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September 2013

August 2013

It's All Relatives

Nothing beats a beautiful weekend in New York City.  Except for a beautiful weekend in New York City for a big family wedding where the family members really like each other.

Our weekend started Thursday night at a Tony-award-winning Broadway play with our son Seth (aka The Frugal Traveler), whom we hadn’t seen in months. 

On Friday night the wedding guests, including newly-arrived Jeremy, Katrina and our grandkids, gathered at the Aurora Restaurant in Brooklyn. Cousins from near and far caught up with each other on the restaurant’s flower-filled outdoor patio.  Some came with new spouses or girlfriends, some with little kids who had grown much less little. The groom’s father introduced us to his new girlfriend, but we still got a chance to chat with his lovely ex-wife, the mother of the groom. Good food, great conversation and much joy. 

The wedding ceremony the following evening on the outdoor patio of Brooklyn’s My Moon Restaurant was a hodge-podge of traditions with a Methodist minister, a Jewish groom and a beautiful Sikh bride who happens to be a delightful addition to our family.

All wonderful, yet the most memorable moment for me had nothing to do with the wedding. 

Up early on Saturday morning, and while the rest of his family slept in their large hotel room, Jeremy texted to see if we (down the hall) were up.  We were awake, but still in bed. 

Three minutes later this big hunk of a man knocked on our door. He proceeded to do something he last did circa 1977. He hopped under the covers with us and we gabbed.  Now I ask, what 41-year old would hop into bed to chat with his parents on an early morning in New York City?


Retirement Saga (Con't)

Last Monday, Peter and I met with Tim, our investment advisor from TIAA-CREF, the organization that manages the retirement plans for many educational institutions.   We discussed things like minimum distribution requirements and rollovers, and I signed my name and wrote the date on lots of documents.

The meeting was reminiscent of our our recent meeting with a lawyer to update our wills.  Not fun.

As Tim said (noting my grim expression), "You only retire once; it’s what we do all year long."  Because many of his clients are university faculty members, who tend to love their jobs, they haven’t been eagerly awaiting the day when golf would be the most pressing thing on their agenda.  So Tim is used to grim expressions.

I have come to realize that the abruptness of my decision to retire, to wrap up my job in a month while trying to gear up for school, was not well thought-out.  But it is a decision I've made and am living with. 

So a piece of advice for all--even if retirement is far in your future, it’s good to be planful. 




We’ve been away for the last several weekends, mostly because we are lucky enough to have friends who invite us to join them at their vacation homes.  So we welcomed the chance to spend last weekend at home catching up with errands and getting some food into the house.

Our refrigerator was nearly empty and our basement freezer was out of everything but ice cream and frozen butter.  It’s not energy-efficient to run a freezer that isn’t full.  So, first a shop-a-thon, then a cook-a-thon.

On Friday night, I made a pot of Aunt Bea’s Stuffed Cabbage Soup that simmered away while we watched a movie.   I don’t know who Aunt Bea is/was, but it’s a great meal in a dish—and I made enough for three meals.  On Saturday afternoon, I made vegetarian chili, enough for about five meals.  Any vegetarian chili is good, but the secret to mine is portobello mushrooms.  I’ve served it to just about every friend I have, so I may need some new friends to dazzle.

But what’s vegetarian chili without homemade corn bread? So I baked that too.

By Sunday, my cooking ambition flagged so Peter made swordfish for dinner.  It was delicious.


A Shout-out to my PCP

It’s been two years since I wrote a thank you note to my primary care physician for taking such good care of me. This week, I wrote another.

It turns out that my decision to retire has been harder on me than I anticipated.  My body let me know that this is not an easy transition by hitting me with a serious bout of insomnia. I reluctantly emailed my doctor who agreed to give me a prescription for sleeping pills. A couple of solid nights of sleep really helped.

Tuesday evening he called me at home to see how I was doing. He reminded me that I have worked ten years longer than most people, giving me more time to tie my identity to my career and make it harder to leave. He told me that most retirees spend a year adjusting, and that I needed to own up to needing some time.  He suggested that throwing myself into a demanding academic program at my advanced age might be too much. (We’ll see.) He accused me of being an overachiever. (He could be right.)

Our conversation was keeping him from his evening.  But he took the time to tell me what I needed to know.  And I have slept without the help of pills since.

That’s why this is a shout-out to my PCP.


Ten More Days

Thirty-three years at my job.  That is approximately 8, 250 working days.  And I have only ten left.

I look around my office, my home-away-from-home.  On my walls I have two watercolors, two large prints and a bunch of awards.  On the credenza next to my desk, I have an engraved glass plaque, given to me in 1999 by our Mexican alumni association.  It thanks me for my “unvaluable” contribution to our Mexican students.  (I don’t know how to say “invaluable” in Spanish so I am not complaining about their English.)  It’s next to a certificate from Harvard, thanking me for twenty-five years of service. On top of my bookshelves are family pictures that I change annually, the old ones saved in a folder in my desk.

Yesterday, I took photos of my office walls with my cell phone so I don’t forget what they looked like.  Over the past two weeks, I’ve spent the time between meetings sorting through my files.  I’m not nearly done, but I will be by August 30th.

It’s a bit scary.

Saying Goodbye to Frank

Before the U.S. government offers positions to our graduates, it needs to be sure that they have been good citizens while attending graduate school.  As part of its due diligence, the government sends an investigator to check if applicants had any disciplinary problems.

Over the years, I’ve helped hundreds of agents by confirming the records of our students.  I can only recall the names of two or three of them.  But I won’t ever forget Frank. 

First, Frank always calls and asks what time works for me (as opposed to those annoying individuals who bang on my office door which is only shut when I am in a meeting and don’t want to be disturbed).  Second, he is a jolly person.  He’s semi-retired, in love with his wife of many years, and proud of his two and four-year old grandchildren.  He told me last week that they had recently sold the house he lived in for forty years and that his wife had lived in all her life.

I told him that he wouldn’t find me here after August and that someone else would be doing the disciplinary checks.  He thanked me for my help and for being so gracious and accommodating.

I watched the back of his full head of steel-gray hair and his slightly-overweight waddle as he left my office.

Saying good-bye isn’t going to be easy.


In an article in The Boston Globe in 2000, our son Seth referred to his mother and father as his “Classical-Music-Loving-Parents”.  That was an accurate characterization of his parents then and now.

I thought of his comment last weekend when Peter and I attended a concert at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts.  The concert featured the world’s nicest and probably best cellist, Yo Yo Ma, playing Dvorak’s cello concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

That concert could not have come at a better time for me.  The last four weeks have been stressful.  Deciding to leave my job was a huge decision.  Starting graduate school classes six days later was a bit of a shock.  And who knew how complicated it is to retire?

But sitting on a cloudless August Saturday afternoon, listening to the soaring notes of a magnificently-played Dvorak cello concerto brought me a sense of calm that I hadn’t felt in days.

I can hear the cello in my head as I write,

Shoulders Back (SB)

Recently, we visited my cousin Steve and his wife Judy while they were vacationing in nearby Marblehead.  Steve is the son of my favorite uncle so it was fun to talk about old times. 

Cousin Steve is athletic and has run marathons on many continents.  But on this visit, I noticed that his shoulders had become quite rounded—just like mine have always been!  I reminded him that my mother used to say “Shoulders Back!” or just “SB” if we were in public, to try to get me to stand straighter.  I always thought my posture was poor because I was unusually tall and somewhat awkward. 

But now, at 75, I’ve finally figured out that my poor posture is a family thing.  And it hasn’t stopped with my generation.

So I believe my mother wasted her time with her annoying reminders.  You can’t beat genetics. (And, I would add, it came from her side of the family.) But I still hear her voice in my ear, and I still try to stand up straighter. 

Alas, not very successfully.

Summer Body Check

I love summer.  I love the long days.  And I love that in summer we see more of our relatives and friends. Everything is a little more relaxed.

What I don’t love so much is what summer clothing reveals.  For example:

My neck: I haven’t been happy with my neck since Grady asked me, “Grammy, why do you have a neck like a skeleton?” Wintertime is turtleneck time, and turtlenecks are great for covering up skeleton necks.

My legs: I like skirts, especially brightly-printed summer skirts that swing when I walk.  In the winter, I wear opaque tights that hide the imperfections of my legs. Summer is too hot for tights.

My knees: I am grateful that my knees work.  But like much of my body, they droop. And to make things worse, I have a long scar marking a replaced knee.  All are more obvious in summer.

My arms: Short sleeves are my summer staple.  My arms are well-toned, thanks to my compulsive weight-lifting.  Nevertheless, when I hold my arms at a certain angle, I have visions of crepe paper. 

Perhaps if I keep a big smile on my face, people won’t notice.