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June 2018

May 2018

Lab Girl

Every once in a while, I love a book.  It’s even better when it’s a book I read almost by accident.  And that’s what happened with Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren.  

In a hurry, I grabbed the book from the library simply because the cover noted that it was a Politics and Prose (a wonderful independent bookstore) “Staff Pick”.  I now know that it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography in 2016.

The book is about trees and plants (Jahren is a geo-biologist) and about the author's relationship with her lab partner and best friend Bill.  She alternates between a few pages about her work (I will never look at a tree the same way) and a few pages about her life.  She makes the science easy and the personal parts compelling.  Her complicated story made me laugh out loud at times.  At the same time, she captures the poignancy of her life and its challenges. 

This blog does not pretend to be a book review, but sometimes you gotta share.

Curious Seth


Why do youtravel


On June 29, 1981, Peter and I arrived in London, with our eleven- and nine-year-old sons in tow, cranky after their first overseas flight. We were trading houses with a family in Blackheath, a London suburb, for a month. It was a momentous occasion, not because we were arriving, but because it was Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding day.

Twenty-nine years later, Seth, that cranky eleven-year-old became The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler, and over six years, he wrote about seeing the world on a budget from fifty countries.

This week, Seth launched a YouTube channel, Globally Curious. The first five videos are up, and there will be a new one every Thursday.

Have a look comment, subscribe and share with a friend.

I did.


Not Quite a Birder

Rock Creek Park is one of the treasures of our nation’s capital. Located in northwest Washington, DC, the 3100-acre Park was designed by Frederic Law Olmstead.

Before last week, I had walked a Park trail for an hour or so a couple of times, and I had driven through it on my way to downtown DC. But I really came to appreciate it on an early Saturday morning Audubon-sponsored bird walk.

The two-hour walk started at the National Park Nature Center about a mile away from where I now live. The participants, except for me, were seasoned birders, and they saw more migrating warblers than I did. But a beautiful Barn Owl just feet away staring right back at us was what made my morning. I also loved the majestic trees, the cyclists whirling past in their multi-colored shirts, and two handsome stallions out for a spin.

It’s probably too late for me to start a life-list of birds that I have seen, but it was a delightful way to spend an early spring morning in Washington.

Three Months Post-Surgery

It’s three months since Peter broke his femur in a devastating fall on the campus of American University. The orthopedic surgeon who put a three-inch rod in Peter’s thigh warned us that many people his age do not survive such a traumatic event. He added that Peter’s having been on the treadmill just hours before he tripped was a good sign because survival depends largely on the patient’s condition before the fall.

We saw his surgeon last week. Peter negotiated the trip from the curb to his office with the help of a cane. Six weeks earlier, I had to push him to his first post-operative checkup in a wheelchair. The doctor was pleased with his progress. The appointment lasted five minutes.

After five weeks in the hospital and six weeks of being confined to our apartment with rehab at home, we are on a good trajectory. We go out for physical therapy now, and last weekend we had pizza with our grandkids (and their parents) in a restaurant.

My amazing husband has rarely complained about his situation unlike his grumpy caretaker (me). He is optimistic. He is determined. He’s also eighty-eight.

I am so proud—and so relieved.

Hide-and-Seek on Mother's Day

It was gloomy weather after a sunny week. Jeremy was making a Mother’s Day brunch for his family and his parents. He made delicious pancakes by the dozens, gluten-free for the two mothers and gluten-full for the rest. Also on the brunch table, melon, pineapple and multiple packages of gluten-free treats for my daughter-in-law Katrina and me.

Shortly after we stuffed ourselves at brunch, every grown up but me was napping—Gramps on the prime-napping-couch on the screenedin porch and Jeremy and Katrina upstairs. That left Grady and Leo and their Grandmother. The boys suggested we play hide-and-seek. Why not? Although I was happy to seek, I got permission not to hide.

Their house is full of potential hiding places, but eventually I found them both without disturbing any nappers—Leo on the floor under the covers of an unmade bed in the basement guest room, and Grady scrunched up in a huge ottoman that I didn’t even know opened, but is meant to hold toys. He had two snack bars with him in case it took me too long to find him.

What more would one want from Mother’s Day? Oh yes, a loving card from Seth, sent from somewhere in Brazil.

Thoughts about Retirement

Two articles that appeared in The New York Times in April expressed legitimate, but quite different, views of retirement. The first “Many Americans Try Retirement, Then Change Their Minds,” prompted writer Anne Bernays to write in a letter to the editor, “Retirement before you’re truly ready to stop cold is like getting a Botox shot in your brain.” The second letter, in response to “Scrap Your To-Do List” described the wasted day with nothing to do as “bliss.”

That got me to thinking about where I stand on the retirement issue, almost five years since I walked away from my thirty-three year career. My conclusion? Somewhere in between. I’m not the type to put my feet up, read a good book, and call it a good day. But I don’t think I could put in the hours I used to at work (and still get to all my doctors’ appointments!).

Still, there isn’t a day I don’t think about my former work. But there are some issues in higher education now that I’m glad not to face. Funding, diversity and inclusion, and the #MeToo movement are just the tip of the iceberg. On the other hand, being among an international population diverse in age and experience, was always a joy (or at least that’s how I remember it).

I have moved on, yet when I put on my fleece that has the Kennedy School logo, I yearn to hop on my bike and ride off to my job.

I will always miss it.


A Good Day

We’ve had some rough days in our new life here in Washington, DC, so it is a pleasure to share the good day we had last week.

First, the pre-heat-wave-weather was gorgeous--cloudless sky, temperatures in the low-seventies. Washington in the spring is graced with thousands of blossoming trees from weeping cherries to dogwoods and redbuds, not to mention acres of daffodils and tulips and other spring flowers I haven’t seen in New England.

Second, we had our first visit to Peter’s new physical therapist, and although a long drive away, Josh was worth the trip.

Third, Peter liked Josh well enough to trust his barber shop recommendation, and we went there for a much-needed (in my opinion, not his) haircut.

And, if that wasn’t enough, a resident of our retirement community celebrated her hundredth birthday. She stood greeting friends for her entire champagne reception. (I, at eighty, eventually had to sit down.) She still writes poetry. A haiku of hers was just published in The Washington Post.

All in all, a good day.

Body Update

Some years ago, our then five-year old grandson asked “Why is Grammy’s neck wrinkled like a skeleton?” He knows better than to ask that now, but if he did, his question might be “Is there any part of Grammy that isn’t wrinkled like a skeleton?”

Thanks to lucky genes, I’ve never had a weight problem. But like my mother at my age, I am too thin. Good for my health, but bad for my wardrobe. I am finished with sleeveless tops, and I’ve probably bought my last bathing suit.

But I still can do the forty-minute walk home from the nearest Whole Foods with a backpack full of gluten-free goodies.

And that’s my good luck.

Update on our attempt to lift our credit freeze: After countless hours on the phone, I learned what the problem was. It turns out that Peter and I don’t share a credit report. When I was calling, I was lifting my freeze and the credit card we wanted to get was applied for in his name. The business reporter who helped me solve this problem told me that most people aren’t aware that married couples have separate credit ratings.

Now you are.


An Unfortunate Legacy

One of the pleasures of retirement is that we have time to think about the big picture. We can celebrate what’s going well, such as the meaningful decline in world poverty in recent years and the great strides we’ve made in medicine and technology.

But there is some not-so-good news too. For example, our earth is doing badly. Oceans are rising, species are dying out.

We discussed the future of the earth in my last TED-Talks class, focusing on the sad state of our environment. Two facts (not fake):

  1. The Great Pacific (Ocean) Garbage Patch is now two times the size of Texas. (262,000 sq. miles x 2) and growing.
  2. A million plastic bottles are manufactured every minute.

(Fact #2 caused a handful of class members to slip their plastic bottles of water under their seats.)

We know we must take action. We left class vowing to help rectify this situation. But will we?

Will you?