Immigration up close and personal: Celebrating the new citizen across the hall

One by one, the judge listed the 51 countries represented by the 121 people about to become new American citizens at the John J. Moakley Federal Courthouse.

“If you’re from Bangladesh you’ll be standing a bit longer,” U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Bailey cautioned as he began his alphabetic roll call last Thursday. “If you’re from Vietnam, you’ll just be standing for a second.”

Photo by Elianna Nuzum

“Barbados, Belize, Brazil…” he continued, pausing for the applause greeting the women and men standing at the announcement of their homeland, some waving a small American flag provided by the court.

“Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti,” the judge went on, pausing to add the HAI-EE-TEE pronunciation preferred by some. The gesture struck a respectful chord, a simple acknowledgement that the world doesn’t always see — or say — everything the way Americans do.

I was awaiting mention of a country just a few down the list from Haiti, and clapped extra loud when our son-in-law, Marton, stood as the judge announced: “Hungary.” Guided by Project Citizenship, Marton completed a citizenship process given urgency both by the current political climate and his desire to vote. 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

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

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