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January 2016

December 2015

Resolution Time

If you regularly recycle old New Year’s resolutions, you might want to consider a personal mission statement instead.

In a New York Times article published last January, Tara Parker Pope suggested that if, instead of focusing on single acts of self-improvement, we looked at the underlying reasons for our behavior, we would be more likely to change. In other words, rather than trying to fix your behavior one resolution at a time, develop guiding principles about how you want to live your life.

Here are some questions posed by Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute that can help you to craft a personal mission statement.

How do you want to be remembered? How do you want people to describe you? Who do you want to be? Who or what matters most to you? What are your deepest values? How would you define success in your life? What makes your life really worth living?

If the term “mission statement” sounds too much like corporate-speak, call it your “purpose statement” or whatever you like. It’s always a good idea to look deeply at your values and make your best attempt to live by them, and 2016 might be a good year to start.

Happy New Year.

What do you do if you have spare moments around the holidays? Clean closets, of course.

Closets always need work. Although we expect to stay in our current home for years, someone will have to empty our closets someday. And I would like to make that as easy as possible, especially since that person will probably be me.

I persuaded Peter to help me clean out the walk-in closet in our guest room that contains rarely-used items like his tuxedo and my formal dresses. First, we examined a device that resembled a Walkman, but wasn’t. Whatever it was, we hadn’t used it in years. We tossed it.

The next item, a soft leather case, contained several re-chargeable batteries and a few one-inch square things that looked like they belonged inside a digital camera. That went in the “save and ask the kids what it is” pile.

We found “Bop-it”, a way-too-noisy-battery-driven game that had shattered the peace and quiet of too many Thanksgivings, but I couldn’t throw it away. About two dozen plastic disk holders came next. They were labeled “back up” and probably were from a computer we don’t own any more. Out they went.

Finally, we decided that our saved front pages of newspapers announcing the election of our first African-American president and the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, had to go to the grandchildren the next time we visit them. Let them store them in their closet.

And that was it for closet cleaning—at least for now.

Bagels or Bust


It’s been sixteen years since my celiac-disease diagnosis meant no more gluten in my life. Decent gluten-free food was an oxymoron back then, but it’s gotten better, and most restaurants can accommodate my diet today.

But no one, yes no one, has made a gluten-free bagel that remotely resembles what used to be my breakfast staple. Believe me, I’ve tried them all.

So imagine my delight when America’s Test Kitchen’s How Can It Be Gluten-free, Volume II claimed that after endless experimenting their cooks had developed a recipe for like-real bagels.

Last Friday was a gloomy day, good for a kitchen challenge. We had amassed the fifteen ingredients that our new recipe called for, including psyllium husks, oat flour, white rice flour, brown rice flour, xanthan gum, molasses, etc.

Peter and I were a team in the kitchen—he was captain, and I followed his orders. We used every conceivable bowl, pot, cookie sheet, measuring cup and utensil in the house. All kitchen surfaces were covered with flour.

It was not pretty. For the first time in forty-seven years, I wondered if our marriage could survive. We did everything right—measuring the flour on a scale, boiling the bagels one at a time and turning them over in the boiling water after five seconds, carefully arranging them on two layers of cookie sheets over oiled parchment paper. And that was only part of the drill.

When our six bagels finally went into the oven, we agreed that this wasn’t meant for a home kitchen, and even if they turned out to be divine, we’d never make them again.

I managed not to try one until Saturday morning. Lo and behold, they were chewy and dense. I felt like I was eating something that wasn’t just air. I can’t remember real bagels all that well, but I was mightily impressed.

Will we do it again? No way.

Body Check (Again)

Although I am a fanatic exerciser, a healthy eater and do whatever I can to stay “young,” the inevitable seems to keep happening and this time the inevitable is arthritis. Sure, my once-broken hip is a bit arthritic, but this was a front-and-center-overnight-appearing swelling of the first joint of my right index finger. It doesn’t hurt; it just bulges.

Then there is my newly-discovered-dry-eye problem. Counter-intuitively, when your eyes tear excessively, it means you have dry eyes. On a scale of ten, if ten is very dry, my eyes are an eleven, according to my ophthalmologist. If the wind whispers, my eyes weep. If it’s below sixty degrees when I am riding my bike, tears roll down my face. Now, a tiny bottle of fake tears accompanies me wherever I go. I’m new at this so chances are about 50-50 that I’ll actually get the drops in my eyes five times a day.

And have I mentioned that the veins in my hands are much more prominent? Did you know that “vain” ladies hold their forearms up to hide this? Try it.

None of these things are life-threatening. They’re just reminders that time marches on. And luckily, so do I.

Whatever Happened to Wool?

My gray flannel slacks paired with my (now quite old) navy Brooks Brothers blazer and a striped shirt were the closest I ever came to preppy. And sometimes, that felt good.

So this year, when my gray slacks began to look pathetic, I started a search to replace them. First I tried Brooks Brothers on line (only because I had a coupon to buy one item 40% off) with no luck. Then on Saturday, I scoured Lord and Taylor in person. Their “family and friends” discount meant that Ralph Lauren and Eileen Fisher, notably high end, were possibilities. Calvin Klein and Vince Camuto were also on my list. And yes, I found some gray slacks, but with no waistbands and absolutely no wool.

I haven’t given up yet—there’s an Internet that’s probably full of gray flannel slacks a-waiting. But until my shopping energy is restored, my navy blazer will remain in its cleaning bag.

Five Trips

Last week, we joined our son Seth for five days for the fifth time in his five years of non-stop traveling for his job as The New York Times Frugal Traveler. Where we went will be revealed when his article appears in a couple of months, but previously, we visited Nicaragua, Croatia, Norway and Vancouver, British Columbia with him, all frugally, all wonderful.

Each time we were thrilled to be able to go and we never took it for granted that we would be asked again. Nor did we take it for granted that we would be well enough to travel his way.

Once again, we had a marvelous time. Once again, we were reminded that although children can be less-than-perfect at times, they can be unbelievably kind, generous, thoughtful and loving. Seth was all of this and more as he entertained us and just about everyone we encountered with his amazing sense of humor and charm. And how many lucky couples do you know that get to spend time away from all their responsibilities, putting themselves exclusively into the hands of an experienced “tour leader” who happens to be their son.

Five days wasn’t long, but it was intensely wonderful. And if we ever try to figure what were the highlights of our lives, these trips will be right up there with the best.

Those Who Can, Teach

This fall Peter and I audited a class on money, markets and morals. We sat among 700 undergraduates in a large auditorium, and the instructor didn’t mind a dozen or so silent-silver-haired visitors.

The professor is a brilliant teacher. He made the huge classroom seem intimate, calling on students as if it were a small seminar. Remarkably, he remembered the names of those who had spoken in previous classes.

The issues we discussed are complicated. Should you raise the price of snow shovels in a blizzard? Should you be able to pay someone else to take your place if you were drafted into the army? Should you be allowed to sell a parking place you were leaving to the highest bidder over the Internet? Should dwarf-throwing be permitted?

There are no “right” answers, just right questions.

And the discussion never ended when the class did. All the students (and all the auditors) kept talking about the issues as they left the auditorium and walked across the campus.

I’ve taken many courses in my many years. This one was a stand-out.

Losing My Inbox

I suspect there are plenty of people who, like me, use their email inbox as a “to-do” list.  Would they feel as stressed as I did the other night when all the contents of my inbox disappeared?

How would I find the guy who said he might shovel our driveway this winter now that his email was gone? What about the plane reservations I didn’t record because I knew I could refer to the airline’s email?  And who might be waiting for answers to emails I never saw.

While I was freaking out, Peter tried Yahoo’s on-line help, a perfectly logical thing to do that I hadn’t considered.  Yahoo opened a “case” for me. Needless to say, when nothing had happened by the time I went to bed, I didn’t sleep well.

Out of bed at dawn,  I checked my computer.  My inbox was completely restored.  So was I.



They arrive on Wednesday, the kids from Maryland at 9:30 a.m. after driving through the night; our New York son, late that evening.  And this year there was an extra guest—Molly, the Maryland family’s new dog.

The Thanksgiving dinner menu is always the same, although this year we added Brussels sprouts.  The big difference of course is the kids.  Our eleven-year old grandson is taller than I am and fills his uncle’s shoes.  His brother, just turned nine, did the heavy lifting when we set up the sofa bed for his uncle in the basement.

They tossed the football in the back yard, as always.  A willing stranger took our annual Thanksgiving family picture when we paused in the middle of our while-the-turkey-is-in-the-oven-late-morning walk around the reservoir, as always. The Black Friday shopping happened (without the grandparents) and the kids went to a Boston Celtics basketball game in the evening. Seth’s very entertaining high school friend Jon came for his usual dessert visit, but this time with his new fiancé.

We played Wits and Wagers, a great family game that our daughter-in-law had bought us with more guests on Saturday afternoon, and brought in pizza for dinner with still more guests on Saturday night. When Seth headed back to New York after dinner, it felt like he had just arrived.

The Maryland family got up in the middle of the night for its 3:00 a.m. Sunday departure, and I got up to say good-bye.  It was only when I got back into bed that I realized that I had forgotten to send the last two pieces of French Silk pie home with them.

Another Thanksgiving, with all of its traditions, like clockwork, wrapped up.

December 6, 2015