Previous month:
May 2013
Next month:
July 2013

June 2013

The Blue and White Checked Shirt

We’ve been home from our vacation for almost two weeks.  It’s beginning to feel like it was a very long time ago.  Vacations fade quickly.  One can live on the fumes for only so long until real life takes over.  And that’s OK.

But there is one moment in Helsinki that is still very much with me.  It was late afternoon.  We had started early that morning and we had walked and walked discovering that charming city, stopping only for a quick ice cream cone lunch on the esplanade across from the Marimekko store.

We returned to our hotel in late afternoon to rest up before heading out for dinner.  I read while Peter napped next to me.  When he woke, we held each other.  Quietly.  Fully clothed. Through his blue and white checked shirt, I could feel the warmth of the body I have known so well for forty-eight years.

My tears of gratitude for what we have, for how fortunate we have been and are, fell on his blue and white checked shirt.

Mariinsky Ballet

Like every little girl, I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up.  My friends and I took dancing lessons at The Gene Kelly Studio of the Dance in Pittsburgh.  (Yes, Gene Kelly grew up in Pittsburgh just like me, but he had moved to NYC before I attended his school.) My short-lived dancing career ended in fifth grade.

I thought about those dance classes last week in St. Petersburg, Russia, home to one of the world’s greatest ballet companies.  Formerly known as the Kirov Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet tickets are hard to come by, but we were lucky to get them at the last minute.  However, if our seats had been any higher, oxygen masks would have been required. 

The ballet was “Giselle.”  I sat at the edge of my seat, mesmerized for two hours and ten minutes. (I also sat at the edge of my seat so I could see the stage.)

It was a grand evening. Even Peter, who is not a ballet fan, stayed awake as I revisited my childhood dream.


St. Petersburg with Twenty-two Friends

Russia is big, far away, and still a bit scary. St. Petersburg, its second-largest city, has Venice-like canals, gold-domed churches, sprawling palaces, the Hermitage Museum, and a complicated history of tsars and wars. It’s a stone’s throw from Helsinki (OK, three hours by train) and in shouting distance of Estonia, two countries included in the group tour we just took.

Traveling with a group is new for us.  We’ve always enjoyed having to figure things out on our own.  That meant talking to the natives when we were lost or just plain curious.  But we have changed and although we still have an adventurous spirit, our flesh isn’t what it used to be. So this time, we joined a tour.

Our new friends came from California and Massachusetts.  From Olympia, Washington and Omaha.  From Atlanta and more.  Our main guide was from Hungary, and we had terrific local guides in each country.

We had enough time on our own to make mistakes (especially with Russian menus), but we enjoyed having someone else negotiate trains in Finnish and Russian or get us on a ferry across the Baltic.

We had to add more pages to our passports for this trip.  That leaves us with plenty of room for whatever comes next.



Memorial Concert

Peter and I recently attended a memorial service for a much-loved bassoonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  Some of his fellow musicians from the orchestra played at the service that was held in a small church.  The principal cellist, Jules Eskin, was one of them. 

More than fifty years ago, Jules played a Mendelsohn concerto for piano and cello (with his soon-to-be-wife on the piano) just for me and my then-boyfriend Mark in a small practice room at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont.  It was among the most memorable music experiences of my life.

When I saw Jules at the memorial service, I told Peter that I would never have recognized him without the program.  It’s not surprising that he looks different fifty years later.

I look different too.

Big Bank, Little Bank

I closed my account at one of the country’s biggest banks after its ATM swallowed my card.  I wasn’t in an actual bank when it happened so I picked up the phone next to the ATM that would connect me to customer service.  After waiting on hold for thirty minutes, I hung up and left, hoping the next person couldn’t use my card to take money from my account. 

But the other day when I needed cash and my new little bank’s ATM machine was being serviced, I decided to pay the $2.00 charge and get my cash from the big bank’s nearby ATM.  It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that 2/3 of one of the $20 bills I received was missing.

After thirty minutes on the phone with the big bank’s customer service, I finally got a person who told me that my little bank had to dispute the transaction before I could get my $20.

So the next day, I went to my little bank, fully aware that I’d already wasted more than $20 worth of my time.  To me, it was the principle.  I went to customer service, showed a very nice man my partial $20 bill and my big bank’s ATM machine receipt.

He checked my ID and told me that they would dispute the transaction and deposit the $20 in my account.   “It should be there in about a week,” he said. Then he excused himself for a moment and returned with a crisp new $20 bill.  “I don’t see why you should have to wait,” he said.

Now, that’s customer service and that’s why I’ll stick with the little guy.

We're Not Dating Any More

We have a nice tradition with our next-door neighbors who are, shall we say, of our generation.

We have a drink together a couple times a month—at their house in the winter in front of their fireplace and on our patio in the warmer months.  We plan on an hour and keep to it.  Snacks are whatever is in the house. No fuss.

At our last get together, the four of us had a great conversation about the world in general and our lives in particular.  We laughed a lot.

When we got home Peter and I retreated to our appointed ends of the sofa to read.  We exchanged very few words for the rest of the evening.  When we headed to bed, I mentioned what a nice time we had had with our neighbors, but that we hadn’t said much since we got home. He reminded me that that he doesn’t ever say much.

“It’s OK,” I said. We’re not dating any more.”

Was I Meant To Be a CEO?

I started college in the undergraduate business school.  My father was a businessman, and I liked our dinner table conversations.  So why not go to business school? 

A freshman requirement was a boring course called “A History of Business in the United States.”  That did it.  I switched to liberal arts after one semester and graduated with a political science degree.

On Thursday I watched a DVD about the 50th anniversary of women at the Harvard Business School.  In 1963, when the first women were accepted at HBS, there were eight in an entering class of eight hundred.  On the DVD, one of them recalled that a professor (male, of course) berated her for taking the spot “of a man who needs to make a living for his family.”  

In 1965, when my interest in business re-surfaced, I applied to HBS and was not admitted.  Not that I thought I would be, but in 2012, with 40% of the class female, I might have had a better chance. 

Instead I went to graduate school in education, and I am still working in the field that I love.  But when I saw an interview with an HBS alumna who manages 20,000 people on Wall Street, I asked myself…

Was I meant to be a CEO?

Boston Strong Women

The Boston Marathon bombing occurred seven weeks ago, and I no longer think about it every day.  But the lives of those who lost loved ones or those who were injured are irreparably changed. They live it every day.

I recently saw a TV interview with the six women who lost limbs.  They were remarkable. 

Erika, the pre-school teacher from Maryland, was the last to be released from the hospital, just in time to be in her best friend’s wedding this weekend.  All six are at home now, but still on pain pills, with much more adjusting ahead. They are worried about the life-long financial costs from their injuries, but they talked about their futures with hope and confidence.

They had been inspired by visits from military veterans who are doing well with their artificial limbs and by the incredible support of family, friends, and utter strangers.  Erika’s students tell her they can’t wait to ride in her wheelchair.  The dancer told us she will dance again. 

A few tears were shed during the interview, including mine.

$5,000 or $47,000?

I heard a talk by Geoffrey Canada on Wednesday.   

Having grown up in poverty as one of four children of a single mom, this 61-year-old New York City educator understands the struggling families in the one hundred block square of Harlem that he calls the “Harlem Children’s Zone”.  Now, as its CEO, he is changing their lives.

In his Promise Academy Charter School, the children go to school from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm and there is an after-school enrichment program every day and sometimes on Saturdays.  There is one adult for every six children in the classroom.  And the children get only a three-week vacation in the summer.

Canada guarantees to parents that if their children come to the Promise Academy, they will get into college and he boasts a 95% success rate in meeting that goal.

The Harlem Children’s Zone offers “Baby College” to new parents so they can learn how to help their children come to school ready to learn “like the rich folk do”.  They offer health services in the school and healthy meals in the cafeteria to help fight obesity.  They stay in touch with their graduates and offer them help when they struggle in college.

It’s expensive, but Canada is a tireless fundraiser.  He counts on $5,000 a year to educate each student.  But, he explains, it costs $47,000 a year for each inmate in a penitentiary.  For $5,000 a year, he keeps young people out of the penitentiary.  And these people go on to be productive members of our society.

Everybody wins.