• Sunday, 31 July 2005

Minneapolis/St Paul – wonderful cities!  Saturday I had the opportunity for a windshield tour of many beautiful neighborhoods.  The weather was bright and warm so the streets were filled with people, pets and vehicles. 


The cities are blessed with several large lakes and on a fine July day, each resembles a painting with sailboats dancing on the deep blue waters.  On the paths at lake’s edge people walk, jog and ride bikes or skate.  Well behaved pets and children make people smile.


The cafes and neighborhood stores are crowded with people enjoying the day.  There are yard sales and I would willingly stop at each and every one.  My “chauffeur” is eager to show me mare of the city so we do not stop (except once when I utter “Stop!” – Carol almost crunches the car as she screeches to a halt and pulls over so I can indulge in a quick garage sale stop. 


Carol is quite familiar with many of the neighborhoods since she spent some of her youth singing with bands and living in these areas.  I look longingly out the window and imagine myself making a home here in this delightful urban paradise.


I like to walk to places so libraries and coffee shops in proximity to a cozy home (an apartment, bungalow or a loft) suits me well.  Over the years Mark and I have always enjoyed the joys of having a park near our home.  I would love the luxury of being able to walk to church too.  The natural beauty of the lakes and the four strong seasons here add to the beauty of this daydream. 


On the St Paul side of the Mississippi our tour is foiled by a bike rally.  There are thousands of enthusiastic motorcycle riders parading down Grand (or was it Summit?).  We weave through back streets trying to circumnavigate the bikes.  The rally is a fundraising run for diabetes research.  If we had arrived earlier the official parade with marching bands and crowds of onlookers would have created a traffic delay too.  We will explore the downtown area of St Paul another day.  


The day ends somewhat abruptly when the car decides to take a nap.  It just stops and we pray while the car glides closer to the curb and out of the traffic.  Carol says “vapor lock”  and suggests we take a short walk to a convenience store, conveniently located across the street from the resting car.  We snack on some junk food and chat with the friendly clerk for a few minutes and then return to the car.  Carol inserts the key and the car cranks right up.  We take a direct path home, and soon are safe and sound in the ‘burbs, parked in the garage and done for the day.      


We settle in with pizza and watch home decorating shows until after midnight.      


  • Thursday, 28 July 2005

Procrastinating …

Here I am in an affluent suburb in the Minneapolis/St Paul area, perched on the edge of the couch, laptop balanced on my knees.  The television is droning away, a talk-show host solving the problems of the world – television, the soundtrack for life in America.  At my feet, the rottweiler is stretched out, legs twitching in his sleep.  He dreams of running.  Behind me, crowding me a bit, is the big, red pit bull that also lives here.  Across the room, curled up in an overstuffed chair, a huge white cat purrs quietly.  The resident teenage boy is downstairs playing computer games, while metal music resonates through the house.


I have “lived” here a few days and already I feel much like a high school student does as summer drags on: I have a love-hate feeling about my summer vacation.   After over a month in a hotel in DC and six weeks at a horse farm in Georgia and now starting six weeks in suburbia in MSP, I am eager for my real life to resume, my life with my husband in Crimea.  It is time for this extended break to end.


I left Ukraine the last week in April and assumed I would be back to my Peace Corps job in just a matter of weeks, but here I am three months later still stateside.    


There are big things on my agenda really, but like the teenager I feel like, I am procrastinating.  I must get a close of service physical so Peace Corps will know I do not harbor any medical or dental complications.  This involves contacting a local physician and arranging for an examination and some lab work.  Oh boy – stool samples X 3 and pap smears, etc! 


Worse than the actual physical, for me anyway, is the ordeal of making the appointment.  I despise using the telephone to coordinate anything.  This challenge is compounded because I do not know the physician since I m merely a house guest and unfamiliar with any medical professionals here in MSP area.  Another challenge of this real life survival game is that the insurance documents that guarantee payment for this exam actually expire in about a week…yep, I failed to realize the exam had to be accomplished within 60 days of my close of service.  I thought I had 6 months.  So here I am in a time crunch.


My host will provide me a couple names and numbers and I will make the calls tomorrow.           


  • Tuesday, 19 July 2005

My mind is jumping ahead, working on the to-do list that is taking shape there, instead of staying here in the present.   The impending change of location (August in Minnesota) will involve many decisions before I can board the plane Saturday.  I will have to rely on intuition as I make decisions since choices are based on limited facts -  I do not know exactly when I will undertake the trip to Ukraine/Crimea (early September) and whether or not I will be returning to the Southeast before I make that trip.  I still toy with stopping in Malawi enroute to eastern Europe.  I must coordinate a wardrobe suitable for my new life (for the next 2 years anyway) in the beach town of Kerch.  But, I am here in Georgia and just home from a nice weekend adventure so I will reflect on that for a few moments.


Old family friend/current house-sitter Jim has wanted to make a surprise visit to a mutual Air Force buddy who makes his home near Birmingham, AL.  Back in our early Spain years, my home used to be a hub for many of the radio and TV crew stationed at Torrejon AB.  Mark would routinely bring home co-workers following his evening shift so I would find myself making food for crowds of hungry airman at odd hours.  Now, decades later we live a couple hundred miles from one of those guys. 


Saturday morning we got into Jim’s truck and began the adventure.  Jim actually spent several years in AL so he had stories to share as the miles slipped by under the truck tires.  We had quite a discussion on how we would approach the surprise meeting.  Some of the ideas were pretty elaborate and some involved elements of potential danger.  Buddy is a well known radio journalist who has inspired some strong opinions among his diverse audience members, consequently, we decided we may not want to belabor the situation because he may be apprehensive about “strangers” and many people around these parts actually feel pretty comfortable coming to the door with a weapon in hand.  Finally we just walked up on the porch and Jim knocked on the door.  I took photos. 


After a warm hug and lots of laughter, we were invited into the house.  It is a delightful home, crammed with wonderful primitives, memorabilia, lush plants, several cats and a couple large dogs.  The house itself is a piece of American history.  It is one of those owner built homes from our pioneer years.  The original cabin comprises the livingroom now.  It is like stepping back in time and I was inclined to linger there and investigate.  We moved to the comfortable dining room and sipped hot coffee around the ample table, swapping stories, petting the dogs and just relaxing.  Eventually we had dinner and talked some more and finally called it a night, an let them get a little sleep (they routinely rise at 3AM to make the trek to the local flea market every Sunday).


Sunday my sister-in-law and her husband drove down from Huntsville to meet us at the flea market.  We wandered slowly through the rows of treasures and junk.  The market was crowded with vendors selling puppies and who can walk past them without stopping to scratch a belly or stroke an ear?


Jim is so ready to get himself a bird so we spent lots of time watching him watch the conures and parrots and macaws.  It is only a matter of time.  


After a day in the hot Alabama sun and the humidity, we said goodbye to Lynn and Freddy and then found some air conditioning for a few hours.  Later we met Buddy and LuAnne again and dined at a steak house while we talked some more.


Instead of trekking back to Georgia we stayed overnight and got an early start on Monday.  (Jim’s truck doesn’t have air conditioning so it is best to avoid the heat of the day.)  Jim took me grocery shopping before he headed north to resume his house-sitting duties again. 


It was a successful adventure. 


Monday evening my host (Pat) fried up some wonderful trout and served up slices of homegrown tomatoes and mozzarella drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with basil. 


One of the hens was loose in the yard so after dinner we went out to see if we could find where she was roosting and capture her. 



  • Thursday, 14 July 2005

Years ago, when I was an avionics technician hard at work troubleshooting the complex electronics systems that permit fighter aircraft to function effectively, I would sometimes think “What would Mr. Bohan say about me now?”


Mr. Bohan was the handsome science teacher that influenced many aspects of my life, in ways he would never imagine.  I am sure he also motivated many other students from that small town in Iowa to challenge themselves and lead a fuller, richer life.  He was an enthusiastic, hands-on kind of teacher, always in the center of a crowd of interested young learners.  He injected even the most boring topics with his own brand of humor.  He taught us how to think logically and to ask questions, and we had fun doing it.   


Before I get to the point of this rambling discourse, I want to explain that I was not a gifted science student and I definitely was challenged by math.  In later years I determined that my problems really did not stem from lack of ability, but really seem to be ore about my own particular learning style.  I wish I had understood this all those years ago.


As the less than stellar science and math student that I was back then, it came as no surprise when Mr. Bohan recommended that I think twice about enrolling in a summer course in electronics.  It was admittedly a course usually taken by boys, so perhaps Mr. Bohan questioned my motives.  In those less enlightened times, girls did not take these kinds of courses.  I must admit, my feelings were hurt when I heard his suggestion that I take a different course, perhaps one that did not require math and science skills. 


Despite his recommendation, my mother encouraged me to enroll and I took that course.  Years later when I took the entrance exam for the US Air Force I scored near the top of the spectrum in several areas, including electronics.  I went through intense training and scored most of the core curriculum credits necessary for an associates degree in electronic engineering.  I went on to spend several rewarding years as a dedicated technician and felt considerable pride knowing the US Air Force trusted me to maintain these multi-million dollar aircraft.


I thought of Mr. Bohan often…”If he could see me now!”


Teachers influence us in ways they cannot even imagine.  In this case, a teacher usually noted for being a positive influence managed to enrich my life by putting me in the position to prove myself.  I always wish I could have talked with him about the outcome of his simple recommendation. 


Miss Johnson, the home economics teacher, was a fixture at Le Mars Community High School long before I began my student years there.  (In fact, she died during my tenure following a terrible accident involving an exploding pressure cooker.)  She was a dedicated teacher with a strong personality.  I can almost see her perched on her tall instructor stool, leaning forward a bit supporting her matronly form on her short plump arms that rested on her indelicately spread knees.  She would stop her lecture, look at us over the tops of her eyeglasses and raise her voice to announce,  “You girls better listen up!  I do not chew my cabbage twice!”


Despite her strong personality and her matronly ways, she was an effective teacher right up to the end of her life.  I thought about her recently when I was undergoing a breast exam.  (I had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer while serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine and by the time I completed the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery I had to undergo approximately fifteen breast examinations and several mammograms too.)  On this particular occasion I had a momentary flashback to my very first breast exam.  It was performed under such unlikely circumstances. 


“The first time I heard about breast self-examinations was in home economics class in high school back in 1969 or 1970,” I remarked as my physician went about the business of feeling my breast.


My teacher, Miss Johnson, asked for a volunteer to help her demonstrate a technique we needed to learn.  I was fully clothed for this demonstration, but I remember stretching out on my back on a table at the front of the classroom with my left hand tucked behind my head.  I was so self conscious, as only a high school girl can be.


Miss Johnson spoke to the class and discussed how and when to do this exam.  She never touched my body, but simply talked me through the steps.

Years later I found the lump in my breast through self examination.  I caught the cancer early.  The surgery is behind me and the cancer risk is about 2%.   


Thank you Miss Johnson, wherever you are.


I think f my fifth grade social studies and reading teacher very often.  In many ways, I have become her.  I can conjure up her face so easily.  She had steely grey hair which she wore in a simple ponytail at the nape of her neck.  She wore amazing, large hoop earrings, in an era when “respectable” women did not wear pierced earrings and certainly not hoops.  She exuded the aura of a traveler, one who had real adventures and one who lived a full life.  


Mrs. Stensrud, I would love to speak to you now and know more about you.  How did you come to teaching?  What was your life like before you came to that tiny elementary school?  Do you know how much you effected people’s lives?


I was in her class only a few hours each day, but I was most alive then.  I loved reading and I loved her tales about exotic places.  There are no concrete memories, rather this experience was more like osmosis.  Somehow, by proximity, I absorbed her sense of adventure and cultivated it for myself.  She helped me prepare the soil that would make my harvest richer. 


I wish I had a story to share about this woman, but she is more of a presence, a spirit….I have to settle for that, but I know I am changed from having her in my life.


  • Wednesday, 13 July 2005

Six Weeks Since Surgery…

It has been six weeks since I was wheeled into the operating room at GWU Hospital in DC.  The cancer cells that were hidden close to my heart were deftly removed by my surgeons and since that day my job has been to heal. 


This farm has been a good place to heal.


I thought about this as I wandered into the barn this morning.  Wrapped up in thought, I barely heard the mewing sound of tiny kittens.  It took only a moment to locate the new mother and her three little kittens.  Proud Mama was stretched out and the three tiny kits were treating her like a smorgasbord.  When Mama saw me, she stopped grooming the babies and kept her steely-blue eyes on me.  I realized I was making her uncomfortable so I backed out of her view and left the little family alone.


I stepped into the feed room and scooped out some cat chow and before I could finish putting it in the barn cat dish, Mama was there eating and eating and eating.  Of course giving birth and feeding a family is hungry work and this young mother cat, barely more than a kitten herself, is very slim.  She kept looking over her shoulder as she ate, obviously concerned about the status of her babies.


I left the barn to the cats and horses and walked over to the kitchen garden where the tomato plants look like Christmas trees decorated in large red bulbs.  I twisted off the ripe fruit and breathed in that wonderful fresh-tomato smell.  Tonight there will be fresh tomatoes with mozzarella and olive oil and a few herbs.  I will open the white wine friend Kathy brought home from her adventures in Paris as a gift for me.


The horses race around in the cool morning hours and nay and whiny to one another.  They throw their heads back and then break into a gallop, kicking up dust and attracting my attention.  They seem happy to be alive.


Before I head indoors to get a cup of coffee and begin my day, I pause and spend some time with Miss Zoë Mae.  She leans against my leg and nuzzles me while I scratch behind her ears.  I watch a small frog hop, hop, hop across the carport floor and I hear the rooster crowing nearby.  A slight breeze makes the wind chimes sing and lifts the hair on the back of my neck, cooling me down a bit.


In the early morning hours, a summer day on a Georgia horse farm is a beautiful tapestry of sounds, smells and experiences.  I am grateful to be here.  I will carry the healing memories with me and look back on these days often as my life leads me through other experiences and takes me to other places. 



  • Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Tee Hee Hee Tea, a Comfy Cow and Remembering Paris

It isn’t my birthday, but it is a day of surprise gifts!


I was at my computer taping away and whiling away the morning as I waited for my friend Kathy to arrive.  She was wending her way down the back roads from near the NC border to spend the day with me here in Georgia.  I imagine she makes quite a picture blazing along with the top down in her red Mustang convertible with her blond curls flying and her blue eyes smiling. 


(I really appreciate the fact that Kathy almost always has the top down on her convertible.  She knows how to live!  Too many people just never find the joy in their lives – they keep the top up and turn on the AC instead of feeling the wind blowing their hair.)


I hear the door open and am surprised to see Marty standing there.  Normally she would be hard at work at the Army post, but today she took a sick day – she is sick over the deceitful behavior of a colleague.  She has to make several unpleasant phone calls (including the sheriff) and she will have to post signs on her property and install several locks.   Before she begins her list of unpleasant chores, she spends a few moments chatting with me and hands me a big envelope addressed to me


I tear open the big yellow envelope and pull out a lean, lanky stuffed cow.  On the heifer’s chest is a sticker that says “press here”.  I press and I here a long, low “moooooooooooooo”.  I laugh and then begin to look at the enclosed papers.  Among other things, my thoughtful (and very playful) oldest sister has included newsletters from our high school alumni association. 

I poured some coffee and proceeded to read through these very well written newsletters.  My high school years are long gone, but in a small community, the family names are familiar and I find many bits and pieces of information of interest to me.  I consider submitting an article about my brother and his life in Malawi, Africa.  I also think about writing an article about my husband and his experiences as a PCV in Crimea/Ukraine.


Kathy arrives while I am still engrossed in reading vignettes about people I knew a lifetime ago (one friend now is a free-lance trumpet player in Jerusalem!).  She bursts in with presents for me!  There is a bottle of French wine she lugged home from her adventures in Paris.  She also brought some wonderful chocolate and some cookies and the requisite t-shirt too! 


We settled down to talk. I spill my stories about being medievaced out of Ukraine after flashing my breasts to half the medical staff in the country.  We laugh and speak candidly about all the issues.  I talk about the surgeries and the final decision to have the mastectomy. 


We shift gears and I hear about Paris.  I laughed and smiled and listened as she talked about asking the stuffy French waiter at the Eiffel Tower to bring her some ice for her glass of red wine!  Kathy knows what she wants and doesn’t care what people think!  The waiter brought the ice.


Later Marty joins us for a late lunch at a local Mexican restaurant where I share my tales about life in Ukraine and what the Peace Corps is like and what my future plans are.   We hear more details from Marty about the things stolen and all the details of running a horse farm.


The afternoon was delightful.  Later on, back at the farm, another package arrives and it is for me.  My hostess has ordered a foolish gift for me.  I tear open the box, like a little girl at a birthday party and pull out a can of “Bag Ladies Tea”  The Label shows a women reading a book titled “Yes Virginia There is a Breast Fairy” as she waits outside the door  that says “Mammography Exams”.  There is a Breast Fairy fluttering around.  The tea is called “In the Pink” and has a breast cancer survivor symbol on the front.  Each tea bag sports a witty tag saying such things as “Breast Assured we will be cured” or “Your boobs will cheer up,” etc.  W laughed pretty hard at this foolishness. 


I brewed myself a bit of tea and it was the fitting end to a lovely day.


  • Monday, 11 July 2005

Where’s Marty? 

At 10PM, I was feeling worried.  No word from Marty yet. The phone does not seem to be working right so if she tried to call, there is no assurance she could get through.  She does not have my cell phone number (oops – this is an emergency number).  At close to 11PM Pat jumps in his car and drives to the other farm hoping she will not be in a ditch somewhere or stretched out on the floor of the barn, etc.  I waited at Stone Axe Farm, pacing and trying not to worry.


Usually Marty feds here animals and does the chores right after she finishes her day job at the Army post, but she often stays late taking care of unexpected problems.  There are often unexpected problems.  That is the nature of horse-ownership and when you have 50-plus animals, there are many opportunities for unexpected problems.


Pat came back fairly soon and explained that Marty would spend the night there.  She tried to call, the phone did not work.  Why stay at the other farm?  Someone came on her remises and took several hundred dollars worth of horse gear.  Marty decided to stay the night and worked on securing things and developing a plan to deal with the theft.


  • Sunday, 10 July 2005

Fiddler on the Roof…

A classic film written by a Ukrainian (their version of Mark Twain, o so the websites say).  We whiled away this Sunday afternoon watching the DVD and singing along – should have sipped some vodka too, since that is the traditional Ukrainian drink. 


  • Friday, 8 July 2005

MacKenzie is Born…

Congratulations to Dustin & Tiffany…their parenthood adventure really begins now!


  • Thursday, 7 July 2005

Here I am on a horse farm in rural Georgia.  There is timelessness about this place.  One day seems to bleed into the next.  My hosts leave each morning long before this Princess rises and they return home at twilight weary and ready to stretch out, relax and get ready for yet another day of caring for their animals and tending to their day jobs. 


I seldom leave the confines of the farm.  I really have no urge to leave.  These days I feel like a butterfly in a protective cocoon.  I am protected from the miasma – the fears and drama that seem to be the business of the world. 


Five weeks ago I was awaking from surgery.  The mastectomy and reconstructive surgery was over.  My heart and lungs resumed their jobs.  The long work of recovery began and continues each day.  The havoc wrecked on my body is still evident and I do not go long without recalling the situation that tries to define me. 


It amazes me how events try to define a person.


In my heart, I know I am not a mere mortal or a cancer survivor or a grieving mother or even a former Peace Corps Volunteer or an Air Force veteran, wife, mother, grandmother… I refuse to accept these limiting concepts of who I am and what my life is about. 


Instead, I find myself grateful for being a spiritual being, transcendent and aware of all the beauty and possibility around me.  I can never go back to such limiting definitions of who I am ad how I shall live. 


The truth is, the only way to live is with gratitude and joy knowing I am the expression of all right ideas…perfect and complete.  The truth I learned as a child in Christian Science Sunday School still resonates and rings clear, despite what fading, finite senses might accept. 


So, it is with joy I live each hour.  In those moments when I find my thoughts obscured by fear or disquieting thoughts, I am able to resolve the seeming conflict and move on to find the blessing.  I have much to be grateful for and I am grateful, alive, well and fit for the abundance that is my legacy.


This opportunity, this forced vacation from what I think of as my life, is a time to hone my weapons and examine my vision.  In day to day battle, we often seem to lose sight of the truth.  Our vision seems clouded when life is filled with all the diversions humans create.  The noise and confusion distract us.  A break in the action is good.  A break in the action is necessary.


There are many ways to learn and test these lessons.  With each test, I move forward knowing more about the truth.  Life is good.


  • Wednesday, 6 July 2005


      Well today has been crazy - I wandered into the kitchen this morning, thinking about coffee and feeding Miss Z.  I glanced out the window and saw that Revere, the big grey stallion, managed to knock down some weak planks in the fence.  I sped out the door (in my white jammies and no shoes – I momentarily forgot about how deadly fire ants are!) to search for him. 

Thank goodness I found him quickly - he was leaning over another fence happily grooming Thor, a huge grey Percheron in another pasture.  I managed to lure Revere away with a bucket of oats...pretty scary because when he smelled those oats he was eager to get at them and here I am trying to avoid his mouth and get him to go into the barn...a learning curve...anyway, I got him safely into the barn and locked him in a stall - this sounds a bit easier than it actually was, but the horse is safe for now.  I came back inside, discovered my fir ant damage (they burn, itch and are just a real pain) and called Marty with the news.  Finally I sipped some coffee and got dressed.  

I spent some of the morning answering e-mail.  With houseguests all weekend I have not had time at my computer so I have many things to catch up on and notes to get roughed out too.  While I was typing I got a note from Mark...he was sitting at a keyboard at the Internet Cafe in Kerch and it was almost closing time.  I quickly hammered out a reply, hoping he would get it before they evicted him from the cafe at closing time.  I hastily fired off the short note to him and the phone lines burped or something.  The note did not go through.  In fact it got lost somewhere in cyberspace.  Sooooo, I quickly pounded out a second note and once again my system got bumped off the phone line and the note just disappeared...sigh....  By the time I was able to send a reply, Mark was evicted from him computer and out on the street wandering home to his 8X8 cell at the host family's home. 

It has been very hot here.  I moved my computer and desk stuff in off the porch I have been using as my "command post".  I enjoyed the view from there, but the heat and humidity won out - my computer would just quit when the heat was high.  Between humidity and phone lines, and incompatible stuff, using technology is a challenge here, but I am sooooo very grateful for this way to communicate with family and friends.  Most days I find some delightful e-mail surprises in my inbox...   

Well, our Bubba cat is on some medications.  It takes two people to administer them so that was another challenge I mastered this morning.  I managed to single-handedly give Bubba his meds - not easy and messier when there's only one human involved.  He struggled a bit but swallowed it down before he took off like a shot to hide under the upstairs bed.  I could not have managed this feat last week - I am getting stronger and having less pain and swelling each day!  Bubba is better too – a big appetite and no fleas.

Once the cat meds were administered, I wanted to wash the nasty goop off my hands (it looks like chocolate and smells dreadful).  I turned on the tap and discovered there is NOOOOOOO water in the pipes!  I went outside to investigate the pump and I can hear it running non-stop.  This is not a good thing.  


There was a problem last week when the horses damaged the pipes and caused a similar problem - not fun and I do not look forward to the master of this house arriving home to this dilemma!  This is not a good time to be a house guest!  (This is Pat's first summer at this farm so fire ants, fencing problems, air conditioning and water problems are coming as surprises...)  All these hot sweaty horses and humans need lots of water this time of year.    

I am half way through Amy Tan's latest book which is a collection of her musings rather than a novel.  She talks about her involvement with a rock and roll band (The Rock Bottom Remainders) which is comprised of several other writers including Steven King, Dave Berry, Barbara Kingsolver, that Blount guy on NPR, and many others... I love to read during these dog days of summer…reading is a delightful preoccupation - I wish I had a hammock here!  8-)