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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reflections on Changing Roles

I love to plan trips.  I love to travel most of the time.  And I love to reflect on the good times afterwards.

This morning I am chuckling to myself at a comment Dan made after we visited the new Whitney Museum in lower Manhattan a week ago.   I went up to the counter and as I ordered "one adult,"  Dan wondered what I was doing and what I was going to call him--forgetting that he was the "one adult" and I was going to be the "senior." 

Earlier in the evening, Jim and I found our way to the Whitney to meet Dan but not without uncertainty and several iPhone checks.  I know we didn't take the straightest and easiest route from the L station. When Dan was with us, we followed his expert lead as we walked to Ribalta's in Union Square where he made suggestions for the best pizzas  and treated us to dinner.  We followed his lead again as he chose the best subway for us to take back to the hotel--the limited that stopped at 51st Street and not the express that went to Grand Central. 

We ended the evening with drinks at our hotel.  That is,  two of us ended our evening.  Dan was on to his next engagement meeting friends back in Williamsburg at 10 pm.

Our roles in life are changing,  I hope we don't get to the stage when our children need to take the role of parents for us--or care givers.  For now, we can enjoy their company--and we hope they enjoy ours!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Day Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten and Home?

I'm writing from a lovely, very contemporary room in another of the Hilton brand hotels--this time the Newark Airport Hotel.  This stay was not a part of our plan.  We hoped to be home but our flight was cancelled due to weather conditions along the route and there was no other way to get out of here before Christmas evening.  So here we are and we are at peace with it--except for the fact that I neglected to bring along extra medications.  And we are running out of clothes.

Tuesday (Day Seven)  we walked in the rain to Penn Station and took the train to Princeton.  We checked into the Courtyard by Marriott again, ate supper at Ruby Tuesdays, and met Jeff and Susan at Princeton University Chapel for the PHS Holiday Concert.  All groups from the freshmen chorale and orchestra to the more senior groups were amazing.  The venue at the Gothic chapel is impressive especially when lights are dimmed and the choir processes carrying candles. 

Back to Ruby Tuesdays for the Ruby for me and white wine for Jim and an apple strudel flatbread.  We were the last customers of the night.

Day Eight
A slow start and a walk in a light rain along the Delaware Raritan Canal and then lunch with Jeff at Main Street CafĂ©.  In the last several weeks we have had time alone with each one of our adult children--and I had lunch with Susan alone--moments to treasure.

We returned the rental car and Susan took us to the train station.  There was a crazy fellow on the train--I wanted to tell him to take a "chill pill" --a phrase I had forgotten but seemed appropriate.  The conductors seemed aware of him.  He was not really threatening, just completely hyper and talkative. 

As we were checking our gate at the airport we got word that our flight was cancelled.  An agent gave us a number to call while standing in line and we were booked for two days ahead--Christmas evening.  There were no other flight alternatives.  We sat down and took stock.  We tried car rental agencies but no one had anything available for one way rentals--even at $280 surcharges.  So we got a room at the Hilton Airport hotel, took a shuttle, had a lovely supper and just relaxed. 

I did have to let David know that I could not play the organ for the Christmas Eve service and that makes me sad to cause problems for him.

Day Nine

We enjoyed a complimentary continental breakfast in the Newarker restaurant and extended our reservation for another day.  We plan to take the train to Princeton to do some laundry, have supper with Jeff and family, go to church with them, and head back here.  Both of our children and their spouses have made us feel so welcome in their homes.  Michael offered to pick us up even here in Newark.  

A change of plans!   Maybe there will be no Day Ten of travel!  We are at Newark waiting for our 5 pm flight to O'Hare and then a 7:30 flight to South Bend.  We are optimistic!  The Hilton cancelled our reservation and put it down as a late check-out.  I hope to end this travel segment of the blog right here.  No more adventures wanted or needed!

Day Ten (sadly!)

The 5 pm flight was delayed two hours for some cargo readjusting reason.  We missed the 7:30 flight so they rebooked us for Christmas Day at 5 pm.  We chose to take Tri Coach United Limo home ad boarded at 9 pm CST arriving at the airport in South Bend around 1:15 EST AM.  So it was Day Ten after all.  We almost chose to stay at another airport Hilton but there was no guarantee that the next flight might be cancelled again.  So it was a 3 am bedtime but we are home and happy.

A bonus of seeing everyone is that contacts are re-established.  There have been many texts, photos, and emails going back and forth as we get involved in each others' lives again.  I am so thankful for our family!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Day Six (not being Grandma!)

I had a "bucket list" goal of staying a luxurious  hotel next to Central Park.  I thought it was the Waldorf-Astoria so I used my 80,000 Hilton points (many groceries!) to stay there one night.  Well, I was confused.  The hotel by Central Park is The Plaza which is now mostly condominiums with a few rooms at $800 a night or so.  I was a bit sad, but was convinced by everyone else to keep my reservation.

We arrived at the Waldorf an hour before official check in time.  The clerk was taking forever to find us a room that was ready and on a high floor as I requested. She told me it would be worth the wait when she booked us in the Waldorf Towers, Room 36R2.  She included two tickets for complimentary cocktails. 

We had a bit of trouble figuring out how to get  to the 36th floor but a uniformed attendant helped us and even opened up our room for us.  As we got off the elevator, he quietly told us that we were sharing the elevator with the General Manager of the hotel--so he certainly made a good impression of service to a guest! 

The room was amazing!  A view of Park Avenue, high ceilings, antique furniture, quality bathroom products,  and mirrors everywhere.  I know this room took far more than the 80,000 points I put into it.  So much for wondering if a guest who used points would be treated like the royalty and others whose photos are on the walls everywhere. 

After a bit of quiet time, we walked to Grand Central Station and took the 5 subway and the L line to the new Whitney Museum.  Jim stayed in the lobby reading someone's essay and doing crossword puzzles while Dan and I toured the museum.  The building itself was wonderful, the view of Manhattan was spectacular, and the exhibits, both the Stella and the Motley, were worth seeing. 

We stopped at the Strand Bookstore where Jim and I each picked up a volume.  The one I wanted was on a top shelf.  I asked a clerk how to get it down and she asked me, "Are you comfortable climbing on a ladder?"  Then with barely waiting for my answer and probably noticing my hesitation, she said, "Never mind.  I'll get it for you."  I was grateful!

We walked about a mile to Ribalta's in Union Square where Dan treated us to wood-fired pizzas.  Then, with Dan's expert help, we took the subway back Uptown to 51st Street and a short walk to St. Patrick's Cathedral where we joined hundreds of other tourists. 

Back to the hotel and that complimentary drink in Peacock Alley with Dan.  At $20 a piece, we were happy to pay for just one of them!  But what a treat to have a drink in a hotel bar with your son even if he did have to leave for still one more engagement for the evening at 10 back in Williamsburg.
The Empire State Building and the Google complex from the Whitney Museum

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Days Four and Five

Day Four started early--3 AM when I heard Alex crying hard.  His mom and dad, both struggling with bad colds, did not hear him.  I did my best to calm him down, give him a bottle, and sing to him.  At first I was optimistic as his little eyes closed and he stopped wiggling.   And then he'd bat the bottle away or throw the pacifier on the floor and try to get out of my arms.  I gave up after 30 minutes and woke up Laura who did get him back to sleep after a bit of nursing and another bottle. 

Amazingly enough, we all slept in until 8 am.  Laura heard voices downstairs and Sam, age 6, had helped Alex out of his crib and carried or dragged him downstairs.  He meant to be helpful but he was told not to try that again! 

I  left Laura's around 10:45 for the 65 minute trip back to Princeton.  It was easy enough but once again I was so grateful for the voice that directed me from my iPhone.  "At the exit stay left and then take a right to merge with I 476."  At one point I passed a two mile marker and wondered where was she?  Had she missed this one?  No, just a few seconds behind.

When I got to Jeff and Susan's, I knew Jim was there and yet felt startled to see him sitting in their living room.   I made the banket which I had started the day before.  We checked into the Courtyard by Marriott around 3 and then headed to the Princeton Symphony Orchestra Holiday Concert at 4.  Both Katie and James were singing in the Princeton High School choir.  When they began with "I saw three ships," I had tears running down my face.  I'm not sure why.  The choir was singing beautifully but it was also knowing that James was one of those deep bass voices and Katie was, as always, singing with such intensity and expression.  I was overwhelmed again by the Hallelujah Chorus but then it was the powerful words as well.  I felt far less emotion during "The Twelve Days of Christmas!"

Jeff and I picked up Olive Garden take out--five big bags--and brought them back to the house for dinner for 12 of us because Laura's family made the trip to join us.  It was a smorgasbord of Italian food with soup, salad, breadsticks, wine and a variety of pasta dishes.  (Smorgasbord--a Swedish work?  maybe just buffet?)

Katie and James and Michael are so good with the little kids.  Alex loves everyone's attention and came through with lots of smiles and laughter.  His  wobbly steps are so precious and getting stronger each day.

Now we are back at the Courtyard and it is really just fine to be with the two of us for a few hours.
Day Five

We left the Courtyard by 8:45 and thought we knew better than the iPhone guide.   We were wrong.  We adjusted and made it to Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church with a few minutes to spare.  It was a very traditional service with an organist who tone-painted the hymns with different stops and drama. It does call attention to the words, but in some sense it seemed like a performance.  I appreciated the sermon on the Magnificat in which Rev. Norfleet mentioned that in some times and places those words were left in Latin or forbidden entirely because of their subversive content.

  It was fun to witness the Christmas Eve Pageant rehearsal in which Jasper had a speaking part and Sam and Ruth were sheep.  I'm glad that Laura signed them up to participate.  Jasper's voice was so clear and poised.

Jeff and Susan and family joined us for  a great ham dinner this time including Dan too. We opened  lots of gifts.  With 14 of us, it takes a while!

 In some sense, the excitement of Christmas is over for Jim and me.  Each family can celebrate Christmas in their own homes with their own traditions.  Dan will be leaving for a week's vacation in Mexico with friends so he will be fine too.

We will worship at our church's Christmas Eve Candlelight Service and then probably not do much of anything on Christmas Day.  We may be ready for a very quiet day in our own home at that point.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Being Grandma Mary: Days One, Two, Three

Wednesday, after a very restless and short night, I took the 6:30 am non-stop United flight from South Bend to Newark.  I wondered why the coffee I could smell on the plane was never served.  The answer?  I was sleeping and when I woke up as the pilot announced that we were 30 minutes from landing, the stewardess offered me a cup.  How kind of her to notice and give me a second chance!

As I began drinking my coffee, I put in the special ear plugs that reduce air pressure recommended by my friend Maggie.  I have had a cold for over two weeks and Maggie thought I might be prone to ear pain. It was worth the $7 price to avoid that trauma. 

Even with ear plugs, I heard a very strange sound that at first sounded like snoring.  A young lady across the aisle was crying and had her hands around her head.  I asked if she was OK.  Obviously she wasn't.   She mumbled something about pain and pressure in her head.  I offered her my ear plugs and she took them quickly.  She stopped hyper-ventilating and calmed down.  Were they really such miraculous ear plugs or did my offer at least stop her panic? 

I really didn't want them back so I gave her the little plastic case they came in.  She accepted it and said, "You were a blessing."   Later I heard her chatting in another language to someone on her cell phone as she put her coat around her bare midriff.  She wished me a good day as I left the plane. 

Getting to Princeton means a short air train ride, then the New Jersey Transit train to Princeton Junction, and then the Dinkey train to Princeton itself.  Jeff picked me up at the station. It was an amazing five hours door to door and that's all. 

After arriving in Princeton, I enjoyed another nap and then a walk in the downtown area.  I was happy I could help out with the afternoon driving and school pick-ups—a good Grandma role. 
The big event of the day was Michael’s choir concert.  Each grade level ( 6, 7, and 8) had well over 100 singers.  The program was very appropriate for each age level keeping in mind the changing of the young men’s voices over those years and the level of difficulty possible as the students matured.
Day Two
SJeff brought me to pick up my Enterprise rental car even before I ate breakfast.  I chose a cute blue Hyundai—mostly because the color was unusual enough that I could find it quickly in parking lots.  I had a couple of quiet hours alone before driving to Princeton University and walking in the rain to Susan’s office in the Frick Chemistry Building.  I loved seeing the display of the history of the Princeton Chemistry Department which she wrote and organized and the art department carried out.   

Susan and I had lunch at Alchemists and Barrister’s in Palmer Square.  I had always been fascinated by its historic building and was happy to enjoy a good lunch and conversation there.
Susan dropped me off near the Princeton University Art Museum.  I saw the Cezanne exhibit and paid homage to the Bierstadt for which Susan participated in a panel discussion a week ago. Her role as a chemist was to talk about its lead paint.
My afternoon duty was to stay at the house for the new dryer delivery.   I did that and thought I would do nothing else.  It gets dark early here on the east coast but I changed my mind and was brave enough to drive in the dark and the rain to Katie’s Holiday Funk performance at the Dance Factory.  It was worth the stress—although I had some problems with the car lights and missing the VK driveway on the way home. 
Day Three
On the road again—It's  55 miles to Gladwyne and Laura’s home.  I am a fairly bold traveler but driving on east coast interstates is threatening.  I was very thankful for my iphone and the great directions given as we went.  I thanked my guide but I guess she didn’t really hear or need my thanks! (Just noticed I wrote “we”—guess I really did not feel alone!)

One of the most important engagements of the holidays was Sam's kindergarten tea for grandparents.  Sam gave me a tour of his classroom and then we worked together on a Venn diagram answering questions about how my kindergarten experience was different or the same as his.  We were asked to bring an artifact from when we were a child.  I had to pack lightly, so I chose a 3D viewer which turned out to be a big hit.  Sam was very eager for me to show it.  "Grandma, you go next," he said.  I have heard that the little red viewers are going to be reincarnated with cell phones to show 3D videos. 

It's always amazing and fun to see Laura, mother of four, in action.  All four were in the bunk bed with her enjoying her company during the late afternoon hour.

Laura and Michael had a 8:30 dinner reservation at my suggestion.  Alex refused to go to sleep before they left and finally gave in at around 9:50--when I sang him to sleep.  Sam was still awake.  Ruth was sound asleep.  Good for her.  Jasper showed me several exciting pages in the Guinness Book of World Records and I tried to be interested in the man that held 147 pounds by his ears and others of the same amazing abilities  

And now all is quiet!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas Angst and Joy

I have never been one of those women (mothers) who go all out for Christmas.  I was reading yesterday about how millennials don't want their boomer parents to simplify Christmas--even when they might be at that stage of their lives and ready to give away the dozens of boxes of Christmas decorations they have accumulated.  We do not have dozens of boxes of decorations and never have.  And we are very happy with our little Christmas tree this year.  I have put up a bit of greenery and a few candles with the added motivation of two parties we are hosting for graduate students over the weekend.

When I was working I had the added tension of organizing a Christmas party for my students.  Santa always visited our Family Literacy celebration and brought gifts.  This meant finding a Santa costume and finding a Santa who looked like the children in our class.  Even after I changed to teaching regular Adult Education classes, I celebrated Christmas with a brunch for the students.

 There was joy in all of this. in the midst of the stress. One of my favorite memories is having the students find the Christmas story in Bibles and read it together.  Yes, it was a public school setting but I always felt this was totally appropriate.  One year, Ephraim, a 70 year old from Nigeria, was the only one who knew where the story was found.  He read Luke 2 slowly in his beautiful British-African accent and it was as if I was hearing it for the first time.

Last year, I was able to visit our children and grandchildren just before Christmas.  On a very cold night, we walked across campus to Princeton University Chapel and heard Katie and James sing with their Princeton High School Choirs.  I delighted in hearing Katie and other PHS carolers sing on Nassau Street and just wanted to sing along.   I am going to hear them again this year with the bonus of Michael's middle school choir concert and Sam's grandparents' tea.   Retirement gives me these opportunities.

Three hats for three grandchildren
But...Christmas always makes me stressed.  I want to give the perfect gifts to those I love so much.  And I don't know what that would be.  Little Alex at age one is easy.  I have ideas for Jasper, Sam, and Ruth.  But the older grandchildren and their parents?  I do not know. 

This morning I put out a request for ideas on Facebook.  Maybe I'll get some good suggestions!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Circle of Life--and Christmas Trees

Jim and I made an important decision this year to buy a small Christmas tree.  No more struggling to tie a large tree in the trunk, to fit it into the rusty old stand, or to find enough lights that still work.  No need for one of us to be holding the tree while the other one determines if it is straight or not. We bought a little table top tree.  Our son Jeff said it was bigger than the one he and Susan had in their first apartment.  I can't remember what we had in our first apartment. 

I posted a photo on Facebook and it got an amazing number of "likes" and comments.  I think the whole idea of a small tree--or an artificial tree--or no tree at all--is something that folks our age can relate to.  At least we still have a real tree.  It doesn't smell like our usual Fraser Firs and we had to make decisions about which ornaments were worth using, but we are very happy with our cozy little tree.  And how easy it will be to take it down and carry it to the curb in a few weeks.

This was an easy "rite of passage" even if it is a recognition of our getting older and making changes.   

Friday, December 4, 2015

The "Uncommon" Cold

Jim and I have not had any colds for at least 14 months.  Probably longer.  He started taking methotrexate, an immune suppressant for rheumatoid arthritis,  in October 2014  and he was told to be extra careful to avoid infections.

However, a few days over Thanksgiving with our wonderful grandchildren left us both with colds.  Or maybe it wasn't them at all, but just travelling on airplanes three times in a week that exposed us to more germs than usual.

A week of nose blowing and I get a purple eye
It's been a rough week.  Today I feel better and can breathe most of the time without a struggle.  Feeling better makes me realize how bad I did feel!  I was so glad that I didn't have to go to work or take care of little children.  Jim taught his classes but said he probably should not have. . 

 I didn't stop all activities.  No one was able to sub for me as a docent on Wednesday at the Snite Art Museum, so I bravely toured three groups of third graders on their "Sculpture Quest."  Adrenaline flows and I didn't feel terrible until the third group went downstairs to do their project. I collapsed on the bench outside the museum before the long walk to the parking lot. 

I wonder why no one has been able to find ways to prevent colds or reliable ways to ease symptoms.  The array of over-the-counter medications at the drug store is overwhelming.  I tried a couple of them without much success.  Jim talked to a pharmacist tonight and signed for something kept behind the counter.  We'll see if that has more success.

In any case, I am glad that the common cold has been a pretty "uncommon cold" in our experience and hope that continues.