July 2008 – Random Thoughts:

Reducing our Carbon Footprint–

Since returning to the U.S. at the end of 2007, Rick has been engaged or leading some TechnoServe projects, though it hasn’t interfered with his doing a lot of skiing.  Rick’s operations projects require grounding and input from the teams in each country to ensure that he delivers systems that meet their needs.  My focus has been on house projects to repair or update some areas that were neglected while we were in Africa.  We’ve exchanged all light bulbs for compact fluorescents, added better but low-flow shower heads, been researching instant water heaters, considering how to improve the house’s ancient, poor water pressure, and finally, sharing one car.  With our travel schedules entailing at least 1 week per month away from home, we will probably just drive one car through the end of 2008, then I’ll buy a hybrid. It feels as though I’m back in college sharing a car. It’s weird but certainly indicates how much needing a 2nd car for us is not a necessity.

Actually doing some paid work for a change

I admit that I’ve been both a bit jealous of Rick’s working part-time and skeptical about how I can fit stimulating part-time paid work into what will be a hectic travel schedule for the rest of the year. While I was tagging along in Latin America, I sat in the discussions with TechnoServe staff, observed the clients, and reminisced about my life before 2008. I realized how much I need to have at least some serious focus and clear structure in my life.  Our trip to Latin America (see impressions below and www.walleigh.com) really reinforced my desire to start networking again.  Serendipitously, I have now become a contractor for TechnoServe HQ, writing marketing content for various media as needed and eventually, hopefully, fundraising on the West Coast.  Be careful what I ask for???

Boating, Eating and Spending a Few Days with Other Long-time Friends

Just a few days after my traveling for 6 weeks and after 2 years of spending U.S. Independence Day in Africa, we finally spent July 4th in America.  Ironically, however, we were with 2 couples who were born and raised in the U.K. though are now U.S. citizens.  On the other hand, we’ve known them for over 25 years since our kids were in diapers.  Brian and Chris’ vacation home at a Lake in the Sierra foothills was a beautiful setting for a totally relaxed few days.  Besides spending time each day on the boat, we read, ate, walked, ate, watched terrific fireworks, ate, listened to great music, and ate.  Life is good!

June 27 to 29 – Celebration with College Friends for a Wedding

What is a better life celebration with friends than a wedding?  When it’s a wedding with friends who have known each other for over 40 years and actually still love each other.  My college room-mate has been the 1st of our close group of 4 to host our next generation’s wedding–her son’s about 5 years ago and her daughter’s on June 28, 2008 (which also happened to be the same date as one of the other couple’s anniversaries).  It was a beautiful wedding with the ceremony outdoors (luckily the rain had started and stopped 3 hours prior) and the reception in a tent on the same site.  This was the 2nd blessed event in 2008 for Patti.  The first was the birth of her 1st grandchild, Ava, who arrived 2 months early but is doing well.

Each year for over 20 years, we have almost religiously re-united, usually near NYC. For some reason, though I live the farthest distance, I continue to be the catalyst, and often arranger, of our reunions.  But that’s still a good trade-off for the rewards of continuing to be so close that even our husbands* are comfortable together.

*Rick has actually known all of the women since college, which is longer than any of their husbands have!

June 21 to 30 – Productive Relaxation in Bethesda

Few daughter-in-laws are fortunate to have a good relationship with their mother-in-laws.  I know I’m in an elite, lucky group to have as ideal a relationship* with my mother-in-law as I do.  We can chat together almost endlessly, read quietly in the same room, enjoy the same movies (this time the racy Sex and the City), as well as just give each other space to be.  By the end of 2008, which is her 85th and my 60th years, I’ll have stayed more than 5 times in her home for at least a week.  My life is so much better with her in it.  I can only hope (with probably low odds) that my children’s eventual spouses will enjoy spending time with me this way…

*And my sister-in-laws and I have strong relationships, too!

June 14 to 21 – Boston Bar Mitzvah and Other Visits

Our first big event that catalyzed our stay in the northeast was that my 1st cousin Amy’s son Josh was Bar Mitzvah’d on June 14th outside of Boston.  Miraculously I found a deal at a small Marriott’s near Adrian on the edge of South Boston/Dorchester—4 nights on Rick’s last points and 4 at a bargain “winter rate” from AAA.  It even included free parking.  We could hop on and off the T or the freeway in a half mile.  Spending less than $300 per night close into Boston is virtually impossible, so yes, I was excited.

Anyway, when I arrived on June 13th, Adrian told me that we would have dinner at Pier 4 Restaurant (on me of course) with Jason (Diana’s boyfriend) and Lindsey (Adrian’s girlfriend) with the hope that Rick would join us when he flew in later.  Adrian was pleased because it’s not only a wonderful restaurant but because he knew that’s where Rick and I had our wedding reception.  Rick was delayed in Dallas but the other 4 of us had fun together.

Family is incredibly important to us, so Diana was sad to miss the Bar Mitzvah because of hospital orientation.  Josh was a terrific, confident Bar Mtizvah and the post-service Kiddush with family was a treat.  However, every time I attend a typical 3-plus hour Jewish service, I remember why Jews always have suffered.  On the other hand, we do know how to throw a party with fabulous food.  During the Kiddush and later in the tent behind Amy’s house for the evening celebration, we ate, drank and kibbitzed with great gusto.  A wonderful day was had by all.

Though Rick left on June 16th for NYC then DC on TechnoServe business, I stayed on through June 21st to spend more 1 on 1 time with Adrian, college friends and my favorite Aunt and Uncle.  This was heavenly also because it was the 1st time in a month that I could fully unpack my clothes and spend more than 2 nights in the same bed!

June 10 to 13 – Moving Diana into her Townhouse in Greenville, NC

Diana will now be driving the blue VW Beetle every day during her 3-year pediatric residency program at East Carolina University’s Pitt Memorial Hospital.  She is finally paid above poverty level—though her salary divided by 80 hours per week (American Medical Association’s recently established maximum for residents) is barely above minimum wage.

Despite the meager earnings, she could afford to buy her own townhouse for the cost of one room in most California homes and for about the same as a monthly NC apartment rental.  And it’s absolutely lovely: light, open and cheery! The previous owners had recently updated the house including the kitchen (which even has a wine fridge!).

Before Garner left, we filled a cart for Diana at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  After we dropped Garner at the Raleigh airport, Diana and I began our multiple missions: furniture shopping, changing the car title, finding good grocery/cleaners/hardware stores, buying a dolly/toolbox/patio table at Lowe’s, and most importantly unloading the bright yellow Penske truck still half-filled with Diana’s possessions.

Thank God that her friend’s parents who have a 2nd home on the NC coast, had given her a wooden ramp for her to transport in the moving truck and that they’d pick up at a later date.  Using the ramp and the dolly we unloaded dressers, huge boxes, and finally the washer and dryer donated by these same friends.  I have to say that even though Diana did 70+% of the work, I was very proud of our joint effort!  Besides, even just sweating with Diana is loads of fun!

May 31st to June 10th – Impressions from Garner and WW’s U.S. Road Trip

This was Garner’s 1st drive across the U.S. and my 4th (and last) so we stopped where she requested. She did a tremendous amount of research for each of our major tourist attractions, resulting in great hotels and food.  We laughed every day, talked a lot, enjoyed books on tapes, and were flexible about pretty much everything else.  So we had a fabulous experience!

Days 1 through 10 are detailed on the website so I’ll only add a few brief stories

–         Not much of interest driving from Los Altos through California’s Central Valley to Needles until we arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

–        There is nothing in the world I’ve seen so far that is comparable to the vastness of the Grand Canyon.  And there is nothing else like a helicopter ride over it to really validate that impression.  Mind-boggling and stunning…

–         Santa Fe, NM has even more art galleries than Carmel or Napa.  My favorite experience there was the Georgia O’Keefe museum with a brief film about how and why she chose Santa Fe as her key artistic inspiration.

–         I don’t know why anyone lives in Texas. Outside temps reached over 100o daily.  Yes, it’s dry heat but it’s still an oven.

–          Even though the Garden District is quite lovely, New Orleans’s French Quarter is like a walking fraternity party–lots of booze and loud music. Particularly also in light of the Katrina-condemned homes, I don’t need to visit New Orleans again.

–         Having no air conditioning for 3 days while driving through a solid wall of heated humidity was quite unpleasant but doable.

–         Savannah is genteelly picturesque with its stately homes, Spanish moss on trees, and what seemed like hundreds of green and flowering squares with houses surrounding them.

–         Charleston’s architecture generally is older than Savannah’s because it wasn’t burned down by the Yankees during the Civil War.  So there are many Charleston buildings and streets that look like they’d fit perfectly into any city constructed pre-American Revolution, especially Georgetown in D.C. I also enjoyed the bustling energy of a busy Atlantic Ocean port contrasted with lovely streets of “olde shoppes”, colonial structures, and ante-bellum mansions.

As we pulled up to Diana’s beautiful townhouse in Greenville on June 10th, we were happy to no longer spend hours in the car, question a bathroom’s cleanliness at gas stations, and eat boring food.  However, the road trip cemented a treasured friendship with amazing shared memories.

May 30th – 24 hours in California

I skipped Guatemala on our TechnoServe Latin America trip; returned on May 29th a couple of days before Rick; did laundry and errands; then left on May 31st  with a woman friend, Garner, on a road trip across the U.S. We would drive from Los Altos, CA to Greenville, NC in order to deliver my VW Bug to Diana by June 10th.  Other than 24 hours back in CA I would be traveling through from May 19th to June 30th for a total of 6 weeks, including family and friend visits and events in Boston, Bethesda and Philadelphia.

May 1, 2008 – Irony After 6 Months Back in the U.S.

Though Rick and I slipped surprisingly easily into our U.S. life almost immediately upon our return from Africa, I’m having weird conflicting feelings recently.  I suspect it reflects my lack of daily structure, not working on intellectual projects, and missing a real sense of purpose that I felt in Africa.  I have thoroughly enjoyed re-connecting with our wonderful U.S. friends and family.  But right now I miss our African friends as well as impacting “real world” struggles to survive.  I know that many in the U.S. face dire straits, but recently I feel the need to return to Africa to fully appreciate what over 50% of the world faces every day. Kenya’s political chaos seems to have been settled for now according to friends’ emails.  But with its tourism-dependent economy in shambles, Kenya is a reminder how fragile even one of the most stable African countries is.