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December 2015

November 2015

"The Frosting on the Pie"

Thanksgiving comes just once a year, for which I am thankful.  It’s true that I love having our kids and grandkids for four days, and I miss them when they leave.  But most years, we seem to have near-disasters while they are here. 

There was the year the carbon monoxide sensors went off and we had to get out of the house.  True, the (then little) grandkids loved the big red fire truck, lights a-blazing, that arrived within moments.  Thankfully, we did not have a carbon monoxide problem, just our sensors telling us that it was time to replace them.

Then there was the year the oven died on Thanksgiving morning.   Panicked, I called our next-door neighbors who were visiting their kids on the West Coast—they told us how to get into their house—instructions involving a hidden key (I won’t say where), an alarm, and an oven that I would have to figure out.  At the same time, I called some electricians.  Turns out that for enough money, they’ll come on Thanksgiving. Many dollars and a few hours later, we had a working oven and a quite late Thanksgiving dinner.

This year’s “disaster” may not sound serious, but for me it was.  The must-have (and quite unhealthy) French Silk Pie that everyone loves calls for a whipped-cream topping spiked with crème de cacao and chocolate shavings.  Alas, I had forgotten to buy heavy cream, and of course, all the grocery stores were closed for Thanksgiving. 

But as usual, our neighbors came through, responding to my “missing ingredient” email via our neighborhood listserv.  Within moments, I had three “come-and-get-it” responses, one suggesting that I substitute sweetened plain Greek yogurt instead (thus saving calories too), and another suggesting ice cream.  By the time our daughter-in-law Katrina came back with a neighbor’s life-saving heavy cream, I had had five responses plus a visit from a neighbor I didn’t recognize who rang the doorbell holding out a carton of heavy cream.

The pie was its usual success, and this Thanksgiving I had one more thing to be thankful for---the great neighborhood we live in! 



Grateful Jar

Early in November, our son Jeremy reminded us that it was time to start writing messages for our “grateful jar”.  Once more, we will pause before our Thanksgiving dessert and pass around our “jar”, each of us picking a message to read until it is empty.  I, of course, am completely emotional about all this.  The other day just writing about why I’m grateful for Peter caused my eyes to fill with tears. 

But this year, we have more to be thankful for than ever before.  We live in a free country, and although we weep for those who were killed in terrorist attacks in the past few weeks, we are not confined to our homes like the people of Brussels or bravely sitting in a Paris café to prove that we are not going to let terrorists change the way we live.  For those who lost loved ones, it has been dreadful. 

In all of this sadness, I was touched by the young French father whose wife was killed and who spoke out about how he would not give the terrorists the gift of his hatred.   Of his seventeen-month-old son, he said, “Every day of his life this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom because you don’t have his hatred either.”

Studies have shown that expressing gratitude is good for our health.  We should be thankful every day, not just on Thanksgiving.


"There's No Crying in Baseball"

Growing up in Pittsburgh, I was a huge baseball fan.  My dad’s business had season tickets for the Pirates, but he usually used them for us, his family, rather than his customers. I can still name most of the players on the Pirates’ roster in the 50’s.

But Bostonians are huge Red Sox fans and after a few years here, I became one too.  Through good years and bad, we watched the Sox with the kids.  Even though they live elsewhere now, their true allegiance is still to the Sox.

Which is why Peter and I jumped at the chance to spend two hours with Pedro Martinez, the Hall of Fame pitcher who spent his best baseball years with Boston. 

There were about one hundred and fifty people in the small auditorium with Pedro and his Harvard-professor interviewer.  The first thing I did was text a photo of him to the kids.  Then I listened with a big grin on my face as Pedro recounted his life in a small baseball-loving town in the Dominican Republic, using everything from mangoes to his sister’s dolls’ heads as baseballs.  Making it to play baseball in the U.S. was the goal, and making it to the major leagues was very tough.

Though poorly educated, Pedro is a born philosopher.  He urged a rapt audience never to “cry”. “When you did the best you could, don’t feel like you failed.  There is no failure.”

He explained how channeling his anger helped him win, how his spirituality guides him and how much he owes his family, especially his mother. 

He got a standing “O”.  The audience, mostly Harvard students, loved him. So did I.


My "New and Improved" Broom

I loved my old broom and its matching long-handled dustpan. They locked together like a happy couple spooning.

I had trouble finding a similar one when I had to replace it. But when I finally did, I was delighted to see the sticker on the dustpan boasting of its ability to capture the smallest crumb the broom encounters.

On a recent morning, I noticed tiny peas all over the kitchen floor, a result of Peter’s botched effort to break off a portion from a frozen package. When I tried to sweep them up, they refused to go into the dustpan.  I couldn’t believe it.  I finally had to pick them up pea by pea.

I have often found that “new and improved” means “we found a way to make it more cheaply”.  But why boast that your product does something it absolutely fails to do?

Why do I even ask?

Are We More Irritable as We Age?

Our good friend Frank asked this question over dinner recently.  He was responding to the exasperation I had expressed in two recent blog posts about a couple of non-life-threatening annoyances.

Here’s my take about why we might be more irritable:

1.  Our time is more precious since we have less of it left.

2.  We remember when "service" meant service. 

3.  We (or at least I) have less patience with incompetence and false claims of service.  For example, the company that mucked up our heating system answers the phone with a message that says something like, "We exist to give you exemplary service."

4. Finally, there is Jenny Joseph’s poem that says, "When I am old, I shall wear purple. With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me" that gives us older folks license to be outrageous in many ways, not all of which are polite.

Frank may have nailed it with this response:

“Yes, and there is something more visceral that arises from your analysis, or from another source.  Could it be, unconsciously, the resistance to death that is somewhere in us? And its ultimate finality pisses us off.”

November at the Reservoir

We’ve been enjoying a balmy November.  And so have the many dogs and their owners who make their way around our nearby reservoir.  On Saturday, despite heavy winds, enough brilliant red and orange leaves were left on the trees that cell phones snapped pictures right and left.  (Well, there was one disappointing sight—a young father, pushing his two year-old in a stroller with one hand, head down staring at his cell phone, oblivious to his surroundings and his daughter.)

The highlight of our walk:  Two dog owners with irresistible small dogs.  A little girl climbed out of her stroller and, with the approval of her mom, placed her own “dog,” a stuffed toy terrier that looked quite real, on the ground to play with its “friends.”   Both dogs sniffed the toy dog and turned away.  The adorable little girl looked mystified by the rejection. 

Peter’s comment about the child:  “Being cute is how they earn their living.” That’s true for dogs too.


Pillow Talk

Scene: 10:30 p.m. A couple in bed, cuddling

Me:  “You are so sweet.”

Peter:  “No, you are so sweet.”

Me:  “We’re a very solid couple.”

Peter:  “I love holding you in bed.  It’s my favorite time of day.”

Me:  “That’s because bed is the one place we can hold each other and be sure we won’t fall over.”


Sunny Spot

On Friday, I had an unexpected two-hour window in my over-scheduled life.  Normally, I would jump into a project from my long to-do list. But there was something about the way the sun was shining on my favorite reading spot that I couldn’t resist.  So for the first time since I retired two years ago, I spent a morning stretched out on the sofa, bathed in sunlight, reading for the pleasure of reading.

It helped that I was reading Thirteen Ways of Looking, by Colum McCann, who wrote one of my all-time-favorite books (Let the Great World Spin).  Thirteen Ways… is a collection of stories, beginning with a 143-page novella about a retired judge, ravaged by old age and the loss of his wife.  It is funny and sad and just plain wonderful.

I had to get to a one o’clock meeting or I would have read all day. 


Mother vs. Son

In my fifties and sixties, I published dozens of travel articles in The Boston Globe and other publications.  True, I did not write nearly as many as our son Seth writes as The New York Times' Frugal Traveler, and they weren’t as good (except for "Mother and Son on Safari" which we wrote jointly for the Globe). None-the-less, he was not the first travel writer in the family. 

Anyhow, seven years ago, I started this blog which is much more fun than travel writing. 

A year ago, Seth started a You-Tube channel Amigo Gringo, that gives Brazilians (and others) tips about navigating New York City. Many thousands view his twice-weekly videos.  He gets stopped on the streets of New York or Rio or São Paulo by people who recognize him from the videos or his TV guest appearances.

I, on the other hand, get stopped by strangers in grocery stores who ask, “Aren’t you Judy Kugel? I recognize you from your blog.”

But it’s not a mother versus son contest.  Or is it?