Monday, June 29, 2015

The Volunteer Snob

During the summer months I am involved in master gardener projects. One project could involve several hours 4 days a week, but I have decided that as much as I love sharing my love of growing things, I do not want to spend that much time in other gardens! I like doing nothing and running a house (which was always my secondary job) continues to take some time. Hubby, on the other hand, seems to be driven to find something to do every single day. I think it is much harder for men to retire and not have the responsibilities that they used to have.

I also was looking for a change in types of volunteering. I wanted to maybe work more one on one with people. I also wanted something more intellectual and less physical. I am still searching.

This past January I called our local office of Public Literacy to see if they needed teachers of English or reading or similar. They asked me to fill out a few forms, welcomed my skills, and set up an afternoon of training. I went and one other woman was there for the training at the same time. I learned that five of us had volunteered and they could only get two of us to come on this particular day and would train the other three the following week.

The training was easy and predictable. The structure of the process for each class and data input from the lessons with a student would be more challenging, but something I would learn to do with time.

I left them eager for a call to assist. It is now 6 months later and I have not received even a follow-up call from that office. It is not clear to me why no one needs assistance in my part of the county since I have been told they don't have any literacy volunteers down this way.

I realize that before the days of fall and less gardening start I am going to have to research once again for some volunteer work of an intellectual nature. Both Hospice and Meals on Wheels need help, but neither of these are something I want to do. Driving is something I hate and I do not think I am ready yet for hospice work emotionally. The museum wants someone for data entry...lonely and tedious work.

I think I just realized that I am a bit of a volunteer snob.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Just One More Step

10:00 PM on Tuesday evening the 23rd and I am off to bed!
11:00 PM and for a half hour after thunder and lightning that raises the bed!
2:00 AM my 4-year-old grandson awakens with a nightmare, so I crawl in bed with him.
3:00 AM he is leaning on me looking at my face.
4:00 AM I have a knee in my back.
5:00 AM hubby is up and packing for his Scout trip and while he is being quiet I am a very light sleeper.  I walk back down to my bed and throw the covers over my head.
7:00 AM the 4-year-old who usually sleeps until 8:00 awakens me with his call.
7:30 AM breakfast
8:00 AM dressed and check email
8:30 AM head out to bike with grandson--he covers a little less than 2 miles!
8:50 AM we bat some tennis balls back and forth
9:00 AM we head off to the art museum to walk and search for fairy houses on their grounds.
11:00 AM we tour the museum itself
11:30 AM we play in the children's playground
12:00 AM we eat at FAST FOOD for lunch
1:00 PM we get home
1:30 PM I set up the paint and brushes and his very own fairy castle and supervise
2:30 PM we let it dry and he plays with his new car while I sort, wash, and freeze several pints of newly picked raspberries
3:00 PM he gets a snack of raspberries
3:30 PM he watches a movie and I blog.
I have a small backache, am pretty tired, and he really seems to want a nap, but is on the edge where he will probably remain awake until this evening.
Is it only 3:30???

Monday, June 22, 2015


 Living in "good-old-boy" country means that things get done on a time warp.  It is not like the living in the city or suburbs where you call for repairs, they give a window of time, they show up, they get the job done and they charge you a small fortune.  Here in the country the square dance goes a little differently.  First, their motivation is not to become millionaires so they charge a 'little' less.  They give you a day and vague time and usually show up hours later or even the next day.  They never call.  They usually (not always) do excellent work, but it takes them three times longer than you would reasonably expect.  If you also have a scheduled life then it can take five times longer to get done!  I have been living with the mess below for a month!

The tape on the ceilings was buckling and had to be re-mudded, sanded and re-painted.  There was also other similar work in two bedrooms ceilings although in smaller, less difficult areas.  Furniture gets moved, drop clothes get placed and I sigh as they move equipment from room to room.

The older I am, the more I like things in their place where I can find them.  I tend to get up in the middle of the night once a week or so and do some wandering and do not want to be surprised by chaos that I might have forgotten.

This house is not as large as these pictures may convey.  It is the high ceilings that give it a feeling of spaciousness and also require paying professionals when work needs to be done or light bulbs changed!

Our good-old-boy was an interesting charmer.  He had 7 kids - all home schooled - he has a HUGE range of talents as he was able to fix a bunch of stuff.  He loves nature as we do, raises bees, among many other animals and while a bit laissez faire about projects he gets it done quite nicely 99% of the time.  He also was very mellow about my asking him to re-do a few small things or add a few new small things to be done.  So while I am not a priority in his life, I can live with it.

I am learning to bend and not break as I live in another culture!

Friday, June 19, 2015


The five-year-old is coming to visit all week, next week.  My husband will  be here the first two days of that week, and then he is off to a camping trip with the 10-year-old.  Yes, we are used if not abused in this world.  I am somewhat jealous of the free babysitting my children have access to.  I never had parents who could or would step forward so that I  had a day off  here or there.  When my first was small I  lived on an island in the South Pacific and had a young girl to help.  But if we were traveling, the baby always came along.  When we got stateside, both sets of parents lived far away.  When we visited them, Hubby's mother was busy taking care of hubby's father and could not take care of a grandchild, until that child was of school age.  My mother was resentful of any babysitting I might request.  She had raised five of her own and had no desire to go back to that time.  I did  "dump" the children (7 and 11)  on her for three weeks one summer as we had a business trip to Egypt.  Let us just say it was a character building experience for both of my children. and a miserable time for my mother.

So now this grandma camp has to kick into gear soon and I am happy!  I over-think this stuff and am trying to be better and more relaxed about it.  Wanting  to make sure there is laughter and amazement, and of course, memories to last a life time, but accepting the days will not be perfection.  I also try to throw in a lesson or two about mother nature, since their lives are limited in that area.

I secretly want my immortality to be encased in conversations that begin "When I used to visit Grandma, I was so much fun."  Now that death (hopefully decades away) is clearly my final big act, I want to be remembered for the good stuff in the hearts and minds of these little ones. We all do want remembrance, don't we?  Whether it is by our accomplishments in our community, our accomplishments in our career, or our activities with those we love we must leave a mark, however small, to justify our existence.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Just Once More!

I cannot in all good conscience leave France without some broader more traditional less contextual examples of what wonderful things can be seen in this country.  Only seven photos were selected from 2,250 that I took.  I deleted away another 600 or so before I even started!  As a photographer I really want to share some of the diversity of this place and I hope you have patience with my interest.  I also hope you enjoyed visiting France vicariously or returning vicariously, whatever the case may be.  I have no immediate plan to return, but who knows... (As always, click on the photos for a closer view.)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

All About the People -- Part III

(First, Hattie asked a while back if all the photos from my French trip were mine and they are!   I am a little flattered.  As a copyright freak, I always clearly provide a link to photos that are taken from elsewhere or by someone else.)  ( As another prescript you will note that the demographics of these cruises is elderly, upper-middle class, white (except for two Asian women) and therefore, not as interesting as it could have been in other ways.)

I did not get many pictures of the passengers on the ship because I am not one to store these away and try to remember who was who (or is that who was whom)?  There were close to 190 passengers on each of the two ships that I took.  I must have met about 40 on each due to guided tours we took together or eating at the same table.  (Photos included below are street shots of the French and tourists and no one I met.  You can tell the French, as they are in great shape!)

We never talked politics or religion at meals, but with our country as politically divided as it is and with some groups making subjects more politically argumentative than they need to be, we found ourselves tiptoeing around subjects such as the environment, the weather, education, French protests, French labor, French socialism, French economy and even the global economy and  ship labor.  Yet we seemed to find that most of the passengers regardless of the state from which they hailed or the career they chose were in philosophical agreement with us, and thus we were able to be more honest in sharing and learning about others ideas for solutions to problems. 

It was easy to be in agreement with the University of Wisconsin young (50s) professor who was devastated by his governor's cuts to education and then seeing the gov applying the same amount of money as in the cut to a new (unneeded) sports venue and as we later learned selling the public land valued at 9 million to the billionaire sports owners for one dollar.  At the next dinner it was even more interesting to find that the retired geologist, who had worked for decades for most of the big oil companies in the U.S., was very much in agreement with our ideas toward the environment and also our hope to move toward more sustainable energy.  He also had a hobby working archeological digs in the U.S. and encouraged us to contact the Forestry Service to volunteer on one of their expeditions!

No one seems happy in this photo, neither the tourists in the background nor the Frenchman in the foreground.  I can see where this could lend itself to a story.

We were energized by the 80-something British couple who had many grandchildren.  We loved that the male part of this duo was able to walk on all the tours after a double knee replacement surgery a few years ago.  There were at least two other gentlemen with canes that did not let some of the more challenging walking tours up the hills on cobbled streets slow them down.

We enjoyed the couple from California.  The wife was originally from Georgia and we both loved the gentility of the south and the southern authors that we read and mutually enjoyed.  She was the gracious lady that made sure one of the passengers got a birthday card signed by many of us and was also a help with her command of the French language.

It is the same everywhere.  Wouldn't it be funny if they were talking to each other?

We enjoyed the Arizona couple who were not deep conservatives as we expected and fully on board with funding more science research and supporting socialized medicine.  Their son has been working on both an Ebola vaccine and a bird flu vaccine and now so close to success trying to get funding for both projects.  It was fun listening to how much work raising the boy was as a rebellious teenager and then evolving into such a success.  The other son, more conservative and less difficult to raise, was a success on Wall Street.  Proud parents they were.

Must be a new mother model.

We did find one gentleman our age that seemed to be on the verge of a heart attack in the middle of each walking tour.  His face was flushed and he sometimes seemed disoriented.  On the way back from a castle walk up a reasonable hill he actually collapsed just as he was going to go onto the gangplank of our ship.  They put him in a wheelchair and rolled him on in. Later on the second cruise he got lost and was left behind on one of the tours, missed the departure of our ship, and stayed two nights in a hotel in the French town before he contacted the Viking company and finally was reunited for the last two days.  We (the whole group) worried about him until we noticed he did a lot of drinking as well as taking pain pills on this trip.  He was wealthy, traveling alone, and we just shook our heads and felt sorry for the crew who were responsible.

One of our last dinners was with an 80 something woman traveling with her unmarried 40 something daughter.  The daughter was beautiful and wore expensive clothes and jewelry to dinner each evening, good taste stuff, not the turn your head stuff.  She was in real estate in Seattle and seemed to be very successful.  She was strong and opinionated and plotting about her future and search for a marriage partner.  She was trying to date online, but the questions she posed to possible candidates were pretty incisive and like a scalpel cut to the heart of things.  I am sure she was way over the head of most candidates that approached her.  She also seemed concerned about some woman in Seattle who had been on welfare her whole life who wanted her wedding paid for by the government.  I had no real comment for this, as I felt very strongly no one was going to pay for this welfare wedding!

I will let you add your own caption here.

Her mother was also very strong and outspoken and with some quiet "under her breath" comments, made it clear that she did not like the service in the dining room.  (In all honesty they did get my order mixed up twice!)  I later learned from another Seattle resident that this elderly woman lived in an area of multimillion dollar apartments.  Clearly they both were used to much higher standards.  Yet, even though both were strong headed, they seemed ever so supportive and polite and loving to each other and disagreements were quickly brushed aside.

In one of the conversations, the mother ever-so-lightly mentioned she had won a number of medals in the Olympics for Alpine skiing many years ago.  She did not brag, did not elaborate, but it fit into some part of the conversation, some yacht racing story, so she dropped it like a little diamond.  When I got home I researched Olympic medal winners and I am pretty sure that one of the biographies I came upon was her!  The photo was a dead ringer, although taken decades ago.  I now understood her so much better as she has always set high standards for herself and for others.

This post is too lengthy so I have to leave out the details of the Nigerian brother, a business man, and the Nigerian sister, a nun, who were leaving our airport going back to Nigeria with the body of their father who had been honored with an Army military funeral in Washington, DC.  He had been a chaplain. There was the robust engineer with the terrific laugh and his quiet wife who used to teach school that told the story of how they met in the elevator of their apartment building.  There was also the funny lawyer who let his wife do all the arrangements on the cruise, the Jewish history teacher who was so soft and inspiring and such a fount of knowledge for us along with his Catholic wife who had been a high level administrator for some state education office, and I will even leave out the fun wine tastings/map readings with my sister and brother-in-law or my sister's too much wine conversation scolding the Brits (gently) for their support of the "expensive"' monarchy and the Brits explaining to her how the Queen pretty much gave more than she got.  Oh well, just shows I had a great "people" time.  But I do love people and their stories.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

It Is All About the Stories--People Part II

Before I travel I tend to collect a few books of fiction and non-fiction on the place I am going to visit.  I involve myself in the idiomatic expressions, the geography that molded the history of the country, the foods that are most traditional and I try to see what makes the people laugh.  I read one Gertrude Stein book on the people of Paris, but did not find it enlightening.  She refuses to use commas, which can be a distraction for someone, like me, that uses commas like salt.  I also read the novel "The Paris Architect" which I mentioned in a prior post.  It is a fictional account of two very different French sisters that found themselves fighting the Nazis from within their own limited world of that time.

Stop for a minute and think back to when you were 18 years old.  Imagine waking up to a war in your country.  Imagine your father leaving to fight that war and not seeing him for 9 years.  Imagine blackouts, bombings and ration cards.  This prologue leads me to writing about the people one meets on a cruise.

One of the best experiences on these cruises is the open table where you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with other passengers.  You can avoid people to some extent, but the true pleasure is meeting and talking to people who have lived very interesting, long lives and are strong survivors of those lives and are in a great mood because they are on a travel vacation!  (Even an introvert like me gets sucked into the small talk.)

This lady wearing the red scarf above was on the cruise.  She was always dressed to the nines.  Earrings, several bracelets, finely knit sweaters, etc.  She stood about five feet tall and was full of energy and enthusiasm.  She was 80-something and traveling alone. She was also very religious as I saw the time she almost missed the bus because she forgot her audio guide machine she crossed herself while rushing back to her cabin. One evening as we sat at one of the round tables she asked to join us for dinner.  Oddly I had not noticed her on this trip until this time.  Her accent was unusual and while she spoke clearly I had to lean in carefully to understand her.  Asking enough questions I slowly got her life story.

She had owned and helped run a cattle ranch in Ohio.  She even raised meat for the Cincinnati Zoo.  She talked about the price of beef on the hoof and the hard work ranching entailed.  When I asked where she was from originally she said France!  (I thought about it and realized that her accent was a version of French, but after decades in the U.S., not easily identifiable.)

She smiled and said that she had fallen in love with a U.S. soldier when just a teenager in France during WWII.  She and her mother and sister were trying to survive while her father had gone to fight the war and they feared he had become a POW.  She married the U.S. soldier while in France and lived in France with her mother and the soldier where he was stationed for several years.  Late one evening there was a knock at her door.  Although the Germans had fled and the war was almost over, she and her mother were afraid to open the door.  Then they recognized the voice.  It was her father!  They had not seen or heard from him for nine years.  She said she almost did not recognize him when she opened the door as he had lost so much weight and was so bruised and weak.  I cannot imagine the emotional reunion, repeated many times across Europe.

Later when her husband was called back she moved with him to the U.S. only to find he was not the man she thought.  He was cruel and demanding and she eventually divorced.  Perhaps the war had changed him more than they both knew until he was back home.  (I did not know at the time she told this story that she was Catholic, but I should have expected as she was French.)  She tells of meeting  another soldier whom she marries and they went on to Ohio to ranching and that is where she spent the rest of the decades of her life. (A lot of the best story of her life is unquestionably during these times.)  She was most certainly a survivor, one for whom the twists and turns of life were just a dance move to be mastered.   She is now a widow and said that, at the end of the cruise, she was going to visit her married sister who still lived in France. 

On these two cruises we met many people of interest and perhaps in the next post I will touch on a few more.