Dear Kathleen,  (From my Mom)

I have been receiving telephone calls from people who claim they wish to give me millions of dollars because my phone number was drawn in a Vegas lottery.  I haven't been to Vegas in years.  I hung up on the first guy.  But a few hours later another fellow called and was more insistent.  He said he wanted to come over and bring me the money.  I asked if we could make the appointment for tomorrow so that we could give the police plenty of time to fit it in their schedule.  This guy hung up.

Good Job Mom,
I asked some friends to ask around about this kind of solicitation.  I was appalled to hear how ,many not only have been approached, but that two of their relatives were embarrassed to report they had fallen for it and lost at least several hundred dollars.

Just today, six offers to give me millions landed in my junk mailbox.  I deleted them. But more arrive every day.   A couple of years ago my beloved husband wasted most of a Saturday morning composing responses to one he'd received, a variation on the Nigerian Scam.

This particular letter was from a "highly placed" government ministry official in Gambia, claiming that he and a few of his fellow employees have managed to accrue some $18,500,000 from foreign investments.  He needed to find a "trusted silent partner" to get the money out of Gambia.  He couldn't do it himself because his country had some silly law about such things.  After an extensive search the group had picked my husband out of the billions of candidates as his guy.  Laurry was promised a 10% commission and parts of all the future deals the boys were planning to make with their stash.

Here is my hubby's reply:

Dear Nelson, 
What exciting news!  I am thrilled that you would think of me in this intriguing, exciting, remunerative--and, ultimately, criminal--assignment.  Needless to say, I am fascinated by the opportunity and totally committed to working cooperatively with you to bring about a successful outcome.  

I'm sure you are aware that I'm an attorney admitted to practice in the states of California, Oregon and Minnesota, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.  Consequently, I realize that you intend to violate various federal and state wire fraud statutes, as well as the so-called "RICO" act. 

So, before we move forward, I have a couple of questions.  How are you planning to (a) camouflage your activities without getting indicted within the first, say, 15 minutes of your operation and (b) raise the necessary bail money and (c) hire the squadron of attorneys that will be required under the circumstances? 

I must tell you Nelson, that I have grave doubts that the eighteen five will even cover expenses.  On the plus side, the U. S. has some positively spa-like prisons where you are almost  guaranteed a sentence of 15 to 20 years hard time.  

I eagerly await your response, as do the Minnesota and United States Attorneys General to whom I have taken the liberty of sending your offer.  I know you asked that I be "discreet," but surely we can trust other attorneys. 

My best to you and the rest of the team,

We would all like to win the lottery or experience some windfall but those opportunities rarely come along.   Research shows that scams are mushrooming in this economy.  They are easy targets for both foreign and domestic scams (some from within their own families). 

Please e-mail friends and relatives or mention to neighbors over your backyard fence that none of these claims are legitimate.  Caution them to never give out a social security number, bank  or credit card numbers to anyone over the phone or on the web unless they are absolutely sure they are talking to a trusted source or are on a secure site.

Please write me at  I'd like to hear whether this is as wide spread as it appears and the stories of anyone who has been hurt by responding. 
Posted by: Kathy Harmon on 7/9/2010 | 0 Comments
Dear Readers,
Once again I would like to share a story.  I chair a women's luncheon each spring.  Our attendance averages 150.  We all wear hats and bring a woman (friend or relative) who has had a positive impact on our lives.  At some point in the festivities we are asked to turn to that person, tell her we love her and give her a hug.  It's colorful, fun and sweet.  I bring my mom.  For those of you who have read past newsletters you know that she is approaching her 86th birthday and has seemed to slow down a bit.
We usually have a fashion show but this year we also had the first performance ever of Alive and Kickin' - a new choral group comprised of extremely talented elders ranging in age from 66 to 93.  A gentleman named Michael Farrell, a choreographer for much of his career, saw the film Young At Heart and took up the mission of creating this group.
We met for the dress rehearsal from 7-9 pm the night before and I learned that the group had been together for three weeks, most had never sung the songs on the program -- Stand by Me, Celebration and We are the World-- had practiced with two microphones, better acoustics and instruments and were extremely nervous.  The rehearsal was a catastrophe.  The singers couldn't hear, kept running into each other at the single microphone, the piano was too loud, the 30-foot cafeteria ceilings had a resounding echo and no one could remember their lines.  I went home a bit depressed.
Fourteen hours later and it was show time!  We served wine and I asked the servers to be especially generous.  I thought we would politely accept whatever performance we got, give a perfunctory round of applause and start planning for next year's event.  After all, one of the gentlemen had a battery-operated heart pump strapped around his waist with a spare in his pocket, most wore hearing aids, and one was in a wheelchair, two in walkers and a couple of the singers used canes.
But what a lovely surprise was in store!  In those intervening hours, between rehearsal and performance, the group rented two microphones with better speakers and practiced, practiced, practiced.  They were simply amazing.  There was nothing perfunctory about the standing ovation they received.  Their energy and talent ignited the room.
There really is a point to this story.  My mother congratulated the director and mentioned that she used to sing three-part harmony with her sisters.  She accepted an invitation to audition for the group on the following Monday.  Mom was nearly crippled with anxiety that Sunday inventing a series of excuses why she shouldn't post.  She "hadn't the talent," "didn't want to depend on others to drive her," "was embarrassed," and the like.   But on Monday morning her neighbor drove her to the appointed location and dropped her at the door.   She sang a Scottish ditty without accompaniment and then was asked to sing Somewhere over the Rainbow to test her range.
Three hours later my mother arrived home 20 years younger.  She was filled with confidence and a renewed sense of independence--she had decided she could drive herself to the rehearsals.   Suddenly she was scouring the universe for a CD player.  She had music to learn, CDs to play and a performance wardrobe to assemble.  Until a couple of years ago she was the chair of her high school reunions.  Her 1942 class was nearly 400 strong and she brought them together from around the globe every few years.  But, after her 65th reunion, she told me she wouldn't continue.  "Crossing the deceased off the list on a daily basis is depressing," she told me.  "Besides, these people are so old, one of them stood up to sing our class song and couldn't remember the words.  It's no fun anymore.  I'm done!"
By Friday mom was short of breath, taken to emergency and the hospital by ambulance with everyone fearing a heart attack.  She endured a battery of tests.  The doctors found both her lungs and heart to be in great shape.  She likely had a drug reaction.  All she talked about was getting out in time for her next rehearsal.
I'm reminded of a quote I heard not long ago.  "People don't die of disease; they die of loneliness and a loss of purpose."  The change in my mom is palpable.  She got a new job and she loves it.  I told her that the family is expecting her to leave us a bundle now that she's Broadway bound.  She told me not to hold my breath: she's considering the ballet!

My Dear Readers,


We just returned from our 12-day Mediterranean cruise with my 85-year old mother.  We discovered immediately why we received a six-cabin upgrade. It wasn't as much the state of the economy as it was the fact that it was the middle of a long nasty winter in Europe.  The temperature dipped into the low 30s almost daily.  We encountered several storms, gale winds, pouring rain, and heightened port security that kept passengers onboard for as much as six hours of a 10-hour visit while inspectors examined all passports (including those of the crew).  That left only a few hours to take in Athens a few more for Alexandria.  Many attractions were closed or have restricted winter hours, and gastroenteritis kept us quarantined for 36 hours so we missed Turkey entirely.  In addition, the food was substandard and I got seven stitches in my forehead from a tangle with an ill-tempered camel I was attempting to ride.


That being said, the plastic surgeon was adorable at Cairo General; our 4,300- square foot cabin was amazing; and my mother was a trouper - not a word of complaint.  The 23-hour, flight from here to Chicago, then Amsterdam and finally Barcelona was especially difficult.  Although our frequent flyer miles got us business class, we didn't sleep well, every flight had some delay and I was fearful that I had made a huge mistake when we finally touched down in Spain.  We ate a light meal and headed straight to our hotel for a long rest.  But by morning mother was rested and ready to board the ship.  In the 12 days that followed I learned several things about my mom.


Although she is the most generous person I know she was shocked by the value of our dollar.  On the flight over we bought two egg McMuffins and coffees in the airport in Holland at a cost of $21.70.  With the exception of two trips to the British Isles and a cruise to the Caribbean, mother has not traveled outside the continental U.S.  She experiences the world through newspapers, magazines and television news channels.   


A few days into the trip we were sharing our impressions and she said she was stunned by the cities we visited.  I thought she was referring to their beauty.  In fact, she confided that she expected to find other countries in some sort of third- world condition.  In her view the U.S. is first-rate and all other countries lagged far behind.  She found the Gaudi architecture of Barcelona enchanting, the Vatican an amazing experience and the friendliness of the Egyptians a delightful surprise.  It was a bit like watching a child on Christmas morning.


We had planned this trip for more than a year and had high expectations for it.   We don't gamble, bar hop, or swim if the temperature's below 70 degrees and my beloved husband considers anything other than jeans formal attire.  We work, read and enjoy each other's company wherever we are.  Given the abysmal weather, had we been confined to small cabins, it would have been a huge disappointment. But the grandeur of our three-bedroom, four bath suite with grand piano, private hot tub, steam room, 1,000 foot deck (which was "crime-taped" so we wouldn't be blown overboard), two dining rooms, private bar, personal butler, two cabin stewards and a concierge compensated for the weather and delays. 


As much planning as we had done, I had been unrealistic about the most obvious things.  Laurry and I love to travel.  We walk rapidly and enjoy racing around strange towns on sensory adventures.  We dash up and down streets, in and out of churches and shops, soaking up the regional flavor, snapping hundreds of photographs, chatting with locals and sampling the cuisine.  Before we left I had asked mom if she would consider taking a wheelchair.  She emphatically declined but consented to a flashy red walker.  What a godsend!  I had assumed that the walker made for a level playing field.  It had never occurred to me that our itinerary would need to adopt a far slower pace.  By day three we began paring our excursions down to the few sites we could squeeze in to our limited time in port.


When we travel Laurry and I always take public transportation, often riding trains and buses to escape the tourist areas.  On our first outing in Italy we planned just such a trip.  We read on the Cruise Critic website, that a "10-minute" walk to the train station and 12 Euros each would take us directly to the Vatican.  In reality the one-hour walk was four kilometers up a steep grade.  Once at Vatican station it was another two kilometers (accounting for three wrong turns) to the gates of the city and finally the doors of St. Peter's.   Mother made remarkably good time on her little red flyer but the puddles got deeper, our feet and pant-legs were soaked and we needed just one more hand to hold the third umbrella.  We ended our day in Rome shivering on a double-decker tour to the Colosseum with fogged windows in rush-hour traffic.  After the 90-minute train ride back to the ship, my thrifty Scottish mum turned to me and asked, "I don?t care what it costs; could we please take a cab back to the ship?"


We had faithfully checked the weather and the 10-day forecast on the day we left home showed temperatures ranging from 45 to 70 degrees with some light rain.  We packed a few warmer clothes and rain gear but had not accounted for the lower temps and storms that occur offshore.  Being at the top of a ship has a downside:  significantly more movement in high seas.  None of us was seasick but mom couldn't overcome her "awareness" of the movement and it made her uncomfortable and unsteady at times.  We took brief language lessons and I became nearly fluent after one hour of Italian.  With the exception of Laurry's command of Spanish our communication was limited to single words, pointing and something akin to charades.   My mother, an otherwise very intelligent woman, seemed to believe that if you speak loud enough and enunciate, non-English speaking people will understand you.


I knew intellectually that seniors often become more fearful as they age.  I was aware that my mother feared falling in winter but hadn't realized how pervasive this fear had become.  Without her walker to lean on, she wouldn't venture out of the cabin without one of us in tow.  As the trip progressed, the walker was transformed from a sign of weakness to her badge of courage.  It was repeatedly tagged on entry to the ship, in ports and at the doorway of  every aircraft.  By the time we arrived home it resembled a 1970 VW plastered with bumper stickers. She refuses to peel them off just yet.   When the planning began mother said she thought she had one more cruise in her.  As always, her experiences age well.  Rather than being "soaked to the skin" in Rome she now claims she was a bit  "chilled" in Italy.  In her photo filled letters to friends around the country she now refers to this "trip of a lifetime" not as her last cruise but merely her most recent adventure.  I'm thinking South America in 2011!

My husband, Laurry, and I love to travel, and our adventures have ranged from a 5,000-mile, three-week trek with four kids in the back of a minivan to a 16-day cruise up the Volga River from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  But the last three trips have been with my mom and some of our (mostly grown-up) children.  I hope you will allow me to share my thoughts.  This was written in the thrid week of January 2010.

My mother is 85 and great fun.  We (Laurry, mom and I) are leaving for a 12-day Mediterranean Cruise this Friday.  I've learned much in the preparation about my mom and myself. 

I spend a couple of days each week with mom.  From early morning I work while she reads or files or cleans my office.   But I take an hour or so off each evening and we go home.  We cook, play cribbage, share our views on world affairs, do dishes, then she retires early and I go back to work.  I do far less exercise than I used to because I have that great “no
time” excuse and she does little more than garden and a     couple of flights of stairs each day 


With the trip in the planning stages, we talked a great deal.  We are terrifically excited to visit so many countries in January when the mid-west is buried in ice.  But Mom is concerned about her stamina.  We will have only 10 hours to see Rome, eight to do Athens and a 12-hour jaunt to the Egyptian pyramids--and all that, after a three-leg, 22-hour flight through Chicago then Amsterdam to Barcelona.


She is worried that she will dampen our fun.  She knows that Laurry and I will do 10-12 miles buzzing about a new city if on our own.  On our last trip to Alaska mom could only walk short distances without a rest and we struggled standing in long lines getting on and off the ship, buses and trains.  Toward the end of the vacation we had an especially difficult time in Victoria, B.C.   There were miles of pathways with steep inclines and, even though mom had reluctantly agreed to use a wheelchair, it was tough pushing her up hills and fighting gravity on the way down.   In retrospect it wasn’t a trip highlight.


When we suggested renting a wheelchair for this cruise she vehemently rejected the idea.  Mom has always admired Laurry's daily exercise regime and my less frequent but rigorous routine.  I have actually gotten her to begin short stints on a treadmill. She is quite proud that she is managing 15 minutes while we watch the nightly news.


On our weekly trip to the grocery store I noticed she "Bogarts" the cart.  I asked if she found the cart comforting.  She said she did, "It gives me something to lean on."  So, our next conversation was about how sad it would be to make her first trip to Europe and then sit on the ship.  What could we substitute for a cart and a bench?  She became increasingly comfortable with the idea of a walker (one that rolls with a small seat).  Her rationalization is that it also has a basket and if any of us make a purchase she can carry it for us.  So like my mother. She got a bright shiny red model.

Another fear that I uncovered is the confusion that she experienced with cruise ship phone systems and floor and room numbering.  We typically get a small suite, which serves as the family living room.  We try to get rooms in close proximity for the family but it depends on the ships configuration and availability at time of booking.  We have never been able to secure adjoin rooms.  On the cruise around the British Isles, mom had grandchildren on either side of her cabin.  But in Alaska, she was one floor below us.  I had no idea that she was anxious about getting lost.  After all, this is a woman who hooked four king salmon in Juneau.  To me, she has always been fearless. She hides her trepidation well.

Cruises are ideal for us. We pack and unpack only once and the ship serves as a base. We no longer opt for the more formal venues and Laurry usually packs only one sport coat and tie.  Mom is no burden.  If she is tired she simply stays on the ship, people watches, goes to the movies, reads or finds a “pick-up” cribbage game.   


Armed with my new insight I sought specific accommodations on the Mediterranean trip.  We really hadn’t planned to travel but the Norwegian Cruise Line seduced us with several level upgrades just as the weather turned cold last fall.   We could get a two bedroom arrangement within our usual budget and thought Mom would be delighted.  No, she confided that she snores and with the open room arrangement wouldn’t think of disturbing our sleep.


But the cruise agent was able to book two adjoining rooms on the ship with nearly 1,000 square feet of living space and 400 square feet of deck.   The largest cabin we had ever occupied was about half that size.   But as the sailing date approached, and the ship was sparsely occupied, the deals got sweeter.  Last week we were offered an upgrade to one of two  "Owner's" suites.  It has three bedrooms, three baths, a stocked bar and more than 5,000 square feet of living space and 1,000 square feet of deck on two levels with our own steam room, hot tub and two dining rooms.  But they wanted an upcharge.  This was getting interesting. 


I called Erik Hastings.  I’ve appeared on his Sunday travel show on WABC radio in New York.  We met  while he was mixing business with pleasure.  He was doing an NCL video for his website while on his honeymoon in Hawaii.  He gave me great advice and I was able to negotiate a fabulous deal.  Mom and I are positively giddy.  I keep trying to imagine a room on a cruise ship that is slightly larger than our home.

Mom has been packing for two months.  Each week we go on a hunt for a scarf, a piece of jewelry or sensible shoes for the trip.  I've noticed that mom has become a bit fearful this past year.  
The onset of winter’s ice is of greater concern as she hears of friends with broken hips and long recoveries.  But she seems to have a fear of the world in general. Some of this is attributable to her voracious consumption of TV news channels, several news magazines and at least one newspaper each day.  It has given her a broader world view but the constant references to war, terrorism, bombings, abductions, and pirates have taken a toll.  I so look forward to sharing the people of Europe and Egypt with her. I suspect the experience will calm her fears.


She has been reading travel books, watching educational travel channels and has viewed the entire Rick Stebe's Europe collection (twice).  The anticipation - some four months - has been great fun.  We've make frequent lists as we chat and have made several trips to malls, markets and pharmacies for this or that.  We have watched the global forecasts  and worry about how to dress as our temperatures will range from 30 to 80 degrees.  Although we are terribly hopeful we know we will encounter rain. 


In our planning we have been thorough.  Mom was careful to pre-order medications, check her passport expiration and I helped her set aside a special travel bag for the plane.  She has a bad shoulder so it needed to be light but roomy enough to hold her necessities and a couple of changes of clothing for our one day stays on either end of the cruise.  In these planning sessions we have shared past passenger reviews, Fodor recommendations and personal preferences and made painful cuts in itineraries that were simply too full for the most fit traveler.

As much as I long for the trip to begin, I think I will miss the "wait."  There has been an intimacy in the planning that I savor.  As we live longer, in better health and further apart, travel becomes a necessary part of being a family.  I’ve taken particular notice of families of three and four generations on planes, trains and ships of late experiencing the world and each other.  Multigenerational travel can be grand or disastrous.  It takes more work to prepare and execute but the results can be irreplaceable memories.

I'll be working half days while we are away.  That is the beauty and the bane of the Internet. Two weeks is a lot of togetherness - especially for three people who are fiercely independent.  I know that love, patience, respect and an appreciation for each other will guide us


  • In the years has been online, we’ve received hundreds of e-mails from visitors asking questions about legal documents, how to start retirement planning in their 50's, as well as advice on traveling with grandpa and the kids and making everyone happy.   We’ve also received personal stories of triumph and tragedy including the creative, often humorous ways people cope with stress, relationships, balancing career and family, 70 hour work weeks, job loss and the "agony and defeat" they encountered starting a new company.   In our newsletter, I periodically share stories about my glorious 86 year old mother and have named a collection after her.  This is YOUR SPACE.  Ask for advice.  Share stories.  I love your e-mails. It's simple.  Just click here!