·         Sunday, 27 April 2008

Miss Zia the predator

A sweet, little, blind mole scurried past the kitchen door.  Mark opened the outside door and before we knew it, Miss Zia was out the door and halfway across the yard. 


And that was the end of Mr. Mole. 


Dogs are dogs…prey is prey. 

Miss Zia

The Hummer in the House

I looked outside the back door this morning and was surprised to see a beautiful hummingbird fluttering frantically in the corner of the porch.  A lost little bird. 


The poor tiny fairy-of-a-bird was trying to escape through the glass.  He banged his beak against the glass repeatedly as I watched.  


How to get him out?  My resourceful spouse went outside.  I saw his face appear outside the window.  Then his hand rose and that frightened the little bird.  The hummer did a quick u-turn and sped out the open outside porch door and found freedom again.


Time to fill the hummingbird feeders


Earth Day Efforts

Recently a series of e-mail shared among family and friends focused on small ways to “go green”.  Almost all of the suggested lifestyle changes have always been part of our repertoire.

Mr. Treeman, outside our kitchen door.

One “green” habit I have neglected since coming to Santa Fe is hanging laundry outdoors.  Dryers waste so much energy and I really find the smell of laundry dried in the fresh air quite intoxicating.   Hanging clothes out in the fresh air is therapeutic.  I miss having a clothes line.  Here in sunny Santa Fe   laundry would dry so quickly. Not like in Ukraine where the winter months found us draping socks over the radiators and hanging lines across our tiny living room for three or four days in a row!


Today I picked up a drying rack.  I also purchased an electric hot pot to heat our coffee water.  Another small effort.  Our third lifestyle change is to compost our coffee grounds, paper, and organic stuff with the help of some red-wigglers – yep worms!  We are getting 2,000 new pets! 


·         Saturday, 26 April 2008  

Peace Corps Daze..

Last year at this time, our life in Ukraine absorbed us.  We had begun to consider the move ahead, but nothing was concrete.  I had collected information on Santa Fe, but we were still engaged in our adventures on the Black Sea.  Santa Fe did not seem possible then, just a crazy dream, but now it seems like home.


Now, Ukraine (and PC life) seems long ago.


Already we are beginning to consider what might lie ahead.  Mark’s AmeriCorps*VISTA year comes to an end in July…mine in November.


The past years (Almost 4 from our April Fool’s Day Peace Corps application in spring 2004 through our return to the USA in May 2007 and the transitional year of 2008) have been, what I call our “Peace Corps daze”.  We have been absorbed with dreaming, planning and transition.  Now, for me anyway, the fog is finally clearing and our future really is coming alive.


How funny our Peace Corps experience was.  No African villages with tribal music and primitive ways. No, our experiences in Eastern Europe were quite different.  Mark wore a tie and jacket almost everyday, I wore a fur coat and frequently found myself sipping champagne or accepting a bundle of roses or a chocolate bar and even nibbling on caviar.  Of course we washed clothes in a bucket, awoke to many days when there was no heat, water or electricity, pit toilets were a way of life and language and culture often made us realize how isolated we really were. 


Our Peace Corps experience was not defined by the pictures most people conjure up when they imagine a couple years of service as a PCV.  Our experience was hardly like the experiences of PCVs in Africa or other isolated/remote places, but still, it was unique and challenging.  The uneven, crumbling, infrastructure, the failing economy and myriad economic challenges, the language and the culture challenged us and kept us aware of just how different life is in post Soviet-era Ukraine. 


It was a wonderful experience…but already it seems like a dream.  We are just now, after a year in the USA, coming out of the daze, the haze, the fog that hovered over us the past few years.


And yet I know I have grown from the experience and I have learned countless things.  What a blessing the experience was. 


How grateful I am to have had it and how delighted I am to have shared it with my adventurous sweet-spouse, my high-school sweetheart, my very-best friend, my companion, my life-partner.


The future is still a hazy, misty vision…but I know when the fog finally lifts, it will be a delight…in part, because I will share it with my husband.  And we have such wonderful memories to share. 


·         Friday, 25 April 2008 - TGIF!

White doves wake me and doves lull me to sleep…

It is a pleasure to live closely with nature.  These days I am most aware of the dove-couple on our property.  They wake me with their soothing call.  Late in the afternoon they lull me with their cooing.


I wonder if they know how much joy they bring with their gentle calls.  Probably not.  There is a lesson for those humans who are paying attention. 



My brother’s trip is still in progress.  I guess he is back in Des Moines by now.  Party plans are under-way. A large family gathering is in the works.  Sunday Byron will be back in Chicago and spending time with a new friend and our cousins. 


My hours with him sped by.


Who knows when I may see him again?  My whirlwind trip is an example of the kinds of things he (and my delightful sisters) have taught me over the years.  Stop and enjoy friends and family…make the effort…you just never know when things will change or end…


Good lessons my family has taught me. 

  1. Love now. 
  2. Laugh.
  3. Count the blessings. 
  4. See the good in people things, situations…the alternative is dreary, depressing and downright sad. 
  5. Be grateful.
  6. See the abundance….
  7. Take a few risks…
  8. Don’t make pro-and-con lists or you will never really live…
  9. Stay in the now.
  10. Drop everything so you can be there…
  11.  Live by your values…be who you are.
  12. Share successes and failures…but don’t blame and call names and be judgmental…
  13. and ohhhhhhh soooooooo many other things…


·         Thursday, 24 April 2008

First Day Back at Work – Always Hard!

Why is the first day after a vacation, always soooo challenging?  I spent most of the day sifting through e-mail.  Tomorrow is Friday – TGIF.  Monday I can start fresh.


National Volunteer Week begins Sunday, April 27th

Lest we forget our fellow volunteers…there are some advantages to the life of a volunteer.  Unfortunately people frequently equate “volunteerism” with a lack of professionalism or training.  The phrase: “just a volunteer” slips through the lips of far too many people.


If not for volunteers (professional or otherwise) many tasks and services would never be accomplished. 


Next week is National Volunteer Week – read the Presidential proclamation that follows…


Office of the Press Secretary
April 23, 2008

National Volunteer Week, 2008
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Through countless acts of kindness, volunteers across America are
changing our Nation for the better.  During National Volunteer Week, we
recognize those who take the time to help their fellow citizens realize
the full potential of America.

Through volunteer work, Americans can demonstrate the kindness and
generosity that makes our Nation great.  Mentoring a child, teaching
someone to read, visiting the elderly, feeding the hungry, and finding
shelter for the homeless are all examples of how Americans can and do
aid those in need.  Americans are volunteering in record numbers.  Each
year, millions of Americans volunteer, and more of our fellow citizens
are discovering that the pursuit of happiness leads to the path of
service.  The cumulative effort of the love and compassion from our
Nation's volunteers will help secure a more hopeful future for all our

My Administration remains committed to building a culture of
service, citizenship, and responsibility.  The USA Freedom Corps
strengthens civic engagement and volunteer service in America and helps
people connect with volunteer opportunities.  By visiting the USA
Freedom Corps website at volunteer.gov, individuals can find information
about ways they can help in their local areas and across the country.

The strength of America comes from its compassionate and loving
citizens.  National Volunteer Week is an opportunity to show
appreciation for our Nation's volunteers.  The time and energy they
dedicate to helping those in need reflect the true spirit of America.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States
of America
, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution
and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 27 through May
3, 2008, as National Volunteer Week.  I call upon all Americans to
recognize and celebrate the important work that volunteers do every day
throughout our country.
  I also encourage citizens to explore ways to
help their neighbors in need and serve a cause greater than self.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
twenty-second day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight,
and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred
and thirty-second.

# # #


·         Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Vacation’s Over…Noon Already

I call in “sick” – I need a day to recuperate, recover, synthesize events…I will stay at home today.


I plunk down at my desk around 0830.  The plan is to sip black coffee from my favorite yellow Bosco mug and catch up on my daily (ha daily!) journal. 

Bosco Mug & Laptop

My plan went awry.  Here it is noon and I am just opening my journal. 


All my morning inspiration (and much of my morning energy) has dispersed, disappeared, dried up or detoured. 


And I made the fatal mistake - I opened my e-mail.


After a week of being sans-computer, my inbox is quite full of tantalizing tidbits; tales from friends and family and many other tantalizing temptations.  I failed in my discipline.  I break my own rule. 


But, I enjoy it. 


There are about 300-plus e-mails waiting my tender ministrations, but they are on the back-burner now.  I manage to scan the mass and delete the less pressing mail.  I poke out responses to several inquiries. 


My coffee is cold now and my sense of a long, delightful day in which to turn my thoughts into word pictures has escaped me.  Since it is now afternoon, I am conscious that my sweet spouse will bound through the door around 4 PM and I will be caught up in his life. 


Then I will have to pull my thoughts together, put on appropriate garb and take Miss Z off to our 1730 training class.  After a week away from Miss Zia, I wonder how she will respond to the pop-quizzes the trainer likes to pull!  


Here I sit, with a brain filled with stories to tell.  Likely under the sense of pressure I am feeling now, the tales will degenerate into a mere report on “What I Did on My Vacation.”  I like it better when I can paint a word-picture, make a snapshot of phrases, evoke a feeling, open a window for the reader…




On the train (two 24-hour train rides this past week), I penned my thoughts on my cheery yellow-paged notebook, the kind with graph paper on the reverse side.  My notes help me recall events and thoughts I would like to share or develop.  I will work at this over the next few days.


What I am Reading…

 In Borders on Michigan Ave in Chicago, I fell victim to a big fat book.  I am at the start of Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, “The Golden Notebook”.

This book, a classic from the 60’s, explores mental and societal breakdown in an innovative way.  The term “inner science fiction” is used to describe this tome.


I had hoped to make considerable headway during the 24-hour train ride, but I barely made it through the introduction.  

The train was quite crowded, so I had a seatmate.  I am capable of burying my nose in a good book, but the reading light above my head did not work and consequently I was vulnerable to being drawn into a conversation.


The book (and my knitting as well as my writing) remained in my tote-bag as I engaged in an interesting, non-stop conversation with the young scientist I found myself elbow-to-elbow with. 


The luck of the draw was with me both coming and going.  Both seat-mates were intelligent young men who spoke of ideas, dreams, thoughts, feelings.  Around us other passengers seemed stuck in superficial conversation while I was fortunate enough to be juggling stimulating ideas as the miles of railroad track slipped away underneath the coach.


One of the conversations (not necessarily the most engaging, but relevant right now) was about reading.  How does one choose a book?  There are just sooooo many books to be read. 


The introduction to Lessing’s book has a lot to say about reading and education and provides considerable fodder for a great discussion on this topic.  (Her Marxist and Communist slant intrigue me, especially contrasted/compared with her ideas about conformity … but I digress. 


Soooooo, what are YOU Reading?

How do YOU choose the books you read?


What influences your choices?


The pleasure of randomness and whim?  Do you have a list from a mentor?  Do you read by author or topic?  This topic would make a nice exercise for a writing class…  Why do you read - for fun or facts; for answers or entertainment; for diversion or escape?  Do you read widely or do you have a driving interest? 


Do you re-read books?  Do books affect you differently at different places in your life and development?  Do you read critically or for pleasure?   How much of who you are or how you have lived is reflected in what you get from a given book?  Can a book change who you are?  Can a book in itself be dangerous?


Library books, book stores or used books?  (The ecology or the economy?)  Write notes in the margin or treat them as sacred?  Finish every book you start or finish only those that prove worthy?  Novels or only non-fiction?  Do you read only one book at a time or do you have several going at once?


Do you have someone to discuss books with or is it a private pleasure you never really share?  Do you keep a list of what you’ve read?  Do you have a list of books you want to read? 


Where do you read?  Do you ever read aloud to yourself or to your dog, cat or spouse?  Do you read less now that you have e-mail to eat up your time? 


Do you read books friends and family send you or suggest you read? 


So many interesting nuances to the topic.  Too little time to explore and to share…(Yikes, here it is 1330 already!…)


What 5-6 books would you recommend?  Of course you may have another completely different list for me on another day, but right now, today, what 5-6 books would you suggest that I read?  I’ll compile a list on my website later…  Make your list BEFORE you read the list below…


Following is an interesting collection of “what to read”…How many have you already read?   What books should be added (or eliminated)?


Here’s a List of 100 Books from Time Magazine

 ( http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/the_complete_list.html )


This list is limited to novels after 1923…and other criteria…but it is stimulating to consider these books…  What a hard task to compile such a list.  Visit the website for more on this project.

In Alphabetical Order
A - B
The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow 
All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
American Pastoral, Philip Roth
An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser
Animal Farm, George Orwell
Appointment in Samarra, John O'Hara
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Judy Blume
The Assistant, Bernard Malamud
At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brien
Atonement, Ian McEwan
Beloved, Toni Morrison

The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder
C - D
Call It Sleep, Henry Roth
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell
The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West
Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
A Death in the Family, James Agee
The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen
Deliverance, James Dickey
Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone

F - G
Falconer, John Cheever
The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin
Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

H - I
A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
Herzog, Saul Bellow
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
A House for Mr. Biswas, V.S. Naipaul

I, Claudius, Robert Graves
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison


L - N
Light in August, William Faulkner
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Loving, Henry Green
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
Money, Martin Amis
The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
Native Son, Richard Wright
Neuromancer, William Gibson
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
1984, George Orwell

O - R
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
A Passage to India, E.M. Forster
Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
Possession, A.S. Byatt
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
Rabbit, Run, John Updike
Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow
The Recognitions, William Gaddis
Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

S - T
The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
The Sot-Weed Factor, John Barth
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John le Carre
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller

U - W
Ubik, Philip K. Dick
Under the Net, Iris Murdoch
Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
White Noise, Don DeLillo
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys



·         Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Home Sweet Home!

Home at last. 


Virginia & Miss ZiaI hit the ground running.  There is a Habitat for Humanity function shortly after I arrive home.  A quick shower and then I am back in the truck heading across town to share dinner with a bunch of strangers. 


I am weary and eager to just sped time at home.


It was good to see my brother and share time with family too.  Tomorrow, I will be back at work, and it will seem as if the past few days never happened.


·         Monday, 21 April 2008

Weak spring sunshine peeks through trees above my head.  My black clothes make a solar magnet; I am comfortable in the 0830 40 degree temperatures, but my fingers are bit stuff from the cold morning air. 


I wonder if Mark and Miss Zia are out on the AM walk back in Santa Fe.


Small plump birds poke their beaks into the black upturned earth in flowerbeds behind the park bench where I am biding my time until Borders opens its doors to start the business day.  At 0900 I will cross Michigan Ave and spend some leisurely hours reading bits and pieces from a variety of books and magazines.


I have some leisure time today.  My train leaves Union Station at about 1500 so the day stretches before me.  My overnight bag slows me down, but I am grateful I pack light and am not tied down by a rolling bag, etc.


I enjoy watching Chicago wake up.  The phrase is a bit inaccurate since the city seems to be awake 24/7.  But the warming weather on this fine Monday morning seems to draw people out to the streets.


Eventually a man begins to tell me his tale of woe.  This is a hazard to those of us who like to observe people.  I appear accessible.  I am almost a captive audience.  I listen as he spills his tale.  He seems to value having a listener.  Other problems may seem large, but just having a listener may help him make it through the challenges of the day ahead.


Soon after 0900, I enter the bookstore.  I spent a couple hours engaged in reading bits and pieces of the tempting stack of books.  I flip through the pages of colorful magazines.  Eventually I make my purchase – a Doris Lessing novel.  Se is a Nobel Prize winner.  She influenced people and is associated with the women’s liberation movement.  


I emerge into sunlight.  I remove my jacket and hoist my bags to begin the long walk to Union Station.  The bags seem heavy.  Sweat breaks on my brow.  I decide to take a bus to the train station. 


Customer Service – Po Ruski

Just before I board the bus, I see a favorite store: Crate and Barrel.  I enter and almost immediately realize that my energy is too low.  Wrangling my bags seems too much work. I am suddenly tired after my busy weekend.   Usually I would linger here, but I elect to make a quick exit.  But, before I leave, I see a small item that I think my husband would enjoy.  It is good to bring gifts to those we leave behind.  I pick the item up and head to the cashier.


The saleswoman is polite.  I hear a familiar rhythm in her voice.  “What a pleasant accent you have,” I say, with a smile.  “Where are you from?”


She responds, “I am Russian.”


My eyes meet hers.  I smile.  I say, “Dobre den! Kak dela!” and off I go, spewing a string of Russian phrases together. 


The young woman pauses, listens, laughs.


“How do you know my mother-tongue?” she asks, smiling at me.


The interaction continued for a moment or two.  It pleased the young woman.  It pleased me.


I ask her where I might find a bus to Union Station.  She grabs my red bag and walks to the door.  She shows me the bus stop.


It is a fine encounter.  My energy returns.  We say our ‘dasvidanyas” and smile at one another.


On the 151 Bus

The people I meet are kind. 


The bus driver, my seatmate, an older couple…hey advise me on where to get off and how to find the Amtrak station and where to buy snacks…do I look inept or incapable of navigating the cityscape?  Or do I simply look approachable with my Russian induced smile still on my lips?


At 1515, I board the “Southwest Chief”… Heading Home

The train is crowded and loud.  I have a seat mate. He is also headed to Santa Fe.


train posterWe converse happily.  He has spent time in Ukraine, so we share our observations. We also discuss large issues.  I am grateful to share these hours with someone who speaks of ideas and opinions.  Around us I hear people who merely whine or complain or speak of medical challenges.


Eventually we say goodnight and try to sleep.  It is chilly.  A light flashes in my eyes whenever passengers open and lose the door to the observation car.  It seems like a long night.


I cannot get home to Santa Fe and my spouse and dog, fast enough.  It is a long 24 hours…


·         Sunday, 20 April 2008

The Pace Continues!

No sleeping in today!  We were up by 7 and after another wonderful omelet (D&D should open a B&B on Byron’s farm in Malawi!) we climbed in the van and headed to cousin W’s suburban home. 


Cousins from Iowa were there already when we arrived.  We visited a bit and then sat down to a wonderful lunch of soup and cornbread, fruit cups and finally homemade brownies and hot coffee.  We laughed and talked our way through the meal. 


By 1:30 Byron and the Iowa cousins had hit the road heading west to spend time with yet another relative.


My brother’s whirlwind trip to the USA is a little like having the Pope visit – lots of organizing and orchestrating so everyone can spend time with him! 


D and I lingered with W for a while and laughed over old stories.  I spoke to W’s mother on the phone - My amazing Aunt M (103 years old and still living on her own and cooking and baking too!). 


D and I drove to Wicker Park area of Chicago to meet her husband D at a shape-note music event.  I did not know I would be participating in this event.  It was pretty amazing.


Participants make a square with their faces toward the center.  A different individual leads each song.  The leader stands in the center of the square and enjoys the full force of the music…a veritable wall of sound and harmony washing over them. 


After the delightful (and unexpected) songfest, we drove across town to dine with a friend of D & Ds.  Later more lire music to sooth the savage beasts and finally bed!  The alarm clock was set for 6AM…the weekend, the visit was basically over.


·               Saturday, 19 April 2008

Byron at breakastWe were up at 7AM and after a delicious breakfast made by our host, Byron and I were trundled off to our meeting downtown.  By 9AM we were seated in the auditorium of the modern, beautiful Christian Science church in downtown Chicago. 


The day’s events involved remarks by my brother’s CS teacher, interposed with personal testimonies from students. 


At lunch we dined at a nearby café.  We were crowed together and listened as people shared their own stories and the details of their lives over sandwiches and salad. Then back to the church for more enlightening remarks. 


Saturday Evening…   

Debbie performsOver stimulated and tired, we made our way back to my cousin’s flat.  We soon found ourselves in D's car heading for a Thai restaurant where we dined and talked.  After the fine meal we decided to go to a local bakery for coffee and cake.


Later at their flat, we listened as D. played her lire - rather magical sounding music, just right for pre-bedtime.  We played with the cats and listened.  At midnight we crawled into bed.  I slept like a rock.


·         Friday, 18 April 2008

Sleeping in a Chair

I used my knitting bag (an Air Force helmet bag filled with 8 balls of lovely soft yarn) as an auxiliary pillow last night.  I spread my red shawl over my shoulders and legs as a blanket. 


It was a little cold and a bit uncomfortable but I slept pretty well.  I was grateful to have no seat-mate during the night.  I was able to curl up on both seats.


Haunted by Alzheimer’s?

During the night, voices wakened me.  A passenger from the sleeper car seemed to have become lost and disoriented.  Or perhaps he was sleepwalking.  Later, the conversation made me think of an Alzheimer’s patient. 


I listened with my eyes closed.  My thoughts went back to occasions when my own father would be up and about in the night.  Night fears would drive him.  He would walk about, confused.  He rambled around the dark house with intensity both unfocused and urgent.  There was something in the timbre of his voice that betrayed the underlying fear - I knew that he knew that something was really amiss.


The railroad employee was calm and kind.  He helped the gentleman find his way back t the sleeping car and listened patiently to the rambling, disjointed tale, making now making no corrections and responding in a warm, non-judgmental way.  (So often people try to correct confused individuals when the details of the story are unbelievable and inconsistent.) 


Sunrise over Kansas City

Flat, black earth stretches for miles n either side of the train.  The fields are boggy, wet.  There are puddles everywhere. 


At 10AM it is still gray outside.  Someone boards the train and I hear talk about a 6.5 earthquake in St Louis and Chicago.


I see large stretches of purple in the fields now – lavender, sage, clover?  What could it be?


The grass here is vibrant green.  In the middle of one field are dozens of large white birds – a stark contrast to the rich black earth.  The many puddles mirror the gray, gray, gray mid-morning sky.


I Take up my Knitting

I begin to knit.  The train car is filing up now. 


The conductor arrives with a passenger.  “Sit with her,” she said, winking at me.  “Se has had an interesting life.  You’ll like her.”


I moved over and set aside my knitting.   A young well-dressed many makes himself comfortable beside me.


The conductor was correct.  We hit is off quite well.  Our conversation took off at a sprint and continued for several hours.  We continued to talk even as we emerged from Union Station Chicago and only ceased when I hopped into a cab.


What did we talk about?  The conversation was as intense as any graduate level class filled with opinionated students and moved forward quickly.  My seatmate had just given a speech at a college concerning racism, sexism, and relationships.  We enthusiastically discussed values, relationships and myriad other topics.  Eventually we spoke about Christian Science. The young man had studied at a seminary and was intrigued by the ideas we shared. 


It was a lovely conversation.


Arrived in Chicago

Once in Chicago I hopped a cab and soon found myself at the apartment where I was to meet my brother at an open house.  I took the elevator up the 17th floor, trying to do damage control on my hair. I was hot and sweaty and my bags felt heavy. But, after more than 24 hours on a train and a mad dash across town, and feeling rather uncombed ad unkempt, I managed to put aside my feelings and mingled with the other interesting guests at the open house.  


I had not seen my brother in about 5 years.  He arrived in the USA (from Malawi) on Sunday.  So between chatting with strangers and fighting fatigue, we caught up on news.    


Once the party concluded my brother and I took an express bus to our cousin’s home.  We were grateful to sit quietly.  We dined and talked until about midnight and then found our way to comfortable, cozy beds and a good night’s sleep.


·         Thursday, 17 April 2008

Unexpected Snow Flurries

Spring mornings in Santa Fe are almost always brisk a bright.  Birdsong and sunshine greet me most days. 


The electronic weather station in our kitchen keeps me apprised of the daily temperatures.  This is good because a flatlander like me would be fooled by the view outside my window.  The outdoor word here is like a movie set – perfectly staged each day.  The visual cues often make me think it is shirtsleeve weather and really it is quite brisk.


The bright morning dog walks this time of year start when the mercury reads about 35 degrees.  Between about 7AM and 9AM, the temperature rockets up almost 20 degrees.  By midday, another 20 degrees registers and the sweating begins.


So on this fine morning the thermometer to oddly still stuck at a chilling 32 degrees and the time is 11AM! 


I turn from the thermometer to look out the windows.  The usually blue expanse of sky above is a pearly grey.  White flakes flutter down, as if a bag of Styrofoam pellets had burst open. 


I shiver.  Then I head back into the bedroom to pack my bags.


On My Way to Chicago

Now at 4PM, I am seated by the window on an eastbound train, watching snow-covered mountains and wondering what the weather will be like when I arrive at my destination (Chicago) tomorrow. 


My luggage...Just as we roll into Las Vegas, a small NM town filled with historic buildings, I see a healthy looking coyote trotting along a rushing stream.  The dirt roads are muddy and rutted; the snow has already melted here and the deciduous trees are greening up. 


We are out of adobe country.  I peer out at the town square and see the charming old buildings there.


I am drawn to the town – or perhaps the idea of the town.  I imagine the pleasure of owning one of those buildings.  I would build a nest of an apartment upstairs above a small shop.  Under the streetside windows would be a bench.  The entrance to the shop would be flanked with large pots of blooming plants.  Inside a pair of cats would patrol the premises or enjoy the afternoon sun coming through the broad windows. 


This is an old fantasy of mine.  I play it all out in my head as the train moves me farther away from my Santa Fe home.


Passengers and Employees

When I boarded the train in Lamy, an older man boarded at the same time.  He was slow to wrangle is large pile of matching luggage and while he worked, he peppered the conductor with questions and demands.  He had ideas and demands about everything.  He also was oblivious to the fact he was slowing down the boarding and departure process. 


I watched the conductor trying to diplomatically move the passenger forward.  The conductor was not amused by this controlling man.


Now was I when the conductor assumed we were a couple.


“Seats 41 and 42,” she barked and turned on her heel.  She was gone before I could make it clear that I did not want to be associated with this man.  The man was not happy either.  He began yelling about other seat options. 


I quickly covered the distance between myself and the conductor and quietly negotiated a seat far from Mr. Loud and Picky.


“I thought you were together!” she laughed and laughed even harder when she heard my emphatic NO!


For the next 40 minutes, the pleasant conductor perched on the arm of my seat and shared tales of her adventures with me.  She spoke of a chance meeting with then-President DW Eisenhower; she told a story about an unexpected  Christmas morning gift of 50 tamales when the train pulled into a small town on the route; and she talked to me about how crowded and smelly the train ride is in the summer months when he Boy Scouts return home from camp.  I listened.  I laughed.


Later the kind conductor took me on a tour of the train.


At the snack bar I chatted with a man who called himself a “Disneyland Dad” – he worked as a chef at a Methodist camp in LA and as often as possible made trips back to small-town Kansas to see his lovely little girl. No work in Kansas.


He told me stories about the summer help (including Ukrainian girls; he spoke to me about how he handled his stuttering problem; he showed me his I-phone.  I listened and laughed.


Later I sat with a young au pair from Slovakia.   Two young men were trying to engage her in conversation.  She was more sophisticated than they.  She kept catching my eye to share her gentle humor regarding these young men who wanted to impress her. 


From my seat, I listen to countless conversations not always meant for my ears. 


Outside the window a vivid field of green spreads out along the river. Hundreds of geese settle in there, huddling close, getting ready for the night perhaps.


There are no trees now.  The flat land spreads to the horizon, occasionally dotted with black and brown cattle.   The land is vast, deserted


A hundred or so black cows, startled by the train, run across the field.  As they sowed down, the younger ones gamboled about like little lambs.


Now, a few miles down the Santa Fe Trail, there are no cattle in the emptiness – instead wild creatures: deer and elk stand staring at the train.


No trees here- birds make nests on the cross bars of obsolete wooden power line poles. 


Raton Pass and Wooten Ranch (Alt: 7,885 feet)

We go over the pass, the highest point o the Santa Fe Trail.  Herds of elk congregate here.  They graze in the snow – the almost full moon competes with the setting sun.  The rugged scenery is postcard perfect.  The train inches along, snaking around the mountain and through a tunnel. 


A voice comes on the loudspeaker and tells us about how the railroad gained access to this land.  The original owners of the Wooten Ranch used to charge pioneers and hunters a fee for crossing their land.  When the railroad decided to build there, negotiations took some time.  Finally the Wooten’s were guaranteed their winter supplies and that each of them would have a job with the railroad. 


The disembodied voice speaking into the microphone was excited when he saw the Elk and encouraged us all to look outside and see the “moose”…a few moments later we heard the microphone click and a soft voice uttered, “Elk, those are elk.”


The train is clean and fairly comfortable.  I am in the “cheap seats”.  I think about my experience on Ukrainian trains.  It seems so long ago.


·         Wednesday 16 April

Tomorrow I am off to Chicago

Mark unexpectedly swept me off to the store to buy me a camera tonight. 


I was swayed by the red cameras…of course one should consider other things besides color, but a red one came home with me.


I will read the manual on the 24 our train trip.


·         Thursday, 10 April 2008

I am off to Las Cruces

The wind is raging…I cannot see the Organ Mountains that dominate the Ls Cruces skyline.  Dust particles darken the sky.  Up north in Santa Fe, snow flurries tease the locals; reminding them that spring is a fickle time of year.


The New Mexico Library Association (NMLA) is hosting an annual conference.  Our job is to man a recruiting table - the mission: present the public with opportunities to wok at resolving the adult literacy problems that are rife in New Mexico.  Almost half of adult New Mexicans are classified as functionally illiterate. 


I am so grateful for the twist of fate that has brought us to Santa Fe and allowed me to use my skills in this particular position.  I feel comfortable and happy sharing my experiences and skills.  It is interesting how things work together.  I could not have outlined a better match.


·         Monday, 7 April 2008

A white dove joins me for breakfast...

white doveI glanced up from my coffee, my attention captured by a bright flash of white among the branches of the large conifer just outside the kitchen windows.  My eyes lock on a white dove.  Before I can react, I hear the bird cooing and see its shy mate huddling on a nearby branch.


I lose interest in my breakfast and become engrossed in watching this dove-couple as they collaborate on where to build their cozy nest.  I wonder how they decide.  They resemble a human couple chatting about the view and the special features and benefits of life in this particular development, err, tree. 


Do they really negotiate and consider the pros and cons?  Or is it the luck of the draw or just a gut feeling?


It pleases me to think of them building a nest, starting a family, so close I can be an observer.  I can live vicariously through them. 


Did people live vicariously through my own nest-building, baby-raising years? 


A white dove is a symbol of promise and peace, a vote of confidence, a poem with feathers… What a beautiful way to start the work week…a reminder of what life is about and how it should be lived. 


The sun is setting now.  I hear gentle cooing outside as the doves wind down their day.  Can there be a more soothing sound?  A more hopeful sound?


As darkness takes over, I remember another April night, three years ago in Ukraine.  What a contrast.  I was wakened from sleep by the call of a blackbird – in the dead of night.  That bird and its call captured the events of that frightening time for me.  This April, it is a white dove that is a symbol of life.  How things change.  How we read into what we see around us.  There is a magic we cannot explain away.


I hope the doves stay and raise their young.


·         Thursday, 3 April 2008

Here I am, signing in…yes, I am still alive.  My daily journaling regime has died away.  For many years, I managed to sit down and clear my head each AM with a daily stream of consciousness spew of whatever was on my mind.  These days, I just cannot seem to make it happen.


I miss the calm that comes with that daily discipline.


How do I start my days lately?  I crawl from under the cozy covers and pull on my old Levis and a flannel shirt.  I turn on NPR, wash my face and slather on some Nivea. 


I wander into the kitchen and take a seat by the fireplace.  The morning air is around 32 degrees most mornings lately.  I pull on a pair of Mark’s white socks and tug my dusty Air Force combat boots over my toes and lace them up. 


By now, Miss Zia is nosing around, using her snooot to get my attention.  She makes a guttural sound as if trying to speak.  When I do not respond, she assumes an attentive position by the back door.  She points her nose at the door knob and seems to be a soldier in position of attention.  If I look hard, I see her thighs shiver in anticipation of the morning walk.


Finally I grab the “noose” and hook it to Zia’s harness.  She waits for her invitation to go through the door.  I set my pedometer and off we go.  Most days the sun is not quite yet over the mountain ridge just east of our humble home.  Though the sun is not up, the local birds are.  They chatter in the trees.  Soon they will congregate by the koi pond on the other side of the house for a morning bath.  The trees will be black with wet birds preening in the early sunlight. 


Zia and I head down the road.  Se is in the lead.  No nosing about, she is a dog with a mission.  She and I set a brisk pace and make our way up the dirt road to the empty desert adjacent to the few houses near our place.


We both relax here.  The sun hits my back.  I unzip my field jacket, remove my gloves and breathe in the clear, crisp air.  Some days there are rabbits or coyotes darting through the area.  But usually we have this place to ourselves. 


We log about a mile and a half each day.  We come home eager for breakfast, refreshed by the 30 minutes of walking.  It is a time for meditating.  It is a quiet beginning, with no demands except to stay in the here and now. 


The remainder of the day evolves around the laptop…research, developing strategies and checklists, lesson plans and PR materials,  responding to questions, advising people, sharing information, loading data bases, completing reports, reading and responding to e-mail.


From 9-5 my fingers fly across the keyboard.  I come home and in the evening my outside commitments and sometimes my job commitments fill some of my evening house and many of my weekend hours too.


Then comes the need to touch bases with friends and family.  I love to hear from them and I love to share with them.  Often I am disappointed to find infrequent responses. 


I ponder how it is that in this day and age when we live and breath around our digital devises, we are less often in touch than we were before there was a cell phone in every pocket and a keyboard on every desk. 


As I take a vacation (my hot, leisurely shower is a vacation!) I consider simply closing up my laptop. 


I could just shut ff the power and not ever turn it back on.  I could choose to drop out of this digital lifestyle.  At least after hours.


I could resume the lovely habit of writing letters.


Stop the e-mail, the Skype, the Facebook…the listserves (I belong to sooooo many of them).  I already screen my calls…


I could write again.  Look at all the hours I spend engaged with other people…


I could read novels and get more sleep.  I could take an evening walk.  I could pick up a pen and write a real letter.


Would anyone notice?  Who cares?  Most everyone seems so busy, they would not miss me if I just stopped.


And perhaps I would have time to journal a bit.


So, I could do as I do each morning – just walk away and breathe. 


If anybody needs me, they know where to find me.  Living my life.







FYI: If you want to read about our

Peace Corps Ukraine adventures,

start with January 2005 - May 2007.


Now we are having AmeriCorps/VISTA adventures

right here in Santa Fe, in the USA!


Life is good!