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.

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

Wednesday’s choice: Mateo gets the nod over Mateusz

Mateo and Papa

Mateo and Papa hanging out at lunchtime. Photo by Marton Balla

The (mostly) retired life in Boston holds two big attractions for us: Proximity of not only family but of more interesting things to see and do than we’ll ever have time for. Sometimes, like today, those two attractions collide head on.

Monday night, taking advantage of one of those many interesting things to do, I joined an SRO crowd at Harvard to hear Washington Post (and former Boston Globe) editor Marty Baron interviewed by On Point’s Tom Ashbrook. I bumped into Grzegorz Piechota, a Polish journalist (and Nieman Fellow) who tipped me to another cool event upcoming on campus: A lunchtime discussion with democracy activist Mateusz Kijowski.

A relative unknown (at least to me), Kijowski in recent months has assembled what the Associated Press describes as “the largest civic protest movement that Poland has seen since Lech Walesa’s Solidarity defied the communist regime.”

Thirty five years ago, I was excited to be running around Warsaw and Gdansk in pursuit of Walesa. In those early days of Solidarity, there were so few foreign correspondents in Poland that it wasn’t unusual for several of us to follow Walesa and his family home from Sunday Mass and squat on his living room floor as he sketched his vision for a democratic Poland.

All of which is to say that the chance to get a look at “the next Walesa” was pretty intriguing. Until I was reminded this morning that I had lunchtime duty with Mateo, covering an hour’s gap between Marton heading to work and Kate returning from school.

As I’ve written previously, there have not been many occasions — despite our across the hall availability — when Carol and I have found ourselves in traditional babysitting roles. But this was one of them.

At first I whined to Kate about not wanting to miss Kijowski (her furrowed brow spoke louder than words: “Who?”). But then I did my best to man up and come to grips with my new reality: Hanging out with my grandson instead of pondering the looming power struggle in Poland.

I’m sure Mateusz was compelling over there across the river. But there was no way he could measure up to the clapping, grinning and drooling choice I made instead.

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What are some of the interesting choices you’ve found yourself faced with recently?

On the road to 1 divorce, 2 marriages, 3 bikes, 4 seats, 1,800 miles

In response to our post about getting rid of the car, Danish friend Ernst Poulsen noted: “The European solution: Bicycles?”

Two other friends, Mark and Jutta Brayne, have taken Ernst’s two-wheeler notion to a whole other level: An 1,800 mile ride on a bicycle built for two — from the top of New Zealand’s northern island to the bottom of the southern one — in part to raise money for freelance journalists who encounter trouble (or worse) on the job.  After pedaling on their own for nearly six weeks, Mark and Jutta were joined for the journey’s final few days by their daughter, Katie, and her partner, Mela. Katie and Mela covered the same ground (and then some) but the advantage of individual bikes (and younger legs) made for fewer days on the road.

brayne arrival

Mark, Jutta, Katie and Mela celebrate their arrival at New Zealand’s southernmost shore

We were taken with this Brayne family adventure for all sorts of reasons. I first encountered Mark and his bike 35 years ago in Vienna, where he cycled to work at the old Bankgasse press center where we occupied side-by-side offices. Although in sporadic touch over the years, it wasn’t until last summer — during our final days at Beacon Hill Friends House — that the four of us re-connected in person. Mark and Jutta were visiting the U.S. from their home in Sheringham, on England’s east coast, and there was a lot to catch up on.

In Vienna, we were parents of young children and new babies. Last summer in Boston, we were 60-somethings comparing notes about new stages of life. Continue reading

The car is gone

It took us a while, but I woke up one morning early in the new year and knew it was time. Carol, who gets behind the wheel more frequently than I do, wasn’t so sure. Within a couple of days, consensus arrived and the car departed. For the first time in a half century, neither of us had wheels.

Our Volvo wagon ended up on a used car lot down the street from the high school I attended in New London. Ct.

Our Volvo wagon ended up on a used car lot down the street from the high school I attended in New London. Ct.

Here’s how we decided — and what we’ve learned so far about life without a car.

Depending on your situation, there’s almost always — or almost never — a better way than driving to get from A to B. We count ourselves lucky to be in these circumstances: A cross-town bus at the end our street, a couple of trolley lines within several blocks, Zipcars parked down the street and Lyft and Uber at our relatively inexpensive beck and call.

If those alternatives didn’t represent enough in the way of incentives to going carless, consider the disincentives to car ownership: Our apartment building has no parking, and the city of Brookline bans parking on city streets between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Since moving here from Beacon Hill in August, we’d been paying $200 a month — more than we paid in rent for our first few apartments in the ’70s — to park our seven year-old Volvo wagon in the lot of a nearby office building.

And then there’s the environmental impact, even though we may be diminishing our carbon footprint even more significantly with our reduced consumption of beef. Baby steps in both cases, of course, but they feel like steps in the right direction. Continue reading

Mornings with Mateo: Body language reconsidered

As we shared our plans to move in across the hall from Kate and Marton and the kids, one of the frequent reactions went like this: Uh-oh, lots of baby-sitting in your future!

Fair enough. Mention grandparents living nearby and baby-sitting is a blessing or curse that comes naturally to mind.

But in the six months we’ve been living across the hall so far, I can count the instances of what I’d consider baby-sitting — supervising the kids while the parents head off for other pursuits — on a single hand.

Our alone time with the kids seems less like baby-sitting and more like hanging out. Mateo tends to hang out in the mornings, Leila after dinner.

Mornings work like this: As the early riser on our side of the hall, I decide when Apartment #4 is open for business with Apartment #3. When the time comes, I hang the OPEN side outside our door. If Mateo has also awakened early, Marton or Kate take occasional peeks across the hall to see if the sign is up.

If it is, Mateo makes his entrance. Coming up on ten months and 31 pounds, he’s a big guy whose mobility has not yet progressed to the stage of crawling that involves his belly leaving the floor.

He’s a contented kid, usually as comfortable playing with toys on a blanket in the middle of the living room as he is twirling around in his exersaucer. But we like to start the mornings in my lap.

Maybe like most people, I’ve always been a little lost when it comes to communicating with babies. Baby talk feels too cute; normal talk seems inappropriate in its own way.

With Mateo, I let him take the lead. His lack of words doesn’t appear to concern him one bit. He’s got his moves: gaze, grab and bite, all supplemented with his repertoire of grunts, squeals and raspberries.

My conversations with Mateo, such as they are, got me thinking about conversations I have with people closer to my age. We rely mostly on words, but body language certainly adds a layer of understanding. Continue reading

How many miles from Mom?

family by the tree 2

Clockwise from the white-haired guy: Matt, Lanie, Leila, Maleita, Carol, Marton, Matt, Mateo, Kate, Maddie, Mitch (Photo by Lauren)

The typical American lives within just 18 miles of his or her mom, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan, with 40 percent living within five miles.

That news hits home for us this week, with our kids (and their families and significant other) under one roof (if you include the roof across the hall) for several days between Christmas and New Year’s. This happens for us just once a year, and it’s a good occasion to reflect on the role of geography in the way we’ve lived our lives.

When Carol and I got married in 1970, we were pretty open about where we might live. We did rule out at least a couple of places: Florida and California. Funny how we ended up spending about a decade in each state.

We were each encouraged by our parents, especially our mothers, to seek our dreams wherever they took us. In Carol’s case, that meant living near home (Louisville, Ky.) for the last time at age 17, when she went off to college. Same with me, living in Groton, Ct. for the last time at age 18.

In retrospect, it’s clear I was never very intentional about the role of geography in my life. I’d never even visited Detroit when a Free Press alum in the New York Times Washington bureau (where I was an intern in 1971) set me up with my next job. Our next several moves were also the result of opportunities more presented than sought (in Washington, D.C., central Europe, Detroit (again), Silicon Valley and Florida).

We considered opportunities to live closer to my folks in Connecticut only a couple of times — Boston in 1975 and New York 20 years later — but neither job worked out and we ended up staying put in Michigan and California.

Ah, how the tables turn! This week we’re joined by our daughter and her family visiting from their home 700 miles away in Michigan and our son and his girlfriend visiting from — wait for it — 3,155 miles west in California. Continue reading

Trading addiction for habit

Just when I was feeling pretty good about how we’ve chosen to position ourselves in the world — across the hall! — I was pulled up short by how I choose to interact with the world.

It happened early Sunday morning. Opening The New York Times to the Sunday Review section, I was confronted with a jarring illustration above a headline that hit painfully close to home: Addicted to Distraction.

IMG_0711The essay by Tony Schwartz recounts his realization that he’d been looking in all the wrong places for the energy and inspiration he needs to fuel his life. With some work, he made progress reversing a lifestyle of too much diet soda, too many carbs, too often a second drink in the evening.

The tougher challenge? Clicking in and out of email, checking website stats, chasing mindless clickbait down rabbit holes too embarrassing to identify by name or url.

Me, too.

It seems so incongruous. Here I am living in an idyllic physical environment, surrounded by loved ones, and I’m still distracted by stuff that’s not only less important but less appealing as well.

Schwartz is right to put a tough label on it: Addiction, which he defines like this: “The relentless pull to a substance or activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life.”

Among the 266 comments attached to the article is this especially apt description of the Internet: “It ain’t called the net for nothing. The more we thrash around in it, the more tightly bound we become.”

Continue reading