Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Maryl pines: For a house with fewer memories

Photo by Svetlana Blasucci
This table sits in a dining room facing the Atlantic Ocean in an old Victorian house on the Jersey shore. It’s served up many a family celebration, including all the holidays, First Communions, graduations, anniversaries and, of course, birthdays. If you look in the pantry drawers you’ll find candles in the shapes of numbers 0 to 9….4 for my daughter’s first birthday in her new home in America and 80 for my mother’s milestone achievement. This dining room was where we cut our wedding cake and probably where the daughter of Thomas and Julia Wood, the original owners, did the same who was also married in the house. (Thomas Wood was a businessman from Manhattan and a Lieutenant in the Spanish-American War.) We’ve imagined celebrating our daughter’s wedding here as well but that eventuality remains to be sent. 

Last week we attended a House Packing party two doors away. You couldn’t leave without taking at least one item from their giveaway table. (I took a bamboo tray and some picture frames for my daughter's photography.)  This is the third family to move from that home since we’ve been in ours. The owners are becoming empty nesters and have already purchased their two bedroom apartment in Manhattan. But they are also having a new house built a few blocks away because they like this beach community and aren’t ready to sever all ties yet. It won’t be another Victorian or a McMansion but rather something smaller and simpler and not because of easy upkeep but so they can sell it more speedily in case they do want that rustic villa on a rolling hill in Tuscany.    

Their house used to be right next door but another was built on the open lot in between. Three families have lived there also, the current couple having relocated there so he can be close to his new job in the city and she could begin her second life as a writer after retiring from a career with the government. My neighbor on the other side took over her house after a divorce. She has just sold her second home outside the country and toys with buying and living elsewhere, maybe the city as well.

Because a second life allows us to redefine what we do next and retirement in general, flocking to Florida and the other sunbelt states has subsided. MSNBC reports “Battered by recession, more older Americans are staying put in traditional big cities to hold onto jobs, creating slowdowns in population growth at once-popular retirement destinations widely found in the South and West.” For the first time in decades, more people are moving into New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C than out in contrast to the opposite happening in Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C., the usual retirement locations.

Paul Bishop, the vice president of research at the National Association of Realtors, in their study, “Baby Boomers and Real Estate” confirms that boomers want to retire in urban settings for at least part of the year because they offer easy access to public transportation, health care, culture and restaurants. Older Americans also want to be in or closer to cities because they plan to keep working or looping between work and leisure according to Merrill Lynch’s “The New Retirement Survey,” and because they are unlikely to retire at the typical retirement age.

It may be true that we will need less space - and stairs - and more amenities in our second lives. Our house always had more rooms than we needed, which is why we purchased it in the first place as a beach getaway for our family and friends to enjoy. So I don’t feel it’s the need to downsize or economize per se that prompts me to contemplate starting a new home elsewhere even though the cost of painting our house this month will be more than what my parents paid in total for the house I grew up in. Maybe it has more to do with the absence of some of those familiar faces who gathered around our dining room table and who have now moved on or away. This weekend I will celebrate my birthday there and blow out a few candles (I don't use the numbered ones anymore) and be grateful for the family and friends who are still there with me and pine for those who are not. Sometimes a house can hold too many memories and that’s when you know it’s time to move on.

Recap of links: 
1) “Baby Boomers become buyers,”as they reenter the NYC real   
      estate market
2) Frances Mayes on buying a house in Tuscany
3) MSNBC Report: “Cities gain as boomers delay”
4) Merrill Lynch’s “The New Retirement Survey

I had a great birthday with family and friends gathered around the 
dining room table to sing to me but I took their picture instead. 
(I do remember 19 was a good year!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Caryl introduces: The Third World Club

Anyone who knows me knows that I love India. I have traveled to the subcontinent five times in the last seven years: twice for weddings (one Hindu, one Jain), once to pick up my daughter from her semester abroad in Tamil Nadu, and the others for no particular reason other than my inexplicable addiction to India. I have been to the Golden Triangle, the hill stations and the backwaters, and the temples and the palaces, but no place has been as memorable or moving as my trip last spring to Orissa with its tribal people. 

India has more than 400 tribes, and 62 of them live in the coastal state of Orissa. Their lives and work (hunting, gathering, fishing) are controlled by the supernatural forces that reside in the hills, forests, rivers and village huts. To see the tribal people, one must drive hundreds of kilometers on primitive roads (if roads at all) and arrive on market day when the women come down from the mountains to trade. They walk barefoot for two to three hours each way with babies on their hips, chickens under their shawls, vegetables in baskets on their heads. They come to sell what they grow or raise and buy what they need.

The women, who in some tribes wear little to no clothing in their villages, dress for the often arduous trek from the mountains. They come with their swaddled babies and with their older children in tow but nary a man unless you count the fellow with the bow and arrow who protects them from the occasional jaguar. They wear swags of clothe they have woven themselves, ornaments and jewelry they've made from aluminum and brass and beads. Those over five years of age sport tattoos. The older women wear multiple neck rings to protect them from animal attacks. A woman could survive if she lost a limb but not if the beast went for her neck.

The women of this Third World Club are desperately poor and often sick. Almost all of them are anemic, many have parasites and other intestinal problems, malaria is widespread. (Such common Western diseases as hypertension and diabetes,however, are absent). In some tribes, the life expectancy is mid-30s, the longest last into their late 40s. Girls marry around 16 and give birth on average to five babies. The incidence of maternal and infant mortality runs high. In the Kutra Konda tribe, a woman gives birth alone, half-squatting, holding a rope attached to a house, enabling her to bear down and push out the baby. In the Bonda tribe--my favorite for their elaborate market dress although they are naked in the villages-- the women marry younger men so that their husbands will take care of them in their older years.

These women will not have second lives. In the United States and most of the Western world, we can expect to live 30 years longer than in the 20th century—a second adulthood until nearly 90. Members of the Second Life Club tend to be educated, affluent and accomplished. We are the lucky and the privileged, if only for the accidental circumstances of our birthplace. Recently, Maryl and I put up a new banner celebrating some of the women from our posts. (Can you identify them? Helpful hint: One you won’t find mentioned on our blog: She’s my best friend from high school). We put these pictures up so that you could see yourselves. (Have you noticed that our culture seldom depicts women our age.) The banner is a way to celebrate our collective lives and inspire our future years. Still, I can't help thinking we should use our talents and our extra three decades to figure out a way to help our sisters in the Third World, don’t you? I’m working on it. To encourage you to figure out ways we can do this together, I offer you just for now another banner –a tribute to the members of the Third World Club, the often invisible and ignored tribal women of Orissa.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

2nd Chance: It's never too late to...

. . . watch Gloria: In Her Own Words

The HBO documentary of Gloria Steinem’s life and career as an activist and feminist airs for the second time on Thursday August 18 on the West Coast and Saturday August 20 on the East Coast. Or catch it "On Demand" until September 11, 2011.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Maryl writes: All Alone at the Water Cooler

As the jobless rate shows little improvement, more and more of us are starting and managing our own businesses from home, which can leave you feeling isolated and adrift. (See recent Intuit blog post for more on the psychological effects.) You start to realize the inherent support an average office setting afforded and the voids that now exist, like the emotional lift co-workers can provide or an area of expertise you don’t possess. There's no more huddling around the water cooler or coffee maker.  Yet there are many ways to deal with this lonely disposition from renting office space to informal coffee klatches. For example, there are numerous office business centers, like Select Office Suites, that lease full-time offices, virtual and hourly space and/or conference rooms to all size businesses. The larger metropolitan areas also have business clubs (The Terrace Club in New York is one example.) where you can stop in between meetings to respond to email, conduct a meeting, have a bite or just commune with other anchorless workers for a yearly fee. Think of these like more sophisticated versions of Starbucks, which is of course always another option for taking a breather from one appointment to the next. And there’s a range of similar types of co-working set-ups that encourage collaboration from which business partnerships can be formed. The Twin Cities has a version, called CoCo

I’m not ready to invest in meeting space yet but I agree with the advice to get out several times a week to commune with other like workers. Using several online resources, I’ve joined a few groups that I meet with regularly. This past week I met with my entrepreneur group, which was formed at a career counseling company after we were all downsized from our last corporate jobs and sustained on LinkedIn. Only the women members showed up on Wednesday. It was one of our best meetings ever, coincidence, I’m sure!! The give and take was invigorating and heartfelt and I not only walked away with new ideas to pursue for fine tuning my business plan but a commitment to present it at next month’s meeting. Now I have a deadline to meet and I needed that.

Resources for women starting their own businesses that can provide virtual and face-to-face partnering and work teams:

Count Me In - reference sites for researching women's business loans and grants online.
Make Mine a Million is an initiative program of Count Me In, where boldly creative women help each other turn their dreams into a reality via invaluable education, inspiring live events and a dynamic online community.
The Three Tomatoes is a fun “free” e-newsletter that gives you the real skinny on the best of everything in and out of NYC for fabulous, smart women.
Women Business Enterprise National Council is the largest third-party certifier of businesses owned controlled, and operated by women in the United States.
Women For Hire offers signature career expos, inspiring speeches and seminars, a popular career-focused magazine and customized marketing programs founded by TV personality and author, Tory Johnson.
She Creates Change empowers women to create a career where they are fully engaged in life, claim their calling, and making a meaningful contribution in the world. Ultimately we are igniting a movement, compelling women to take action, and blaze their path with passion.
Ladies Who Launch is a new media company that provides resources and connections for women entrepreneurs.
Webgrrls is an online and offline networking organization of professional women focusing on propelling our careers and businesses forward by leveraging the power of women, technology and tools that help us succeed.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Caryl explains: Why I Read the Obits

If you're like me, you read the obituaries in your daily paper or maybe online. Most people look at the ages first. Nobody likes to read about a young death . . . but we do. Older (than us) deaths are consoling. Maryl looks at the causes of death. Not me. The first thing I check on the obituary page is gender, and most days --at least in the New York Times--the dead are men. Surely women died in this same time period too but their lives did not have accomplishments enough for inclusion in the paper of record. They weren't captains of industry, war heroes, politicans (though politicians' wives have a shot), inventors, athletes or rock stars. (Save the tragic deaths. Witness Amy Winehouse whose obit started on the front page.). Obituaries tend to reflect the inequalities of the past: fewer people of color and fewer still women make the cut. So I am always cheered (I know an odd emotion given the subject) when the daily obits include women. Obits, after all, give credit for living, not just dying. 

Last week was a good week. Two women--and get this, from science and medicine no less--were featured in the New York Times: Agnes Varis, 81, founder of a drug company, and Hanna Segal, 92, a psychoanalyst. Varis, the eighth child of Greek immigrants and the only one to attend college, turned her chemistry degree and $50,000 into a multi-million dollar drug company. Her profits allowed her in her second life to become a gadfly and philanthropist. Among the causes she promoted were generic drugs, opera and jazz, and Democratic politics. Several years ago, Varis sent a favorite book to some of the 200 drug industry executives she had antagonized with her endorsement of generic pharmaceuticals. It was a signed copy of Hillary Rodham Clinton's "It Takes a Village."

Segal, on the other hand, was a daughter of privilege. She was born into a cultured, well-to-do family in Poland in 1918. Her father was a lawyer, art critic and newspaper critic. (This being the Times, her mother wasn't mentioned.) She studied psychiatry and literature in Warsaw and when the Germans invaded Poland, she moved with her family to London to finish her studies. Segal wrote five books and numerous papers herself but she is best known for translating her mentor Dr. Melanie Klein's studies on play therapy for a wider audience. Unlike Anna Freud, who used dolls and other toys to help children understand their conscious behavoirs, Klein found the tools useful in reaching deeper, unconscious feelings, particularly in exploring the mother-infant bond. In a rare 1999 interview, Segal described the foundation of her life's intersts: "I read Proust first, before Freud. And I simply realized that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, more fascinating than human nature."

This week, to my surprise, I hit the jackpot in Times obits: A Woman of Color! The headline read: "Jane White--Actress Who Found Racial Attitudes To Be An Obstacle, Dies at 88. White was an actress in Shakespearean and Greek plays who never achieved the stardom she deserved--at least in her opinion. She attributed her failure to her skin color which was too dark for white roles and too light for blacks roles. Like President Obama, she was the child of mixed race parents. White's mother was of black, white and Cherokee origin; her father identified himself as black but by his calculation was only 1/64 African-American. He was a civil rights advocate and executive secretary of NAACP. White herself used have to wear "white face" to play such Broadway roles as the queen in Once Upon a Mattress with Carol Burnett as the princess. Her shame in denying her race led her to retire prematurely to Italy--she had Mediterrean coloring--but returned to her acting career in her 60s. A graduate of Smith College, she explained in an essay for the college's women's history archive: "I'm only 69. There's still time, if my legs hold out. And, if nothing else, bringing humanity to the stage makes a difference in the world."

Why am I drawn to obituaries? In the chronicles of the dead, I often find life affirming lessons and uplifting messages. There is joy in reading about a life well-lived. Sometimes there is also humor, often pathos, but always a sense of community. Remember 9/11's portraits of grief? They put human faces to a mind-numbing terrorist attack. They made it real. If for no other reason, I read obits because they are, in fact, a good read. The other day, while I visiting friends in Rhinebeck, N.Y, I happened to walk through an old cemetary right in the center of town and took the pictures that accompany this post. Many of the dead had served in the Revolutionary war, many were the family members of the fallen. I was struck by the simplicity of the worn stones with only the names, the dates , and perhaps their primary role in life: wife, mother, widow, husband, son, soldier. I was struck that in this cemetary from hundreds of years earlier there was an equality in the modest slabs that marked their graves, an equality that these men and women never knew in life. I read obituaries because they mark our progress as a culture and a civilization, and they renew my hope that we are headed in the right direction where every death--like every life--matters. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Maryl writes: I won again! A clean mammogram.

I’m “Normal/Negative – No evidence of cancer” as of last week, ten years and running, which is as long as I’ve been keeping the form letters I receive upon completion of my yearly mammography. I don’t know why I keep them. Maybe it’s like a little trophy for a race I’ve won until next year’s competition and Normal/Negative is the gold medal, except it’s one I’m more than willing to share with the entire female population. After all, one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime and I’d like to see fewer losers in this event.

Panini Press
Mammography remains the “gold standard” breast screening method but there’s been much controversy surrounding it lately: the age a woman should have her first mammogram, how frequent, and then what method – regular film or digital mammogram, ultrasound and/or MRI? (See the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, May 2010, “Advances in breast imaging”) for a complete rundown of all the breast imaging methods.) If you have denser tissue as I do, you will probably begin with digital mammography. It still involves smashing each breast together between two plates - like an Italian pressed sandwich - followed by a sonogram and anxious waiting in between takes. 

Much of the debate started in November 2009 when the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated their mammography guidelines. They upped the starting age from 40 to 50 for women of average risk. Average risk means you have no genetic mutation, no strong family history of cancer and no history of radiation to the chest area. The USPSTF also reduced the frequency from one to two years, recommended against teaching breast self-examination but did not assess the other screening methods. These USPSTF guidelines raised a lot of concern among women that their health was being treated more like a political decision and not a medical one. The main issue is the number of false positives that add expense and worry. According to their model, the number of deaths prevented is too small and the possible harm from false positives too great.

Last week the Wall Street Journal (“New Advice on Mammogram Timing”) reported that the new recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) may only have added to the commotion. Their update stated that women at average risk should have a mammogram every year starting at age 40. Although women in their 40s (one out of 1904) have a lower overall incidence of breast cancer compared with older women (one out of 1339 in their 50s and one out of 377 in their 60s ), the window to detect tumors before they become symptomatic is shorter by two years on average. The American Cancer Society (ACS) is in basic agreement with this. A recent university (UC, San Francisco) report on this matter added some new criteria to be considered: starting age and frequency should depend on breast-tissue density, history of biopsy and family history and a woman’s own preference. In the end as the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, February 2010, (“A doctor talks about: Screening mammography”) reminds us “that where breast cancer screening is concerned, one size (or frequency) doesn’t fit all.”

So I’m good for another year to pursue my dreams without that particular kink in my life plans. Big sigh assuming my mild asthma doesn’t worsen – this summer heat has had me hacking, my melanoma doesn’t reoccur - 30+ years cancer-free, my semiannual visits to my gynecologist doesn’t reveal any ovarian abnormalities – my mother was stricken with ovarian cancer in her 80’s. (I‘ve done the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic testing and I have no mutations. I kept that letter too.) So I walked out into the sunshine last Tuesday knowing I can make decisions more freely on what I’ll do this year, this month, this week, today, for lunch…….maybe curried chicken salad or a Kobe burger..…definitely not a Panini.

Recap of links:
1) Breast cancer stats
2) Harvard Women’s Health Watch, “Advances in breast imaging
3) USPSTF guidelines
4) WSJ “New Advice on Mammogram Timing
5) ACOG recommendations
6) American Cancer Society guidelines
7) Harvard Women’s Health Watch, “Screening Mammography