Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Running out of propane

We're in Kenai, Alaska for Thanksgiving week. We stay in my sister and brother-in-law's motorhome, in their driveway.  They have four cats and my husband Art is allergic to every one of them. The motorhome is quite comfortable. Except it's heated with propane, and the temperature outside last night got down to -4, and the propane tank emptied during the night, and when we woke up this morning it was 32 degrees in the RV.

We're glad we're here anyway, though. I laugh a lot with my sister, and Art loves making Thanksgiving dinner all by himself, no matter whose kitchen he's working in. We brought four suitcases with us on the airplane yesterday, plus a carryon, and two and a half of them held fresh fruits and vegetables not available in Alaska. Art took them out and laid them on the table and my sister Alyx took a picture and posted it on her Facebook page.

We're having Thanksgiving today, Wednesday, because my brother-in-law Virgil works at WalMart and his hours tomorrow are 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. That will be our leftover day, plus we've been invited over to my cousin's house for dessert. Once Art finishes with the turkey, he'll start in on his famous biscotti to take to the dessert.

My sister and I are seven years apart in age. We haven't always been close. That's happened since our mother passed away four years ago. We're now both doing things we love - she's in her second year of nursing school and I've taken up mediation. We were talking today of the family we came from and what we've accomplished. We're grateful to all the people who came before us, no matter how dysfunctional or difficult they were!

Thanksgiving blessings to you and yours!

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I've just been certified as a Mediator Practitioner by the Dispute Resolution Center of my county after 140 hours of training and practice. I started this program in June of 2011 with a 40-hour basic mediation class. I took a 24-hour family mediation class. I observed eight four-hour mediations, then did a mock mediation for my Professional Standards Evaluation. Then I co-mediated twelve three- or four-hour sessions. I observed five mornings in small claims court, one morning in family court, spent the day in a women's prison, and took five workshops. As a certified mediator, I can now finish up the requirements to join the Washington Mediation Association, which is my personal goal.

Why did I do this and what am I getting from it?

1. I wanted to be useful after I left the workforce, but

  • I found out I don't have the stamina to build all day for Habitat for Humanity. 
  • I found out I don't want to teach English as a second language. 
  • I already knew I don't want to be a volunteer who crochets baby blankets for the hospital or reads stories to kids at the elementary school - I'm not crafty and reading stories to my grandchildren is sufficient.
  • Neither did I want to work with computers as a volunteer when I already did that for 20 years as a professional.

2. I am a good listener, and mediation requires it.

3. I've wanted to be less judgmental and critical and more open minded. In mediation I've learned that everyone has a valid perspective, and that understanding has carried over into my life. What a gift!

4. We travel and have other activities, and I need a volunteer interest that can accommodate that. I get an email a couple of times a week listing upcoming mediations, and I can choose which ones I want to volunteer for. I don't have to skip my morning exercise or meetings of my writers group or classes I sign up for, and I don't have to drive at night unless I feel like it.

5. I am greatly appreciated for the mediations I sign up for, and greatly valued for the outcomes achieved at those mediations.

6. When clients walk into the room they don't know what is going to happen, and neither do I. When they walk out, usually they've made agreements they can live with - whether it's for a marriage dissolution, a parenting plan, a workplace dispute, neighbor disagreement or something else. They almost always give credit to the mediators. But always, always, the accomplishments belong to the clients. All we've done is facilitate their work.

7. I am learning to be flexible. Most mediations at the Dispute Resolution Center are done by a team of two mediators. Sometimes when I walk in I have never met the person I'm going to be working with for the next few hours. It's a give-and-take process throughout the mediation. By the end, we mediators appreciate each other and have learned something new.

8. I use my mediation skills outside of the Dispute Resolution Center. I've been helpful to family members and friends - usually in unplanned situations that just come up in the course of a conversation. It amazes me how much can happen when a person is listened to.

9. I'm grateful for the aptitude for mediation, for the woman who first told me about this field five years ago when I was still working, for the excellent training provided to me. And, especially, for the continuing support of the mediation community - they are good people.

10. Someday, sometime, someone may pay me to do this work, but I would do it for free. And I do. I'm grateful that I can.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Welcoming our soldiers home

To publicize our book Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of 
Healing, I sent emails to most of the newspapers in the Pacific Northwest.
I told them our book would be appropriate to include in features about
Veterans Day.

One of the responses was from Elizabeth Griffin, editor of the Journal
Magazine, which serves communities just north of Seattle. She
interviewed Art and me a couple of weeks ago. In addition to our book,
we talked about others engaged in service to veterans. This week,
Ms. Griffin's article appeared online. We're honored to be included
in her discussion. You can read the article here.

Tonight there's a swing dance at the local high school.  There will be
music, food, a silent auction, and a magician. Veterans are admitted
free.  Ms. Griffin invited us to attend, to perhaps say a few words about
our book, and to donate a copy to the silent auction.

We will attend, for sure, and will provide a copy of our book. We might
even dance! I hope lots of veterans will attend so that I can thank them
for their service.

I watched this video for the first time yesterday. I cry every time.

A sincere thank you to those now serving our country, and to all the

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Bag Lady thinks about Africa

Back in August we were excited to be planning a trip to East Africa for next summer. We'd had houseguests, Ed and Jeri, who said it was the trip of a lifetime and referred us to a friend, Tom, with a direct connection to an outfitter in Nairobi. We were fascinated by the stories and started corresponding with George, the outfitter.

The price quotes came back disappointingly high. The amount of that one three-week trip would exceed our yearly travel budget. We'd need to dip into spare money. And what if we needed it later on? After a lot of thought and a couple of months we decided to forego the custom trip to Africa and take a group tour. I sent an email to Ed, Tom and George last week and thanked them for their help.  Then we decided maybe we should wait a bit before signing up to go to Africa at all. I was disappointed, but felt comfortable taking my usual play-it-safe position.

Then I read a recent blog post by Bob Lowry at Satisfying Retirement. I've been following Bob for a couple of years now. I like his informative style and his attitude about retirement and his ideas about finances. He's sensible about money and he has the same kind of curiosity about things that I do. He was a careful saver and he and his wife are now benefitting from that.

Bob and his wife Betty recently rented an RV for a few weeks to see how they liked it. They loved it. They loved staying a few days and getting to know a place, and discovering new places. Now they are considering taking a risk. Should they buy an RV and travel for several months a year?

I read Bob's post with fascination. My Bag Lady read along with me. It was very clear to both of us that Bob's well planned retirement makes a lot of sense, and we could completely understand his hesitation about buying the RV.

But there was not a doubt in my mind that he and his wife should buy it and go. Not a single doubt. I commented, "A ship in the harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are built for."

Then I thought about our Africa trip. I wondered how it differed in the least bit from Bob's pending RV purchase. I couldn't come up with a single difference. Both are somewhat of a splurge in a carefully planned retirement.  Both will undoubtedly yield pleasure and personal growth. And, most likely, neither will turn out to be the boondoggle that transforms us from retirees in a decent space to Bag People.

I said I'd told Ed and Tom and George we'd changed our minds about the personalized safari.  Both Ed and Tom responded immediately. They talked about the difference between a customized safari and a "group grope" one. They talked about the quality of the trip that the outfitter would create for us. They said that, for this once-in-a-lifetime trip, we should do it exactly the way we want it rather than going along with the more generic group itinerary. They told me we could shorten the trip or economize in other ways. They both said, "Don't give up on this dream. Go to Africa."

I ran it by the Bag Lady. She reminded me that, after all, we don't live on a shoestring budget, and there are other ways to pay for the trip than by holding a cardboard sign at the freeway offramp. She actually was a little curious about all those animals.

So yesterday I sent another email to Ed and Tom and George. I said "yes". Tom made a few suggestions for changing the original itinerary: forego three days at an orphanage in Nairobi, consider dropping Tanzania. Ed added an idea: visit the British ex-pat working farm. I told the men we'd like some Kenya culture included, and I'll be calling Tom later today to talk about possibilities.

We're personalizing this trip.  It will still be expensive. But I think the Bag Lady will enjoy going along. She likes animals - especially giraffes and elephants and the creatures who move outside a tented camp at night.

The risk may not be a trip to East Africa or an RV. It might, instead, be a flight across the country to visit grandkids, or dinner out and a movie, or a pair of comfortable shoes.  It's good to be reminded that we're all in this together.

Thanks, Bob.