Then I held him: How 20 minutes away became upstairs-downstairs

After my recent piece about our living arrangement in the Boston Globe, I heard from a number of people considering similar moves. Kathleen Shine Cain and her husband, Jim, will be joining their daughter and family in the vertical equivalent of across-the-hall living. With some of the schlepping and unpacking already underway, Kathy took a moment to tell the first installment of their story here:

People often toss around terms like “life-changing” to describe significant experiences. But, oh, this was life changing. It was the evening of February 19, 2012, and my husband, Jim, and I were in the Birthing Suite at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. The “him” was Declan Van Hagen Arnold, to whom our daughter (our only child) had given birth several hours before.

Unlike many friends in our age group, I hadn’t been in any rush to have grandchildren. Shannon and Ryan had lived in Somerville, just outside Boston, and we enjoyed traveling down from our New Hampshire home on weekends, attending urban festivals, dining out, and visiting pubs. Had they never decided to have children, I think I would have been fine with that—life was good. When they announced Shannon’s pregnancy in June 2011, I was excited—but more for them than for me. As the months wore on and I became accustomed to the idea of having a grandson, I was glad that we’d moved to North Andover and they’d moved to Wakefield: We were only twenty minutes away and would be able to spend lots of time with the new family. Continue reading

Annual giving: How much to whom and why

With just a few hours left in 2017, Carol and I are still figuring out our final donations for the year. The bottom line: We contributed about six percent of our pre-tax income, most of it to charitable, tax-deductible organizations along with some to individuals in particular need.

This is the sort of topic that, at least in the households Carol and I grew up in, was never to be discussed outside the home. That’s partly because of the traditional view that talking about presumably virtuous behavior diminishes its value, that revealing one’s giving is embarrassingly self-serving.

But I’m inspired by a contrary, more transparent approach espoused by friend and former Detroit Free Press colleague Marc Gunter, who has followed up his distinguished reporting career with the creation of a website called Nonprofit Chronicles. He describes his mission here, and the other day posted a summary of contributions that he and his wife, Karen Schneider, made in 2017. He reports they contributed seven percent of their pre-tax income, noting that their higher than average family income warrants a bigger percentage of giving than the American average of about three percent.

Marc makes a good case for the ways transparency might encourage more intentional giving on our own part at the same time it spurs more discussion — and giving — by others. I was especially struck by his comment that he’s had “almost no luck engaging friends in this conversation.”

Here’s our story for 2017, including links to the three dozen or so organizations we’ve supported: Continue reading

From full house to empty nest redux

Family Scanlan in 2013

A guest post from Chip Scanlan:

For 15 years, my family was blessed to live in a beach house that sat 84 steps from the pearly sands and azure waves of the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s West Coast. It was a roomy Colonial, with four bedrooms and three baths, more than enough space to raise our three daughters.

But as children do, they grew up and out. One married and headed west to Montana with her new husband; her twin moved to Richmond, Va. to pursue a career in musical theatre, while our eldest decamped close enough to return weekly to do her laundry.  A story familiar to Baby Boomers like Kathy and me unfolded. By 2011, we found ourselves rattling around in a beloved home that was too big for us and too expensive to maintain. A For Sale sign sprouted in the front yard and after a year waiting for a buyer and looking for a replacement, we sold the house and Kathy found a bargain replacement: a fixer-upper with 3 BR, 1.5 B and 1,000 fewer square feet in a quiet, leafy neighborhood ten miles west of the beaches in the city of St. Petersburg. We moved in while a small army of workers replaced the roof, electric, AC, restored the original hardwood floors, IKEAd the galley kitchen, then added a shower to the downstairs half bath and, finally, expanded a tiny living room by glassing in our front screened porch. With a Miniature Schnauzer rescue named Leo for company, we were cozy, but our empty nest was quiet, very quiet, too quiet. Continue reading

Variations on our theme: Upstairs/downstairs, next door, down the street, around the world

Globe Across the HallAmong the benefits of doing journalism online are the ways readers expand and extend your story by adding their own.

Earlier this month, the Boston Globe Magazine published  my story about our across-the-hall living arrangement, and I wrote a Facebook post to encourage friends to take a look. (Original story also viewable here.)

Kevin Ransom, the first to comment on my Facebook post, noted that our arrangement represented a return to a centuries-long tradition. That got me thinking about how lucky we are to find ourselves in this position as a matter of choice as opposed to necessity. Continue reading

A Christmas story: Mr. Scrooge goes shopping on Beacon Street

Had Kate and Marton not rented their apartment across the hall, I doubt that Carol and I would ever have fully appreciated the neighborhood of Coolidge Corner. Let alone live here.

But discover this place they did, and we count ourselves as the beneficiaries of a carless life within walking distance of most of what we need.

Including Christmas presents.

Which brings me to this confessional of bargain hunting gone bad, a Christmas Eve tale that’s painful to tell but that, thanks to the spirit of the season, ended better than it began. Continue reading

Four chairs & a bench: Moveable feast in a public space

I figured the chairs in our courtyard were beginning to catch on when I overheard an exchange between one of our neighbors, sitting in the blue chair, and Mateo, our two-and-a-half-year-old grandson.

“I no share that chair!” Mateo shouted from the second-floor window.

“Thank you so much for sharing!” the neighbor shouted back, apparently not grasping the intent of Mateo’s message. Which he kept repeating, with growing agitation, until Kate intervened and shouted down: “Mateo’s Mommy is happy to share that chair.”

Mateo really likes blue.

And it’s nice to see that our neighbors like not only the blue chair but the red one and the two green ones.

This all started, about a year ago, with the bench. Continue reading

Warming up for Thanksgiving Dinner Talk

A last-minute dinner party took an unexpected turn at our place over the weekend, perhaps offering a glimpse of what might be in store at some tables this afternoon.  

It was shortly after 9 Sunday morning when the unusually packed trolley pulled into Coolidge Corner. Carol and I were headed to 10 a.m. Mass at the Paulist Center and were determined, for a change, to be early.

Family rules at Maleita & Matt's house in Michigan (click for a closer look)

Family rules at Maleita & Matt’s house in Michigan (click for a closer look)

We split up to grab two of the few remaining seats, and proceeded to bury our heads in our reading, Carol on her iPad Mini and me in the Times Book Review.

At the next stop, I failed to notice the woman navigating her way down the crowded aisle with a cane. The more considerate passenger next to me quickly offered up her seat, though, and the woman eased in beside me. Squinting at the changing electronic station sign, she began comparing journey notes with the twenty-something young woman clutching the bar to my left.

Their accents and limited grasp of Green Line geography suggested tourists in need of advice. They seemed to appreciate my tips on making their way from Government Center to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, and we were chatting like old friends as the driver announced the approach of Kenmore station. Continue reading

Upstairs, downstairs; across the hall: Looks like we’re part of a trend

A piece by by Kara Baskin in this  morning’s Boston Globe explores multi-generational living with a particular focus on joint purchases of multi-family homes. It’s an option we’ve considered but are not sure we can afford in this high-end market.

Screenshot 2016-08-07 10.48.17Joint ownership raises a host of issues we’ve mostly avoided as across-the-hall renters: What happens if one part of the family decides to move? Just how might the sale proceed when ownership is entangled with family members upstairs?

The challenges are not insurmountable, especially if there’s a lawyer in the family who can draw up some specific agreements in advance. But it’s a complication we feel blessedly free of so far.

The Globe story does explore the everydayness of intergenerational living, an aspect of across-the-hall life that we appreciate more every day.

Lyn Shamban, who lives in a two-condo arrangement with her daughter and family in East Arlington, told the Globe: “If my friends come over, I don’t expect that they’ll see my grandkids, but I’m always thrilled when they do.”

We know the feeling.

This old wreck

One of the mixed blessings of living across the hall is the constant reminder of the down-hill slide of aging. The reminders come in many forms. It makes me tired just watching daughter Kate and son-in-law Marton chase after two active wee ones while working or dealing with graduate school, all with too little sleep. I did it, but couldn’t possibly manage it anymore.

Then there’s three-year-old Leila who is so at home in her body. She is athletic and adventuresome, graceful and confident. What a contrast to my awareness of the need to be careful going up and down stairs. And she has questions: “Amma, what’s that?” pointing to a wrinkle or a varicose vein on my leg.

So why would I call it a mixed blessing rather than just a curse? Probably because I sense there is some gift in all of this loss of stamina, all these signs of an aging body.

Last summer Bill and I took a landscape photography class in Donegal, Ireland. We were taken to countless old wrecks, some all the way ashore, some still in water. At first I didn’t get it. Why would we want to take pictures of these beat up old things?

skeleton wreckAs we were coached in taking pictures from different angles and in different lights, I began to see the beauty. Some wrecks were worn down to their skeletons. We could see the graceful arc of their bones, often reflected in water. Some just had holes here and there through which one could catch glimpses of sky or out of which grasses and wildflowers peeked. Continue reading

A reminder from across the hall: “I need some privacy!”

open signThe first time she said it, it was a little startling.

To that point, three year-old Leila had been more of a proximity kind of girl, encouraging her parents and others to stay by her side even as she fell asleep or took care of business in the bathroom.

Anyone tucking her in would get a specific request: Stretch out on the floor by her bed until she nodded off. And she insisted on holding her Mom’s hand whenever, well, whenever nature called in a particular way.

Her sudden demand for some alone time — “I need some privacy!” — reflected Leila’s growing independence, of course. But it also reminded me how much being alone matters in a living arrangement focused on being together. Continue reading