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April 2018

Ten Days with Seth

During the five years that our son Seth wrote The Frugal Traveler column for The New York Times, his lucky parents got to join him on a trip once each year, five memorable adventures.

We’ve just had ten days with him, this time without traveling, because he came to Washington to help out with Peter’s broken femur recovery while my skin cancer surgery prevented me from bending or lifting anything that weighed more than ten pounds for a week.

Besides allowing me not to worry about Peter, Seth did the following: Took me to and from my day surgery, rushed to the post office to overnight-mail some tax document that didn’t get to our accountant, and spent an entire morning taking my car someplace I didn’t want to go for a scheduled service.

Because he can work from anywhere, our dining room table became his office. He took a part of a day to film Washington’s famous Cherry Blossom Festival for his Amigo Gringo YouTube channel and we were impressed by his ability to author, star in and edit the video.

We listened to him chatting in Portuguese or English as he planned an upcoming trip to give a talk in Sao Paulo. We watched him with his brother’s family who joined us here for pizza one night. His nephews adore him.

And then suddenly, he was gone. As usual, I laundered the sheets and towels and tried to quickly put away all evidence of his visit. I’ve been quickly eliminating evidence of his visits for decades.

It never gets easier to say goodbye.

Mohs, Again

When I had a total knee replacement eleven years ago, I decided that once was enough so I’d better take care of my “good” knee. I had a similar thought after surgery for my basil cell carcinoma in early March, namely, this had better not happen again.

Alas, a biopsy on the other side of my nose showed a similar malignancy. So I found myself at the center for dermatology surgery again last week. This time the first layer of cells removed didn’t have clean margins, so they had to take a second layer. I was in the waiting room from 8:30 until 3:30 with short intervals on the examining table. Toward the end of my waiting, I struck up a conversation with a nice man my kids’ age out of sheer boredom. He was a former writer who became a trauma therapist and because I love reading and hearing about other people’s traumas, Mark and I became fast friends. That helped the time go by.

Closing the wound took forever, my eyes covered with goggles to counteract the bright lights, sewing hands pressing on the goggles hurting, the sound of snipping scissors after each stitch…It was endless until it ended. And with half my face covered by gauze and bandage, the healing began.

Other reformed sun-worshippers of my generation may want to try Vitamin B-3. A recent article in a prestigious medical journal suggests that in the form of nicotinamide, it helps lower the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers.

I’ve ordered a life-time supply.


Facebook has been on my mind ever since I watched its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg (dressed in impressive Wall Street garb) testify to Congress. It’s hard to feel sorry for the accidental multi-billionaire, or to get angry at such an angelic face. In light of all this, I thought 80-Something readers might enjoy this recent post by ITEC Learning Technologies.

A Senior’s Version of Facebook

For those of my generation who do not and cannot comprehend why Facebook exists: I am trying to make friends outside of Facebook while applying the same principles.

Therefore, every day I walk down the street and tell passers by what I have eaten, how I feel at the moment, what I have done the night before, what I will do later and with whom.

I give them pictures of my family, my dog, and of me taking things apart in the garage, watering the lawn, standing in front of landmarks, driving round town, having lunch, and doing what anybody and everybody does everyday.

I also listen to their conversations, give them the “thumbs up” and tell them I like them. And it works just like Facebook. I already have four people following me: two police officers, a private investigator, and a psychiatrist.





In response to the 2017 security breaches at Equifax and other credit rating organizations, we froze our credit reports. It seemed the prudent thing to do-- until we tried to unfreeze them.

We had recently learned that Amazon Prime account holders are eligible for a credit card that gives 5% cash back on all Amazon and Whole Foods purchases. Admittedly, we order from Amazon more than we should, but we have been customers at Whole Foods for years, so why not?

When I contacted Chase, the credit card provider to Amazon, they told me that I needed to get Equifax to lift my current freeze (temporarily or permanently) so they could see if we are credit-worthy. I contacted Equifax and they agreed to lift the freeze “universally” for a month. But when Chase checked, they were told it had not been lifted.

I will spare you the details of the many times and ways I tried this—including just lifting it for Chase with a specific pin. I did this three times with three different pins, each time Equifax told me that it had been lifted, but when Chase checked, the freeze was still on.

I talked to supervisors at both institutions. Equifax offered a business services number that the Chase representative could call to fix this, but both the person I talked to and her supervisor at Chase said they do not call--that I must lift the freeze electronically.

I spent hours on the phone, repeating the same information to both organizations, entering my social security number and a whole lot more, time and again.  So, as of this writing, I don’t have an Amazon credit card. I’ll let you know if I can bear to try again.

As if I didn’t have anything better to do…

Almost Like You and Me

Several weeks ago, I wrote that a young friend I had walked with was having a drink with Michelle Obama that night. Many of you asked for a detailed report. So did I.

My friend and I walked again one afternoon last week and I finally got the lowdown on what it was like to have a drink (and dinner) with the former first lady. She explained how they met and became friends (kids the same age at the same school, bonding over soccer games and other school activities). There were sleepovers at the White House and Camp David for her girls, and agents of the Secret Service in my friend’s driveway overnight when the Obama girls slept at her house. Just ordinary parents making plans for their kids—except that one set of parents was rather famous.

I have no “juicy” secrets to keep from you about their dinner conversation. Just two friends at a restaurant on a quiet Monday, small inconspicuous Secret Service detail nearby, having the same talk that I might have had with any of my friends when I was in my fifties (except for the part about the first lady liking her official portrait).

I loved hearing how Michelle Obama is so much like the rest of us, that she has the same concerns about her family as the rest of us, that she has to figure out what to do with the rest of her life,  just as the rest of us.

Weather or Not

I felt a few snow flurries when I came out of the post office the other day. This is April, I thought. This is Washington, DC. Although we came here primarily to be near our grandchildren, the warmer weather was a big attraction. So where was it?

It’s true that the cherry trees were blooming (and beautiful), but it was cold. Our fellow residents called it an “unusual” extension of winter.

April snow is not “unusual” in Boston where we came from. I remember a snowstorm on the tenth of May thirty-some years ago when my mother was visiting for Mother’s Day. And this past February was the fortieth anniversary of the Great Boston Blizzard of ’78 when more than an inch of snow fell every hour for thirty-two hours. We were without power for days, and everyone’s freezers had defrosted. The only dinner food we had was pasta and sauce that could by cooked by those of us with gas stoves, so our neighborhood bonded over a huge spaghetti party. Only doctors and emergency workers were permitted to drive, and people dragged groceries home from supermarkets on sleds. Of course, the stores soon ran out of milk.

Two days after our late DC flurries, Washington weathermen were predicting ten-twelve inches of snow, but not a single snowflake fell.

Too bad, I would have felt right at home.

Six Weeks Post-Surgery

Easy for Peter’s surgeon to say he wanted to see him six weeks after the operation to repair his broken femur. Not so easy to make it happen. Just getting Peter from our apartment to our car was a major challenge. So I called in the co-captain of my get-well team, Peter’s cousin Andy, for moral support and to shepherd Peter if we couldn’t find parking.

Two hours before we planned to leave, I called the doctor’s office for advice about how to get wheelchair-bound Peter to his appointment. Much to my chagrin, I heard a recorded message: “You have reached…our office is closed.” Not possible I thought. I’ve got Andy lined up, we are psyched to go and I’ve got the day of our appointment wrong? Peter assured me that the office had confirmed the appointment. Stressful? You bet.

I called back an hour later and got a human voice who told me that the office hadn’t been closed. It had been “closed for lunch”. They had a new automated phone system that should have said “for lunch” but didn’t.

The good news is that with Andy’s help, we got there, parked, and got Peter to the doctor’s office on the  sixteenth floor. The better news is that his surgeon was pleased with Peter’s healing.

Six weeks from now, we do it again.

Unexpectedly Eighty

Legendary author Judith Viorst, best known for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, is still going strong at eighty-seven. She’s been acknowledging the passage of decades with books of poems since her thirties. I had enjoyed Suddenly Sixty and Other Shocks of Later Life and I’m Too Young to be Seventy.  So Viorst’s Unexpectedly Eighty and Other Adaptations was a welcome gift for my eightieth birthday in February.

In that book, Viorst waxes poetic about a past not unlike mine, reminding me of things no longer in my life such as garter belts, Saturday afternoon double features (which for me always included a box of Milk Duds) and reaching gourmet cook status just by producing home-made onion dip. Viorst celebrates her age with humor and insight.

Rumor has it that she has looked at our retirement community—having lived in Washington for decades, she has a lot of friends here. But she’s too busy writing to move—her next book of poems will celebrate her nineties.

I plan to read it.

Back to School

A priority for our new life in Washington was to replicate the learning environment we enjoyed while living near Harvard University. When we learned that American University has a robust learning-in-retirement program, Peter and I applied. (That Peter broke his femur on the American campus after the new-members-breakfast in February is ironic, but things happen…)

Even during Peter’s hospitalization and rehab, I managed to go to classes. They have become my way to stay in touch with the world outside our retirement community.

We had a discussion on the future of work in my TED-Talks class this week. The lesson for grandparents:  Don’t ask your grandchildren what they want to do when then grow up because there will be few one-stop careers. Instead, ask them who they want to be.

In my class on Foreign Policy Challenges for 2018, we’ve had experts lecture on terrorism and cybersecurity so far and future classes will cover hot geographical areas around the world.

For the ninety-minutes of each class, I forget Peter’s broken femur.