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July 2014

Forty-six Years

Monday was our forty-sixth wedding anniversary.  Unbelievable.  Not unbelievable that we are still married, but unbelievable how fast it’s gone.

On Sunday we celebrated.  Instead of making a day of the Sunday papers, we ventured downtown to the Boston Arts Festival in Copley Square.  A torrential downpour as we arrived only made it better because we sought shelter in the colonnade  of Trinity Church.  The young performers from the Boston Conservatory’s musical theatre dance program were waiting out the rain there too.  We got to chat with them as they stretched and hopped around on the church portico. Once the weather cleared, these Broadway-bound kids wowed us (and lots of other soggy spectators) with their performance on the festival stage.

Then we headed across Copley Square to Old South Church’s beautiful sanctuary to listen to a concert by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra.  All of this free, a summer gift to the citizens of Boston.

We opted to skip a fancy dinner out for fish and just-picked corn at home, preceded by our favorite aged Gouda and Pinot Grigio.  It was perfect.

Peter and I are grateful for our good luck in finding each other and our wisdom in appreciating what we have together.  Three days into it, chances are that we’ll make it to forty-seven.


"Alive Inside"

Alive Inside is a new Sundance Film-Festival-Award-winning documentary about the joy that hearing their favorite music can bring to Alzheimer’s patients The film demonstrates the healing power of music where medication has failed.

Dan Cohen is a gifted social worker whose goal is to have an iPod with a personalized playlist for every patient in America’s 15,000 nursing homes. This is a film about his persistence and his success with a job still in progress.

To watch the faces of these patients “wake up” and smile and to watch their caretakers share in that joy is uplifting.  The audience was captivated.

Two years ago, I volunteered at an Alzheimer’s unit.  The patients were docile and unresponsive.  When one of the caretakers brought out a keyboard and started playing songs from the 40’s and 50’s, I was astonished to see their faces light up as the patients sang along.  I didn’t know then what this film has taught me—the part of the brain that processes music continues to function as other parts fail.

We went to a preview of the film at which the filmmaker and Dan answered questions for an appreciative audience.

Please see the film and if you have an iPod you're not using, donate it to Dan at

Oh, and while you are at it, you might want to compile a playlist for yourself…just in case.


The Upper-Arm Jiggle

I am compulsive about lifting weights. Therefore you would expect my biceps to be well toned.  And so would I. 

I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the “buffiness” of my upper arms until my friend Kathleen mentioned over lunch last week that she now only buys T-shirts with sleeves that almost reach her elbows. 

That evening, I spent some time contemplating my upper arms in front of a full-length mirror. I could see a bit of drooping skin when I held my arms a certain way.  And it’s true that I could make it jiggle (a little).

So I decided to do some in-depth research (aka Google) where I learned that if you can pinch an inch from the inside of your upper arm while in push-up position, you have a jiggling problem. I am relieved to report that I could only pinch a half an inch.

Nevertheless, I will keep an eye on my upper arms. I have a lot of sleeveless tops in my closet.





Toronto, Thirty Years Later

In 1984, Peter, the kids and I took a train trip across Canada starting in Toronto, where we made a quick visit to the CN Tower, then the tallest structure in the world, before boarding the train.

I didn’t remember anything about Toronto. I didn’t even remember that it is on Lake Ontario.  That was my first surprise about this vibrant, culture-filled, diverse city, now bigger than Chicago, with one hundred and fifty-five cranes hovering over downtown when we visited last weekend.

On Thursday night, we arrived on a double-decker bus from Buffalo (a trip that cost us $10 each) where we had visited my 102-year-old Aunt Ruth. We took a cab (for more than $10) to our perfectly restored Victorian B&B in Little Italy.  Getting Canadian money and finding a cab at the bus station were our only challenges of the long weekend.

We spent most of Friday on a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour that included a one-hour boat trip to the islands in the harbor.  It was a perfect day and a perfect city orientation.

We had dinner in the trendy Distillery District with Toronto friends.  On Saturday they showed us everything they thought we had missed on the bus tour.  Saturday night they gave a dinner party for us.  On Sunday morning, we walked to nearby Kensington Market, a quirky collection of produce markets, restaurants, vintage clothing stores and old, oddly-painted, houses before we headed to the airport.

And even that was fun.  The airport for Porter Airlines is in the city.  It is a two-minute ferry ride from downtown.  When I looked in the waiting lounge for some nuts to buy for the plane-ride home, the restaurant folks directed me to the free-food area where they offered an unlimited supply of warmed almonds, cookies, coffee, soft drinks and water, free for all. That’s unheard of in these days of airline austerity.

Would we return to Toronto?  In a second.

And please note that the Toronto Visitor Information Services has not paid me for writing this blog entry.   

Aunt Ruth at 102

My visit to Aunt Ruth, who is 102, was overdue.  Her kids told us that she’s still amazing, but that there had been inevitable changes.

We decided to take an early morning flight to Buffalo, have lunch and a long afternoon with her and take an early evening bus to visit friends in Toronto for the weekend. (More about that later.)

Recently, her children (three sons and their wives) insisted that Aunt Ruth get a walker to get around her still elegant home, and they hired daytime help for her although she rages against the “all day” part. (The help is, of course, for their peace of mind.)

Aunt Ruth greeted us at the door.  She was perfectly made up and elegantly dressed as always.  She had a lunch of salmon and lentil salad delivered from the club she and my uncle belonged to for years, and everything was ready when we arrived.  She would not allow us to lift a finger.

But the changes soon became apparent.  Although she is completely “with it,” her hearing has deteriorated, and even with her hearing aids, we had to speak loudly and slowly.  She told us that she can’t taste anything any more so now she eats only because she knows she has to.  She can read for fifteen minutes, and then she has to rest for twenty minutes.  She is happy to be able to knit, and has sent more than 100 hats for homeless kids to Michigan where one of her sons lives.

We sat in the den after lunch and she wanted to hear everything about our kids, our grandchildren, and us.  She spoke about the past and how hard it was to lose two husbands.  But she still has her sense of humor, so when she opened a package from Macy’s that contained two bottles of makeup, she laughed about whether, at her age, she should have only ordered one.

Aunt Ruth had been a pillar of her community, serving on the boards of many non-profits. Now, she has only two friends from her past. One is 105 and one is turning 100.  Her phone doesn’t ring as much as it used to, (Note to self:  call more often) and she doesn’t get out much.  On our last visit, she said she was tired and wanted to not wake up one morning, but she will live until her time is up.

It was hard for her when we left. I think her tears, were more about missing the past than for our going.  She thanked us over and over again for coming.

I’m glad we did.



Mary Ellen’s Household Hints

In my never-ending effort to get rid of “stuff,” I decided to recycle Mary Ellen’s Best of Household Helpful Hints.  I have no idea how long I’ve owned it, but its cover price of $3.95 and its yellowing pages hint of old age.

Nowadays, it’s so easy to ask the Internet how to prevent drops on your head when you’re painting a ceiling (push the handle of the paintbrush through a paper plate) or prevent peeled bananas from darkening (sprinkle with lemon juice).  Why keep the book?

I took a last look before throwing it away.  That quick “look” solved a big problem. I had been unable to remove a few dabs of paint left on my just-refinished kitchen floor when I re-painted the baseboards.  According to Mary Ellen, nail polish remover would do the trick.  I tried it.  It removed the spots and not the finish. I was thrilled.

Next I found a list of forty-five things you can do with WD-40 tucked into the back of the book.  Among its uses, WD-40 keeps glass shower doors free of spots.  Even more important, it keeps flies off cows. 

Who knew?

"Walk, Don't Run"

More than a decade ago, we gave up running because our knees gave out.  More recently, we gave up long-distance biking. Now, we walk a lot, and we are grateful that we can.

Here are our walking itineraries:

The most frequent walk:  Our standard weekend walk is 2¼ miles around the nearby reservoir. Like the U.S. mail, bad weather doesn’t stop us (usually).

The most fun walk: When we are visiting our grandsons, we take the “soccer walk.” It’s an around-the-block walk of about a mile down and up a big hill in their neighborhood, accompanied by a soccer ball or football, depending on the season and often by Josie, the next-door neighbor’s dog.

The cemetery walk:  We live near the oldest garden cemetery in the U.S.  Especially in the spring and fall, this is a beautiful bird-and-flower-filled option.

The after dinner walk:  When the sun sets late, we tour our neighborhood observing newly blooming trees and flowers (and occasionally the neighbors).

The Thanksgiving walk:  At approximately 11:00 a.m. on the fourth Thursday of November, turkey just in the oven, the entire family walks around the reservoir and we ask a random stranger to take the annual family-leaning-against-the-fence picture.

The walk with female friends: It doesn’t matter where because we talk non-stop.

The walk with strangers:  This is a new category.  While walking alone on a weekday recently, a complete stranger caught up to me and said “Looks like we walk at the same pace—would you like to join me?”  It was fun.

Like I said, I am really grateful that I can walk.



A Different World

For the last two weeks, I have spent time in a different world.  I was helping soon-to-be high school seniors prepare essays for their college applications.  At first it was hard for me to put myself in their shoes.  Everyone was a different color than I am.  Everyone had experienced discomfort because of that color.  Many were from broken homes.  Some didn’t know who their father was.  But they all wanted to write college applications essays that would make them competitive with their white suburban peers.

These kids came to school on time on hot summer days and wrote for two and a half hours.  Every day.  Most of them wrote 1000 words for homework every night.  They could write “I am stuck” over and over again, but they had to write.  They were given prompts to help them think about what to write—write about someone who has influenced you, write about a time you were scared, write to show why a college should accept you.

Everything they wrote was shared with the head teacher, another helper and me on Google Drive.  We watched them on our own computers as they wrote and we made comments in real time.  We also worked with them one-on-one if they were stuck.  In some sessions, they would read successful essays written by earlier graduates and critique them with a partner.  They also shared their work in groups of three.

At first they had to be “assigned” to me, but by the end, they were asking for my help.  (It didn’t hurt that the main teacher told them Ms. Kugel had served on admissions committees for years.)

On the last day, they had to have two application-ready essays, checked by us and ready to go.  They each read their favorite four sentences from one of their essays to the class.  I was surprised to find myself holding back tears as I listened.

They made astonishing progress.  Sure, we had to help a bit at the end with grammar and editing, but the course was well organized and run, and it showed.  Not every essay was as polished as it could be, but these kids worked hard and learned a lot.

I learned more.


My Summer Reading

What I am reading:

1. The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls, the author of The Glass Castle.  Status:  Page 40

Summer escape novel.

 2. How to Write and Give A Speech by Joan Detz.  Status:  Page 182

Classic “how to” book.  Wedding toast?  Statesman speech? Help if you want to give a great speech (or are planning to teach a course on great speeches, which I am).

3. Drafts of college application essays written by upcoming seniors in a charter school where I am helping in a college essay course.  Status:  ongoing

Amazing stories of inner city challenges written by the kids living them.

What I will read:

1. Life is a Wheel by Bruce Weber:  Status:  next on my list. 

A 57-year old chronicles his middle-age crisis bike trip across the U.S.

2. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  Status:  Way behind.

This treatise on behavioral economics has been on my night table too long.  I’ve read the first forty pages at least three times.  I will read it this summer.

What I should read: 

1. Something that explains soccer.  Having watched our two sons play goalie in hundreds of soccer games and having been glued to the TV for this World Cup, maybe it’s time to try to understand it.

Or maybe not.