Friday, September 12, 2014

On Taking All the Forks

     Huaca de la Luna, a Moche temple

In an eco-restaurant in northern Peru, a dozen people lunch outside at a long table and share their travel stories: Halong Bay, Vietnam after our military left; Zimbabwe before the landowners fled; Xian, China after the long-buried warriors emerged; the castles of Ireland; a boat trip to Antarctica; lions in Tanzania; the grimness of the Ganges,
Now we have ventured to this land where the Moche people lived centuries before the Inca came and conquered and whose story and magnificent pottery and gold and silver  craftsmanship are only now being unearthed.
The travel-telling happened yesterday and I was astounded. For one woman, this trip is her 23d with Overseas Adventure Travel. Others had wandered equally widely, picking tours by time and place. As I look around the table, I wonder how these sturdy folks looked in their youths, before divorces, deaths of spouses, gray hair and grandchildren (now taken on trips as well). Despite some bad knees and hips, thkis gang would  rather travel than do almost anything else. For many, travel is the single most important purchase after food and rent. This is not a group that dresses chic or has had "work done" (though one 73-year-old climbed  onto a hotel fire escape, then walked out on a roof to retrieve his new and newly washed  Joseph A Banks briefs that had fallen three stories). They are people who tread lightly across the planet, packing for two weeks in one carry-on and a backpack, Who never keep anyone else waiting.  Who think nothing of spending weeks in one pair of walking shoes.
I feel as if I have met the  me of my future -- a confirmation that I can continue to do what I love even as the years creep up.  When  I get to a fork in the road, as Yogi Berra advised, I will take it.

Ps if you go to see the Moche sites in Trujillo and Chiclaya, Peru  --such as the Huaca de la Luna and Sipan --hire Miguel Alvan as your guide. He's terrific!!
In Lima, I have only praise for guide Dante Minaya

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Out, Out, Damn Ovaries! Or Not?

With my mother, grandmother and daughter
When you have already traveled a longer route than what lies before you, life gets more precious. To be blunt about it, the destination is not somewhere you particularly want to go sooner.
What bomb may be lurking along the path? Is there a way to sidestep around it? And so it was that I wondered and worried about my risk for ovarian cancer, long after those who may have bequeathed it to me had gone. My grandmother died of this awful disease. My mother may have waffled about the pathology of her surgery. I was clueless about the DNA of the men in my family. And then I watched a beloved sister-in-law valiantly and futilely fight the disease. I was in a quandary about my own risk.
So, what did I do?
I reveal my decision and the steps I took to reach it in the new Genetics Section of The Forward.  You can read the story here.
"Too much information," you may be tempted to say. "Not my problem," the guys may (wrongly) think.  But  knowing your genetic risk and acting on that knowledge may make all the difference. If not for you, then for your children.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Why Hire A Coach When This Blog is Free?

In case you missed the New Yorker piece nearly two years ago on retirement coaches, the New York Times just wrote about this trend, burgeoning as it is along with the Boomers. For those who are clueless, fretting, anxious, or downright scared about what to do with the rest of their lives, help is at hand. For a price, of course.
After all, the generation that looked to coaches to help pick the right camp and college for their kids; the generation that helped turn stock brokers into financial advisors; the generation (of women, at least) who sought consultants on what colors look best on them or how to organize their closets; this generation, so insecure about their decisions, needs hand-holding once again.
Or, at least that's what such advisors are telling them.
BUT WAIT!  What I've learned in interviewing people in transition for this blog is that most moving on from careers are doing really well on their own.
Need some free consulting?
Listen to how Wisty Rorabacher threw herself into volunteer work that actually created jobs for other people.
Or how a computer "whiz kid", who briefly became a "was kid," found meaning.
Or how Stuart Ditzen is pouring new-found hours into his passion.
Or how Sue Carson realized it was time to think about love.
All gratis.
Take the plunge. The thought of this transition is more scary than the reality.  Really.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stu Ditzen: Passion Without Payback

Stuart Ditzen: Finding "immense enjoyment"
The words of Stu Ditzen were ringing in my ears as my husband and I toured the house we would buy within an hour. We had been looking for several months and Stu had told us we would know when we had found the right one.

"It will say 'Hello!' to you when you walk in," he had said.
That was more than 35 years ago. Back then, Stu and I were  reporters at the Philadelphia Bulletin (as in In Philadelphia, Nearly Everyone Reads The Bulletin.)
Luckily,  after The Bulletin folded in 1981, we were both hired by the Philadelphia Inquirer and our careers continued.
Now, in the 'unretiring' stage of our lives,  we caught up with each recently other over lunch.
I was surprised to learn that since leaving paid journalism a few years ago, Stu has written 30 short stories and is deep into his second novel. 
He's doing what he always wanted to do, he told me, following his passion, even though he has yet to get any of his creative work published.
What are his days like? I asked.
"I get up in the morning and I write for about 3 hours," he said. "Recently I’ve been writing short stories. I generally try to write a story in a month but that doesn’t always work out. And then between noon and one I hang it up, have lunch. My dogs are sitting there looking at me very expectantly so my next job is to take them for a walk,  a nice long walk. After that on a very good day – fortunately I have a lot of good days –I come home, get a good book, sit down in a very comfortable leather chair and start reading,  And probably take a nice nap. That’s the day.  I love it. Wonderful routine."
I remember the care that Stu would put into his writing, and his ability to elegantly prune stories to their essence -- and the time he bailed me out of a difficult editing situation. I'd been asked to edit a complicated legal story written by someone whose reporting skills far exceeded his ability to write. The verbiage was out of control, the point buried in boredom.  I couldn't see my way through the thicket and asked Stu to rescue me and rewrite it. As I knew he would, he came back with a story about one-fourth as long. From the clutter, he had pulled the diamond out of the rough.
But whereas Stu's reportorial gems regularly made their way into the newspaper, his current  work --the culmination of his career -- now remains hidden from public view. His literary agent, while loving his stories, hasn't been able to land him a publisher. The rejections keep coming.
Why, at a time of life when you can simply feel good about yourself, would you want to hold your work up to such hurt? 
The pleasures, for Stu, far outweigh the disappointments.
"You have to try to keep working at trying to get published and dealing with the frustration of being rejected and not getting published and trying to set the disappointments and sometimes the depression of that issue aside and just keep focusing on the pleasure of writing. Because there’s immense enjoyment and fulfillment in writing when you do it successfully, when you’re satisfied with what you’ve done --a good story, a well-written story," he explained. 
"You feel that intrinsic internal sense that you’ve really done the best you can do with a wonderful story. But of course you’d like to get it published.  You want somebody else to read it.
Tonight, I read one of his pieces.  A couple unable to find closure after a terrible and mysterious loss, years before. A sister's disappearance. A child's dementia. And a couple left searching. Wondering. Trying to find a way back to each other. An endless loop.
Like my house that said "Hello!" to me, the story and its telling spoke to me, stuck with me.
Another story involves a bizarre wedding crasher and a deeply personal conversation that you might only have with strangers -- another tale that stays with me.
Stu can't share his stories on line until the contract with his agent expires in a few months. 
Let me know, though, if you'd like to read one. 
Email me at

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Monika Tuerk: Ambassador of Great Ideas

Monika Tuerk: Bringing innovation across the sea

What do you do with a law degree and a lot of  energy when you are the wife of an ambassador?
Monika Tuerk figured it out: Soak up the best ideas from the country you are in --  then make those ideas happen at home. And vice versa.
From 1993 to 1999, her husband, Helmut Tuerk, was Austria's Ambassador to the United States. Monika was fascinated by the way hospice care had taken off here.  She made it a point, as she and her husband traveled around the United States, to visit various hospice programs. She was moved by what she saw. There was nothing like that in Austria, she said. So when an American couple who were entrenched in the  hospice movement here visited Vienna, she made sure they met with with influential Austrians and got the idea rolling there.
"I tried to encourage people and it has really found good soil in Austria," she told me.  "We have good hospice care now, both in places where people can go to live but also mobile hospice. And in the last two years we've opened children's hospice. I just spread the idea."
She was equally enthusiastic about bringing to America the SOS Children's Villages program, which was started in Vienna after World War II and is now, according to their website, in 133 countries, including the United States. The idea is to give children who have been orphaned, neglected or abandoned a loving home  and an "SOS mother" to care for them. About 7 to 10 children live in each home, attending  public school and being part of their community, she said, and visiting with their parents, if they have them and choose to do so.  The SOS Village is there for them to age 18, with additional supports, or the chance to move back after that. "It really works well," she said.
Now, on its international website, SOS says it's in war-torn countries such as Syria, trying to help children who have been orphaned there.
But in the United States, the program had difficulty launching, despite interest in several states,  because of the complexities of foster care laws, Monika said. Fast-forward to today: the legal challenges haven't stopped the organization from making its mark in the United States. In Illinois and Florida, SOS is now working to provide vulnerable children with stable homes, education and quality healthcare to help them thrive.
Some would see Monika's career as one of having to compromise her own ambitions as she followed her husband to posts around the world. (Most recently, Helmut has served as a judge on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas in Hamburg, Germany.) During one stretch, in Vienna, she found work as a lawyer but her boss, she said, would pass off to her all the unpleasant cases he didn't want to deal with. During another stint, she plunged into a medical writing job, knowing little about science -- or writing, for that matter.
"I was afraid and nervous but I just did it and I succeeded with it," she said.
Helmut Tuerk will step down from his Law of the Sea judgeship next spring and the couple will then look to new challenges.  For sure, though, Monika  --like a Johnny Appleseed of ideas -- will be spreading wisdom.  Unretiring.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lewis Katz: A Mensch in Ways I Never Knew

PA Gov. Tom Corbett comforts Ed Rendell
Lewis Katz
"Altogether too rarely in life, someone lives and just exudes, pouring out of every pore in their skin, such good will and energy and joy that they create this magnetic field that draws all the rest of us in. And while we're in it, we walk a little more erect and we feel a little more energy and we feel elevated because we're in this magnetic field."

That's what Bill Clinton said today at a memorial service for a man who had had yards of press in the Philadelphia Inquirer before his death -- and yet I had no inkling who he really was.
How is it that when it's too late we learn the true measure of a person?
Lewis Katz had been described as a wealthy philanthropist who had made his money in billboards and parking garages. Little more was said about him, even as he succeeded in taking full control of the paper last week after a contentious auction with other owners.

His memorial service today was extraordinary. Perhaps the most moving I have ever witnessed as one person after the other stood up to tell of his humble generosity, his determination to do something for others every single day, his impish humor and sense of fun, and his ability to draw in so many people who considered him a "friend" -- from the waiters he would tip $100 bills or take annually on gambling weekends in the Bahamas, to the likes of Bill Clinton, Ed Rendell, Ron Corbett, Ed Snider, Bill Cosby,  Cory Booker, and Doris Kearns Goodwin -- all of whom spoke teary-eyed about him yesterday.
I cried listening to their stories, and laughed too, as they talked about his antics,  such as the time he made a bet that he could tell Pres. Carter a dirty joke at a reception. After he bent down and whispered

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Daughter Marries; Long Live the Queen

Transitions… I feel as if I'm moving through a new one I hadn't considered before.
Last week, my "baby" --the youngest of my three daughters -- got married, following in her sisters' footsteps. It was a moment we had long anticipated, encouraged, hoped for, and-- finally-- celebrated.

Yay!  And yet….

While I might have been kidding myself to think that I was her confidante and adviser-in-all-things-about-life, I now suddenly realize that she has moved on to someone who can do it better and longer. If, God willing, the course of life proceeds as it should, he will be there for her when I am not.

It is a joyful, yet sobering passage. It's one thing to "retire" from a longtime career and plunge into the "next great thing," with expectations of many years of fulfillment ahead. It's another to warily eye the future and know that those years are becoming fewer. 

As my mother used to say, “You laugh with one eye and cry with the other.”

There’s a tradition, I’m told, of crowning the mother when her last child is married. Does it celebrate the ascendance, finally, to a place of governance and wisdom? Or does it mark some brilliance in the accomplishment of marrying off all the daughters?  Or is it more like that old TV show, “Queen for a Day,” where typically the woman who was crowned and showered with prizes was living a hard-luck life. (Now, realize, that I love my daughters, but raising them has not come totally free of angst and worry.) Here’s another old saying: “You’re only as happy as your saddest child.” I’ve had a few(fortunately, very few) sad days.

At the moment, though, with the newlyweds on their honeymoon, and the other daughters deep into their marriages, careers and  children of their own, I am free to walk my kingdom – or queendom – in whatever direction I wish to go, for as long as I am able.  The umbilical cord is cut.

Well, knowing me, I should qualify that.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Polio: A Journalist's Frustration; The World's Failure

Polio leaves victims as beggars. Photo by Peter Tobia
As a journalism student, I once heard a former newspaper editor talk about his frustration that after many years of exposes, hammering at corruption and social ills, the same problems continued. And so, when that "been there, done that" feeling swept over me.  I knew it was time for me to leave daily journalism as well.
The issue of eradicating polio is one of those that I helped to champion. The world thought it was near the brink of success back in 1999.  That didn't happen but -- good news -- as I reported recently in writing about former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's crusade to do the right thing -- the United Nations declared polio vanquished in India just in March.
Now, though, we are back to the past. Today, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency around polio. Fifteen years after India was thought to be the last holdout of the virus, polio  is now found in 10 countries. Pakistan, where health workers doing rural vaccinations have been murdered, is a particular hotspot. Of the 74 cases of polio reported globally so far this year, 59 have been in Pakistan. Syria and Cameroon are also high on the list. A total of 417 cases were reported overall last year.
Lest we forget what polio looks like and the horrendous toll it takes, here are photos taken by Peter Tobia, when he worked with Huntly Collins on a series I edited for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The project took them to India to document efforts to finally wipe the scourge from the planet. Maybe some day….

By the way, Huntly reflected on her own transition on leaving the Inquirer here.

And you can read the polio series she wrote here: 


Sunday, May 4, 2014

It's About Creating Memories

Would it be worth driving 4 1/2 hours for "Grandparents Day" at our granddaughter's school?  Last year, our daughter told us not to make the journey, thinking that the event would be no big deal. But Talia, then a first grader, was disappointed when we didn't show up. So last Friday, we made the trek, getting up at dawn to arrive in time.
The day underscored the impact that a "special elder" or grandparent can have on a child. Something I hadn't thought much about. (Perhaps selfishly, I'd thought about it the other way around-- the joy I got out of a grandchild.)
The kids had all written essays and drawn pictures, reflecting on why their grandparents were important to them. The school's principal summarized for us the themes that had emerged:
Memories are etched in the the children's minds of plaees and activities spent with 'special elders' -- "being in the kitchen with grandma when we bake cookies;" "the stream where I go fishing with grandpa;" "playing cards with Poppop in the dining room." And then there are the trips -- whether to exotic locations or just to the city.
Things like that.
But most important, the principal said, were  the stories that grandparents tell -- the family narrative. Coming to America. Surviving hard times. Giving children the sense of where they came from and the challenges that their ancestors faced and surmounted.
"Research shows," he said, that children who have a family narrative do better than children who don't."
A former student at this school was so touched by Grandparents Day, that when she grew up, she gave the school a sizable gift to support the day, with lunch, refreshments, but most importantly, an artist in residence, who works with the children on poetry and dance for a performance.
The theme last Friday was "migration." Butterflies may have been what the children depicted in clever choreography and costumes. But the "special elders" knew that a migration of generations was in progress.
While each of us grandparents had received the gift of an enduring memory of this day, we are creating for our grandchildren memories that will endure long after us.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

(Un) Mayor Mike's Millionaire Mission

Michael Bloomberg: committed to change
Mike Bloomberg may no longer be mayor of New York City, but his influence is only growing. Yesterday he threw his abundant political and financial capital into one of his greatest concerns –  gun violence in this country.
At 72, he is fueling a ground war to save lives, turning – as conservative groups have done on all kinds of issues – to local and state initiatives, rather than national ones, to promote his cause. Namely, background checks for gun buyers.
“Thirty-one thousand Americans either get murdered or commit suicide with illegal guns,” he said, in making his announcement.
Bloomberg donated $50 million to this cause, through a new non-profit “Everytown for Gun Safety.”
That's more than double the $20 million that the pro-gun rights NRA spent in the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
If money can buy elections, perhaps Bloomberg can make inroads into one of the nation’s most contentious, costly, and catastrophic issues.  He hopes to attract more members than the 5 million claimed by the NRA. You can sign up at the site:
That's just a fraction of what Bloomberg is trying to do. 
Check out, and you can see that the unretiring Mayor Mike is putting the muscle of his millions – actually billions – behind issues deeply rooted in his past and psyche.
As he puts it in the section of his website labeled “philanthropy”:

"Mike Bloomberg has always believed in the power of philanthropy to change people's lives for the better. His commitment to giving back -- as a way to improve lives and catalyze societal change -- grew out of the values he learned from his parents and from his experience as an Eagle Scout. Mike Bloomberg has pledged to give away the majority of his wealth to charitable causes he believes in."

How much is that? He’s worth about $31 billion, according to Forbes. So far he’s given away about $3.25 billion.
Recently, in the annual letter of his foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, he focused on preventable problems.  "We don't shy away from controversy if we can make a difference." 
In the global arena, the foundation is giving $10 million to prevent drownings in Bangladesh, where 12,000 children a year die falling into shallow pools, often unsupervised. The money will go to funding playpens for 80,000 children ages 1-4.
In January, the foundation made a five-year, $53 million grant to improve fishing practices in Brazil, Chile and the Philippines, thereby boosting the ocean’s health and promoting the supply of fish.
It’s giving $12 million to support medical clinics and midwives in Tanzania to reduce maternal deaths –among the highest in the world – and the resulting catastrophic implications for surviving children.
He’s also joining other foundations and companies funding an initiative of President Obama --  My Brother's Keeper, which supports young minority men.
Other areas targeted by Bloomberg:
--Eradicating polio: $100 million through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, in partnership with the Gates Foundation.   
--Reducing carbon emissions with Sierra Club and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, made up of the world's largest cities seeking ways to reduce global warming;
-- Countering obesity in Mexico, which has one of the highest rates in the world --through support of new junk food taxes in Mexico;
--Cutting tobacco use in low-and middle-income countries --$600 million since 2007, through initiatives to raise taxes, increase warnings, and create smoke-free place;
--Promoting better educational practices, through fellowships for educators and by supporting local candidates, for instance in Louisiana, who endorse reforms.

The efforts go on and on. (The website is like a Russian matryoshka doll, with layers upon layers of initiatives for each topic.)

Yay, Mayor Mike! Never, never retire.

A PS on polio: Last month, the World Health Organization declared polio finally eradicated in India, which had been a major reservoir of the disease. Back in 1999, in a series I edited, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Huntly Collins reported on efforts to eradicate polio in India, a moment in time when we and the WHO thought the disease was about to vanish from the planet, though that goal has been thwarted in war-torn regions. Sadly, the fabulous photos by Peter Tobia are no longer on the Inquirer website, though you can see some here.
Huntly's series in words: