  Now that Peter is trying to strengthen his voice which is fading, a symptom of his Parkinson’s Disease, the speech therapist is also telling him to drink more water. It’s hopeless.

I am not perfect about taking care of myself either, of course.  I truly believe that one should not consume a morsel of food after dinner. Perhaps you’ve read the studies of the long lives of mice that don’t eat much.  Yet, as I begin to fade around nine o’clock in the evening, I yearn for a snack to help me stay awake.  And, more often than not, I have one. 

Just like all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, we all fail to act in our own best interests in our own way.


We are just being human.

What a Week!

This week, two stories dominated the media-- online, on television and in print. The world's eyes were riveted on the Middle East where the democratic uprising in Tunisia was a catalyst for the streets of Cairo and Alexandria to fill with tens of thousands of Egyptians demanding change. Word spread like wildfire. China showed its concern by preventing all Internet searches containing "Egypt".


At the same time, the U.S. was/is enduring a record-breaking stretch of bad weather. On Tuesday and Wednesday something like a hundred million of us were affected by the worst weather that winter has to offer. Even Chicago was brought to its knees.


In Boston, we don't have any place to put the new snow. And more is coming. Retail stores are empty, and people are encouraged to stay home from work.


We set our alarm clock every night this week as we always do, but with a renewed sense of wonder about what the next day will bring.