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June 2016
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August 2016

July 2016

My Half-Family

Except for our cousins Judy and Steve who moved away in 1975, I’ve not had family members living nearby for more than 40 years. This year, I have seven.

It started when my half-sister’s grandson Jonathan moved here a year ago from New Orleans for cancer treatment. His parents (my half-niece Amy and her husband Ken) moved to Boston from Minnesota to help him and his young family. They too have now been here a year. And then in January, my half-sister Florence, age 99, moved here to be near her daughter Amy.

Last Sunday, everybody came to our house for lunch. Even Jonathan’s mother-in-law joined us. Our guests’ ages ranged from three to ninety-nine. Four generations, all related to me.

Florence, at 99, has trouble hearing, even when she’s wearing her hearing aids and she needs a walker. Elliot at three is a ball of energy. His brother Adam, at five is never without a book.

But food is a great age equalizer, and we had plenty of that. Even better, we played Wits and Wagers, a marvelous game for all ages. Except for some sofa pillows out of place, our home was none the worse for wear when everybody left at four o’clock.

My half-family is here for a sad reason. But we still have fun together, and that is gratifying.

Coda to the Wisdom of the Aged

Left out of the last 70-something post about profound subjects discussed in our recent New Hampshire weekend was our important conversation about foods we hated as children. We agreed that cooking has become much more imaginative in our generation, probably thanks to Julia Child initially and now to the many cooking channels on TV and the zillions of recipes available on the Internet through Epicurious and other websites.

But still, what we hated tells us something about our upbringing.

As children…

  • Jean hated liver and onions. In her family, you finished what was on your plate. Period.
  • Peter hated stewed lungs (whatever those are).
  • Gordon could not tolerate fried eggplant.
  • For me, it was the (not-fresh) fish that made its way to Pittsburgh from some far-away ocean and was only edible when smothered in ketchup.

But it was Christa who was born in Germany at the start of the WWII who startled us with her reply.

                “We ate whatever we could get.”

I wondered what our kids having this discussion in 2050 would be saying about what they hated to eat as children…

The Wisdom of the Aged

When we spend time in New Hampshire at the lake-front home of our friends Gordon and Christa, we have very deep and meaningful conversations ranging from politics to history to whether to cut off both ends of fresh string beans before cooking them.

Last weekend, we were joined by their friend Jean and our profound discussion yielded some tenets of parenting that I feel compelled to share. They need no explanation.

  • A mother’s place is in the wrong.
  • If you want to get along with your grown children, live far away and send money.
  • If you have to live nearby, keep your mouth shut and your purse open.

We also talked about politics, concluding that this was like no other election year and promises to become more unusual as it progresses. We limited the talk about our aches and pains to advising Christa on how to treat the insect sting on her eyelid. We ate too much.

Another great weekend.

Arnie's Second Safari

Our friend Arnie sent us his thoughts about his recent trip to South Africa. He had been there more than a decade ago with his wife, and this spring they were lucky enough to go back, accompanied by their 13-year-old granddaughter.

Arnie reports:

“We'd been in South Africa on safari thirteen years ago and, while much was the same, I noticed some important differences:

  1. Somebody has moved the ground down from where it was when we stepped (and now climbed) out of our jeep.
  2. Bones jarred much more easily as we drove over the bumpy safari "roads".
  3. Our 6:00 a.m. starts were quite a bit earlier than our 6:00 a.m. starts used to be.
  4. The choice between taking the damn malaria medication and contracting malaria seemed to be something of a toss-up.
  5. A sundowner on the afternoon/evening drive had become not a pleasant and surprising end to a great day, but an absolute necessity. 

But, if these were arguably turns for the worse, the ability to travel with our granddaughter made all of that totally insignificant.”

P.S. to readers responding to "Peter's Dessert Order" suggesting that I should have ordered my own creme brulee--you're right, but my point was that Peter's not putting me "first" was unlike him...

Peter's Dessert Order

We stopped overnight in Syracuse recently on the way to our western New York State vacation.  We had dinner at Otro Cinco, a friendly Mexican restaurant with lots of gluten-free options in Syracuse’s historic district.  I ordered the house special, a roasted vegetable burrito made with a corn tortilla.  Delicious.

I didn't join Peter in a beer because gluten-free beer isn’t really beer.  As for dessert, Otro Cinco didn’t have flan, my Mexican favorite. I figured I would share Peter’s dessert if he ordered something I could have.

But he chose the carrot cake, off limits to me. I’m sure he felt guilty about it because there were gluten-free options available.  When the waiter came back and said they were out of carrot cake, I got my hopes up.

I can handle Peter’s eating things I can’t have.  He’s very sympathetic about my restrictions.  It would have been so easy for him to order the crème brulee and give me a bite. But he chose the peanut butter cake, leaving me dessert-less.

It was so unlike him. 

The Chautauqua Institution

We drove to western New York State for a one-week-vacation at the Chautauqua Institutution.  We’d heard good things about this 136-year-old “adult education center and summer resort” and thought it might suit us. 

The theme for the week was “Money and Power”.  The Institute brought in a team of big names, including Bill Moyers, Steve Forbes and former Congressman Tim Roemer together with some not-so-big-names-but-very- smart-people like Zephyr Teachout and Mehrsa Baradaran who spoke on topics such as “How the Other Half Banks” (Baradaran) and Corruption (Teachout). A recurring theme was to get money out of politics.

What struck us as important was that these people did not just describe the problems. They suggested solutions.

There was also time for fun.  The Capitol Steps, perfect satirists for an election year, mocked everyone in politics, and the crowd laughed uproariously.  A concert by the Avett Brothers, a famous folk rock band, was a new experience for us, to say the least. The Chautauqua Symphony played.  The Chautauqua Ballet danced.  We couldn’t do everything.  It was exhausting.

The architecture of the Chautauqua “village” is wonderful. The gardens are gorgeous. We stayed in an old, paint-peeling hotel overlooking the lake.  Our room had windows we could actually open.

When it was over, I needed a vacation.

Trip Advisor

I’m open to constructive criticism. It’s never too late to improve.

My loved ones are generous with criticism, usually constructive. Over the years, teachers and colleagues have not hesitated to chime in. And then there are the many suggestions that self-help books offer.

But a surprising additional source of ways I can improve has entered my life, namely our new car’s dashboard. When I turn off the motor, it evaluates my driving. The latest advice:

                    “80% good job of driving. Work on your acceleration to improve.”  

Thanks a lot!

Here, But Older

I was astonished to hear that (as reported on The Today Show recently), people start feeling old when they’re about 37 or 38. That’s when the people who are younger that you outnumber those who are older than you, at least for now.

Old is just a word. But it’s a word that is popping up a lot more often in my life than it used to. And for me, its meaning is changing. I was “young” when I retired at seventy-five. The next day I was “old”. But young-old.

Right now I feel middle-old. That means I have a few more aches and a little less energy. It means I prefer to go out one night per weekend not three. It means that pulling weeds from our garden tires me out sooner than it used to.

I hope to make it to old-old and if I am OK mentally, maybe even older-old.

One day at a time.

Longest Days/Shortest Month

There was something about this June that was extra special. It also went by extra fast.

For one thing, there was hardly ever a cloud in the sky. Bad for the grass, but so good for my mood. There was almost no humidity. The little rain we had fell at night.

We ate lunch on our patio whenever we were home. We walked around the neighborhood after dinner whenever we were home. We chatted with neighbors on their porches. Our across-the-street neighbor Christian who was recently just a baby was riding his first two-wheeler in the street under his dad’s watchful eye.

In Pittsburgh where I grew up, the now defunct Kaufmann’s Department Store had a promotion every year called “June, the Month of Roses”. Roses are nice, but long days are even nicer.