To get the full value of a joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.
- Mark Twain
My husband and I are sharing the excitement and joy of a new adventure together!
With Valentine's Day just around the corner, this is not your typical tale of romance, but my "Valentine" and I have recently been invited to become members of the Peace Corps. What could be more romantic? 8-)
We are as euphoric as anyone newly in love has been. Depsite the obvious challenges and difficulties this adventure will present, we are engaged and excited about the dynamic change in our lives.
We are moving forward with joy.
Last year as February reared it’s head, my heart felt as though it was trapped in a vice as I reflected back on the days surrounding Caleb’s birth (22 Feb 1976) and his death (25 Feb 2002).
I feel as though the ice that has covered my soul and spirit has finally melted and the warmth of life and love has resurrected me. I find myself singing and smiling and even dancing – and giving thanks.
Mark Twain was very wise - It is a joy and a privilege to share this experience with a loved one. For that I am most grateful.
After the Walk – Ed the Duck goes to
Mark wants to take
Ed the Duck with us on our Peace Corps tour to
We can take only 100 pounds of baggage and he wants to take a rubber ducky.
I smile and agree. It pleases me that he suggested it.
Ed will, of course, have no baggage allowance since we are “smuggling” him into the country with no passport. He will travel light – Mark came walking in with a tube of metal polish and indicated that this is the sum total of Ed’s luggage requirements, but Ed himself, is rather heavy. This little guy wears a suit of handmade chain mail.
Ed, the funny
yellow rubber duck in his chain mail suit has traveled extensively. Many years ago, when Ed became our son’s
constant companion, he usually rode quite comfortably in the pocket of Caleb’s
chain-mail lined field jacket as the two made their way around
Caleb would pull Ed from his pocket at times and I would observe that someone wearing lipstick had planted kisses on the bright yellow duck. Apparently his charms were not lost on the high school girls that Ed had the opportunity to meet back then.
In later years, Ed
became a fixture on the dashboard of Caleb’s car. Wherever the black Jeep went, Ed was
there. There were 4-wheeling adventures
and nights on the town. There were
several cross country jaunts in the Jeep, despite the fact it is a ragtop, with
no radio or doors. Once
Caleb and Ed got caught in the Jeep during a snowstorm in the mountains of
Anyone who knew Caleb, certainly met Ed.
Ed was not along on Caleb’s last trip. He was safe at home on the dashboard of the Jeep when the motorcycle accident happened.
We drove our son’s Jeep up the mountain to the memorial services for him. Ed was, as ever, perched on the dashboard. He was (and still is) a reminder of happier times.
Ed is also, for us, a reminder to live a full rich life. He is a reminder to laugh and take a few risks.
I think about how hard it would be o be a duck wearing armor. A duck is meant to fly and a duck should be able to swim. In donning armor, Ed had to give up those pleasures. For me, Ed the Duck exemplifies what it means to put service before self. Certainly if he had his choice, he would love to swim and paddle on a pond, to fly over the countryside and view the world from far above, to live the life of freedom a duck is meant to live.
Somehow this duck has become a symbol to me. He not only brings back joyful memories of the wonderful son I lost, but he also reminds me of the abundance that is mine and that I can (and should) share my blessings with joy.
So as February
rolls around again, we are reminded that this is the month our son Caleb was
No Starbucks in
Sigh, the teasing has begun! My friend wrote me a note and
mentioned Starbucks...No Starbucks in
I am practicing ordering coffee. This is part of my survival training! Here is what the phrase looks like in transliterated Ukrainian (left out the accents):
Daite bud laska, kavu. Duzhe dyakuyu!
Say that three times fast! (Until I get the pronunciation down, I will gesture sipping from a cup as I blurt out the above phrase!)
I am writing to friends and family and asking them to send snapshots
of family, home, neighborhood, work, church, grocery store, movie rental
place and other typical hang outs (Starbucks with a double shot
latte)! I will enjoy them, but my real intent is to share them with
Ukrainians so they get a better picture of what life is like here in the
Miss Zoë is tugging at my shirt sleeves - time to go outside for the
morning constitutional...brrrr, it is rather cold
today (32 degrees) but at least the ice storm that visited us has blown over
... there is only a little slush on the ground. I NEED to find and buy
some waterproof footwear so I can make it through the Spring
season slogging back and forth through mud, melting snow and spring rain
until May when things dry out till October...by then I hope to acquire some
decent, warm boots for winter walking in professional wear. (When I
walked a mile to the T in
Only three weeks to go! Despite my humor, I am eager to get there and engage in life as a Ukrainian...no sense in traveling abroad if all you think about is the stuff you leave behind!
Do pobachennya (good bye) for now…
Cold feet & size 9 ˝ shoes…
The morning walk was like wandering through a fairy land. We were surprised to see another dog-walking couple. It is unusual to meet people walking in this neighborhood, even on days when the weather is balmy and inviting.
We made a point of walking only in open areas, devoid of trees. Last year, the ice storm we had did some really significant damage to cars. Large trees would crash to the ground and fall on unsuspecting people and cars. Our yard is littered with smaller branches and debris, but we seem to have escaped serious consequences.
Walking in the slush reminds me I must get some kind of footwear. A challenge anyway, because size 9 ˝ footwear is always hard to find. This is not because they are so large, but most manufacturers stop making half sizes at size 9 so often I must choose between a 9 or a 10. Neither shoe is comfortable. The coveted size 9 ˝ shoes disappear from the shelves almost immediately.
It will be worse in
We will head to Tractor Supply and look for galoshes or rubbers to get
us through the first few weeks in
The moving sale, ice storms & Ukrainian food….
Pain is as frost is to some plants: it strengthens them. Pain is very important in the transformation of a person.
- Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan
Here in the
We got up at to be ready, just in case early birds showed up (and in my experience they always do) and sure enough, two old codgers showed up at to look and talk and talk and talk. They finally walked away with an old lawn mower we gave to them for free.
It is now almost 9 AM and we have had sold a few large pieces, but the living room and front bedroom are full of stuff, Prospects for more shoppers are slim. Carolinians are not accustomed to snow and ice.
Outside, ice pellets are falling and not many cars are even out on the street. This kind of weather usually means power failure and falling branches. We had a bad ice storm last year and many people sustained damages so this time they are taking the warnings seriously. The grocery store shelves were empty last night and the parking lots were full as people stocked up on bread, milk, movies, etc.
Mark volunteered to walk with Miss Zoë this morning. The weather doesn't phase her. If anything, she delights in foul weather. No booties or coats for her - she wears her fur 24/7 and it is designed for snow and cold.
12:30 – We have a fire going in the living room fireplace and continue to hang out in that room as brave souls (or foolish ones) brave the weather and shop the bargains at the Pulver moving sale. I perch on a footstool in the midst of the sale items and watch a movie between customers. The few people who come, stay and visit. That is the nature of yard-salers I think, but the weather makes staying even more attractive.
– The streets
are quiet now as the ice and slush builds up.
Mark and I are at our separate computers working on our language
lessons. A little every day will make a
big difference when we arrive in
The CD provided by our Peace Corps Country Director includes video and
audio clips of a variety of things including scenery and popular music. Hip hop in Ukrainian is fun to listen
to! (I may share this with the students
I like to think about the castles and Cossacks of the early days in
The biggest fear that is emerging for us (besides learning the language and basic adjustment challenges) is the matter of food and alcohol.
Ukrainians apparently love to be gracious and generous hosts so we know as guests we will be inundated with food. The foods available are generally high in carbohydrates ad sugar (pork, potatoes, cabbage, etc). People love to put a dollop of sour cream on things and of course the milk is thick and rich and cheese is very popular. Vodka is a drink of celebration and it is difficult to decline.
We also know we will not be as inspired to walk twice-daily without sweet Zoë Mae to motivate us. Of course the Ukrainian weather will conspire to make us couch potatoes too. The many pounds Mark and I have shed may creep back. He will monitor his diabetes and I hope to keep my cholesterol under control. Neither of us likes to take medications so we are both motivated to monitor our choices and to exercise.
Staging package arrived...
Cherish all your happy moments: They make a fine cushion for old age.
- Booth Tarkington
Our official staging packages arrived in yesterday’s mail. We will be arriving at staging in
The date of our staging weekend also represents another milestone in our lives, and not a happy one. It marks the third year anniversary of the accident that took our 26 year old son’s life. It may sound odd, but this coincidence pleases me. We are moving on to a new, wonderful adventure and somehow I feel as though we are honoring the memory of our son as we take this big step.
I am not certain we would ever have committed to the Peace Corps had we not been through the growth that comes along with the pain in dealing with death and dying. This will certainly be an emotional time for us both, but it also makes us stronger as we look past the pain and see the beauty.
We were originally offered a nomination for this assignment, way back when we interviewed. When I heard the dates, I recoiled and found myself asking for a different nomination.
Let me recap our experience with placement. When we applied last year (
After declining the assignment departing on the anniversary of our
son’s death we were offered nomination to what my friend Jim calls the
Following the holiday season I dropped an e-mail to my placement
representative and indicated we were eager to receive an invitation. Her reply indicated they had an invitation in
the mail so on 12 January we were invited to
I know I have written about the logistics already, but I do not think I wrote about my feelings. When the 25 February assignment was initially offered back in May, I was not able to consider it, but now, nine months later, I am delighted to take the chill off that date by making it a special way to honor our son as we move forward with our lives.
So in less than a month we will be in
By 1 March we will be arriving in
Life is good.
Life is an adventure.
And now, there is work to be done!
The Invitation to Serve Arrives…
Last Wednesday seems long ago. I received an e-mail from our Placement Officer, Sarah Erdman. She indicated that an assignment was pending for an Eastern European location departing in late February. Another e-mail arrived later in the day advising us that a FEDEX was enroute to us – our assignment.
Waiting is so difficult. We had to leave town Friday morning and unfortunately the package did not arrive before we left so we faced a few extra days of anticipation. When we arrived home Sunday evening we discovered we had missed the delivery by only a matter of minutes. We pulled out of the driveway at exactly and the FEDX truck made its initial stop on Friday at . Their second delivery attempt would be on Monday morning.
We spent a restless night waiting. Monday morning I left the front door open and tried to find activities that allowed me to remain close to the door. I found myself drifting out onto the porch with my coffee in hand. I stood looking up and down the street like a forlorn puppy waiting for my master to arrive home.
Somewhere around the FEDEX woman placed a fat package in my hands. I was eager to talk and told the woman the package contained our Peace Corps assignments. She smiled pleasantly, but did not seem very interested in the information I was sharing with her, but I rattled on, nonetheless.
I wanted to tear open the package, but I had promised Mark I would e-mail him at work so he could call me. Then I would tear open the package and in this way we could share in the discovery together. More waiting. Zoë sniffed the package as if she knew how important the contents were.
In a matter of minutes Mark called and I proceeded to rip open the package.
in black and white was our assignment information:
Like the woman who receives a marriage proposal in all the old movies, I had the urge to say, “Oh my, this is so sudden!” What did come out was, “How exciting!”
I have never liked long engagements. The courtship period is essential, but the engagement period should be one of enthusiasm and excitement. There should be passion. In a long engagement there are tedious checklists and lots of “should do” and “must do” items. In a short engagement, priorities are established by the heart and not the head – the essential self speaks, the essential self, rather than the social self. I agree with the Little Prince, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Today we will call and accept the assignment and in the anticipation of saying yes, I feel a strength and joy that I am eager to share!
With approximately 44 days to go, there is much to be done. There is no time to belabor decisions or second guess things. We can simply move forward.
Miss Zoë this morning it occurred to me that for those of us privileged enough
to live here in
opportunity to live in another country is an education worth pursuing. Will our values and beliefs sustain us when
we are faced with others who have different beliefs? I think much of the world thinks that here in
As I watched my Brownie troop work on their badges last night I was reminded that when I was their age (2nd grade) President Kennedy was in office. It was during the first week of March that he gave his speech introducing the fledgling Peace Corps. Now many years later, I find myself becoming a member of that proud organization. We depart for our assignment at the start of the annual Peace Corps Week which commemorates the birth of this organization. This seems an auspicious start, certainly one I could not have orchestrated myself, but worth noting.
Back into a Routine…
To bring the sublime into the mundane is
the greatest challenge there is.
- Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan
I have carved out a clean, or at least orderly, place to spend my morning hours. While Miranda was in residence, the bright, sunny dining room at the back of the house was her bedroom.
missed spending my morning hours in that space.
It is the bright yellow walls, and the comfort of sunshine that I
missed. The golden hue of the oak furnishings and the hardwood floors reflect
the light in a way that warms me and revives memories of my childhood in the
big yellow house on
The rest of the house is cave-like. The rooms receive little sunshine, a blessing in the dog days of summer, but uninviting during the grey days of winter.
I am glad to have this space to call my own. I often start my mornings here, tapping away on my laptop. My morning journal notes spill out.
My routine begins with a morning walk with Miss Zoë. When I return, I find a cup of coffee and take my chair at the table under the dining room window. I write quickly, with few pauses. The words flow from my fingers. Often I am surprised by the words that appear on the screen. I do not try to induce a discipline to this writing, I simply write. I do not edit.
have looked forward to having time to myself. The grandchildren filled our
lives for five months and crowded out my quiet times. During the trip to
Somehow though, I feel uninspired these past two days. I feel a bit blue. Rather than anticipating the delights ahead, I feel churlish and moody. I could weep. This is so out of character. A look at the calendar reminds me that in 6 weeks it will be Caleb’s birthday and shortly afterwards, the anniversary of his death. That realization exacerbates this funk I am in.
I am moody, yes. I am irritated that my daughter seldom e-mails or calls; I am mindful that other friends and family seldom respond to my efforts to communicate…I do not take it personally. People are busy and while they enjoy my notes, etc, they do not find time to respond. Today, I am fighting an attitude – I find myself wondering what it would be like to simply stop writing to anyone. (A variation on the children’s game of “Boy will they miss me when I am gone!”)
My uncharacteristic moodiness doesn’t stop there, but I will refrain (try to) from itemizing my petty concerns.
The beginning of the year is a time to consider direction and to challenge routine. What do I want out of life this year? What path shall I follow? The list is long – the trick is to discover which items are really meaningful enough to commit to.
(I am tempted to go into a rant regarding New Years Resolutions…people no longer make resolutions. I think it is sad. They always say, “I just break them, so why make them.” As if that matters at all. Sigh.)
There are things I really want to incorporate into my life:
There are things I want to do someday:
· Downsize possessions
· Walk the Pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella (In 2007 after PC?)
· Attend the Rose Bowl Parade (2007?)
· Relocate to dry, sunny place with higher altitude & big skies
A New Year Begins…
I begin again. A new year. A time to look forward.
first some details about the Christmas trip to
We swaddle the grandchildren into cozy nests as we load the van in the deepest hour of darkness, between and the dawn. They dream away the miles, thinking, no doubt of their mother and father and the cats that make up the Howard family.
will be glad to be home, though their home will be new to them since their
parents have moved all their household goods from the rolling hills near
slept my way into
Many people speak of traveling with children as quite a chore, but we found them to be capable travelers.
Cameron (11) engages himself with reading and seldom spoke for the first two and a half days on the road. Nose buried in a thick novel, he was quiet and content.
Miranda (just turned 7) passed the time coloring, cutting and pasting elaborate art projects which she conjured up on her own. She also maintained a journal. It was amusing to see her moving her #2 lead pencil across the pages of the spiral bound notebook as she detailed her thoughts and experiences in her first-grade penmanship. Below the narrative, she drew crayoned pictures to remind her of events or views. In the early morning hours, I caught her using her flashlight to see the paper as she scrawled her urgent notes.
Interstate highway was certainly a boon to
Driving through this flat, lonely stretch it was difficult to even find a place to stop for breakfast; particularly on a Sunday morning.
Where are the small, local cafes?
days, the truck stops and small diners are gone because people just speed on to
the next larger city. The tiny
communities along the highway have let their businesses die. The “Texas Stop Sign” (as the Dairy Queen is
called in this state) is the only food stop to be seen in most towns and even
they are closed on Sunday morning. (I am
reminded of Larry McMurty books about west
stop for gas in President G. W. Bush’s hometown. Being born in such a place would certainly
influence how you see the world. A sign
indicates that the community is considered a garden-spot and an oasis. If one never left west
A coyote races across the highway in front of us. We look for the roadrunner, but do not see him.
This is the third day. After about 1,600 miles of travel and 3 days of 24/7 togetherness, the children begin to interact a bit. We have been lucky! They begin to play the traditional games of “He’s Touching Me - She’s Looking at Me” and I demonstrate some of my military training as I bark like a drill sergeant a few times. (Even Mark sits up straighter!)
We find the Howard’s apartment complex with no difficulty. We do not, however, have the correct building address. No problem right? Mark goes to the leasing office and explains the situation.
A surly woman agent says “No, we can’t help you. It is a security issue.”
Moriah and Chip should arrive home soon, so if all else fails we will wander through the complex and find their car. This is not too satisfactory since the complex is really large, so we decide to see if the folks in the leasing office will let us use the phone to leave a message for Chip and/or Moriah letting them know we are in the leasing office waiting with the two kids.
The man who waits on us this time empathizes and lets us use the phone. After a few moments conversation, he looks over his shoulder to ss if “that woman” is around, and then says, “You didn’t hear it from me, but they live in building # XXX.”
Perhaps he was not eager to have two wired-up children and their tired, smelly grandparents lingering in the lobby or perhaps he really is just a nice guy. I suspect the latter!
We walk to the appropriate building and arrive just as the senior Howards pull up in their Jeep.
A happy reunion ensues.
The next few days are filled with visiting friends and family. We shop and enjoy dining out. We spend time with the senior Pulvers and hear about Lou’s Mayo Clinic adventures.
is a flurry of unwrapping, cooking and eating.
We watch movies and put together puzzles. We drive to
the sun peeks over the horizon, we drive north intending to visit
follow Route 66 across
stop in the petrified forest and examine artifacts at an outdoor pioneer museum
and then lunch in Grants, NM. My Uncle
Gene used to live there so I was interested in looking around a bit. The local arts council was a good
diversion. We pressed on to
second day we ate a breakfast of potato burritos and beans and then began
driving. Behind us were stories of snow
storms, but the weather ahead was bright and clear. We finally stopped at just outside
In the morning the van did not stop. AAA arrived and jump started the car. The headlights were in the on position. Bubba, our big orange cat, had spent the night in the van so he gets credit for hitting the on switch sometime during the night.
On Thursday, the third and final day of the trip, we just drove. A slight miscalculation in mileage and plans, plus the time change made the day seem long. We ate sandwiches out of the back of the van when we stopped for gas and did not sightsee. We arrived home about . Each leg of the trip was over 2,000 miles – six long road days but a satisfying trip.