Sunday, December 22, 2019

Happy Birthday Bess

Happy birthday, Mom. In a few days you would have been turning 115.

I never expected you to become that old, but when you died a few days after your 57th birthday, I had not had enough time with you. I had two young children at the time, but there were two more to come and I don’t like the fact that you never knew them or any of your dozen great grandkids that they produced. You would have been the ultimate grand and great grandmother.

I remember you:

Because of your joy in life: Whoever said the Brits didn’t have a sense of humor? Yours was the best.  You had a sparkle in your eye, an infectious smile, and you weren’t above fluttering your eyelids. You would have loved laughing with your grandkids and telling them stories of your youthful exploits such as buying a forbidden motorcycle and vacationing in South Africa.

 Because of your life journey: It took you from Harold Wood in Essex County to London for secretarial work where you met an American during his first week in your country and married him less than a year later.  Little did you know that you would follow him to the U.S. even though he had promised to live in England forever. That you would bear him three children, the last one born when you were in your forties and not so happy to redo the infant phase another time and in a strange country.

Because you managed to remain loyal to your homeland: You refused to become an American citizen at the same time embracing the country where you lived and making lifelong friends in the U.S.

Because of your love of sports: When your front teeth were knocked loose with a hockey stick, your mother pressed them back into your mouth and told you to put pressure on them. You always had slightly protruding front teeth but they were your own.

Because you learned to live so many miles away from all your birth family: You welcomed your mother to Seattle for a long stay. She arrived as one of a very few passengers on a freighter that took six weeks to travel through the Panama Canal. She was a welcome addition to our family for those months.

Because you were a loyal friend to so many people: You lighted up their lives. You were a friend in need. You were a talented cook and hostess and always ready for a party.

Because you provided a rudder, a stabilizing influence for your husband: You stuck by him when his itchy feet and issues with authority caused him some workplace  problems that caused moves that were not always welcome.

Enough already. Happy birthday Bess. I remember a little poem you shared:

Here lies a woman who always was tired.
She lived in a house where help wasn’t hired.
Don’t mourn for me now.
Don’t mourn for me never.
I’m going to do nothing forever and ever.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

A few words of wisdom from my fridge

Kofi Annan

It was time to clean up the messy collection on my refrigerator door. In addition to a bunch of photos, here is what I found:

“Kofi Annan’s deep well of grace, humility, and calm energy set him apart. Such was his seemingly boundless vigor and the gravitas he exuded, that his death, at the age of 80 on August 18 (2018) shocked all who knew and loved him.

A career diplomat, originally from Ghana, Annan led the U.N. from 1997 to 2006, one of the most difficult periods in its history. He crisscrossed the world in an effort to bridge divides after the September 11, 2001 attacks. One can only imagine the pressure he was under, yet it never affected his demeanor.

After he retired from the U.N., his peacemaking continued through the efforts of his foundation and, later, as chairman of the Elders, an independent global leaders’ group. He understood on a visceral level that true peace resides within us all; that justice and human rights are not far-flung concepts for war-torn countries, but reside in our homes and our communities; and that childe marriage is as abhorrent as bombmaking.

Over the years I came to regard Annan as a wiser, younger brother. Five years ago in Cape Town, he spoke of the need for societies to” embrace diversity as a source of strength.” The fact that Annan was a product of Africa did us especially proud, but he could not be defined by his Africanness. He embodied the global citizen. For him, there was no them, no other—just us.”
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“The American male doesn’t mature until he has exhausted all other possibilities.”  Wilfred Sheed

“If we come to think that the nursery and the kitchen are the natural sphere of women, we have done so exactly as English children come to think that a cage is the natural sphere of a parrot—because they have never seen one anywhere else.”  
George Bernard Shaw

“Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” John Adams

“I would like to see us overcome our tribal divisions and begin to think and act as if we were one family. That would be real globalization.” Arthur Clark

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Birthday Presents

I just finished writing a birthday card to Jacqueline, my soon-to-be 22-year-old granddaughter. I slipped a $50 bill into the card.

And then I got to thinking. I added a note to explain to her that I really didn’t like sending money but that it did seem better than sending a gift that she might not need or want. I know how much money she makes as a brand new registered nurse and I know that $50 is a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Then I got to thinking and decided to share a small bit of family history with her. I remembered that Evelyn, my husband’s only aunt and great aunt to my children, never forgot any of their birthdays. 

On each occasion she sent a little white card with a cute sticker on it to the birthday boy or girl. Taped next to the sticker was a quarter. In the same envelope were another three little white cards with the other kids’ names on them, stickers, and with a shiny dime attached for each of them.

A quarter wasn’t much, even a half century ago. The money was not the point.  She remembered their birthdays and their unbirthdays as well, and that was what mattered.

I’m hoping that Jacqueline will understand and get a chuckle out of that bit of history.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Above and beyond

I have a son who spends his working life promoting “the customer experience” at Disney. Companies and governments hire the Disney Institute to help them create the best possible customer service.

I think that may be why I have become so conscious of customer service, where and when it thrives, and when it fails miserably. Simple small acts, a few friendly words, a smile, a helpful suggestion, can go a long way to making a job more satisfying and ensuring return business.

I baked this cake as a thank you for customer service that went above and beyond. I was puzzling about how to get my disabled car out of my garage so that it could be jump started when the fellow who has worked on my cars for years offered to come to my house and jump my car. 

Really? I must admit, I was blown away. Who in the world makes house calls these days?

Mike showed up, revived my dead battery in a few seconds, told me to let the car run for a while and then bring it to his shop where he could have a new battery installed within hours. No extra service charge.

He already had a customer for life. He was busy and short-handed, but that didn’t stop Mike from going out of his way to help me out.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Return to Maine

I’ve been a westerner for a whole lot of years now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten the state of Maine. When I was 16, my dad changed jobs and dragged the family, kicking and screaming, from Seattle to Philadelphia. By August of that year, when my dad’s vacation time came up, we had a single plan—to drive north to escape the heat and humidity. We didn’t stop until we got to Maine. And every year thereafter, we looked forward to the trek north in August.

After a long absence, I just returned from a magic week on Orrs Island, Maine where my son-in-law’s family has been summering since 1910. Charles Henry Arndt, an Episcopal priest in Philadelphia, must have been feeling the heat way back then when he established a summer chapel on the island and built a house there for his wife and three sons. It is still in the family, owned and managed by some of his descendants. Other family members have migrated there as well. There are Arndts all over the place.

In the early 1900s, the trip from Philadelphia took two days beginning with a trolley ride to the train station, a train to New York, a taxi to the dock, an overnight boat to Boston, then a steamer to Orrs Island and a carriage ride to the house. 

The Arndts have become a family of sailors, some of them skilled enough to sail across oceans. There are fish to be caught, beaches to comb, trails to explore, and for those gutsy enough, there’s a unique bridge to jump from into the bay and distinctly refreshing water to swim in. This year I only got wet once when three of us managed to capsize a small rowboat, making for a good story to tell.

There’s a fireplace in the living room that has big windows facing the water, a quiet room to escape to for a solitary read, an impossibly difficult jigsaw puzzle challenge and all the time in the world to sit around and talk.

Dinners can start off with a table set for eight and end up with an extra four people. The food always seemed to stretch as needed. Of course, we had to have a traditional lobster dinner.

Wandering the side roads and villages in Maine is like walking through a picture post card.

For me, the place is full of memories: cool nights, boat rides, long walks and good fellowship.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Morning bike ride

A mile west and a few yards north of my house, my favorite bike route begins. It's a 12-mile ribbon of road that becomes increasingly rural as it heads north. After about four miles, the traffic becomes  sparse and riding becomes relaxing.

It's been too long since I've been here, though for more than 20 years, I rode this way quite regularly. I know the landmarks, from the railroad tracks that cross the road to the power plant, the farm houses, the side roads that say "no outlet," and a few places where I need to shift into a lower gear to summit a hill.

My favorite landmark lies about 11 miles into the route behind a fence, on top of a little hill. It must have been home to a farm family long ago, but for at least the last 20 years, I have been watching it slowly sink toward the ground. I have a series of photos documenting its decline and the changing shape of its roofline as it slips toward oblivion.

The place has always fascinated me.  This morning, as I drew close to it, I began to wonder if it still existed. I was fully prepared to see an empty spot on the hillside where it once stood. But no. It has taken on a new look. It seemed larger to me, even though it's lower to the ground, and somehow more spread out.

Because it is behind a fence, and because it is falling apart, I have always observed it from a distance. But this morning, I discovered a path that allowed me to go closer and to get a more satisfying photo of it.

I was happy to see the old place hanging together despite the passing years. And I was happy to know that I can still ride with pleasure for a couple of hours, despite the passing years.

I'll be back.
k, old house.

Monday, July 29, 2019

An encounter in the rain

                                                       Jack, Debbie and Mark Rushworth

A rainstorm at a campsite in Germany set into motion a series of events that continue to unfold nearly 50 years later. The Rushworth family of York, UK were car camping. The James family of Fort Collins, USA were doing the same close by in their Volkswagen van. As the rain came down, curtailing their activities, the Rushworth and James kids discovered an indoor games area at the campsite. Their parents gathered around a small table in the Volkswagen for a cup of coffee.

That brief encounter set into motion a friendship that has lasted ever since and has been powerfully renewed by Mark Rushworh, his wife Debbie and their son, Jack who came to Fort Collins last week.

Mark was 11 back in 1970 when we first met the family. They invited us to visit them when we were in England a few weeks later. At that time we agreed that when Mark was at the right age, he would come and spend a year with us and go to school in Fort Collins.

In the fall of 1975 he enrolled at Poudre High School for his senior year, an unofficial exchange student. He made the best of his time, getting involved in long distance running and pursing his love of art. When school was out and it was time to go home, we felt as if we were losing a family member.

Four years later Mark was working in the travel industry when he surprised us all with an unannounced visit.  Over time, we have exchange visits as Mark and our kids grew up, married and had children of their own. The bond stayed strong but it had been 13 years since we’d been together.

Mark’s love of the U.S. was so steeped in his son, Jack, that he came to the U.S. for college and is now a soccer coach and candidate for a masters degree here. This past weekend, he got to know the people who Mark had bonded with in 1975-76.

It was like old times. I often think about how that six-month trip to Europe we took has influenced all of our lives.

Thank goodness for a pouring rain that made us pause for a morning and get to know each other.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Remembering a more gentle time

I was going through some articles I’d saved because of how they spoke to me. A piece titled The President Who Loved by Ann Patchett that appeared in the January 30, 2017 issue of Time magazine affected me even more powerfully today, although it saddened me as well.

Patchett says that love was not something she would have thought to look for in a president, but that she found that for eight years President Obama gave the American people an example of careful consideration, compassion, rigorous intelligence—and love. She misses it and wonders how she will do without it.

She reminds us that Obama gave more Presidential Medals of Freedom than any other president, saving the last one for Joe Biden, his vice president.

She points out that just like hate, love seeps in over time. She faces the new administration with fear of the future but also with gratitude for the way Obama saw the good in people, how he loved. She sees our job now as living up to the love he showed.

I watch too much news. I think I’ll spend more of my time reading words that serve to lift up rather than beat down.

Access Patchett’s complete article by googling The President Who Loved, Ann Patchett. It’s worth it.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Two special running races

The running race season has arrived with a bang!

Even though it meant getting up at 4:30 a.m., my running buddy Dave Klibbe and I journeyed to Boulder on Monday, May 27, to once again join 50,000 others to run around the town in the 41st running of the Bolder Boulder 10k. At that early hour, both of us wondered just why we were doing this, but a few hours later, we knew. You can’t help having a good time at this event so well organized and so wholeheartedly supported by its community.

On the Thursday a.m. following, I took a 6 a.m. flight to Albany, NY headed for the 41st running of Freihofers Run for Women, on June 1, another of my favorite races. This one is a 5k—I know, a long way to go to run 3.1 miles-- but I’ve gone enough times now that it is like a reunion of old friends This too, is a community event that draws 3,000 women, some of them hot shot runners from across the country. I so appreciate the fact that they keep inviting me. I think it may be because I’m there to prove that indeed, running is a lifetime sport!

I had a whole day to explore Albany the day after the race, a real treat. So many historic buildings plus a beautiful waterfront along the Hudson River.

Two special races in five days. I’m done for a while. Back to weeding the garden, painting the porch and a leisurely jog or two around the neighborhood.

Headquarters for the State University of New York

Carmen, Edie and Libby in Albany