Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Realities

Our Nantucket Holiday Wreath

I have mixed feelings on the holiday season,  especially these days.  I grew up celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah.  My mother had converted to Judaism before she married my Dad (and there's a whole other story there as I found out years later that my mother had never told her parents that she had converted!),  but as the only grandchildren for her parents, we were destined to reap the benefits of Christmas and my brother and I certainly did... My grandparents lived in an old farmhouse in New Hampshire.... a perfect place to celebrate Christmas....the house was full of nooks and crannies which my Grandparents filled perfectly with Christmas decorations,  and my brother and I looked forward to seeing those traditional holiday touches every year.  The house was surrounded by acres of wooded land so we would tromp around in the woods with Grandpa to find the perfect tree.   My grandmother was not really  the warm and fuzzy type but she was an extremely hard worker and meticulous about details so everything was always perfectly in its place and a wide assortment of  holiday food and treats were always present including the spectacular Christmas Day feast.  

 And then there were our Christmas stockings........I don't think anyone could stuff a stocking like my  grandmother...... my brother and I each had an over-sized sock that my Grandmother had originally knitted for my Grandfather.... (where did those socks go anyway?)...... Truly I looked forward to my stocking above all other gifts.  In my minds eye I can still see my brother and I sitting there on the small couch facing the fireplace staring at those wonderfully over- stuffed stockings, not even allowing ourselves to touch them as we kept one eye on the George Washington banjo clock that was on the wall over the larger couch on the other side of the living room (incidentally, I have inherited that clock and I still think of Christmas morning every time I look at it).  We were not allowed to wake the grown-ups until 7am and my brother and I were the epitome of self-discipline as we sat side by side on that couch waiting for the minutes and seconds to countdown to 7..... an excruciatingly lengthy process..... but always worth the wait.... 

Hanukkah was a much lower key affair but we had certain traditions we always stuck to with this holiday as well.   My favorite was the ridiculously silly gifts that my Dad was in charge of getting.....  We always lit the menorah in our own home.... our Jewish relatives all lived in Cincinnati and as far as I can remember, we never celebrated Hanukkah with them so it was always a very intimate family celebration.... it it's own way as much anticipated as the splashier Christmas. 

And now, as a grown-up myself, I've spent many years of my early adulthood trying to recreate all or even part of what I can remember from my childhood...... and feeling vaguely disappointed when I (inevitably) didn't succeed.   As I grew into middle-age adulthood I gradually stopped trying to compete with the holidays of my younger days and I have learned to combine our own traditions with a few select traditions from my (and my husband's) childhood holidays.    In reality, nothing is going to compete with those childhood memories which have inevitably become even more "magical" as the years pile on since those days.... 

My brother's and my children (a son, Aaron, and daughter, Emmajane for my brother.. and our son Parker,) are now well into their teens.    Those years when they believed fully in the whole Santa thing are long gone.   We have had some wonderful holidays as recently as last year which was our last in Vermont.   Parker had some very specific expectations for this Christmas and was very assertive about achieving them.... reminding me a bit of my New Hampshire grandmother.......and our last Christmas in Vermont was one of our best.......

This year will be our first holiday season while living on Nantucket.  We have spent a couple of earlier Christmases here with Henry, his kids, my parents, and us.... including one amazing year when we actually had 8 inches of snow fall on Christmas Eve....and this year we'll be here until Christmas Eve and then headed out to the mainland for a couple of days to spend time with Peter's brother and family and my brother and family (in his new home..... an old farmhouse.... shades of my grandparents!)  

And so... the holiday realities are this.... those childhood memories can never be duplicated and what's more important, we shouldn't even try........ What is working for me..... is remembering those times with great fondness and then letting go, moving on to combine a couple of key "old family" traditions with those that we create ourselves.... and continue to create as our lives move forward.... Now if only I could find those stockings that my Grandmother knitted.....

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Father's Wisdom - Stepping Back and Watching Yourself Go By

Below is an article written by my father back in 1997 when he was a Department Director at Babson College. A colleague of his recently contacted me and asked if I had a copy of this article as he had misplaced his own and he liked to share with it with family and friends who are graduating high school or college. It took me a while to find it but finally it popped up in one of our boxes of files that we have slowly been going through since our move to Nantucket. I had a vague memory of it and after re-reading it I could see why my Dad's colleague liked to share it with graduating students...... so much to think about here...... some great words of wisdom... and all in my Dad's simple and direct style of writing. While reading it, I could actually hear him speaking these words..... he loved his work but as this article points out, the key to success in a career is knowing yourself and being sure your work and personal life are well-balanced. I especially love the ideas he uses from a Babson College president, Bill Glavin; "Step back and watch yourself go by...... do you like what you see?" and of course his beloved Robert Frost; " joining vocation with avocation is one of the most satisfying things in life."  I also love his comments on chance and how it can impact a career/life...... fascinating to see here just how chance impacted his own career and life!

I think that my Dad's ability to step back, look at himself, and really take time to reflect is so unusual, especially for men of his generation. And the fact that he realizes that for him, his CSFs (Critical Success Factors) leaned more heavily on spending time with his family and NOT being a president of an organization or even making a lot of money.... well, it makes me realize again how lucky I am to be a part of his family.

Planning and Managing Your Career
Jerry Kanter, Executive Director
Center for Information Management Studies (CIMS)
Babson College
Babson Park, MA 02157
December, 1997

Three recent articles concerning career path changes of senior executives caught my attention.  The Wall Street Journal wrote of one of the highest ranking women in corporate America, a PepsiCo veteran of 22 years.  She openly stated that she wanted to spend more time with her husband and children, ages seven, eight and ten. The Pepsi management tried to talk her into staying, but she pointed to years of hectic travel, dinner meetings, and living in different cities from her husband.  It was time to go home.

Another Wall Street Journal story is that of the CEO of USG Corporation, a $2.5 billion building products maker, who lost his wife to cancer.  Countering the accepted work ethic of keeping your personal affairs to one’s self and to grieve alone, this executive talked and discussed his grief openly to business associates.  He halved his travel and cut his office hours to spend time with his daughters aged two, eleven and thirteen.  He spent evenings reading and talking with his children.  Today some two years after his wife’s death, he still maintains his openness and his reduced schedule to preserve time for his family which has grown stronger during this period.
The Harvard Business School Bulletin related how, three years ago, a prominent business executive was named president of Xerox engineering systems.  But the death of her mother and close friend and the serious illness of her father and husband caused her to seek a scaled down position at Xerox.  She states that she misses the people and pace of her old job, but appreciates the opportunity to think and spend more time with her family which is the pride of her life.  She still ponders her future, satisfied she made the right decision now, not dwelling on the past but thinking that there may be another career ahead.
These experiences caused me to do some thinking about careers in general and to look back at my career, analyzing what I think I did right and what I know I was wrong about.  Now in the education field I am asked for advice by a good number of students either just beginning their careers or in the early stages.
In reviewing one’s own career, I run the risk of getting too personal and self centered, but I figure I’m allowed at least one shot at the soft side after devoting all my published thoughts to the hard side.  In so doing, I recall the feeling of the Australians who associate many Americans with what they term “the tall poppy syndrome.”  They point out that when introduced to an American, the American gets quite personal about his or her life, with subtlety or not, in the latter mode expounding on their background and accomplishments whether they are asked or not.  The Australian then tries to cut down the tall poppy, bring him or her back to the world of living mortals.  I realize this is a lead-in to a bit of personal “tall poppying,” but I hope the picture provides a balanced view.
Personal Reflections on a Business Career: Elements of Chance
It is interesting to reflect on one’s career looking at the factors that influenced the path one followed. In my case it was not a well planned course.  In fact there was a great deal of chance involved.  Upon graduating from Harvard College, I applied only to two schools, the Harvard Business School and to my home town law school, the University of Cincinnati.  I was accepted to the latter but placed on the waiting list at Harvard.  This was the time of the Korean draft, and to be exempted one had to pass a national test and be accepted and enroll at a graduate school.  Because I was on the waiting list I was told to leave a postcard provided by the draft board when I went home for the summer so the school could notify the Board.  In my case I wasn’t accepted, but the Harvard Business School made a mistake and notified the Draft board that I was.  They didn’t realize this until a month or so later and wired me that I would be admitted because of their mistake.  So instead of becoming a lawyer, I took the first step to a business career.
The next element of chance took place after I had graduated from the Harvard Business School and was ready to leave the Navy where I had spent three years as a Supply Corps Officer.  I was interested at the time in a career in Education Administration and had applied to Brandeis where they had advertised an interesting opening.  The only other position I had applied for was an accounting job with the large grocery chain, the Kroger Company, in Cincinnati.  The influence of my roots shows up again. I had been interviewed by Brandeis, but they didn’t get back to me until the week I was to leave the Navy.  By that time I had accepted the Kroger job and didn’t think it proper to change my mind.  So career chance two; instead of education I entered the accounting field.
Working up the ranks I learned how to balance books and became the Chief Accountant at Kroger’s processed foods division.  Then an opening as bakery controller arose and I competed with another accountant for the job managing the finances of 14 bakeries across the country.  They couldn’t make up their mind internally and had an organizational consultant interview both candidates in depth.  I really wasn’t that interested in an accounting career but I guess the competitive spirit kept me going.  At any rate I wasn’t selected but did get the next opportunity which was to lead a feasibility study for installing a company-wide computer system; career chance number three.  This is what led to my ultimate career in information systems, Kroger for five years, and Honeywell Information Systems for 25 years.
Many years later, I was on a plane with a good friend and business colleague who told me he was just offered a job of heading up a new Information Technology research center at Babson College.  He had been most interested, but they delayed the decision for a year and in that time he had started a successful consulting practice in Information Systems.  I listened and concluded that this position was made for me.  It was just what I was looking for.  The Honeywell Computer Division had merged first with the General Electric Computer Group and then with the French company, Bull.  I could see a long transition struggle and was thinking it was time to start looking.  The discussion on the plane was career chance number four and put me in an educational job that probably should have been job one.
Selecting a Career:  Employing Critical Success Factors
I would plan a career a bit differently than I did, and would advise others as well based on the above experience.  Chance is a factor, but I think it advisable to employ more positive means to achieve a satisfying career.  Also, career planning includes much more than the business dimension.  The three vignettes that opened this report dearly bring this out.
The foundation of career planning is of course to know yourself.  Know whether you tend to be left brained, the logical arithmetic type who likes formal structured activities, or the right brained who are more intuitive and rely more on the feel and overall sense of a situation.  This all has a good deal to do with the type of company or organization you will be more comfortable with.  Early on, I knew I was not suited for a hierarchical command and control type of environment.  I didn’t like someone looking over my shoulder, but would rather work by myself or in a small group to accomplish the task at hand.  One must know when it is possible to adapt your personality to the situation or when to conclude that there is just too much to change and it is time to seek other opportunities in a different culture.
One of my business positions during my career was to head up a special business/product strategy team to develop a future company vision and strategy and the products and services that would enable the company to accomplish that vision.  This gave me the opportunity to explore many different planning techniques and frameworks.  One such framework I liked mainly because of its simplicity was the concept of Critical Success Factors (CSFs).  I also came to the revelation that we apply all kinds of planning methodologies to our company, but do very little in systematically reviewing our own career.
I think the concept of critical success factors can be effective in looking at one’s career.  CSFs are a straightforward way to state the overall objectives of a company or institution.   In other words, a way to define success and to then determine the four to six activities that are crucial to achieving those objectives.  There are many more sophisticated methods, but when you study the approach it usually can fit in the CSF model.  The key to CSFs is not to draft a list of 25 to 30 factors, but to really think it through and derive the ultimate four to six; amazingly, that is usually what it boils down to.  We use the concept for a business, but not for one’s self.   As that individual, I think we would feel as important as the company for whom we work.
My belief which I have followed is that CSFs can be used to map out one’s career and to serve as a barometer to see periodically if one is going in the right direction.  After allowing chance to be my guiding principle for a number of years, I now employ and have for some 15 years the CSF principle.  I have my list and review it periodically to assess how I am doing and to see if any changes should be made.  My CSFs were on my mind that day on the plane when the Babson opportunity was mentioned. To that point, I considered myself a “closet academic”, as I had taught evening courses at local universities for some 10 years, and had written articles and six books on Information Technology.
Babson’s President Bill Glavin expressed his management philosophy in seven principles he used as a base point in his career.  I was fortunate to hear him relate this philosophy to a management group.  One of his principles ties into the CSF concept and that is to “step back and watch yourself go by.”  Do you like what you see?  Using the CSF approach fits in nicely with the Glavin concept.  First, establish your personal CSFs and then periodically watch yourself go by, assess how you are doing, and make the necessary changes to your actions or to your CSFs.  And don’t wait until the latter part of your career to do it as in my case.  Do it up front, and then watch yourself go by.
Developing Your Critical Success Factors
One should start by knowing one’s self.  Assess your personality, what you’re comfortable with and not comfortable with, what you’re good at, your individual values, and personal likes and dislikes. Understand what elements in these traits you can overcome, which are deeply embedded in your temperament, and which are almost impossible to change.
The first step is to explore in depth what constitutes success.  The elements that must be considered in addition to business success and money are family, society, community, friends and just plain having fun.  Then, focus on the elements under each major heading, listing those elements that are crucial to attaining success.
The poet, Robert Frost, said in one of his poems that to join vocation with avocation is one of the most satisfying things in life.  In the terms used here, I would say that is the ultimate in CSFs.  One has to have a job where there is an income flow, but often that gets in the way of focusing on your other CSFs.  If the drive is so strong, one can sacrifice the financial needs and, for example, take a job in a non-profit organization.  I think my CSFs were satisfied when I finally took a job running an Information Research organization within a college.  It is a position where personal contact and helping others have high priorities.   My only concern may be that I didn’t do it sooner.   Maybe it’s because I made my CSF list too late.  At least it’s something to think about.
Here is the CSF list I developed 15 years ago:
Job and Personal Critical Success Factors (CSFs)
What Constitutes Success
1. Meaningful/constructive/enjoyable work
2. Individual/Family Focus
3. Community Ties (Putting Something Back)
4. Financial Stability
1. Meaningful/constructive/enjoyable work…
Quality of Performance
work results viewed by others as being positive to the business
reputation with superiors
reputation with customers

Maintain/enhance professionalism
attend training programs
attend business learning sessions
Exercise the brain
selected non-business reading
movies / plays
cultural activities

2. Individual/Family Focus
Spend time/communicate/relate to spouse
— vacation
— weekends

  • call from work
  • discuss global/community/social issues
Maintain/increase communication with children
— phone calls
— weekends
— vacations
Personal health/well being
  • diet
  • jogging (sports)
  • rest / relaxation
  • change of pace
Maintain relationships with extended family and friends

  • communication
  • personal contact
  • joint activities
3. Community Ties (Putting Something Back)
Community projects
  • Walker Home and School
  • AETC for High Risk Children
  • Harvard/Babson/Simmons
  • Greater Boston Association for Retarded Citizens
  • Others
4. Financial Stability
Maintain Cash Flow and Build for Future
  • Assess business/financial stability of employer
  • Salary consistent with changing family situation
  • Assess Investment Portfolio
  • Maintain family home
  • Provide for retirement and family support
In my case, I placed a good deal of weight on factors outside the job.  I didn’t aspire to be the President or CEO of an organization.  While I didn’t consider myself lazy, I was not going to work 12 hour days or weekends, but rather wanted a change in routine and to spend time with family and do things in the community.  Consulting or a job that would require excessive travel would not fit with my CSFs.  Also, achieving substantial wealth was not high on my list, and tradeoffs would favor the nature of the job and its personal fulfillment rather than a heavy emphasis on current and future salary.
I credit my CSFs with the position I finally took in the education world.  My CSF list was made at a time when my company was going through its second major merger, this time with an international company.  I heard the classical opening statement at merger time—business will go on as usual and there will be no personal changes or downsizing.  My experience was that after “the urge to merge” comes “the urge to purge.”  I think it was because of my recent review of my CSFs, that I needed a change and the education community would be a good avenue for me if I could find the opportunity. The chance meeting and discussion referred to earlier on the airplane of the Research Center job at Babson fit in with my thinking and plans.  I was able to act quickly and take a job that has been a great opportunity, and continues to fit my stated Critical Success Factors.

Why CSFs are More Important than Ever
It is obvious that the business environment and culture have changed.  Twenty years ago a business career consisted of working for two or three companies.  In many cases an individual worked his or her entire business career with a single institution.  That has changed. Today, it is common to work for 6 or 8 companies in the first 15 years of your career.  There is no such thing as company loyalty.  The alliance, merger, acquisition mode is commonplace and with it has come cut backs, lay-offs and downsizing. There is limited career planning or assistance on the part of employers.  An individual is literally on his or her own to participate in training and management development.  The phrase is no longer “employment”, it is “employability”.  Workers are taking a more selfish outlook because their employer doesn’t seem interested.
In this kind of environment, career planning on the part of the individual becomes all the more important.  The concept of Critical Success Factors is a powerful way to stay in touch with yourself and provides a useful framework for keeping what’s important in mind rather than being swept along by external business conditions.  The Bill Glavin philosophy of “stepping back and watching yourself go by” takes on new meaning and the use of individual CSFs can materially aid the process.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Report Card Pride

We received Parker's first ever official Report Card today and this is what greeted our eyes.   Let's remember that we spent the first 15 years of Parker's life avidly avoiding grades and tests.  I firmly believe that grades and tests are NOT what truly tell us how a student is doing and what he/she is learning...... I am a firm believer in play and project-based learning.... and yet I'd be lying if I didn't admit to an initial flush of pleasure when I saw this card....... I still don't believe these A's tell me how "smart" my son is but I can't help but see it as a good sign of how Parker is acclimating to life in a new school in a new place....... and getting a letter inviting us to a special Principal's breakfast reception to "honor this significant accomplishment"?.... well, okay... I'm letting myself feel a little proud of my boy.... at least for today.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Sixteen-Year Old "Little" Boy.....

An amazing thing happened on Thanksgiving Day.... my "little" boy turned 16.  As you can see from the picture I took of him and his Dad this past Sunday morning while on a beach walk (60 degrees at the end of November?... not too shabby!),  Parker is not anywhere near to being a little boy.... at 6'2" he's half a foot taller than his old Dad and has the build of a football player (not that he would ever play that "violent sport")...... But although he's a teenager and is many years away from the toddler he used to be.... I can honestly say that most of those characteristics he first started exhibiting at 2 and 3 years old,  can still define who he is today....  independent thinker, articulate, opinionated, tenacious (stubborn!), single-minded (always on a mission!) , funny (great sense of humor!), sensitive, a leader (bossy at times!), ambitious, self-driven, fair-minded, full of questions.... Yes......he's all that he was at the age of three years,  just much more so!.... Many of those characteristics were challenging to parent when he was three and sometimes they are now at fifteen as well...... but I wouldn't change the young man he is becoming for the world....

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Peter and I have been going to the Unitarian church services over the last 30 or so years while we have vacationed  here on Nantucket.  For many years the main attraction of these services was the minister, Ted Anderson, whose sermons were always thought-provoking and inspirational.   We liked Ted so much that we asked him to officiate at our marriage.   I'll never forget that intimate ceremony in our Surfside road home.  When we moved here in August we had already decided to start attending the Unitarian Church on a regular basis.  Ted has retired but remains on-island and we still have opportunities to interact with him.......

We have been enjoying the new minister very much and have felt extremely welcomed by the fellowship as well.   Today's service was about, predictably enough, Thanksgiving,,,, and much of  the morning focused on the ways and whys of giving thanks.   The children in the congregation set out with their wagons through the town to collect nonperishable foods for the Island Food Shelf, the singing involved hymns of thanks...... When it came to the sermon, however, David (the minister)  turned the theme around just a little... or maybe a lot, depending upon how you look at it.  He talked about the idea of "being in thanks" rather than "giving thanks"...... it sounds kind of simple but it made me think about the differences between the "being" and the "giving"....  "Being" to me implies more permanence, a kind of natural, on-going, almost subconscious  state.  Giving, on the other hand, is something that you have to think's something you consciously do and it doesn't necessarily mean that you are truly a thankful person in the complete sense of the word.  

 "Thanksbeing" is a state that we strive for and part of that striving usually involves the giving of thanks.   It feels to me like this state would be peaceful as well as joyful.  And, in the real world, if more of us achieved the state of "Thanksbeing" just imagine the decrease in whining and complaining.... not to mention how it might impact the planet's political culture.... now that would be something really worth striving for..... 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Abigail, Our Senior Citizen

Our house on Nantucket is an upside down house.... the main living area/kitchen (plus the master bedroom) is upstairs.  This is so the beautiful view across the moors to the ocean can be appreciated by everyone.  My parents didn't hesitate to build the house this way even though my mother was in a wheelchair... they just had the staircase built with the electric chair lift.... very useful for my mother and for occasional rides by the grandkids as a special treat.  No one else really used it.   My mother,  being of the generation that didn't want or expect "special" treatment just because she was physically challenged, was somewhat embarrassed by this concession to her needs.   As time went on, however, my father came to need to use "the chair" and as we have made this house our own, Peter and I have used it to move heavy boxes (not to mention grocery bags) to the 2nd floor...... very handy!   And now, as you can see in this picture, our 9&1/2 year old bulldog, Abigail, has come to appreciate the chair,  as navigating the staircase, especially going downstairs, has become so difficult for her and her increasingly arthritic shoulders and legs.   I know my Mom,  would be so pleased to know that "her" chair was becoming more and more useful.  As an extremely devoted dog lover, she would be especially delighted to know that  her "granddog" was benefiting from it!  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Brussel Sprouts

photo.JPGOn Friday Peter and I were grocery shopping together.  As a rule, I do not like shopping of any kind with my husband.    In our 30+ years of life together we have discovered that we can enjoy many activities together.... shopping is NOT one of them.   A typical Susan and Peter shopping expedition sounds a little like this: Me: (picking up a large container of hummus) "This is Parker's favorite kind of hummus" -  Peter (checking out the price) ; "I CANNOT believe that hummus cost almost $8!.... why do we need that much hummus? Isn't there a cheaper store brand? I hope we're not going to get expensive chips to go with that hummus.  Can't we make our own hummus cheaper?   I didn't even know what hummus was till I was in my 30's!..... blah, blah, blah...... "    

Now,  picture variations of that dialog going on with practically every grocery store item I pick up.  Yeah... now you may begin to understand just why I don't like shopping with my husband..... However, there was one ray of sunshine in Friday's outing to the grocery store..... I noticed that they were featuring Brussel sprouts by the stalk.... I picked up a huge stalk and held it up for Peter to see... he actually smiled and then checked out the price... $3.89!  This inspired a huge grin from my frugal husband as he considered this to be  a real bargain.  Never mind that he and Parker absolutely ABHOR Brussel sprouts....  a deal is a deal and we added the stalk to our cart.....

Which brings me to my thoughts on Brussel sprouts....a vegetable I happen to love.  I've never felt that Brussel sprouts get the credit they deserve..... they are an amazing vegetable.....  I started growing them in my Vermont garden many years ago and could not believe how easy to grow and hardy these little veggies are!  I could trudge out through the snows of November and December and those little Brussel sprouts would be sturdily hanging on to their stalks, all green and happy and ready to be picked.... a truly admirable vegetable!  

Eating wise, they are without peer.... simply the aroma of cooking them is a unique experience (in my house I can count on my son whining about the "putrid smell of those disgusting green things" within minutes of starting the cooking process) ... ... I love them steamed with a little salt and margarine or as the featured veggie in a winter soup,  but my favorite way to have them is in a stir fry with other veggies like onion, peppers, cauliflower, etc. etc..... simply delicious!

Finally, when I see those little green globes,  well... they just look like tiny cabbages to me...... I can just picture a late October work-line of tiny mice or perhaps bunnies happily harvesting them from the garden, anticipating a long winter full of Brussel sprout creations.... one "sprout" could easily provide dinner for an entire  family of field mice...

Okay, perhaps I've read a little too much Beatrix Potter...... I've always taken my animal literature very seriously.... Charlotte's Web,  Winnie the Pooh, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Redwall series, Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH, Watership Down, Black Beauty........ have all contributed to me becoming an devoted animal lover, a vegan...... and a lover of Brussel sprouts.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My Dad

My Dad died a year ago today.  I couldn't sleep at all last night and when Peter reminded me this morning that Dad had died on November 5th, 2010..... it seemed to be a good explanation for my inability to get to sleep.  Last year, I had come down to stay with my brother several days before Dad's death as the nursing home and hospice team had let us know that they didn't think it would be long.  As it turned out he hung in there for several days and I got the chance to spend a lot of time with him.  In the beginning, he was quite responsive to my presence, smiling, chuckling, even managing to sing a chorus of "Que Sera, Sera" with me when we were talking about Doris Day coming into his Dad's drug store when he worked there as a kid growing up in Cincinnati.

But as the days went by, he began to slip away and on that last night, I decided to stay over with him because it really seemed like he would be leaving us soon.  I sat by his bed, holding his hand, talking a bit about family members and old friends.  I played some old Harvard songs I had downloaded on my iPhone and we also watched his favorite musical, "The Music Man" (also downloaded on my trusty iPhone).... It was a peaceful night... Dad lingered on into the early hours of the next day..... One of his nurses asked me if there was anyone who my Dad hadn't said good-bye to and suggested that perhaps he was hanging on, waiting to say that final good-bye.    I thought about it for awhile, and then came to the realization that perhaps he was waiting to say good-bye to my mother.  In the later stages of Alzheimer's,  he often became confused about where my mother was (she had died in May of 2008) and would ask me where she was and when she would be joining us.  So maybe he was waiting for my mother.   I leaned up close to him and reminded him that "Mom and all the dogs (Jessie, Boots, Goody, Sami, Rudy, and Winnie)  had already left and were waiting for him" (If you know my Dad, you know how important his dogs always were to him).   And yes, that really seemed to do the trick.  A few minutes later, he quietly took his last breath.... I waited for another one to come,  but he had gone.  I can only assume that hearing that my Mom and the dogs were waiting (somewhere....... where?) for him was, in the end,  all he needed to know.....

The rocking chair in this picture is one that my brother and I had given to our parents on their 25th wedding anniversary (back in 1976).   Peter and I had just dug it out of the corner of the back bedroom in our Nantucket house (yes, after 3 months, we're still unpacking and moving stuff around).   It's in pretty rough shape (all of the Kanter and Richards cats have insisted that it was a giant scratching post and have used it accordingly,,,, naturally, this never bothered my parents at all).     I took a picture of it and sent it on to my brother.... an empty chair where my Dad used to be....  We're lighting candles for both my Dad and my Mom tonight.  I miss them.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Believe it or not I was insulted when I turned 50 and AARP didn't send me an invitation to join them. Before my husband's 50th he received numerous entreaties from them, with all sorts of deals promised if he joined their forces. But I received nothing... nada... zilch... zero........ until today.  A nice thick invite to join with the additional promised treat of an absolutely FREE insulated travel bag was waiting for me in my mailbox. 

Why, after 8 years, have they decided that now they want me??  I was tempted to deny them the pleasure of my feels kind of like being chosen last on a playground kickball team (which incidentally I almost always was)....  Could they be more interested in me now that my address is Nantucket Island??   Maybe they have the (very) mistaken impression that I have joined the ranks of the fabulously wealthy and am now living in a oceanfront mansion on the Atlantic?   Whatever.... they'll soon find out that I won't be making any huge donations....most of my charitable spending is devoted to animal causes.....  I've always been someone who basically flaunts my age with every silver toned hair on my un-dyed, I'm not about to say no to this rite of passage.... I took the 3 year package.... can't wait for my insulated travel bag. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nantucket Mornings

I actually enjoy my mornings these days.  Let me make something clear, I am NOT a morning person.... I am a TOTAL night owl.... I love puttering around at night and often do the things morning people get done in the AM at around midnight or so... laundry, letter writing, general housework.... It does seem to me like there are many more morning people than night people... especially as I get older.  Going to work with an abundance of perky morning people can be a tad trying so I am enjoying my Nantucket mornings with my son and husband who understand me and refrain from any perky behavior.

On a typical weekday morning these days I am up by 6.... before the sun now of course.  I have time to putter around in the kitchen, fill up my bird feeders on the back deck, make my coffee (actually that's the first thing I do) and make breakfast for Parker who I give a "gentle" wake up call to at 6:30.  In the past couple of years Parker has done a complete turn-around in terms of morning behavior.... Waking him up used to be the least favorite part of my morning.  It seemed like no amount of cajoling, nudging, whining, yelling, and various other modes of communication that I'm not really proud of, could move his inert body from his bed.  We would inevitably end up rushing around at the last minute  to get out the door by the necessary time to make it to the bus stop....both of us ending up in terrible moods....... Peter was usually the innocent bystander to the angry whirling dervishes that mother and son became.....  For a non-morning person like myself, it was especially painful.

But now.... I just go into Parker's room, turn a low light on,  utter a gentle good morning, calmly let him know what time it is, and that's all that is needed for my 15 year old son to start his morning.  I go back to my puttering, may even have time for a Facebook scrabble game or two, and then, after showering, dressing, and organizing his school stuff, Parker is sitting at the breakfast table with me, and we may even have a little bit of a morning conversation while we munch on our morning meal.... not bad for a non-morning mother and her teenage son!    I am thinking that our mellow mornings may be resulting from a combination of;  Parker maturing, and the fact that I'm not rushing off to work these days so I'm in a much less stressed place in the mornings.... Whatever it is, I am actually really liking my Nantucket mornings.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Three Months

Yesterday at approximately 10:15pm, marked our 3 month anniversary of living on Nantucket. My husband, Peter, my 15 year old son, Parker, my 9 year-old bulldog, Abigail, and our two sibling 8 year old cats, Minerva and Sirius (named in the midst of Harry Potter fever) stepped foot off the Ferry and onto Nantucket at 10:15pm (we took the 8:00pm ferry from Hyannis). When I bought the ticket I realized that it was the first time I had ever made a one-way only car reservation.

I have personally been coming to Nantucket since 1965 when I was 11 years old. My family had been renting summer cottages in Chatham on the Cape for several years and we're introduced to the joys of Nantucket at some point in the early 60's during a weekend visit to a friend's place. We happily rented on Nantucket though the summer of 1980 when my Aunt Jane (my Dad's sister), in a fit of disgust over the rickety outdoor shower we were all forced to use in our family's latest rental,  convinced my Dad to seriously consider buying a house which he did in early 1981... our house on Surfside Road. That summer I met my future husband at the Atlantic Cafe (the notes he passed to my cousin Pam and I via the friendly bartender, Spider are framed and hanging in our bathroom). We were married in that Surfside house on May 29th, 1983.

Fast forward 12 years to 1995. My Mom and Dad decided to build a house on a less busy section of Nantucket (after their beloved Springer Spaniel, Winnie was almost hit by a car on the increasingly busy Surfside road) and ended up having the same man who built their Surfside Road house (Steve Kotalac), build another home for them on Ridge Lane, Fishers Landing, Madaket. My parents spent their first night there on November 24th, 1995, coincidentally, the night that Parker was born. Parker's first visit to Nantucket was when he was 5 weeks old and we celebrated New Years Eve on the island (the first of many trips up the steeple of the Unitarian Church to ring in the New Year.... this trip was made in a snuggly on his mother's chest... he slept soundly through the entire event).

Fast forward 15 more years and here we are.. Nantucket is now our permanent home. Parker is a sophomore at Nantucket High School (his first public school experience.. he's doing very well academically and quite well otherwise as well, trying his hand on the Sailing Club this Fall and joining the Veritas staff (high school newspaper). Peter is happily retired and seems to be born to it....cheerfully making lists of things to do and puttering around the house to his heart's content. I am semi-retired so far.... looking for a part time job that I can enjoy but not finding one yet. Peter and I are volunteering regularly (3-4 times per week) at the local MSPCA - he's the Cat man, and I walk the dogs. I am also tutoring in the library's English as a Second Language program.... I have a young woman from El Salvador as my first "tutee".

Peter's and my biggest worry was how Parker would handle the transition.... so far he is doing wonderfully.... big relief! I remember when we dropped him off for his first day at the high school back on September 6th. When Parker left us in the car and walked off into the huge (to us) new school by himself, Peter turned to me and said; "I feel like I'm going to throw up".

After 3 months we are definitely enjoying our life here. Things that have surprised us (sometimes a little, sometimes more so) are (in no order of importance):

* The summer crowds!.... Yikes! August was an eye-opener! We have mostly been renting out the house in the summer and coming for long weekends off season when it is MUCH less crowded. What a relief when Labor Day rolled around ---- it made a noticeable difference. And actually this year, the crowds died down during the week before Labor Day because of Hurricane Irene (which actually basically missed us and did much more damage on the mainland)

* The humidity!...This seems like a no-brainer..... Obviously we expected some moisture living on an island and our house so close to the ocean... but.... it is WET.... we invested in a small dehumidifier (25 pints) and have been rotating it in the downstairs bedrooms... it easily fills up within 24 hours ....

* The wind!..... rain or shine there is almost always some degree of windiness on our little island. During this past October Nor'easter, winds got up to 70mph. It's getting to the point where I am so used to the sound of wind that it sounds weird when there is no wind (which doesn't happen very often)

I hope to use this blog just to record and reflect upon my life here on Nantucket Island. If people choose to read it... well that would be nice.... I enjoy writing and hope that others can get some enjoyment from what I write as well.... I am new to the world of blogging... just thought it would be a fun way to journal and might inspire me to keep at it too!