Living in the Moment

Ray and I have been greatly occupied by our transition to a new home and the sale of our current one. We have sold a condo, bought a townhouse, and listed the house on the Bluff. If you have been following us for a while  you know that all this has required getting rid of, or at least making discerning decisions regarding, the Stuff.

Three months ago we were brought to our senses with the early arrival of a new grandson. We got the word just as we were packing the car to return north. We did an abrupt 180 and headed south to be with our daughter, son-in-law and his family as we focused all our hopes and prayers on the well-being of this little guy. Happy to say that he is doing well.

Still, it was a lesson in what matters. In this case, we are reassured that our decision to move closer to family sooner rather than later has been the right one. We will be able to enjoy more of our grandchildren’s milestones and accomplishments firsthand. Our older grandson is graduating from high school and will be off to college. Happily for us, he will be near our younger daughter and not a continent away. His younger sister is two years behind him and active in Ultimate Frisbee, basketball and theater. Both were involved in their high school play, either in a starring role or technical lighting support. How fortunate that we could be there to witness their amazing achievements.

Which brings me back to the little guy. He and his parents stayed at our house a couple weeks ago so the family could all see the play together, all except for me and the little guy. (I saw the play earlier — twice.)  I got my first chance to babysit for him.  Just the two of us for an evening that ran over-long. His parents’ apologies were laughable. Little guy and I had a very good night.

Now, I have just returned from five days with him and his parents. His mom is easing back into the workaday professional world. While she worked from home, I was on-duty for the six hours she worked remotely each day. Such a week I had.

I am embarrassed by their gratitude. I did them small favors in return for a very selfish week of soaking up this wonderful creature. As I drove home I realized that I had been given the gift of being in the moment the greater part of each day with him. News reports, email and Facebook were relegated to the very beginnings and ends of the days. I got enough information to know what was going on but could focus mainly on family relationships and his development.

For all my reading over the years about living in the moment, this was the real thing. Nothing else had a claim on me. Happiness.


Resisting Robocalls

The barrage of unwanted robocalls to private American telephones continues unabated. Seniors are a primary target. The callers use all sorts of ploys to try to trick us into buying dubious goods and services or to hand over vital information, such as credit card and bank bank account numbers, that can be used to defraud us.

Robocallers are tricky, to say the least. They may adopt a friendly, conversational tone so that we lower our defenses, or they may play on our fears and desires. When Rachel, from Credit Card Services calls, we may listen to her pitch out of fear that we might have overlooked a payment.  We don’t want the kids to think that we’re letting car maintenance slide, so we may listen to Joe from the Auto Service Department when he calls to offer an extended warranty. We seniors love to travel, so why not listen when someone calls to offer a free cruise or a stay at a holiday resort?

You might think that law enforcement would protect us from these calls, and some steps are being taken. But efforts so far seem woefully inadequate. The Federal Trade Commission and the State of Florida launched a suit against the company allegedly behind Rachel in June 2016, but I’ve had a couple of calls from her in the past few weeks. Meanwhile, our phone in New York State rings three or four times a day — sometimes more — with other unwanted calls.

What can we do to protect ourselves? Many of us already refuse to pick up the phone when we don’t recognize the caller, although that means enduring many annoying rings. Robocallers these days are able to spoof area codes, numbers, and identities in an effort to fool us into picking up anyway. The only thing to do then is to hang up as soon as we realize that we’re listening to the opening recording of a robocall or the voice of someone who is trying to sell us something. Pressing any buttons or saying anything may give robocallers information and alert them to the fact that they have reached a live number, resulting in even more calls.

Beyond eternal vigilance, there are some technical measures that can be taken against robocallers. An easy one is to punch *77 into your receiver. In most parts of the country this will enroll you in Anonymous Call Rejection, putting an end to calls from “unknown name, unknown number.” If, for some reason, you want to start receiving those calls again, punch in *87.

A much more powerful free tool, Nomorobo, is available if you receive your landline telephone service through an internet provider, such as Verizon Fios, Time Warner, Xfinity, or Frontier. Nomorobo uses data analysis to identify numbers being used to make robocalls and blocks them from ringing your phone. We’ve added Nomorobo at our townhouse in Virginia, where the service comes through Verizon FIOS, and the phone has been blessedly quiet.

Unfortunately, traditional landline providers have not yet adopted the Nomorobo technology, or something similar. That’s the situation at our home in the Finger Lakes, where our only option would be to purchase a device, such as a Sentry 3 or a Digitone Call Blocker. Judging from the reviews at Amazon, these devices can be a little tricky to set up, but are highly effective. If we were staying at our place in New York, we would probably buy a call blocker, since the robocall situation there is pretty bad.

What about cell phones? So far, I haven’t received many robocalls on my cell, but there have been a few. There are some cell phone call blocker apps that I might consider if things get worse — Nomorobo sells one for the IPhone for $1.99 a month, with an Android version promised for the future. Truecaller is a free app claiming millions of subscribers that offers caller ID, call blocking, and a global telephone directory. Privacy is the main concern with Truecaller — when you download the app, it crawls your contacts and adds them to its directory. That’s why the directory is so powerful. If privacy isn’t a concern, Truecaller may be for you.

Of course, anyone who wants to avoid telemarketing calls should sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry, but that’s only effective with respect to law-abiding telemarketing firms. The problems seniors face come instead from the illegal robocallers employing techniques aimed at our vulnerabilities. That’s why it’s also a good idea to support the End Robocalls Campaign being led by Consumers Union. You can sign their petition at




Finale: The Books

It has been a good while since we talked about our book dilemma. The Wine and Cheese/Book Takeaway was a great success. Prior to this we had donated boxes/bags of books to the local library for its Friends sale. Still, we were left with the remains of a near lifetime of buying/reading/ absorbing/harboring  texts that have been important to us. Add to these volumes a good number of books that had been passed down from the previous generation.

As luck would have it (I can’t believe that I am using this phrase, but it’s true), our hairdresser Maureen, who has been with us for the long term, told me that she knew of a book dealer – a son-in-law of a client – who deals in books. After placing a call to said person, we were introduced to a most charming young man who has a passion for books in a way far greater than ours, I concede. Tom thoughtfully looked over the remaining books, gave us a quick take on the overall situation, and agreed to work through them.

Tom came by to report on his assessment this week. It turns out that we had a good number of books that were in limited supply on-line and some that were of particular interest. He is glad to take our entire collection, the least and the most of it, and make it part of his inventory. Based on this assessment, he gave us a check which we feel represents the potential value of the books, his risk for any that are not of real value, the cost of retaining them, and, most important, the value of his time and expertise.

It has been a long process of detachment and release, but we are experiencing a sense of relief and also satisfaction. The books have gone to people who will read them or pass them on to others who seek them. We realized some monetary gain, but that was not the point. After all, we left the “sale” to the end. No, it’s just knowing that we have completed this phase of our transition.

Friend Bonnie, who took some of our offerings for herself and her son, asked me recently what we kept. Looking over the shelves and reflecting on what we have boxed up, I find that we have saved many classics (Greek, Roman and others), my medieval history books and related novels, background books for Ray’s historical novel Benediction, and many children’s books that I can not relinquish because of their association with our daughters’ youth and my time volunteering at a local elementary school after retiring. Ray kept his collection of books on FDR and the North African campaign of 1942-1943, thinking he still might write something — possibly a novel — on that era. Add in a good number of favorite novels and writers, and that about sums it up.

Regarding children’s literature, I would say that there is a great deal of pleasure in it for adults, particularly if you can share the books with young ones – your own or others. As for all the Shakespeare that we let go, we concluded that we can easily get his works from the local library. Besides, so many of them were yellowing paperbacks.

That pretty much wraps it up for the books. Now we need only resist the compulsion to hold on to the next reads.

Margaret Drabble’s New Book on Aging and Death

Margaret Drabble, in The Dark Flood Rises, turns her discerning eye to old age and death. Death is the dark flood, which must one day too soon engulf those of us, like Drabble, now in our seventies, just as it ultimately engulfs us all.

Drabble’s new novel features a large cast of English seniors coping with old age and facing, or trying to deny, death. You could call this bunch over-educated and privileged, by and large, but they make good companions for confronting fate. Fran, the principal character, is still working — driving all over England to promote safe housing for the elderly on behalf her employer, a benevolent foundation. She loves staying in Premier Inns, a mid-range motel chain, watching the local news, and sipping a stiff whiskey before bed.

Claude, Fran’s ex-husband, is confined by illness to a comfortable flat in London, where he listens to Maria Callas recordings and is visited daily by Persephone, a gorgeous caregiver from Zimbabwe. A retired physician, Claude achieves transcendence each day with a self-prescribed psychedelic drug. Fran, for reasons even she doesn’t quite understand, has taken to delivering meals she prepares each week for Claude to keep in the freezer and reheat. I’d like the recipes for some of her dishes — chicken tarragon, potato-anchovy-egg bake, and kedgeree — a curried rice and fish casserole much favored at British brunches.

Down in the Canary Islands, Bennett, a retired historian, and Ivor, his younger companion of 50 years, have been leading a busy social life but are slowing down. Bennett has decided to write a brief history of the Canaries for tourists to buy. Ivor doubts it will sell, and financially dependent on Bennett, he is worried about how he will survive when the great man dies.

These are just three of the many tales Drabble tells of the life styles and coping mechanisms seniors choose. At times I wondered whether she was mocking the things we do to keep our minds engaged, such as writing blogs, and to give our lives meaning. Fran sometimes suggests that it’s all pointless. “Women live too long, Fran says, spearing a scampi tail and dabbing it into the tartare sauce. We need a plan to get rid of us. A magic lozenge.” Or, “Longevity has fucked up our pensions, our work-life balance, our health services, our housing, our happiness. It’s fucked up old age itself.”

But I think Drabble is celebrating the many and diverse courses seniors take. Certainly she celebrates her friend Josephine, who leads a seminar for seniors on poetry that deals with aging. Josephine researches obscure literary topics largely because she likes being in libraries. She imbibes an exotic cocktail every Thursday evening with Owen England, another retired academic, who is writing a monograph on clouds.

Drabble also celebrates connectedness. Her characters are all connected in some way, and though some are certainly selfish, they worry about one another and give help and comfort where they can. None can stave off the inevitable, however, and Drabble offers insights into the many ways of dying.

You’ll want to keep your laptop or IPad handy when reading this book, both to look up unusual words (“caducity”), and to familiarize yourself with the many artists and intellectuals from the first half of the twentieth century that Drabble’s characters summon up. Unamuno, Cesar Manrique, and de Chiroco have been off my radar, but it was fun to bone up on them.

The book is replete with penetrating phrases and quotations that inspire reflection.

Drabble gives us DEP (Descanse en Paz or Rest in Peace), to think about. It’s inscribed on the anonymous grave markers of African migrants who drowned trying to reach the Canaries.

Or this, from Macbeth, whose actions deprived him of a peaceful end,

And that which should accompany old age,
As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have …

I don’t expect a great deal of obedience as my days draw to a close, but I would surely welcome honor, love, and troops of friends.




It’s Getting Real

Wonder where we’ve been? We’ve been getting our house in the Finger Lakes ready to go on the market in just a few days.

The cupboard is bare. Now how am I going to clean underneath the darn thing?

You’ve been reading about our downsizing and our efforts to get rid of “the stuff.”  We’ve appreciated your interest, your encouragement and your concern. These last few weeks it has been getting real. While we thought that we were going at it in a concerted effort, we have heard that our realtor thinks that we need to accelerate the pace.

We are on-board. This despite the early arrival of our grandson and the need to divert our time to be with him and his parents. We are smitten and will be adjusting all our plans to make the most of the opportunities to be with the family and the new guy.

Our attentions back home have turned to making the house ready to show. More stuff has gone out the door. We have connected with a local book dealer who is looking over the remains of our wine and cheese and book takeaway. He has loaded them into his van and will get back to us with an estimate. No more boxes of books to contend with. (As an aside, we were amazed and gratified to receive a note from the local history center that two of our neighbors have sent a contribution in

Ladies — he does windows!

appreciation for our giveaway. What could be more satisfying? Thanks, friends.)

We are doing “triage” on the remaining items. There are things designated for the local antiques dealer’s perusal; others for the church’s yard sale this year; more for our cherished Once Again Shoppe; practical items for the Living Well which offers services to local families in need: and, our castoff clothing and costuming to the local theater company which encountered an incredible loss with the floods two years ago.

We’ve had the place spruced up a bit with a few cracks addressed, paint freshened where needed and small matters seen to. It remains for us to address the other

Wide open spaces in the basement. Room for a pony.

stuff and to decide how we present our home.

A good bit of our furnishings have gone south to our new home in Virginia. Nonetheless, we still have a very habitable home here. The challenge is to decide what we keep for the new home and how we transition down there. It is not insurmountable, but it does keep our minds occupied.

And, by the way, the basement – that great repository of generations of family stuff – is looking pretty spiffy.

We are convinced that this was the right time to make the change. It has been a huge effort, one that we’re not sure we would want to undertake — or be able to undertake — a few years from now.


Threats at JCCs Harm Seniors and Communities

More than 100 Jewish Community Centers in 11 states have been threatened with bomb attacks since January. This is a depressing problem on many levels. Worst of all, it marks a rise in  anti-semitism that has also seen incidents of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries. It’s a wave of hatred that could end in violence.

Even now, the evacuations and closures at JCCs resulting from the threats are disrupting the lives of American communities, where JCCs are key centers for community life. Open to all, the centers typically have child care and schools, gymnasiums, and pools as well as a full range of social and educational programs.

Seniors are major JCC beneficiaries. The Jewish Community Center in Edison, NJ, for example, recently sponsored a lecture on living with low vision, emphasizing ways of maintaining independence despite deteriorating eyesight. Water aerobics and other swimming programs for seniors abound at JCCs. In Austin, the Shalom Austin JCC has an exercise class for people with arthritis, an AARP senior driver class, and all sorts of parties. They’ll send a van to pick up folks who need rides.  The Bender JCC of Greater Washington is about to screen a Multifaith Film Fest that will appeal to seniors throughout the community, while the Lewis S. Wolk JCC in Rochester, NY, has a senior social group featuring games, sing-alongs, and discussions. There’s also a monthly prostate cancer support group meeting at the Wolk JCC.

When activities such as these are disrupted, seniors suffer and community life is impoverished.

It was good to hear President Trump open Tuesday night’s speech to a joint session of Congress by condemning the JCC and cemetery incidents. Earlier in the day, however, according to the Pennsylvania attorney general, Trump made an ambiguous comment to a meeting of state attorneys general suggesting that the incidents might be “reverse” crimes — carried out by perpetrators trying to make others look bad. Some interpreted this as an attempt to portray Democrats or even members of the Jewish community as responsible, and New York’s Senator Charles Schumer denounced Trump’s remark as “absurd and obscene.”

Let’s hope the authorities solve the crimes affecting JCCs and Jewish cemeteries quickly, before community life in America is further damaged.

Impact of Deportations on America’s Seniors: The Great Unknown

We don’t yet know what the full impact of President Trump’s immigration enforcement policy changes will be, but the outlook is stark. According to the New York Times, “President Trump has directed his administration to enforce the nation’s immigration laws more aggressively, unleashing the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes.” Millions of immigrants are potentially affected.

Little attention is being paid at the moment to what the consequences of sweeping deportations might be for America’s seniors. There is a crying need for data on how many seniors are being cared for by undocumented immigrants. Seniors in assisted living facilities and nursing homes could suffer due to staff shortages. How many seniors trying to age in place are being helped by companions who are undocumented? What will these seniors do when their companions are suddenly gone?  Supermarkets, restaurants, bus services, and taxi companies used by seniors may have difficulty operating.

Americans of all ages in several cities discovered the vital role immigrants play in the service sector on February 16, the “Day Without Immigrants.” That day could soon become the new reality nationwide.

When immigrants are no longer available to care for seniors or provide critical services, where will the burden fall? Most likely on the children — the sandwich generation already stretched to the limit.

The country, and seniors in particular — along with their children — would have benefited from a deeper discussion of the impact increased deportations will have, long before the Trump deportation policy changes were suddenly announced.