Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Farewell Trip - Part IV

Every year at year-end, Martha and I list our personal awards, in categories such as best book, best movie, best trip, best weekend, best new place, best new person, best new discovery, and most important goal accomplished. We usually do this in the course of a long phone conversation. This was a chance to do it in person! It was still a long conversation.

We then spent some time at LACMA (L.A. County Museum of Art); we had gone there two years ago and I wanted to see more of the permanent collection. It seemed fitting to see the Asian art! I was able to incorporate some of what I had learned the day before into the conversation, too. We also had manicures/pedicures, something that we often do when I visit.

That night, we went to the Bazaar, the site of Martha’s Best Dinner of 2010. I can see why; it’s a front-runner for 2011 for me! Jose Andres, the owner, was profiled on 60 Minutes earlier this year. He’s a practitioner of molecular gastronomy, also known as deconstruction, where the tastes of familiar things are duplicated in unusual form. It’s not your average Spanish tapas place. We had egg-and-potato tortillas that came in a glass, sweet potato chips, a caprese salad with infused tomatoes and liquid mozzarella, a Philly cheese steak with air bread and more liquid cheese, jicama-wrap guacamole, tuna ceviche in avocado roll and more – but just listing what we had doesn’t do justice to the bursts of flavor and texture that we had in every bite. It was exquisite. And of course there were some different mini-desserts to top it off.

When I made the plane reservations, my tentative departure date was January 17, and I thought I would like to have the better part of a week to pack and prepare. The departure date was pushed back to January 23, but I didn’t do any packing or preparing before I left for the farewell trip, so even though it’s never easy to sleep in a red-eye, I’m glad I took it; I felt I needed the time. I hadn’t taken a coast-to-coast red-eye in years. It’s not any more fun than it used to be! And this flight was full, with many people who moved up to take it because of the big storm forecast for the east coast for the next day. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, but I was able to bask not only in the Bazaar dinner but also in the time spent with several friends in several cities!

I went from the airport right to the jitney and spent the day catching up and also stocking up; this time the predictions were right and through the night and next day over a foot of snow fell. I’ve had a lot to do in Southampton, with Everywhere Exercise and packing and emails and phone calls to and from friends, but I’ve also had errands to do and even though I was able to get rides into town anytime, I would have liked the independence of coming and going as I pleased. I took some walks along the beach and on the unplowed, unshoveled property – I love seeing the footprints in the snow of birds, bunnies, deer and other unidentified critters. I went to a restorative yoga workshop – the one at the library had been an hour; this one (same teacher) was two and a half – very restorative! And then I was looking at the paper and I noticed that Rodney Yee, the star of the yoga DVDs that I do just about every day, was speaking at a luncheon in Sag Harbor this week. He’s been in Sag Harbor this whole time and I didn’t know?

I convinced Debbie to come out from New Jersey for the day. We went to the luncheon (at the fancy American Hotel); he really was inspiring, talking about the philosophy and practice of yoga and about his own history. The luncheon was for the League of Women Voters, which seems like an interesting organization and a nice group of people. Something to think about! Debbie also took me around to do errands, and we had time to play cards and watch the sunset.

I took one last farewell trip, to New York on Thursday. I made some appointments, saw a friend, saw my family, and went to the Morgan. The library at the Morgan reopened in late October and I have passed it several times, wanting to go in but never having the time. It’s beautiful, with paintings and books and items from the collections. I cruised through it, but was glad I went at all. Some highlights that had nice ties for me – a letter from Jefferson (I’ve just relived my Monticello trip), one of Lincoln’s writings (I’m still thinking about Gettysburg and have been reading Disunion, the Times on-line series about the Civil War’s 150th), a life mask of Washington used in the statue in the Virginia State Capitol (which I saw this summer), and ancient jewelry and other decorative items of Eurasia (so… where I’ve been and where I’m going). When I left, I felt lighter and happier than I think I’ve felt in a while. It was a nice farewell day!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Farewell Trip - Part III

Amelia is a Morocco RPCV from the stage after us; she was in the south and we were in the north, so we didn’t meet in Morocco. I went through her town on my post-COS southern swing and texted her, but she was away then – but at least we knew of each other. We’d been emailing over the course of the past few months for various reasons (Peace Corps Response, an artisan business idea, and more), so we had something of a relationship. She’s mid-career too. Her father’s a Princetonian and he read my article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly (; that inspired her to write an article for her alumni magazine. And, coincidentally, Linda had just been down from Seattle and seen her. So when she invited Rose and me to stay with her where she was housesitting in Sausalito, we said yes. Mind you, while in Morocco I had never stayed with a PCV I hadn’t met beforehand; I did it only once in the Philippines. But somehow it seemed okay to do it here!

She met us at the train and we went to Saigon Sandwich. Would it be as good if we weren’t really, really hungry – or even the least bit hungry? It was indeed good, and we did have to go. What next? I voted for crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and getting to Sausalito in the daylight. We hung out for a while, and then had the brilliant thought to go to a Moroccan restaurant! The food was great, and we had a chance to use our Moroccan Arabic. Pastilla (sweet chicken and nuts in pastry dough), zaalook (eggplant salad – I just talked about that too!), couscous, chicken tagine. And again, somehow we had the sense to go to bed early!

The next morning we had breakfast at Fred’s, a Sausalito old-time breakfast place. Three breakfasts cost the same amount as our split dinner of the night before. We took a scenic route through some neighborhoods begging for exploration, including a drive by Nancy Pelosi’s house (which reminds me, I may have failed to mention that this past spring, we passed Rahm Emanuel’s Washington, D.C. house!). Then we went – passing our favorite sculpture ever – to San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. It has some great art, arranged according to the spread of Buddhism; that is, starting with India and branching north and east as you go through the rooms. We also saw a Japanese screen exhibit – part of which was in a room named for Amelia’s family! I had wanted to go there anyway, but that was a bonus, as is going to any museum with Rose.

And then it was time to go to the airport, where I waited out a flight delay. I was about to have a snack when Martha texted to come hungry – timing is everything! She and Susan picked me up and whisked me off to an Armenian-Lebanese restaurant. We had a bunch of appetizers so that we could try a bunch of things. Our Mexican waiter told us that all of the good things were Lebanese; Martha and Susan said that all of the restaurants they researched were Armenian-something rather than just Armenian – maybe to attract an audience outside the diaspora they need to add a more enticing cuisine! We had great hummus with fava, tabbouleh, aged cheese, a cheese-and-vegetable salad, cucumber and yogurt salad, and some other treats. Some of the dishes that were Armenian were a cheese pie, a meat pie, a spicy beef sausage and a red-pepper-and-nut dish. They were pretty good! We had enough leftovers to have some for breakfast the next day, too.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Farewell Trip - Part II

On to San Francisco! And as I got downstairs at the airport BART station, there were announcements that trains were delayed due to a recent earthquake in the area. I checked the internet while I waited and realized that recent meant minutes before! And the epicenter was near San Jose. The train arrived and while I was underground it stopped for a while; there was an announcement that there had been another earthquake. While I waited I read the signs about the evacuation procedures – not that I thought we would evacuate, but more because I was sitting right across from it. I didn’t feel anything. Even with the delays, I caught the next Caltrain down to Palo Alto. If you’re just reading this and you live in the Bay Area (and/or if you’re Amanda and Youssef) and I didn’t tell you I was coming, it’s not because I didn’t want to see you! I’ll just have to come back soon! Rose met me at the train and we went to downtown Palo Alto for a yummy Indian dinner. Back at her house, we made some brownies, and since I was still on Eastern/Central time, sensibly went to bed early (though before I drifted off to sleep, I did feel a second wind and almost suggested playing cards…).

On Saturday, Rose and I rode bikes to and across the Stanford campus to see the Hanna House, a Frank Lloyd Wright gem. Did I not know about it? Or when I was researching possible FLW houses to see, did I think I wouldn’t get to Palo Alto anytime soon? Rose had mentioned it offhandedly last time and I was determined to see it this time; it helped that it’s operated as part of the museum where she works, but the timing of tours helped me pick the day to visit. It’s a beautiful house, without a right angle in it. All hexagons – its nickname is the honeycomb house. It’s one of his more important works, leading to the geometry that then led him to the Guggenheim and other buildings. I’m so glad we went – and glad she hadn’t seen it yet! I realize that because of the way I’ve written these posts, I recently discussed the Pope-Leighey house – but that visit was almost two years ago! Well, I guess there are some themes in my life, and Frank Lloyd Wright is one of them.

We shared a sandwich at Ike’s Place, on the Stanford campus. It was an excellent sandwich. We’d been talking about Saigon Sandwich since August but we were too hungry to wait until we got all the way to San Francisco. We had to hustle to make the 2:31 train or wait another hour; on top of the bike riding, that was quite a workout! But after that we rode around in style, thanks to Amelia, who picked us up in a borrowed car.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Farewell Trip - Part I

Southwest announced a sale just before Thanksgiving; I thought it would be fun to have a quick visit to see a friend or two before departing for Armenia. I couldn’t decide among Chicago, the Bay Area and Los Angeles – so I did all three! And somehow I missed some major snowstorms and had all-but-one on-time flights.

I decided to rent a car in Chicago – I thought it might be cold and didn’t want to be walking a lot, and I thought I might be going back and forth a lot and wanted to make the most of my time. It was fun to drive while there! Last time I drove through I came from the west and traveled along the route of my old commute from Keebler; this time I came from Midway and traveled the route of my old commute from Paterno! I parked downtown and went to the new (I think) French Market at Ogilvie Station; my friend Ruth met me there and we had banh mi. Again, no Saigon Sandwich, but a pretty good one. We walked around the market for a bit and I drove her back to work. On to Edie’s; she was working from home that day, and we talked for what seemed like a few minutes but what I think was two hours! I went on to my storage space with ambitious goals – the picture frames, the mirrors and the books, the three things I would have done next had I had more time in my week there in 2009. I had a rough idea of where I had put those boxes, but it took a while to get to them. I then got started, and then it started getting dark – and I realized my storage space doesn’t have a light! It has windows with beautiful natural light. Now that I think of it, maybe it does have a light? Anyway, I couldn’t find one, and I’d had enough for that day anyway. I had thought about going to the Blackhawks game that night, but realized I wanted to spend more time with more friends! Saw a bunch of them for dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. Later, I gave Edie and Fred one of my rugs; they’ve now had boxes from Morocco in their basement for two years longer than I thought they’d have them. What a beautiful rug! I look forward to visiting it – and to seeing my other rugs someday!

The next day was sad – my friend Mike had been diagnosed with cancer a mere four weeks before, had been in the hospital for two weeks, and passed away, much too soon and much too young. Mike and Carol had been the first to RSVP for that night’s dinner; he had been fine when I sent out the invite. I had coffee with a friend to start the day and then headed for the storage space. Got through a box of picture frames (which I think was all of them) and a box of mirrors (which I don’t think was all of them) when Carol called with the news, and I decided not to start on any books. There are a lot more boxes of books than I remembered, anyway – it might be its own project. And there are a lot more boxes labeled “files” than I remembered – I had gotten rid of boxes and boxes of papers last time! Why are there are still so many? Definitely for another time. My friend Barb came to the neighborhood for lunch and coffee, I went back to Edie’s to do a little work on her computer, and then I met more friends at California Pizza Kitchen (yes, again!). This night it was all people who knew Carol and Mike, and I am glad I was in Chicago to share some grieving and some memories. I was able to see Carol for coffee the next morning; I’m really glad I could see her. It’s so sad. I met Mike’s sister, too, which was nice.

I had some time before returning the car and catching the next flight, so I stopped by the Lincoln Park Conservatory (I hadn’t been there on any of my trips in 2009) and the Lincoln Park Zoo. It was nice to walk around the heated greenhouse rooms and while the zoo was cold, it was pretty empty, so both gave me some place for contemplation, some beauty, some appreciation for life.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Retreat and Renewal

Now I’ll close the book on 2010 – and at some point will reopen it to chronicle my Vietnam trip and Amtrak Across America! I’ll be starting another blog in the meantime. In the Philippines I just couldn’t write about being there and also my travels in the off-season. Will I be able to in Armenia?

A big highlight of December, though it doesn’t fall into the adventure or travel category, was the introduction of Everywhere Exercise, the smartphone app that my sister created and directed. I’ve been doing the marketing and social media for it and I am really proud of her and of it! I’ll direct you to and move on to other doings. Another highlight was a concert given by my brother-in-law, who rented a club in New York for it. I met friends for banh mi beforehand – not nearly as good as the one in San Francisco – and other friends came too, plus his siblings, whom I hadn’t seen in many years. He was great! Good old rock and roll.

I saw other friends for lunch, dinner and coffee in New York, and saw the Rockefeller Center tree and skated in Central Park. Hosted Steve, Elisa and family in Southampton for a couple of days of games, walks and more – it was nice to host them in style after all the times they have hosted me! A highlight was the building of a snowman on the beach, and also the sunset over the water. I hadn’t been out to the beach since it got cold – but since their visit I’ve been bundling up and going out. It’s so peaceful out there.

I went up to Kripalu, in Lenox, MA, for a weekend of retreat and renewal. There were catalogs for it at the restorative yoga class I took in November; I almost didn’t take one but then decided why not. And then I decided it might be a nice place to go for Christmas weekend. The retreat and renewal package means that you can take any optional classes that you want to; they also have weekend and week-long programs. The food is delicious and there’s a spa, a meditation room and many other spaces. I think my favorite part of the weekend was the guided hike I did each morning – maybe I should have just done a hiking weekend in the Berkshires! Though the hikes did have mindfulness and meditation that I might not have gotten otherwise. I did participate in several yoga classes and one on hooping. The ironic thing is that I had decided to come based on the restorative yoga workshop, and there was no restorative yoga that weekend!

I went to a couple of meditation classes and gained some new tools, and learned about lovingkindness meditation (just did a search, and seems to describe it well), which I have embraced. I did some other classes and treated myself to things from the gift shop. If this sounds like a lot for two days it’s because I was snowed in and stayed two extra nights! The snow kept some people from arriving; the weekend was relatively quiet with only 300 people, but on Sunday it got much more crowded – fortunately, they were able to make room for me. The blizzard blizzed Sunday afternoon and all day Monday. There are only two buses per day; even though I could have stayed for lunch, yoga and workshops on Tuesday, I decided to take the first bus out. And I’m glad I did – I got one of the last few seats! People at later bus stops were told to wait for the next bus, six hours later – and there’s no saying they would have gotten a seat for that one! I didn’t leave Kripalu thinking that it was transformative, but in retrospect, it may turn out to have been! And while I am not set on doing it again, I am inclined to go there or elsewhere for more.

2010 ended and 2011 began with the Midnight Run in Central Park. I had heard about this for years and thought it would be fun to go one day, but I hadn’t planned to go. I was just in town to babysit! My sister was jet-lagged, though; they came home early and had walked through the park, where they saw people gathering for it. She told me to do it; at 43 degrees, this was the year for it (as it was the year for the Polar Bear Plunge, but that I didn’t do). So I speed-walked up to the New York Road Runners building and registered. My sister and I wear the same size sneakers, so she had shoes for me, and she lent me other clothes to wear. What fun it was! Fireworks at midnight and maybe 10,000 people (?) running four miles on the roads, with cheering bystanders at park entrances and a “champagne” sparkling apple cider water stop. I hadn’t run since the Flying Point 8K, so I took it slow and ran the whole way! Great way to start the year. Now that I would definitely do again!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Montpelier, Monticello and Norfolk

When I went on my Lewis and Clark trip in 2001, the history professor asked us who had been to Monticello, where the Lewis and Clark story really begins. Almost everyone raised his or her hand (this was a bunch of Princeton alumni, after all!). I realized I had to go also. When it was Professor Billington’s turn to speak, he told us that when we visit Monticello we should visit Montpelier as well, and that Madison should be every Princetonian’s favorite founding father – he was a Princetonian, after all!

So my first stop was Montpelier; I arrived just in time for the last tour of the day. It’s not furnished – they’re working on it – but it interesting nonetheless, and an interesting contrast to Monticello. It’s a traditional colonial plantation house onto which Madison added wings; for a long time in this century, duPonts owned it. Madison is the Father of the Constitution, and there were good exhibits about him, the Constitution, and Dolley. I saw the temple that Madison built for contemplation, the garden put in by the duPonts, and the site of Madison’s birthplace and his grave. I’m glad I didn’t try to go Montpelier and Monticello in the same day – I could have done it, but it would have been information overload. Monroe’s house is nearby too – for another time!

My B&B for that night was the Acorn Inn, owned and run by friends of Bob and Linda’s. The husband had gone on a bicycle trip through Morocco with his brother while we were there. In fact, Youssef, Steve, Elisa and I passed them while we were going south and they north! It had to be them…. We also saw him briefly in Rabat when we arrived at the end of our trip/pre-mid-service-meds. So I felt like I was visiting an old friend! The again, maybe he treats all his guests like old friends. I saw his Morocco pictures – and then his Iceland pictures – and maybe more pictures…. And I slept in an old barn!

And didn’t get an early start the next day, but what’s the rush? I got to Monticello – big business compared to Montpelier. As expected, it looks like the building on the back of the nickel! Jefferson designed it and even though he had a lot of debts and they had to sell some of the belongings, I think they have most of them back. We toured the house, the slave quarters and the gardens and vineyards. And in the entryway, there are some relics that were sent from the Lewis and Clark expedition! I also had time for a little stop in Charlottesville – the University of Virginia was designed by Jefferson and, combined with Monticello, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it was nice to be able to see the historic architecture and the rotunda.

Then I took the three-hour hop, skip and jump to see Linda; Bob was away in France. Linda had a job offer from her old employer and started right away, adding a data point to my theory that those who started jobs right away have the toughest time with readjustment, because they don’t have time to process their Peace Corps experience. It was wonderful to see her; we took a walk around her neighborhood and talked and talked. I enjoyed seeing how they incorporated their Moroccan rugs into their d├ęcor, too! We went out for Indian food. The next morning we had breakfast and I drove back to National Airport (passing through Richmond without stopping; glad I got there this year) and flew to Chicago for the visit that was scheduled before the class was cancelled!

Just to close the book on 2009 – other adventures between my return and my departure included Reunions, a trip to Philadelphia for the Foreign Service written test (plus friends, the Franklin Institute, and a cheese steak), exhibits at the Cooper-Hewitt, Guggenheim, and Whitney, and baseball games at the brand-new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field! Plus reading, working on the non-profit certificate, biking, beach walking, seeing friends, and then it was on to the Philippines!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright and the Pentagon Memorial

There’s a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Alexandria; it had been on my list for a while, and on Sunday morning Steve, Elisa and I headed over there! The Pope-Leighey house is one of his Usonian houses (the US is for United States). I think they’re all built with the same floor plan, to keep the cost down; the philosophy behind them was to make them affordable for regular citizens. I had seen drawings and models of them but had never toured one! As is often the case with Frank Lloyd Wright houses, we had an enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guide.

I then met RPCV Rob for a drink; as with Frank, he was still adjusting to being back but close to getting something (as of this writing, both of them are on at least their third position and/or location since returning. I think it’s tough for us mid-career types!).

And then Elisa, Steve and I went to the Pentagon Memorial; they hadn’t been there yet, nor to Pope-Leighey. The memorial was very touching. There’s a bench for each person who died on September 11 (the benches are the same as those used in the High Line). Benches point in one direction if the person was on the plane, and in the other if the person was in the Pentagon. The benches appear to be randomly scattered, but they are organized by the month and year of the birthday of the person memorialized. It was really emotional to be there; good that we followed it with some cheer - a dinner out and yet more games.

And the next day Elisa took me to the airport, where I rented a car and drove south. What a wonderful visit!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Carry Me to Virginia and DC

How long might I have wandered if I hadn’t had the Foreign Service Oral Assessment on my schedule for March 19? It gave me an endpoint; I had decided to get to Southampton about a week in advance to settle in. It helped me work backwards in planning the Drive Across America and the trip to Southeast Asia that preceded it. I was one of the last in my stage to get settled somewhere – a few of my stagemates went straight home. Most traveled but were home for the holidays. While in Asia I met some RPCVs who traveled for six months after COS – maybe if I had met them sooner I’d have done the same!

But I did have this on the schedule, and the day before, I took the Hampton Jitney into Manhattan, walked across town to Penn Station, and hopped on an Amtrak to DC. Had I not had this plan, I’d have somehow made it to the Washington area during the Drive Across America; I had friends to see! Elisa picked me up, we had a delicious dinner and played some games, and I organized myself for an early start the next day.

I’ve already talked about the Foreign Service Oral Assessment – have I talked about it twice now? I’ve taken it twice! Maybe third time will be a charm? Maybe the third time will be in a different city – perhaps if I change my city I will change my luck! Anyway, I wandered by the White House to see Obama’s current digs and decompress, and then went back to my friends’ house for more games! On the Amtrak the day before, I had learned that my class scheduled for the following week in Chicago had been cancelled; I spent some time making other arrangements.

The next day Elisa and I took a walk in the woods. And then we went to a career fair with a focus on international development. Ran into a fellow Morocco RPCV there (not a surprise). I went to another career fair on one of the Chicago trips in 2009, but I haven’t been to any since. Maybe in 2011! I did get some leads – and the companies who are there are hiring. In fact, I later had an interview with one, right around the time of my Peace Corps Response interview. But I sounded like a long shot, and I took the bird in the hand. Anyway, that night, back for more games!

The next day, I went into DC on my own and saw a couple of RPCVs. Cherry trees in bloom – beautiful! Frank and I went past the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court (I haven’t toured the former since maybe sixth grade and have never been to the latter! They go on the list!) and then went to the National Portrait Gallery (I had never been there either – I liked it and want to go back and see more! The beauty of the Smithsonian is that it’s all free!) and to tea. Then I met Jennifer in Chinatown (another part of DC I had never been to) for lunch; she is from the stage before mine, and it was good to see how settled in she was a little over a year later. There were more games played that night, and a home-cooked Moroccan dinner at Elisa’s – delicious zaalook (eggplant salad) and kefta (meat with tomatoes).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Eastward Ho - Part II

I stopped in Harrisburg to see the State Capitol – hm, maybe I really should try to see them all! Or maybe not. This one was impressive, with a beautiful green roof. I did a self-guided tour. I like Pennsylvania! Got to Mike and Tobi’s house just as Mike did; I had seen them at Princeton during my service (plus I had a photo puzzle of them that they had sent me), so even though we didn’t have enough time together, we didn’t have two years to catch up on. I’d have stayed longer, but it was during the week and there was work and school for those who go to work and school. We had a nice dinner and time for games! And time for Starbucks in the morning before I left. 120 miles in all this day, with a long stop in Princeton. I visited my friend Lisa in her office, had lunch with Howie and Arlene, and then went to Howie’s house to say hello to my boxes and play some cribbage. When you take Amtrak from Philadelphia to Princeton, you can see Trenton’s State Capitol building and its golden dome. But I never drive past it when I drive that route – and with people to see, I didn’t detour to explore it. Some day! Now that one IS more accessible. Note – no Thomas Sweet ice cream on this trip, so I haven’t had it every time.

The day ended in Woodcliff Lake – so it took over two weeks to get to Chicago from California and two days to get from Chicago to the New York metropolitan area. Debbie had cleared her schedule, so I stayed for a few nights! More laundry, some planning of the next trip/s, a walk, some games, and generally seeing life in her world. It was particularly exciting to go to her post office; she had sent me articles every week and the postmen always asked about me, so it was nice to meet one of them!

And then on Saturday I drove the 25 miles to New York City, where I returned the car – six days, 1007 miles on this one. I didn’t feel all that well – maybe my travels were catching up to me – so I took it somewhat easy. Went with my sister and the family to Woodbury Common, a big outlet mall about an hour north of the city. Culture shock! Despite my sister telling me in no uncertain terms that I needed new clothes, I just wasn’t ready to shop (as I have said elsewhere, it was much easier in and after the Philippines, with my daily exposure to shopping malls). I had some appointments that my sister had set up for me, and I met my friends for the Annual Card Game.

On Tuesday, March 10 – after landing in Hawaii on January 15 and in Los Angeles on the 21st, after leaving LA on February 3, arriving in Chicago on February 19 and leaving Chicago on March 2 - I arrived in Southampton, my final resting place, at least for the time being. I consider this the beginning of the next chapter in the post-Peace Corps story. Then again, a week later I was off again, to DC and VA and Chicago and back to New York City, so I didn’t really settle in until the end of March. During that first week, I finally unpacked, did submit some applications for Peace Corps staff jobs to get something started, took walks and a bike ride, did homework for my Non-Profit Management course, and read more of Annals of the Former World – once I got to the friend part of the trip, I didn’t have much time for reading. I tried to find some balance between moving ahead and settling in, trying to get some focus and trying not to be overwhelmed, reintegrating into American culture and retaining some of the simple life I had in Morocco. But as I said, I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on that, because soon I was traveling again.

And I didn’t spend a lot of 2009 in this transitional state, because a couple of weeks later, I noticed the Peace Corps Response opening in the Philippines and emailed to say I was interested. I had the interview on April 14 and the offer on the 15th. Even though it took a while to actually leave (from the original June 7 date to July 26), I knew I had a plan.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Eastward, Ho - Part I

Back to the Drive Across America…February turned to March and it was time to proceed on. I rented a car in the morning and drove into the Eastern Time Zone, 450 miles from Chicago to Aurora, OH. I stopped in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where in October 1960, candidate John F. Kennedy stepped off a plane at a campaign stop and at 2:00 am proposed the idea of a Peace Corps. A plaque marks the spot in front of the Michigan Union where he stood, and I stood on the same spot! That was a nice capstone to the Peace Corps experience (of course, Peace Corps Response was yet to come, and there will always be Third Goal, so it’s not really a capstone, but I like the word).

I stopped in Toledo to see Rebecca, a Morocco RPCV (in environment, but she did a lot with the SIDA committee and is now going into public health) who, though we weren’t close, was persistent and nice about seeing me when I came through. We ate at a Waffle House – no fast-food qualms about going there; Waffle House may not be healthy but it is a fun treat. And then it was on to a Starbucks on the west side of Cleveland for a rendezvous with Jong, who came up from Columbus; my friend Tom had the local knowledge to suggest this location. So good to see her! Of course, an afternoon wasn’t enough. She wasn’t up for piffle (good thing I taught it to some friends along the way!) but we did play some rummy. And then it was on to the east side of Cleveland, to stay with Tom and his family. They were among the last people I saw in 2006, when I did a Midwest Farewell trip to Put-in-Bay and Cuyahoga National Park. As with my cousin’s family, the kids look two years older and the parents as young as ever! Amazing phenomenon! They made me a “welcome back” cake and we had a lovely dinner.

I didn’t plan any side trips between Chicago and New York – no Moab, no Lake Tahoe, no California coast. Just driving and friends. I guess the East seems more accessible, though I’m not sure that’s actually true. Gettysburg was on my wish list, but it wasn’t right off I-80, and there aren’t many national parks to visit. If I hadn’t been to Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob I might have done that. The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania is something I’d like to see (if only for the name!), but it’s nowhere near the route. And I guess I was ready to press on – as I mentioned, Chicago became the turning point where the vacation/touring part kind of ended anyway.

Pennsylvania always seemed like a long state, but compared to some of the other drives along the way, it wasn’t – Aurora, OH to Narberth, PA was 410 miles. It also has hills – mountains, even. And trees! So many trees! If you grow up with trees and hills, you never really get used to the Midwest. And then I was overcome with a wave of emotion – I realized that the last time I had done that drive was on the way to Chicago, when I moved there almost two decades ago. So I wasn’t just returning from 27 months in the Peace Corps, I was also returning from 19 years in Chicago. That doesn’t mean that the East is my last stop, but it did mean that a big chapter closed.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Welcome Back to Chicago

I spent the next week in Chicago, and it was here that I felt the tough transition back to reality. Even though I wasn’t staying, it felt like coming home, no longer like traveling. It was a shift from seeing places and things and also seeing friends to seeing friends and also doing a few things. In retrospect, I may have overbooked myself, but I did have a lot of friends to see! And in the past I could see friends and then go to my own home; even though Edie’s is a home-away-from-home, I wanted to spend time with her and her family when I was at their house, not sequester myself upstairs, so I didn’t have much quiet time. I saw friends for breakfast, lunch, coffee, chats, dinner, and games.

I went ice skating in Millennium Park; I love ice skating and had missed it! I had a hair appointment and a massage appointment; after all those years the hair and massage people are my friends. I went with my friend Carol (with whom I had photographed Cows on Parade) to Obama’s house in Hyde Park, or as close as we could get to it. I went to a Blackhawks game and saw the transformation with new ownership – excitement in the building once again and a good team on the ice. Of course, the crowning achievement was their 2010 Stanley Cup, but you could see in 2009 that this team was something special! It was Hard Hat Night. When we got the hard hats, I said to my friend, “I want to see a hat trick, so we can see all of these hats on the ice.” And sure enough, there was a hat trick! I forget who had it, Kane or Toews, but it was one of the two young superstars. Then the third goal was recalled! So I said there had to be a fourth goal to justify the hat-tossing – and there was! How exciting! It was an overtime win for the Blackhawks. Welcome back! I had attended a lot of sad games there over the years.

I attended class for three days – it felt good to be back in a school environment. Somehow, that didn’t seem like culture shock. What did, though, was going to the dentist and the doctor. Just the act of getting out my insurance card and paying the co-pay – and thinking about the paperwork to come – made me realize that I was back. There was a lot of paperwork to get into the Peace Corps and a lot to get out, but not a lot during. Now there will be paperwork all the time. Welcome back!

I also visited Chicago in March – the class I was scheduled attend was cancelled after I had bought the plane tickets, but I went anyway. Had a medical procedure, saw the dentist and the hairdresser again, picked up new clip-on sunglasses I’d ordered the month before, and saw more friends. I replaced the class with an independent study on social media for non-profits – something more useful to me than the class might have been!

I went back to Chicago again in May, for almost two weeks (thanks, hosts!). I gave a “precept” on my Morocco experiences to the Princeton Club of Chicago, which is still my only official Third Goal presentation. It was fun sharing my experiences, especially with an audience of mostly friends. I had my last class, saw some theatre and a movie and a Cubs game and a White Sox game, checked out the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, went to a job fair, and saw friends.

The driving reason for the May trip being so long was to go through my storage space with a professional organizer. Over the course of the week, we went through my wardrobe and donated of about a third of my clothes, threw away several boxes’ worth of papers, finally parted with the magazines I wasn’t ready to part with before I left, and loaded up a cart with other items for charity pickup. We also reorganized all the remaining boxes so I have a better handle on what I have. Of course, I sent several boxes to Edie and Howie from Morocco and my post-COS travels, but I would like to live a simpler life, and I will aim for that when I finally move my stuff to the imaginary studio or whatever my next home turns out to be. I’m posting this in advance of another Chicago trip that will go through the next things to go through – the books, picture frames and mirrors; they’ve been in the back of my mind for over a year, and maybe that will plant the seeds for the next storage-room priorities, or maybe I’ll have done all of the easy things. Still, I’m really happy I did as much as I did – I felt not only lighter in possessions, but also lighter in spirit.