Archive | April, 2019

What I learned from our recent peregrinations

25 Apr

The whole fam damily, as my mother would say.  March 2019


We’ve been on the road since last August with one interlude at home, in way too many places, having so many adventures, mini (and major) traumas, and experiences that I really don’t know how to write about the whole thing. But that won’t stop me from trying! I think the best way to summarize this crazy year is with a few statistics, then some bullet points of aphorisms and life lessons learned.

Some statistics:

–We slept in 21 different rooms, so that’s 42 different beds (after 45 years of marriage, we always sleep in separate beds now)

–We have cooked in 11 different kitchens, both gas and electric, some fully equipped, some with as minimal appliances as a hot plate and microwave

–We took care of 10 cats,  including two requiring trips to the vet for injuries and operations,  and minded (briefly) one adorable dog

–[Sorry, Ziggy, I forgot the adorable dog]:



–We made only one flight, LA-Guadalajara and back, but 4 long bus trips in Mexico, and THOUSANDS of miles driving through California and the Southwest, in our trusty 8-year-old Honda Civic

–A lot of our time was spent in wintery climes, which has only convinced me more than before that cold places are not for us (a dilemma when trying to find an acceptable place to live where we can afford the cost of accommodation!). We experienced 4 major snow storms and lots of rain, including 2 so-called “bombogeneses” in Colorado, only one of which was a real terror of a blizzard

–We celebrated our anniversary in Denver, as we had planned, and my 70th birthday also in Denver, instead of Vienna as had been planned

–Instead of two months in Europe, we cancelled that trip and spent 6 weeks in Denver taking care of grandkids and returning 6 weeks earlier than scheduled to Pasadena, thanks to our houseguests who were able to find other accommodations. Here’s what I had to write to our European would-be hosts to explain why we weren’t coming:

We have just arrived in Denver to be with the kids after a rather harrowing drive through the Southwest!  Because of avalanches, the highway through the Colorado mountains was closed, so we had to drive around the mountains through Arizona and New Mexico in HORRIBLE weather. But we have finally made it to the kiddos!  We had to wait until we got here to make the decision: we cannot come to Europe for this trip!  The reasons:  G’s 93-year-old father is quite frail (he is here in Colorado), our kids are in serious temporary need of some childcare help (changing jobs, no nanny, and no money for temporary help right now), we both are having some health issues, and are exhausted after several months of ill-conceived travel peregrinations. We will probably lose our airfare, but it can’t be helped.  Hopefully Norwegian Air may accept my doctor’s advisory note and will refund, but I’m not counting on it.

Norwegian Air (or the travel agent through which we purchased the tickets online) did refund the airfare! AirBnB was another story….


And so what have been the “life lessons” of these travels? Here are a few:

–We don’t ever want to be landlords. Too much trouble, even if the tenants agree to look after the cats

–We really enjoyed our time in Oakhurst at my sister’s lovely place. Gorgeous river running through the property, all kinds of wildlife in evidence, quiet setting to write (and I did do SOME writing on my book). But we realized staying there that we would not be happy living permanently in a mountain community, with no hospital, limited health facilities other than an hour away down the mountain pass, no mass transit at all, and only a few cultural entertainments or activities (not to mention, dare I say it, rednecks). I just have to accept the fact that I am, as the Germans say, eine Asphaltblume–an “asphalt flower”, a city girl. Or at least a medium-sized town girl….with access to countryside!

__I love my new camera (a Sony Lumix DC-ZS70), and despite it unaccountably breaking in December and having to wait for a replacement, I was able to take tons and tons of photos, and get rather good at bird pics. I’ve learned this is a great pleasure for me


__Nature is the most soothing, the most unpredictably exciting way to escape the trials and tribulations of our noisy, complicated, at times agonizingly fractious world. The highlight of my time in Denver was discovering an owl’s nest on Bear Creek in Denver–and coming back to see her owlet as well! (Another thanks to my new camera!)

__True friends are revealed when one is stranded and they take you in

__Do not always assume that your aging friends are sane. This is a sad lesson to learn, and can cause some traumatic moments–and also the loss of long-standing friendships

__Winter has its pleasures, especially if experienced in relatively natural settings.  We still want to avoid the cold as much as possible. When we finally got back to Pasadena, we had been in relatively wintery weather for almost 6 months; we are now basking in the warmth and the verdant landscapes, while eating dinner on our porch.

__We love our grandchildren, and it was a joy to be with them for as long as we were. (See photo at the top!) Family does come first, and all that. But we also learned that at 70, we aren’t as spry and hardy as we were in our 30s. Lifting a 20-pounder, and wrangling a 3-year-old at the same time is best left to younger bodies. 

__Meeting family members that you never knew before–or at least not often seen since childhood–is lots of fun!

__Mexico is unbelievably rich in culture, and has the most diverse cuisine in the world. If it weren’t for the Mexican love of noise, the Mexico City traffic, and the barking dogs, we’d live there in a minute! We met some of the nicest, most cultivated, most dignified and humane, people we have ever known.

_The landscape of the West is vast, sometimes scarily empty and dry, sometimes boringly endless to drive through, sometimes after wet winters abundant and full of nuanced colors. We have been fortunate to see as much of it as we have, but these 10-hour days are long and take a toll…. 

__Finally–and this is the biggest lesson for us–we will never, ever again plan such  peripatetic travels! If we are going to travel for any length of time again, we will plan to go to ONE PLACE and stay in ONE accommodation, then make side trips from there. While our decision not to go to Europe was indeed largely because the kids needed us, it was also because we were exhausted and overwhelmed by the prospect of making so many arduous journeys, organizing so many transfers from plane to train to bus to plane again, after all the travelling we had already had to do.

Now that I have tried to analyze this tumultuous year–and I’ve left out a LOT–let me end by THANKING all the wonderful people we met, the old friends who were so kind and generous to us, and our family members who put up with us in so many ways!  WE LOVE YOU ALL!

Oh, one final cat: I realized I hadn’t included Henry, my sister’s most wonderful cat. Now one-eyed–we had to take him to the vet to have it removed and deal with him having on the Cone of Shame. He is gentle, a superb hunter, and just an all-round lovely old guy. Here he is among the green mossy trees



Uncle Lou and Plastics

4 Apr

A lot of our hand-wringing conversation recently has been concern over the mad proliferation of single-use plastic and its horrible, devastating effects on the environment, as the oceans fill up with all manner of plastic debris that chokes marine life and poisons water and land. These distressing conversations and my feelings of helplessness in the face of such overwhelming pollution has, ironically but inevitably, led me to ponder the career of my great uncle Louis Frank Rahm (1899-1991) who devoted his life to the field of plastics chemistry and engineering. He was the youngest child in my maternal grandmother’s family, described as precocious, musical, and fascinated with chemistry from a very early age. He began work in celluloids in the 1920s; we still have some “art objects” that were produced in the factory where he worked, meant to simulate in cellulose ivory carvings.


Uncle Lou’s display at Leominster, Massachusetts’ Plastics Hall of Fame (now defunct)

Uncle Lou–who I never met, all this information comes from stories my mother told me–began teaching at Princeton University in the 1930s, established the graduate program in Plastics Engineering at the university, and was instrumental in founding the Plastics Institute of America. He wrote a groundbreaking book on plastics molding.  He stayed at Princeton until his retirement in 1964. Family lore has it that his research led to the development of Melmac dishes, and that one of the first sets of Melmac was sent by him as a wedding present to my parents in 1948. I have no idea if this is really accurate information, and no one is still alive that I can ask for verification, but we DO still have some pieces of that original set floating around in the family cupboards. My mother also told us that Uncle Lou continued to play violin, and that at Princeton in the 1950s, he played chamber music with fellow faculty member Albert Einstein.  By all accounts, then, he was a dedicated teacher, a cultivated and ethical man, and a central figure in the development of the scientific discoveries that have led to the world’s saturation and suffocation in non-biodegradable plastics.

So a family history, a personal connection, has led me to these ruminations:  would it have been at all possible for my Uncle Lou to have in any way envisioned that his efforts in science, his belief in societal progress through scientific discoveries, could have been responsible for one of the major culprits in the disastrous pollution of the planet? His is just one of thousands of stories of optimistic belief in progress and education, research and development for industrial uses of products meant to make life simpler, safer, and cleaner–but whose product has now, 70 or more years later, caused a juggernaut of environmental destruction with global ramifications. Were there any people in the 1930s who could have foreseen these drawbacks, and having recognized these failings have implemented some way to control the overwhelming wave of industrial pollution? I am not knowledgeable enough about the history of futurist prediction to know if any environmental visionaries existed then. I am pretty certain, however, that my uncle never doubted that he was contributing something positive to the world. As we talk now apocalyptically about climate change and the death of the planet, I just wonder whether there was a moment when we could have stopped or at least slowed this march toward self-destruction.